Most people are familiar with the aphorism "While the optimist sees the glass as being half full, the pessismist sees the glass as being half empty." For as long as I can remember, my response has been: "What matters most is that there's something in the glass, which would make one a realist." Of course, one person's reality is another's fantasy, just as one person's factuality is another's falsity The difference between fact and fiction - or "real" versus "fake" news - has over the past several years become a matter heated, angry debate. Recently, veteran Sixty Minutes reporter Lesley Stahl interviewed PBS Newshour host and editor Judy Woodruff. At one point in the interview, the conversation turned to '45. Stahl recalled interviewing him and asking why he relentlessly attacked the media. Woodruff told Ms. Stahl that the POTUS answered “I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you." One suspects he doesn’t believe half of the mean-spirited and unfounded statements and tweets about the media that come out of his mouth and/or fingers, but rather uses these attacks as a shield, a dangerous shield against the truth and truthful reporting.
If you are a "glass is half full" sort, you likely believe the mainstream media is reporting things factually. If you are a "glass is half empty" sort, you likely believe the POTUS and his tight-knit circle that there's a conspiracy of fakery going on 24-hours a day. If, like moi you are a "what matters most is that there's something in the glass" sort, you are likely concerned with cause and effect: e.g., are '45's rants and twitter raves the cause of all those merchants of mendacity succeeding with a large portion of the public, or is '45's being elected POTUS the reflection - or effect - of all this mendacity itself?
If this last point seems a bit intellectually murky or turgid, perhaps a chillingly specific example will clear things up a bit. According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least eight white nationalists and self-admitted Nazis are running for office in 2018. They have been as up-front and unabashedly loquacious about their hatred for African Americans, Hispanics and Muslims, as well as their firm belief that Israel and the Jews represent an even greater threat to America than Islamic terrorists. And mind you, these hateful candidates aren't running for dogcatcher in East Elbow, Idaho; they are running for the House of Representatives, the United States Senate and state legislatures. Whether or not any of them stand a snowball's chance in hell of being elected (they do not) is besides the point. The fact that they are actually running as Republicans and are unafraid of telling the public what they "know" to be "the truth" is. This story, which was brought to my attention by my student and constant reader Richard Cohen, has been covered by NBC News. It is a story that should cause a lot of constipation, worry and more than a few sleepless nights.
"There's nothing new about these kinds of people running for office," the more historically savvy members of the alt-right will proclaim, and then mention the late West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, who was a member of the KKK back in the mid-1940s. Byrd spent nearly 60 years serving West Virginia in both the House and Senate, and spent nearly 60 years apologizing for ever having been a part of that noxious, racist group. But to compare a man from West Virginia who was a member of the Klan in the 1940s to a California anti-Semite (the appropriately-named Richard Little) running for the United States Senate from California in 2018 betrays a lack of historic knowledge. Sure, Robert Byrd did belong to the Klan in 1946-47. Then too, nearly 70% of the people in America smoked cigarettes in the 1940s, and there were actually ad campaigns proclaiming that Camels were, by far," the favorite smoke of American physicians." Then too, during the 1940s, it was illegal for a white man to marry a black woman in more than half the states, and one could be given a "blue discharge" from the United States military for being gay. Simply stated, these were incredibly different times. In retrospect, while a majority of sensible people don't agree with their points of view,, we should nonetheless understand that Byrd's being a short-time Klansman in 1940's West Virginia - although despicable by latter-day understanding - wasn't all that peculiar. To bring it up in the twenty-first century as a rationalization for a racist or proto-Nazi being cool in 2018 is both intellectually degraded and morally reprehensible.
The question becomes one of cause and effect: if disgustingly noxious candidates like Arthur Jones, Paul Nehlen, Sean Donahue, John Abarr, Patrick Little and others who are as openly racist and Holocaust-denyingly anti-Semitic as any Klansman or neo-Stoßtruppen, are given strength by - or are reflections of - the current president and his administration. Without question, '45 has a lot of Jewish people in his inner circle: son-in-law Jared Kusher, Secretary of the Treasury Stephen Mnuchin, former economic advisor Gary Cohn (who resigned and was replaced by the now-Catholic Larry Kudlow), former campaign advisor Sam Nunberg (whom Trump sued for $10 million), and attorney Michael Cohen. Many Jews believe '45 to be the most pro-Israel, Jewish-friendly president in American history, largely on the strength of his moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. And yet, many prominent anti-Semites (like David Duke and Pastor Robert Jeffress) believe him to be a member in good standing of their houses of worship. And yet, professional anti-Semites seem to have found a landsman, an understanding compatriot in the nation's 45th president. Oh sure, there were racists, white nationalists and neo-Nazis during the Regan, Bush, Clinton, Bush and Obama years; it's just that they weren't so damnably open about it . . . feeling empowered enough to run for office on platforms of extreme prejudice and hatred. Perhaps back then, they knew that the White House would be quick to condemn their brainless bigotry; but not today.
This past week has focused attention on yet another big-mouthed, small-minded bigot: Rosanne Barr. The Twitter tirade which caused ABC to cancel her top-rated show is by now so well known that there is no need to repeat it here. In matters of "cause and effect," it is hard to know if her words and sentiments were caused by the words and sentiments emanating from the White House, or are a mere reflection (call it "echoing") of the current atmosphere. Whatever the answer - if indeed, there is one - it is worth noting that it took the POTUS nearly a week to break his silence on the scandal. That is notable. What is just as notable - if not more so - is what he didn't say. For in his utterly sarcastic tweet on the subject, '45 wrote: "Bob Iger of ABC [actually, he's CEO of Disney, which owns ABC] called Valerie Jarrett to let her know that 'ABC does not tolerate comments like those' made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the HORRIBLE statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call?" Rather than distancing himself from Barr's racist remarks, '45 jumped right into the argument about whether she was subjected to a double standard.
So school me: is it cause or effect?
502 days down, 970 days to go.
Copyright©2018 Kurt F. Stone