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TIME TO REJECT “AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM”

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 25, 2021 at 12:22 am

“Who are we?” asks Christian G. Appy  in the opening of his 2015 book, American Reckoning: The  Vietnam War and Our National Identity.

For Appy, it’s impossible to understand the enormous impact of the Vietnam war on the United States without first understanding the image that Americans had of themselves before that conflict. And he describes that image as:

“The broad faith that the United States [was] a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life…..

“It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support undemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators but as imperialist invaders.”

Appy contends that, for millions of Americans, the Vietnam war dealt a mortal blow to that tremendously appealing self-image.

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Yet for millions more, the United States remains an exemplary nation with a divine mission to lead other nations—willingly or unwillingly—to follow its example. And those Americans become furious when anyone—especially a foreigner—dares question that belief.

On September 11, 2013, the New York Times published an Op-Ed (guest editorial) from Russian President Vladimir Putin, entitled: “A Plea for Caution from Russia: What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria.

To no one’s surprise, Putin strongly opposed an American air strike on Syria. Its “President” (i.e., dictator) Bashir al-Assad, is a close ally of Russia. Just as his late father and dictator, Hafez al-Assad, was a close ally of the Soviet Union.

And Putin is a former member of the KGB, the infamous secret police which ruled the Soviet Union from its birth in 1917 to its collapse in 1991.In his September 11 guest editorial in the New York Times, Putin offered the expected Russian take on Syria:

  • Poison gas was used in Syria.
  • It wasn’t used by the Syrian Army.
  • “Opposition forces [used it] to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.”
  • “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough [al] Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.”

But it’s the concluding paragraph that enraged American politicians the most—especially Right-wing ones. In it, Putin took exception with American “exceptionalism.”

Referring to then-President Barack Obama, Putin wrote:

“And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Vladimir Putin

Putin has never publicly shown any interest in religion. But by invoking “the Lord,” he was able to turn the Christian beliefs of his Western audience into a useful weapon.

Americans’ outrage quickly erupted.

“I was insulted,” then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters when asked for his blunt reaction to the editorial.

“I have to be honest with you, I was at dinner, and I almost wanted to vomit,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).Putin had dared to question the self-righteousness of American foreign policy—and those who make it.

Making his case for war with Syria, Obama had said: “America is not the world’s policeman….But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

In short: Because we consider ourselves “exceptional,” we have the divine right to do whatever we want.

It’s not necessary to see Putin as a champion of democracy (he isn’t) to see the truth in this part of his editorial:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

From 1938 to 1969, the House Un-American Activities Committee sought to define what was “American” and what was “Un-American.”

As if “American” stood for all things virtuous.

Whoever heard of an “Un-French Activities Committee”? Or an “Un-German” or “Un-British” one?

The late S.I. Hayakawa was a professor of semantics (the study of the relationship between words and what they stand for).In his bestselling book, Language in Thought and Action, he observed that a person has four ways of responding to a message:

  • Accept the speaker and his message.
  • Accept the speaker but reject the message.
  • Accept the message but reject the speaker.
  • Reject the message and the speaker.

In this case, Americans might want to consider #3 where “American exceptionalism” is concerned.

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on May 7, 2021 at 12:10 am

For historian and classicist Victor Davis Hanson, Donald Trump possesses an unappreciated self-awareness and sense of what it means to be a tragic hero.

Trump was into the first year of his Presidency when Hanson penned his article, “Donald Trump, Tragic Hero,” published on April 12, 2018. 

To make his case, Hanson cites a series of popular Western movies featuring lethal men who risk—and sometimes sacrifice—their lives on behalf of others too weak to vanquish evil on their own.

Victor Davis Hanson (@VDHanson) | Twitter

Victor Davis Hanson

Thus in the classic 1960 film, The Magnificent Seven, the Seven slaughter the outlaw Calvera and his banditos—and then ride into the sunset. As they do, Chris (Yul Brynner) tells Vin (Steve McQueen): “The old man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose.”

Writes Hanson: “He knows that few appreciate that the tragic heroes in their midst are either tragic or heroic — until they are safely gone and what they have done in time can be attributed to someone else. Worse, he knows that the tragic hero’s existence is solitary and without the nourishing networks and affirmation of the peasant’s agrarian life.”

Chris may know this, but there is absolutely no evidence that Trump does. He has never shown even an awareness of sensitivity and self-knowledge, let alone the possession of either. Trump is at best semi-literate. The concept of tragedy—as expressed in the Greek tragedies to which Hanson refers throughout his article—means nothing to Trump.

Moreover, the Seven have risked their lives—and four of them have died doing so—on behalf of villagers who can pay them almost nothing.

It is inconceivable that Trump would risk anything—especially his life—for people he regarded as poor and thus unworthy of his concern.

The Magnificent Seven (1960 poster).jpg

Copyright © 1960 – United Artists Corporation.”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In their first encounter with Calvera (Eli Wallach) the bandit chief offers to make the Seven partners in his ravaging of the village. Of his intended victims, Calvera sneers: “If God had not wanted them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

If Trump had heard Calvera’s offer, he would have instantly accepted it.

In June 2016, USA Today published an analysis of litigation involving Trump. Over the previous 30 years, Trump and his businesses had been involved in 3,500 legal cases in U.S. Federal and state courts.

Of the 3,500 suits, Trump or one of his companies were plaintiffs in 1,900; defendants in 1,450; and bankruptcy, third party, or other in 150. Trump was named in at least 169 suits in federal court.

Many of those cases centered around his refusal to pay contractors for their finished work on his properties. Most of the contractors didn’t have the financial resources—as Trump had—to spend years in court trying to obtain the monies they were owed. As a result, they never received payment—or, at best, only a small portion of what they were owed.

When he ran for President in 2015-16, Trump repeatedly promised poor and middle-class Americans a far better plan for medical care than the Affordable Care Act. 

He spent the next four years thuggishly trying to dismantle “Obanacare,” the signature achievement of Barack Obama, America’s first black President. But never did he offer even a general outline of his own alleged plan to “replace” it. 

Hanson tries to draw a further parallel between Trump and the fictional Tom Doniphon, the unsung hero of John Ford’s 1962 movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962 poster).jpg

Copyright © 1962 Paramount Pictures Corporation and John Ford Productions, Inc.”, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hanson sums up the movie thus:

“Tom Doniphon (John Wayne)…unheroically kills the thuggish Liberty Valance [Lee Marvin], births the [political] career of Ranse Stoddard [James Stewart] and his marriage to Doniphon’s girlfriend [Vera Miles] and thereby ensures civilization is Shinbone’s frontier future. His service done, he burns down his house and degenerates from feared rancher to alcoholic outcast.” 

It is inconceivable that Trump would take the risk of committing a crime on behalf of someone else—or being able to resist bragging about it if he did. It is equally inconceivable that he would give up a woman he wanted for the happiness of another man.

Most unbelievable of all is the suggestion that Trump would imitate Doniphon by quietly riding off into the sunset.

Trump has often “joked” about becoming “President-for-Life.” After losing the November 3 Presidential election to former Vice President Joe Biden, he filed 60 lawsuits to overturn the will of 80 million voters. Those failing, he tried some old-fashioned but unsuccessful arm-twisting of several state lawmakers to “find” non-existent votes for him.

Finally, on January 6, he incited a mob of his fanatical followers to attack the United States Capitol Building. Their mission: Stop the counting of Electoral College ballots certain to give Biden the victory.   

Victor Davis Hanson is a brilliant scholar and colorful writer. But his effort on Trump’s behalf is embarrassing and appalling.

In a series of bestselling books, he has eloquently chronicled the heroism of the ancient Greeks in defending their budding democracy.

It is depressing—and frightening—to discover that this same man can blatantly ignore the criminalities and even treason of the greatest and most destructive tyrant to ever attain the Presidency.

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on May 6, 2021 at 12:10 am

Victor Davis Hanson has long been a distinguished historian and classicist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

On April 12, 2018, the year before the publication of The Case for Trump, Hanson offered a preview of its upcoming contents in an article published in the well-known conservative magazine, National Review

Its title: “Donald Trump, Tragic Hero.”

“The very idea that Donald Trump could, even in a perverse way, be heroic may appall half the country,” begins his first paragraph. 

“Nonetheless, one way of understanding both Trump’s personal excesses and his accomplishments is that his not being traditionally presidential may have been valuable in bringing long-overdue changes in foreign and domestic policy.”

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Donald Trump

Having laid out his thesis, Hanson writes: “Tragic heroes, as they have been portrayed from Sophocles’ plays (e.g., AjaxAntigoneOedipus RexPhiloctetes) to the modern western film, are not intrinsically noble.”

On the contrary: A true tragic figure is a noble character with a fatal flaw, which ultimately destroys him.

To cite one from literature: Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet believes that his father, the king of Denmark, has been murdered. He believes the murderer may be his uncle, Claudius, who has seized the throne. Hamlet is brilliant, athletic, supremely eloquent and conscientious. But he’s not completely certain that Claudius is guilty, and in his hesitation to strike he lays the seeds for his own destruction. 

To cite one from history: British General Charles George Gordon, sent by the British government in 1884 to evacuate the Sudanese city of Khartoum. But instead of evacuating its citizens, he chose to stay and fight the oncoming army of Mohammed Achmed, an Islamic religious fanatic who called himself The Madhi (“The Expected One”).

Although Gordon’s dynamic leadership enabled the city to hold out for almost a year, the British relief force arrived too late. The city was overwhelmed and Gordon himself killed.

Various theories have emerged to explain his motive: He was a religious fanatic; he had a death wish; he was arrogant to believe he could hold off an entire army. Any one or more of these theories could be correct. 

Charles George Gordon - Wicipedia

Charles George Gordon

But the fact remains that for almost an entire year he kept alive about 30,000 men, women and children. It was only the failure of the British to send a relief army in time that allowed the city—and Gordon—to perish. 

Tragic heroes always have a cause that is bigger than life—something that makes giving up life worthwhile. They always recognize this, and they have the ability to put into perspective the ultimate sacrifice—giving up life—for the good of something bigger. 

Which brings us back to Trump. Apart from being a five-times draft-dodger during the Vietnam war, he has never made an act of professional or personal sacrifice for anyone.

On the contrary: he has been forced to shut down both his Trump Foundation and unaccredited Trump University.

Trump was forced to pay more than $2 million in court-ordered damages to eight different charities for illegally misusing charitable funds at the Foundation for political purposes.

And his university scammed its students, promising to teach them “the secrets of success” in the real estate industry—then delivering nothing. In 2016, a federal court approved a $25 million settlement  with many of those students.

This is hardly the stuff of which tragic heroes are made.

The Controversy Surrounding Trump University - ABC News

Hanson cites several examples from famous Western movies to make his case that Trump deserves the status of a tragic hero. 

One of these is the classic 1953 “Shane,” starring Alan Ladd as the soft-spoken gunfighter who intervenes decisively in a range war.

Writes Hanson:

“He alone possesses the violent skills necessary to free the homesteaders from the insidious threats of hired guns and murderous cattle barons. Yet by the time of his final resort to lethal violence, Shane has sacrificed all prior chances of reform and claims on reentering the civilized world of the stable ‘sodbuster’ community.”

Comparing Trump to Shane is unbelievably ludicrous. Shane doesn’t boast about his past—in fact, this remains a mystery throughout the movie. Trump constantly brags—about the money he’s made, the buildings he’s put up, the women he’s bedded, the enemies he’s crushed (or plans to).

Moreover, Shane takes the side of poor homesteaders at the mercy of a rich cattle baron, Rufus Ryker. Ryker tries to bully the homesteaders into leaving. When that fails, he hires a ruthless gunman named Jack Wilson (Jack Palance).

In the film’s climax, Shane kills Wilson, and then Ryker, in a barroom showdown. Then he rides off—much to the sadness of Joey (Brandon de Wilde), the homesteaders’ son he has befriended.

“There’s no living with a killing,” says Shane. “There’s no going back from one. Right or wrong, it’s a brand. And a brand sticks.”

And so he rides on, knowing that his gunfighter’s skills make him an outcast among those very homesteaders whose lives he’s saved.

If Trump appeared in the movie, it would be as Ryker, not Shane.

Shane empathizes with the plight of others. Ryker–like Trump–hires others to do his dirty work. 

TRUMP AND TRAGEDY: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 5, 2021 at 12:13 am

“America needs the outsider Trump to do what normal politicians would not and could not do.”

That was the assertion made by Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California.

Among his bestsellers on military history:

  • The Second World Wars
  • Carnage and Culture
  • Wars of the Ancient Greeks
  • The Western Way of War
  • The Soul of Battle: How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny

Historian Victor Davis Hanson said there has been no consequences for the wrongdoing by elites in society and warned that republics and successful states fall apart when the elites fall out of touch with the people."We have a whole bunch... here at home, that feel they can dictate to people and they're never subject to the ramifications of their own ideology and policy," he said of elites. "And it's like the emperor has no clothes and then they're surprised that Trump won or surprised that peo

Victor Davis Hanson

In 2019, Hanson turned his attention to politics—specifically, The Case for Trump.

Its dust-jacket provides a useful summary of its contents:

“This New York Times bestselling Trump biography from a major American intellectual explains how a renegade businessman became one of the most successful—and necessary—presidents of all time.

“In The Case for Trump, award-winning historian and political commentator Victor Davis Hanson explains how a celebrity businessman with no political or military experience triumphed over sixteen well-qualified Republican rivals, a Democrat with a quarter-billion-dollar war chest, and a hostile media and Washington establishment to become president of the United States — and an extremely successful president.

“Trump alone saw a political opportunity in defending the working people of America’s interior whom the coastal elite of both parties had come to scorn, Hanson argues. And Trump alone had the instincts and energy to pursue this opening to victory, dismantle a corrupt old order, and bring long-overdue policy changes at home and abroad.”

The Case for Trump by Victor Davis Hanson | Basic Books

Hanson’s book appeared before Trump:

  • Tried to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to smear former Vice President Joseph Biden, who was likely to be his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Presidential election.
  • Allowed the deadly COVID-19 virus to ravage the country, killing more than 400,000 Americans by the time he left office. 
  • Attacked medical experts and governors who urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves from COVID-19.
  • Ordered his Right-wing followers to defy states’ orders to citizens to stay-at-home and wear masks in public to halt surging COVID-19 rates.
  • Became the first President in American history to refuse to accept the results of a Presidential election.
  • Tried to overturn the November 3, 2020 election of Joe Biden through 60 lawsuits and the arm-twisting of several state lawmakers.
  • Sent a mob of his fanatical followers  to attack the United States Capitol Building. Their mission: Stop the counting of Electoral College ballots certain to give Biden the victory.         
  • Was twice impeached during his four years in office—the only President to be impeached twice (and acquitted by a Republican Senate which ignored his litany of crimes).

But his book appeared after Trump had:

  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for pursuing ties between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.
  • Tried to fire Independent Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who was assigned to investigate those ties after Trump fired Comey. 
  • Attacked Attorney General Jeff Sessions for refusing to fire Mueller.
  • Attacked the integrity of Federal judges whose rulings he disagreed with.
  • Given Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey  Kislyak highly classified CIA Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.
  • Amassed an infamous record as a serial liar, in both personal and Presidential matters.
  • Attacked the integrity of the American Intelligence community.
  • Sided with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency which unanimously agreed that Russia had subverted the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Repeatedly attacked the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Branded America’s longtime ally, Canada, as “a national security threat.”
  • Praised brutal Communist dictators Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
  • Shut down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his ineffective “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay. The shutdown ended due to public outrage—without Trump getting the funding amount he had demanded. 

So much for Hanson’s claims that Trump had been “one of the most successful—and necessary—presidents of all time.”

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Donald Trump

Then there’s Hanson’s claim that “Trump alone saw a political opportunity in defending the working people of America’s interior whom the coastal elite of both parties had come to scorn.” 

In November, 2017, Trump and a Republican-dominated House and Senate rammed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 through Congress. It became law on December 22, 2017.

According to Chye-Ching Huang, Director of Federal Fiscal Policy, the law did nothing to help ordinary Americans.

Testifying before the House Budget Committee on February 27, 2019, Huang stated that the law:

  • Ignored the stagnation of working-class wages and exacerbated inequality;
  • Weakened revenues when the nation needed to raise more;  
  • Encouraged rampant tax avoidance and gaming that will undermine the integrity of the tax code; 
  • Left behind low- and moderate-income Americans—and in many ways hurt them.

For American corporations, however, the law was a godsend: 

  • Cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent;
  • Shifting toward a territorial tax system, where multinational corporations’ foreign profits go largely untaxed;
  • Benefitting overwhelmingly wealthy shareholders and highly paid executives.

This was hardly an attempt at “defending the working people of America’s interior.”

Trump never made another attempt to “reform” the tax laws.

HITLER / TRUMP: “I AM GERMANY / AMERICA”

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 17, 2020 at 12:18 am

After Donald Trump won the 2016 election, many people feared he would embark on a radical Right-wing agenda. But others hoped that the Washington bureaucracy would “box him in.”

The same sentiments echoed throughout Germany after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.

The 1983 TV  mini-series, The Winds of War, offered a dramatic example of how honorable men can be overwhelmed by a ruthless dictator. 

Based on the bestselling 1971 historical novel by Herman Wouk, the mini-series factually re-created the major historical events of World War II.

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One of those events took place on November 5, 1939.

General Walther von Brauchitsch is summoned to the Chancellery in Berlin to meet with Adolf Hitler. He carries a memorandum signed by all the leaders of the German Wehrmacht asserting that Case Yellow—Hitler’s planned attack against France—is impossible.

Meanwhile, at the German army headquarters at Zossen, in Berlin, the Wehrmacht’s top command wait for word from von Brauchitsch. 

ZOSSEN: 

Brigadier General Armin von Roon: I must confide in you on a very serious matter. I have been approached by certain army personages of the loftiest rank and prestige with a frightening proposal.

Chief of the General Staff Franz Halder:  What did you reply?

Von Roon: That they were talking high treason. 

Image result for Gunter Meisner as Adolf Hitler in The Winds of War

Gunter Meisner as Adolf Hitler in “The Winds of War”

THE WHITE HOUSE:

Fast forward 79 years from Adolf Hitler’s stormy confrontation with Walter von Brauchitsch to September 5, 2018.

On September 5, 2018, The New York Times publishes an anonymous Op-Ed essay by “a senior official in the Trump administration.”  This spotlights massive dysfunction within the White House—and put the blame squarely on the President. 

Among the revelations:

  • “Many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.”
  • “We believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic. That is why many Trump appointees have vowed to do what we can to preserve our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”
  • “On Russia…the president was reluctant to expel so many of Mr. Putin’s spies as punishment for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain….But his national security team knew better—such actions had to be taken, to hold Moscow accountable.”
  • “From the White House to executive branch departments and agencies, senior officials will privately admit their daily disbelief at the commander in chief’s comments and actions. Most are working to insulate their operations from his whims.” 

ZOSSEN: 

Von Roon: The conspiracy has been going on that long—since Czechoslovakia [1938)?

Halder: If the British had not caved in at Munich [where France and Britain sold out their ally, Czechoslovakia]—perhaps. But they did. And ever then, ever since his big triumph, it has been hopeless. Hopeless.

Von Roon: Empty talk, talk, talk. I am staggered.

Halder: A hundred times I myself could have shot the man. I can still at any time. But what would be the result? Chaos. The people are for him. He has unified the country. We must stick to our posts and save him from making military mistakes. 

THE WHITE HOUSE:

On September 11, 2018, legendary investigative reporter Bob Woodward publishes a devastating take on the Trump administration: Fear: Trump in the White House. The text features explosive revelations about the disdain Trump’s staffers have for him: 

  • Trump was about to sign a letter canceling a free-trade agreement with South Korea. To prevent this, Eric Cohn, his national economic council director, swiped it from Trump’s desk. Trump didn’t notice it missing.
  • Secretary of Defense James Mattis said Trump has the understanding of “a fifth or sixth grader.”
  • White House Chief of Staff John Kelly called Trump an “idiot” and “unhinged.” 

General Walther von Brauchitsch fails to convince Hitler to postpone “Case Yellow”—the invasion of France. Hitler insists that it commence in seven days—on November 12.

And he issues a warning to the entire German General staff: “I will ruthlessly crush everybody up to the rank of a Field Marshal who dares to oppose me. You don’t have to understand. You only have to obey. The German people understand me. I am Germany.”

Due to foul weather, Hitler is forced to postpone the invasion of France until June, 1940. But the German General staff can’t ultimately put off the war that will destroy them—and Germany.

President Donald Trump has:

  • Fired FBI Director James Comey.
  • Attacked the integrity of the American Intelligence community.
  • Attacked the free press as “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Branded America’s longtime ally, Canada, as “a national security threat.” 
  • Praised brutal Communist dictators Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.
  • Tried to extort Ukraine into smearing former Vice President Joseph Biden, his 2020 rival for the White House, 

Like Hitler, he can equally say: I am the destiny of America.  

History has yet to record if Trump’s subordinates will prove more successful than Hitler’s at preserving “our democratic institutions while thwarting Mr. Trump’s more misguided impulses until he is out of office.”

FASCISM RISING: 1933 GERMANY, 2016 AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 13, 2020 at 12:12 am

In his bestselling 1973 biography, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, British historian Robert Payne harshly condemned the German people for the rise of the Nazi dictator.

“[They] allowed themselves to be seduced by him and came to enjoy the experience….[They] followed him with joy and enthusiasm because he gave them license to pillage and murder to their hearts’ content. They were his servile accomplices, his willing victims….

“If he answered their suppressed desires, it was not because he shared them, but because he could make use of them. He despised the German people, for they were merely the instruments of his will.”

On November 8, 2016, millions of ignorant, hate-filled, Right-wing Americans elected Donald Trump—a man reflecting their own hate and ignorance—to the Presidency.

Yet, in some ways, Americans had fewer excuses for turning to a Fascistic style of government than the Germans did.

Adolf Hitler, joined the National Socialist German Workers (Nazi) Party in 1919—the year after World War 1 ended.

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Adolf Hitler

In 1923, he staged a coup attempt in Bavaria—which was quickly and brutally put down by police. He was arrested and sentenced to less than a year in prison.

After that, Hitler decided that winning power through violence was no longer an option. He must win it through election—or appointment.

When the 1929 Depression struck Germany, the fortunes of Hitler’s Nazi party rose as the life savings of ordinary Germans fell. Streets echoed with bloody clashes between members of Hitler’s Nazi Stormtroopers and those of the German Communist Party.

Germans desperately looked for a leader—a Fuhrer—who could somehow deliver them from the threat of financial ruin and Communist takeover.

In early 1933, members of his own cabinet persuaded aging German president, Paul von Hindenburg, that only Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor could do this.

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Paul von Hindenburg

Hindenburg was reluctant to do so. He considered Hitler a dangerous radical. But he let himself be convinced that he could “box in” and control Hitler by putting him in the Cabinet.

So, on January 30, 1933, Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor (the equivalent of Attorney General) of Germany.

On August 2, 1934, Hindenburg died. Hitler immediately assumed the titles—and duties—of the offices of Chancellor and President. His rise to total power was complete.

It had taken him 15 years to do so.

In 2015, Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President.

Now, consider this:

  • The country was technically at war in the Middle East—but the fate of the United States was not truly threatened, as it had been during the Civil War.
  • There was no draft; if you didn’t know someone in the military, you didn’t care about the casualties taking place.
  • Nor were these conflicts—in Iraq and Afghanistan—imposing domestic shortages on Americans, as World War II had.
  • Thanks to government loans from President Barack Obama, American capitalism had been saved from its own excesses during the George W. Bush administration.
  • Employment was up. CEOs were doing extremely well.
  • In contrast to the corruption that had plagued the administration of Ronald Reagan, whom Republicans idolize, no such scandals plagued the Obama Presidency.
  • Nor had there been any large-scale terrorist attacks on American soil—as there had on 9/11 under President George W. Bush.

Yet—not 17 months after announcing his candidacy for President—enough Americans fervently embraced Donald Trump to give him the most powerful position in the country and the world.

Image result for images of Donald Trump

Donald Trump

The message of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign had been one of hope: “Yes, We Can!”

That of Donald Trump’s campaign was one of hatred toward everyone who was not an avid Trump supporter: “No, You Can’t!”

Whites comprised the overwhelming majority of the audiences at Trump rallies. Not all were racists, but many of those who were advertised it on T-shirts: “MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN.”

Birthrates among non-whites were rising. By 2045, whites would make up less than 50 percent of the American population.

The 2008 election of the first black President had shocked whites. His 2012 re-election had deprived them of the hope that 2008 had been an accident.

Then came 2016—and the possibility that a black President might actually be followed by a woman: Hillary Clinton.

Since Trump became President, he has:

  • Fired an FBI director for investigating Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.
  • Attacked Federal judges whose rulings displeased him.
  • So tyrannized his staffers that 43% of them have abandoned him. Nearly 2,000 government positions remain vacant.
  • Repeatedly and enthusiastically defended Vladimir Putin, the dictator of Russia, America’s mortal enemy.
  • Attacked and alienated America’s oldest allies, such as Canada and Great Britain.
  • Shut down the United States Government for over a month, imperiling the lives of 800,000 Federal employees, to extort money from Congress for a worthless wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • Attacked the free press as “the enemy of the people.” 
  • Used his position as President to further enrich himself, in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
  • Been impeached (but not convicted) for trying to extort Ukraine’s president into smearing former Vice President Joseph Biden, a possible rival for President in 2020.

All of this should be remembered the next time an American blames Germans for their embrace of Adolf Hitler.

A WARNING IGNORED: “I’M NOT LIKE OTHER PEOPLE”

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 20, 2019 at 12:04 am

On February 26, 2016, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald J. Trump made an astonishing admission: “I’m not like other people.” 

He did so while revealing that, as President, he would “open up those libel laws” so that when the New York Times or the Washington Post “write a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected. 

“With me, they’re not protected, because I’m not like other people, but I’m not taking money, I’m not taking their money.” 

On August 23, 2018, Trump, as President, offered additional evidence that he’s “not like other people.” He did so by giving an unprecedented reason why he shouldn’t be impeached. 

Appearing on “Fox and Friends,” he said:

  • “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”
  • “I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.”
  • Pointing to his head, he said: “Because without this thinking, you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.” 

He didn’t say: “I shouldn’t be impeached because I’m innocent. I didn’t collude with Russian Intelligence to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.” 

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Donald Trump

Instead, he appealed to the greed and fear of his voting base—and no doubt hoped to reach beyond it: “Keep me in power or you’ll all suffer for it.” 

An official White House statement entitled “American Greatness,” issued on June 4, 2018 stated:

“Nearly 3 million jobs have been created since President Trump took office. The unemployment rate has dropped to 3.8, the lowest rate since April 2000, and job openings have reached 6.6 million, the highest level recorded. President Trump has restored confidence in the American economy, with confidence among both consumers and businesses reaching historic highs.” 

Much of this jobs growth, however, was already underway during the closing years of the Obama administration. But that hasn’t stopped Trump from taking credit for it.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders doubtless spoke for millions of Trump supporters when she said, on June 4:

“Since taking office, the President has strengthened American leadership, security, prosperity, and accountability. And as we saw from Friday’s jobs report, our economy is stronger, Americans are optimistic, and business is booming.

“The American people do not believe this strong economy is fantasy or unrealistic.” 

Many Congressional Republicans have echoed this: The American people care only about the economy—and how well-off they are

For eight years, Nazi Germany underwent such an epoch. Germans called it “The Happy Time.”

It began on January 30, 1933, when Adolf Hitler became Chancellor—and lasted until June 22, 1941. Germans knew about the Nazis’ cruelty to the Jews, the mass arrests and concentration camps. They didn’t care.

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 Frenzied Germans greet Adolf Hitler

The Gestapo didn’t have to watch everyone: German “patriots” gladly reported their fellow citizens—especially Jews—to the secret police.

As far as everyday Germans were concerned:

  • The streets were clean and peaceful.
  • Employment was high.
  • The trouble-making unions were gone.
  • Germany was once again “taking its rightful place” among ruling nations, after its catastrophic defeat in World War 1.

The height of “The Happy Time” came in June, 1940. In just six weeks, the Wehrmacht  accomplished what the German army hadn’t in four years during World War 1: The total defeat of its longtime enemy, France.

Suddenly, French clothes, perfumes, delicacies, paintings and other “fortunes of war” came pouring into the Fatherland.  (Reichsmarshall Herman Goring, head of the Luftwaffe—air force—amassed his own private air collection from French museums.) 

Most Germans believed der Krieg—“the war”—was over, and only good times lay ahead.

Then, on June 22, 1941, three million Wehrmacht soldiers slashed their way into the Soviet Union. The Third Reich was now locked in a death-struggle with a nation even more powerful than itself. 

German soldiers in the Soviet Union

And then, on December 11, 1941—four days after Germany’s ally, Japan, attacked Pearl Harbor—Hitler declared war on the United States. 

“The Happy Time” for Germans was over. Only prolonged disaster lay ahead. 

Donald Trump has spent his life appealing to the greed or fear of those around him. For example: 

  • Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from Donald Trump around the same time her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates.
  • After Bondi dropped the Trump University case against Trump, he wrote her a $25,000 check for her re-election campaign. 
  • In 1999, Fred Trump, Donald’s father died. His deceased brother’s family sued Donald, arguing they were originally in the will, but Donald took advantage of his father’s dementia to cut them out of it. He withdrew medical benefits critical to his nephew’s infant son: “I was angry because they sued,” Trump later said in an interview.

The Germans made a devil’s-bargain with Adolf Hitler—and paid dearly for it. 

Millions of greedy Americans have embraced Donald Trump, another would-be tyrant, as America’s economic savior.

By supporting Trump—or at least not opposing him—they have made a devil’s-bargain. 

And such bargains always end with the devil winning. 

BARGAINING WITH THE DEVIL–IN GERMANY AND AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 22, 2019 at 12:08 am

On the July 19 edition of The PBS Newshour, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks laid out two theories on how Donald Trump could win re-election as President in 2020:  

“The one theory is, he drives the Democratic Party so far left that people think they have no choice but to vote for Donald Trump…..

“The second theory is, ‘I don’t like Donald Trump, but I like this economy.’ And that theory is, you lay low and just let the economy do your speaking for you.”

Brooks’ liberal counterpart, Mark Shields, echoed this sentiment: “Donald Trump is presiding over the greatest economy, in employment terms, in the history of any American under the age of 68. You could say, 50 years ago, it was, you know, almost as good. We were at war then. This is a peacetime economy. It’s a remarkable thing.”

And the Trump administration couldn’t agree more. 

A typical White House statement on the economy, entitled “American Greatness,” appeared on June 4, 2018: 

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Donald Trump

“Nearly three million jobs have been created since President Trump took office. The unemployment rate has dropped to 3.8, the lowest rate since April 2000, and job openings have reached 6.6 million, the highest level recorded. President Trump has restored confidence in the American economy, with confidence among both consumers and businesses reaching historic highs.” 

Many Congressional Republicans have echoed this: The American people care only about the economy—and how well-off they are.

But all might not be well—with the economy, as well as so much else.

Only five days earlier—on May 31, 2018—the Trump administration had announced it would put steel and aluminum tariffs on longtime American allies Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU).

Mexico, Canada and the EU immediately vowed to retaliate. For Americans, this will mean higher prices on such items as beer, baseball bats and cars. The EU has threatened to impose tariffs on motorcycles, bourbon whiskey, Levi’s jeans, peanut butter and cranberries.

A disastrous global trade war could be the ultimate result.

On June 4, 2018, Trump claimed, in a tweet: “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself….” 

And, making clear how far above the law he thinks Trump is, his attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, told the Huffington Post on June 3, 2018: “In no case can he be subpoenaed or indicted. I don’t know how you can indict while he’s in office. No matter what it is. 

“If he shot [former FBI director] James Comey, he’d be impeached the next day. Impeach him, and then you can do whatever you want to do to him.” 

For 12 years, the Germans made a similar devil’s-bargain with Adolf Hitler—and paid dearly for it.

This period began on January 30, 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor—and lasted until June 22, 1941.

For most Germans, those years—and especially the year between June, 1940, and June, 1941–were a time of prosperity and joy.

According to Robert Gellately’s 2002 landmark study, Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany, the Nazis operated a highly popular dictatorship. They didn’t try to cow people into submission. Instead, they set out to win converts by building on popular images, cherished ideals and long-held phobias.

And their efforts succeeded. The Gestapo owed its fearsome success to ordinary German citizens who voluntarily reported on “enemies” within their midst. These citizens saw themselves as patriots.

Nor, as has long been believed, were Nazi atrocities carried out in secret. From the media, Germans learned about the Nazis’ brutal campaign against the Jews, the concentration camps, and the Nazis’ radical approaches to “law and order.”

But as far as everyday Germans were concerned:

  • The streets were clean and peaceful.
  • Employment was high.
  • The Communists and Jews were being locked up.
  • The trouble-making unions were gone.
  • Germany was once again “taking its rightful place” among ruling nations, after its catastrophic defeat in World War 1.

The height of “The Happy Time” came in June, 1940. In just six weeks, the Wehrmacht  accomplished what the German army hadn’t in four years during World War 1: The total defeat of its longtime enemy, France.

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Frenzied Germans greet Adolf Hitler

Suddenly, French clothes, perfumes, delicacies, paintings and other “fortunes of war” came pouring into the Fatherland.  (Reichsmarshall Herman Goring, head of the Luftwaffe—air force—amassed his own private air collection from French museums.) 

Most Germans believed der Krieg—“the war”—was over, and only good times lay ahead.

But Adolf Hitler had other plans.

On June 22, 1941, three million Wehrmacht soldiers slashed their way into the Soviet Union. The Third Reich was now locked in a death-struggle with a nation even more powerful than itself. 

German soldiers in the Soviet Union

And then, on December 11, 1941—four days after Germany’s ally, Japan, attacked Pearl Harbor—Hitler declared war on the United States. 

“The Happy Time” for Germans was over. Only prolonged disaster lay ahead. 

Americans, by supporting Trump—or at least not opposing him—have made a similar devil’s-bargain.

And great writers—from Johann Wolfgang Goethe to Rod Serling—have repeatedly warned us: When you make a deal with Satan, the outcome is always the same: Satan ends up winning.

“AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM” IS KILLING US: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 5, 2019 at 12:05 am

In his 2015 book, American Reckoning: The  Vietnam War and Our National Identity, Christian G. Appy describes the way Americans saw their country before the war: 

“The United States [was] a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life….. 

“It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support undemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators but as imperialist invaders.”

For millions of Americans, writes Appy, the Vietnam war forever shattered that tremendously appealing self-image.

Yet for millions more, the United States remains an exemplary nation with a divine mission to lead other nations—willingly or unwillingly—to follow its example.  For these Americans, the corruption and dictatorships that plague many countries “can’t happen here.”

This refusal to accept the lessons of history blinds many Americans to the dangers posed by the Donald Trump Presidency. 

Since assuming office on January 20, 2017, Trump:

  • Repeatedly attacked the integrity of the American Intelligence community for confirming Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election—while siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin that this didn’t happen.
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for investigating that subversion. 
  • Fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she warned him that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI about his Russian contacts.
  • Forced House Republicans to release a memo falsely accusing the FBI of pursuing a vendetta against him. 

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  • Repeatedly attacked his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from investigations into ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. On November 7, 2018, Trump fired him.
  • Repeatedly attacked the integrity of the FBI, raising the possibility of his firing more of its senior leadership for investigating that subversion.
  • Accused those who participated in that investigation of committing “treason”—as if he were the monarchical embodiment of the state.
  • (The Constitution does not define “treason” as disloyalty to the President—or a private citizen, which Trump was when he ran for President. It defines “treason” as “levying war” against the United States, or giving “aid and comfort” to countries or entities that have declared war on the United States.)

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  • Attacked and alienated America’s oldest allies, such as Canada and Great Britain.
  • Repeatedly praised brutal Communist dictators Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un.
  • Falsely accused former President Barack Obama of illegally “spying” on his 2016 campaign.
  • Repeatedly asked aides to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller—but was finally persuaded that this could lead to his impeachment.
  • Slandered Federal judges whose rulings displeased him.
  • Spoken admiringly of American Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen.
  • Shut down the United States Government for over a month, imperiling the lives of 800,000 Federal employees, to extort money from Congress for a worthless wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • “Joked” that the United States—like China—should have a “President-for-Life.”
  • Repeatedly attacked the free press as “the enemy of the people.” 
  • Encourages his followers to violently attack those he hates in the press. On July 2, 2017, he tweeted a video of himself punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head during a WWE wrestling match. 

  • Used the Presidency to further enrich himself, in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
  • By March 17, 2019, had said or tweeted 9,179 lies or misleading statements—an average of 11.6 lies a day. 
  • Requires his Cabinet members and lesser appointees to fawn over him with over-the-top flattery previously reserved for notorious dictators.
  • Appointed William Bar as Attorney General to replace William Sessions—after Barr sent a fawning 20-page memo to the Justice Department criticizing the foundation of the Special Counsel investigation.
  • Authorized Barr to investigate the Federal law enforcement and Intelligence agencies that legally investigated links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Plans to turn the traditional nonpartisan July 4 celebration on the National Mall into a Trump campaign rally that celebrates himself. 

* * * * *

Donald Trump isn’t crazy, as many of his critics charge. Nor is he a political innocent who “simply doesn’t know better,” as his Republican allies have repeatedly claimed.

He knows exactly what he’s doing—and why.

He intends to strip every potential challenger to his authority—or his version of reality—of legitimacy with the public. 

If he succeeds, there will be:

  • No independent press to reveal his failures and crimes.
  • No independent law enforcement agencies to investigate his abuses of office.
  • No independent judiciary to hold him accountable.
  • No independent military to dissent as he recklessly hurtles toward a nuclear disaster.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge him for re-election in 2020.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge his remaining in office as “President-for-Life.”

The absurd faith that “America is different from other great powers” brought us the Vietnam war—and the 58,000 needless dead that will forever be its legacy.  Now that same faith threatens to bring us an absolute Right-wing dictatorship.

“AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM” IS KILLING US: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 4, 2019 at 12:05 am

“Who are we?” asks Christian G. Appy  in the opening of his 2015 book, American Reckoning: The  Vietnam War and Our National Identity.

For Appy, it’s impossible to understand the enormous impact of the Vietnam war on the United States without first understanding the image that Americans had of themselves before that conflict. And he describes that image as:

“The broad faith that the United States [was] a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life…..

“It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support undemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators but as imperialist invaders.”

Appy contends that, for millions of Americans, the Vietnam war dealt a mortal blow to that tremendously appealing self-image.

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Yet for millions more, the United States remains an exemplary nation with a divine mission to lead other nations—willingly or unwillingly—to follow its example. And those Americans become furious when anyone—especially a foreigner—dares question that belief.

On September 11, 2013, the New York Times published an Op-Ed (guest editorial) from Russian President Vladimir Putin, entitled: “A Plea for Caution from Russia: What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria.”

To no one’s surprise, Putin strongly opposed an American air strike on Syria. Its “President” (i.e., dictator) Bashir al-Assad, is a close ally of Russia. Just as his late father and dictator, Hafez al-Assad, was a close ally of the Soviet Union.

And Putin is a former member of the KGB, the infamous secret police which ruled the Soviet Union from its birth in 1917 to its collapse in 1991.

In his September 11 guest editorial in the New York Times, Putin offered the expected Russian take on Syria:

  • Poison gas was used in Syria.
  • It wasn’t used by the Syrian Army.
  • “Opposition forces [used it] to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.”
  • “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough [al] Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.”

But it’s the concluding paragraph that enraged American politicians the most—especially Right-wing ones. In it, Putin took exception with American “exceptionalism.”

Referring to then-President Barack Obama, Putin wrote:

“And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Vladimir Putin

Putin has never publicly shown any interest in religion. But by invoking “the Lord,” he was able to turn the Christian beliefs of his Western audience into a useful weapon.

Americans’ outrage quickly erupted.

“I was insulted,” then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters when asked for his blunt reaction to the editorial.

“I have to be honest with you, I was at dinner, and I almost wanted to vomit,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).

Putin had dared to question the self-righteousness of American foreign policy—and those who make it.

Making his case for war with Syria, Obama had said: “America is not the world’s policeman….But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

In short: Because we consider ourselves “exceptional,” we have the divine right to do whatever we want.

It’s not necessary to see Putin as a champion of democracy (he isn’t) to see the truth in this part of his editorial:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

From 1938 to 1969, the House Un-American Activities Committee sought to define what was “American” and what was “Un-American.” As if “American” stood for all things virtuous.

Whoever heard of an “Un-French Activities Committee”? Or an “Un-German” or “Un-British” one?

The late S.I. Hayakawa was a professor of semantics (the study of the relationship between words and what they stand for).

In his bestselling book, Language in Thought and Action, he observed that a person has four ways of responding to a message:

  • Accept the speaker and his message.
  • Accept the speaker but reject the message.
  • Accept the message but reject the speaker.
  • Reject the message and the speaker.

Americans might want to consider #3 where “American exceptionalism” is concerned.

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