Posted by: George | November 11, 2016

Alternative History


On election day, in the morning, I wrote a blog post. I assumed, as many did, that Clinton would be elected the country’s first woman president. Then, the results started coming in. Just yesterday, I told a friend about this, how I had written a blog post that would never be read, and he suggested that I post it anyway. You can view it as a kind of alternative history. Or, it might be that we are now beginning to live alternative history, something along the lines of MacKinley Kantor’s If the South Had Won the Civil War or Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. The post argued that Walt Whitman had predicted the outcome of this election. Maybe the post still has some relevance. Even in the darkest times, Whitman was optimistic about this American experiment.

 Walt Whitman Predicted It

In Democratic Vistas (the work that provided the title for this blog), first published in 1870, Walt Whitman claimed American had not yet achieved democracy. The first time I read this, I was shocked. I am sure that most of his contemporaries were shocked, as well.

As I once believe, as most Americans believe, we had a democracy since about 1776, or shortly after that, but Whitman said no, even a hundred years later, we have not yet embraced democracy.

We had not yet developed, he explained, the kind of American who could support a democracy, and we had not yet extended suffrage. We needed to develop the kind of men and women who could become active citizens.

Democratic Vistas is an essay that argues for diversity, a “large variety of character.” Whitman felt that human nature needed to expand itself in “numberless and even conflicting directions,” which included developing women, through education and literature, so that they could become citizens.

In one of my favorite sections of the essay, Whitman presents portraits of American women, including his mother, “a resplendent person,” to break down stereotypes, the mold of women we had inherited from the old world. He wanted to say that women, American women, could stand on par with men, American men. Then, he wrote:

The forgoing portraits, I admit, are frightening out of line from these imported models of womanly personality—the stock feminine characters of the current novelists, or of the foreign court poems (Ophelias, Enids, princesses, or ladies of one thing or another), which fill the envying dreams of so many poor girls, and are accepted by our men, too, as supreme ideals of feminine excellence to be sought after. But I present mine just for a change.

Then, there are mutterings (we will not now stop to heed them here, but they must be heeded), of something more revolutionary. The day is coming when the deep questions of women’s entrance amid the arenas of practical life, politics, the suffrage, etc., will not only be argued all around us, but may be put to decision, and real experiment.

The decision is here. The experiment has been run. Later, in the same essay, Whitman announced “a native expression-spirit” would emerge with a “Religious Democracy sternly taking command, dissolving the old, sloughing off surfaces, and from its own interior and vital principles, reconstructing, democratizing society.”

I don’t know that Whitman, if he were still with us, would say that we have achieved the ideal of democracy with the election of the first African-American president and now the first woman president. He might still lament the ways that some are limiting democracy by suppressing votes, but I think he would be saying, “This is what I was announcing. This is what I hoped would happen. We are closer now to democracy that we were yesterday.”

I don’t know that Whitman, if he were still with us, would say that we have achieved the ideal of democracy with the election of the first African-American president and now the first woman president. He might still lament the ways that some are limiting democracy by suppressing votes, but I think he would be saying, “This is what I was announcing. This is what I hoped would happen. We are closer now to democracy that we were yesterday.”

Posted by: George | November 8, 2016

Voting and Immigrants and My Grandfather

Henry Jensen, my grandfather, was not born at Cook County Hospital in Chicago.

This needs a little explanation. He was born in Denmark. In 1884, Peter Jensen, his father, my great-grandfather, packed up the family and crossed the Atlantic to the United States. Peter became a citizen in 1890, but for some reason Henry never went through the paperwork. He was a cowboy and a pioneer. Guess he didn’t have the time to get to town much.

But he did vote, which scared the hell out of Musa, his wife, my grandmother. So, Musa, a smart woman, told him to put his place of birth down as Cook County Hospital, Chicago, Illinois.

Why? She knew there was a big fire in Chicago in 1871, which would have probably destroyed the record of my grandfather’s birth, had he actually been born at Cook County Hospital.

When I lived in Chicago, from 1979 to 1983, I worked two blocked from Cook County Hospital. Whenever Cook County came up in conversation, I would always tell people, with pride, that my grandfather was not born at Cook County.

“Huh?” they would respond. Then, I would tell them the story about my grandfather voting.

If I told this story to Donald Trump, he would probably say, “See, I am right. These damn immigrants are voting illegally. Have been for generations.”

My grandfather paid his taxes. He loved this country. He voted. I don’t think he ever threw an election one way or another. I am okay with all this.

However, here is proof that my great-grandfather voted legally. So, Donald, we aren’t all illegals.


Posted by: George | October 24, 2016


My one-sentence review of Karl Ove Kanausgaard’s My Struggle, which is a novel published in six volumes with something like 3,600 pages:

It’s like reality television for hipsters who like to read.

[In case you are wondering, I am in volume 2, page 101, feeling a little despair about my stamina to finish it. I need some hipster mojo.]

Posted by: George | October 12, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election as Satire

It is hard to figure out how to keep from being clinically depressed about the 2016 presidential election. I don’t mean fashionably depressed. I mean clinically depressed.

Trump, the Republican nominee, brags about sexual assault and then defends himself by parading four women who have allegedly been sexually harassed by Bill Clinton into a press conference, minutes before the second debate. So, women who might have been sexually exploited by Bill Clinton turn to Donald Trump as their hero and protector. Pour me a scotch, neat.

Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, cannot emerge from email scandals. Her server, wiki-leaks, whatever. She apologizes, she explains, she diverts, and she cannot wash off the stink. One of her diversions is to be morally outraged about Trump disrespecting women, but then there is Bill. Make it a Bourbon on this one.

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, would be an option, if he knew what Aleppo is, or if he could name one leader of a foreign country. Stab me in the eye with needles.

Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, would be an option, if you are an anti-vaxer and concerned about radiation from Wi-Fi. Just shoot me, please.

So, wherever you start on the political spectrum, whichever way you go, you are probably going to want to vote and then take a long shower. That’s a healthy response. If you are excited about any of these candidates, you might want to seek therapy.

So, is there a way we can get through this?

Maybe, we need to start thinking about this election as an extended and brilliant work of satire. Who wrote this satire? Don’t know. Maybe it is intelligent design. But, I would argue it’s there. If you look for it, you will see satire.

Satire pushes the boundaries. It questions values that we generally consider to be beyond question. Satire is like taking all of our values—even ones we cherish—and throwing them all into an emotional freefall. All values are questioned. Some of them are discarded, if we view them as stale and outmoded. And some are reaffirmed.

It is this part that we usually fail to recognize—satire reaffirms values.

The values that have been most tested during this presidential election relate to the place of women in our society. Are women merely sexual objects? Is it okay that powerful men think that can get away with anything? Is it okay for Trump to degrade women and grab you know what? Is it okay for Bill Clinton to do whatever he did?

During this presidential election, the value of women has been questioned. And, the value of women has also, I believe, been reaffirmed, at least by most Americans. Most of us are outraged by how Trump talks about women. Most of us are at least disappointed in Bill. Most of us are disgusted and outraged. Most of us have said that women should be respected. This is the one thing that might be a positive outcome of this election.

Posted by: George | October 8, 2016

Advice for People Close to Trump

I am going to offer some advice for people close to Trump. I don’t mean just people who are emotionally close to Trump, as in family and friends, though being emotionally close to Trump is hard to imagine. I mean more people physically close to Trump, as in people who are in the proximity of Trump and may be in danger of one kind or another.

 Mike Pence: I hate to tell you this, but there are all of these signs across the country that say Trump Pence, like it is the first and last name of one guy. There are way too many of these signs for you to collect by driving around in your pickup truck, even if you have some help from your friends. Now, it is true that Trump is in a larger font than Pence, but this is still really bad. Your only hope for a future in politics is to do something historic, like be the first Vice President nominee to say, “I no longer support the top of the ticket.”

 Reince Priebus: I think it is time to start focusing on candidates down ticket. Actually, you should have been doing this a few months ago, but better late than never.

 Kellyanne Conway: Don’t be alone with this guy. You might also want to start carrying some mace. I would advise that you carry the strong stuff. Go to a backpacking store and ask for Bear Repellant.

Steven Bannon: Enjoy yourself. You have finally found that good buddy you’ve been looking for since you were about twelve years old and the normal guys in your school wouldn’t hang out with you because they thought you were a disgusting jerk.

 Don King: Time to get that haircut and go into hiding.

 Sarah Palin: This might be your moment to shine. I know Trump kind of dumped you after you gave that incoherent endorsement speech, but he might be reaching out (I mean that in a phone call way, not a groping way).

 Ivanka Trump: I know he’s your father, but don’t let this guy be alone with your kids.

 Trump Boys (Eric and Don, Jr.): In case you are looking at your father and thinking something like, “Well, that’s just the way guys talk when they are hanging out,” it’s not. You can’t find another father, but you can find another role model.

 Chris Christie: You were pretty good at saying you didn’t know anything about that bridge thing. Maybe you could say, “I don’t know Donald Trump. I never supported him.” Keep saying it with that Jersey swagger thing you do so well. Everything will be okay.

 Scott Baio: I know your career has not been going that great. Sorry about that. And, hate to say this, it’s not going to pick up anytime soon.

 Ben Carson: I would suggest prayer, but I have to say I am not sure what you should pray for. Just start praying. You’ll figure it out.

 Ted Cruz: You’re in good shape. That non-endorsement thing at the Republican National Convention—brilliant. Just hunker down and let everything around you explode. People will soon be looking to you as representing the moral high ground of the Republican party. Hard to imagine, I know.

Rudy Giuliani: I know you are thinking something like, “I thought I was smarter than this.” You’re not.

Posted by: George | September 27, 2016

Millennials and Voting; or, Political Mashups

Something has become unmoored. I mean about young voters, that group we like to call Millennials as if to define them, as if they thought like a group. They don’t. They aren’t into group-think. They are unmoored.

This has been coming for a while, even before many Millennials were born, before the born Millennials were thinking about much of anything beyond a bowl of Cocoa Puffs and the latest episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

I began to notice this oddity around the mid-1990s when I was teaching at Missouri State University. One of my students wrote a conservative column for the university newspaper, but he didn’t look like it.

He wore a black leather motorcycle jacket, always, never took it off. Pinned to the jacket was a huge safety pin, about five inches across. He wore jeans that were big and long, the cuffs rolled to reveal a good bit of his black combat boots. He had dark black hair, maybe dyed, and a pompadour.

If he had walked onstage at a Ramones concert, the crowd would have thought he was a long-lost cousin and a brand-new Ramone.

Even the editorial staff at the university newspaper had trouble understanding how a guy could look like this and write the conservative column, which was very conservative, like early Rush Limbaugh conservative. They often put his picture with the liberal column, and the picture of the guy who wrote the liberal column, who looked like your typical frat boy, with the conservative column.

After knowing this student, I often talked about him whenever I lectured on Semiotics. In a traditional (Modernist) analysis of signs, there should be some connection between the signifier (the sign, for example, a black leather motorcycle jacket) and the signified (the values of people who ride motorcycles).

In The Wild One (1953), Johnny, member of a motorcycle gang, dressed in his black leather jacket (played by Marlon Brando) is asked, “What are you rebelling against?” He answers, “Whadda you got?” That makes sense in terms of traditional semiotics.

When a guy who looks like Marlon Brando in The Wild One but writes like Rush Limbaugh, something has become unmoored. We have just gone a little Postie, as in Post-Modern. In Postie land, you can be a Punk Rock Ultra Right Conservative.

Since the mid-1990s, over years of reading student essays on politics, I have noticed a growing trend. My students don’t align with the ideology of a particular political party. I mean something beyond not caring about politics at all or not wanting to be labeled a Democrat or Republican.

I mean each student seems to have an interesting mashup of political views. A student might be a feminist and Pro-Life. Another one might want to shut down the War on Drugs and be against any form of gun control. With so-called Millennials, I have seen just about every possible combination of beliefs, and I rarely see in a Millennial a set of beliefs that neatly matches up with the platform of any major political party.

This raises an interesting question: How does a politician appeal to young voters who have such a mix of beliefs and values, none of which seem to be clear wedge issues?

The only core value, as far as I can tell, that works for Millennials as a group is authenticity. In 2008 and 2012, they felt that Obama was authentic. In the Democratic primaries, they felt that Sanders was authentic. When it was clear that Sanders would not win the nomination, some of his supporters considered shifting their support to Trump. To many of us over 30 and most of us over 40, this is confounding. But, some Millennials see Trump as authentic. They might not like some of his views or some of his behavior, but he is authentic, if only in a Postie kind of way.

As a clarification here, I am not saying that young voters are consistently going with Trump. Some are, but many are going to third and fourth party candidates. This might be, in part, because the Libertarian and Green party platforms are not very well know, which might make it easier for young mashup voters to move in their direction.

So, can Clinton, whom voters don’t seem to trust, attract some of these young voters? I am going to argue a position many might consider to be an implausible. I think Clinton can become more authentic.

When she is on college campuses, she needs to speak about student debt, which might be the one issue that has the potential to coalesce Millennials. More importantly, she needs to talk more about her long history of public service on issues relating to the welfare of women, families, and children: her work with the Children’s Defense Fund, her advocacy for legal rights for children, and her speeches promoting women’s rights in all countries. According to, Clinton has supported 417 progressive bills on these issues. She was actively involved in this issues even before her husband was elected Governor of Arkansas.

Certainly, too often, Clinton seems to waffle. She seemed to be for the TPP, now she is against it. But on many issues, she has been as consistent as Bernie Sanders—for about four decades. And I consider Sanders to be the Gold Standard of consistency. So the way Clinton can be more authentic is to embrace her own authenticity. Why is this so hard?

Posted by: George | September 12, 2016

Hey Hillary, stop doing dumb sh*t, part two

Being with Hillary is frustrating. I do not mean “being with” as “supporting.” We are all “with” Hillary, whether we are a supporter or a hater. We cannot avoid it, anymore than we can avoid being “with” Donald Trump, which is not easy either, but I’ll save that for another post.

What is particularly frustrating about Hillary is that nothing is ever resolved. Her supporters want scandals to be settled or drift into obscurity. Her haters want her in jail. We are all stuck in some kind of vicious loop where nothing seems to change.

She can apologize. She can explain. Congress can put us through weeks of hearings. The FBI can assign over a hundred agents to investigate her. Nothing is ever resolved. We all keep slogging through six inches of mud.


Other politicians are able to move on. That doesn’t mean that they move beyond having some kind of hint of scandal that loops around from time to time. But they don’t seem to live with their scandals the way that Hillary does. And, also, Bill. It seems to be a family thing.

A number of pundits have said that the Clintons think they are above accountability or that they can game the system. There’s some truth in this.

Hillary once referred to a “vast right wing conspiracy” to undo her husband. At times, she seems to hint that she still believes in the conspiracy, which is now directed at her. There might be some truth here also.

Since Reagan, conservatives—especially the one percent—seem to think that this is their country. I don’t think that the chants of “we want our country back” are entirely racist. The sentiment also reflects a belief that core American values are essentially conservative, even narrowly Christian, even more narrowly evangelical. The Clintons have been the biggest threat to their America.

Public Relations experts, like Donnie Deutsch, say the Clintons do not get out ahead of their scandals. They let information dribble out. They are slow to apologize. There’s some truth here also.

Let me my part to the existing explanations. I think the Clintons have a complex world view, and that conflicts with how the pubic views truth.

The Clintons are smart people, probably two of the smartest people in the history of American politics. Smart people like complexity and grey areas.

They have also been active—very active—in politics and charity work for a long time. There is a lot of history to their public life. In other words, there’s a lot of complexity.

Look at, for example, the Clinton Foundation. The foundation has raised an incredible amount of money and has had a profound positive effect on many issues. It is doing great work. One might argue that the Clintons have tried to be transparent about who the donors are and how the money is used. At the same time, you cannot raise that kind of money without giving something to donors. That “something” might have been fairly benign, like a short meeting or a phone call with Bill or Hillary, but there is going to be a “something.” In other words, there are a lot of “dots” here.

This is not unlike being president or being Secretary of State. These jobs entail a lot of meetings. There are a lot of “dots” here also.

So, the Clintons have a complex and long history with a lot of “dots.” Draw a line through some of the dots. Any kind of line. Straight. Squiggly. Angular. Make a story from the dots that you connected. Bam, you have a scandal.

In some ways, I have been surprised that we haven’t had more stories about more Clinton scandals. You don’t need a top-notch investigative reporter. Pull some third grader out of class for a few hours. Have the kid draw some lines through dots. Ask the kid to write a story. Hey, a new scandal.

At this point, you may be thinking that I am trying to defend the Clintons and say they are much aligned.

That’s not the point I want to make. Here is the point: The Clintons are complex people who have led complex lives, and they want to talk about complexity. However, complexity doesn’t make scandals go away. Simplicity and repetition of a simple message is the only strategy that works, and it is the only strategy that the Clintons are unwilling to try.

The Clintons have made mistakes. Hillary admitted that she made a mistake to have an email server in her home, and she even apologized for it. Good. Now, walk away.

She doesn’t walk away. Instead, she keeps talking. She talks about the complexity of how Top Secret documents are labeled. She talks about the administration policy. She talks about all kinds of things. Don’t do that. Walk away.

Whenever reports ask Hillary about the emails, she should say she made a mistake and apologize. That’s all. If the reporters ask follow-up questions, give the same simple answer. Over and over.

If Hillary cannot control herself, if she has to go into complexity, do it on a website. Or, let surrogates talk about complexity.

Hillary should just say she made a mistake, apologize, and then shut up.

Posted by: George | August 18, 2016

A Short Guide to American Political Parties

In the 2016 election, all four American political parties will be more fully present. They might all possibly participate in the debates. To prevent confusion, I offer the following short guide, which defines each political party with a simple statement. Note: This is an equal opportunity (that is, equal insult) post, so, if you are sensitive about your political party, it is best you stop reading right HERE.

Republican Party: “Don’t take my stuff.”

Explanation: Republicans like a strong military so other countries won’t take our stuff. They like low taxes because that’s their money. Etc.

Democratic Party: “You should like me because I’m a nice person.”

Explanation: Democrats like social programs that help people out because they are really nice and so people should appreciate them. They respect diversity because we should all love each other and, if you love everybody, they will love you back. Etc.

Libertarian Party: “Leave me the f*ck alone.”

Explanation: They don’t like a lot of laws because that means someone is messing with them. They don’t even really like roads because other people can drive on them also. Etc.

Green Party: “I am morally superior.”

Explanation: They are not so much for sustainability; they are more for ecological wisdom. They are for grassroots democracy, decentralization of power, and active participation in political decisions except they don’t really like everyone (actually, not much of anyone because most people are really stupid). Etc.

Posted by: George | August 15, 2016

Trump’s Nose

This is about Trump’s nose.

But before I make a point about Trump’s nose, I need to set some groundwork.

In August 1976, early in his presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter told a crowd of American Legion members, that he would, as president, pardon drafts dodgers. Feelings about the Vietnam War were still raw. Not surprisingly, the crowd of veterans booed Carter. He knew they would boo him. I am sure that he did not convince one person in that crowd of a few hundred veterans to vote for him, but millions of Americans watched coverage of the speech on the nightly news. Many of them thought, that was gutsy. That was honest. He won the election.

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was delivering his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention, he said, “And, the time is now to redeem promises once made to the American people by another candidate, in another time and another place.” He then read a long quote about reducing the size of the Federal government and ended by saying, “So said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his acceptance speech to the Democratic National Convention in July 1932.” The hall was silent. I am sure all of the Republicans in the hall were thinking, “Did he just quote FDR?” He did, and he created an entirely new wing of the Republican party called Reagan Democrats. He won the election.

FDR understood the power of national newspapers, which began to emerge in the late nineteenth-century. Kennedy understood the power of television, which began to emerge in the 1950s. Obama understood the power of the Internet and social media, which began to emerge in the late 1990s.

Both Carter and Reagan understood that, in the era of television, you are never speaking only to the people in the hall. Now, we are in the area of the Internet. Everything is recorded. Every word, every gesture, every grunt is replayed over and over again, each time in a different context to a different audience. Politicians should realize that they are always speaking to a complex audience, a broad audience, an audience of “another time and another place.” When you think about it, what Reagan was doing in 1980 was basically retweeting FDR, and then this portion of his speech was retweeted on national news shows. The audience in the hall is never the entire audience. Well, at least, not since the early nineteenth-century or so.

Now, in August 2016, Donald Trump is tanking in the polls, and he is saying that the polls are wrong. He is saying that, if he loses, the election will have been rigged. Why? Because is speaking to large crowds of 10,000 to 20,000, and they love him. How could the polls be right? How could he possibly lose this election, if the election is fair?

So what does all this have to do with Trump’s nose?

Simply this, he doesn’t understand anything that is not right under it.

He thinks that the crowd in the hall is his entire audience.

Posted by: George | August 6, 2016

Trump and Narcissism

When Todd Purdum was researching his Vanity Fair postmortem on Sarah Palin’s performance in the 2008 election, he kept encountering the issue of narcissism:

More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly.

Here we go again. Palin is more or less gone, but we have Trump. Once again people are consulting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and wondering if Trump’s erratic behavior fits the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I’ll save you some time. To earn the label narcissist, an individual needs to have five or more of the following traits:

           Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.

           Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.

           Believes that he or she is “special” and unique.

           Requires excessive admiration.

           Has a sense of entitlement.

           Is interpersonally exploitative.

           Lacks empathy.

           Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her.

           Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

Okay, I am going to go out on a limb here and say that this list of traits fits Trump pretty well. I am pretty sure he has at least five of these. He might just run the table.

What the list doesn’t convey, though, is the extent to which narcissists structure their entire environment to maintain their inflated sense of self. They bully and intimidate those who disagree with them, and they expect family and close associates to match their mood. When they are intoxicated with their own glory, others must be just as giddy. They are skilled at keeping any doubts from rising into consciousness.

While Trump has been in the public eye for a long time, he is now moving through an even more complex environment, one that is more difficult to control. He has just finished what has to be one of the worst weeks of any presidential candidate—ever. He has even fallen behind Clinton is Georgia. That’s really bad news. Pundits are wondering if the election is already over. Republican leaders are talking about doing an intervention. Good luck with that.

Is Trump a narcissist? At this point, this is not a particularly interesting question—or one that deserves serious discussion. A more interesting question is, What happens to a narcissist who suffers so much criticism and faces so many personal disasters that he can no longer control his environment and, ultimately, his inflated sense of self? In other words, How does a narcissist act when he is in a state of collapse?

The one thing that the narcissist will not do is admit that he was in over his head, that he made mistakes, or that he is responsible. There have been some ugly moments in the Trump campaign. If, however, his poll numbers keep dropping, he will need to amp up what most of us consider his worse traits in a desperate attempt to keep his ego inflated. See Leon F. Seltzer’s “What Really Makes Narcissists Tick?” (Psychology Today Blog, July 28, 2015).

 It’s going to get ugly. Expect to hear more about the system being rigged. Expect to see staff fired. Expect to see staff quit. Expect paranoia. Expect anger. At lot of intense anger.

More troubling, we will likely see similar behavior from serious Trump supporters.

We might find ourselves being a little nostalgic for Sarah Palin.



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