Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Have You Ever Been Conned? (If You’re a Trumper, No Need to Answer)

We have all been conned at one time or another, and it’s a terrible feeling when you realize you’ve been conned.

The fact that Donald Trump still has as many supporters as he does must make him the most successful con artist ever. But no con artist lasts forever. Joseph McCarthy conned Americans into thinking actors, journalists and professors were communists, but eventually he fell. Donald Trump will fall too, and it’s interesting to see that he’s now employing the same technique of communist fear mongering as McCarthy did. As I noted in my Talking Turkey column on April 9th, Trump’s first and greatest mentor was Roy Cohn, who served Senator McCarthy in his 1950s witch hunt.

The original con of Trump is that he’s a successful businessman. As detailed in numerous books, not just Mary Trump’s, he is, in fact, a serial failure, filing numerous bankruptcies. When he conned banks into lending him millions of dollars which they then lost, he conned them into continued support to avoid their own embarrassment. We still have much to learn, thanks to the ongoing criminal investigation of the Trump Organization in New York, especially with regards to Deutsche Bank.

A good example of this ongoing con was an email I received this Tuesday morning from Bob D.  It forwarded an urban legend titled “A Man With a Good Heart” Here it is:

The 14th of June, 1946 is the birthday of a boy born in the Jamaica district of Queens, NYC. In 1995, his car has a flat tire. A black man walking by notices it's owner is wearing a suit. So he fixes the flat. "How can I repay you?" asks our birthday boy. "My wife has always wanted some flowers" A few days later, the black man's wife gets a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a note saying, "Thanks for helping me. By the way,....the mortgage on your house is paid off." A USMC Sargent spends 7 months in a Mexican prison for a minor charge. He is beaten. The man from Queens sends him a check for $25,000 "To get you started." A black bus driver saves a suicidal girl from jumping off a bridge. Our Queens man sends him a check for $10,000. A rabbi's critically ill son needs to get from NCY the California for specialty care. No airlines will fly him. The generous man pays for a private flight for the child. This kind man from Queens commits many other "quiet acts of random kindness." A wise man once said "If a man's heart is good,....Nothing else matters. And if a man's heart is bad,....Nothing else matters." Who is this kind man?...???.Trump. Donald J. Trump,....a man with a good heart.

When I replied to Bob D. with a Snopes link about this urban legend, he replied as follows, which says so much about the victims of Trump’s artistry:

Comrade, Who is trying to 'con' who with your propogandist pap?  Your case of TDS (Trump Degenerative Syndrome) is the worst I have seen! Get over it! Trump won, commies lost!”

A con survives in darkness. As it is unraveled by those who see it, those who don’t see it are told that the truth is not the truth, and not to read or watch those news sources that say otherwise. That strategy is abetted by conservative TV and radio talk show hosts who lend credibility to the con over and over.

To do that, these enablers of the con depend on conspiracy theories, and Donald Trump gives as good as he gets. The Netflix documentary “The Confidence Man” is an excellent documentary about Trump's addiction to conspiracy theories, starting with the "birther" theory that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

When I responded to another discredited line with a Snopes link, the writer replied simply “Snopes=Soros.” That’s not true either, but it allows the propagators of disproven stories to dismiss the single best non-partisan source of fact-checking.

George Soros, if you don’t know, is a wealthy backer of Democrats.)

What amazes those of us who see Trump for the con artist he is, is how he has been enabled by Senators and Congressmen who do know that it’s a con, but choose to perpetuate it for their own political gain. This will change when continuing to support Trump more clearly spells re-election defeat and/or when Trump is out of office, hopefully in January.

I know Sen. McConnell and his co-enablers know the truth but choose to ignore it, because clearly every Senator and Congressman does read the Washington Post and the New York Times and does watch CNN and the broadcast networks, because that’s virtually required when you’re an elected official.

From the very beginning, we’ve been waiting for “moderate” Republicans to turn on their “dear leader,” but that’s regrettably still in the future — hopefully, for our nation’s sake, in the near future.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

“I’m More Fearful of the Radical Left Than I Am of Donald Trump.”

The above quote really sums up the attitude of those who say they will be voting for Trump in November. That’s my conclusion from reading the large number of emails I’ve received in response to this column — and it’s a direct quote from one of them.
Virtually every Trump supporter admits that the president is seriously flawed, citing the same characteristics which the rest of us cite as reasons to vote against him. “It’s a terrible choice we have this year, but I’ll accept Trump for his flaws rather than let socialists, communists and Marxists take over,” to paraphrase the common theme I am hearing from them.
Democrats are portrayed as tolerating the violence and destruction “in Democratic controlled cities” like Portland, and Fox News is happy to feature that violence on every broadcast.  Trump is clever to send in federal agents, knowing that doing so will further escalate the violence, furthering a narrative that is central to his campaign.
“Defunding police” is an unfortunate term that is portrayed by Trump and Fox as abolishing law enforcement completely — another reason (if it were true) to fear a Democratic win in November. Even when acknowledging that Biden himself opposes defunding the police and is not a socialist or communist, the pitch is that he is senile and will be a puppet for his communist followers represented by AOC and “the squad.” These women of color “hate America” and, according to Trump, should “go back to the shithole countries they came from” — although, of course, they are all Americans. It’s a dog whistle to the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) racism of his core supporters.
What is it about AOC’s and Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism” that is so scary to Trump supporters? The right has come to support Social Security and Medicare, government programs attacked as socialistic when they were created.
And what is communist or Marxist about the Green New Deal? It’s about marshaling the resources of free enterprise and government to stem the warming of our planet which is causing increasing worldwide disruption and destruction. Free enterprise is already on board, fortunately, with solar and other green industries booming.
There has been talk recently, fueled by the president himself, that Trump might not accept the results of the November election if he loses. A bigger fear is that his well-armed militia supporters won’t accept it — especially if a Democratic win is considered a Marxist takeover — and we’ll have armed conflict instead of a peaceful transition of power. We can only pray that this doesn’t happen, but the signs are there and the justification for it is being amplified daily by the president.
As a former journalist myself, I am most disturbed by the attacks on the media and the dismissal of solid reporting unfavorable to Trump as “fake news.”  This is a core strategy of authoritarians, to have their followers get all their news from “official” sources and to dismiss anything said by others. What makes it so effective, of course, is that there’s a TV network or two (Fox and OANN) to give credence to the “company line.”  I honor the broadcast networks and CNN for soldiering on and reporting in the face of the verbal attacks, arrests and even death threats.
You can find an excellent summary of this thesis by Fareed Zakaria  (link) on last Sunday's Global Public Square (GPS) program.  In his hour-long documentary, viewable on CNNgo, there’s an excellent and frightening explanation of the Qanon which underlies the right’s readiness to dismiss the growing number of former Trump administration officials, generals and advisors (examples below) who have written books and op-ed articles saying a second Trump term could destroy America. Also check out Frontline’s “United States of Conspiracy," (link) which aired this Tuesday but which you can now watch online. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

It’s Useful to Know the Arguments Trump Supporters Make About Their Man

Researching and writing this column has given me an insight which many readers don’t have into what Trump supporters believe to be true about their candidate and what they are being told about Joe Biden. In addition to sampling Fox News (the primary diet of Trump supporters), I get lengthy emails from readers who are under the president’s spell — and who will remain under his spell no matter what the president says or does between now and the election on Nov. 3rd.

I have identified three principal themes to the Trump campaign strategy — and those themes will continue to work for his unquestioning and sheltered “base.” These themes are reinforced and given legitimacy by the base’s sources of information and opinion — the president’s tweets, Trump-promoting media like Fox News Channel, and emailed memes and narratives which are forwarded unquestioned by millions of Trump followers.  Here are some of them:

The three themes I have identified are: First, that Donald Trump, the “very stable genius,” has kept his campaign promises, revived a stalled economy inherited from Obama, and has been wrongly attacked (and spied upon illegally) from even before he took office. Second, Joe Biden is senile, can’t put two sentences together, and will be a puppet to supporters who are socialists/communists/Marxists (who “hate” America). Third, the country is under attack from out-of-control looters and rioters in Democratically-controlled cities. This third theme is reinforced daily by Fox News, which consistently focuses on this violence and especially on the injuries sustained by police officers. Anyone watching their reports would think this violence is far more widespread than it is and would naturally applaud Trump for sending unidentified federal officers in unmarked vehicles to, in effect, kidnap demonstrators, who they immediately release because they can’t charge them with a federal crime.

Regarding theme #1, I have a few observations. How anyone can buy that Trump is a genius, on a par with Einstein, is beyond reasoning. He says he know more than the generals, more than medical experts, more than experts in any field. He doesn't need or respect scientists on such topic as climate change. Economists have verified that Trump inherited a healthy economy from Obama and that his Tax Cut and Jobs Act (what jobs?) was unnecessary to stimulate the economy and only enriched the wealthy.  Economist Elliot Eisenberg told me, "The Trump years since he took over from Obama were roughly the same at 2.1% growth.  The only difference is that in 2018, growth was better due to the tax cut. Now Trump did some deregulation and that probably helped boost growth but not that much.  Trump’s policies helped a bit at the margin but nothing big."  

Regarding "Obamagate" (the "spying" by the FBI on the Trump campaign), it was prompted by the routine taping of Russians' phone calls, and given their phone calls intercepted with the Trump campaign, of course the FBI should have followed that lead.  If Obama really wanted to put his finger on the scale during the 2016 election, he wouldn't have kept that intelligence secret. Given that Trump won the election, he probably regrets that he kept that intelligence private. 

To counter theme #2, I would like Joe Biden to request a town hall program on Fox News, and speak out if he is denied such an opportunity.  Pete Buttigieg was given that opportunity by Fox and did an excellent job of countering whatever negative narratives viewers may have had about him.  How could Fox justify denying the same opportunity to Biden? Since theme #2 is that Biden is senile and “doesn’t know he’s alive” according to Trump, a town hall meeting would be a perfect opportunity — better than a debate with Trump — to counter that narrative.

And then, of course, there are the conspiracy theories propagated online and in Trump’s tweets, which are too numerous to mention here. Click on that link. 

Although Trump supporters aren’t inclined to do so, I recommend Googling each outrageous claim sent to you, or go directly to www.Snopes.com to get the background and truth.  Whether it’s “too good to be true” or “too bad to be true,” it probably is not true.  

Consider, for example, the above meme about Bill deBlasio. Did he change his name from Warren Wilhelm, Jr.?  From Snopes I learned that, yes, he did, and for good reasons. His nickname was Will, and when his mother divorced his abusive father, she and he took her maiden name. My dad, born Abbott O’Brion, and his mother did the same after she divorced my grandfather, taking her maiden name of Smith. 


Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Why Did Trump’s Top Republican Critics of 2016 Become His Top Apologists?

As John Bolton and others have explained, everything the president says and does is with re-election as his primary consideration. The same is obviously true for his Republican enablers in Congress when you revisit what they said about Donald Trump in 2016, as detailed in this excerpt from chapter 7 of the best-selling book, A Warning:

   New Jersey governor Chris Christie said the candidate lacked the credentials for the nation’s highest office. “We do not need reality TV in the Oval Office right now,” Christie lamented. “President of the United States is not a place for an entertainer.”

Senator Ted Cruz lambasted him as a “narcissist” and “utterly amoral.” Cruz argued that voters could not afford to elect someone so unfocused and social-media-obsessed. “I think in terms of a commander in chief, we ought to have someone who isn’t springing out of bed to tweet in a frantic response to the latest polls.”

Representative Jim Jordan, a leading conservative and one of the founders of the Freedom Caucus in the US House, wished Republicans in Congress had acted sooner to “avoid creating this environment” that allowed someone like candidate Trump to rise.

Texas governor Rick Perry labeled Trump “a cancer on conservatism” and a threat to the nation’s future. “The White House has been occupied by giants,” Rick noted. “But from time to time it is sought by the small-minded -- divisive figures propelled by anger, and appealing to the worst instincts in the human condition.” Perry said the businessman was peddling a “carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness, and nonsense” and that he was running on “division and resentment.”

Senator Lindsey Graham told American voters: “This is not about who we nominate anymore as Republicans as much as it is who we are.” He bemoaned that the party had not taken the long-shot candidate more seriously. “Anytime you leave a bad idea or a dangerous idea alone, anytime you ignore what could become an evil force, you wind up regretting it.” The senator said he would not vote for the man, who he called a “jackass” and a “kook.” Those who know Lindsay understand that he wasn’t using those words lightly. He meant them.

John Thune, one of the top-ranking Republicans in the Senate, expressed reservations throughout the race, but after the Access Hollywood scandal, he said the party no longer needed its candidate. “Donald Trump should withdraw and Mike Pence should be our nominee effective immediately,” he tweeted in the wake of the scandal, with only weeks until the vote.

Many other elected conservatives chimed in throughout the campaign, calling the Republican nominee a “bigot,” “misogynist,” “liar,” “unintelligent,” “inarticulate,” “dangerous,” “fraud,” “bully,” and “unfit” for the presidency….

[South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney declared Donald Trump is] [one] of the most flawed human beings ever to run for president in the history of the country”  Roughly twenty-four months later, Mick would become Donald Trump’s third chief of staff.

Last week I wrote that readers of this column who support Trump seem reluctant to answer the question, “How do you feel that the man you support is adored by alt-right extremists, white supremacists, etc.”  Three readers responded, but none of them actually answered the question. Here are excerpts, with uncorrected spelling and grammar:

 Tom H. wrote: "It seem to me your one of the left leaning Journalists, I could be wrong but!!! To answers your question: How I do I feel that Trump who I support is adored by people I consider deplorable — white nationalist, neo-Nazis, alt-right racists, and anti-semites.  First, I have absolutely no knowledge of those groups adoring Trump that you have mentioned.  I have never associated with any of those groups nor do I have knowledge of any American conservative having an association with those groups.  It seems perhaps you may have somewhat of an association with them by thinking or believing I or any conservative would.  These groups, after researching them, have very small numbers in their memberships.  My research found very little disruptive actions or behavior that even aroused the Fake News Media.  I believe your question is based on your personal hatred of Trump with no other meaning than to create your opinion and blemish the Conservative party.... Again to answer your question: It’s not the love of Trump but the love of our Country is why we love Trump."

Robert L. wrote: "I would imagine that YOU might likewise be 'adored' by people whom both you and I find not to our liking.  You, too, have little control over their liking or disliking you. I do not question you because of who likes you. Rather, I question you for developing  such an inane theory by which others are berated."

    Tom B. wrote: Your challenge to Trump supporters to justify their support of him in view of the far right extremists who also support him is a false dilemma.  One does not have anything to do with the other.  Just as support by communists and socialists and extreme leftist loonies who support Democrats does not preclude you from also doing so.  Nor does it imply that you identify with or would associate with those groups.    This is not a case of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend.' I think that the reference to 'deplorables' by Trump and those self-identifying as such is for the most part a mocking and taunting of Hilary Clinton who was beaten by those she so insulted."


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

There’s One Question That Trump Supporters Don’t Want to Answer

Because of this column, I have been blessed with a flood of correspondence (mostly emails) from people who love President Trump.  I respond to every email, resulting in a few continuing exchanges by email with many Trump supporters.

Frequently, when replying to emails from those who defend Trump, I ask the following question, which is universally ignored when and if they do reply.  My question is, “How do you feel that the man you support is adored by people who you probably consider deplorable—white nationalists, neo-Nazis, alt-right racists, and anti-semites?”

Trump supporters accept Trump in spite of his crudeness, his misogyny, his adulterous past, his associating with people like Jeffrey Epstein, his slandering of our allies and praising of murderous dictators like Vladimir Putin, but they decline to comment on how he elicits support from those Hillary put in his “basket of deplorables.” 

I find it interesting that Trump himself, according to multiple reports, refers to his fringe supporters as “the deplorables,” as if he accepts and courts them. But how does that make his non-deplorable supporters feel? They won’t tell me. (Maybe their emails following this column will give me a clue.)

Is it possible that Trump’s non-deplorable supporters secretly like those statements and policies that excite the deplorables?

Could it be that supporting the incumbent president — typically an honorable thing to do — is a socially acceptable way for them to express feelings and beliefs that they wouldn’t otherwise share?  To many people. “Make America Great Again” sounds a lot like  “Make America White Again.”  That is, it seems, what Trump’s opposition to all forms of immigration — legal and illegal — is about. Recently he suspended the granting of work permits to all foreigners for all kinds of jobs, not just for picking our fruits and vegetables. 

He expressed it clearly in January 2018 when he said that Norwegians would be more welcome to move to the United States than immigrants from “shithole countries” such as Haiti or African nations. Such language is abhorrent — unless you actually agree with it.

In a previous column, I described how a fellow Realtor supports Donald Trump because his policies — specifically his tax cuts — have benefited her. (She has accepted the spin that it was a “middle-class tax cut,” when those cuts were really just a cover for a vast giveaway to the wealthy.)

I have heard from others who agree with her. Apparently, statements by Trump such as the one above aren’t enough to outweigh favorable opinions of the man based on self-interest.  I prefer to think that persons like my Realtor friend overlook rather than approve of Trump’s racist comments.

I don’t believe that anything, including this column, will convince anyone to stop loving Trump. Their biases and support based on self-interest run too deep.  We can only hope that what the polls tell us is true, that, despite the mud that will be thrown about Joe Biden — “mob boss of the Deep State” — there’s enough revulsion toward Donald Trump, the person, and enough opposition to his racist attitudes, that he will not succeed in winning for himself another term.

As John Bolton has said, our great country can survive one term of Donald Trump, but I’m worried about its ability to survive a second term.


Thank you for your support

Some readers have asked how this column has affected my real estate business. A few Trump lovers have said they will never use Golden Real Estate because of the “venom” I spew. Thankfully, others have said they will now definitely use our agents for their real estate needs. Thanks!


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Brave Psychiatric Professional Diagnoses the Mental Condition of President Trump

It’s easy for non-professionals, journalists and anyone with eyes and ears to label President Trump as a narcissist and pathological liar, but what do mental health professionals have to say about him?

A reader sent me a fascinating 32-page academic paper by Vincent Greenwood, PhD, executive director of the Washington Center for Cognitive Therapy, with the catchy subtitle, “The Substance Behind the Assertion the President Has a Serious Psychiatric Condition.”  Click here to view the full 32-page document, or click here to read a shorter 12-page version of it. It’s worth checking out, whether or not you’re a supporter of President Trump.

The full-length paper is so long because it’s incumbent upon the author to justify his attempt to diagnose someone without a personal interview. Normally, that would be hard to justify, and would be considered a violation of Sec. 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics, which states that it is unethical to offer a professional opinion on a public figure who has not been personally examined and where consent has not been obtained.

Dr. Greenwood, however, cites a 2017 paper which argues that a diagnosis is possible and reasonable when there is substantial information available from the subject himself, from informants and from archival data such as “speeches, tweets, taped interviews, autobiographical efforts, court records, real-time observations, etc.,” which is certainly the case with President Trump. Although Dr. Greenwood doesn’t say it directly, one could surmise that the APA opposes diagnosis of public figures at a distance because of the damage it could do to the reputation of the mental health profession.

In his paper, Dr. Greenwood describes at length the instrument he used to diagnose the president, something called the Hare Psychopathy Checklist Revised, which he describes as a “reliable instrument that yields a valid diagnosis, but also spells out a rigorous process for how to go about making a possible diagnosis. This process involves the collection, integration, and interpretation of multiple sources and types of information. The process is comprehensive and detailed and strives to go well beyond just citing examples of Trump’s more outlandish behavior as definitive proof of a psychiatric disorder.”

So how does President Trump score on the 20-point checklist for psychopathy?  I don’t have the space here to relate Dr. Greenwood’s thorough documentation of each of the 20 items on the checklist. I encourage you to click on the link above for either the 12- or 32-page paper and see how persuasive his reasoning is. Suffice it to say that Dr. Greenwood concludes that the President “is a clinical psychopath (in the moderate to severe range).”

Personally, I was shocked at the severity of the diagnosis, although convinced by Dr. Greenwood’s analysis. Previously I had been convinced of an alternative diagnosis, that of Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). On page 26, Dr. Greenwood describes “the low-hanging fruit of narcissism,” noting that many of the nine criteria of NPD “seem to be written almost with the President in mind” and that only 5 of the 9 criteria are needed to warrant the diagnosis. However, Dr. Greenwood writes, “To highlight Trump’s narcissism is misleading because the psychopathic elements of his personality are more central to who he is and how he operates.”

Another and related must-read is A Warning, liked by 83% of Google users.  It is described by Wikipedia as “a 2019 book-length exposé of the Trump administration, anonymously authored by someone described as a ‘senior Trump administration official.’  It is a follow-up to an anonymous op-ed published by the New York Times in September 2018.” It provides countless additional “datapoints” to support Dr. Greenwood’s diagnosis, and is reinforced by what former National Security Advisor John Bolton has written in his best-selling book, The Room Where It Happened.  It is liked by 80% of Google users.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Trump Appears Uninterested in Winning Others Over, Content to Energize His Base

In previous columns, I have shared my belief that Trump supporters are unreachable. (They have been labeled “Cult 45.”) One could conclude from watching Trump’s rally in Tulsa that either he believes he can win over the rest of us or, more likely, that he sees electoral success in further demonizing us and thereby energizing his base to turn out for him on Nov. 3.  What he doesn't seem to realize is that his words energizes his oponents to turn out, too.
Rita and I watched his full speech at the Tulsa rally, fascinated as always at how he appeals to that base. But that base may be shrinking. He was understandably furious about the poor turnout, filling only 6,200 of 19,000 seats, but that was an improvement from how he boasted that attendance at his inauguration was the largest ever. (It was in defense of that claim that Kellyanne Conway made her famous statement about “alternative facts” on Meet the Press two days later, setting the tone for his entire presidency.)
We continue to be intrigued by how Trump supporters are able to overlook his lies, dog whistles to the “deplorables,” scorning of allies and flattering of dictators, obscene language and generally despicable behavior. How would you feel if someone you supported (or just liked) was adored by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, racists and the like? (I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s now-famous September 2016  “deplorables” speech last week, when this column appeared only on this blog.)
Like me, you probably know respectable, college-educated professionals who say they like Trump, and I enjoy conversing with them to figure out why. What I usually find is that they like how his tax cuts benefited them financially — as they did Donald Trump himself. 
One such supporter is a friend of mine, a highly successful Realtor whom I’ve known and admired for over a decade.  She said she supports Trump because his tax cuts have benefited her personally. (She’s far more successful that I am, with 59 closings, two of them over $1 million, in the past 12 months.)  She told me she is willing to overlook his negatives because of that, which I find disappointing.
    There’s another group of non-deplorable Trump supporters that surprises me, because it is in our local Rotary club, to which Rita and I both belonged.  I love and appreciate Rotary for  its “Four-Way Test of the things we think, say or do,” which Rotarians recite at every meeting following the Pledge of Allegiance.  It goes like this:
  •  First, is it the truth?
  •  Second, is it fair to all concerned?
  •  Third, does it build goodwill and better friendships?
  •  Fourth, will it be beneficial to all concerned?

As Rita and I joined in reciting the Four-Way Test every Tuesday, it occurred to me after Trump took office, that our president’s thoughts, words and deeds would fail that test. We will never forget when a visiting Rotarian leader gave a talk about the Four-Way Test early in Trump’s reign.  During the Q&A part of the meeting, I thought it appropriate, despite the unspoken rule about avoiding politics, to ask the speaker how we as Rotarians should relate to a president who consistently violates all four tenets of the Test.
The following week, I was told by the club president that “several” Rotarians had complained about me asking that question — although not to me directly. The following week four female members of the club, including Rita, all resigned in protest. I stayed on, but only for another year. I believe in my heart that the vast majority of Rotarians are good people who reject Donald Trump’s leadership or lack thereof.
I considered submitting an article to Rotarian magazine raising this issue, but I never did.  I decided — hopefully wrongly — that it would not have been published, because Trump’s 30% base probably includes many Rotarians, and the organization can’t afford to offend them.  I’m happy to raise the subject in print here for the first time. 
I’m disappointed that any Rotarian thinks the Four-Way Test need only apply to them and it’s okay to support others who blatantly violate it, as Trump does every day.