January 19, 2024

The U.S. Should Play Hardball with Israel

Israel has long given the U.S. government reasons to be unhappy with its actions (in the West Bank, for instance). President Biden is clearly unhappy with Israel’s current war in Gaza, and his quiet diplomacy is having no discernable effect.

The reality is that the Israeli military cannot continue its prosecution of the Gaza war without American support and weaponry. Isn’t it time to play hardball? We should tell Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S. will suspend all aid to Israel until his war on Gaza stops. If we fail to do that, living conditions in Gaza will continue to deteriorate for whoever the IDF has failed to kill, and the desire of Palestinians to wipe Israel off the map will only intensify.

U.S. tough love applied to Israel will not only benefit Palestinians but will also be in Israel’s interest. It may not, however, be in Netanyahu’s interest, who needs to remain in power to avoid legal jeopardy in his own country for his evident corruption. That, of course, is not America’s problem,.

January 15, 2024

All Comments Are Welcome

A reader complained recently about being unable to leave a comment on this blog because a Google account was necessary to do so. As it happens, I had mistakenly configured the blog to require a Google account to comment. This was a mistake that has now been corrected. Anyone can leave a comment.

I expect those commenting to use a name, preferably their own, but it is OK to make up a name. The main reason for this is to associate all the comments from a given person. In general, I do not allow anonymous comments, although I have on occasion allowed an anonymous post when I have thought the comment important enough.

All comments are subject to approval. Comments containing profanity or links to sites with irrelevant content are instantly rejected.

I apologize for past inconveniences.

These days, most visitors arrive here from Facebook. It is tempting to comment on a post on Lionel Deimel’s Web Log on Facebook. My preference, however, is that you comment here, where the comment will forever be associated with the essay that elicited it. You can, of course, send me e-mail.

Thanks for reading.

Why Trump Followers Follow Trump

Every day brings a new essay attempting to explain the popularity of Donald Trump. There is no single reason why citizens not only approve of this faux real-estate tycoon turned politician but support him with a passion both perplexing and alarming. Alas, pundits have yet to identify an intervention likely to rescue the misbegotten from the clutches of the Trump cult. Certainly, I don’t know how to eliminate or even diminish the influence of Donald Trump, but I want to offer my own thoughts about his popularity.

The United States, almost more than any other country, has a strong tradition of freedom of speech, albeit a tradition being challenged by certain Republican governors of late. We have embraced the theory that bad or evil speech can be countered by good or righteous speech. The theory seemed validated at a time when this country hosted myriad newspapers, magazines, and newsletters of every imaginable stripe. That time, however, has largely passed. All too many Americans rely on social media and Fox News for their view of the larger world. If someone is always watching Fox News and other far-right “news” outlets, they are unlikely to be watching MSNBC, CNN, or even NBC, ABC, or CBS. Nor are they reading The New York Times or The Washington Post. These people are constantly exposed to Trump and far-right propaganda. Opposing speech has no way to reach them. Consumers of more mainstream media, on the other hand, get a fair taste of right-wing ideas even though they are being reported secondhand. Even if the Trump media world does not grow larger, its acolytes of the Trump “base” daily grow more zealous.

Although this is surely not true of all Trump supporters, many followers like Trump because they are like and identify with him. This is probably even more distressing than the disjoint media universes in which citizens find themselves. Trump is a detestable human being, possessing a combination of traits traditionally viewed negatively, particularly by major religions. He is mean, boastful, self-centered, dishonest, mendacious, vulgar, hateful, litigious, racist, misogynistic, hypocritical, and ignorant. And he appeals to people who share many of these traits, particularly those who are misogynistic racists. Such supporters will not abandon Trump as long as they are not themselves reformed. Democrats can write off this group.

Some support Trump because they mistake braggadocio for strength and competence. These people believe the country needs a strongman to take hold of the reins of government. They were not paying attention during civics class or had no civics education at all. They love their country for all the wrong reasons. And they may believe, mistakenly, that the country is best run by a “businessman.” The government is not a business, however, and cannot afford to be run like one. Moreover, Trump is an excellent con man but a poor businessman, who has been plagued by bankruptcies and lawsuits. He is not a good businessman, even though he has played one on TV.

No doubt, some voters, unhappy with their lives or their view of the government, are taken in by Trump’s assertion that “I am your retribution.” Trump does not give a damn about such people. The only retribution of interest to him is his own. And he has an elaborate plan for extracting that retribution from his opponents should he again be elected president.

It is often overlooked that a Trump speech is surprisingly short on policy ideas. (Significantly, the GOP didn’t even bother to offer a platform in the 2000 election.) Trump may talk about his wall, of course, but most of his speeches are devoted to ad hominem attacks on the government or on Joe Biden. His speeches are all about how wonderful he is and how terrible everyone else is. In a sense, this is a clever strategy. It is difficult to criticize his policy positions, as they are almost nonexistent. Instead, his followers can read into a Trump speech whatever they like. Thus, Trump can appeal to an audience holding a variety of grievances. The lack of true substance is obscured by Trump’s folksy, repetitious style.

One hopes that, should Trump become the GOP nominee, he will be unable to appeal successfully to a general electorate by avoiding taking a stand on anything other than the qualification of Joe Biden. Democrats will have a hard time pinning down Trump on anything and will, in any case, find it difficult to persuade the Trump faithful to abandon their cult leader. Instead, this election is likely to depend principally on turnout. We probably cannot throw Trump into prison fast enough to be able to argue that governing from federal prison is a bad idea.

January 11, 2024

There Really Is a Border Crisis

I admit that I was dismissive, contemptuous even, of President Trump’s animosity toward immigrants. His opposition to immigration seemed a cynical campaign issue and his border wall a boondoggle. Ironically, both Democrats and Republicans have declared our immigration system dysfunctional, but for years, they have been unable to agree on a reform of it. Republicans have been especially reluctant to tackle the issue in a way likely to produce legislative agreement, as it has proven such an effective campaign issue.

Although the phrase “border crisis” has been thrown about a lot in the past few years, we do indeed seem to be experiencing a border crisis in 2024. Border cities are being overwhelmed by immigrants from the south and now, with those immigrants being shipped north by Republican politicians, northern cities are likewise seeing their resources taxed by the new arrivals. And people allowed to stay in the United States with an asylum claim are told that their case will be adjudicated years from now. Not only is this situation untenable, but it represents a serious cloud over the re-election prospects of President Biden. Democrats need to improve this situation, at least somewhat, soon. Republicans, on the other hand, have an incentive to ensure that doesn’t happen.

I wish I knew what the Biden administration could do in the short term to address what really is a border crisis. What is most needed is money for more judges to handle not only new asylum claims but also the backlog of such claims. We likely also need more agents patrolling the border, which also costs money. At the very least, the administration needs to acknowledge that border problems are not simply a figment of Republican imagination. It also needs to declare a willingness to address it.

At the moment, of course, House Republicans are demanding border concessions from the administration in exchange for aid to Ukraine. Although I fear what the administration might give up in response to this blackmail, it is important to note that any concessions could be modified in the future. No likely concessions will “solve” the border crisis. If, on the other hand, Russia is allowed to win in Ukraine, the victory will not only be more or less permanent for our ally but will threaten all of Western Europe. 

Lacking immediate solutions to the border crisis, I can at least offer what I hope are useful observations. The first of these is that immigration has always been and continues to be useful. We seem to have a neverending supply of jobs that are unattractive to current citizens. We are producing fewer babies that will become future workers, and our population is becoming older, with increasing numbers of retirees. It is unclear whether increased border security and prompt adjudication of asylum claims could reduce the flood of humanity seeking to enter this country to a level adequate to meet employment needs without undue increases in social spending or depression of the overall wage level. (This latter concern is beloved of Republicans but largely dismissed by economists.)

Why, we must ask, are so many people seeking to enter the United States? Obviously, one’s prospects for a good life are better in the U.S. than, say Panama or Mexico. Asylum seekers are assumed to be fleeing untenable conditions in their home country, yet they typically pass through several countries assuredly capable of offering better living conditions than those in the ones they are fleeing. Why do they not seek asylum in those countries? The answer is twofold. First, if you are going to risk your life for a better existence, why settle for a marginally better life? Why not reach for the gold ring of an American lifestyle? Second, countries such as Mexico, for whatever reason, are not interested in adding migrants headed to the U.S. to their own populations.

We tend to think of asylum as designed for individuals and their families facing persecution from their government or hostility from criminals or criminal groups. Unfortunately, whole countries can become terrible places to live, thereby sending hoards of immigrants toward the United States. We have to recognize, however, that we cannot accommodate every persecuted person in the world, which would entail almost entire populations of certain countries. In our own defense, we must be discriminating about who we can allow to enter the country.

Finally, it is worth noting that walls, historically, have been of limited use in keeping foreigners at bay, a lesson recently learned by Israel. Whereas walls may be of some use on our southern border, they create problems not always obvious to legislators. In particular, a southern border wall can prevent the movement of animals across the border, which may be necessary for their livelihood.

To Joe Biden and his administration, all I can say is “good luck!”

January 8, 2024

Trump and the Fourteenth Amendment

The Supreme Court has chosen to consider Donald Trump’s appeal from the Colorado decision that his name should not appear on the Republican primary ballot. There is much speculation about what the court will do in this case. Many would argue that Trump is indeed ineligible to again hold the office of president under Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although that philosophy has been applied with a healthy dose of hypocrisy, the court’s embrace of originalism would seem to incline it to ratify the Colorado decision, possibly leading to Trump’s being removed from all ballots involving federal office.

The consensus seems to be that the court will not do that, partly because a third of the justices owe their appointment to a President Trump and because such a decision would upset Trump supporters and lead to civil unrest. The former argument is illegitimate and the latter argument seems weak, given that the Dobbs decision suggests that the justices do not give a damn about public reaction to their rulings. It is probably fair to say, however, that there will be significant public disgust resulting from whatever the court decides.

It is widely believed that the court will somehow duck the issue at hand. Many tactics for doing this have been suggested, most of which seem farfetched. I do think the court has an out that, at the very least, buys time for the country and the court. The court could simply say that the Constitution only suggests that Trump cannot be president but says nothing about his running for president. Winning the Colorado primary, after all, only advances Trump’s chances of becoming a candidate for office. The court could therefore rule that Trump cannot be barred from running in presidential primaries.

If the court adopts this strategy, it is only likely to be forced to allow or not allow Trump to seek the presidency if Trump actually wins the Republican nomination. Alas, that situation seems likely.

January 5, 2024

A New Lullaby

For whatever reason, I haven’t written much poetry lately. Since I moved to Clifton Springs, however, I have had opportunities to read some of my poems, and this is providing some incentive to become more productive. The 5/18/2023 birth of my grandson has also provided inspiration. I wrote an acrostic poem based on his name “Tobias,” but the poem requires too much explanation to make posting it worthwhile.

I’m a big fan of The Seekers, and their song “Morningtown Ride” gave me the idea of writing a lullaby for Tobias René Deimel Flum Wagner. Two opening lines occurred to me walking home from church last Sunday, and, in a few days, I had both lyrics and music. My lullaby, cleverly titled “Lullaby,” lacks the clever imagery of the Seekers song—this seems to be a common feature of so many lullabies—and it can reasonably be song to any infant, not only my grandson. The lines are very short, which presented difficulties in devising a tune for the lyrics. You can read my effort and listen to my first and second try at finding a tune here.