Donald Trump is a fairly ridiculous human being. Though he has somehow managed to inspire admiration in many, even some of his supporters concede that he isn’t especially admirable, and many of his detractors apparently agree that he is not merely a bad person and unfit for public office, but positively absurd, a laughingstock of the sort we more readily expect from political satire than from political reality, perhaps all the more ridiculous for being real rather than fictional. Such, at least, we might infer from the frequency with which social media users and some traditional media outlets subject Trump to ridicule and present him as an object of derision and mockery. Admittedly, politicians in general, and especially presidents, are always easy targets for humor and satire, and the most successful comedians can find a way to make almost anything funny. In some conservative circles Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were — and in some, still are — laughed at with tedious regularity, and it may not be that Trump is made fun of more than they were, or by more people, but simply more often by people I happen to pay attention to. Even so, Trump gets made fun of. A lot. This worries me.
In some ordinary, imprecise sense of the word, I find Donald Trump ridiculous. What I don’t find him is funny, in any way, someone who inspires laughter of any kind. I share what some readers will no doubt regard as the Standard Liberal Elitist Disdain for Trump; pick a widely held complaint about Trump, and I probably at least sympathize with it. So my inability to laugh at him is not an expression of any kind of respect for the man or his office. I simply can’t laugh at him, or at any of the many discussions or representations of him designed to make me laugh at him, from Alec Baldwin’s caricatures to the latest post on my Facebook feed. This isn’t because I’m a generally humorless guy; anybody who knows me well will probably tell you that I’m at least occasionally too silly. It’s that I don’t think I should laugh at him. More than that, I don’t think you should either. I don’t think anyone should. Insofar as something that is ridiculous is something worth laughing at in a contemptuous, dismissive way, I don’t find Donald Trump ridiculous.
Plato explains why.
The U.S. Constitution defines “treason” as follows (Article III, Section 3):
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
It’s not the only possible way of defining treason, but it’s the legally accepted definition of treason in the United States. Treason is a crime, and like all crimes, those accused of it enjoy a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. Since it’s a capital crime, punishable in principle by death, the presumption of innocence matters even more than it ordinarily would, not that the presumption is any less applicable to non-capital crimes.* Continue reading
I have zero admiration for Ben Carson, but even Ben Carson deserves better than the criticisms that have been made of his first speech as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Ben Carson’s first full week as secretary of Housing and Urban Development got off to a rough start on Monday after he described African slaves as “immigrants” during his first speech to hundreds of assembled department employees. The remark, which came as part of a 40-minute address on the theme of America as “a land of dreams and opportunity,” was met with swift outrage online.
Mr. Carson turned his attention to slavery after describing photographs of poor immigrants displayed at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. These new arrivals worked long hours, six or seven days a week, with little pay, he said. And before them, there were slaves.
“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,’’ he said. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”
Carson’s remarks elicited widespread “outrage” for his supposed failure to observe the fact that immigrants migrate by choice to a country of their choice, whereas slaves are seized by force, transported by force, and sold involuntarily into forced labor. The implication of the criticism would appear to be either that Carson was unaware of the distinction between voluntary migration and the forced nature of slavery, or that he was aware of it, but minimized the distinction so as to make slavery seem less bad than it really is. Unfortunately, both criticisms are absurd, as is the outrage itself. Continue reading
I have the somewhat tedium-inducing sense that the next four years of our lives will involve a lot of petitions–reading them, signing them, and enduring widespread derision for doing so.
Tedious it is, but don’t let that stop you. It’s doubtful (I know) that petitions serve any straightforwardly instrumental function: it’s not as though the Trump Administration will recoil in horror at the discovery that 20,000+ academics deplore his Executive Order on immigration, and that 272+ academics deplore the attitudes he’s expressed toward Mexico–and then decide to roll back his immigration policies. But those of us who oppose Trump and his policies feel the entirely healthy desire to do something to oppose his administration, and signing a petition is something–not much, but something. At the very least, it gives us something cheap and easy to do while we figure out what else to do. It serves an expressive function, which is not nothing, and offers solidarity to those adversely affected by the policies, which, though not much, is better than nothing. Continue reading
In light of recent events, including Donald Trump’s firing Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General, I thought I’d re-post this item from November, on the so-called “Muslim registry.” Actions like Yates’s were just what I had in mind when I wrote the post. My hope is that others will emulate her.
A postscript: In the November post, I mentioned that I had intended to try my proposal out on the Bergen County Prosecutor, Gurbir Grewal, on a visit he was making to my university that week. The question I asked him back in November was whether he would be willing to withhold county law enforcement resources from efforts to enforce unconstitutional deportation orders. He side-stepped the question to some degree, pointing out that he was obliged, in the case of undocumented aliens within his custody, to pass relevant information on to the federal immigration authorities, and presumably to cooperate in any legal proceedings they initiated. Continue reading
Loyal readers of this blog will doubtless remember the over-wrought story of my stolen pillow–even if many of them may wish they could forget it.
Briefly, the story is this: About a year ago, I ordered an expensive orthopedic pillow that was delivered to my front door and stolen from my front porch. The thief was caught by my local police department, and the case was sent to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, which began to send me Witness-Victim Advocacy notices pertinent to the case. The case was then remanded down to my local municipal court, at which point I lost track of it.
Instead, I began to hear from the County Prosecutor’s Office about a case that had nothing to do with me, the case of State vs. Godfrey. I called and wrote them to explain that I wasn’t the victim of this particular defendant, but to no avail: they insisted on sending me updates on a case that didn’t involve me. They also insisted on misspelling my name as “Ifran.” The only change they made was to stop referring to me as “Mrs. Khawaja,” and to refer to me by my new gender-neutral first name, “Ifran Khawaja.” That’s an improvement, I guess, but it somehow seems like too little, too late.
The saga continues. Here is their latest letter to me, dated January 9. Continue reading
The razor-sharp mind of David Brooks at work, in a column on the recent anti-Trump march on Washington, D.C.:
The biggest problem with identity politics is that its categories don’t explain what is going on now.
Two paragraphs later:
I loathed Trump’s inaugural: It offered a zero-sum, ethnically pure, backward-looking brutalistic nationalism. But it was a coherent vision, and he is rallying a true and fervent love of our home.
So either ethnicity is not a category of identity politics, or the concept of ethnicity is irrelevant to explaining a coherent vision based on a brutal, nationalist conception of ethnic purity.
Either way, rest assured: we can count on David Brooks to light the way in these dark times. Good to know.
Last Tuesday, my wife and I braved the bitter cold and police-blocked highways to drive over to State Fair Park in West Allis. President-elect Donald Trump was in town, on his post-election “victory lap,” holding a rally to thank the people of Wisconsin for his recent electoral victory. We had a connection to get tickets, and since neither of us had seen Trump speak in person, and both of us wanted to see firsthand what he and the crowd were like at a rally, we took what we expect – but don’t really know for certain – might be the last opportunity to witness both interacting during this campaign, the politician and the people.
This election certainly has been an interesting one, to understate matters mildly. So much has already been said in the last months – though quite often shooting from the hip, groping for explanations and intelligibility, rather than contributing cogent analysis – about all sorts of topics. Fake news, interference with the elections, fascism, the alt-right, the anger of the white working class, authoritarianism, a post-truth environment, bullying and insults, demagoguery, normalization. Those are among the topics that still require a good bit of sorting out and sorting through at present. Continue reading
I encountered this passage in what was supposed to be a news story about Donald Trump’s intervention in the Carrier factory job decision in Indiana:
And just as only a confirmed anti-Communist like Richard Nixon could go to China, so only a businessman like Mr. Trump could take on corporate America without being called a Bernie Sanders-style socialist. If Barack Obama had tried the same maneuver, he’d probably have drawn criticism for intervening in the free market.
Does that set of claims really qualify as news? I’m not even sure the passage qualifies as editorializing. Neither sentence expresses a verifiable fact. Both sentences just seem like handwaving slop. Continue reading