Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Funeral for Decency

Omissions are not accidents.

—Marianne Moore, Complete Poems, author’s note

The funeral has begun. The casket lies open on the altar of decency and the asterisk rests quietly within, while the officiant prepares to close the coffin and lower it into its grave. The officiant is Donald J. Trump. The asterisk has served us well and protected us from crudeness. Prior to its last gasp, it had been in a perilous state and its requiem had been sung. But hope sprang eternal, and it was hoped it might recover. It did not, and having been relieved of its suffering, will serve us no longer. Its final illness began many months ago when Donald J. Trump came onto the stage. It was he, with his grossness and contempt for civilized discourse, that caused the asterisk to begin its decline.

The asterisk had for years enjoyed its role of permitting those committing thoughts to writing, to make reference to words that might offend, by only hinting at their use rather than printing them in full. One of the early manifestations of the illness to which the asterisk was succumbing, appeared on October 8, 2016, on the front page of the New York Times. The lead article was entitled: “Tape Reveals Trump Boast About Groping Women.” In the second paragraph of that story, a story having nothing to do with dogs or cats, the words “bitch” and “pussy” appeared, and in the third paragraph, what was formerly referred to as “the F word,” appeared without the help of the asterisk, the paper apparently having concluded that it was no longer needed. The editor who made that decision was confirmed in his belief that the asterisk was no longer an essential part of the literary world when one week later, in columns by noted columnists, Maureen Dowd and Nicholas Kristof, each of them eschewed the asterisk when referring to the fact that the crudity who had become the president of the United States, had agreed with the interviewer, Michael Stern, that his daughter, Ivanka, was a “piece of ***.” Unlike this writer, the two columnists declined the assistance of the asterisk in their pieces.

During the same period that the asterisk’s illness manifested itself in the New York Times, its affliction was also apparent in the Washington Post. On October 10, 2016, there was a story in “The Fix” about comments made by a Clinton aide. In the headline, the asterisk was alive and well. The headline was: “Clinton aide to Donald Trump ‘go * * * * yourself.’” Unquestionably proud of itself and its prominence on the front page of the Washington Post, the asterisk had to be disappointed when in the context of the article it found itself pushed aside in favor of the offending letters that were permitted to complete the word, a word that the asterisk knew even a few months earlier would never have been given voice in a publication as important as The Washington Post. Be that as it may. The debasement of the English language by the White House Fool, is now complete.

In demonstrating his complete lack of qualification to represent the United States in any respect, the White House Fool used a word to describe nations he holds in contempt that, to the knowledge of this writer, had not appeared in the mainstream press or been heard or seen on major radio or television outlets. And it was interesting to see how the transmogrification of the English language and the death of the asterisk was assured during the two or three days following the revelation from Senator Richard Durban of what crudeness had been spoken by the White House Fool on January 11, 2018, when meeting with the Senators. When the report was first made public, at least one major network in describing the word used by the Fool, said it was not a word that journalistic niceties would permit to be uttered and simply hinted at it. The same approach was taken by various other commentators. Such niceties were soon cast aside. Within a matter of 48 hours or so, the asterisk, that had protected the sensibilities of the reader when the story was first reported in print, was discarded, and the offensive word appeared in full in all its glory surrounded for a few days by quotation marks that were apparently considered by the publisher to be a substitute for the deceased asterisk. In a recent column by Paul Krugman in the New York Times the quotation marks have gone the way of the asterisk. The word appears without even a suggestion that its advent into the main stream press is unusual or unwelcome. Like the printed press, radio and television now make no attempt to shield viewers and listeners from the offending word.

Those wanting a longer description of the travels of that word through the media since its advent a few short days ago, should go to a piece written by Sean O’Neil. In his column he traces the word’s treatment since it was introduced into polite society and provides an excellent description of how discretion and sensitivity have left our world. In their place, the White House Fool occupies a bigger and bigger part of it. Sad.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

Kobach Redux

To know is nothing at all; to imagine is everything.

—Anatole France, The Crime of Sylvestre Bonnard

It’s not that he’s ever been far away. It’s just that whenever he returns, it causes the casual observer to marvel at how a great education could produce such a distorted intelligence and twisted mind. The good news is that soon he will leave the national stage in order to return to his home state and favor its voters with his peculiar views of government. A graduate of Harvard, Oxford, and Yale Law School, he is proof that, as one University President put it, some years back, when speaking of college graduates, “you can never be sure they are educated.” He is Kris Kobach.

Kris is remembered for a number of peculiar triumphs that occurred during the last two years. It was he, who while serving on the Republican Platform Committee of the Republican National Convention, successfully inserted language into the platform that addresses illegal immigration in the manner now demanded by the country’s Resident Fool who has found shelter in the White House. The language he successfully inserted was: “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” In furtherance of this project, eight sample walls have now been constructed in Texas, the prettiest of which is described as being a pale blue and white and resembles in some respects a split level home. The wall was not Kris’s only platform success. He inserted into that platform language pertaining to gay marriage and stating that the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion legalizing it was obviously incorrect.

Although Kris serves as Kansas’s Secretary of State, he has enjoyed serving as the vice-chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity. Vice President Pence was the chair of that Committee, but Kris assumed the role of leader which was singularly appropriate since he is more in tune with perceived election fraud than almost anyone in the country. At the time the Advisory Committee was created, he said: “As the chief election officer of a state, ensuring the integrity of elections is my number one priority. The work of this commission will assist all state elections officers in understanding, and addressing, the problem of voter fraud.” There were probably few people in the country with Kris’s experience.

As Secretary of State of Kansas Kris had sought to impose a requirement that anyone wanting to register to vote in that state offer proof of citizenship before registering. He claimed that was needed to put an end to voter fraud. Unimpressed, the federal judge who declined to permit that requirement to go forward in federal elections, and had a much keener understanding of the scope of the problem than Kris, observed that: “There is evidence of only three instances where noncitizens actually voted in a federal election between 1995 and 2015,” and during that time only 14 non-citizens attempted to register. While serving on the Advisory Commission, Kris claimed on Breitbart news that he had found proof that 5,51l voters who voted in New Hampshire in the 2016 election were not eligible to vote. He based that on the fact that the voters lacked New Hampshire drivers’ licenses when they registered, and failed to obtain them after voting. It turned out that there is no requirement that someone registering to vote in New Hampshire using an out of state driver’s license is required to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license after voting.

The Commission on which Kris served has been dissolved. Its activities have been referred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Kris says he will continue as an advisor to that department, presumably so his expertise will not go to waste. Tyler Houten, a spokesperson for the DHS, said that: “Mr. Kobach is not advising the Department on this matter.” Whether he will be involved or not, Kris has found another way to spend his time that he hopes will prove to be more successful than his tilting at the windmill of imaginary voter fraud. He hopes to become Governor of Kansas. Since he has made his mark as incompetent in his recent efforts, he may be well qualified to become the governor since Sam Brownback, the man he would replace, has the second lowest approval rating of any sitting governor according a survey by Morning Consult. Through creative tax reductions initiated by Governor Brownback, it is anticipated that the state’s deficit will exceed $280 million this year.

Governor Brownback has been nominated to serve as Ambassador at large for international religious freedom and, if confirmed, will be replaced by Jeff Colyer, the lieutenant governor. Mr. Colyer has already said he will run for the position in the 2018 election, and if Governor Brownback is confirmed, he will be running as the incumbent. Kris believes his successes in bringing failed lawsuits attacking imaginary voter fraud, his claim to have seen voter fraud in New Hampshire, where none existed, and his mistaken description of himself as an advisor to the DHS, are proof that he would be a worthy successor to Governor Brownback. He is right. Whether that is what Kansas voters are hoping for, only time will tell.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Infants and Immigration

An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam

It was only a coincidence. Two days before Christmas there was a story in the New York Times with the ominous headline: “Out of Chaos, Trump Reshapes Immigration.” It described a meeting that took place in the Oval Office in June in which the Resident Fool arrived late, furious about the number of foreigners who had entered the country since his inauguration. Their entry, he said, made a mockery of his pledge to reduce that number. Indeed, he reported to the assembled group, friends were calling him to say that he looked like a fool. (The friends were referring to the number of immigrants entering the country in defiance of his campaign promises, and not speaking more generally about his demeanor and behavior.) The coincidence was this. That story appeared just two days after another story had appeared that described how the Trumpeters had figured out how to control thought in the United States by prohibiting the use of certain words in budget submissions. The restriction was imposed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in early December. That agency banned the use of certain words such as “fetus,” “transgender” and five other words in budget documents prepared by its staff. Always creative, the Trumpeters have now come up with a brand new idea on how to control illegal immigration. That proposal rivals, in its creativity, the action of the CDC.

According to the report in The New York Times, the new proposal changes the way in which illegal immigrant families are dealt with upon their arrival in Trumpville. In the past, mothers, fathers, and children arriving in the United States illegally, were either kept together in special family detention centers while awaiting the decision as to whether they could stay or were to be returned home immediately, or were released pending a court date. Under the proposed policy, instead of keeping the family together under one of those procedures, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has proposed a new procedure that has been approved by the Department of Homeland Security, and is awaiting final approval from its new ruler, Kirstjen Nielsen. The proposal is so simple it is a wonder no one has thought of it before now. Here is how it works.

Illegal immigrant families arriving in the United States will be broken up. Children will be taken from their parents and placed in facilities designed to hold children. The parents will be sent to different facilities to await the outcome of their efforts to stay in the United States.

As with the ban on language, the first question that presented itself to the curious observer, was whether the Trump was inspired by what the Nazis had done in the ‘30s and’40s? The Nazis, when placing families in concentration camps, frequently separated children from their parents. Of course the problem the Nazis were trying to solve had nothing to do with controlling illegal immigration, so this newly Trumped-up idea was apparently thought up whole cloth by one of the many Trumpeters who are now running the country. An example of how the program works in practice was given by the New York Times describing what happened to José Fuentes.

José fled from El Salvador in 2017 together with his one-year old son, Mateo. He left behind his wife, Olivia and their 4-year old son. When he turned himself in to immigration officers upon his arrival in the United States, he and Mateo were held together for four days by immigration officers. At the end of the four-day period, the new policy was implemented. José was transferred to a detention center in San Diego, California, 1000 miles from where he’d turned himself in. His one-year old son (who in all likelihood had never before been separated from his parents), was placed in a facility for children in Laredo, Texas. For the next six days José and his wife desperately tried to find out where their one-year old son was being held. Olivia was finally able to locate him and have a video call with him. According to Olivia, the one-year old cried throughout the entire conversation. The crying is easy to understand since a one-year old not only has a very limited vocabulary but would have difficulty understanding that his separation from his parents occurred so that the United States could implement a sensible immigration policy. His failure to understand that, is no different from the failure of most of the people in this country to believe that the country they all knew and loved before the advent of the White House Fool, would even for a moment consider such inhumane behavior. Who knows what other surprises the Fool has in store for us?