Category Archives: Donald Trump

America is a post truth society in turmoil

 

In my post “The muddled mess of truth today”, I discussed how news site editors like to twist headlines to convey a point of view.  These kinds of banners are not hard to find. Just open up a news feed.

Before me right now is the headline “Amidst Trump Turmoil, Pence carves his own identity.”  Looks benign enough, right? The US Vice President is becoming his own man in the midst of our president’s own mess.

Well, not so fast. The editor has already asked us to take for granted that the current president is encompassed by all kinds of  horrible commotion by their use of the term “turmoil.” It’s a loaded word full of negativity. Who wants turmoil?

In my view, this idea that Trump’s administration is in “turmoil” is a matter of perception and open to debate. I have some questions.

I wonder if President Trump sees himself as surrounded by turmoil.  What does he think about it if he does? Who or what is causing the turmoil?

The answers produced from those questions are also a matter of one’s point of view. Some think our president creates turmoil out of his own alleged incompetence and vulgarity. Others think he also creates chaos because he thrives on it and works better in such an atmosphere.

Mr. Trump’s supporters think that there is no turmoil in the president’s White House. They believe that the media or the president’s opponents have fabricated this as a story.

Those of Mr. Trump’s advocates who do see tension around him also believe the media is at fault. They say that the media is actually creating the disorder to bring the president down.

It’s really difficult in today’s media to get at the truth amidst all the click bait. The owners and editors of news organizations seem to have other agendas they want to follow which triumph over truth. Their goals appear to be more financial and political in nature.

The media is not the only institution where something besides the truth is emphasized. If the purveyors of communication have contributed to the tumult in our society because of their departure from the road to truth, so has the justice system.

Like the media, the American judicial system also has other priorities which supersede discerning the truth. This includes taking the human element out of the equation and emphasizing rules. In an article comparing the American system of justice to the European one, Ellis Washington writes, “Under the Anglo-American/common law system of jurisprudence, especially over the past 100 years, rules trump the truth.”

Washington notes that in the last half century that the US Supreme Court “made up out of whole cloth” criminal defenses which emphasize procedure over the rule of law.  In other words, ‘rules’ rule over  a principle meant to provide fair and equal justice to everyone.

For example, some of SCOTUS’s rulings  developed into something we see all the time on the ubiquitous cop shows on TV: the reading of Miranda Rights. (“You have the right to remain silent, etc. etc.”). We all know what happens if a police officer blows it and doesn’t read a perp their rights.

Washington says such cases “have thoroughly perverted the rule of law and the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, plunging American law, culture and society into our present state of chaos.” Judges are handicapped by rules imposed from above. Criminals go free when rules are broken. Police are tempted to perjure themselves if they break a rule in their arrest.

Washington thinks the Continental System is much better because it gives judges a freer hand. It allows them to be more involved in the cases before them and better arrive at the truth.

Following the Continental System, he says, would be better “because the law’s primary purpose should not be to legalistically follow a case-driven, judge-centered template, not the rules of evidence, not politics, liberalism, conservatism, feminism, humanism, secularism, positivism, pragmatism or any other ‘ism’… but justice, equality under law and veritas – truth.”

Sadly, in today’s America “isms” do tend to run the show in the courtroom.  Judges are more known for their political views then who they are as human beings. Conservatives, for example, think of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals as a bastion of left wing thought. The progressive believes Supreme Court justice Atonin Scalia was a reactionary. Who today focuses on the judge’s ability to arrive at the truth? They instead zero in on their politics.

That we live in a society devoid of truth is evidenced by a term such as ‘post-truth’ receiving the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year Award for 2016. It is a word which Oxford defines as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

There are people who think the Western concept of the rule of law is strong and able to withstand the assault on it described above. British attorney Tamas Lukasi is not worried about the effect of a post-truth world on our legal system. He stresses the soundness of Western law:

“Lawyers are often seen as a greedy and unethical profession; and law as bureaucratic red-tape. To deny this perception would itself be a post-truth posture. Though I happen to have a better opinion of lawyers and the law, who cares about opinions? It is rather facts that should matter. And the fact is facts matter in law and they matter a lot.”

“I am quite confident,” he writes,” that until the deeply rooted rules on legal argument, evidence and standard of proof stand strong, the legal process cannot be else but immune to post-truth. The rule of law has survived much turmoil.”

Despite the convoluted sentence, I presume Lukasi means in context that our Western judicial system will triumph. (He seems to mean “while” the rules stand strong, not “until.” Blame HIS editor.)

I’m not so sure our judicial system is winning. The current situation in it, the media, and other Western institutions is as confusing as Lukasi’s statement.  This is I believe is due to the inability of our thought leaders to even arrive at basic truths. They even have trouble, as I mentioned in my last post, in defining what truth is or even deciding what their own buzz words mean.

For example, the American Bar Association (ABA) admits that the term “rule of law” is difficult to define. The best it can come up with is that it is “an ideal that we strive to achieve but sometimes fail to live up to” and that “institutions and procedures have contributed to the definition of what makes up the rule of law and what is necessary to achieve it.”

The ABA seems to have written an expanded definition without forming a simple one. Let me help. Here’s a formula for  a simple definition by John Swales.

T=G + D1 + D2 etc. or Thing equals General class plus distinguishing characteristics

As I mentioned, there is the even more important attempt to define the concept of “truth”.  A website called DifferenceBetween.net struggles to differentiate between the terms “fact” and “truth.” They note how dictionaries discuss how similar the terms are. In comparing the two, the site calls ‘truth” the “true state of a certain matter.” I was always told by my teachers not to include the term in my definition.

Further (and what is worse), these folks say “truth” is “what a person has come to believe” and that facts are more permanent and more constant than truths are.

DifferenceBetween.net’s kind of definition of truth is at the heart of the problem in today’s world. Truth appears to be relative to modern mankind. There are no universal truths. “Truth” is something we believe. It may be reality. It may not be. It really all depends on what we “believe.”

The consequence of the muddled mess created by inability of our institutions to define truth is that our society is in a state of confusion

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Argument, Baltimore, Communication, Donald Trump, Justice, Media, politics, Temper of the Times, Truth, Uncategorized

Garbled messages

I was sitting in my local Starbucks this morning when a soft rock song with a gentle sound and a male singer with a haunting voice was played. It moved me and I wanted to identify the song so I could listen to it again, but I couldn’t.  I couldn’t understand the lyrics. I thought I caught part of a sentence and “Googled” it, but never found what I was looking for. I finally gave up.

Shortly after that, an old age pensioner walked by. He was wearing a T-shirt which included a title or name on it, but the complete moniker was concealed by the jacket he was wearing. I was interested because the letters I DID see were identical to ones belonging to the name of a city where I used to live, a place located in Europe.

The old fellow’s jacket bore a lion insignia. This animal is the symbol of the country where this town is located. However, the term “Polizei” was emblazoned next to the lion and a quick Internet search told me that it is the German word for “police”. My city is in Finland. Even so, I was intrigued.

The man passed by me on his way out and as he did a woman walked in. I immediately caught the pleasant scent of her fragrance, but she moved so far away I couldn’t make her out. I was wondering if the attractiveness of the smell was representative of the person, but I couldn’t tell.

It occurred to me after these three consecutive frustrating incidents that a lot of communication gets easily distorted. In my case, the messages were garbled by obstructions in my line of sight and hearing.

I could have sought to overcome these obstacles. For example, I could have asked the senior citizen if he had lived in Finland or asked a barista if they knew the name of the song I had heard. Further, I might have moved closer to the lady with the sweet aroma, but of course that would have been creepy. (As it turned out, she DID walk in my direction and I found that her redolence was more distinctive than her appearance.) In other words, I could have sought to clarify my end of the communication.

I used to teach academic writing to engineers and one of my mantras was that it was not the responsibility of the receiver of their communications to have to interpret their them. I made it clear to these budding stars of technology that it was THEIR job to be clear.

Lack of clarity is what frustrates me when I listen to politicians in this day and age. For instance, I read the following on Yahoo this morning.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is calling on the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate all issues related to obstruction of justice in the events leading up to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the federal probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This post just added to my earlier frustration I experienced from the incomprehensible communications by people at Starbucks. I knew that the folks at Starbucks did not intend to send me garbled messages. In fact, they were not even aware of their own communication or of me.

However, given the political environment we live in today and Madam Feinstein’s affiliation, I could only presume that she planned her use of the alarming phrase “obstruction of justice”. She was going after her political opponent, i.e., the current president of the United States.

This article prompted my response. I wrote the following in Yahoo’s reaction section of the post:

Exactly what “justice” does Feinstein say is being obstructed? Justice is defined as “the process or result of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes and criminals.” (Merriam Webster for kids). What crime was committed? If she is referring to Trump seeking to influence Comey, how is that obstruction? POTUS is in charge of administration of justice and the FBI director is his subordinate in that task.

All the honorable senator’s statement did was raise a bunch of questions. It is her responsibility in my view to answer those questions for me in her public statement. However, I realize this is too much to ask from a politician. As a class, they are almost always purposely vague.

When it comes to my own issues, especially on subjects of importance to me, I can’t be like Senator Feinstein. I have to seek to define them as precisely as possible. I tried to do this as part of a writing exercise while I was the Starbucks.

Author Julia Cameron suggests that writers have a dialogue with their “Inner Writer”. She advises to write two letters; one is to be written from the “Inner Writer” to me and the other is by me to my “Inner Writer”. The task is to clarify my own fears and complaints regarding writing so that I can reassure myself that I have the “right to write” (the title of her book).

One of the problems my Inner Writer came up with is that I feel as if I have no message. My “self” replied:

“If you want my advice, get with God. Get your message from Him. Then write that message.”

In context, I realized as I did this exercise that I felt I am not allowed to be a writer. My response to Inner Writer was this:

You are not only allowed to be what God made you to be. You are encouraged to be what He made you to be.  In fact, it might be said that you are commanded to be what He made you to be. You are asking for a purpose from God. If writing is it, then be a writer. If not, then be whatever else He tells you to be.

One of the problems we have this side of heaven is that messages from God are garbled. The famous “love chapter” in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, likens our understanding of His communications in this life to a person looking in a flawed mirror.  As with my attempt to see the lady at Starbucks, my effort to perception of God is dimmed by our distance from each other.

However, I have had a taste of His presence and He indeed desires mine. My prayers are a sweet incense to Him. Thus, I have to keep trying to find a way through the muck to get to Him and hear what He has to say to me. Making sense of His messages to me are crucial.  He’s not a fellow customer at Starbucks. He’s the living God.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christianity, Communication, Donald Trump, language, politics, religion, Uncategorized, writing

Leaders: watch your language

“Words give us power.”–Julia Cameron, author of “The Right to Write”

Unless we are born with a disability or become ill or are recipient of an injury after birth,we all have the ability to communicate, some better than others.  But even if we are not limited by a physical or mental condition, there are constraints on our expression.

For example, according to writing expert Julia Cameron, we are all born with a gift of language, but once we enter school we are limited by what we write and how we write it by our teachers. Students are confronted by academic conventions which they must obey. As a long-time instructor of writing at universities, I know too well how important these principles are. Violate them and you risk receiving a slap from the heavy hand of academic authorities.

The expectations of those who govern us also restrain communication.  In his book “The Death of Common Sense”, Philip K. Howard bemoans the tendency of those who write government regulations to attempt to cover every contingency regardless of the effect imposed on those having to implement them. In their effort to ensure certain outcomes, bureaucrats dispense with logic, a key feature of the effective transmission of ideas, at least in western societies like America

To illustrate this trend, Howard tells a story regarding Mother Teresa’s experience with the laws of New York City. The sainted lady wished to build a homeless shelter and was willing to put up half a million dollars to do so if the city would donate the building.

New York was very willing and the project seemed to be doable until  city building officials presented Mother Teresa with a requirement to include a $100,000 elevator on the premises, purportedly for safety reasons.  This regulation violated the beliefs of the Mother’s organization, which did not allow for the use of modern conveniences. The city wouldn’t budge on its rules even though the elevator would not be used. As a result, Mother Teresa politely declined to go further with the shelter and her desired good work turned to nothing because of the wording of a government fiat. Even though the verbiage flowed from the legal beagles, its effect prevented a good work: a shelter which would have housed 70 men who otherwise didn’t have a home.

Howard writes, “We seem to have achieved the worst of all possible worlds: a system of regulation that goes too far while it also does too little.This paradox is explained by the absence of the one indispensable ingredient of any successful human endeavor: use of judgment.”

Solomon, an ancient king, advised his readers in the biblical book of Proverbs to get good judgment. He particularly singled the effect of good judgment from leaders.  Solomon wrote that those leaders who have good judgment create stability but those who don’t leave a wasteland. America is becoming a huge brownfield because of a lack of discernment among its leaders in what they say and how they say it.

 

Rhetoric is out of control in the political arena. The president, for example, is known for his edgy comments and verbal attacks on enemies. He is known for his insults of political opponents during the last election and other inappropriate statements.

His adversaries, however, are also extreme in their statements and suffer not only from sins of commission, but also those of omission. Despite his election last November, political leaders and celebrities on the left refuse to see Donald Trump as legitimate and as a result produce personal insults not only toward him and his adult family members, but also his 10-year old son.

Further, some politicians are keeping their mouths shut over the violence perpetrated by left-wing extremists when they should be coming out against it. Long-time political reporter Brett Hume decries what he calls the intolerance of the left, especially in the media, the entertainment industry and on college campuses.  After condemning an obscenity-filled commentary against Trump by the politically left comedian Stephen Colbert on CBS as “unrepeatably vulgar”, Hume said that “restraints are being broken through as we go and it does make you wonder if we are on a slippery slope to real violence.”

In other words, the breakdown of honorable speech in our culture is leading us to a destructive hell. Use of  the spoken and written word should be artistic, enriching people’s lives. Instead, political charlatans are destroying our society through their hateful discourse.

By lowering the standards of civilized speech in our culture, these people are influencing even well meaning folks at the community level. A recent TV series focusing on youth football in Texas and Pennsylvania shows coaches verbally abusing the kids in their charge.  While the program “Friday Night Tykes” documents the difficult task these men have in trying to lead a generation of children away from drugs and gangs and into character building sports, it also led to the suspension of coaches due to their coarse language.

As Hume says, I believe these coaches have been influenced by their leaders, people who have let go of all restraint in their communication. After watching the hard work put in by these men despite the obstacles they face, I felt they were at heart good people. They deserve better role models as they seek to have a positive effect on the blighted towns in which they serve.

Julia Cameron discusses how our acquisition of words as children give us ownership. We treat them as gold and cherish them.

It seems our leaders have lost this sense of value when it comes to what comes out of their mouths or crosses their fingertips onto a computer. Would that they take ownership again of their words and benefit us all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Civility, Donald Trump, language, politics, Speech, United States

Teddy and Trump

As is to be expected, Donald Trump is being compared to past presidents (or  previous foreign leaders-like Hitler). I am reading a biography concerning Teddy Roosevelt by Doris Kearns Goodwin,  and through her portrayal I see some unique similarities.

Like Trump. Roosevelt had a  brash personality, was thought by some to be crazy, and was full of energy. When he became governor of New York, Kearns-Goodwin writes that he was “ever on his feet” during meetings, moving back and forth restlessly, carrying a scowl and punching the air with his fists. She notes that despite Teddy’s explosive and impulsive nature that he maintained a precise, to the minute schedule. Even during breaks at the White House as  president, TR would take visitors on physically demanding hikes in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park. After the first week of Donald’s presidency, it would be impossible to think that he does not share the same dynamism that propelled Roosevelt.. Thus far, every day and even the weekends have been filled with breathless activity.

Both Trump and Teddy share a trait not commonly found among Republicans: a concern for the plight of the working class. For example, Kearns-Goodwin discusses how TR worked to improve the lot of Pennsylvania coal miners who were under the thumb of elitist owners. He convinced these recalcitrant tycoons to settle a coal strike with miners .Had he not, the labor dispute might have crippled much of the nation during the upcoming winter since coal was the main heating fuel at the time. Roosevelt’s efforts not only benefited the whole United States, but also improved the miner’s working hours and wages.  Donald Trump, even before he took office, persuaded one Indiana company heading abroad to leave a thousand jobs in the state. He has shown a desire to help the people who helped put him in office, the white proletariat.The Donald has wasted no time in meeting with union leaders in the White House, earning their praise for his efforts to keep jobs in the United States.

In addition to being joined at the hip in temperament and outreach to the labor class, both Roosevelt and Trump fooled their opponents. Neither man was expected to become president and they were actively opposed by leading men of their own party. Kearns Goodwin reveals that Roosevelt was seen to be such a loose cannon by the Republican establishment of his day that they shunted him into the vice-president slot under William McKinley. They thought  they could bury him in a job  which the vice-president of Roosevelt’s distant cousin Franklin later called “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” The GOP bosses drew on his popularity with the American people to help McKinley win re-election, but they did not count on the president getting murdered by an anarchist in Buffalo. Of course, in the same way many leading Republicans dismissed Trump as an anomaly and refused to support his candidacy, but he won anyway.

When it comes to workers, both Teddy and the Donald are connected in their low opinion of the civil service system. Roosevelt was charged with reforming the patronage system  in which favored political friends were appointed to federal posts when he became a US Civil Service Commissioner in 1889. A new law required that a quarter of all civil service hiring be made by examination. Teddy began with a bang by exposing a scandal in which New York federal applicants could buy civil service exam questions beforehand. Roosevelt continued his investigation of federal civil service corruption as president. Trump promised throughout his campaign that he would root out corruption in the federal government when he became president. He pledged to “:drain the swamp.” The new president has already made waves by dismissing top State Department officials and the holdover Obama attorney general who defied one of his executive orders on immigration. Another executive order in his first days bans lobbying on behalf of foreign governments when they leave office. Other ethics reforms are in the works.

However, despite their many similarities, Roosevelt and Trump do have their differences. The most glaring one between the two thus far is their approach to the media. Teddy  was very friendly with the press.  Kearns-Goodwin focuses on this aspect of his political life during “The Golden Age of Journalism”, a time when reformist writers like Lincoln Steffens exposed the corruption of the government and trusts. Roosevelt had long, private talks with journalists, sought their opinions and saw them as a tool to get his message out to the American people. Trump on the other hand sees the media as his opponents. Even this weekend he called them “the opposition”, describing them as dishonest. He has few allies among the press, though he does maintain good relations with conservative pundits like Sean Hannity. To counter this weakness, The Donald has taken to Twitter to get his views across to everyday Americans, much to the dismay of the mainstream media.

Theodore Roosevelt has left us a lengthy historical record which reveals a politician who was a one-of-a-kind. We know little about Donald Trump’s  political acumen except for the coup he pulled off in surprising most of us and winning the presidency. He has been a businessman and TV star to date, which in and of itself brings us all into uncharted  territory, but does make him special.

Teddy Roosevelt thought large. He was determined to reign in the entrenched capitalists who put a damper on the American economy through their monopolistic practices,  despite the opposition of his own party. Teddy was able to do so in a way that allowed these business magnates to keep their dignity. Further, his legacy includes an amazing conservationist accomplishment. TR set aside 15o million acres of public land as national  forests. However, TR was not just a progressive reformer. He sent the US Navy on a round-the-world voyage to “show the flag” and demonstrate American might. Roosevelt’s own major pride was the building of the Panama Canal, connection the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

We really are not sure what we can expect from Donald Trump, except perhaps a lot of surprises. However, it would be unwise to miscalculate his potential as a politician. After all,  in his 1987 work “The Art of the Deal” he said that he “thinks big.” He certainly has rattled Washington in his first days with his immense flow of executive orders and other decisions.

It seems from the viewpoint of 11 days into his presidency that Trump has a huge fight on his hands with opposing Democrats and  some Republicans who are still disenchanted with him. But if he can keep a majority of the American people behind him, especially those in the majority of the states that elected him, the new president could very well pull off a Teddy Roosevelt and shock us all with his own landmark achievements.

While he has not yet had time to demonstrate substance, Trump certainly has some of the style and the language of a Teddy Roosevelt.

“Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action, and we have trusted only to rhetoric. If we are really to be a great nation, we must not merely talk; we must act big.”-Theodore Roosevelt

Sounds a little like Trump’s “politician’s are all talk and no action” statement, doesn’t it?

1 Comment

Filed under Donald Trump, politics, Theodore Roosevelt, Uncategorized