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27 September 2016

It’s Over (Again); Stop Worrying (Again): D. Trump, The Virtuous Clod-Hopper

By: Jon Katz
Stop Worrying, Again

Stop Worrying, Again

"The whole process of government, as he views it, is simply a process of promoting his private advantage. He can imagine no good save his own good."   – H.L. Mencken, Democratic Man.

Two months ago, I screwed on my political writer head (I covered politics in Washington and Philadelphia) and wrote that it was time for people to stop worrying so much, Donald Trump had little or no chance of becoming president. The piece went viral and turned out to be the most shared and read piece I have ever written on the blog.

This morning, after watching the first presidential debate, I decided to put the political writer head on one more time. It is necessary to re-visit the issue, hopefully for the last time. I shouldn't need to see any more of these "debates."

Yesterday, I did therapy work with Red for two hours to prepare my head for the first presidential debate, which promised to be ugly and angry, and was. Before watching, I made an effort to clear my head of preconceptions and biases and keep my mind as open as possible, insofar as is possible.

I want to see how I reacted to these two candidates as if I were seeing them for the first time. I especially wanted to try and grasp the appeal of Donald Trump. Most of the time, I simply don't know how anyone who loves their country would want person to run it.

I know it is not literally possible to remove biases – I was never inclined to vote for Donald Trump – but I am often able to detach myself in the way good reporters sometimes can. I'd rather be open-minded than judgmental.

I'm writing once more to say that this man will not win the election in November, barring some spectacular event that has not yet occurred. Unfortunately, this is not a story most of the media wants to tell, because it is not in their interests to do so.

Here's why you can stop worrying:

For this piece to be helpful, it is important to understand that politics in America is now covered by the media in the same way football or sports championships are covered. You are not really offered the truth, just the conflict and maneuvering behind it. It's all about the show, not the substance. Trump surely caught that wave.

It is ironic to me that Donald Trump – I call him Commander Whineass – complains so loudly about the media, since he is literally a Frankenstein creation of it. The cable networks are making hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars on Donald Trump and the furor he has created – he is correct when he says he ought to get a cut of the money. He has, from the first, been given more free airtime than any person or any issue in modern world history.

Run by greedy corporations, not responsible citizens, the new media will keep it going as long as they can, no matter what the damage or cost to the system. And social media will feed the frenzy.

Their traffic is up more than 40 per cent, their ad revenues much more than that. They will not tell you what ever serious pollster and professional politician and honest journalist already knows – even with the much touted narrowing, Trump still has yet on any day to have had a better than 31 per cent chance of winning the election, just five weeks away.

It is customary after conventions for candidates to get "bumps," and for the race to narrow, especially in so polarized a culture. To understand where we are – and sadly, you will not learn this from Twitter or the news networks – you have to realize that at the moment we are not one nation, but two nations existing within a nation.

Two nations with different constituencies, media, political organizations, ideology and agenda, and values.

If there is a big story in American politics this year, it is that, not Donald Trump. We are in The Civil War, Part Two, without, thankfully, the bloodshed.

I suspect they don't really want anyone to see this because the illusion of vigorous debate within two narrowly defined systems keeps us convinced that our democracy is vigorous, when in fact,it is crippled. Without the illusion of vigorous debate, we might not get so distracted by their reality.

The polarization of the country into ever-noxious "left" and "right" clusters has upended traditional ideas of politics.

If Attila The Hun labeled himself on one side of the other, he would almost automatically get between 44 and 47 per cent of the vote, even if he were videotaped slaughtering innocent children. It would not mean he is popular or wise, it would mean that he was the chosen candidate of the "left" and the "right" and the numbed and manipulated adherents to those movements are losing their ability to make rational decisions, or even decisions in their own best interests.

Only nine per cent of American voters voted for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump up to this point, neither seems to be the true choices of most people. Why isn't that the issue? And is it really surprising that people are so angry?

The idea of the left and the right creates the illusion of choice and thought, but it is, of course neither. When one labels themselves in so shallow a way, they no longer have any reason to listen or think.  Just argue and defend and rage.

And that is the underlying drama in our national elections. It is a formula for stalemate and dysfunction, which is what has happened to our legislative system. Nobody negotiates, listens or thinks, they simply and blindly embrace two very narrow choices. Therein, a season of rage.

No matter what Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump do or say in any debate,  they will each capture nearly half of the likely voters in America. Debates don't matter to followers, they are just new reasons for outrage and suspicion.

Trump and Clinton cannot lose their voters, in this sense.  The debates are not for them. The challenge for them is to capture the dwindling numbers of non-affiliated voters, who, in such a close race, will make the difference.

This is just as true of the left as it is of the right. Hillary Clinton's core supporters will not abandon her for any reason, neither will  Trump's.  For most of us, the debates have no relevance at all.

That means the election is really about the roughly 8 to 15 per cent of Americans who do not define themselves so narrowly and who actually watch debates and listen to the news to make judgments about who they will vote for.

Clinton has a virtual lock on enough states to win the Electoral College, she doesn't need to win many more than those (states like New York and New Jersey, California, Illinois and Massachusetts.) Trump has, as was expected, narrowed the race as the Republican party coalesces around him and decides he would be preferable to a Clinton presidency. The citizens of the left and the right are not fungible, they have few places to go.

For Trump to truly narrow the race and win, he must capture a substantial number of those undecided voters.

He must also win at least some of the African-American voters who polls show overwhelmingly favor his opponent.  He must also win the votes of more suburban women outside of cities like Philadelphia, Hispanic voters and new citizens,  younger people, disaffected Republicans and college-educated whites. Those are the cohorts that are either undecided or doing what votes in a democracy are supposed to do – decide for themselves. And he cannot win without them.

Like him or not, Trump has mangled his efforts to reach out to African-American voters who resent his Birther campaign against President Obama and his continuing portrayals of African-American communities as a kind of "hell," cesspools of crime and hopelessness. He could not have insulted Mexicans and Hispanics more thoroughly than he has.

He isn't going to win any Hispanic votes by promising to build his $25 billion wall, which every sane person knows will never be built. He will not win black votes by calling for more law and order, or more stop-and-frisk police operations either. If nothing is clear in this election year, it is that African-Americans have had quite enough of our idea about law and order and stop-and-frisk operations. I wonder that Donald Trump doesn't know that. Everybody knows that.

And Donald Trump simply cannot relate to women or the issues many of them care about.

He projects himself as a whining, viscerally sexist bully almost every day.

Was he going to win over women voters by denigrating Hillary Clinton's looks and stamina?

You really cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Black voters are simply not buying Trump's claim to be their greatest champion. That would be stupid. Hispanics do not accept his claims that they are "wonderful" or that he "loves them." He has been demonizing them all year. Few young people – even those suspicious of Hillary Clinton – are flocking to Trump's campaign.

Women are notoriously intuitive, especially when it comes to politics – they have a clear sense of who is with them and who is not.  They tend to feel as well as listen. Trump cannot escape his past – calling women pigs and fat slobs, for example.

In the debate, Donald Trump offered none of these constituencies a single reason to support Trump. Looked at analytically and away from the gaseous pundits, Trump is on a suicide run. Whatever he seeks, it isn't the presidency of the United States.

The Republican hierarchy is gnashing its teeth over this election, it would have been relatively easy for any one of a number of their candidates to beat Hillary Clinton this year, she has been so unpopular, fairly or not.

Trump can't do it, not before the debate, but especially, not after it. What I saw last night was a man who becomes unhinged when criticized.

Hillary Clinton was never – not for a minute – talking to her supporters or Trump's. She had her eye and her questions squarely on that shrinking species of American voter – the few who are actually listening and thinking and trying to make up their minds. The true democrats.

In the context of what Donald Trump really needed to do last night, it was a catastrophe evening for him. Not because his supporters will abandon him. The hard-core legions of the left and the right are like the zombies in The Walking Dead, they follow blindly. The Internet has eaten their brains.

I am not writing this to add to the endless argument and paranoia that characterizes our political system, but to point out again and again that the election was over before the debate, it is even more over now. Stop worrying and move on with your lives.If you love your country, move on and then vote.

When I watched Donald Trump last night, I could not find a single reason to think of supporting  him, even as he made some powerful points about the failure of government to help so many people in recent years. He has never in his life lifted one finger on behalf of the continuously betrayed people who support him so eagerly.

I thought of H.L. Mencken's "virtuous clod-hopper," a bombastic, self-serving creature who rises up in American politics from time to time, scares the hell out of everyone and advances the idea that every man who dissects from his fear-mongering theology is a scoundrel, and devoid of civil rights. (think of Mexicans and immigrants and outspoken women.)

Trump struck me as Mencken's famous "yokel." Mencken wrote about the Donald Trump's of the political world, he called them mountebanks and yokels, they do appear from time to time, they are, in their own way, as American as apple pie. It is an old American tradition for the angry mobs to practice the right to choose between two political mountebanks, and to yell for the more obviously dishonest. The mountebanks go far, but are all ultimately brought down by the same thing – they have no program but fear and hatred.

Read for yourself.

"The yokel hates every one who is not a yokel – and is afraid of everyone. He is democratic man in the altogether. He is the glory and bulwark of all democratic states. The city proleterian may be flustered and run amok by ideas – ideas without any sense, true enough, but still ideas. The yokel has room in his head for only one. That is the idea that God treats him fondly, and has a high respect for him – that all other men are out of favor in heaven and abandoned by the devil."

Our newest yokel made a complete fool out of himself Monday night, and has become edging towards the history books.  I will say it again without reservation. You can stop worrying, he is not going to be President of the United States.

Posted in General

Goodbye, Three Sisters Garden

By: Jon Katz
It's Over, Again

We cut down the corn stalks in the Three Sisters garden and fed them to the donkeys and pony, we hung the sunflowers on he fence, the animals will love to eat them as well. The garden was a success for Maria, she plans to double it in size next year, we got corn, cucumbers, beans, tomatoes and  two pumpkins. Next Spring, we will add or expand two or three gardens, including Nasturtiums and Cosmos.

Still, a sure sign of Autumn and the approaching winter, which is, according to the meteorologists, going to be rough.

Posted in General
26 September 2016

Red In The Meadow

By: Jon Katz
Red In The Meadow

Red In The Meadow

In the woods, we sometimes walk through tall grass and a meadow, Red runs up ahead. If he gets too far ahead of us, he stops and sits and waits for us to catch up. The other day, I saw him looking through the meadow grass, waiting. It is a gift to have a dog who would never run off, and who knows how and when to wait.

Posted in General

Therapy Work. Red And Mary’s Cat

By: Jon Katz
Red And Mary's Cat

Red And Mary's Cat

Mary has been at the assisted care facility since May, she moved to be close to her daughter. In order to move there, she had to turn her five-year-old cat over to the animal shelter in her small town, and she misses the cat and is worried about what has happened to her.

She is one of our regular visits, and she loves to stroke and touch Red, she smiles and talks softly to him, he sometimes lies at her feet and looks up at her. She loves the feel of him and the affection emanating from him. It never fails to amaze me how much it means to people at the edge of life when they see a dog, animals are a channel to their best, to love and good memories, to the connection of life.

Many of the people I meet are content where they are, they feel safe. There is sometimes an inevitable loneliness in the air, even in the best kind of care. Somehow, the spirit of an animal eases that, brings smiles.

Mary said she was worried about her cat, she had some difficult "problems" and wondered if she had been adopted. I wrote down the name of the shelter and said I would call them and find out what happened to her cat. When Red is there, Mary leans over and smiles, and the two connection in an almost tangible way.

Mary loves historical novels, I will bring her some.

Posted in General

Therapy Work: Connie

By: Jon Katz
Connie And Mary

Connie And Mary

They took Thanksgiving and turned it into a discount shopping festival, and they've  taken the presidency and turned it into a political kind of Super Bowl. I needed to get away from the anger and the fear, so Red and I went to an assisted care facility nearby to do our therapy work, there is nothing more cleansing, healing or affirming.

Lots of people tell me their dogs would make great therapy dogs, and maybe that is so, but it takes very precise training and a very special dog to do what Red does, I have a never had as natural a therapy dog as Red. He was born to do this work.

We knocked on Connie's door and asked if she wanted to see Red – we have seen her every week these past few weeks – and she said "yes!" loudly through the door, she was asleep in her chair, an oxygen air pump attached to her nostrils so she can breathe easily.

Red wove  his way through the walker and tubes and pipes and put his head forward, Connie grabbed it in her hands and repeated again and again, "what a good boy," what a beautiful boy.

People ask me again and again how you train a therapy don't, and in a sense, you can't. I reinforce Red when he looks at a patient, and show him that the people are the work, and he takes it pretty much from there. My commands are "go up," which is go to the patient, "stay there," which means don't move, and "get close," a sign for him to press against the person we are visiting.

I discourage people from talking to me, as I need to pay attention to Red, he gets many cues from me, my commands, hands and eyes. I am always looking at the person, he follows my gaze. If he looks at me, which he sometimes does, I look away and am silent. I might frown or shake my head.

This kind of work – and especially hospice and dementia work – can be so unpredictable. People can trip over tubes and wires, fall out of chairs, shout out in pain or confusion. We've had cats pop up from under beds shrieking, an oxygen tank blow open with a huge bang (this was several years ago), an elderly man confuse my dog with a squirrel and try to beat him over the head. People make sudden movements, strange sounds.

My rule is zero mistakes. So far, I've never been involved in one, I mean to keep it that way. The last thing these people need is to be frightened or harmed by a dog. Connie is now very much attached to Red, we know her schedule, bring her books, sometimes flowers, talk to her when she can.

I could feel the tension and confusion in the country, it was in the air, and so Red and I had the sweetest couple of hours imaginable, creating good and simple people at the edge of life who were so happy to see us. Perspective is a great healer.

Posted in General