Hidden No Longer

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Mary Jackson, one of the “hidden figures” who were instrumental in helping the United States win the battle to get the first man on the moon.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets and astronauts into space.

 

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Stories like those of the women in the early years of NASA – who performed calculations that were literally out-of-this-world while curtailed by both sexism and segregation – have been largely forgotten.

That is, until now.

Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, Margot Lee Shetterly’s exhaustively-researched book, and recently made into a highly acclaimed movie of the same name changes all that.

In Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly tells the untold story of these brilliant women, once on the frontlines of our cultural leaps and since sidelined by the selective collective memory we call history.

I had no idea that black women played such a key role in our space program. It’s great to finally acknowledge those who contributed so much – and received so little credit for their work. Hidden Figures tells the story of four determined black women, who overcame numerous obstacles, and worked in the space program at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now known as Langley Research Center.) It was at this Virginia lab where Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden were able to employ their skills – and really make a difference. It was behind the scenes work back then – but now we know the real picture. To give the reader an idea of how difficult it was for a woman – much less an African-American woman – to actually become a mathematician, the author notes these statistics: “In the 1930s, just over a hundred women worked as professional mathematicians.” The likelihood of a black woman actually becoming a mathematician working on the space program was about zero: “Employers openly discriminated against Irish and Jewish women with math degrees. The odds of a black woman encountering work in the field hovered near zero.”

Oddly, the Soviet Union actively encouraged women in engineering. The schools in the Soviet Union were “loaded with women” including many of their engineering grads. Alas – that was not the case in the United States, which struggled to find a place for women and Negroes in its science workplace, and in society at large. At the time, women generally received little credit for their work. It was unusual for a woman to even be acknowledged as co-author of a report. The work of most of the women, like that of the computing machines they used, was anonymous. Even a woman who had worked closely with an engineer on the content of a research report was rarely rewarded by seeing her name alongside his on the final publication. At the lab, life for black women was not quite as bad as outside, where strict rules were followed, with blacks always separate from whites. At Langley, the boundaries were fuzzier. Blacks were ghettoed into separate bathrooms, but they had also been given an unprecedented entrée into the professional world. At Langley, the work was serious; lives were at stake. Sending a man into space was a damn tall order, but it was that part about returning him safely to Earth that kept Katherine Johnson and the rest of the space pilgrims awake at night. Recall that the United States did not yet have a track record of successful space launches. In fact, many launches were complete failures. Two of the Atlas’s last five sallies had ended in failure. One of them had surged into the sky, erupting into spectacular fireballs with the capsule still attached. That was not exactly a confidence builder for the man preparing to ride it into orbit.

Against a sobering cultural backdrop, Shetterly captures the enormous cognitive dissonance the very notion of these black female mathematicians evokes: “Before a computer became an inanimate object, and before Mission Control landed in Houston; before Sputnik changed the course of history, and before the NACA became NASA; before the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka established that separate was in fact not equal, and before the poetry of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech rang out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Langley’s West Computers were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology, carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black, black mathematicians who were also female.”

In the introduction to her book Hidden Figures, author Margot Lee Shetterly relays what it was like to grow up as a black girl in Hampton, Virginia, where most of her community worked at the nearby Langley NASA research center.

I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did,” Shetterly, whose father was employed at NASA as an engineer, writes. “Growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown like mine.

Some of those brown faces belonged to women, even in times long before it was normal for women to work outside the home. Before electronic computers made the job obsolete, the synapses powering the math behind the breakthroughs in this field belonged to women known as “computers,” meaning simply “one who computes.”

But what Shetterly saw as the norm as a child likely comes as a surprise to most Americans today. In Silicon Valley, physics laboratories, and university classrooms  –  and particularly in popular media and imagination  – the face of the research designed to propel America to the future is still disproportionately male, and often quite white. Stereotypes about “brogrammer culture” and inherent differences in mathematical ability dissuade women, particularly women of color, from technological fields.

February has, in recent decades, been Black History Month. I hope the organizers include these NASA “computer” women and show America we would not have made it into space and back, to the moon and back, without the beautiful and amazing minds of these dedicated and talented women math masters. The STEM efforts (STEM, previously SMET is an acronym that refers to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) should be linked to this as well. And we should remain mindful that the linkage between music and math is very strong and that few blacks end up encouraged to pursue math if they show some talent in music.

I kept thinking about the book and movie Hidden Figures. These women were educated engineers and mathematicians – one a prodigy with an extraordinary capacity for calculating numbers and theorems in her head. When astronaut John Glenn prepared to become the first American to orbit the Earth, calculations for his re-entry into the atmosphere require an urgent adjustment. Glenn knew whom to ask for: “the smart one,” he says of Katherine Johnson. Sure enough, she gets it exactly right.

Yet for all her skill and talent – for all her genius – Johnson and the other black women are routinely subjected to humiliation and insults, to the condescension and cruelty that were the common lot of black Americans when “Whites Only” and “Colored Only” signs – and burly state troopers enforcing Jim Crow laws – maintained strict segregation between the races.

Despite several white restrooms in the NASA control center where she worked, whenever nature called Johnson had to run half a mile to the colored bathroom in another building. She was the only black and the sole woman among an all-white team who would not even allow her to share the coffee machine. When she was called out for taking such lengthy breaks, her suppressed anguish at the second-class treatment suddenly erupted. You can feel her pain.

While her friend Dorothy Vaughan oversaw thirty or more black “computers,” as the women officially were identified, she was consistently and rudely denied the title and pay of white supervisors. Mary Jackson was barred from attending engineering courses at the town’s all-white school until a judge reluctantly agreed she could attend – the night class. Somehow these women survived the malice, meanness and pervasive oppression of everyday life to carry on successful lives with dignity intact.

Bill Moyers relates: “Washington, DC in the mid-’60s glowed with pride over America’s besting of the Soviets up in the heavens, and there I got to know NASA Administrator Jim Webb. I attended meetings on space policy over which he presided, shared in moments of celebration at the agency’s successes and relished his boisterous remembrances of the first thrilling but precarious days of the space program. I never heard these women mentioned. There were no shout-outs to them, no newspaper features, no official recognition. They were swallowed back into anonymity and invisibility – into the suffocating holding pen that was American apartheid.

The civil rights movement was then beginning to gain force, a power that would bring change, and at the end of Hidden Figures, we see photographs of the real women and learn they finally earned recognition through intelligence, skill and hard work. As we left the theater we saw tear-stained faces throughout the auditorium, and we ran into several friends who had unabashedly wept both in joy for the three women and their “ultimate triumph,” as one said, and in sadness at ‘the long neglect through which they had to pass.’

I thought again of those photographs later that evening during the Golden Globe Awards, when Tracee Ellis Ross of the TV series Black-ish dedicated her award “for all of the women, women of color and colorful people, whose stories, ideas, thoughts are not always considered worthy, and valid and important. But I want you to know that I see you. We see you.”

We see you.

Finally.

Which brings us to Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III.

If he could, Jeff Sessions, the President-Elect’s nominee for Attorney General, would take back all the racial progress made up to now. Now he will at last have the chance to turn the clock back, which is why Donald Trump chose him. I watched Sessions feint and evade during the hearings and thought what an insult his appointment is to a half-century of history in which the civil rights movement helped end overt oppression and won for Johnson, Vaughan, Jackson, Darden, and countless others the standing and recognition they earned and deserved as citizens.

As Americans.

So much struggle and sacrifice over the years, so many burned churches, mutilated bodies, ticking bombs and bloodshed – so much venomous human behavior before America finally began to get it right. Racism still remains a powerful toxic stream flowing through American life.

Too many people are still unseen.

Through his career as a prosecutor in Alabama and as a United States senator, Jeff Sessions has done what he could to frustrate the gains of all the “hidden figures” among us by attempting to disenfranchise or suppress their votes.

He called the Voting Rights Act of 1965 “an intrusion” before cynically voting to reauthorize it and then quickly signing on to a Republican effort to undermine it.

When the conservative Supreme Court eventually gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Sessions said it was “good news… for the South.”

Since then he has championed voter-ID laws and remained indifferent as Republican state legislatures undertook a massive campaign of repression against black voters.

In the 1980s, he prosecuted civil rights activists on dubious charges – behavior that when coupled with an allegation that he had called a black colleague “boy,” cost him a Reagan-era appointment as a federal judge.

The NAACP, which Sessions once called “un-American,” describes his record on voting rights as “unreliable at best and hostile at worst,” and also notes “a failing record on other civil rights; a record of racially offensive remarks and behavior; and [a] dismal record on criminal justice reform issues.”

And he opposed reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act.

Benign in manner, soft of voice but hard at the core, Jeff Sessions is the perfect figurehead for the resurgent white nationalists who now aim not to make history but to reverse it – by a hundred years or more if they can. This is the man to whom Donald Trump is handing the enforcement of our laws from civil and voting rights to environmental protection, antitrust enforcement, housing, employment and all the rest.

Expect new laws, but little justice, and be vigilant as America’s shadows become ever more crowded with hidden figures of every shade.

 

 

 

 

 

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Are You One Of the “Deplorables”?

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Indiana Governor Mike Pence hammered Hillary Clinton and Senator Tim Kaine for running an “insult-driven campaign” during the vice presidential debate Tuesday night and said that Clinton’s comment about Donald Trump supporters being “deplorables” is worse than anything that Trump has even said. (Of course in the debate, Pence denied that “the Donald” said any of the things to which Kaine alluded.)

For context, Clinton’s comment about “the basket of deplorables” - those with “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, [and] Islamophobic” views - was directed toward half of Trump supporters. That is a greater percentage than those who believe minorities currently have too much power according to a new poll, but a lesser percentage than those who believe President Obama is a Muslim - a quickly discredited conspiracy theory that nonetheless brought Donald Trump to national political prominence.

In response, Kaine said Trump has said some awful things, and he pointed out that Clinton apologized for her comment about “the basket of deplorables” and that Trump has not apologized for any of his. “Did Donald Trump apologize for calling women ‘slobs,’ ‘pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘disgusting’?” Kaine asked. “Did he apologize for saying African Americans are living in hell? Did he apologize for saying President Obama was not even a citizen of the United States? You will look in vain to see Donald Trump ever taking responsibility for anybody and apologizing.”

Tell me you are conservative.

Tell me you are Republican.

Tell me you are Christian.

Tell me any of these things, and I will not make too many assumptions about you.

Sure, I may assume that you go to church every Sunday, that you eat red meat, and that you obtain most of your news from Fox and Friends, but beyond that, I will withhold judgment on the kind of person you are until I learn more about you. In fact, as a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant male who lives in a heavily conservative area in Pennsylvania, most of the people in my spheres of influence are of the right-leaning variety. And I can further attest that most of those people are fairly decent when you begin to know them.

But tell me unequivocally that you are voting for Donald Trump and instantly, I am going to make certain assumptions about you and your character that I would not make if you told me you supported any other GOP candidate.

And there ain’t any of those assumptions that are good.

Are you one of the “deplorables”?

I assume that you may be one of the “deplorables” if you want a despot (benevolent or otherwise), not a president.

The single trait that predicts the Trump supporter has nothing to do with race, income, or education is his or her proclivity towards authoritarianism.

Trump’s electoral strength – and his staying power – have been buoyed, above all else, by Americans with authoritarian inclinations. And because of the prevalence of authoritarians in the American electorate, among Democrats as well as Republicans, it is very possible that Trump’s fan base will continue to grow. Those who say a Trump presidency “can’t happen here” should check their conventional wisdom at the door. Donald Trump has confounded conventional expectations this election season because those expectations are based on an oversimplified caricature of the electorate in general and his supporters in particular. Conditions are ripe for an authoritarian leader to emerge. Trump is seizing the opportunity. And the institutions – from the Republican Party to the press – that are supposed to guard against what James Madison called “the infection of violent passions” among the people have either been cowed by Trump’s bluster or are asleep on the job.

Authoritarians obey. They rally to and lock-step follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened. From pledging to “make America great again” by building a wall on the border to promising to close mosques and ban Muslims from visiting the United States, Donald Trump is playing directly to authoritarian inclinations.

So spare me your lectures about market freedoms or any constitutional rights you claim to hold dear. You want a dictator in the style of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, which pretty much makes you anti-American.

I assume that you may be one of the “deplorables” if you have class, but all of it is low class.

I am sorry to say this and I have tried to revisit this one several times, but I do not know how to sugar-coat it.

It is not okay that Donald Trump mocked a disabled person. If Hillary Clinton had done that, it would be a deal-breaker for me. I would vote for a third-party candidate, or write in Mickey Mouse. I have standards. You apparently do not. Some people try to justify this by saying Trump did not really do it. Except he really did, and it was awful.

The disabled person, reporter Serge Kovaleski, suffers from arthrogryposis, a condition that limits the movement of joints and is particularly noticeable in Kovaleski’s right arm and hand. After referring to Kovaleski as “a nice reporter,” Trump launched into a seeming impression of him, pointedly flopping his right arm around with his hand held at an odd angle while saying (in imitation of Kovaleski): “Now, the poor guy, you’ve got to see this guy: ‘Uhh, I don’t know what I said. Uhh, I don’t remember,’ he’s going like ‘I don’t remember. Maybe that’s what I said’”

After Trump then became the center of a controversy for having callously mocked Kovaleski in public, Trump asserted that the whole thing was just a coincidence – he had no idea who Kovaleski was and thus could not have been aware of his physical condition. Trump’s claims to non-memory were widely considered to be disingenuous, as Kovaleski had covered Trump extensively while working for the Daily News from 1987 to 1993 and had interviewed and talked to the business magnate numerous times during that period.

It is not okay that Donald Trump mocked POW’s. No one even tries to defend Donald Trump mocking POWs, because he said it loud and clear: “I like people who weren’t captured.” It was that insult to John McCain that I thought would have killed his chances within the GOP ranks, since they claim to be pro-veteran. But I grossly overestimated their character. By the time we get around to the part about Trump lusting after his own daughter or justifying statutory rape, I have already given up on you as a decent person. You are deplorable.

And please. Don’t tell me that you did not know about any of this. You know. You just do not care. Hence, my statement that you have class – all of it low.

I assume that you may be one of the “deplorables” if integrity is not high on your list.

Yes, all politicians lie, but Donald Trump is obscene with his falsehoods. According to PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter™, seventy-one percent of everything he says is either mostly false, false, or pants on fire false. He says whatever he feels like to whatever crowd he is speaking to, and then will deny ever saying it. I am not okay with someone who lies to me constantly. If you are, I have to wonder: would you fudge the numbers? If you caught someone on your team doing something unethical, would you be okay with that?

I already know that integrity is not high on your list. Furthermore, you clearly have no trouble with someone who has a long history of fraudulent business practices. Having a bumper sticker on your truck for any other conservative would not be a problem for me – but Trump? That is another story altogether.

I assume that you may be one of the “deplorables” if you have no problem with racism.

Trump threw out all the dog whistles and fully embraced the alt-right movement. He led the campaign to de-legitimize Barack Obama’s presidency. He constantly complains that black Americans are violent and stated that Mexican immigrants bring “crime” and are “rapists.” He demanded that any judge who tries him must be white! He retweets from handles like “@WhiteGenocideTM” – which gives its location as “Jewmerica” – and goes to anti-Semitic websites for material to attack his opponents. Your embrace of this kind of hate makes me wonder what things you say about me and my family behind my back.

I assume that you may be one of the “deplorables” if you have an issue with women.

Donald Trump has brought a level of vulgarity that we have never before seen in national politics. From his attack on Megyn Kelly, to insulting Rosie O’Donnell twice in national debates, to bragging about his genitalia on television in front of millions, to his suggestion that Hillary and Carly Fiorina are too ugly to be president, Trump’s measure of tastelessness is unprecedented. Anyone who supports a man who does not think twice about calling women “pigs” or “dogs” is not someone with whom I want to deal.

I can say in all honesty that if it was the Democratic candidate who kept bragging about his sexual dominance and ranked all women he met by their looks, that person would not get my vote. Demanding that a man treat women with a basic level of respect is a pretty low bar. I have a problem with someone who cannot even meet that, along with that person’s supporters.

In a clip from a 1994 episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, host Robin Leach conducted a joint interview with Donald Trump and his second wife, Marla Maples. Their daughter, Tiffany, had just turned one year old at the time and Leach asked Trump what attributes the baby inherited from each parent.

“Well, I think that she’s got a lot of Marla. She’s a really beautiful baby – she’s got Marla’s legs.” Then making a gesture that indicated large breasts, he added, “We don’t know whether or not she’s got this part yet, but time will tell.”

He could have said anything! Anything! And yet, he went with legs and possibly boobs, which, to my mind, is not the correct answer. We know for sure from this instance that there is no female too small for Trump to reduce her to her body parts.

To Trump, every woman is just a pair of legs connected to a pair of breasts and there is a bunch of extra stuff in the middle, but it is not sexy and no one knows what it is for really. And you know, normally a candidate who views women this way would be doomed. But Trump is not a normal candidate and we know that. As several news outlets have reminded us over the past year, Trump has a tendency to make unnecessarily lewd comments about being attracted to his daughter Ivanka, dating back to her teen years. But this is the first time we have heard him making similar statements about his own baby.

And now we find out that Trump, the top of the GOP ticket, recently tweeted instructions at 3 a.m. to go watch a sex tape starring Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who insulted him. And, of course there is no sex tape. He lied about that too.  (As it turns out, there was a sex tape that was uncovered, but it was a 2000 Playboy soft-core porn that starred Donald Trump!)  Your candidate.

And finally, I assume that you may be one of the “deplorables” if you do not believe in the Constitution.

For eight years I have listened to your rabid rantings on how President Obama does not follow the Constitution. Yet you support a man who said the United States government should shut down mosques, curb our First Amendment rights, and forego due process on people he does not like.  These protections are enshrined in our Bill of Rights, and you want to give them up. Trump also said he wants to end birthright citizenship, which is also in the Constitution. Maybe Mr. Khan should have made more copies of the Constitution for Trump’s supporters.

Are you one of the “deplorables”?

I respect people who hold convictions, even if they are different than mine, but Trump supporters do not really believe in anything. They are authoritarian-prone sheep who will justify anything Trump says or does. Unfortunately, once you decide to sell your soul, there is no limit to how low you will go. Jimmy Kimmel proved just how low recently.  He had someone ask Trump supporters on the street about the surprises found on a Trump fictitious tax return.  Trump supporters vigorously defended everything they thought he did – from writing off his wives as entertainment expenses, to buying Putin a tiger, to donating large sums of money to Jared Fogle, former Subway spokesperson who was found guilty of distribution and receipt of child pornography and of traveling to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor. Nothing they could come up with remotely bothered any of them.

So there you are.

If you are one of the “deplorables,” I will always be nice to you, but I will not respect you. How could I? Suffice it to say, if you tell me you are in the tank for Donald Trump, please say no more. I already know everything I need to know about you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Gaslighting of America

 

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Caricature by DonkeyHotey

Donald Trump is gaslighting the American public and most people do not even know they are being targeted. How is that for an opening salvo?

In case the term is not a familiar one, gaslighting is a technique that abusers use. Through falsification and blatant and shameless lies, manipulators so disorient their target that the person (or in this case, the country) is left in defenseless bewilderment. In a game where the ultimate prize is being leader of the free world, and where one of the players is drowning in self-proclaimed grandiosity, a pattern of systematic deceptive behavior with the intent of exploiting and manipulating a victim (or in this case, America) into doubting its perception of reality is something with which we should all be concerned.

The term “gaslighting” stems from a 1938 Patrick Hamilton play entitled Gas Light, which was subsequently made into a British cinematic drama in 1940 and into an American classic film noir in 1944. The plot in the play and the films involves a scheming husband who tries to convince his wife whom he no longer wants that she is losing her mind. Gaslighting has commonly come to mean a form of mental abuse in which information is twisted or spun, selectively omitted to favor the abuser; or false information is presented with the intent of making victims doubt their own memory, perception, and sanity.

Since beginning his campaign in June, Americans have repeatedly reeled in shock and disbelief at offensive comments that have come from Donald Trump’s mouth. And when people pushed back in disgust, Trump met that reaction with condescending denials and spinned the facts, leaving many people doubting their own perceptions of the events. Denial and spinning are common tactics of a skillful gaslighter.

And Donald Trump is gaslighting Americans.

Diminishing is another tactic an adept manipulator uses to plant doubt into his victim’s minds, such as when Trump said people took his comment about Megyn Kelly’s “blood” all wrong and what he actually meant were her ears or her nose. Trump insisted that he did not, in using the word “wherever,” actually mean to suggest that Kelly was experiencing her menstrual cycle. Rather, as he later told CNN’s Jake Tapper, he meant that she was so angry that she seemed to be bleeding from some other orifice – like, say, a nose, or an ear. Diminishing is usually followed with a blame-the-victim statement that is designed to deflect the bad behavior onto the victim and exonerate himself. In Kelly’s case, he said that only a “deviant” would have thought that he was referring to her menstrual period. There are countless times when Trump’s misogyny has been truly remarkable. A case in point is when Trump mailed Gail Collins, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist, a copy of her column with the words “face of a dog” scrawled across her picture. Trump struck again when he insulted Carly Fiorina’s face. In a Rolling Stone article, Trump said of Fiorina: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president. I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?” Later at one of the Republican presidential debates, Trump said that he was talking about her persona. Carly Fiorina responded to Trump’s disparaging remark about her appearance, making it clear she found them insulting not only to her but also to women everywhere. “I think women all over this country heard very clearly what Mr. Trump said,” Fiorina declared, drawing loud applause from the audience. “I think she’s got a beautiful face and I think she’s a beautiful woman,” was Trump’s reply, but Fiorina was having none of it and did not smile.

There are many examples, as Kelly pointed out during the debate of Trump describing women as “fat pigs” and “disgusting animals.” He also called Kelly a “bimbo.”

Narcissistic and aggressive personalities will do whatever it takes to secure and maintain a position of advantage over others. Gaslighting and other tactics are used to conceal these malevolent intentions while prompting their targets to accede to their desires. Deception is the name of this game, and narcissists are adept at causing the targeted persons to doubt their gut instincts. When pushed back, narcissists will escalate their arsenal of deceit to make their victims back down, in order for them to “win.” And we all know that winning is what “The Donald” is all about.

Donald Trump’s expertise in playing the gaslighting game cannot be disputed. He is undeniably a world class professional. Since June, he has offended complete classes of Americans and ethnicities. He has demeaned women in the most vile and reprehensible fashion, saying among other things, “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions but he has yet to determine what that punishment should be. He has called Latino immigrants “criminals” and “rapists” without any evidence to support his claim. He has diminished John McCain’s gut-wrenching POW experience, and then blew off any dislike of his behavior as a meaningless inconvenience. He has said that there were “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. He saw them on television. Never mind that no one else saw what he says he saw. He has blamed Afro-Americans and Hispanics for violent crime across the country, connecting such criminality to race in such a blunt and unfair fashion that his comments seem more about blaming certain kinds of people than about solving the problem. And in a troubling Naziesque fashion, he has promised to look into rounding up people of a different faith (read Muslims) in order to “get rid of them.” In every one of these shocking incidents, Trump has denied wrongdoing and deflected his behavior onto his ever-growing list of targets, never acknowledging his faults, a trait that is so common with narcissists. Of course, apologizing is not in Trump’s vocabulary because his over-inflated ego tells him that he is never wrong. His defective personality prevents him from feeling empathy for others, and provokes him to constantly declare how great and how big and how smart he is. Just ask him. As Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry) says to Captain Briggs in Sudden Impact: “You are a legend in your own mind.” That is Donald Trump. In Trump’s mind, everything he does is bigger, better, faster, smarter, than anything humanity has ever seen. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God has ever created” Trump has declared on several occasions, but with no facts to substantiate that claim. But these thoughts enable him to take his gaslighting skills to new heights; con America into voting for him so he can fulfill this sick and twisted fantasy of global admiration and power at the expense of everyone else.

While Trump still holds sizable leads over his two viable counterparts – Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich – the election is still far enough away that this manipulator can be stopped in his tracks. Call me a naive idealist, but I continue to believe that there are enough intelligent and intuitive people on both sides of the aisle to put an end to his dangerous and destructive sport. Knowledge is power and as Americans begin to understand the psychology behind Trump’s actions, they will reclaim this political process and send him a clear message that America is not for sale and cannot be won in a dirty deal by a mentally defective con artist. At least, that is my wild-eyed liberal hope.

Gaslighting can only work on people who do not question, on people who do not think for themselves. Victims have to be made mentally weak and unsure of themselves and such a condition can happen to anyone under the right conditions.

Donald Trump is a toxic blend of Phineas Taylor “P. T.” Barnum, a snake oil salesman, and a playground bully. Ask him a question and he will lie without batting an eye. Call him a liar and he will declare himself “truthful to a fault.” Confront him with contradictory evidence and he will shrug and repeat the lie. In all probability, he will change the subject, but he will never change the lie.

Evidence? He says he never settles lawsuits. He says he is polling better than Hillary Clinton in New York. He says he never encourages violence at his rallies. He says he is winning Latinos and Afro-Americans and women. He says he is the first candidate to mention immigration. He says, he says, he says, he says. He lies! But forget all that, because evidence is for losers. Forget all that, because truth is for failures.

Political journalists have been repeatedly criticized for not confronting Trump on his lies. But, of course, they have. For political journalists, a politician caught in a lie is something to exploit and develop. But when journalists confront Trump with his lies, he does not behave as most people. He does not blush or equivocate or argue. Instead, he steamrolls. He bullies. He lies some more. And journalists do not know what to do when he does this. They have brought facts to an ego fight, and found them to be worthless weapons. It reminds me of that scene in The Untouchables, when Jim Malone (having a gun in hand) says to some thug trying to stab him: “Isn’t that just like a wop? Brings a knife to a gun fight.”

If it is hard to wrap our minds around the gaslighting of a nation, just watch the dynamics at work on a single person. That person is Michelle Fields, a former Breitbart News Network reporter. While covering the March 8, 2016 Donald Trump press conference in Jupiter, Florida, Fields was grabbed by Trump campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. Ben Terris of The Washington Post reports seeing Lewandowski do it. Fields has bruises on her forearm and there is audio of the event. Lewandowski himself reportedly told a Breitbart editor that he grabbed Fields.

So what happened next?

Lewandowski said Fields was crazy. “Totally delusional,” he tweeted. Trump suggested she made up the whole thing. The Trump campaign pulled straight from the attack-the-victim playbook a response typically deployed against those who raise accusations of sexual assault – she is delusional, she is making things up, why didn’t she tell the police, she has a history of this kind of behavior.

In other words: gaslighting.

And what does this look like as he does it to an entire nation? We only have to go back to Chicago last month where Trump cancelled a planned appearance, resulting in a series of scuffles between outraged Trump supporters and cheering protestors. Appearing later on The Sean Hannity Show, a nationally syndicated talk radio program, Trump said law enforcement had advised him to cancel the rally out of safety concerns. That was a lie. The Chicago Police Department says it never advised Trump to cancel.

Trump further said, “I don’t want anybody to be hurt. We want this to be a nonviolent situation.” That was another lie. For more than a month, Trump had been encouraging his supporters to become violent, not only spurring them to rough up protestors but offering to pay their legal fees if they were arrested for assault.

Sean Hannity – who has been gaslighting America for far longer than Donald Trump, but less effectively – said, “When did we start blaming victims of violence instead of the perpetrators of violence?”

When? Ask Corey Lewandowski.

When? Ask John McGraw.

Trump said his supporters only fight back in self-defense – just three days after a Trump supporter was caught on tape sucker-punching a protestor who was being led out of a rally. Trump said on NBC’s Meet the Press that he would look into paying the legal fees of the sucker-puncher. The man to which Trump referred is John McGraw of Linden, North Carolina, who was arrested on and charged with assault, battery and disorderly conduct. After the incident in Fayetteville, North Carolina, McGraw said that next time he might kill the protester, who he said was “not acting like an American.” Trump claimed that the protester was taunting McGraw and making crude gestures. While Trump said he did not want to see violence at his events, he also said that the man who threw the punch might have been carried away but that he “obviously loves the country.” In other words, McGraw was “acting like an American.” I suspect that there may be some dispute over that understanding of the situation.

The best way to end Trump’s gaslighting is to sever ties with the gaslighter. That approach is easier said than done, but some Republicans are trying to do just that. However, my gut feeling tells me that the GOP is stuck with Donald John Trump at least through July, but most probably until November. My only hope is that after November, Trump will go back to running beauty pageants and casinos, selling pricey steaks and bottled water, and building anything – anything – but a border wall.

America can still resist. Trump will keep on saying that he loves Americans, but that, of course, is the con. He says those words wherever he goes. He loves this place and that place. He loves the police. He loves the vets. He loves the military. But as in any abusive relationship, love is not the goal. Power is the real goal. The big test facing Americans now is to prevent Donald Trump from getting any power.

It remains to be seen if Donald Trump’s attempt to gaslight America will succeed or whether Americans will be wise enough to resist the maneuverings of a lying, narcissistic, ego-centric con artist.

 

The Ugly American – Part 1

                                                                                                                                 

Republican Presidential hopeful, Donald John Trump, Sr.

Republican Presidential hopeful, Donald John Trump, Sr.

The Ugly American, a 1958 political novel by Eugene Burdick and William Lederer, depicts the failures of the United States diplomatic corps, whose insensitivity to local language and customs was in marked contrast to the polished abilities of East bloc (primarily Soviet) diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas. The title character, Homer Atkins, is introduced late in the book. He is “ugly” only in his physical appearance. Atkins’ unattractive features, his rough clothing and dirty hands are contrasted with the bureaucrats’ freshly pressed clothes, clean fingers, and smooth cheeks. Their behaviors have the opposite contrast: Atkins cares about the people of Southeast Asia and wants to help them create practical solutions to their everyday problems; the bureaucrats want to build highways and dams that are not yet needed, and with no concern for the many other projects that will have to be completed before they can be used. Perversely, Atkins embodies the opposite traits from the pejorative traits now popularly associated with the term “ugly American.”

Today, the term “ugly American” refers to perception of the loud, arrogant, demeaning, thoughtless, ignorant, and ethnocentric behavior of American citizens mainly abroad, but also at home. It is a pejorative term.

Well, the “ugly American” is very much alive and kicking…and his name is Donald Trump.

I have resisted writing about Donald Trump until now, because really, why waste the ink? But it occurs to me that the reason I find him so repulsive is because he embodies everything that is said about American tourists who used to roam Europe, routinely embarrassing the rest of us – the “ugly Americans.” Donald Trump is an embarrassment. Period. Here is why.

Let me begin with Trump’s narcissism: He believes that he is “exceptional.” He insists that he is always right, and any critic is wrong, jealous, and unable to appreciate his superiority. Trump says that he is smart. In fact, in one speech he was heard to say “I’m very smart” twenty-three times in the course of his remarks. If he really is smart, he should know that such tedious assertions only suggest that he is deeply insecure about his own intelligence. After all, this is a man whose lifework has been putting up giant buildings that resemble bowling trophies, some of them in the service of one of the worst activities of our time, legalized gambling, which is based on the socially insidious idea that it is possible to get something for nothing.

Then there is Trump’s glorification of money and the delusion that he is self-made: “I’m rich. I’m really rich,” he tells us. So according to his logic, that makes him better than the rest of us, and it is all due to his brilliance. He does not owe his (exaggerated) fortune to his inherited wealth, or to his ability to avoid the consequences of bad business decisions through multiple bankruptcies, or to the “old boys” network available to the sons of well-to-do white Christian males.

Further, there is Trump’s substitution of witless name-calling for political discourse: If he disagrees with you, you are a dummy or a clown. He does not have to explain why you are wrong, or what he would do instead, or why his idea is better.

Even further still, there is Trump’s full-throated bigotry and racism: President Obama is black, so he could not possibly have been born in the United States; brown people are all illegal immigrants who are murderers, drug addicts or dealers, and rapists.

And let us not forget Trump’s downright chutzpah: He denigrates Senator John McCain’s military service, while he was taking advantage of student deferments available to the pampered and the privileged.

Even Donald Trump’s supporters acknowledge that he is brash, arrogant, egocentric, and opinionated. He believes in American exceptionalism and lauds himself as a prime example of that exceptionalism. He is never without an opinion – whether he knows anything about the subject or not. Trump sees the world in black and white, with seemingly no understanding or appreciation of the complexity of an ever-evolving geopolitical landscape.

Trump is thin-skinned and petulant, indulging in public feuds over petty slights. When it comes to judgments and criticism, he can dish it out, but he certainly cannot take it.

Trump speaks in inflated hyperbolic language, issuing grand pronouncements with dramatic, sweeping gestures and exaggerated body language. When I was in seminary, we were taught that when your sermon had a weak point, just pound the pulpit! Well, Donald Trump does a helluva lot of pulpit pounding. And he is loud – oh boy, is he ever loud!

There is much more, but what I fail to understand is how a significant part of the American public – not just the Republican base – can take this delusional buffoon seriously. He is an embarrassment to the country. I cannot begin to imagine him sitting down with some Head of State and that meeting not be a humiliating experience. I remember only too well when he told Larry King on network television that he had bad breath and asked to sit farther away from him because of his halitosis! I see that kind of experience – only writ large and on an international stage were he to be the Leader of the Free World. Heaven help us if that happens.

Granted, the rest of the presidential hopefuls range from undistinguished (to put it mildly) to terrifying (to also put it mildly), but Donald Trump’s antics are so capacious as to even make Rick Perry (“Oops!”) look intellectually perceptive by comparison.

We live in a world that is complicated and increasingly interdependent. We need a leader who understands those complexities and who can analyze and debate the available options for dealing with them – not a purveyor of bumper-sticker slogans, faux machismo and belligerent balderdash.

Everything that is wrong with Donald Trump – everything that makes him such a danger to the country – emerged in the opening minutes of his announcing his candidacy for President of the United States.

On June 16, 2015, in the midst of announcing that he was running for President of the United States of America, Donald John Trump, Sr. said many horrible things about Mexico. Two weeks later, ten percent of Republican voters said they wanted Trump in the White House. What does any of this say about us? I guess it says that at least a percentage of us hate Mexicans. And immigrants. Oh, and the Chinese too. Though Trump did not call the Chinese rapists, criminals and drug dealers as he did with Mexican immigrants, he has said that the Chinese are stealing American jobs and may or may not be stupid. Now some of these immigrant-hating voters say that they like Trump because he says what is on his mind, does not hold back and is not a politician. He “tells it like it is” or so says an increasing number of white working-class voters who feel that their jobs have been stolen by those damn “furr-in-ers.”

Donald Trump had ostensibly been planning his campaign for quite some time. And since that announcement, he has been given multiple opportunities to “walk back his comments.” For those not immersed in politics, “walking back your comments” means “you now realize that something you said was wildly unpopular with or unbelievably offensive to people from whom you need something, so you make a half-ass apology or blame someone else for what you said.” But that is not the way that Donald Trump does things. Trump has not stepped away from his comments in the slightest. In fact, he has threatened to sue people who have ended business relationships with him because of those same comments. What Donald Trump literally said in his announcement that he was running for Commander-in-Chief/Head of State/Leader of the Free World was this: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” When people think about sending Donald Trump to the White House, do they think that they are sending their best? Or are they even thinking at all?

I must say, however, there is one thing about “the Donald.” Just when you think he cannot get either worse or even more outrageous, he turns around and does just that. Some say he could not get any lower than when he slammed Senator John McCain for being captured. I happen to disagree. I am not a big fan of Senator McCain, but I thought that Trump’s comment about McCain’s wartime captivity was a cheap shot. I am convinced that “the Donald” will find a way to get even lower. It is just a matter of time. I cannot help but wonder out-loud, since when did being argumentative, outlandish and totally clueless become desirable traits for the President of the United States?

TO BE CONTINUED. . .