Trump and Heidegger

Donald Trump and Martin Heidegger


Howard Adelman

After a short bout of the news last evening, we took a break from my current obsession with the American election, the outcome of which I believe is so crucial to the future of the world. We first watched Tom Hanks in A Hologram for the King. Though we always enjoy the acting of Tom Hanks, this updated and light comedic version of Death of a Salesman (Alan Clay) in both a career and a life crisis that is set in Saudi Arabia, and that is also an updated version of a road movie with Yousef (Alexander Black), was a movie in which the delays and frustrations Alan Clay experiences as he tries to meet the king in a scheduled appointment matched our own frustrations as we waited for the movie to get on with the story. It turned out that Alan Clay had more patience than we did, and we finally turned the movie off to watch a documentary.

Being adrift in a strange place in an encounter with others outside your normal experience can be discombobulating, but imagine this experience taking place, not in a man entering a world which is a marriage of tradition and ultra-modernity that is really a modern version of a culturally arid desert, but by a tribe in the Amazon rain forest reserved for non-contact tribes as the tribe emerges to test contact with a perimeter of the civilized world with its cameras and its guns, its clothes and its medicines? This is the theme of the documentary, The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes.

The exploration of the ideas and presumptions in protecting such tribes in their natural environment in the reserve area on the borders of Peru and Brazil as a tribe emerges to make contact with “civilized” society is explored with sensitivity, nuance and honesty in this film. If you think Tom Hanks trying to sell a 3-D hologram system for convention meetings to Saudi Arabia is an exploration of the interaction between one world and another, an exploration of interculturalism in a 3-D way, imagine what it is to live in a small isolated tribe in the Amazon jungle and make your first steps into “our” world. The most important lesson we learn from the gentle and sensitive work of the Brazilian medical doctor and anthropologist is how the Rousseauian fantasy of the noble savage untouched by civilization living in a Garden of Eden of moral innocence is such BS.

This is what it is like to live in a state of nature. They are often cold. They never sleep well. They often go days without food. They are deathly afraid of panthers. Yet they encounter the same discomforts of infidelity exacerbated by the continuing fear and experience of death of their children, their friends and their parents. Though pleasant, curious and often smiling, they are NOT happy campers. Except for the contact with germs to which they have no immunity and voracious businessmen who have aspirations to exploit the natural wealth of the reserve, escaping the isolation of the rainforest is not so much a seduction by modernity as an escape from a raft of insecurities and a very short life span.

The effects of the clash of cultures is apparent as the Trump world of unreason and resistance to reality, of incoherence and the conviction that personal opinion is superior to considered opinion, as it comes in contact with the uncertainties of a world of compromise and cooperation, of caring and compassion that has to be realized through very imperfect governmental and bureaucratic institutions. Monday evening’s presidential debate was, indeed, surreal. It had both a nightmarish, disorienting quality of a bad dream in which unreal fantasies clash with realities along with the exhilaration and delight, in spite of cynicism, in the tremendous benefits of an ameliorative society of civility.

The first unreality encountered is how the Trump forces tried to spin a clearly disastrous debate from the Trump side into a victory, citing unreliable online polls as contrasted with polls that make an effort at scientific objectivity. According to one example of the latter, two-thirds of Americans thought that Hilary won. Less than one-third, 27%, thought Trump won in a poll that seemed to confirm that one-third of the voting public is immune to counterfactual proofs and detest theories of evolution, conclusions by science of climate change and dislike the benefits of good governance. This is the core of the Trump support as it expresses the gradual deformation of the Republican Party as it increasingly compromised with the voices of unreason in an effort to retain a popular base. This was akin to the compromises the Democratic Party once made with the Dixiecrats that retained American institutions of repression for so many decades.

In a perverse world, doing one’s homework and being prepared are equated with acting that is rehearsed and scripted. This conclusion is not only drawn by Trump supporters, but by liberals who, like Trump supporters, prefer raw authenticity to studied argument. Trump was expressive – sometimes aloof and at other times stressed and irritated, sometimes smug and at other times condescending, but at all times increasingly irritated and somewhat out of control. As one strong but intelligent Trump supporter expressed it, Trump, in winging it, may have appeared more genuine, but his performance was more “tangle and rumble,” more jangle and less humble so that the “authentic” Trump was onstage without the energy of a mass following in a mass rally cheering him on and reinvigorating the performance artist that he had become. The format was truly rigged against him to help bring out who he is when placed in a very different context not under his sole control.

So how did Hillary perform. From the perspective of those who opt for authenticity, whether from the right or the left, she was intelligent and sharp, but also rigid and mechanical. But Trump failed because he had tried to marry his own bluster and indifference to truth presented as telling it “like it is,” with a weak and unconvincing effort to appear presidential, and I stress “appear,” for leaving the panther and going for the throat only left Trump stranded in the desert of Saudi Arabia with all its glitz of modernity but none of the underpinnings. The result – an inability to hit where it hurts as he was caught in the headlights of two clashing cultures and expectations.

Hillary Clinton said that she wanted “to invest in you’ [the middle class], “to invest in the future.” Clinton wanted to expand the welfare state. Trump was still stuck in the belief of living in the abundance of a rain forest and trickle-down economics, in relieving the rich from their onerous tax burdens so they could invest (and accumulate) even more as evidence by his own non-payment of any taxes through the use of tax loopholes that indicated, in his own words, that he was “being smart.” Trump saw the world from a one-dimensional perspective, fretting about the jobs lost in the industrial belt of America through trade agreements, NAFTA in particular, described with Trump’s usual sense of absolute hyperbole as the worst trade deal in the history of mankind, as if he had ever demonstrated any knowledge of or interest in that history. Trump ignored the huge job gains in other areas and the huge trade benefits to the U.S. which Clinton deftly ignored lest she alienate the workers abandoned in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio even more.

So the debate started with two opposed views of the economic world. In one, jobs are “stolen,” ignoring the huge increase in jobs and employment over the last eight years. In the other view, jobs are “created,” ignoring those lost in the process. So Trump, immersed in a world of contradictions and representing a party opposed to more taxes and bureaucracy, proposed more taxes and bureaucracy on companies that import, all in the name of preventing the loss of jobs without calculating the cost of new jobs left uncreated. Trump was a spokesperson for the voices of anti-globalization and for building barriers to the connections of people and goods in an increasingly interconnected world. And this was the advocate who insisted that Hillary was regulating companies out of business with more taxes. But coherence has not exactly been Trump’s forte.

Trump defended “stop and frisk” even though the studies of criminologists and sociologists have overwhelmingly indicated that the practice is inefficient, ineffective and counter-productive, and an exercise in micro-management gone not only awry, but into unconstitutional terrain. But Trump as an exemplar of faith in “authenticity” as he creates modern monuments to the gaudy and contemporary versions of baroque suitable for visions that see the world from a decadent end-of-empire point of view.

So what does this all have to do with Martin Heidegger, reputed to be one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century? (If you want a brief but less antithetical version of Heidegger that is a more subtle version of separating Heidegger from his racist past, there is a relatively short and well-written article by Adam Kirsch called, “Heidegger Was Really a Nazi,” in the 26 September 2016 Tablet. A warning. Before I ever knew that Heidegger was a Nazi and a cultural, though not biological, anti-Semite, he was the one philosopher I read in graduate school that I viscerally despised. I belong to the small minority of philosophers who argue that Heidegger does not deserve his preeminence, not because he was a Nazi, but because, in the world of thought, he is as big a blowhard in the intellectual realm as Donald Trump is in the material realm. And that is quite aside from his being a Nazi, though there is a connection between being the kind of performer who advertises and presents himself as being better than anyone around.

Like Trump, Heidegger when he joined the Nazi Party exalted the effort to marry populism with a new national beginning. As Kirsch begins his essay, “In the spring of 1933, a few months after Hitler took power, Heidegger joined the Nazi Party and was elected rector of Freiburg University, where his expressed goal was Gleichschaltung—the ‘alignment’ of the academy with the new party-state. At his inaugural ceremony, the audience gave the Hitler salute and sang the Horst Wessel Song, the anthem of the Nazi party, before Heidegger spoke about “the glory and greatness of this new beginning.” Trump says the same thing in much simpler terms: “Make America Great Again.”

What does making America great again mean? Sacrificing the middle class for the wealthy in the name of collective greatness and the acquisition of wealth by the few. Ignoring the protection of human rights and the constitution in favour of what Mao Zedong called “masslining,” but which I call mass lying. It means never acknowledging and admitting, let alone apologizing for when you are wrong. If anyone thinks that high and lofty thought cannot be reconciled with crude populism, read Giovanni Gentile, the Italian neo-Hegelian [NOT Hegelian] philosophical apologist for Mussolini’s policies. Just as the sweetness and light of the pure Platonic life cannot be so easily separated from crude barbarism as butter can be separated from whole milk, so too the philosophy of bitterness and resentment cannot be so easily separated from the unworldly realm of authenticity and alienation.

For Heidegger as for Trump, the world is depicted as a horror show, a dark and dank place where everything has gone to hell. We do not understand this through science, through evidence, through intellectual analysis, but through our gut. The texture and make-up of the world is only grasped directly by our emotions. Though called a “state-of-mind” by Heidegger, it is really a mindless approach to existence, one in which the intellectual workings of the mind must be deliberately bracketed. Then existence reveals itself, as it did for Rousseau, as a state of submission and slavery, in Trump to the state and “liberals” and the media, in Heidegger, to the entrapment of modernity altogether.

The world is not of our own making but we have been cast adrift in this world – except for those who realize this and rise above it to take advantage of it in a distorted version of Friedrich Nietzsche’s “will to power”. Humans are just there. They are no longer, as in Kant, autonomous agents in making their own history. They are not, as in Hegel, participants in a collective effort of spirit to move beyond current absolutes into a new world. Subjective agency has been removed from humanity, and in Heidegger it has been removed absolutely. This justifies the need for the one great leader who can lead the masses out of the wilderness into a great new world, or, as in Heidegger, back to an authentic world, his version of a “state of nature” even as evidence clearly indicates that the reality of such a state is an illusion while the illusion of such a state deforms reality.

In the Heideggerian “hell,” we are imprisoned in the illusion of Sorge, of a version of care and compassion as the delusion that prevents us from examining how we have been used and thrown onto the dustbin of history. In the Heideggerian world, the only foundational reality we face is death, a world in which a supersalesman like Donald Trump can exhibit and exemplify the illusion of escape. Trump offers us his lived experience of triumph in contrast to the lived experience of betrayal, a triumph of his personal will to acquire and expand the possessive individualist that he is. Both Heidegger and Trump demand we face and challenge this world of despair into which we have been cast. Trump would, if he could, own the world rather than have it owned by the masses to whom he appeals who get caught up in his prescription for escape.

One cannot see this world from the inside, from the bureaucrats who dominate Washington, from the intellectuals who lead and manipulate it, but only from the outside, and best by one who is outside, but who has personally participated actively in its corruption and taken advantage of it. Trump is the smart one because he uses the rules of the system to escape his obligations, to pay no taxes; this is a badge of honour not a moral confession. The world is inherently corrupt and Trump at the peak of Trump Tower has the singular ability to both see it and take advantage of it and even to promise a way out for the masses as he creates a new political and economic delusion.

Heidegger and Trump, in an intellectual and a visceral way, both depict the world as inherently a place of alienation. The reality is that it is not the ones outside the establishment, but the ones who are outside society altogether who have been cast in the role of the “wandering Aramean,” those who live in the world of the cast-outs and refugees at one end of the spectrum of true outsiders, and those imprisoned in a sanctuary, a no-contact world,” who can actually see the wonder of modernity. That is why they pose the greatest danger for both Heidegger and Trump.

If Trump is the exemplar of superficiality and Heidegger is the exemplar of one who wants to return to a real authentic world, a cursory examination reveals them to be two sides of the same coin, head and tails respectively in an illusionary two-state world seen as authentic, or, in Trump’s words, as “beautiful.” That is why cooperation with others for mutual benefit, cooperation with allies to confront evil, why dialogue and diplomacy are perceived as shams. If the world is cast as one of violence and suspicion, of deep irredeemable divisions, then following the Führer might be the only way out.

What about the followers of Heidegger that exalted freedom and individual expression while putting Stalin on a pedestal like Jean Paul Sartre? This libertarian-communist version of Trump’s capitalist delusions is but the Janus face of the core identical philosophical assumptions. The good, the right, truth and falsification, all can be sacrificed on the altar of authentic existence. Is that authentic existence depicted in a material sense of abounding wealth and health, or is it to be depicted as a return to nature, or Heidegger’s updated version of that naturalist thesis? In either world, the slaughter of Tutsis in Rwanda, of Azeris and Syrians in the Middle East, of Jews in the Holocaust, can all but be ignored in the greater task of saving America or Germany from the despondency and desperation of the pictures they paint either in plain and simple English or in convoluted and esoteric German to camouflage the world in the name of revelation and unveiling.

Heidegger and Trump are just both false prophets.


Immunity to Falsification

Immunity to Falsification


Howard Adelman

The New York Times published an interesting article yesterday on the belief in birtherism showing that one-third (33%) of Republicans still say that Obama was not born in the U.S. 22% of independents and even 10% of Democrats agree as well, even though Trump himself finally stated that Barack Obama was born in the U.S. As the NYT wrote, “the human capacity to resist contradictory evidence can be remarkable.” One reason: rationalizing Trump’s about face: “the birthers and non-birthers all seemed to think that Trump has privately agreed with them all along, and all praised his flip-flop as a shrewd political stratagem to change an inconvenient subject.” This was reinforced because Trump did not admit he was wrong, but simply stated that Barack was born in the U.S. so he could get on with his campaign.

In the debate last night, the moderator said to Trump that the birth certificate was produced in 2011, yet you continued to question the President’s legitimacy in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and as recently as January, so the question, in the context of racism, is, “What changed your mind?” Trump, as usual, did not answer the question of why he changed his mind, or even if he really did. He said, “Nobody was pressing it; nobody was caring much about it, but I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job.”

Lester Holt, the moderator, unlike his usual practice of allowing Donald to go on and on, said, “We are talking about racial healing in this section. What do you say to Americans…” Trump then cut him off. “I say nothing. I say nothing. Because I was able to get him to produce it. He should have produced it a long time before.” He then continued to blame Hillary for introducing the birther issue. “Well, it’s very simple to say. Sidney Blumenthal works for the campaign and a very close friend of Secretary Clinton, and her campaign manager, Patty Doyle, went to—they were in the campaign, her campaign against President Obama, fought very hard, and you can go look it up and you can check it out, and if you look at CNN this past week, Patty Solis Doyle was on Wolf Blitzer saying that this happened. [CNN followed the debate by showing a clip where Doyle said no such thing.] Blumenthal sent McClatchy, a highly respected reporter at McClatchy, to Kenya to find out about it, they were pressing it very hard; she failed to get the birth certificate. When I got involved, I didn’t fail, I got him to give the birth certificate.”

When CBS News did a fact check, they concluded, “This has been Trump’s line since the “birther” issue resurfaced this fall, but Clinton’s campaign has repeatedly denied being involved. Patti Solis Doyle, Clinton’s 2008 campaign manager, told Wolf Blitzer a volunteer forwarded an email promoting “birtherism” and that that person was fired. “The campaign nor Hillary did not start the ‘birther’ movement, period, end of story,” Solis Doyle told CNN, saying the volunteer’s actions were “beyond the pale” and that Clinton called Obama campaign manager David Plouffe to apologize.
Blumenthal, a longtime Clinton confidante but not a current campaign staffer, denies ever contacting McClatchy; the former McClatchy bureau chief, James Asher, recently said he clearly recalled the conversation with Blumenthal. Hillary then came into the debate and said, “Just listen to what you heard. Clearly, as Donald just admitted, he knew he was going to stand on this debate stage…so he tried to put the whole racist birther lie to bed.” Hillary and the moderator both attested that Donald’s claim that Hillary started the birther movement was an outright lie.

Further, even if Donald had “forced” Obama to release his long form birth certificate, why is this an accomplishment unless one had sowed the seeds of suspicion along the way? Finally, why continue the issue – the certificate could be a forgery… for four years afterwards if Trump had put it to bed? But the question asked – why Donald changed his mind – was never answered. Videos were broadcast with Trump questioning Obama’s legitimacy year after year. But there is little indication that this has any effect on Trump supporters.

Two outright and blatant lies – Hillary started the birther campaign. Second, Donald Trump forced Obama to produce his long form birth certificate and that ended the issue when it did not. As Lester said, Trump Two-Two continued to raise the issue for a further four years. His diehard followers continue to hold onto the birther issue because they join the Democrats in not believing he has been sincere on the issue, but for very apposite reasons. Further, the Republicans want to back a winner. Trump won the primaries largely because they came to believe that the Trump candidacy offered them the best chance of winning the White House. As the Washington Post wrote this morning, “His (Trump’s) answer on his five-year quest to show that President Obama was not born in this country was like watching a car accident in slow motion.” The newspaper also provided a list of 23 of the most noteworthy claims that Trump made that were false.

Yesterday, in The Globe and Mail, Konrtad Yakabuski wrote (“Get ready for anything in presidential debate”) that, “many in the Republican Party and media have been complicit in allowing Mr. Trump to get away with the utter debasement of political language and incivility that have characterized his campaign. Trump rallies, which for months have been broadcast live and unfiltered on U.S. cable networks, are truth-free zones where conspiracy theories go to procreate. The Republican nominee wantonly twists, distorts and perverts reality. Confronted with the facts, he simply shoots the messenger in some ad hominem tweet/slur, while conjuring up yet another shameless lie… Mr. Trump lies effortlessly and with the compulsion of someone who just can’t help himself.”

Once again, the fact checkers pronounced Trump wrong and wrong and wrong and Hillary and Lester right, though, in one case, Hilary misrepresented her original position on the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (TPP). So why do his supporters continue to believe him and believe in him? Note, other beliefs totally resistant to correction:

“Humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” 33% of all Americans.

There is no “solid evidence that the average temperature on Earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades.” 26% of Americans – 46% of Republicans and 10% of Democrats in spite of the fact that virtually 100% of climate scientists believe that there has been an increase in the temperature of the Earth over the last few decades. 97% of them believe that this increase has largely resulted from human activity. The deniers do not lack the information. They are simply not convinced by the evidence for evolution or for climate change. The roughly same group is unlikely to be convinced that Barack Obama was born in the US even when Donald Trump, the father of Obama birtherism, says he was. As Yakabuski concluded, “his core supporters are deeply distrustful of established media outlets, preferring to get their news (to the extent they do at all) from alt-right websites… White voters without a college education are with Mr. Trump. And for many of them, nothing but nothing will change their mind.”

So one third of the U.S. electorate seems beyond the reach of reason and persuasion by means of scientific evidence. Trump has by far the vast majority of these as his supporters. That means, he only needs possibly as little as another 10% of the public to swing his way to win the race. Since many Republicans who are not immune to reason and evidence have swung behind him to ensure other Republicans on the ticket get elected and to even get Trump Two-Two elected just to prevent Hillary appointing judges to the Supreme Court, there is certainly a real possibility that he could win.

So the results of the presidential debate do not seem to be dependent on a mastery of facts – and Trump Two-Two knows this. But this conclusion may very well be wrong. For the debate is not intended to separate Trump Two-Two from this block of voters, but to win over Republicans and Independents who are repelled by a candidate who not only believes in myths, but is a propagandist for such myths. In a focus group of 20 independents in a key race in Florida, 18 of the 20 believed that Hillary won the debate. But only 4 of the 20 were persuaded to vote for Hillary. If even the rest split evenly, and if 18% of voters have not made up their minds, that would mean that Hillary won 20% of the eighteen more than Trump, or a 4% increase above her 41% support, more than enough to trounce Trump in Florida.

The debates are also intended to shore up and invigorate the Democratic vote. Given the debate on race, given the debate on women and Trump’s demeaning reference to a Hispanic woman, given the debate on truth, Hillary will undoubtedly enhance her support and the determination to vote of women, Blacks and Hispanics. One suspects this will also be true to a small extent with independent educated white voters, but this is clearly speculation. I suggest, however, that it will do little to bring millennials into her political debate.

I offer one more quote before I move on tomorrow to try to answer the question of immunity to evidence and the direction of the vote of millennials by the strangest of comparisons of two apparently total opposites – Donald Trump and Martin Heidegger.

“In the populist rebellion Mr. Trump leads, there are no facts, only Us and Them, and anything They say is just the Establishment and its enablers protecting their privilege. This is exactly what the youthful Left proclaimed 50 years ago. It’s what the aging Right proclaims today. History has inverted itself.” History has not, but that is for tomorrow.

75 Trump Aphorisms

An explanation. The following aphorisms or statements are not ones Trump Two-Two would or could make. Nevertheless, they are intended to represent what he thinks even though he is incapable of articulating any one of them. As his surrogate,Kayleigh McEnamy, said after the first presidential debate that Trump Two-Two had with Hillary, his reactions are all visceral rather than reflective. I have tried to be empathetic and make his beliefs conceptually clear. Of course, if Donald ever talked that way, he would lose at least half of his supporters.

75 Trump Aphorisms


Howard Adelman

An aphorism is a terse summary of a maxim used as a guide to life and purportedly representing what is held to be generally true or acutely observed by those who repeat the sentiment. “Saying what is on your mind is easy, especially when you are mindless and cannot see what is in front of your nose,” is an example of an aphorism in the form of an insult. Short statements also represent positions taken. Since I do not consider Trump Two-Two capable of expressing a principle or a considered policy – he is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of guy who speaks in simple and too widely held beliefs, all too frequently uttered twice – I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt and act presumptuously as his speech writer. I have written a few beliefs, many in the form of aphorisms, that Trump Two-Two can be presumed to hold, in part to show that I do believe that I can get inside his head and demonstrate that I do not write from a bias. I do hope you get the irony of some of them.

On Facts, Truth, Reason and the Self

1. Some say there must be common sense if we are to have a sense of the commons. A common touch is better than common sense.
2. When reason, used to unravel the riddles of the universe, is also used to make the universe a riddle, unreason takes the stage to unravel common sense.
3. Hyperbole is a white lie designed to bring out a deeper truth than common sense.
4. If truth is not absolute, all thought is subjective; any idea is as good as any other.
5. An idea is only valid if it can be sold, not in the market place of ideas, but in the economic market.
6. Autonomous thoughts, loudly and repeatedly expressed, are as valid as any conclusions of the chattering class.
7. Disregarding logic and evidence is not nonsense but pretense.
8. When philosophers dance on the dais of doubt, anxiety spreads to provide an opening for the fabricator who promises deliverance.
9. Fabulism is the freedom to forge new realities; realism is obsessed with facts and enslaved to what is rather than what can be.
10. When there is no given truth, fabulism deserves equal time with realism in the name of fairness so that the possible can be as plentiful as the actual.
11. Reason not seasoned by common sense needs to be spiced-up by a dose of the blasphemous and the banal.
12. Physical blindness means we cannot see; mindblindness means we cannot know.
13. Do not overrate intellect and underrate imagination. It takes imagination not intellect to appreciate the pleasures of a $500 lunch.
14. Self-consciousness, like the penguin, is overrated.
15. Sturdy individuals are always to be preferred to the studious and the supersensible.


1. Politics should not be a program of implementing prevailing strategies, but an exercise in demonstrating how nimble you are.
2. The politics of grievance based in resentment energizes both the politics of illusion and the overthrow of the establishment.
3. America is a sea and air power; it need not be a land power. Our army is surplus to our needs. That means that we are free to use our armed forces to expand our wants lest we lend its use to the needs of others.
4. When an ordinary bloke like me can know more about dealing with our enemies than our generals, know more about dealing with our rivals than our diplomats, then we are better off entrusting defence and diplomacy to an artful dodger and a double-dealer. Would you rather have a leader who is tasteless and insipid or one who is openly unsavory?
5. Instead of gab-fests from experts who talk down to you while they ask you to donate blood, instead of an international meeting offering a smorgasbord of non-options, instead of meetings that suck the energy out of you leaving you impotent, attend one of my rallies.
6. Politics should be generous, not uptight. Politics should reach out rather than be hermetic. Politics should be self-regarding rather than being drowned in a concern for others. Politics should be fun and not a Methodist burden.
7. An international meeting is not a place for high mass or for Kol Nidre. It is a squash court rather than a restaurant mistaken for a church.
8. As the refugees in Kakuma Camp must be returned to Sudan, as the refugees in Dadaab must be returned to Mogadishu, as the refugees running rampant in Europe must be returned to the Middle East and Africa, so must the Hispanic illegals in America be returned to the other side of our southern border. The territory of a nation is a refuge for its citizens and not stressed-out strangers.
9. Drop cement reef balls in the sea to allow marine life to flourish instead of placing a moratorium on fishing and expanding the class of enforcers who are such a burden on the lives of ordinary citizens.
10. Instead of treating natural pride as if it were an allergy and acting akin to forbidding peanut butter in lunch boxes, allow all infants to be exposed to peanuts so they can develop their own immune systems and enlarge their national pride.
11. National pride is not a shameful expression but a shameless exercise in exuberance.
12. Tell Senator Elizabeth Warren or Pocahontas that the option is not denial of past crimes towards the indigenous people of America; the option is not exposition and atonement; the option is not redress. Offering members of indigenous people opportunities to participate in an economically expanding nation is the only option.
13. Unpredictability is as virtuous in playing at international politics as in playing poker or making a real estate deal.
14. Would you rather have a leader trained for thirty years to play in the women’s softball league or a man who has played hardball in the major league of international finance?
15. If you have been disenfranchised, I am uninterested in you; if you feel disenfranchised, vote for me.

On Society and America

1. A society’s strength is not founded on guilt and shame, but on guts and shining a light to illuminate success.
2. Lateral inclusion in the name of vertical inclusion sabotages the latter; lateral exclusion ensures vertical exclusion and the “best” will rise to the top.
3. Sound bites and snap shots are necessary to prick the balloons of the bloated pretentions of the high and mighty.
4. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour is a dictum for allowing a stranger to become your neighbour.
5. When the measure is neither man nor God and the belief grows that there is no measure, mischief-makers prosper.
6. I like Jews; they pretend to be waiting for the messiah while they get on with the business of life by treating life as a business.
7. Branding is a virtue as a self-regarding short hand signal to expand the self.
8. In this new age, a leader must be the origin of perception for a whole society to once again allow the spirit of a nation to live in our backyards and driveways.
9. America does not stand for equality; it stands for upward mobility – for the “best” of us. The best is defined by my example – climbing upward while giving anyone who wants to follow me a kick-start.
10. If we are to be immersed in who we are and who we can be, amelioration is insufficient.
11. We need a foundational faith in an America that was once great and can be great again based on being born again, but through self-transcendence rather than grace.
12. A country willing to send troops abroad to participate in a pretend peace instead of willing to fight to the death for victory is a country neither to be admired nor respected.
13. America is a country in crisis; I am the coach that can supply the steroids.
14. America is in freefall towards political obscurity; a superman is needed to swoop down and save it from crashing down to earth.
15. America is at a crossroads. Either it proceeds burdened by carrying a cross or it becomes cross and gets rid of the unfair burdens it carries.

On Doctrine, Values and Lifestyle

1. Sidhartha Mitter characterized my doctrine as “a prosperity gospel for white grievance.” Lauren Collins characterized my doctrine as “the prosperity gospel for male grievances.” White grievances and male grievances are genuine, justifiable and mutually reinforcing.
2. We are at the end of our modern Axial Age. The vision of Yahweh when He proclaimed that, “My house will be a house of prayer for all the peoples,” is dead. Universalism based on care and compassion for all will finally be buried. On the mound of its ashes, I will erect a very tall flagpole recognizing me, my followers and the renewed greatness of America.
3. Meat eater or grass cutter, that is the choice.
4. Ezra cast out foreign wives and children. Follow his guidance, otherwise the assimilation of strangers, who include enemies among us, will threaten our survival.
5. The claim that individuals have responsibilities as well as rights justifies denying the latter in order to impose the former.
6. In the age of sound bites rather than sound arguments, victory goes to he who speaks most and says the least rather than to the one who speaks best.
7. Don’t sabotage yourself in search of perfection; serve yourself to avoid abjection and dejection.
8. Have a good time rather than a good conscience.
9. Aspiration is not hope; aspiration is a promise followed by performance.
10. Be in the moment rather than in bondage to bureaucracy. spontaneity trumps preparation every time.
11. Nostalgia is only valuable when it helps pay the bills.
12. Gut instinct is superior to gut wrenching; the latter leads to torturing yourself while the former allows you to torture others.
13. It is better to trust a crook who you know is a crook than one who is a crook but denies it.
14. Mendacity is a virtue in the hands of a spinner of tales.
15. A man beholden to none is responsible to no one.

On My Persona

1. I am not the messiah. He will be anointed by God. I have anointed myself and ask voters to join me in the ritual.
2. Being boastful and bombastic is a cover for really being pontifical and portentous.
3. Would you prefer the vernacular or the effete?
4. I know what it is to seduce naïve wannabees and the nouveau riche with crispy tongues of sea urchins under yuzu sorbet instead of an excellent hamburger.
5. At Mar-a-Logo, we do not offer detailed descriptions of every dish, thus interfering with conversation; we do not offer fact checks to interrupt your pleasure; we do offer intermissions to enhance your joy.
6. I am affable. I am gracious. I am not an ass-licker; I prefer my pleasures to come from the other side.
7. There may be a difference between pomposity and pretension, but I see none.
8. I would rather offer ostentation than pretension.
9. I attract ambition. I attract talent. I expand my palette to offer everyone a chance to move up – as long as I am at the top.
10. I want my broads to be delicious. I want my food to be delicious. I want my politics to be delicious. Life is not a monastery for monks forced to take part in a public world.
11. I inspire rather than trying to make an impression.
12. I refuse to cater to technique at the expense of terrain; technique must be tamed to secure and expand terrain.
13. Hillary and Barack still live in an analog world; I belong to the digital age.
14. Testosterone may make you a bull in a china shop, but that is infinitely better than estrogen used in selling that china.
15. My ambition in life has always been riches and bitches; since politics is a bitch, seduction is required, especially if the latter enhances the pursuit of the former.

Deplorables IIIb – Birtherism and Bruce LeVell

Deplorables IIIb – Birtherism and Bruce LeVell


Howard Adelman

In mid-August in the aftermath of the Democratic nomination that had been so devastating to his campaign, Donald Trump did a reset and appointed the media bomb-thrower, Stephen Bannon, executive chair of Breibert News, as his campaign CEO. In 2012, a year after Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate, Breibert promoted a book claiming that Barack Obama had been born in Kenya. Breibert News was dedicated to usurping and destroying the liberal narrative that Barack Obama had so clearly articulated at the Congressional Black Congress meeting. Breibert News was rooted in blogger journalism which offered an outlet for rage against government, politicians, journalists and Democrats.

These bloggers were not bounded by norms of truth, coherence, consistency or any other recognized norm for protecting the values of truth and integrity. They form the basis for Trump expressing birthism by stating, “Many believe…Instead, conspiracy theories abounded and Breibert News promoted rage rather than reason as a foundation for politics. These people of passion rather than reason constituted the solid core and base of the Trump campaign. This explains in part why Donald Trump kept his link with the birthers and lent his brand until his very recently to the belief that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and was an illegitimate president way after Barack Obama released his long form birth certificate on 27 April 2011. 23% of Republicans continued to express this view well after Obama tried to put to rest this effort at delegitimation.

How can a Trump surrogate defend such blatant untruths as those constituting the birthism movement? In Trump’s version: Hillary started the birther movement. I stopped it when I forced Obama to release his birth certificate. The people should be grateful. How can a pencil-mustached black apologist for Donald Trump, Bruce LeVell, an African-American Georgia businessman and Trump’s executive director of his National Diversity Coalition (NDC), deal with this flagrant violation of integrity and sensitivity? By engaging in flim flam. First the name of the organization.

The National Diversity Coalition (NDC) includes: The African American Economic Justice Organization (AAEJO), Asian Journal, The Chinese American Institute for Empowerment (CAIE), Cornerstone Church of San Diego (6,500), the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies at Laverne University, the Jesse Miranda Center for Hispanic Leadership at Vanguard University, The Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce, MAAC Project, The National Asian American Coalition, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. One only needs to read this list and wonder how such an organization that engages in advocacy on behalf of charitable service organizations and educational units in universities dealing with minority issues can have as its Executive Director a surrogate for Trump. The answer, to put it simply, as a representative of one of the above organizations in Daly City told me, is that Donald Trump stole their name.

The name of Bruce LeVell’s organization is really the National Diversity Coalition for Trump financed by the Trump campaign and consisting of a variety of individuals from different ethnic groups. It was organized in April. Bruce LeVell is the Executive Director of an organization that employs two other members of his family. While predominantly Black, the members include individual supporters for Trump from various minority communities and from all across the country: Michael Cohen, Eve Stieglitz and Michael Abramson, Jewish; Sonya Elizabeth, Arab; Narender Redy, Indian; Jo-Ann Chase, Puerto Rican; Kevin Do, Vietnamese; Rabia Kazan and Albert Sirazi, Turkish; Sajid Tarar, Muslim; Joe Perez, Cuban; Lovilla Santiago, Filipino; Dahlys Espriella, Hispanic; Chandhok Singh, Sikh; Carlos Limon, Chris Garcia, Debe Campos-Fleenor, Gloria De Mummey, Mexicans (apparently the largest number of individual members other than Blacks); Lisa Shin and Kun Kim, Korean; Quinn Nii and David Tian Wang, Chinese; Zoya Conover, Russian; Francisco Semiao, Portuguese; Christos Marafatsos, Greek; and Angel Boey, Bulgarian.

All, or almost all, are there in an individual capacity. Almost all were flown to Trump Tower in April to form the organization in Trump’s efforts to create a visual impression of wide, even if shallow, support among ethnic minorities in the US. Bruce LeVell is the individual face of an organization that is not a coalition of minority organizations. It is not a coalition in that sense at all. Its members are individuals, not groups. It is an organization conceived and created by Donald Trump this year by recruiting individuals from across the country who come from minority communities and support Donald Trump. As Trump has learned over the years as a crackerjack salesman, one does not need substance; one only needs the wrap and the correct brand.

LeVell told Hallie Jackson of MSNBC in an interview that the “Hillary campaign surrogates, whoever you call it, started this nasty whisper campaign. Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton started this. And unfortunately it perpetuated into this.” When Jackson stopped him and pointed out that the statement was a blatant lie, instead of defending himself when proven to be a liar, he tried deflection and referred to Obama in his Senate campaign in 2004 questioning Alan Keyes right to run in Illinois because he had not been a resident in Illinois, but had just recently moved from Maryland to take up the candidacy of Jack Ryan over a scandal. But whatever the details of that issue, it had nothing to do with birtherism. As Jackson pointed out, birtherism is not a matter of vetting a candidate.

LeVell then shifted ground again and insisted that Trump’s raising the issue of Obama’s birthplace had nothing to do with Obama’s race. When Jackson asked why Trump did not raise the issue of the birthplace of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, LeVell went back to his starting position and insisted the colour issue came from the Clinton campaign. Finally, in that 16 September interview, LeVell committed the ultimate Trump sin, confessing ignorance and owning up to having made an error. LeVell collapsed intellectually and said that he didn’t know “what was going on when Trump was running or thought about running” for President.

Why are Trump surrogates so determined to lie and obfuscate when defending Trump against charges of racism that focus on the birther issue? The answer is that Trump Two-Two is in a very difficult corner. If he admits the birther issue was wrong, never mind even apologize for it, he would be crucified by a significant part of his core voter support. On the other hand, the birther issue is a front for racism just as the National Diversity Coalition for Trump is a false front for multiculturalism. Though 23% of Trump’s supporters may be hard core racists, 53% of Republicans are soft core racists who deny race is relevant, showing in that figure alone how relevant it is. 21% of Democrats say race is no longer relevant as well. That is the group which Trump must enlist in his campaign to marry hard core and soft core racists. Trump strategists have determined that it is better to lie and bully oneself out of the corner than have to do battle on the issue of racism. The birther issue had to be abandoned, not through admission and apology let alone compensation, but by declaring victory.

It does not seem to matter that the issue has provided steam, energy and motivation to the Clinton campaign. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie might declare after Trump Two-Two’s statement that Obama was born in the US, period, that, “The birther issue is a done issue.” But you have to be suffering from mindblindness to fail to recognize that, without Trump accepting responsibility, without acknowledging his leadership role in perpetuating a lie, without apologizing, and without being sensitive to the feelings of the vast majority of Black voters, the issue will not go away. Why doesn’t Trump really care?

Clinton has never explicitly branded Trump a racist. Her supporters have.

Val Deming, former Orlando police chief running for Congress in Florida: “He’s a hater. He’s a bigot and he’s racist.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.): “We will not elect a chief bigot of the United States of America.”

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.): “Donald Trump is nothing more than a two-bit racial arsonist.”

As Bernie Sanders said in appealing to young voters, “You cannot elect a president of the United States whose campaign is based on bigotry. What they were trying to do, led by Donald Trump, was delegitimize the presidency of the first black president we’ve ever had.” Given this anger, even an apology, assuming that Trump was capable of offering one, would not suffice. Even if it were heartfelt. Even if there was some expression of a desire to make restitution. But that would give lie to his posing as the strong unapologetic leader who holds the fort at all costs.

And the reason, quite aside from Trump Two-Two’s personality and unapologetic bullying and lying, if you examine an important battleground state like Florida where Clinton is only leading Trump by 1% in one recent poll, Trump’s path to victory is not through increasing his support among minority voters. His gestures towards them are just to soften his image in the eyes of white voters. For Hillary has been bleeding white supporters with a college education to Trump so that she now only has the support of a minority of those male voters in Florida. And Trump needs to increase his support among such voters to win. A softer more presidential tone combined with his take-no-prisoners hard stance is the source of his appeal to those voters – not his policies and certainly not his integrity.

“Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 52% said the nation had made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights, while 39% said it had not. On this question, there were only modest differences in the views of white Republican college graduates (60% of whom said the nation has made needed changes) and white non-college Republicans (53%).”

Why? Because of race. Because there is some explicit and a great deal of latent racism among such voters. That group has become increasingly enlightened towards women. So Trump’s misogyny, now suppressed, used to turn them off. But the fact that he led a birther campaign riddled with racism does not turn away a majority of them. A majority of Republican male voters believe that the country has made enough gestures towards Blacks and wish to end that period of American history. Though the proportion of non-college voters on this issue is higher, the differences are not that significant; both groups get turned off the Democratic campaign when using birthism to charge Trump with racism.

That means that if Trump is to both hold and increase his vote among this group, a real prospect, he merely needs to become a clutch boxer in the racial corner, conceding little, offering few opportunities to strike back, while not coming across as a brutal hockey player on the issue of race. So while it appears that on this issue, Trump has been cornered, it really is the Hillary Clinton Democratic campaign. For Hillary needs the racial issue to mobilize Black voters. But in using the birther issue to do so, she turns off more and more white male voters, including 23% of Democrats who want to remove racism staring in their faces. She is the one in the no-win situation.

That is because this presidential race is at heart about race. Other than LeVell and a few others like Ben Carson, Trump’s minions are overwhelmingly whitebread, quite aside from the unrepresentative faces of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump. Though there are a number of white hosts who have taken on Trump or his surrogates, all the analysts and commentators that I have cited are Black. Further, it is they who occupy the high ground of morality and dogged adherence to truth and reason. The surrogates are defenders and users of irrationality. The old stereotypes have been inverted. Those driven by passion at the cost of reason have been overwhelmingly white. Those most upholding enlightenment values have been disproportionately Black.

So America now faces a choice, not simply in having a Black president, but in adopting liberal and enlightenment values and conceding that the leadership in this area is largely coming from the Black community. But Hillary already has them in her pocket. The Clinton campaign is stymied on how to counter-punch to win back more of these college-educated white males without alienating Black voters who she needs to mobilize to turn out and vote. That is why she, like the Republican contenders who ran against Donald Trump, have been put off their game. The Tea Party Conservatives succeeded in their purism in making the Republican Party ripe for a takeover as the party lost all disciplinary power. The Tea Party Conservatives thrived on protest and made room for the most protestant candidate of all protesting against the whole edifice of Washington built on order and institutions. The Tea Party constituted the shock troops that prepared the Republican Party for a takeover based on a strong self-interested individualist who used the defeat of the ruling whites to lead a campaign to take back the country in their name. Parochialism had to be his trump card rather than universalism. Hence the birther issue as the main initial highway to accomplishing his takeover first of the Republican Party and then of America.

Deplorables IIIa – Birtherism

Deplorables IIIa – Birtherism


Howard Adelman

This blog will say more on the birther issue than you will ever want to know.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump and his surrogates are distorters, deflectors, dissemblers and, most of all, outright liars. Trump Two-Two in an interview with his shill, Sean Hannity, on Fox News on 14 April 2011, when the Donald was being questioned about whether he would run against Barack Obama in the 2012 election, noted, “if I run, I will have to disclose my…finances.” He never fulfilled that forecast. Yesterday, I wrote about his insistence that he was not and never has been a racist. Yet he engaged in some racist practices and, more importantly, took initiatives to support structural racism. The birther issue discussed in this blog is related to the issue of race because Barack Obama is a Black president whose place of birth and legitimacy to hold high office was repeatedly questioned by Trump Two-Two. On Friday, he broke his vow to no longer discuss the issue. He caved this past Friday, But far too little and far too late.

“President Barack Obama was born in the United States. Period.”

What is the birther issue and what does it have to do with racism? Birtherism is the claim that a political candidate was not born in the United States. It went beyond a mere political tool used by a rival to a widespread movement with the widespread belief that Barack Obama was not, or may not have been, born in the United States; if he wasn’t born in the US, he would be ineligible to be president of the United States.

Birtherism did not start with Barack Obama. The issue was raised with respect to Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney’s father was born in Mexico, yet served as Governor of Michigan and was himself once a Republican presidential candidate running against Richard Nixon in the 1968 contest when the birther controversy first arose.

Note the American constitution does not require that a presidential candidate be born on American soil, only that the person be a “natural born citizen.” That in itself needs deciphering since one readily asks what an unnatural born citizen could be. But “nature” is not being used in the ordinary sense of the natural world, but in the sense of “regular” and consistent with past practices. Regular means in accordance with American citizenship norms. In an article in The New York Law Journal at the time of George Romney’s bid to be the Republican presidential candidate, the author examining the issue concluded that anyone born to a U.S. parent was a natural American and did not need to be naturalized. And, therefore, was eligible to be president. The authoritative Congressional Research Service concurred. The legal meaning of “natural born citizen” refers not only to anyone born on U.S. soil, but anyone born overseas of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen. End of story. As George Romney wrote years ago, “I am a natural born citizen. My parents were American citizens. I was a citizen at birth.”

This became clear because John McCain was born in the Panama Canal Zone and, more pointedly, Ted Cruz was not even born on American controlled territory but in Calgary, Canada on 22 December 1970. His father was not even an American citizen at the time; his mother was. Which would have put him in the same position as Barack Obama even if he had been born in Kenya, which he was not. Obama’s mother was born in Kansas. Ted Cruz was deemed to be a natural born American because his mother too was born in America. Nevertheless, in January in the primary season when Trump Two-Two had already become the frontrunner, he “attacked Ted Cruz over his birth in Canada, saying it raises questions about his presidential eligibility.” Trump was an equal opportunity swinger. But the question of Ted Cruz’s place of birth never became a movement. Further, though questioned on the law, there was no challenge on factual grounds.

So how did the birth certificate ever become an issue for Barack Obama? Not because it was relevant to his eligibility to run. Not because there was no birth certificate – there was. Why did it continue after President Barack Obama even produced his long form birth certificate and the Republican official in Hawaii authenticated that the certificate was real and that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii on 4 August 1961? And it did continue. It did not end because Trump Two-Two claimed he had forced Obama to produce the birth certificate. Trump did not end the issue in 2011. Trump continued to raise the issue and question the authenticity of the birth certificate. “I heard from a very reliable source that the birth certificate was a fraud.”

Did Hillary Clinton or senior personnel in the Clinton campaign initiate the issue in the 2008 run for the presidency against Barack Obama as Trump Two-Two continued to claim? Hillary never raised it, never endorsed it and explicitly condemned even the effort to question Obama as a presidential candidate on the grounds that he did not have American experience in growing up. One connection to the Clinton campaign took place when, in December 2007, a volunteer coordinator in Iowa forwarded another email which was not even about Obama’s place of birth, but about his heritage.
Did Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster and Clinton 2008 strategist, question the President’s birth in a March 2007 memo as Kellyanne Conway tried to argue in defence of the claim that the Clinton campaign in the 2007-08 election first raised the birther issue? Kellyanne insisted that Mark Penn “put President Obama’s citizenship in question when he wrote a famous memo in March of 2007 questioning Obama’s “American roots.” ( The memo was stupid enough, but it did not mention the legitimacy of Obama’s citizenship. It was not about Obama’s place of birth and eligibility to be president.

Penn offered Clinton bad advice in suggesting the possibility that Hillary raise the issue of Obama’s American experience. Clinton did not take that advice. She not only rejected it, but went on to apologize to Barack for anyone in her campaign raising the issue in the first place. And the issue, to repeat, was not the legitimacy of his place of birth and Obama’s eligibility to run, but whether he had sufficient sense of American having grown up abroad. Clinton told Obama she did not accept the advice and it nowhere made any appearance in the campaign. It was a terrible idea and irrelevant, but it had nothing to do with where Obama was born.
So there is not one iota of evidence that Obama’s birthplace was part of the Clinton campaign when she ran against him. What is the evidence that Trump took the lead in the birther campaign? He was by far the most prominent person to continually raise the issue. But Donald Trump did so, and did so repeatedly:
March 23, 2011

“Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate. And you know, I wish he would.

April 7, 2011. Meredith Viera One-on-One with Donald Trump on the To-day Show

“I’ve had very smart people say stay on the China issue, stay on the Saudi Arabia issue, stay on the India issue taking our jobs, stay on the Mexico issue. Get off the birth certificate issue.”

Why don’t you?

“Because, three weeks ago when I started this issue (my italics and bold), I really thought he was born in this country and now I have a much bigger doubt than I ever had before.”

“His grandmother in Kenya said he was born in Kenya and she was there and witnessed the birth.”

[Meredith arguably lost her job and her $11 million dollar contract because she never challenged Trump for perpetuating this fraudulent conspiracy theory for which Trump then accepted leadership.]
April 28 2011

“I don’t make up anything. Let me tell you something. I have done a great service to the American people.

[CNN has broadcast a series of clips showing Donald Trump questioning Obama’s citizenship in the years Obama released his long-form birth certificate in 2011.

Dec. 16 2015

I don’t answer because if I do answer, that’s all people want to talk about. Once I answer the question, they don’t want to talk about the economy…

May 4, 2016

Wolf Blitzer

“The whole birther thing. Where do you stand?

I don’t talk about it anymore because every time I talk about it, it becomes a story, so I don’t want to waste my time. Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther issue. I ended it by forcing Barack Obama to produce his birth certificate.

The birther issue is irrelevant except as an insight into Donald Trump as a fabulist and about his attraction to material produced by conspiracy theorists. The birther issue is a fabrication alleging Hillary Clinton or her associates initiated the issue. The birther issue became a problem for Trump, because of the reality that Donald Trump promoted it. The birther issue remained alive because Trump did not end the issue after Obama produced his long form birth certificate. The issue continued long after because Trump kept raising it. And even when he finally acknowledged it was a lie, he never took responsibility for his role, never apologized, blamed Democrats and took credit himself for its demise when he kept it alive. The performance was disgusting and insulting to Barack Obama and to Black Americans sensitive to efforts over American history to deprive Blacks of their citizenship rights.

Next: A Black Trump surrogate on the issue

The Deplorables I – Jeffrey Lord

The Deplorables I – Jeffrey Lord


Howard Adelman

When I listen to the sycophants, the apologists, the surrogates, the spokespersons for Trump Two-Two, I want to scream – not on behalf of Hillary Clinton, but on behalf of reason, on behalf of enlightenment values, on behalf of truth. Never mind Trump. His surrogates – Jeffrey Lord, Kayleigh McEnany, Corey Lewandowski, Kellyanne Conway, Andy Dean, Katrina Pierson, Bruce Lavell, Darrell Scott, Mark Burns, Scottie Nell Hughes, Omarosa Manigault – are deplorable in the true sense of the word. They deserve our strong condemnation. Not simply for the man they are defending, not simply for the points they are making, but for their disrespect for the rules of the use of rational language.

I am not talking about the birthers and believers that the world is flat and that the destruction of the Twin Towers was a Zionist conspiracy. I am not talking about the David Dukes, the racists or the defenders of the Second Amendment who seem willing to take up arms in the name of an invented version of part of the American constitution. These are far beyond being deplorable. I am referring to those Trump surrogates who belong to the chattering classes, but seem to be incapable of mounting a rational and evidence-based argument. It is a disgrace. It is shameful. I cannot believe this goes down the line and deep into the Republican Party, but listening to these surrogates makes me suspect that the party has been deeply infected with irrationality and may not be able to be salvaged this time no matter who wins or loses the election. That is lamentable, but it is also inexcusable. The long term history of a once noble party is being sacrificed on the altar of irrationality. Political contests have been transformed into a blood sport in which illogic and the misuse of language have been substituted for rational debate.

This is truly dreadful and atrocious, unpardonable and dishonourable. The situation is deplorable in all the senses of the word. The leading surrogates who contribute to this folly are even more deplorable than the bullying, blowhard, lying Trump Two-Two. For he is a product of business and a vehicle for entertainment. The surrogates, on the other hand, claim and represent themselves worthy of belonging to a league which requires rational discourse and argument. But they lack any one of its central characteristics.

The worst of it all is that these surrogates are usually set off against, not simply Hillary Clinton surrogates, but against quite brilliant independent analysts like Marc Lamont Hill, Joy-Ann Reid and Angela Rye (who both said to Corey Lewandowski when he put down President Obama and demanded that Obama release his Harvard transcripts – as if this bore any equivalence with releasing tax returns – “You are so out of line right now. Tell your candidate to release his tax returns. Two words: Tax return” and each insisted that “In this moment, I’m going to Beyoncé you: ‘Boy bye,’” Rye added, “You’re so out of line right now.”) Anthony Kapel “Van” Jones (Trump branded him “Mad Max America”) and my personal favourite, Charles Blow, can be added to this list. All are constantly forced to participate in a sham debate in which the proponents of irrationality are given half the media time and these journalists are reduced to taking on the irrationality of their opponents rather than the substantive policies at stake. (As an aside, the Beyoncé lyric comes from her song “Sorry” in which a woman dismisses her husband’s excuses for his affair.)
In accusing them of being deplorable, I am not asserting that the Trump surrogates are ignorant. They have mastered their notes and their rhetorical skills and exhibit them in different ways. I am not accusing them of being stupid. Just defenders and proponents of irrationality even as they demonstrate different degrees of nimbleness in their use of sophistry.

Let me illustrate with reference to each of the surrogates in turn taking on one problem at a time. Perhaps Jeffrey Lord is the person I have seen and listened to the most as a Trump surrogate. With his white hair, whimsical smile and laid back engagement in the debates, he offers himself as a serious defender of Trump Two-Two. He also has a long political pedigree having served in high office in the Reagan administration. There he must have honed his skills in defending Reagan trickle-down economics while burying fiscal conservatism in a bed of debt as Reagan tripled the gross federal debt from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. Examine Jeffrey’s defence of Donald Trump’s refusal to make his tax returns public.

Arguments for releasing the tax returns are as follows:
• It is an established tradition going back to Richard Nixon
• It is an expectation of the voters
• It will provide evidence about whether or not he has been truthful about his charitable giving
• It may provide evidence or disproof of the suspicions of many and the evidence of a few that during the last decade, Trump’s businesses depend more and more on infusions of capital from Russian oligarchs connected with Putin and partners associated with disreputable dictators around the world
• Most of all, it will provide evidence about whether he pays his fair share of taxes in any reasonable definition of fairness.

Arguments for not releasing the tax returns are as follows:
• They are under audit and any taxpayer has the right to mitigate his tax exposure, an exposure that can be exacerbated by release of one’s financial situation
• The tax returns provide clues to how Trump operates his various businesses that may expose his positions unfairly to competitors
• The release of the information will provide an enormous distraction from the policy issues as reams of people try to mine the returns in the interest of exposing embarrassments. “He’s got a 12,000-page tax return that would create financial auditors out of every person in the country asking questions that would detract from his father’s main message.”
• Unlike other presidential candidates who were political pros, Donald Trump comes from the business world and his returns, as Donald Trump Jr. explained, amount to 12,000 pages in themselves creating an enormous fund for troublemaking.
• This is not a burning issue for the public.

What are the arguments offered in refutation of the claims of the opponents and in support of the Trump campaign position? Against the argument that this is a precedent going back to Richard Nixon, Jeffrey Lord argues that there have been 36 presidents who never made their tax returns public. What is omitted is that these constitute 36 of 43 presidents and 35 served prior to Richard Nixon. Many of these served prior to Abraham Lincoln when there were no personal income tax returns to make public. In any case, the argument does not take on the observance of a well established tradition over the last 7 presidents, excluding Gerald Ford who was not an elected president but nevertheless released a summary of his tax returns though not the entire income tax return. In other words, it is a tradition that extends over one-third of the period in which there have been income tax returns.

Jeffrey Lord doe not argue against the claim that there is a 47-year-old tradition. Jeffrey Lord does not argue that it is an illegitimate tradition. He demeans the tradition by citing irrelevancies to the case – what presidents before Richard Nixon did. He does not note that Richard Nixon resisted releasing his returns but was forced to do so. This is, of course, the well known red herring form of argument, that is an argument which is not an argument, but a distraction that is irrelevant and simply attempts to draw attention away from the issue.

Jeffrey could have argued that the appeal to tradition of the Democrats was itself a red herring since it does not follow that because the tradition had been established for 47 years that this alone made it a valid tradition to continue. That in itself is a form of a red herring argument, but one suspects that if Jeffrey opened that can of worms he would have had to engage in the argument about whether the tradition was a useful one well worth perpetuating for a number of reasons. So distraction rather than engagement seems the preferred course of avoiding a real dialogue.

How does Jeffrey Lord and Trump’s other surrogates handle the argument that the voters expect tax releases to be released? The answer – it is not a burning issue for voters. But the claim was not made that it was a burning issue, only that it was an issue for a large majority of voters overall (74%) and even a majority of Republican voters (62%). The surrogates, however, are probably right that this isn’t a burning issue. In a small sampling in Virginia, the voters were all bothered by Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, but 17 of those voters were more troubled by Hillary’s emails while 11 who were more bothered by Trump’s refusal to release his tax information. Here again, as in the above case, Jeffrey Lord could have insisted that the Democratic case, even the case for the majority of voters, was itself a kind of red herring by concluding that since something is believed in widely does not make it valid. But again the argument is not engaged for the same reasons the first argument was not – because it would mean probing the merits of the practice whether or not a majority believed in it or not. Instead, the counter argument reverted to obfuscation and distraction by the use of the word “burning”.

This is, of course, as irrelevant as the first defence. Issues that are not “burning” in the public mind – the state of Korea’s nuclear arsenal is an example of one far less burning than the issue of release of incomes tax filings – but that does not make it an invalid subject for debate. An issue does not have to be a hot one searing the mind of the public and igniting their fiery wrath to demand attention. It may be only a smouldering rather than a red-hot torrid item, but the stonewalling and sidestepping and engagement in distraction present the possibility of making it a burning issue.

What about the issue of getting to the truth value of Donald Trump’s claims to have given millions upon millions to charity and the assertion that the tax returns would be able to confirm the claim or reveal it as false? Further, even releasing only this part of the tax return could put to rest the suspicion that the claim is an invention, a fabrication, a lie, an inquiry given steam by the evidence that the Trump Foundation had not received a dime of Donald Trump’s personal money since 2007 and that the money it receives has been donated to the foundation by others and then donated in the name of Trump without disclosing the original contributor. However, there is other evidence that in 2009 Trump donated almost a million dollars to charity, $100,000 of that sum ironically to the Clinton Foundation which he subsequently insisted needed to be investigated.

An investigation of Trump’s own foundation was initiated by Eric T. Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York, for making an illegal $25,000 donation to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in 2013 when she indicated that she was considering joining Schneiderman’s fraud case against Trump University. This is not just an impression of illegality. Non-profits are legally forbidden from contributing to political campaigns.

How did Jeffrey respond? He called Schneiderman a “sleaze” on CNN’s OutFront. This is another kind of red herring illogic, usually called an ad hominem argument in which you attack and insult the messenger instead of dealing with the merits of the claim. It is relevant that Schneiderman is a Democrat, supports Hillary Clinton and may even sit on one of her campaign committees. This creates a perception of conflict of interest between his political affiliation and responsibilities as an Attorney General. But it is incumbent on the accuser to demonstrate the conflict of interest, especially in America where senior civil servants are usually political partisans even when not elected, which they often are.

A perceived conflict of interest takes place when an individual can derive personal, usually financial, benefit from actions taken in their professional capacity. Though Schneiderman’s political beliefs would benefit, there is no evidence or even suggestion that there would be repercussions on his pocket book. Further, if conflict of interest was defined as the tension between one’s political conviction and one’s professional responsibility, then the whole American political system would have to be shut down.

What about the claim that the Trump organization receives capital from Putin’s oligarch friends and other authoritarian leaders across the world that will lead to a conflict of interest problem between Trump’s motivation to protect his corporate interests and the interests of the United States of America? Newsweek in its exposé never offered any evidence that any of these activities were illegal, though one Virginia voter named Beverly said that, “I’m concerned what Trump’s hiding in there. There may be business dealings, illegal business dealings. He’s really good at sweeping things out, and I really think he’s hiding something.” Newsweek did point out the conflict of interest this situation would create between Trump’s personal economic interest and that of the United States. That is a real conflict of interest for an individual with multiple financial interests any one of which could corrupt the motives or professional decision-making of the individual if that individual were to gain high office.

Jeff wrote an article (“The Liberal Media Unhinged,” 13 August 2016, for mrac NewsBusters) in which he derided The New York Times, The Washington Post and the “liberal” media in general for using ad hominem arguments and personal insults aimed at Donald Trump that give “’permission from a whole segment of America’s political and liberal media class’ to kooks out there to do whatever – no matter how dangerous, despicable or out of bounds – to Donald Trump.” In other words, it is not Trump Two-Two that engages in the use of insults and ad hominem arguments and raises the possibility of violence against Hillary Clinton, but the liberal press who do so against Donald Trump and give license to commit violence against Trump Two-Two. This is another red herring – accusing one’s opponent of the failings you yourself seem so transparently to demonstrate through hyperbole and the use of flagrantly false analogies.

I will only make two further points about this patently silly argument. The first is the use of the adjective or noun “liberal”. Michael Brenner in a recent article on the distortions imposed on our language took as his first case the denigration of the term “liberal.” Barack Obama in his address last evening to the CBC, not the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation but the Congressional Black Caucus and supporters of its foundation, articulately spelled out what it means to be liberal, though it is noteworthy that he avoided the term since it has been so hi-jacked by neo-liberals at the same time as it has been so denigrated that he had to concentrate on its substance. Liberalism means expansion of voting and political rights, equality of justice, increasing the opportunities for all. For Obama, the essence of liberalism is progress based on these measures of improving society on these and other fronts. Liberalism entails the fairer distribution of wealth and making the promise of equality a reality and not just an aspiration. In its idealism, the collective good is equated with the benefits actually enjoyed by individuals.

One can oppose liberalism in the conviction that these benefits are better achieved by decreasing rather than enhancing the role of government, by insisting that a government dedicated to insisting that the collective good and the individual good are best combined, not when the two are presumed to enjoy a synergistic relationship, but when they are seen as in tension and the government as a purported deliverer of fairness is consistently reduced. That is a reasonable ideological division. But when the term “liberal” is used as a slur, when the term is equated with those who lie and malign by the defenders of Trump Two-Two, who has unarguably made a profession of lying, using ad hominem arguments and insults, one despairs for the cause of reason. When words are hijacked and deformed by the language Janissaries, when they laud Trump Two-Two for magnificently ripping “the mask of rationality off the liberal media,” we enter the topsy-turvy world of Alice in Wonderland who opined in Lewis Carroll’s magnificent satire that, “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrariwise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” When Jeffrey refers snidely to the liberal devotion to science – which he places in apostrophes – in the climate change debate, we know we are in the world of the chattering class equivalent of the flat earth society.

What about the argument that releasing the tax returns will provide evidence about whether Trump Two-Two pays his fair share of taxes? Jeffrey Lord’s defence: Democrats “will make a problem out of something. Something that could be perfectly ordinary and average, and they will make a problem out of it. This is what politicians do.” The tax returns could be perfectly ordinary, but may not be. And the issue is whether the release of tax returns would reveal that which is not ordinary or confirm that nothing untoward was done. But instead of addressing the point of the tradition of releasing tax returns, Lord argues that the release may provide ammunition for his opponents so why release them? Precisely to learn whether the returns do indicate that which is not ordinary.

Critics of Trump Two-Two ask why he cannot release the letter from Internal Revenue requesting an audit of certain years? Why can’t Trump Two-two release his returns before 2007 that are not being audited. Those questions are never answered. Instead, all we hear is deflection based on the use of logically fallacious argumentation.

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman


Howard Adelman

As is part of the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1949 play, Death of a Salesman, is currently being performed at the Studio Theatre at the North York Centre for the Arts. But not in the original. In translation. In Yiddish – Toyt Fun a Seylsman. There are supertitles, but they are almost not needed even if you know no Yiddish.

I have seen the play four times in the past. Three of those productions were amateur performances. However, this Yiddish production was even better than the professional one I saw years ago. And it is not simply because Avi Hoffman who plays Willy Loman and directs the play and Suzanne Toren who plays Linda, his long-suffering wife, and Daniel Kahn who plays Biff, offer such marvellous performances. It is in good part because the play is performed in Yiddish.

Arthur Miller wrote a deracinated play, perhaps a play suited to a salesman who has lost any sense of rootedness. It is a play that on the surface is totally uprooted from its Brooklyn Jewish culture. Willy Loman is not called Manny Newman, Arthur’s uncle who was the original prototype for the main character. Linda is not called Molly. Biff, the oldest son, is not called Barney and Happy, the younger son, is not called Harold or, better yet, Hershel. Miller uprooted and extirpated, or, at least tried to remove any sense of Jews tied to their covenant with God and to their sense of a people in exchange for one version of the American Dream that Miller puts on trial on the stage.

One of the major symbols in the play is Willy Loman’s search for seeds, his quest to buy seeds and plant them in the garden of his house even though you cannot grow a carrot anywhere in Brooklyn. A tree, a lonely tree, may grow there, but not a carrot. As Willy disintegrates, he is found in a futile effort trying to plant seeds in his garden. But this was a generation of rootless Jews in which being a salesman was apparently the epitome of success in fulfillment of the American dream.

A few years ago in an interview in The New Yorker with John Lahr, Arthur Miller described his work as a playwright as being a stenographer, a transcriber. “I could hear the characters. I could hear them literally. I’ve always said since that playwriting is an aural art. You write, but you’re really hearing it.” I think Miller is dead right about writing drama. But it is also true for the listener. For the first time when performed in Yiddish, I could really hear the play. Miller claimed that he deliberately eschewed “naturalistic” speech and “realistic” diction, that he wrote the play in a stylized manner “to lift the experience into emergency speech of an unabashedly open kind rather than to proceed by the crabbed dramatic hints and pretexts of the ‘natural’.”

However, when you hear the play in Yiddish, in spite of the names Willy, Linda, Biff and Happy, you hear the Yiddish rhythms unequivocally. “Maybe it’s your glasses. You never went for your new glasses.” “Afshar es s’ deyn briln. ir keynmol gegangen far deyn nay briln.” אפֿשר עס ס ‘ דיין ברילן. איר קיינמאָל געגאנגען פֿאַר דיין נייַ ברילן.
Willy asks Linda. “Why do you get American when I like Swiss?”…“How can they whip cheese?” “Vos ton ir bakumen amerikaner ven ikh vi shveytser ?”…”Vi kenen zey baytsh kez?וואָס טאָן איר באַקומען אמעריקאנער ווען איך ווי שווייצער ? ” …” ווי קענען זיי בייַטש קעז?

The English is but Yiddish singsong diction that reproduces those melodies. The characters do not speak American. Certainly, the style of the speech with its hesitations, its doubling back on itself, its interrogative style, its disjointed patterns, are all rooted in the Yiddish and the American English of a New York Jewish community. So that when the play is performed in Yiddish, the singsong rhythms come out all the more clearly without the pretence of a non-natural lyricism. Further, the way the names are so ill-fitted to the speech patterns – Willy, Linda, Biff, Happy – also becomes so noticeable. Like Trump Two-Two, who came out of Queens rather than Brooklyn, Willy Loman talks in a stutter and his boasting becomes inarticulate.

The rhythm is also so well suited to the play. We are watching a train wreck in the seconds before it takes place. The past keeps jumping into the present as the present continuously reaches backwards in search of an idyllic materialist future, not one where the messiah will come, but where one becomes the messiah. And we in the audience are continually thrown off guard as the idiom jumps back and forth between past memories and current actions. It is as if we are watching ten seconds stretched out and slowed down to two-and-a-half hours. And when the crash takes place, we can hear a pin drop because that is all the noise it makes. The light of Willy’s candle goes out, not as a flame but as a whimper.

Of course, this was how Willy’s hero, the great salesman, David Singleman, applauded by salesmen and buyers in all forty-eight states (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states), died. He too goes to his grave alone, but within a train car rather than in front of it. But that is the only difference. Singleman and Willy both die alone. Tennessee Williams (Sweet Bird of Youth; The Glass Menagerie), Eugene O’Neill (The Iceman Cometh) and Edward Albee all wrote about self-delusion and being caught up in fantasies of one’s own making, fantasies that were usually about material wealth, success and public recognition. For the root of delusion was perceived to be the misbegotten conception of the self. However, what is really on trial is a community vision that speaks the language of possessive individualism but unveils the reality of the sham of a bourgeois marriage – none as obviously as Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Though these twentieth century archetypal American dramas were all about both disappointment and bewilderment, these are experienced most acutely in Death of a Salesman. After seeing the play in Yiddish, I am convinced that the real power of the play does not reside in the universality of these themes found in that period of American drama, but in the inherent tension between the buried and repressed past and the reality of the present – but not just in the superficial sense between Willy Loman’s past regrets, missed opportunities and betrayal of his oldest son’s faith in his father. At a deeper level the language and the rhythms unpack the tensions between the idolatry of looking smart, feeling good and being well-liked, of radiating success and selling oneself, and the reality that this is the age-old problem of worshipping idols.

In this period of American drama, what happens to one’s family and, in particular, what happens to one’s children, is the stick by which success can really be measured. THIS IS NOT THE AMERICAN DREAM. THIS IS THE JEWISH DREAM. The play is at its best when the tensions between these two dreams battle it out in front of the audience.

Death of a Salesman juxtaposes Willy’s lost youth and his lost opportunities with those of his oldest son, Biff. But why were they lost. Because father and son both over-estimated who they really were? When Marlon Brando as the powerful ex-boxer and almost champ in On the Waterfront pleads and whimpers, “I could have been a Somebody,” it is his older gangster brother who betrayed him. In Boston, Willy Loman betrayed Biff when Biff learns that his father has a mistress on the road to whom he gives silk stockings while the strongest image we have of his mother is patching up the runs in her stockings. But the larger problem is that they are all inward-looking as they try to extend themselves outward. They are all insular and have lost touch with their roots and their community, a loss which the play itself contributes to rather than exposes. They are all caught up in an asocial narcissism. And the blame is always placed on another. They have been betrayed. The message is not that they have betrayed themselves and, more specifically, their God.

I was betrayed. Not I betrayed myself. The Jews betrayed the Germans. That is why the Germans lost WWI. But a central theme of Jewish Holy books is that the Jews were constantly betraying their God, not that they were betrayed by others. But just as Willy has lost touch with the roots of rhythms of his speech, just as Arthur Miller suffered from the delusion that these rhythms represented a detached lyricism, putting the play on in Yiddish puts Arthur Miller’s own narcissism and self-delusion on full display.

The play is not so much about the emptiness of the American dream as the betrayal of the Jewish dream, even though that is extirpated from the drama. Though The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, though conformity and ideological orthodoxy and a faith in a prosperous suburban middle class had purportedly become the expression of the American dream and the object of Miller’s scorn, what is actually on trial, and what is so well revealed in the Yiddish version, is not simply the American focus on social approval, on buying material goods on time, on conspicuous consumption in contrast with the older ideals of the Western frontier, a period in which external conformity produced internal confusion and order that was simply a masquerade of the disorder underneath. What is on trial is not so much the American national psyche as the Jewish-American psyche.

But the English version hides it, denies it, and is as self-deluded as Willy Loman. Willy Loman may be a version of Arthur Miller’s uncle Manny Newman, the charming and bold-as-brass salesman who killed himself, but Willy’s nephew in the play, the nerdy Bernard, both initially jealous of Biff the athlete, so attractive to the girls in high school, and the subsequently successful lawyer who is about to have a hearing before the Supreme Court, is Miller’s version of himself. Only in Arthur Miller’s terms, his writing is put before the higher supreme court of public opinion. This in itself should serve as a key to Miller’s self-delusion and his own self-betrayal.

As Willy lurches between self-loathing, between recognition that he is a loser and a failure as a salesman, and the resurrection of his past self-delusions, as he bounces like a ball in a pinball machine between placing his son Biff on an illusory pedestal and tearing him down and pushing him away, as he waves his banana flippers to have his ball bounce off bumpers and into traps until his rage results in a tilt and the end of the game, a key to his character can be found in his relationship with his wealthy older brother who walked into the jungles of Africa when he was seventeen and emerged at twenty-one a very rich man having discovered diamonds. But why doesn’t Ben loan his brother, Willy, a small amount of money? Why does Biff go to an illusionary businessman and admirer from a dozen years earlier rather than to his uncle for a loan to stake him in starting a business? Miller does not even raise the possibility. Instead, Willy borrows from his neighbour, Charley, whom he almost openly despises.

In the English version, Charley is grounded and reasonable and concerned and tolerant and understanding and sympathetic. He is almost like a singular chorus in a Greek drama. But in the Yiddish version, he comes across as a schlemiel. Linda in the English version is usually portrayed as long-suffering, understanding, the mediator between Willy and their children, the peacemaker, realistic and level-headed. In the Yiddish version, all these qualities are turned topsy-turvy. Linda, instead of being the rock on which the family was constructed, comes across as the sycophant who contributes most to Willy’s self-delusions.

If we go back to Ben, Willy’s older brother, Ben is blessed not with the right qualities of a salesman. Nor with hard work and risk. He is blessed with luck, with mazal. And when Jews wish each other Mazal Tov, they are being idolatrous. Though it is an expression of good wishes and congratulations on a happy occasion, it is really an expression of a belief in horoscopes, in reading your life through the movement of the planets and expressing the wish that your constellations will be in the right alignment. For mazal is derived from the Mishnaic Hebrew mazzāl, meaning a constellation or destiny or fate. So underpinning the play is the premise of luck, not self-making. And it is that contradiction that comes out so clearly in the Yiddish version.

Do diamonds stand for real wealth, hard-won gems and valuable crystals forced over eons by the pressures of the earth? Do they validate the results of hard work? Or are they glittering stars of promise and faith that life is a lottery?

If the play is ostensibly about Biff’s failure to live up to his father’s expectations, if underneath Miller reveals that it is about a father who betrays his son’s expectations, both delusions are grounded in a far deeper one, not just ego-stoking lies of a self-deceiving narcissist engaged in and dedicated to puffery, boosterism and a love of being loved and admired, but of a much deeper rootlessness and seeds that will never be able to germinate. For Willy, people are either objects of idolatry or of contempt. So he will leave no legacy. For a life that depends on luck and fate requires no legacy. Whereas the play appears to be about the dream of the frontier as a place for hard physical work versus spin and advertisements for oneself, underneath it all it comes across as a lottery.

It is not the open west or the last frontier of Alaska or the primitiveness of Africa. This is as much a self-delusion as the other parts of the American dream. And this is the central unresolved self-contradiction of the drama that becomes so apparent in the Yiddish version.