Service Records

January 30, 2017

How presidents served the U.S. before taking office (prior to 2016):

 

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was secretary of war, governor of New York, and a loyal Democrat in New York City
  • Harry S. Truman was an officer in charge of an elite artillery unit during World War I, served as a U.S. Senator, and audited military spending as chair of a congressional committee, weeding out corruption and waste
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower attended West Point, became a career Army officer, and eventually presided over D-Day as commander of Allied forces in World War II
  • John F. Kennedy served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, commanding PT-109 in the Pacific Theater, and served as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts
  • Lyndon B. Johnson served as a congressman, senator, and majority leader from his home state of Texas, and later vice president of the United States
  • Richard M. Nixon served in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II, later as both congressman and senator from California, before becoming vice president under Eisenhower
  • Jimmy Carter was a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine commander before and during the Vietnam war, and later became governor of Georgia
  • Gerald R. Ford served in the Pacific as an officer on the carrier USS Monterey, earning numerous medals for valor, before becoming a long term Michigan congressman and house majority leader, and finally, vice president under Nixon
  • George H.W. Bush was a Navy pilot during World War II, once ditching his plane during a crash landing on a carrier, was head of the CIA, and served as vice president under Ronald Reagan
  • Ronald Reagan served in the U.S. Army Reserve during World War II, was governor of California, and president of the Screen Actor’s Guild
  • Bill Clinton objected to the Vietnam war and the draft, but entered the draft after two deferments during his Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford; he served as governor of Arkansas for more than ten years
  • George W. Bush served briefly in the Texas Army Reserve, then as governor of Texas
  • Barack Obama served in the Illinois legislature as a three-term senator before being elected U.S. Senator from that state in 2004

 

Donald Trump is the first president of the United States never to have served his country in either government or military positions prior to his election. He has filed for bankruptcy six times, been sued for discrimination against minorities in his real estate business, bragged about not paying U.S. income taxes for more than a decade, and settled a class action suit for business fraud in connection with Trump University.

Let’s look at what our current president thinks he is presiding over, because it doesn’t resemble what most of us would recognize as the country we reside in.

  1. It has the demographics of United States in the 1950s, when our president was growing up: majority white, middle class, and prosperous in contrast to much of the world, which is recovering from a terrible war.
  2. Canada, Mexico, Central and South America are insignificant, off the radar screen. They aren’t part of America.
  3. There are heroes and villains, and things are black and white.
  4. And speaking of black and white: blacks are all but invisible: segregation is the rule that people of color live by, and suffer under. Racism is tolerated in both the north and the south, though in different forms.
  5. America is an equal opportunity society, where hard work matters and many in the majority are able to afford college, a house, and a nice vacation.
  6. The working class is a viable force in labor and politics. Politicians respect labor leaders and must negotiate serious contracts for workers in most industrial markets.
  7. Congress works according to political machines that distribute power among elite groups like banks, businesses, industry, and real estate, as long as alliances are maintained, often with money under the table.
  8. The media is a quiet, silent partner in maintaining this fictional order, reporting on what elite leaders do and keeping silent about their moral shortcomings.
  9. American industry stands atop the pyramid of world production and quality; it has no serious competition. The same is true with the military, agriculture, banking, education, and culture.
  10. America is an imperialist superpower, with no threats to its hegemony. Even the USSR is puny by comparison (though many U.S. politician fear its leaders).

Our president believes in this fictional version of the country we live in. No wonder he can’t govern or recognize the challenges we face. His press conferences are part of this fake universe, as are his fiats and executive orders. He deals with a fake Congress and a fake judiciary. The media are presenting an alternate truth, and one that he can’t tolerate. Even the earth isn’t cooperating: fake temperatures are a lot cooler than those we feel every day. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could live in fake America? It would be fabulous, great, awesome, huge.

Helsinki says “no!”

January 22, 2017

Strike a blow for prudence in the face of rampant, oligarch-fueled development in the world’s great cities. Helsinki became the first major metropolis to reject a glitzy, self-congratulatory Guggenheim museum last week. These trendy globules are going up in the Middle East and Asia, extending the “brand” that Thomas Krens started in Bilbao, Spain.

In addition to the New York Times story, Architect magazine published a critical look at the “supertall” residential towers in Midtown Manhattan this month. A conference on re-zoning the district south of Central Park at least got a discussion going on whether these needle towers were good for the quality of life in the city. But, unlike Helsinki’s, New York’s leaders seem unwilling to turn away from tax revenue generated by these monstrosities. Let the citizens suffer while the developers enjoy their cigars “on top of the world.”

I know that neuroscientists scoff at the idea that our visual cortex receives all the information that would allow us to draw a picture of the scene in front of us–our visual field does not represent reality. I also know that physicists are positing alternate universes that exist inside black holes, and that space-time is relative to our location in our universe. I like to read fantasy stories because they take me away from the harsh “reality” that I feel around me. These things are part of being alive in the twenty-first century.

There is something malevolent about the shifting ground of “truth” in our troubled political and media spaces. After the president-elect’s surreal news conference, many commentators were talking about an alternate reality that is being manipulated through the media, forcing even honest journalists to come to terms with lies so transparent as to beggar belief. During the horrible campaign many simply felt that whoever shouted loudest, no matter his/her veracity, would be “believed” by the dumbfounded “public.” Of course, Russian hackers were fully aware of this new media arena and deftly used it to tilt the election toward their candidate.

The “Alt-Right” has indeed created its own “Alt-World.” Yet even that world seems outside the consciousness of the one human being who, as the most powerful leader on earth, needs to be grounded in a “reality” that acknowledges the dangers and opportunities we face as a nation. It is truly terrifying to realize that he is in a world of his own, and doesn’t want to leave.