Monday, October 17, 2016

Donald Trump: Sympathy for the Devil


Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

I’ve loathed Donald Trump ever since I first heard of him, ever since that smug, self-satisfied mug started leering at me from the cover of his best-selling 1987 (ghost-written) memoir The Art of the Deal. I hated him every time I saw him give his verdict, “You’re … FIRED!” on the promos for his “reality” TV series The Apprentice with all the humanity and compassion of Maximilien Robespierre or Josef Stalin ordering his latest enemy to the guillotine or the gulag. (I only watched the promos; you’d have had to pay me to sit through the entire show.) And when Trump announced his Presidential candidacy in June 2015 with his ringing attack on most immigrants from Mexico as “criminals and rapists” — and he promptly zoomed to the top of the polls in the Republican primaries, a status he never lost — I simultaneously quaked with fear and tried to hide my embarrassment and revulsion that at least 40 percent of my fellow Americans could actually want that thing as their next President.
So it’s much to my surprise that 16 months later, I’m actually starting to feel sorry for Donald Trump. No, it’s not that I have any more sympathy for him or his world view than I did before. I still see him as an ugly, spoiled rich kid with bad hair who inherited a nice little fortune from his father and built it into an even bigger one without any hint of conscience or scruples. And I still see his politics as a contemptible stew of conspiracy-mongering, attempts to appease the “social conservative” wing of his party — the ones who want to shove women back into the kitchens and Queer people back into the closet — and an immigration strategy to restore America’s white majority plus a tax plan to make himself and his fellow 0.01 percent richer and everyone else poorer. I’m also repelled — though not really surprised — about all the reports about his attitude towards women, which is if he finds them attractive to treat them as animate sex dolls and, if he doesn’t, to insult them with vicious comments about blood coming out of their eyes, or their wherever.
What I’m starting to feel sorry for Donald Trump about is the obvious loss of any pretense towards sanity. At least when Adolf Hitler went crazy — sometime in 1942-43 Hitler switched from being a rational, cunning person pursuing an evil agenda to someone insane — he did it in the privacy of his various bunkers and only the highest officials in the Nazi government had to deal with it. Trump is doing it in the glare of national TV and on Twitter, where he stays up until the wee hours of the morning and shares with us the ravings previous generations of madmen either wrote down in incomprehensible journals or muttered to themselves in the hallways of asylums. When he first announced his campaign, a lot of people said, “He must be smart — he’s so rich!” Now they’re wondering, “How did he get to be so rich when he’s so crazy?”
Trump’s public unraveling began on October 8, when the Washington Post — famous in U.S. political lore as the paper that brought down Richard Nixon over Watergate — ran a story about a tape recorded in 2005 in which he spoke to Billy Bush, a distant relative of the Presidents Bush and then a host for Access Hollywood, while Trump was on his way to film a cameo appearance on the long-running soap opera Days of Our Lives. It apparently started when Trump started celebrating the good looks of Arianne Zucker, the actress who was to appear with him in the scene — in which, ironically, she was playing a woman who offered to have sex with Trump in exchange for a job, which the Trump character virtuously declined.
“I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her,” Trump told Bush. “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” I can’t remember when I first heard the term “pussy” to describe a woman’s sex organs, but I think it was around age 12 — and I found it offensive then and still do. To me, though, even more offensive than Trump’s comments to Bush was his approach to Arianne Zucker once he actually met her. “How about a little hug for The Donald?” he said. So much for his later denials that he only talks this sort of trash about women and doesn’t actually do it.
The women started coming forward after the second debate on TV between Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, October 9. Inevitably, Trump got asked by debate co-moderator Anderson Cooper about those remarks. “Yes, I’m very, very embarrassed by it,” Trump said. “I hate it. But it’s locker-room talk. But I have tremendous respect for women, and they have respect for me.” When Cooper asked him point-blank if he had ever actually approached women in the ways he’d talked about with Bush, Trump flat-out denied it — “No, I have not” — and then added what he thought was a sure-fire zinger against his rival’s husband: “If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine was words, and his was action.”
In the next 10 days at least 10 women who’d had professional or personal interactions with Trump started saying publicly that he had approached women in workplaces or in public and done at least some of the things he boasted about with Bush, including putting his hands on them (one woman said he was “like an octopus”), backing them into corners and trying to kiss them. One was a reporter for People magazine who said it had happened to her when she was on assignment from People to interview Trump. With his usual tone-deafness to complaints from women about virtually anything, Trump said that at least two of the women accusing him, including the People reporter, were too unattractive physically for him to have wanted to harass them.
As more and more women came forward to accuse him, Trump’s behavior in response went further off the rails. He accused the Democrats, Hillary Clinton and the media of being in a grand conspiracy to derail his Presidential bid. This conspiracy, he said, including getting these women to lie about him. Later he started saying that the conspiracy was really controlled and financed by “global bankers” — a term that’s been code for anti-Jewish attacks since well before the Rothschilds came out of the European ghettoes at the end of the 18th century and started an international banking empire that still is a major force in the world economy. That’s one Trump characteristic that fits the standard clinical definition of paranoia: everything bad that happens to him is the doing of a sinister conspiracy out to get him.
And Trump has usually been very good at getting other people to take the fall for him. Not only is he on his third campaign manager (as well as his third wife), but Billy Bush has already lost his job at NBC. Technically Bush is on “suspension” but network executives admit they’re highly unlikely to hire him back because they think women would be upset to see him on shows like Today with a big female audience. That’s one reason Trump really thought he could get the Mexican government to pay for his Great Wall — that and, as a real-estate developer, he’s always played with other people’s money and got them to front his capital costs. More recently, he’s said that Hillary Clinton should take a drug test before the next (and, thankfully, last) debate between them October 19 because she seemed “pumped up” — even though it was Trump, not Clinton, who sniffled so often and so loudly during the first two debates that some people have suggested he’s the one on drugs.
And that doesn’t even begin to address what Trump has been saying to the legislators and other leaders in his own party who’ve been questioning whether his nomination is such a great thing for their own political careers. When House Speaker Paul Ryan, the highest-ranking Republican officeholder in the country, said he was no longer going to defend Trump or campaign with him (though he was very careful not to dis-endorse Trump), Trump responded in typical fashion with a tweet saying that mainstream Republicans don’t know how to win, but “I will teach them!” There’s been so much public bad blood between Trump and the Republican party leaders that political analysts are once again talking about a civil war within the party and perhaps even the collapse of the two-party system as we know it. (Don’t hold your breath; the Republicans were supposed to have been dead in the water after Barry Goldwater’s landslide loss in 1964, and they won the Presidency the next time. Likewise the Democrats in 1976 after George McGovern’s defeat in 1972.)
In one thing Trump is right. We have had sexual predators in the White House before. There are enough stories about Bill Clinton acting similarly pushy around women, if not actually raping them (as Juanita Broaddrick, one of the bedraggled ex-Clinton paramours Trump dragged to the second debate somehow hoping they would help make his case against Hillary, has always claimed), that we can readily believe them. And, if anything, John F. Kennedy of sainted memory was even worse; if you want to read the whole sordid story, pick up The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh (an investigative reporter most famous for breaking the My Lai scandal during the Viet Nam war), who not only reported all the gory details of Kennedy’s meat-rack treatment of women but suggested that he would have lost the 1964 election if he’d lived because Republicans had enough evidence against him to break the code of omertà that kept the media from reporting about Kennedy’s sex life during his lifetime.
But Donald Trump isn’t running for President against Bill Clinton. At one point right after the second debate he said that he and his campaign team would “turn Bill Clinton into Bill Cosby” — the once beloved, now reviled comedian whose schtick seems to have been to drug women into unconsciousness and then have sex with them — which is just another example of Trump’s craziness. Whenever a prominent man is revealed as a sexual abuser of women, or even when it’s revealed that he’s been having a consensual affair, most people think of his wife as a victim. Hillary Clinton’s poll approval ratings were never higher than in 1998-1999, when her husband was impeached and threatened with removal from office over his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Indeed, one of the biggest beefs the Right seems to have against her is that, by so publicly standing by her man, she got a lot of people to think, “Well, if Bill Clinton cheated, the only truly aggrieved party is Hillary Clinton — and if she’s willing to forgive him, the rest of us should, too.”
Just how Bill Clinton’s sexual abuse of women is supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s fault is something Donald Trump has never quite explained. At some points he’s called her an “enabler” — a term that got coined in the treatment of alcohol and drug addictions, which Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines as “one that enables another to achieve an end; especially:  one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior ([such] as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.” At other points he’s argued that Hillary Clinton publicly attacked the women who claimed Bill Clinton had abused them, and that’s what supposedly makes her as guilty as he. The fact that most Americans aren’t buying it — even people who wouldn’t vote for her if it would make hurricanes stop coming and Jesus return still don’t blame her for her husband’s roving eyes, hands or (to use a Trump-style term) whatever — seems just to be driving Trump crazier.

The Discussion

It’s no surprise that some writers, trying to look somewhere for a silver lining in the dark cloud that a U.S. Presidential election has become consumed by which person has the more sordid past in their dealings with women — one candidate or the other candidate’s husband — have said that at least the allegations against Trump will open a “discussion” about how men treat women generally and in particular how certain powerful men think they can get away with treating women the way Trump told Billy Bush a “star” could get away with. Like the “discussions” we keep having in this country about race, most recently about the persistence of racism in general and unpunished shootings of unarmed Black men by white police officers in particular, these “discussions” about how men ought to behave around women and how women should deal with men who “cross the line” — wherever “the line” is — never seem to solve anything. They just leave their participants with the glowing, albeit short-lived, illusion that these problems are being addressed.
The facts are that, as John Gray argued in his best-selling Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, men and women approach sex very differently. Men are more likely to detach sex from “love,” whatever that means in this context. Men are more likely to want — and, if they can find a willing partner, to get — sex they desire and experience as pure physical sensation, unencumbered by and untethered to any actual or potential emotional relationship. As a Gay man, I was always surprised that Gray and other writers never did the obvious scientific practice called “isolating the variable.” If your thesis is that men and women have different drives and needs regarding sex, and that affects and largely determines how they behave sexually, the logical way to test it is to look at people who don’t need to take into account the needs, desires and demands of the other gender: totally Gay men and totally Lesbian women.
I can’t comment about Lesbians since I’m not one and I’ve deliberately avoided questioning my Lesbian friends about how they manage their sexuality. But after having lived as an openly Gay man for 34 years, sometimes single, sometimes partnered and now legally married, I think I can comment with some degree of authority on how men manage their sexuality when they don’t have to deal with women. In general (and one rule about these sweeping generalizations about human behavior is you can always find individuals who don’t behave the way the generalizations predict), men do detach sex from emotion more readily than women. As I’ve told women friends, if you’re a man and just want a sexual experience for the physical joy of it, with no emotional encumbrances, you’re more likely to find a willing partner if you’re Gay than if you’re straight.
One reason I find it weird reading about what Donald Trump allegedly did to women is that I’ve been in plenty of Gay social settings, mostly at parties with only Gay men as guests, where hugging, kissing and even groping people you’ve never met before isn’t considered such a big deal. If you start doing that to someone who doesn’t want you to, either he’ll signal his disapproval by tensing up or quietly, politely, ask you to stop and take your attentions somewhere else. And yet the same Gay men who feel comfortable being at a party like that, letting their hair down and engaging in intense physical behavior with strangers would be appalled if someone did that to them in a workplace or a formal professional setting, the way Trump is alleged to have done with the women who have come forward against him.
There’s a part of me that’s always been appalled at how much of the interaction between men and women is based, at least from the male perspective, on lying and cheating. I remember in the 1960’s, when I was a teenager and just starting to deal with puberty and the burgeoning of my own sexuality, seeing ads for a book called How to Pick Up Girls. Judging from the ads, this book — which I’ve never read — was based on the premise that women are fiercely protective of their sexuality and therefore men who want to get laid can only do it by tricking women into giving it up for them. I also remember a book by Dan Greenburg called Scoring, whose cover depicted a woman’s body as a pinball table, with various scores over sexually significant areas like mouth and breasts and the highest score, of course, over the crotch.
This so-called “pick-up culture” was supposed to have been killed by the sexual revolution of the 1960’s (though for all too many women the “sexual revolution” became just another way for men to manipulate and guilt-trip them into having sex they didn’t really want), but it’s made a stunning comeback in recent years. Elliot Rodger, the alleged mass murderer in Santa Barbara in May 2014, read extensively in the modern-day online equivalents of How to Pick Up Girls and targeted both women he thought were harming him by not having sex with him, and men who were more attractive and luckier in the seduction department than he. In his lengthy manifestos explaining why he killed, Rodger described himself as an “incel” — short for “involuntarily celibate” — and said his killings were “retribution” for those who had put him in that status.
Another unhealthy thing about men in general is their tendency to use sex as a weapon for subjugation. Ever since men have been fighting wars, they’ve regarded women as one of the prizes of victory and rape as the conqueror’s due. Susan Brownmiller’s pioneering book from 1975, Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape, argued that rapists were “the shock troops of the patriarchy,” the enforcement arm that told women there were limits on where they could go, when they could go there, and what they could wear. No matter how often both women and sympathetic men tell rape victims that having been raped wasn’t their fault, the social programming that says, “If you hadn’t gone out at night … if you hadn’t gone out alone … if you hadn’t worn such ‘provocative’ clothing … ,” never seems to let up — and sometimes judges in rape cases explicitly blame the victim for her rape.
There are too many examples of people in public office or high-status private careers who push women around and try to force themselves on them in the ways that have been alleged against Donald Trump. What’s more, they don’t necessarily align where you’d expect them to along the partisan Democratic/Republican or ideologically progressive/conservative line. It seems that for every Donald Trump or former Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who just a month before the Trump scandals broke lost his job over his alleged harassment of women (including highly-paid women anchors on the network), there’s a former San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, former Congressmember Anthony Wiener, or former Presidents Kennedy and Clinton, who also treat women like meat. For years Filner kept his seat in Congress with the support of women’s organizations — he regularly scored 100 percent on the National Organization for Women’s and National Abortion Rights Action League’s ratings — only to be revealed as a serial abuser of women when he catapulted himself from the relative obscurity of a minority-party Congressmember to the heavy media attention of being mayor of a major American city.
Donald Trump strikes me as a man who for all his surface bluster is incredibly anxious about his own sexuality. He’s gone through three wives (so far), all of them supermodels, and he’s dumped the first two as if they were simply worn-out commodities, the way other men discard a now-dull razor. He’s publicly stated that he’s sexually turned off by a woman who’s over 35 or a woman who’s given birth. His obsession with building the biggest, grandest buildings possible and putting his name on them in the hugest letters he can manage sounds like classic Freudian projection. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he has a pretty small cock and feels he has to make up for that by building those huge erections and acting like a swaggering boor. When he went into that bizarre riff in one of the Republican debates and challenged Marco Rubio over the size of their respective “hands,” I couldn’t help but joke, “This is the best argument for Hillary I’ve heard yet. If this is how people with dicks behave when they campaign for the Presidency, maybe it’s about time we had a President who doesn’t have one.”

The Alternative

Meanwhile, this was supposed to be the week that Hillary Clinton was to be done in by the latest passel of leaked e-mails from WikiLeaks — whose founder, Julian Assange, became a hero in progressive circles by publishing Edward Snowden’s information and then turned out to have at least two open rape charges against him. They include excerpts from some of her secret speeches to Goldman Sachs and/or other financial firms and charter members of the 0.01 percent. These may or may not have been the speeches her primary rival, Senator Bernie Sanders, was after her to release, but as Doyle McManus noted in his Los Angeles Times column October 16 (, the real news story is how unenlightening they are.
“Take a deep dive into the more than 10,000 Clinton campaign e-mails published by WikiLeaks, and here’s what you’ll learn,” McManus wrote: “Hillary Clinton is a careful, methodical, tightly-controlled politician. Her jokes, her tweets and even her purported ad libs are often scripted by aides. She hates to apologize, even when she admits she’s done something wrong, like keeping e-mails on a home server. She’s a progressive, but not an ideologue; she yearns for ‘rational, moderate voices’ on both sides. Above all, she’s a pragmatist who’s willing to compromise — and to have ‘both a public and a private position’ if that’s what it takes to make a deal. … In other words, she’s a Clinton — a Democrat who believes in progressive goals, but who’s willing to trim them, postpone them, even throw them under a bus (temporarily, anyway) when practical politics requires.”
When Clinton got called on that bit about having “both a public and a private position” on an issue during the October 9 debate, she invoked President Abraham Lincoln as he was depicted in Steven Spielberg’s 2012 biopic Lincoln. The movie focused exclusively on the deal-making needed to get a lame-duck Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery, in the early months of 1865 when Lincoln’s Republican Party had a majority in Congress but not the two-thirds needed to pass a Constitutional amendment and send it to the states for ratification. As I wrote about Spielberg’s Lincoln on my movie blog,

Lincoln is a film mainly about the political compromises that had to be made to get the Thirteenth Amendment passed, and in particular the outright corruption involved in securing the 20 Democratic votes needed: Lincoln and Seward hired a man named W. N. Bilbo (James Spader) — apparently a composite of several real historical figures rather than a really existing person of the period — to offer lame-duck Democrats patronage jobs in exchange for their “yes” votes on the Amendment. The offers shade over into outright bribery at times — Lincoln and Seward had given Bilbo and his two associates a kind of nudge-nudge, wink-wink indication that offering cash bribes was not O.K. but offering jobs was — something Lincoln would have been all too familiar with because he got the Republican Presidential nomination in the first place through a similarly corrupt deal.
On the first ballot at the 1860 convention Seward placed first, Lincoln second and Simon Cameron third; then Cameron offered to withdraw and throw his votes to Lincoln but only if Lincoln appointed him Secretary of War — and Cameron immediately used the War Department to reward his friends in the business community with fat contracts and ran such a lousy operation that in early 1862 Lincoln fired him and replaced him with Stanton. Stanton did such a great job cleaning house at the War Department and making sure the Union armies actually got the supplies the government was paying for that quite a few people at the time believed that he had been the decisive leader in winning the war — which explains the near-religious fervor with which Congressional Republicans defended him when Andrew Johnson tried to fire him in 1868, leading to Johnson’s impeachment and near-removal from office.

Trump, of course, responded by invoking the myth of “Honest Abe” and expressing (or feigning) shock that Clinton would cite the man who never lied as her defense against the charge that she never told the truth. Ironically, in the February 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine progressive journalist and editor Thomas Frank criticized Spielberg’s Lincoln for the same reason Hillary Clinton praised it (

Lincoln and his men, as they are depicted here, do not merely buttonhole and persuade and deceive. They buy votes outright with promises of patronage jobs and (it is strongly suggested) cash bribes. The noblest law imaginable is put over by the most degraded means. As the real-life Thaddeus Stevens, leader of the Radical Republicans in the House of Representatives, is credited with having said after the amendment was finally approved: “The greatest measure of the nineteenth century was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.” The movie is fairly hard on crusading reformers like Stevens. The great lesson we are meant to take from his career is that idealists must learn to lie and to keep their mouths shut at critical moments if they wish to be effective. Lobbyists, on the other hand, are a class of people the movie seems at pains to rehabilitate. Spielberg gives us a raffish trio of such men, hired for the occasion by William Seward, and they get the legislative job done by throwing money around, buying off loose votes — the usual.

If this sounds familiar, it’s the lesson Hillary Clinton tried to teach the American Left during her primary campaign, when she came close to losing the nomination thanks to the votes of a lot of young people dubious about working within the Democratic Party at all but, like Bernie Sanders, willing to give it a chance. She called herself “a progressive who gets things done” and basically suggested that her willingness to make deals with the devil was key to her ability to get things done. One passage in one of the leaked e-mails ( is certainly wince-inducing to those progressives (like me) who have reluctantly reconciled ourselves to Hillary Clinton as the only person who can stop Donald Trump from becoming President.
In a speech to officials of Banco Itaú, which is based in São Paulo, Brazil, Hillary Clinton said, “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.” Donald Trump and his supporters at the Right-wing Web site Breitbart News have seized on the words “open borders” as evidence that Clinton wants to throw the U.S.-Mexico border wide open and let all those criminals, rapists and maybe some good people flood into the U.S., take what few jobs are left here for people without college degrees, degrade our standard of living and turn the U.S. into a Third World country.
Its real meaning is less intimidating but more sinister than that. The “hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders” is a reference to the worldwide capitalist dream of a world in which every country is linked to every other country by one or more so-called “free trade” agreements on the model of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), negotiated by the George H. W. Bush administration in the early 1990’s and pushed through Congress by President Bill Clinton in 1994. The idea behind these “trade” agreements is basically to take governance of the world economy away from nation-states and give it to private corporations.
According to the terms of NAFTA and most, if not all, of the treaties since that have been modeled on it, corporations which decide that national laws protecting the environment or the health and safety of workers would cost them money can appeal, under so-called “investor-to-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provisions, to private, secret, corporate-dominated tribunals. When these tribunals rule in favor of the corporations — as they almost always do — the governments have three choices: either get rid of the offending laws aimed at protecting their workers or their environment, pay enormous fines to the corporations that brought the actions, or risk being locked out of the global economy altogether.
What Clinton’s expressed dream of a “hemispheric common market” means in practice is that the government of the Americas — and, soon, the rest of the world — will be sub-contracted to giant corporations whose demand for ever-higher profits will overrule any local protections for workers, consumers or the environment. It’s a system the corporate elites that really rule the world are determined to impose on us all, and — as voters in Greece, Spain, Italy and elsewhere have already learned — they are too determined to push this vision through to let little impediments like democracy and elections stand in their way.
During the Democratic primary campaign, Clinton was forced by the pincer movement of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, both of whom vehemently denounced the “free trade” agenda of the corporate elites for the job-killing, environment-destroying fraud it is, to back away from what was supposed to be the crown jewel of the “free trade” agenda, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and 28 Pacific Rim nations. But the WikiLeaks documents indicate that Clinton remains a free-trader at heart. McManus quotes a leaked e-mail from one of Clinton’s speechwriters who had to draft a speech in which she’d come out against TPP. “This is indeed a hard balance to strike, since we don’t want to invite mockery for being too enthusiastically opposed to a deal she once championed,” the writer said.
So if, with or without the aid of progressives and Leftists reluctantly settling for her as the lesser evil against Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is elected to the White House, she’ll be … another President Clinton, figuratively as well as literally. We’ll have to do a lot of street protesting and disrupting to push her as far Left in office as we pushed her during the campaign, especially since there’ll be a whole network of corporate leaders and wealthy individuals pushing her in the opposite direction. And yet voting for Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 is essential because the alternative is Donald Trump, who — as much as the Republican establishment hates him — has throughout his campaign promoted a hard-Right agenda including massive tax giveaways to the rich, packing the U.S. courts (not just the Supreme Court!) with anti-choice and anti-Queer judges, locking the doors of the U.S. to Mexicans and Muslims and cranking up the “war on terror” to include out-and-out war crimes.
It is, of course, the structure of the American political system that forces such hard choices on us. America’s single-member winner-take-all legislative districts (mandated not by the Constitution but a law passed by Congress in 1842) and the separation-of-powers system that elects the President separately from the legislative leadership makes it impossible for voters to register their discontent by electing people from alternative political parties. It made sense to organize the Green Party in Germany, where the movement started, because once you get 5 percent or more of the vote nationwide you get that percentage of seats in the national legislature. It made no sense to organize a Green Party in the U.S. because those who did so — and those who vote for it — have essentially consigned themselves to political oblivion.
This year I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the irony that I’ve seized on Germany, of all countries — the nation that in the first half of the 20th century sparked two world wars and carried out the Holocaust — as a nation that does democracy better than we do and one we’d do well to use as a model. And Germany is a model for the U.S. in another way, too; their system allowed a woman, Angela Merkel, to rise to head one of their two largest political parties and thereby, when that party won enough seats to lead the country, to become their head of state without it being any big deal.
A far cry from the bizarre stew of sexual politics our own election has become this year — though, as tough and unpleasant a choice as this year’s Presidential vote is, it does my heart good to see a man with such horrible attitudes towards women as Donald Trump facing, as the last person standing between him and his heart’s desire … a woman. And a capable, intelligent, professionally and personally competent woman at that, a polar opposite from the successive bimbos that have shared Donald Trump’s bed!

Sunday, October 02, 2016

First Clinton-Trump Debate a Draw

But Clinton Wins the After-Debate As Trump Continues to Melt Down


Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The mountain labored, and brought forth … a draw.
The much-ballyhooed first televised debate between Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, aired live Monday, September 26 from 6 to 8 p.m. Pacific time, was a close contest in which Clinton and Trump basically fought to a draw — though Clinton became stronger and Trump more unhinged as the debate wore on. It was moderated by NBC-TV news anchor Lester Holt — a bad sign for Hillary supporters, given how thoroughly biased against her and for Trump NBC Today show co-host Matt Lauer had been at the so-called “national security town-hall” he had moderated September 7. Lauer had been viciously inquisitorial towards Clinton — for more than half of her half-hour time slot he asked her about her e-mails in a way that made him sound like the prosecutor in the trial she isn’t going to have (unless Trump wins and directs his attorney general to indict her), while he sounded positively sycophantic around Trump.
Holt did a much better job than Lauer at keeping “objective,” though through much of the debate he seemed more like a rather befuddled lion-tamer trying to keep two particularly vicious lions under control than the moderator of a Presidential candidates’ debate. Though Clinton made a pass at cordiality by calling Trump “Donald” early on in the debate — as if she were trying to recall their former friendship when they were both part of New York’s 1 percent (one of the most devastating comments Ted Cruz made against Trump during the Republican primary debates was, “Hillary Clinton didn’t come to my wedding”) — it was evident throughout the whole spectacle that by now they really don’t like each other.
Well before the debate, it was pretty obvious to political observers what each candidate had to do. Americans see themselves and their country in desperate straits, threatened by social and demographic changes and an international terrorist threat from people who seem to have beamed in on a time machine from the Middle Ages. They’re also pissed off that the so-called “economic recovery” has benefited just the richest 1 percent of its people.
As Hillary Clinton put it, in a rare burst of eloquence, at that Human Rights Campaign fundraiser where she described half of Trump supporters as fitting into a “basket of deplorables,” “[P]eople … feel that the government has let them down, the economy has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they’re just desperate for change. It doesn’t really even matter where it comes from. They don’t buy everything [Trump] says, but he seems to hold out some hope that their lives will be different. They won’t wake up and see their jobs disappear, lose a kid to heroin, feel like they’re in a dead-end. Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.”
It’s that desperation that drove so many Democratic primary voters to support Bernie Sanders over Clinton, and so many Republican primary voters to support Trump over the 16 other candidates in the GOP’s clown car — some of them, like Ohio Governor John Kasich and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, with genuine and effective track records getting Right-wing policies enacted in their states. And it’s that desperation that will make Donald Trump the next President — unless Clinton and the Democrats can make Trump appear so dangerously unhinged that voters are scared away from him and decide to go with an Establishment warhorse like Clinton instead.
Ironically, a few months ago my husband Charles and I watched a 2015 movie called Our Brand Is Crisis that, though it took place in Bolivia, eerily anticipated Hillary Clinton’s task in a general election against Donald Trump. What’s more, it was produced by George Clooney, one of Hillary Clinton’s most famous supporters and host of the modern-day “boodle banquet”[1] at which you could get a seat at Bill and Hillary Clinton’s table for $353,000, though at the last minute Clooney dropped out of the project as actor and instead had Billy Bob Thornton play the role developed for him. Our Brand Is Crisis is about an American political consultant (Sandra Bullock) hired to manage the campaign of a former Bolivian President who’s trying to regain the office against a Left-wing populist insurgent whose campaign is being run by Thornton’s character, who’s also Bullock’s ex-lover.
Just as the people on the staff of the former president who’s trying to regain the office in Our Brand Is Crisis realize they have to scare Bolivian voters into rejecting the populist and embracing, or at least tolerating, the old-line Establishment guy, Hillary Clinton’s staff members no doubt realize their only way of winning her the election is to make Donald Trump seem so scary, so frightening, so borderline crazy, that the voters feel, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, that they would “rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of.” Thus Clinton went into Monday night’s debate aware that her best shot at victory was to irritate Donald Trump, to get him off the “Presidential” pedestal his current campaign managers, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, have tried to put up for him, and make Trump look mean, petty, vindictive and decidedly un-Presidential.
Sometimes Trump rose to the bait; sometimes he didn’t. Clinton got enough licks in to discomfit Trump and let the mask slip from his face. She didn’t discredit him enough to get his core supporters to question him and their support of him — but then, just about nothing could: as Trump himself has said, he could shoot someone in broad daylight in front of thousands of people on a New York City street and it would barely budge his poll numbers. But she did get under his skin, especially when he responded to her criticism of him for insulting women by saying that Rosie O’Donnell deserved it — Rosie O’Donnell, whose 15 minutes of fame expired quite a while ago and who’s remembered, if at all, for her running gag about having a crush on Tom Cruise and then coming out as a Lesbian as soon as Cruise divorced Nicole Kidman and therefore was at least theoretically available.
Through much of the debate, especially its second half, Trump just couldn’t shut up. Some of his weirdest moments were his moans of “Wro-o-o-o-ong” whenever Clinton cited a part of his record and he was trying to challenge her factually. He stretched out the vowel of the word “wrong” so long he started to sound like a cow mooing. What’s more, a lot of the things on which he was mooing “wro-o-o-o-ong” were parts of his record on which Clinton was ri-i-i-i-ight, like when she said that she takes human-caused climate change seriously while Trump says it’s all a hoax engineered by the Chinese. “I never said that,” said Trump, leaving a lot of people (including me) befuddled about how he could say he never said that when we remember seeing and hearing him on previous TV appearances saying it.

Trump and Orwell

I don’t think you can understand Donald Trump without having read George Orwell’s 1984 — and especially without having read the book-within-the-book of 1984, “The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by Emmanuel Goldstein,” which most people skip. The two Orwellian concepts you have to keep in mind when thinking about Trump are “doublethink” and “the mutability of the past.” In 1984, Orwell provides this explanation of “the mutability of the past” and its importance to maintaining the power of the Inner Party, the ruling elite of his dystopia:

Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records, and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it. It also follows that though the past is alterable, it never has been altered in any specific instance. For whenever it has been re-created in whatever shape is needed at the moment, then this new version is the past, and no other version of the past can ever have existed.

Donald Trump certainly provided ample examples during the September 26 debate of his belief in “the mutability of the past.” When challenged on his repeated claims that he opposed the George W. Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq as a response to the 9/11 attacks, he flat-out denied the accuracy of the recorded interview he gave shock-TV host Howard Stern at the time that he supported the invasion. Instead he said he and Fox News personality Sean Hannity had had private conversations in which Trump told Hannity the Iraq invasion would be a disaster, and Hannity, a hard-line conservative supporter of Bush, had defended the war.
If Trump had the power of the ruling elite of 1984, which maintained an elaborate propaganda infrastructure called the “Ministry of Truth” to seek out and destroy all records of the past that didn’t agree with the Party’s current line — and to forge new records that did — he could just call in Sean Hannity and manufacture an interview in which he’d proclaim his opposition to the war, and back-date it to 2002. He doesn’t, but he has such an intense command over the memories of his followers that he can persuade them to believe that he was always against the Iraq war and ignore the documentary evidence that he was actually for it. What’s more, he can respond to mainstream media attempts to fact-check him by tapping into his followers’ long-conditioned hatred of the media and convincing them that “they’re just out to get me.”
Trump did it again during the debate when Clinton said that she took the threat of human-caused climate change seriously while “Trump thinks it’s all a hoax started by the Chinese.” “I never said that,” said Trump, flabbergasting those of us who remembered seeing previous clips of Trump on TV saying exactly that. But, like Orwell’s Inner Party, Trump thinks his power is so great he can remake people’s memories of reality and thereby erase any inconvenient parts of his past. As Tony Schwartz, Trump’s ghostwriter on his book The Art of the Deal, told The New Yorker last July, “Lying is second nature to him. More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.”
George Orwell had a name for that: doublethink. As he defined it in 1984:

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it could not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity, and hence of guilt. Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc [“English Socialism,” the ideology of the ruling Inner Party of 1984], since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty.
To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

Over and over again, in Donald Trump’s political statements, one sees him exercising doublethink. Trump originally emerged as a political figure — following his previous incarnations as a real-estate developer, a casino owner and a “reality” TV-show host — when he discovered and seized on the “birther” movement, the assertion by several conspiracy nuts that President Obama was born in Kenya (or Indonesia, or Saudi Arabia, or Mars) and therefore didn’t meet the Constitutional requirement that the President be “a natural born Citizen” of the U.S. More recently he’s declared that he didn’t start the “birther” controversy — according to Trump, either Hillary Clinton herself or two people involved in her 2008 campaign against Obama for the Democratic nomination, did — and that “I ended it” when Obama finally produced a “long-form” birth certificate in 2011 indicating he was born when and where he always said he was — August 4, 1961 in Honolulu, Hawai’i, U.S.A.
The fact that there are TV clips of Trump raising the “birther” issue even later than that and questioning the authenticity of the birth certificate Obama released doesn’t faze him in the least. To use another Orwell term, he’s mentally flushed them down the “memory hole” — the name in 1984 for the pipeline to the incinerator that physically destroyed records that no longer matched the Party’s current version of the past. Trump’s statement that “I ended” the “birther” controversy also goes to his bizarre belief that he, by the sheer force of his personality and his endless sagacity and wisdom, could will the controversy over just by saying so (though some Trump supporters I’ve met didn’t get the message and cling to the “birther” myth).
Other Trump examples of doublethink are the passage towards the end of the debate in which he said, as Hillary Clinton was attacking him for his lack of temperament (and he was raising his voice to an hysterical pitch and thereby proving her point), “My greatest asset is my temperament.” There’s also his statement that he wasn’t going to mention Bill Clinton’s infidelities during the debate — thereby, according to Doyle McManus of the Los Angeles Times (, engaging in a rhetorical device called “apophasis,” meaning talking about something by saying you’re not going to talk about it — and the bizarre campaign he’s gone on since then trying to convince the American people that somehow Bill Clinton’s affairs are Hillary Clinton’s fault.
No wonder at one point during the debate, an exasperated Hillary said that pretty soon Trump was going to blame her for everything bad that’s ever happened — and Trump flippantly fired back, “Why not?”

Clinton Wins the Aftermath

When I was watching the debate, during the candidates’ answer to Lester Holt’s first question — just how are you going to improve the lives of working Americans? — I joked to my husband that the real debate winner was Bernie Sanders because both Clinton and Trump were sounding so much like him. Clinton was talking about a raise in the minimum wage (though she didn’t say by how much) and making public colleges tuition-free, and Trump fired back by denouncing the one-sided, pro-corporate “free trade” agreements that have been pushed down Americans’ throats ever since the George H. W. Bush administration negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Bill Clinton pushed it through Congress.
Later on, as the punching and counter-punching got more and more inane, and Trump started making those moo-like “wro-o-o-o-ong” noises into the microphone in response to Clinton’s attacks on him (most of which, as I’ve noted above, were ri-i-i-i-ight), I joked that the real winner of the debate was the Libertarian nominee, Gary Johnson. So he can’t name a foreign leader he particularly likes, and he seems to think “Aleppo” is a cool new pet he could buy for his kids, but compared to what both Clinton and Trump were putting on display September 26, he was looking like a model of reality and decorum.
What’s been most amazing about the debate is that just about any other candidate who went through what Trump did on September 26 — particularly how he went from relative coherence and cogence in the early part to bizarre comments about former talk-show hosts and beauty-contest winners towards the end — would take stock and walk back from some of the more self-destructive patterns in his behavior. Not Donald Trump. In the week since the debate he’s doubled down on his attacks on Alicia Machado, who won the Miss Universe contest in 1996 (just after Trump took it over) and who, according to Trump, violated either an explicit or implicit contract with the contest organization by gaining between 20 to 40 pounds in the year after she won.
He’s also doubled down on his attacks on Bill Clinton and his allegations that Hillary is somehow responsible for her husband’s affairs, calling her an “enabler” because she said nasty things about Bill’s ex-paramours way back when. That one is so crazy even Newt Gingrich, who was Speaker of the House when Bill Clinton was impeached over his affairs, thought it was a bad idea to bring it up. “It’s totally the wrong direction to go,” Gingrich told reporters Josh Lederman and Catherine Lucey (“Trump Invokes Bill Clinton’s Infidelities,” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 30, 2016). “He should not let them bait him into a swamp where they can revel in the mud.”
On the other hand, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani thinks it’s a great idea for Trump to bring up the Bill Clinton sex scandals. In the above article, he’s quoted as saying, “[H]e can point out all the questions around them, and one of these questions is how Bill Clinton lied under oath, was one of two Presidents ever impeached, and how Hillary didn’t stand up for an intern in the Oval Office. Instead, she condemned her and called her all kinds of names. She says she stands up for the victims of sexual predators, but she didn’t do it then. That was no victory for feminism.”
Remember who’s talking here. This is Donald Trump, thrice married and twice divorced, who used to boast of his own serial adulteries until it dawned on him that even for someone with as outsized an ego as he, it wouldn’t do to present himself as an out-and-proud cocksman to the self-proclaimed “family values” party. This is Newt Gingrich, who’s also on his third wife, who (like Trump) was screwing wife number two while still married to wife number one, and who asked wife number two if she’d consent to a three-way relationship between them and the woman who became wife number three. And this is Rudy Giuliani, who went through such a messy divorce in his last years as New York Mayor that his wife threw him out of the mayor’s official residence and he was forced to live as the houseguest of a Gay male couple.
But then there seems to be a Trumpworld, as distinct from the real world, in which it is the wife’s fault if her husband cheats on her because she’s supposed to remain sexually attractive and alluring to him — and if she doesn’t, he’s got a right to go elsewhere. In the Trumpworld, beauty contest winners are supposed to keep starving themselves indefinitely because they’re the indentured servants of the contest owners, and if they dare to start eating normally and put on a few pounds they’ve broken the contract and deserve to be punished. I don’t know what bothers Trump more about Rosie O’Donnell — that she’s big or that she’s a Lesbian — but he can’t stop insulting her even though she’s been out of the limelight long enough most people who heard that on the debate probably wondered, “Rosie who?”
Ironically, as the PBS-TV Frontline special on Clinton and Trump aired September 27, the day after the debate, mentioned, Trump actually stuck his neck out for women when he started doing developments in Manhattan in the early 1980’s. He hired Barbara Res to be his construction supervisor to deal with the contractors, and another woman, Louise Sunshine, to be in charge of sales. “Donald told me that he thought that men were better than woman, especially in this field,” Res recalled. “But he said a good woman is better than 10 good men. I think he believed that women had to prove themselves more than men, so a good woman would work harder.”
This pretty much seems to sum up the attitude towards women that applies in the Trumpworld. In 2015, when he was first attacked about his alleged sexism in the context of a Presidential campaign, his defense was that he had many women working in positions of influence and power in his organization. So if you’re Donald Trump, you like women either if they can help make you even richer than you already are or if you can envision wanting to have sex with them, and they with you. Otherwise, they must be fat slobs and pigs with blood coming out of their eyes … or their wherever.
Trump’s penchant for doublethink has been coming out again, big-time, on the issue of his tax returns. For over 40 years it’s been common practice for Presidential candidates to release their tax returns. Not Trump. He says he can’t release them because he’s being audited by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) — though IRS officials keep saying there’s no rule against releasing your tax returns while being audited. During the debate, Clinton suggested a number of reasons why Trump won’t release his returns — either he’s not as rich as he says he is, he doesn’t give as much money in charitable donations as he says he does, or maybe he doesn’t actually pay taxes at all
The last may be closest to the truth, as an October 1 New York Times report ( suggested. The Times received an anonymous mailing from a source purportedly inside the Trump Tower of state tax returns Trump allegedly filed in 1995 in New York and New Jersey. These indicated a “net operating loss” for that year of nearly one billion dollars — $915,729,293 — which, according to tax experts interviewed by the Times, meant that Trump could avoid paying federal and state income taxes for 15 years or more. Jack Mitnick, the attorney and accountant who prepared those returns for Trump and is now semi-retired in Florida, validated the documents as authentic and noted that the software he was then using couldn’t record an annual loss of more than seven digits, so he’d had to type in the “91” by hand.
As Times reporters David Barstow, Susanne Craig, Russ Buettner and Megan Twohey explained in their article, the “net operating loss” provision of the tax code “allows a dizzying array of deductions, business expenses, real estate depreciation, losses from the sale of business assets and even operating losses to flow from the balance sheets of those partnerships, limited liability companies and S corporations onto the personal tax returns of men like Mr. Trump. In turn, those losses can be used to cancel out an equivalent amount of taxable income from, say, book royalties or branding deals. Better still, if the losses are big enough, they can cancel out taxable income earned in other years. Under I.R.S. rules in 1995, net operating losses could be used to wipe out taxable income earned in the three years before and the 15 years after the loss. (The effect of net operating losses on state income taxes varies, depending on each state’s tax regime.)”
In other words, the man who’s based his whole campaign on the idea that he’s going to “make America great again,” especially for its working-class white people who didn’t finish (and mostly didn’t begin) college, is a typical 1-percenter grabbing every opportunity he can to reduce his tax liability so he can get out of paying the government for defense, social programs, schools and the myriad other things it does. And Trump has responded to criticism in his usual fashion; during the debate, when Clinton raised the possibility that Trump might not be paying taxes at all, he said, “That makes me smart.”
Later he said that as the CEO of a publicly traded corporation he has the responsibility to keep its taxes as low as possible — which doesn’t explain why he used the “net operating loss” provision not to reduce his company’s taxes, but to eliminate his personal tax obligation as Donald Trump, citizen. He also questioned whether he should be paying taxes at all since the government wouldn’t know what to do with them. “I hate the way our government spends our taxes because they are wasting our money,” Trump said in the “spin room” after the debate. “They don’t know what they are doing, they are running it so poorly.” And he responded to the New York Times article by claiming that he didn’t authorize the release of the information in it and threatening to sue the paper.
There can be no doubt, both watching the later stages of the September 26 debate and seeing how Donald Trump has behaved in the week after it, that Trump is a dangerous individual who’s using the classic authoritarian strategies George Orwell identified in 1984 (after having observed them in the dictatorships of his own time, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany) to win the Presidency and no doubt would govern in the same authoritarian take-no-prisoners way. He’s a clear and present danger to American politics and American public life, and stopping him from becoming President is absolutely essential. And, given the limitations of America’s winner-take-all political system, the only way to stop Donald Trump from becoming President is to elect Hillary Clinton.

[1] — The original “boodle banquet” took place during the 1884 Presidential campaign and was a fundraiser for Republican nominee James G. Blaine, who was running against Democrat Grover Cleveland. Virtually all the fat-cat robber barons of the period who were enriching themselves at the expense of almost all other Americans attended. Cleveland’s campaign staff and his supporters in the media nicknamed it the “boodle banquet,” and the adverse publicity surrounding it helped make Cleveland the first Democrat to win a Presidential election since James Buchanan 28 years earlier.