the weekly vent

The Weekly Vent: We’ve entered The Gaslight Zone

Remember the TV show The Twilight Zone? If you’re middle-aged, you probably do. It was famous for its unsettling introduction by narrator/creator Rod Serling, which always ended with the dark words: “You’ve entered … The Twilight Zone.” And thus would begin another episode of warped reality, almost like science fiction but set in the quotidian, humdrum, familiar environments of American homes, small towns, cities.

It has become ever more clear that with the election of Donald Trump, we are entering uncharted territory: the most powerful nation on earth is now led by a malignant narcissist with a tenuous grasp on the truth, a lot of hatred in his heart, and many unsavory supporters. I call him President Donald Cobblepot:  “Only I Can Protect You…” . The coming years will severely test our culture and our democracy. Do you think “it can’t happen here”? Yes, it can. In fact, there’s a Twilight Zone episode about that very possibility: “He’s Alive”.

“Portrait of a bush-league Fuehrer named Peter Vollmer, a sparse little man who feeds off his self-delusions and finds himself perpetually hungry for want of greatness in his diet. And like some goose-stepping predecessors, he searches for something to explain his hunger, and to rationalize why a world passes him by without saluting. The something he looks for and finds is in a sewer. In his own twisted and distorted lexicon, he calls it faith, strength, truth.” Sound familiar?

And so in honor of Rod Serling, I am naming this era “The Gaslight Zone.” We have entered The Gaslight Zone. Donald Trump’s favorite method of communication, like abusive spouses and bosses, and tyrants everywhere, is the tactic known as “gaslighting.”  He makes statements that are recorded, then baldly denies having made them. He sends outrageous “tweets” to distract the press and the public from his actions. He lies, then doubles down on his lies when caught. He attacks people and groups who correctly describe his statements and activities: from a teenager, to CNN, to individual journalists and Hollywood stars, to the BBC. He is a modern version of an American fascist, and he has fanatic followers whose chants at his rallies, pre and post-election, are eerily reminiscent of German brownshirts and whose “alt-right” neo-Nazi activities are clearly inspired by 1930s Germany: American Nazis Rising as Trump’s Armed Brownshirts to Target Jews.

Trump’s campaign included many “dog-whistles” to white supremacists and neo-Nazis. He has barely commented that they should “stop” when pressed on that point, and he has appointed one of the “alt-right”‘s chief spokesmen, enablers and promoters, Steve Bannon, to be one of his closest advisers in the White House. OUR White House. The house of the American people.

We must all work against the hatred and gaslighting that this administration will constantly inject into our government and politics. Check facts. Call out lies. Demand accountability from Trump and the GOP. Go to work at the grass-roots of democracy. Try to counter the tide. We cannot let this man take our country and the world down this road. We’ve been there before. It’s not a good place.

 

 

Anthony "Tony" Imperiale, leader of 1981 GOP ballot security force in New Jersey.

The Weekly Vent: Voting Rights

I’m old enough now, and have been voting for enough decades, that I recognize a voter intimidation campaign when I see one. And I see one now, unfolding before our eyes.

The GOP nominee has started claiming, with his surrogates, that if he doesn’t win in November, it will be because the election was “rigged.” This, in spite of many polls that show how much ground he is losing, day after day.

So the GOP is now resorting to one of its favorite tactics: “ballot security” measures, that are claimed to prevent “voter fraud” but have been proven to intimidate the minority voters whose precincts somehow attract most of this GOP-organized activity. GOP speakers are raising the same old GOP red herring of “voter fraud”, which the party has been using for some years now to pass state laws that unconstitutionally limit American citizens’ voting rights. Those laws are now being struck down by federal court after federal court, but it’s a slow process. And although the U.S. Supreme Court left in place a consent decree entered into more than thirty years ago to settle a lawsuit against the Republican National Committee for such practices in New Jersey in 1981 (led by the man in the featured image, above), it is not binding on the “independent” political groups that now play such a big part in our elections.

What does “ballot security” mean? We all want our ballots to be secure, don’t we? Here’s what it means, as implemented by the GOP since the 1950s, according to a distinguished political scientist who published an exhaustive study of “ballot security” programs:

[S]ome of the features of vote suppression efforts put forth by Republicans under the guise of ballot security programs, as they have been described in this Report:

1. An organized, often widely publicized effort to field poll watchers in what Republicans call “heavily Democratic,” but what are usually minority, precincts;

2. Stated concerns about vote fraud in these precincts, which are occasionally justified but often are not;

3. Misinformation and fear campaigns directed at these same precincts, spread by radio, posted signs in the neighborhoods, newspapers, fliers, and phone calls, which are often anonymously perpetrated;

4. Posting “official-looking” personnel at polling places, including but not limited to off-duty police—sometimes in uniform, sometimes armed;

5. Aggressive face-to-face challenging techniques at the polls that can confuse, humiliate, and intimidate—as well as slow the voting process—in these same minority precincts;

6. Challenging voters using inaccurate, unofficial lists of registrants derived from “do-not-forward” letters sent to low-income and minority neighborhoods;

7. Photographing, tape recording, or videotaping voters; and

8. Employing language and metaphors that trade on stereotypes of minority voters as venal and credulous.

Ballot-security programs employing these techniques, as the above research has shown, are not usually the work of a few renegades out of touch with the leadership structure. The history of such programs from the 1950s to the present reveals that lawyers, judges, election officials, and people high in the state or national command hierarchy of the Republican Party and its campaigns are typically the leaders of the disfranchising efforts …

That study was published around 2004. Since then, the GOP has pushed hard, often successfully, to lift restrictions on the ownership, use and public carrying of guns, including military-style rapid-fire weapons. There are already documented incidents of “open-carry” activists showing up at meetings of citizens and even legislators opposed to their own positions, openly armed with intimidating weapons. I expect to see more of the same near polling places this November, in largely minority or Democratic-leaning precincts. The GOP’s nominee and his spokespeople are already whipping up their supporters into a frenzy of violent imagery and suggestions — look at their national convention and the rabid verbal attacks and threats made during it and since then toward opponents like Gold Star father Khizr Khan and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

I will vote early this November. I will urge others who might feel intimidated by poll watchers at their polling places to do likewise. I will volunteer as a non-partisan supporter of voting rights at the polls on Election Day. And I will never forget or forgive the many, many GOP leaders who are either backing up and repeating their nominee’s crazed dog whistles to the violent lunatic fringe, or at best pretending not to hear them.

Photo: 1981 Republican “ballot security” enforcer Anthony Imperiale, Newark NJ, in 1969; image from http://www.pastdaily.com

 

Khizr and Ghazala Khan at the Democratic National Convention, speaking about their son Captain Humayun Khan

Sad and Mad Again

I simply cannot believe that there are more than a handful of voters on the lunatic fringe who can actually bring themselves to vote for Trump, even after his disgusting, disgraceful attacks on the Khan family, whose appearance at the Democratic National Convention was one of the most powerful, moving presentations I have ever seen on television. I feel so sad for them, while I can also see their justified pride in their lost son.

However, I am well aware that there are many of my fellow Americans who, as one put it, plan to “vote with their middle fingers” in November by voting for the GOP nominee. What they do not acknowledge is that by doubling down on their support for him after his insane attacks on the Khan family, they are also giving the middle finger to a Gold Star family that deserves nothing but all Americans’ sympathy, respect and gratitude.

What evil miasma has taken over so many of my fellow citizens? I didn’t think it could get much worse than the lunatics who have repeatedly claimed that the bereaved parents of little children murdered in Sandy Hook Elementary School are actors promulgating a government fraud, and that no one was killed. This may be even worse.

I have never voted a straight party ticket in all my decades as a voter, but I will do so this fall, for the Democratic Party, to send a message to the GOP that their embrace of this wicked charlatan at the top of their ticket is beyond the pale. I hope others do that too.

 

King Louie in The Jungle Book 2016 movie by Disney Pictures.

“Only I Can Protect You…”

Paraphrase of GOP nominee Donald Trump’s acceptance speech last week? Well, his exact words were “I alone can fix it”, after conjuring up a dark vision of America as the beleaguered, corrupt, twilight Gotham City of “Batman Returns.”

BATMAN RETURNS – Penguin’s speech from DAVE STONE on Vimeo; film by Warner Bros.

But a different movie immediately came to my mind: this year’s remake of Disney’s “The Jungle Book”. The orange hair, the Queens accent … ammiright?

The GOP nominee wants you to believe that only HE can protect you, and he will — for a price. Think about it. I don’t live in Gotham City, do you?

Donald Trump, angry; the 2016 GOP nominee.

Donald Trump, the GOP nominee.

King Louie in The Jungle Book 2016 movie by Disney Pictures.

King Louie; image from Disney Pictures.

 

Goyle losing control of Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement, in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows".

The Weekly Vent: Boris Goyle

Brexit, the gift that keeps on giving. So today, Boris Johnson, a politician whose success I have never, ever understood (that hair!), who led the campaign for the UK to leave the EU in a clear attempt to wrest the job of Prime Minister away from his arch-rival David Cameron, announced that sorry, no, he won’t be seeking that job after all. In other words, having unleashed the destructive forces of political and economic chaos, Boris is opting out of the hard work of restoring any kind of order.

And all I could think of was the scene from “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” when Goyle starts the Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement, thinking he will destroy Harry, Ron and Hermione, and stands there shaking his wand while the fire rages out of control around him, consuming everything in its path. Boris thinks that he and his ambitions will make a clean getaway while everyone else is reduced to ashes, but I wouldn’t be so sure if I were he. Look what happened to Goyle.

Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Fiendfyre. Image: Warner Bros.

 

 

Congressman John Lewis and other House members sitting in on the floor of Congress to demand action on gun safety and gun control.

The Weekly Vent: A Middle-Aged Sit-In

One of my heroes, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia, has had enough with the obfuscation and obstructionism in Congress after so many mass shootings. He is leading a sit-in of fellow members of the House of Representatives. U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who led the recent filibuster on the same issues in the Senate, has stopped by to offer support. I’m glad elected officials are finally forcing a public conversation, because we just can’t go on like this. You can watch some of the sit-in on CNN.

Image: cnn.com

Candles lit for victims of Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, June 2016.

If Martin Niemoller Were Here Today …

If Martin Niemoller were here today …

They shot the high school students. And I didn’t speak out, because I wasn’t a high school student.

Then they shot the college students. And I didn’t speak out, because I didn’t go to college.

They shot the immigrants. And I didn’t speak out, because I’m not an immigrant.

They shot the midnight movie-goers, and the public employees. And I didn’t speak out, because I don’t go to movies at midnight and I’m not a public employee.

They shot the customers at Luby’s and MacDonald’s, and I didn’t speak out because I don’t eat at Luby’s or MacDonald’s.

They shot Parisians and Texans, and I didn’t speak out because I’ve never been to Paris or Texas.

They shot Tunisians and Egyptians and tourists, and I didn’t speak out because I don’t know any Tunisians or Egyptians and I’m not a tourist.

They shot Sikhs and Jews and the Amish, and I didn’t speak out because I’m not a Sikh or Jewish or Amish.

They shot black Christians in church, and I didn’t speak out because I’m not black or Christian and I don’t go to church.

THEY SHOT FIRST-GRADERS AND THEIR TEACHERS, and I didn’t speak out because I’m not a parent or a teacher.

Now they’ve shot Latino/a and LGBT club-goers and I’m not Latinx, or LGBT, and I don’t go to nightclubs.  Who is left to speak? Will I speak out now? Will you?

#NoBillNoBreak #DisarmHate #HateWontWin

So why ARE we so angry?

As anyone who knows me is well aware, I get confused very easily. So the other afternoon when I was using the drive-up ATM near my favorite grocery store, I somehow managed to make a wrong turn, thereby exiting the parking lot through an entrance lane. Before I could drive off, a woman in a […]

via Why Are We So Angry? — Muddling Through My Middle Age