Trump Family And Elite Corruption

Here we are, nearing the end of Donald Trump’s administration. He may have only been a one-term president, but he has left quite a wake in his passing through the halls of power (not unlike Merry Brandybuck tossing stones into the lake beneath the western walls of Moria). It might not settle back down very quickly, if it settles down at all. Now the Clinton Democrats, for good or ill, will be back in power. Joe Biden, no stranger to D.C., is Trump’s replacement. He brings much political and personal baggage with him, as the campaign season demonstrated. The focus on his son, Hunter Biden, didn’t cost him the election. But it didn’t help either, considering his weak victory against a weak incumbent (similar to the Fellowship of the Ring escaping the Watcher in the Waters by running into the caves of Moria).

The recent focus on the Hunter Biden scandal re-opened some dark corners from the previous scrutiny into Ukraine. Specifically, it brings back to mind the investigations into the bipartisan collusion involving Ukraine and Vladimir Putin (John Podesta, Clinton Democrats, and Ukraine). The topic remains as relevant as ever. But, as expected, the years of scandals and investigations get lost in the shadows as the glare of political theater and media melodrama takes center stage. It’s not clear what more is known now than in previous years. There have been so many scandals and allegations that it’s hard to keep track of them all. If you want a quick summary, there is a decent piece by Joseph W. Kopsick, Evidence of the Trumps’ and Clintons’ Possible Collusion with Russia and Ukraine (Incomplete). However, he doesn’t link to any sources of evidence or quotes. It is a summary of accusations made, not a summary of the arguments for and against the question of the validity of the accusations.

Some accusations are weak and invalid. Consider how Joule Unlimited and Rusnano is used to claim a direct connection, possibly a point of corruption and collusion, between John Podesta and Vladimir Putin. There is much criticism about the perceived lack of compelling evidence (Travis Gettys, Fox News hypes WikiLeaks claims about Clinton’s ties to Russia — just as Trump asks followers to watch). Is it possible? Sure. But is it proven? Not even close. Then again, such a hypothetical link is not implausible, considering we know Podesta’s brother had no problem knowingly working with an organization involving someone backed by Putin. Still, speculation is not enough to justify an accusation. Just because I don’t trust the Clinton Democrats doesn’t mean I trust the slanderous agenda of Fox News and Trump. Outrage for the sake of outrage is not my cup of tea.

Besides the implications of bipartsan collusion are much more compelling and damning. But neither side wants to touch that or even acknowledge it. This is why Democrats want to implicate Trump in the crimes of Paul Manafort. The fact of the matter is Manafort’s main guilt, at least in terms of Ukraine, involved acts prior to his becoming Trump’s campaign manager. Sure, they had some business associations in the past and they ran in the same social circles, at least since the Reagan era. But even Trump should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Anyway, if one wants to paint Trump as a Russian asset or otherwise compromised, it’s not hard to do. He has been in the immediate orbit of those like Vladimir Putin for decades, along with personal connections and business dealings with Russian oligarchs and Russian mafia figures, often tied to Putin. The sale of property far below market prices implicates Trump in money laundering with the Russian mafia.

The potential wrongdoings that could be investigated and prosecuted are numerous. This corruption is an open secret. If you’re interested in the detailed case against Trump, check out Jay McKenzie’s series: Trump, Putin and the mob. Research collection. Part 1: Trump campaign connections.Part 2: #BudapestBridge and the Hungarian connection to TrumpPart 3: Ron Lauder, Bibi Netanyahu and their friends at Breitbart; Part 4: Paul Manafort was the Kremlin’s point man on the Trump campaign; Part 5: Twitter, Russia and Silicon Valley’s “Persian Mafia”; & Part 6: Trump, Felix Sater and their ties to mafia Don Semion Mogilevich. Agree or disagree in the significance of the entanglements of Trump and his minions, one thing that can’t be doubted is the existence of corrupt cronyism, not to mention the geopolitical power and financial profit of their machinations. Nonetheless, that is a far cry from proving Putin got Trump elected. But it sure does corroborate how enmeshed he was with complex webs of unsavory figures.

One might add that Paul Manafort wasn’t a nobody who just showed up on Trump’s doorstep right before his campaign began. They may have not been close friends and Trump may have had a genuine senior citizen moment in his claiming to not have immediately remembered Manafort, but their relations were far from distant or superficial. Their dealings go back to the 1980s when Trump, as with Ronald Reagan, was one of the first clients of Manafort’s firm. Whatever other associations they may have had over the decades, six months before joining Trump’s campaign in March of 2016, here is what was going on: “Felix Sater and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, work together on a Trump Tower Moscow deal. Donald Trump signs a letter of intent on the deal in October of 2015.” Then three months in as campaign manager, Manafort was at the “meeting held at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives” (McKenzie, Part 4). One can sense underlying connections.

Keep in mind that Manafort was involved as a foreign agent in Ukraine for at least a decade. He may have been there as early as 2004 during that country’s presidential election (Mustafa Nayem, AMERICAN SPIN-DOCTORS ON YANUKOVYCH’S SERVICE; from ACTION UKRAINE REPORT – AUR – Number 833, U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC)) or, according to another source, even earlier in 2003 (Yulia Tymoshenko and John Does 1 through 50 v. Plaintiffs; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York). Certainly, he was a notorious and powerful Ukranian actor beginning at the latest during 2005.

And by 2006, when living in Trump Tower, Manafort was “hired by Oleg Deripaska and paid $10 million a year to improve Vladimir Putin’s image with the west” and “to lobby directly for Vladimir Putin” (McKenzie). Also, “Paul worked closely with, at least, two Russian intelligence officials in Ukraine — Viktor Medvedchuk and Manafort’s assistant, Konstantin Kilimnik. Manafort worked with Kremlin propaganda there to help elect a pro-Putin candidate, which, we now must admit, is exactly the situation we saw in Donald Trump’s campaign.” Essentially, “Paul Manafort was Putin’s employee for several years.” It’s hard to imagine Trump was clueless of the existence of Manafort and all that he was doing.

Here is McKenzie’s description of the decade spent in service to Putin and his minions, overlapping with the work he began doing with Trump prior to the campaign: “Consider the amount of work Manafort did from 2005 onwards with the men involved in the 2004 election rigging. Also remember that Manafort’s allegiances did not shift. He began work with Oleg Deripaska in 2000–01. He was introduced to Yanukovych by Deripaska. Manafort began to work with Putin directly in 2006, and Paul continued to work for Yanukovych until 2014, when he fled Ukraine and began living in exile in Moscow.” Manafort had a well known reputation for the work he had done there. It was as significant as his reputation in New York City and Washington, D.C.

It wasn’t only that Trump had to know the kind of people he was getting in bed with. He was already in bed with them. When pointing to them being part of the same social circles, this includes Putin himself and numerous Russian oligarchs, the latter only allowed to be in that elite position because they worked for Putin or otherwise served his interests. As a conclusion, McKenzie states that, “Who is the most common and recurring link between Firtash, Mogilevich, Deripaska, and Fred Trump’s former righthand man? Simple, it’s former Trump campaign chairman and Trump Tower resident Paul Manafort.”

Not even Fox News is able to deny the obvious: “Investigating the business ties between Russia and those in President Donald Trump’s orbit is a legitimate exercise. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was an advisor to the pro-Russian Ukrainian president. Former Trump advisor Carter Page had energy deals involving Russian companies. Former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn gave a nicely paid speech in Moscow as a private citizen and was less than complete in explaining his conversations with Russian officials. And then there is the simple fact that Attorney General (former senator) Jeff Session, while a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, communicated with the Russian Ambassador” (Peter Schweizer, Trump vs. Clintons’ Russia ties (guess who always got a free pass)).

Of course, Fox News tried to downplay the import with lesser evilism, a tactic also used by DNC-aligned media. But it doesn’t feel overly satisfying to argue about whether Putin, as geopolitical puppet master, has reached further up the asses of the Trump gang or the Clinton gang. A political independent and equal opportunity critic has a hard time making sense of most of it. All that becomes clear is that the halls of power and financing are flooded with devious and sinister actors, and very little of it has to do with partisan politics. One begins to sense what is meant by references to the shadowy deep state.

To suggest that the Russian and related investigations were partisan fake news is total bullshit. The conflict certainly was spun by corporate media for the purposes of corporatist politics, but both sides participated in the staged production because both sides hoped to keep the real issues out of the limelight. Maybe it all comes down to power, as spoken through the language of wealth. Money knows no party lines nor national boundaries. Whether Republicans or Democrats hold the presidency, those benefitting from American business interests always seems to somehow involve profit for Putin-backed companies and Russia oligarchs. This was seen with uranium during the Obama administration (Democrats, Russians, and Uranium). And it was seen with steel during the Trump administration (Steve Horn, Behind Trump’s Push for “American Steel” in Pipelines, Another Russian Company with Putin Ties Stands to Benefit).

For many years, there were those who rightly pointed to the legalized bribery as a means for powerful interests to buy access and benefits. Besides the Uranium One scandal, this also included the Saudis having donated to the Clinton Foundation to ensure they would receive a generous arms deal from Hilary Clinton when she was Secretary of State (Clinton Foundation–State Department controversy). Those involved all operated within the letter of the law and maintained careful divisions to allow for plausible deniability, but any honest observer would admit that it is bribery and corruption. This was the infamous pay-to-play. This subverting of democracy is so normalized as to hardly be scandalous at all, at least to the mind grown cynical.

Donald Trump, in many ways, maybe doesn’t get criticized as harshly as one might expect. Everyone already knew he was a sleazy businessman before he was elected. Well known is his having run businesses into the ground, declared bankruptcy over and over, evaded debt collectors, cheated business partners, refused to pay contractors, and mistreated employees. Then there are outright scams like Trump University. Only his wealth and high-powered lawyers have saved him from the consequences and punishments that he deserves. All of that is on top of a lifetime dwelling in the swampy waters of the elite, from New York City to Washington, D.C. to Moscow and beyond. Surely, his close ties to the political elite in both parties, including the Clintons, helped protect him and his business interests.

Trump and his entre family were born in the swamp and have flourished there. The Trumps, in ever seeking profit, haven’t even pretended to care about democracy, but that is no surprise to their supporters and so outrage is limited. No one, Republican or Democrat, ever expected Trump to be anything other than a slimy swamp creature. In fact, Trump proudly campaigned on being corrupt, arguing that only someone as corrupt as him could fight corruption, as strange as that might sound to a mind not totally demented by the brutal logic of power. With such open corruption, it’s hard to attack Trump’s corruption as a weakness or a failure. It is simply who he is and why a certain kind of person voted for him, not that this minority of supporters exactly gave a public mandate to be wantonly corrupt. Still, it must be admitted that he was, in his own way, honest about his dishonesty.

Besides, it’s not like Trump is an anomaly. This is a family of corruption with a dishonorable legacy that goes back generations. Trump and his siblings, when they were still young, initially inherited money from their father, Fred Trump, as part of various illegal tax evasion schemes. And this continued into the 1990s (David Barstow, Susanne Craig & Russ Buettner, Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father). Their wealth was built on real estate and construction in New York City, but it was initially accumulated by the grandfather, Friedrich Trumpf, who made his first fortune by running an illegal brothel during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon. It was in New York City, though, that the family more fully got involved in corruption and criminality. That place was infamous for its machine politics that was well oiled with bribery, kickbacks, and graft; cronyism, favoritism, and nepotism.

The Trump family fit in perfectly well. New York City politics and big biz was enmeshed in Tammany Hall, along with boroughs and municipalities run like fiefdoms, not to mention powerful organized crime that controlled the construction industry. One didn’t become a wealthy businessman, particularly in real estate, in that climate without being a criminal and working with criminals. The evidence points to both Donald and Fred having bought politicians. This behavior became far darker as Donald began working closely with the local mafia, such as laundering money, a practice that he did with foreign organized crime as well. There was also mortgage fraud and much else that ties him to the former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the closest cronies of the Trump family. This corruption was later joined with that of Jared Kushner’s family by way of marriage to Ivanka Trump.

That decadent culture of open corruption is probably why Trump is so cavalier about his own malbehavior, with a confidence that people like him are above the law because they have deep pockets to buy the legal outcomes they so desire. Such vast moral depravity was normalized for him in childhood when he got his first taste of American-style capitalism. It was only natural for him to continue this behavior once he formally entered politics, although he had been closely tied to the political elite his entire life. As promised, President Trump ran the country like a business and, in his experience, that means corruption by default. He doesn’t know how to run a business honestly, an alien concept to his mind.

Only part way through his term as president, there was documented 2,000 instances identified as “conflicts of interest between his business interests and his duty to the country as president” (Gretchen Frazee, Trump criticizes the Bidens, but his own family’s business raises questions). That happened in less than three years and he was only warming up. He really upped his game in this last year when he knew he was running out of time before the scam would be up and he has ended up adding more than another thousand conflicts of interest (Julia Conley, ‘An Astonishing Rate of Corruption’: Trump Has Amassed 3,000 Conflicts of Interest Since Taking Office). Also, that is only looking at the conflicts of interest, not the hundreds of other forms of corruption such as selling key political positions to private power, as seen with a tidal wave of regulatory capture. Then, on top of that, there are the near endless activities of his own family the he nepotistically inserted into power while they continued to push various family financial interests, often using their political position to ensure backing and funding or else to promote products.

So, why haven’t the Trumps been nailed for their known illegal actions? And why hasn’t Trump been impeached, as impeachment doesn’t even require proving criminality? “THE DEFENSE GOT ONE THING RIGHT at Donald Trump’s Senate trial,” writes Jim Lardner (Mapping Corruption: Donald Trump’s Executive Branch). “The case against him was thin, his team kept saying; and so it was, compared to the enormity of this administration’s other offenses.” It makes one wonder why the DNC and deep state that is portrayed as hating Trump chose such a weak case that would guaranteed he would get away without punishment. There were so many crimes that, if prosecuted, could land Trump and family in prison. The defenders of the Establishment wanted to put on a good show for the viewing public and they wanted to send the clear message to Trump that he needed to back down, but actually destroying one of the highest and most powerful of the ruling elite would set a dangerous precedent.* The weakness of that particular legal case, though, should not be taken as innocence, as Lardner makes clear:

“Set aside the hate-mongering and the stream of conspiracy theories and demagogic bombast. Trump has sowed corruption of a breadth and brazenness unseen in the far-from-innocent annals of our nation’s history. In three years as president, he has transformed the executive branch into a giant favor factory, populated with the agents or willing partners of virtually every special interest. Add up all the routine, daily outrages—the quasi-bribery and quasi-extortion, the private raids on public funds, the handouts to the undeserving, the massive flow of cash, jobs, and freebies back in return—and Trump’s attempt to squeeze a little re-election help out of the fragile government of a desperate Eastern European country does not loom particularly large in the reckoning.

“Adding it all up is a challenge, though. It’s hard to fathom the depths of the kleptocracy when there’s so much happening on the surface to divert us. The corruption most directly in our faces involves the looting and skimming and self-dealing of the president and his family. Our first hotel-owning president has inspired a parade of foreign diplomats and domestic lobbyists to pay tribute with overnight stays that are functionally indistinguishable from bribes. The Secret Service has blown over half a million dollars on golf carts protecting a leader who has spent nearly one out of every three days of his first term at one of his resort properties, which get free advertising on top of the revenue from lodging his guards and retinue. Ivanka Trump snags a valuable set of Chinese trademarks on the same day she dines with Xi Jinping. Kellyanne Conway hawks Ivanka’s products in TV interviews.

“But the personal corruption of the Trumps themselves perversely masks the sliminess perpetrated by literally thousands of presidential appointees, from Cabinet officials to obscure functionaries. Amid all the distractions, it’s hard to focus on the more consequential crookedness and follow out the plotlines of all the sordid stories, and grasp the brutal consequences visited upon countless people. We lunge from scandal to scandal without ever filling in the bigger picture, or taking proper account of all the knaves, thieves, and corporate stooges and their handiwork.”

Trump was never going to drain the swamp, no more than Trump’s cronies in D.C. were going to take down Trump. Here is the difference that is offered to the American public, typically framed as ‘lesser evilism’. The Trumps will punch you in the face and kick you in the balls to get what they want and then walk away with piles of money, whereas the Clintons will put a friendly arm on your shoulder and look you in the eyes as they slip a hand into your back pocket (maybe while starting another war to profit the military-industrial complex, a war that the corporate media won’t report on). Six of one, half a dozen of the other.

With Trump as patriarchal mob boss, the blatant thievery and thuggery is the supposed ‘honesty’ that Trump supporters so adore. This administration’s corruption has become so bold that it defies any need to be hidden, any pretenses of respectability. It might not be long before other politicians follow the example of the Trumps, as the entire elite loses all shame and fear. Then it will be normalized and full-on fascism can begin. This means that the equivalent of Manafort and the Podesta brothers could operate out in the open where eventually not even Federal investigators might be able to touch them.

All of that said, in the end, is Trump’s misbehavior really worse than the decades of conniving that built the American Empire in the first place such that it could be taken over by someone like Trump? The American ruling elite have been undermining democracy and overthrowing democratic governments for more than a century. Are we surprised that democracy here at home has suffered in our being publicly shamed on the international stage by Trump’s buffoonery? When Democrats had the presidency and majority control, did they constrain executive power according to the Constitution, instead of expanding it further? Of course not. We never would have had a Trump presidency without the Clinton dynasty and the Bush dynasty, without the systemic moral rot of administration after administration.

So, here we are. President elect Joe Biden will cobble the pieces back together, smooth over the threatening fractures, make the American Empire respectable again. This will inevitably fail in the long run, as democratic reform can only be delayed for so long before something else forces change. The corruption will continue to get worse, as will the public outrage. Next up might be a truly competent dictator, maybe sooner than some expect. Then Democrats will speak nostalgically of the Trump era when things weren’t so bad.

* * *

* Then again, some argue that, once the Trump family is out of power, they could become less protected from a deep state that may perceive them as having gone too far and so potentially could use them to set an example to keep the rest of the oligarchy in line. And the other oligarchs might not feel forgiving toward the Trumps in having threatened the Establishment with dangerous political games. Even the most horrific of crimes can be tolerated, as long as they are in defense of power itself. Trump’s presidency, instead, has left that system of power in shambles and that harms the interests and agendas of many people who otherwise would be extremely tolerant of the shenanigans of someone like Donald Trump. This plutocratic family might find it’s luck has run out.

“Trump is more vulnerable to prosecution,” Jon Schwarz explains, “than other presidents because he’s engaged in so many potential nontraditional presidential crimes. With the invasion of Iraq, George W. Bush committed what the Nuremberg trials referred to as “the supreme international crime” of initiating a war of aggression. But there was never any chance that he’d be punished for this, because the entire U.S. power structure agrees that American presidents have the right to do it. Same for conducting thousands of drone strikes or torturing people around the globe. By contrast, Trump has engaged in many comparatively small, shabby, possible criminal activities outside of his presidential duties” (Losing Could Expose Trump To Prosecution For Any Number of Crimes).

This probably won’t happen. But it could. No president has ever attacked the deep state before, even if it was merely political theater. The deep state doesn’t like to be forced out into the open through involvement in partisan fights and campaign rhetoric. Donald Trump is no Richard Nixon who will shrink away into the shadows after being ousted from power. And in finding his entire family having gained the status of pariah, Trump’s antics as an attention whore could get worse. Various actors in the Establishment might decide that it will need to fully and finally put the uncouth Trump clan back into its place. If the Trumps fight back, they might just make it worse and force empty threats to become real prosecutions. They’d be wise to tread lightly until events cool back down. Those in power would prefer that Trump simply concede power and just go away.

* * *

As the main target of hatred for nearly the entire political right, along with more than a few on the political left, there has been decades of criticism, analysis, and investigations about the Clintons and their cronies; not to mention the endless conspiracy theories. But now the Trump dynasty is in the spotlight. For those interested, there has been an unsurprising increase of investigating reporting on the details of depravity for this scandalous family:

Victimization Culture and Lesser Evilism

“…it rises up before raining down.”
~ rauldukeblog

Let us consider once again the sad state of affairs we find ourselves in, not only politically but culturally. What does this say about our society, both nationally and locally? What kind of social and political order do we live in? And what kind of mindset, what kind of values does it represent? We’ll begin with the national level in how it dominates the public mind. As we move toward yet another uninspiring election, we are offered the same old lesser evilism that has ruled our society for so long. Yet one can’t doubt that there is a certain appeal to the lesser evil when faced with the possibility of President Donald Trump being reelected and so leaving the American public to deal with another four years of his mental illness, some combination of psycopathy, narcissism, and dementia. Claims of a lesser evil sounds more reasonable and persuasive than ever before.

Then again, Joe Biden is a corporate whore with his own bigoted and creepy tendencies and what appears to be a far worse case of brain deterioration (Biden’s Corruption and Dementia) — Govert Schuller stated it well: “Joe Biden is so cognitively challenged that he can’t answer a question about whether he’s cognitively challenged without sounding profoundly cognitively challenged” (comment in response to interview). Not only is it a choice between two evils but two pathetic and depressing evils (Pick Your Poison). The absurdity of it causes one to laugh and then to immediately follow that up with a long sigh. Both men are so old and senile that it’s unclear that either could maintain even modest mental balance and political competence for the next four years. This means the actual election is between the two candidates competing to be vice president. It’s the vice president who will likely become the next president, eventually.

Be it presidents or vice presidents, one does not sense much excitement in the air about this election. Both parties seem halfhearted at best in their support for their respective candidates. It’s not clear that either side really wants to win all that much because maybe even to win would be to lose, to an even worse degree than last time. Besides the inferior quality of these two senile senior citizens, consider the immense problems of a dangerously declining empire that the next president or rather next vice president will inherit. One might add that it’s SNAFU, situation normal all fucked up, that is to say we’ve been in this societal tailspin for a long time… and it doesn’t look like there is going to be a Captain Sully to land us safely.

It’s not as if President Trump can be blamed for most of it. It was a mess when he came into the office. Sure, he has made absolutely everything worse and made America the laughingstock of the world, but it was going to get worse no matter what. That is because the ruling elite won’t allow anyone into power who could and would do anything to fundamentally lessen the dysfunction, much less implement positive change. Everything is working perfectly according to design and intention of those in power. We are living in a neoliberal utopia, the supposed best of all possible worlds — to use another acronym, TINA: “There is no alternative,” as Margaret Thatcher infamously put it. The likes of Trump and Biden are products of this neoliberal dominance. They are creatures of the swamp and their brains have become rather swampy at this point.

Still, one has to admit that, of the two, Trump is a special kind of crazy stupid. His degree of cognitive functioning, social behavior, and moral development is what one would expect of a below average elementary school child. He was born into immense wealth and basically has had a personal staff of nannies and butlers, assistants and attendants to babysit him since childhood. They take care of all his needs, solve his problems, protect him, eliminate or silence those who threaten him, and probably even dress him and wipe his butt or even jerk him off. The guy is at the special needs level of incompetence. If he were poor, he most likely would be dead, homeless, imprisoned, or otherwise institutionalized. Being filthy rich is the only thing that saves him from a horrible fate. He can cheat business partners, refuse to pay workers, lose money, go bankrupt, and have endless business failures… and yet his handlers ensure he always more money to play with.

The last election, of course, was a bit different. Whatever one thinks about Hillary Clinton, at the very least it has to be admitted that she is not senile nor is she an old white man, although an old white woman of the plutocracy is not necessarily better. Besides, she is not the sharpest crayon in the box, but she is a standard professional politician who still has a functioning brain. So, you have to give her credit for that much, not that it’s exactly a great accomplishment. If elected, she would’ve been guaranteed to have gotten the job done as president in the fashion expected of any other Clinton Democrat, but on the downside the job she would have gotten done was to further corporatocratic hegemony. It’s not exactly certain that would be a net gain for the country. Trump’s incompetent failure is, in a sense, an advantage since the damage he can do is limited, particularly as he motivates his opposition to organize and protest.

Criticism of Clinton Democrats aside, one has to question the moral and intellectual quality of those who supported Trump, voted for him, helped get him into power, and then cheered him on — and probably will vote for him a second time. Such people must be almost as mentally deranged as Trump himself. Let us consider a specific example, which brings us to the local level. The nearby town of West Branch has become a bedroom community of Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, but it maintains many of the original families that have lived there for generations, including the so-called ‘Old Dinosaurs’ who ruled its government until quite recently. It’s the childhood hometown of President Herbert Hoover who was a decent man, if incompetent in his own way according to some. Though long past its heyday as a bustling railroad stop, West Branch still has the feeling of a pleasant rural community surrounded by bucolic farmland.

So, how do the residents vote? “Cedar County,” in which is located West Branch, “was once Republican turf, but the county voted for President Clinton in 1992 and 1996. Countywide nowadays, there is an equal mix of Republicans and Democrats holding office” (Jeff Zeleny, Iowa County Has Unique Result: A Tie). That was from 2000, but 12 years on Republicans regained their hold to a degree, at least locally. “Voters in Cedar County tend to be moderately conservative. The county generally votes for Republicans in local elections, but statewide races, and the presidential, are tossups” (Grace Wyler, These Eight Counties Will Decide The Presidential Election). It’s not a hardcore partisan population, but it appears to be slightly more conservative than Iowa in general. Although more often going to Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, Iowa was won by Trump with a decent margin of slightly less than a 10% lead. His margin of victory, however, was much larger in Cedar County at more than 18% (Politico, 2016 Iowa Presidential Election Results).

For most Iowans, the situation was probably more about Hillary Clinton having lost the election than Donald Trump having won, but in Cedar County it was a solid victory for Trump’s vision and rhetoric, Make America Great Again. What would cause this population to be so friendly to Trump’s bloviating and bad behavior? Iowans tend to favor more moderate politics, whereas Trump is the complete opposite of the stereotype of Iowa Nice. “The obvious explanation is that relative to the country, Iowa has a higher proportion of white residents without a college degree (Trump’s base). The same factors may explain why Iowa’s best bellwether county lost that status in 2016” (Bleeding Heartland blog, Iowa’s no bellwether anymore–and neither is Cedar County). This can be seen in the demographic details, as further described in that article:

“This year, Cedar County voters backed Trump over Clinton by 55.5 percent to 37.7 percent. That’s a larger victory for Trump than one would expect based on the latest voter registration numbers for the parties. On the other hand, non-Hispanic whites make up 96.0 percent of Cedar County’s population, compared to 86.7 percent of all Iowans, according to the latest Census Bureau estimates. Approximately 20.8 percent of Cedar County adults at least 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree or higher. For Iowa, the corresponding figure is 26.4 percent. Clinton’s vote share was higher among college-educated voters.Cedar County also has a slightly larger proportion of residents over age 65 than Iowa does, which probably worked in Trump’s favor.”

Mentioned above was the Old Dinosaurs, as they are known in West Branch. They are the aging white guys from the established families that have been there, in many cases, since the 1800s. They are the ruling patriarchy and for decades became a force of reactionary politics, in fighting against any and all progress, improvement, and outside influence. For example, they refused federal funding to fix sidewalks because there was a stipulation that made it impossible to direct that money to local business owners. They preferred to have decaying infrastructure than to pay a non-local company to fix it. The federal funds were lost and the broken sidewalks remained a public hazard, though some of them have been fixed since.

As an insular community, cronyism was how these guys were used to doing business and ensuring this cronyism was more important than all else. Basic public good like infrastructure maintenance didn’t inspire them. Yet they always could find money to buy expensive fire trucks and to build a new fire station (Old Forms of Power), a point of pride in having a shiny new truck for parades. This is because the volunteer fireman association is filled with members from the old families and one of the Old Dinosaurs, Dick Stoolman, held the paid position of fire chief. As an illegal demand in seeking retirement, he stated in reference to his son that, “I wouldn’t give it up unless he got it” (Gregory R. Norfleet, 40-year chief Stoolman stepping down July 1). Indeed, as goes the incestuous politics of a small town, his son did inherit the job. The new fire station has been used as a country club for this multi-generational local ruling elite, where they go to socialize and clean their personal vehicles, a situation that became a minor scandal. These aren’t people who put much stock in functioning democracy, especially as outsiders grew in their midst with liberal Iowa City a short drive away.

This xenophobia toward perceived outsiders is apparently not a new phenomenon. As I wrote elsewhere, “A longtime friend of mine grew up there for much of her early life and she recalls the racism that was common there. Loewen briefly discusses Cedar County in his discussion of presidential hometowns (as Hoover lived in West Branch as a child). West Branch did and does have a large Quaker presence and the Quakers sought to help blacks after the Civil War. According to the census data, there were 37 black residents of Cedar County in 1890, but only 2 in 1930” (Liberty, Freedom, and Fairness). That disappearance of blacks is typical of sundown towns, although in this case it is unknown what happened. For whatever reasons, most of the black population suddenly decided it was best not to remain there, likely because of some violent action or threat, such as a mob or a burning cross.

The census data certainly fits the profile of a sundown town, according to similar examples across the Midwest. At a later date, I talked to that same friend about the case of the disappearing blacks. “I told her that Loewen had no evidence of West Branch being a sundown town, even though it used to have something like 5 black families. She told me that it probably wasn’t an accident that the blacks left. She had many negative experiences in that town. People weren’t accepting of those who were different. Back then, there was two minority families with children, one black and the other Asian. She says they were treated badly and both families left. That is one way to get rid of minorities. You don’t need a sundown sign, threatening cops, mob violence, arson, or anything so crude. You just have to make people’s lives difficult and unhappy, bully their children and ostracize them” (comment at Spirit of ’76).

This friend personally experienced the bullying and abuse, as her family was relatively new to West Branch. She did grow up there as a child, but her parents had not. Although she is white, she was considered an outsider and so worthy of being targeted. The other kids in town could be cruel, of course. The thing is that the kids were often following the lead of respected authority figures, one man in particular. She was living there in the early to mid-80s. It was in 1983 that James “Butch” Pedersen — born and raised in West Branch as a son of one of the old farm families — was hired as the replacement for the position of head football coach and he quickly gained a reputation for winning games. Some of his former players have gone on to play in college and professional football or else now work as coaches themselves. There is no doubt that he is a great coach. Obviously, he has inspired and continues to inspire many people.

He has become well known and widely respected far beyond that dinky town, such as having been “recognized for his lifetime commitment to coaching when he was named 2017 National Football Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association” (A Coaching Legend: Iowa’s Butch Pedersen). At the University of Iowa in nearby Iowa City, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz offered praise: “Butch has done such a great job. Our state is, in my mind, really rich in coaches like that. They’re doing it because they really love kids and they love coaching. They’re not doing it because they’re trying to be whatever. But all those guys, in my mind, are legends, and Butch is certainly in that category. Those guys are rare people” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). Why would a Big 10 coach even know a high school coach from a small town? It turns out the influence is personal —- Ferentz explains that, “Butch was one of my grade school teachers, junior high track coach and HS football coach and one of the bigger influences on my life” (Hawkeye Nation, tweet).

For decades, he has made many residents proud of their town and so that has made him untouchable, above reproach. He began his West Branch career as a coach and teacher in 1975 when he was only 25 years old, and he was focused in this direction prior to that: “When he finished his degree, he already was a volunteer assistant coach at West Branch” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). As such, besides coaching football and along with helping coach basketball, he also worked as a teacher in the local schools and so came in contact with students who weren’t athletes. His career began in that town and has continued there ever since. That is a 45 year stretch spent entirely in his hometown. It was in this latter capacity as a teacher that my friend was exposed to what she experienced as a sadistic streak. She was in early elementary school at the time where she was placed in one of his classes.

Let’s consider some background, so as to give a sense of this individual’s character. Butch, as he is known in West Branch, is an old school manly man. “Football is a tough sport that is played by tough people,” he said in explaining his football philosophy (Bears Football, Butch Pedersen). “Not everyone is tough enough to play it.” In describing a former player of his went onto college football, he said that, even though he was forced to play in positions he didn’t prefer, “he never bawled about it” (Marc Morehouse, No crying in linebacking – Bo Bower’s return). That is because real men don’t cry. They just take it, suck it up, and do what they’re told. Being a hard-ass coach is part of his reputation and he has expected his players to meet his high standards. He does not like weakness and the other side of his reputation, according to some, is that he is known for attacking the weak — that is to say those who can’t fight back.

My friend remembers how Coach Butch would pick out the kids who had few friends, specifically those who weren’t members of one of the old families of intermarried solidarity. As a lifelong resident of West Branch, he knew who to victimize and who to leave alone. This often meant his going after poor kids or anyone else considered an outsider to the community. She was such a kid and so she often got the brunt of his abuse. He had a variety of methods, two of which stood out in her memory. One of the worst things he’d do was to mock and shame his favorite victims. He’d do so in front of the whole class and encourage the other students to join in on the bullying. For example, he would line up all the kids around the edge of the classroom and then make the victim run the gauntlet as the other kids threw stuff at them. She only experienced this on occasion, she recalled, whereas some even less fortunate classmates of hers were tormented in this manner on a weekly basis. Another aspect of this was that he’d make up cruel names for these particular kids and use the names in the classroom. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the kids would copy his behavior in using these demeaning nicknames.

In one incident, my friend had the entire lunchroom full of kids chanting the name of abuse he had given her. Coach Butch along with other adults stood by as it happened and they did nothing (although on a happy and inspiring note, as her childhood self passed by him, she sought to exact revenge by having punched him in the balls). That is the thing, his abusive behavior was known by the other school staff and people in town. Maybe it was expected. Coaches were supposed to be tough and toughening kids up was considered a good thing back then, especially in a conservative small town in farm country. His harsh ‘disciplinarian’ approach seems to have been an open secret, but I guess no one talked much about it, as it was normalized as part of the local culture. The art teacher who happened to be a lesbian tried to protect my friend, but this lady was also new to the town and may have found herself targeted as well, considering she didn’t last long before she was fired. * The school counselor also tried to offer protection and my friend had the sense that she may have tried to intervene at one point but, if she did, she was forced to back down. Coach Butch was golden and so he got a free pass. No one would be allowed to challenge his authority or smear his reputation, as he had friends in high places. He was part of the old boys network, what would later become known as the Old Dinosaurs.

This is relevant to Trump for obvious reasons, considering Trump is also a bully and an abuser. What does this say about our society? Here is another thing to consider. West Branch is a conservative town and yet there are Democrats who live there. My friends’ parents are Clinton Democrats and, in fact, her mother worked at the local school with Coach Butch. Her mother knew what was happening and she was friends with the art teacher who tried to help, but her mother never did anything to challenge the coach or stop the abuse. Her mother couldn’t find the moral courage to face the reality of her child being traumatized partly because she was married to an abusive man. She had learned to rationalize abuse by focusing on the positive, as my friend told it to me, based on a faith in humanity that placed hope in the potential for people changing for the better, apparently even when the bad actors in question showed no remorse. This is how even good liberals with good intentions can become complicit in authoritarian and patriarchal systems.

Many years later when my friend was an adult, her mother who was still working as a teacher at the time insisted that Coach Butch had changed and she’d create situations where my friend would have to interact with this guy who was her childhood tormentor. It could be interpreted as a form of gaslighting, in that my friend wanted to trust her mother and believe what she was told, that he really was a different person now. However, it seems that this was all bullshit, a rationalization her mother had invented to make herself feel better in knowing she had betrayed her daughter’s trust in allowing so much harm to have been done when she was younger. My friend still struggles with that childhood trauma. The sad part is that, going by such accounts, it sounds like she was just one among many kids who were hurt by Coach Butch and almost a half century later he is still coach in West Branch, he is still treated like a local hero.

I know another family with children presently living in West Branch. The daughter attends high school where Coach Butch is currently employed. This young girl was talking about him and I suddenly remembered my friend’s experience from the 1980s. I told this high schooler about my friend’s sad childhood in West Branch and she said nothing has changed. This guy still has a reputation as abusive and is still targeting weak loners who can’t fight back. Later on when I told my friend about this, it hit her hard because of her mother having lied to her. To think of how many generations of kids have been hurt by this one guy. She speculated that the psychiatric costs incurred from his sadism probably amounts at least to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then after some thought, she expressed surprise that none of his victims have yet committed suicide or become school shooters, although maybe some of them have had sad endings without anyone connecting it to the original cause of trauma. She made me promise to warn this other family about how dangerous is Coach Butch, in her opinion, as their youngest child fits the description of his preferred targets (she knows this family). And she said if a legal case ever comes up, she would gladly testify.

As another example of Coach Butch’s less than optimal behavior, the high schooler said that if one of his players quits the team he will emotionally cut them off and treat them like they no longer exist. A child’s value in his eyes, one might suspect, is largely about whether they can help him win another championship or otherwise boost his social identity as coach, or else maybe if that child is a member of one of the old families, part of his community as ‘us’ and so not an outsider. It is his hard-nosed approach that has won him not only so many victories but, more importantly, so much support and praise among those who share this identity of ‘us’. He apparently knows what he can get away with and so rarely steps across the line. A rare case happened last year, according to the aforementioned student, when he was kicked out of a game for shoving one of the high school players. That didn’t tarnish his reputation in the slightest and he is still beloved or so the local media reports — the question being about the news stories not published, the statements left unquoted, the allegations never allowed to be heard, the investigations that never saw the light of day.

It’s not that he has necessarily ever done anything illegal. Even his worse abusive behavior my friend describes from the 1980s may have been considered perfectly allowable by the standards of the time or even commendable by the other respected authority figures in town. The police might have known about it without any concern. That was simply the rough nature of a rural community, as many of the older generation like Butch grew up with a hard life on farms. It’s only been in recent years that most schools have concerned themselves with curtailing abuse and bullying, whether from children or adults. The kinds of behavior teachers and coaches used to get away with in many places is amazing by today’s standards (for a truly extreme example, watch the Netflix documentary The Keepers). That is to say Coach Butch wasn’t unusual, even if his ‘tough love’ was a bit more harsh than average.

It’s not to pick on this one guy as evil incarnate or even particularly horrific, in the big scheme of things. No bad intentions are required since bad actors can remain unconscious of the bad consequences of their actions. The most depressing part and the key point being made here is how normal this is in our society, specifically among the older generations — since as a typical product a post-war 1950s childhood in rural America, Butch embraced the identity of hyper-masculinity and patriarchy. The purpose of this post is not to bring him down low by shitting on the happy memories of many who have known this truly great coach, but it is to remind people that not everyone’s memories were happy. It’s not that the unhappy are more worthy of being heard than the happy, that we should only listen to the critics and naysayers. Still, maybe they should be given an opportunity to be heard, at the very least. What stands out is that the local media has completely shut out anyone who has a different opinion or else they’ve certainly not sought them out, as if they don’t exist and as if what they experienced never happened — the silence is deafening.

This exclusion is salt on the wound of trauma. According to these accounts, it has been those who are isolated who get targeted and, indeed, the feeling of being isolated is very much real. To have the other students mimic this bad behavior modeled by them, to have other authority figures condone it by default of ignoring it, and then on top of that to have the local media constantly praise this man who did so much harm to you and so much harm to others you’ve witnessed — all of that would make one feel all the more isolated. It would feel further traumatizing and, as mentioned before, it would have the effect of gaslighting in a collective denial of what you know is real in your experience. When insanity becomes the social norm that is enforced, those who fall outside the demands of conformity can come to the false belief that they are the crazy ones.

It could cause someone to doubt their own experience, their own sense of reality… and that is the most damaging result of all. Once you no longer trust yourself and the world around you, that can lead to blaming yourself for what happened and so to think you are at fault, that you are the problem, that there is something wrong with you. In a highly conformist society, this is how dysfunctional authoritarianism takes over, as everyone fears becoming one of the excluded and targeted. The targeted victims are not only scapegoats but are used to set an example. Others quickly learn to not be like those victims and so they all the more make sure to do what they are told and do what is expected. Fear is a motivating force and for good reason, but when part of a dysfunctional culture it becomes highly destructive to the human soul.

If we want to judge a society, look to the least among us. Look to the poor, the weak, the sick, the lonely. See how society treats those people and then you’ll know the moral quality of the culture, community, and leadership. Don’t attack the victims of oppression for speaking out, for protesting, and for defending themselves. In an oppressive society where the Dark Tetrad (narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism) holds sway, it takes amazing courage to challenge the powerful and their defenders who will close ranks. The reaction of power to the powerless can get brutal and it often doesn’t end well because few want to hear. But that is all the more reason we should also have the moral courage to listen to those voices that make us uncomfortable, that tell us things we’d rather not know. Look to the outsiders, the minorities, and the downtrodden — take seriously their suffering.

Let’s get straight to the point. What kind of values does Butch Pedersen represent? Someone doesn’t gain that much power, authority, and respect by not embodying something important within a community. In one article, he is described as “continually molding and shaping a family atmosphere full of people eager to help in any way possible” (Dargan Southard, On cusp of 300 wins, West Branch’s ‘family atmosphere’ driving force behind Butch Pedersen’s success). “No matter the role,” this journalist of a local newspaper concludes, “those who’ve been part of Pedersen’s run have a unified message: The dean of West Branch football has made their lives better.” Sounds great! Kevin Braddock, a former player now on Butch’s staff, is quoted as saying, “You’re talking hundreds of kids, thousands of kids that he’s impacted.” The question is what exactly has been the impact not only on certain individuals who found his favor as a coach but the greater impact on the atmosphere created in that community, the culture of silence and silencing as Derrick Jensen would describe it. Not everyone’s lives were made better and the consequences extend beyond a few victims as lone voices.

“Butch can be kind of scary, especially when you’re a freshman or sophomore,” adds John Hierseman, another former player and present staffer. His victims would likely agree with that assessment, if in a way not intended. The coach himself is not shy about admitting to his behavior, as he takes it as a point of pride. “Sometimes in today’s society, people are afraid of discipline and tough love. I’m not afraid to do that,” he said. “Some people think we’re too tough. I don’t think that all. I think a lot of other people are too soft. And I think that’s society in general.” Well, my friend would be among those who thinks he is “too tough” and that would be an understatement. “Football,” as Coach Butch said, “is a tough sport that is played by tough people.” But apparently this applies to life in general. Kids needed to be toughened up. If some of them can’t take it and are broken and scarred instead, he can’t be blamed for their inferiority and weakness, at least according to his own view apparently shared by others who support and defend him.

He goes on to say that, “You can’t always be the nice guy. Sometimes, you have to get a little tough with them. And in the long run, they’re going to come back and say thank you. I can’t tell you the number of kids who’ve gone on to the military and said basic training is really similar to some of our camps at the beginning of the year. You break them down mentally, but you always love them to death. Then you bring them back strong.” If a fraction of the observations and criticisms heard about him are true, one suspects that more than a few who have experienced his tough love have not always been made better by the experience. How many have been harmed? Will we ever know? Will they ever be heard?

Southard quotes the coach one last time — “It’s not me. It’s all of us together.” — and says, “That’s just how West Branch rolls.” Maybe so and that might not be such a good thing. He talks a lot about ‘we’ and ‘us’, and he obviously loves his community as his community loves him, though not all of his community. He comes across as the real deal, a true community leader as once was far more common. As he told it, “I wanted this to be a community tradition. I wanted to have as many people involved in the football program as possible. If you go to the homecoming ceremony, and they ask all the people involved in the football program to come down on the field, there’s no one left in the bleachers” (Ryan Suchomel, Butch Pedersen always wanted to be a football coach). Yet the “all of us together” might be far more exclusionary as is all too often found in small town life. The shadow side of ‘us’ is ‘them’, those who are othered.

That is how Donald Trump came to power. He has attacked the weak and targeted perceived outsiders as scapegoats, like he did in ridiculing a reporter with a disability at one of his rallies. And similar to Coach Butch, Trump has a talent for coming up with names to mock people, as he did with Biden in calling him ‘Sleepy Joe’. With all of this in mind, it is maybe expected that someone of Trump’s character would also be so popular in Cedar County (to be fair, a significant minority did not vote for him; it would be interesting and probably telling to find out if those who voted for Trump correlate to those who most strongly support Coach Butch). That patriarchal abusiveness may simply be part of the social fabric. The moral degradation of our society has been going on for a long time. Those like Coach Butch and President Trump don’t come out of nowhere. And there is a reason they are revered by many, a reason they are able to gain power and get away with behavior that one can easily argue is reprehensible and inexcusable. From small towns in the Heartland to Washington D.C., it’s part of the victimization culture that so darkens our society, that corrupts the American soul.

The deeper problem is this. Where are the numerous victims in our society going to turn to in the hope of fighting back against powerful and respected victimizers? As with the bullied and abused students in many American communities and minorities in the oppressive racial order, as with the perceived outsiders and members of the permanent underclass, those harmed rarely feel confident in turning to authority figures for help, as the system of authority defends and rationalizes away the problem. That is what has motivated recent years of moral outrage and civic unrest — from the Me Too movement to the Black Lives Matter protests. For certain, none of the ruling elite of either major political party is a friend to the oppressed and disenfranchised. Lesser evil voting ends up feeling light on the ‘lesser’ and heavy on the ‘evil’. Here is the rub. Why do so many tolerate people like Butch and Trump? What do they hope to gain?

It’s simple. These social dominators know how to play the game of success and their old white male status gives them immense privilege, albeit often oblivious and belligerent privilege. Such people grasp, consciously or not, the power of the role they inhabit and they wield that power to great effect. In return, they offer their supporters and co-conspirators the opportunity to be on the winning side, to be part of ‘us’ — and the rhetorical narrative can sometimes be quite inspiring, especially when the ‘us’ symbolizes your own community, your own people. If you are one of Coach Butch’s favorites or when President Trump directs his schmoozing toward you, I’m sure to be the recipient of such glowing paternalism can feel like being on top of the world. That is what Coach Butch gave West Branch, a town otherwise in decline from its former glory as a bustling economic center. He gave them a sense of being winners again, specifically during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s. President Trump has attempted to do the same thing on a grander scale, to take a declining America and promise to make it great again, a post-Reagan revival declaring that it’s Morning in America.

On the other side, the moral cost of this deal with the Devil is immense. But once the deal has been made, it’s near impossible to renegotiate and remedy. Hidden behind the sense of shared pride is an ever looming shadow of collective shame. It takes much effort and constant vigilance to keep such dark secrets forever a secret, even when they’re open secrets, to hide what is really going on and what it means for a community and for society. Complicity in a culture of victimization creates a culture of silence. We can point out President Trump’s buffoonery, but what is much harder is to admit that his behavior has long been normalized, if often in less obvious ways. This authoritarian streak in American culture goes back centuries. And it will continue until we face this moral failure. Until then, victimizers will continue to rise into power and the rest of us will go on enabling them.

– – – – –

* About ‘us’ vs ‘them’, one wonders about what happened to that lesbian art teacher who was fired. Small towns are known for being harsh, to say the least, toward those who are different, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender. To demonstrate this, the West Branch Times newspaper published an article by Gregory R. Norfleet, Soapbox Philosophy: A desire within, and a choice, to which one commenter responded: “I love how his column mixes worship of a high school football coach with a fear of homosexuals. It’s just so small-town Iowa” (from Another letter to the West Branch Times at the DailyDisgust blog).

Pick Your Poison

“‘We are the United States of Amnesia,’ said Gore Vidal in 2004. These days, it’s more the United States of Dementia. In 2020, the country seems determined to choose between two elderly men who, it is fair to say, are some distance from sanity.”
~Freddy Gray, Biden vs Trump: may the craziest man win!

“A top Democrat with a prior presidential campaign predicted last year to me that the general would pit “the nice old guy with Alzheimer’s against the mean old man with dementia.””
~Marc Caputo, Twitter

“Voters are going to see Joe Biden in what I think can only be called mental decline and they are going to wonder if he should be in charge of the nuclear arsenal. And the fact that Trump is also in clear mental decline, that’s not exactly reassuring.”
~Jeremy Scahill, We Need To Talk About Joe

“The two people most likely to control the U.S nuclear arsenal, and with it the capacity to blow up civilization, through January 2025 are both well into their 70s and facing pervasive public speculation that they are becoming senile.”
~John F. Harris, 2020 Becomes the Dementia Campaign

Here we are. The presidential election has come down to two main candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. They are white guys, filthy rich and very old*. They’ve spent their lives as corrupt plutocrats and now, as rapidly aging senior citizens, they are not only holding onto power over society but grasping for even more power.

Even if they weren’t morally unfit, no one could honestly argue that they’re not mentally unfit. Each has clear signs of cognitive decline, possibly dementia. I’m not being mean-spirited or ageist. There are many old people who maintain their full cognitive abilities. Elizabeth Warren, for example, comes across as someone decades younger. And Bernie Sanders, even with other health problems, remains mentally sharp. I’ve listened to old interviews and speeches of Biden and Trump. Both of them used to be capable of speaking coherently and intelligently — yes, even Trump.

If that wasn’t bad enough, each has a history of racism, calls for authoritarian law and order, and accusations against them of sexual assault — to name their greatest sins. These older generations are becoming ever more reactionary and right-wing with every passing year, and these two old white guys were already pretty damn far right decades ago — consider their support of tough-on-crime laws (Political Super-Predators). This at a time when for decades the majority of Americans has turned hard left, leaving both parties far to the right of public opinion. How do we call this representative democracy? How do we not call this insanity?

“In this upcoming election, women are very likely going to find themselves with a choice of voting for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Both of those men have been accused of sexual assault.”
~Jennifer Wright, When Will We Get To Vote For A President Who Hasn’t Been Accused Of Sexual Assault?

“Three years after the #MeToo movement told survivors our experiences were speakable, we now have the right to choose between two men accused of sexual assault and harassment — and the rumored carrot for the Democrats’ guy is that he might choose an alleged workplace abuser … who is a woman!!!! Girl power!!! Forgive me if the roars of support I’m now obliged to affect get stuck in my throat.”
~Melissa Batchelor Warnkey, Opinion: I will vote for Joe Biden in November. And it will kill me

“It looks like the only non-, sort of heavy socialist, he is being taken care of pretty well by the socialists. They got to him. Our former vice president. I was going to call him — I don’t know him well. I was gonna say, ‘Welcome to the world, Joe. Are you having a good time, Joe? Are you having a good time?’”
~Donald Trump, speech at a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner

About politics as a horse race, which of these old nags will drag itself across the finishing line first? Earlier, we would’ve said that Trump had the advantage over someone like Biden, as the economy was doing well at the time. Like many others, we assumed it all rode on the economy, as Trump bet everything on that issue. But also like many others, we knew the economy was weak and unstable, ready to take a tumble at any moment.

Eventually, the economy would fall into a depression and there would be a reset. It could happen tomorrow or years from now. The plutocrats in both parties have been trying to delay the inevitable. Even Democrats don’t want to face the economic reality, even it meant a massive slump that would hand them the election. But at some point, it will be irrelevant what anyone wants.

That is where the Covid-19 pandemic comes in. It’s also something experts have been predicting for a long time, yet another inevitability. It is hitting at an interesting time, right at the height of campaign season in the year leading up to the election. A third of the economy has shut down with a likely result of massive number of small business bankruptcies and closures, even if another great depression doesn’t hit right away. Also, among the lower class and lower working class, more than half of that population is out of work.

Suddenly, the message of the political left has more traction than ever before. Going by the polls, most Americans have long wanted major political, economic, and healthcare reforms. But the ruling elite had managed to shut down public debate with both parties working together to attack the political left. The silencing is no longer effective and the demand for change is undeniable.

Yet we are stuck with two right-wing candidates in a one-party state. It’s a strange situation. Lesser evil voting becomes more meaningless with every election, as somehow the supposedly lesser evil keeps getting more evil. How are we supposed to be certain which evil is lesser? And how is any evil supposed to inspire victory and somehow magically lead to the greater good? Promoting evil, even lesser evil, muddies the water and simply further strengthens evil — imagine that!

This helped Trump win the last election. But now he is flailing with the public health crisis. As someone who knows how to manipulate situations to his advantage, he seems to have entirely lost the narrative. And he just went on a lunatic tirade declaring himself emperor of America (Stephen Collinson and Maeve Reston, Trump rages at criticism while governors craft their own plans to reopen the economy). For all of his impotent decrees, he has no way to get the economy back up and running again. So, his favorability rating was predictably dropping. It’s likely to get even worse for him over the coming months as the full consequences of the situation become clear.

On the other hand, he is running against the weakest Democratic candidate in recent history. For all of president Cheetoh’s severe mental health issues, Sleepy Joe’s senior moments are far more extreme. For this entire campaign season, Biden has been a political non-entity, an empty suit on stage. In the middle of a pandemic and retired from public office, he has no role to play nor any way to campaign in a normal fashion.

It’s unclear if Biden will be able to remain coherent in a one-on-one debate with Trump (Catherine Armecin, Donald Trump Will Beat Joe Biden, ‘Eat Him Alive,’ Joe Rogan Predicts). If nothing else, Trump is brilliant in going after someone’s weaknesses. He also has a talent for handling the media. As for Biden, his handlers have mostly been hiding him from the public and media, afraid of what words might come out of his mouth. Eventually, Biden will have to come out of hiding and it won’t end well. Given half a chance, Trump will eat Biden alive.

To make it even more interesting, Covid-19 will further spread into the political class. One or both of these candidates is likely to become infected over this next year. Neither is close to being at peak health. Even if Covid-19 didn’t kill one or both of them which it could, they might still suffer serious health deterioration and ongoing health concerns, as is common among patients who recover from severe bouts. If nothing else, it would exemplify the risk of putting up for office the oldest candidates in American history.

It’s a complete gamble of what could happen at this point. This election might as well be decided by a coin toss. Both Biden and Trump are politically out of touch with the American people and mentally disconnected from shared reality. No matter which candidate wins, it will be a loss for the American public and American society. And in our country having become a banana republic, the political system is so rigged that more capable leaders can’t rise to the top. The demand for progressivism, kissing cousin of populism, is coming from the bottom-up and this actually gives Trump the advantage.

Strangely, Trump is more likely to offer progressive reforms than Biden, even as he is also more likely to push authoritarian measures — the two historically haven’t always been opposite and I might add that the economic nationalism, a pillar of old school progressivism, has been a position held by Trump for decades as evidenced in videos of him from the 1980s and 1990s. Biden, on the other hand, will simply be a puppet for his fascist masters, as both a war hawk and a deficit hawk. This is what has made it easy for Trump to attack Biden from the political left, in criticizing Biden for his tough-on-crime policies and his repeated attempts to cuts Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ benefits. It was by running to Hillary Clinton’s left on key issues that he beat her.

We are stuck with a choice of bad and worse with it not being clear which is which. Pick your poison, if you feel you must, but do so with open eyes. In either case, America will continue to be poisoned. As previously argued, we will get progressivism, one way or another. But will it be a genuine progressivism of hope or faux progressivism of reaction? Democrats can block the strong demand for justice and fairness from the progressive left. What they can’t deny, though, is the surge for progressivism across the political spectrum. Attacking the political left, as they’ve done, will only further strengthen the far right.

“There is only one choice in this election. The consolidation of oligarchic power under Donald Trump or the consolidation of oligarchic power under Joe Biden. The oligarchs, with Trump or Biden, will win again. We will lose.”
~Chris Hedges, If It’s Biden vs. Trump, This Year’s One-Choice Election Will Be for Oligarchy

“If I go out today and advocate electing as U.S. president the neocon, corporatist, safety-net slashing, longtime racist, private health insurance promoting, war mongering, emoluments taking, opponent of public college education, enemy of major wealth taxes, champion of job-destroying corporate trade agreements, opponent of any serious green new deal, . . . the first question has to be: Yeah? Which one? Which of the two?”
~David Swanson, Why You Should Never Vote for Joe Biden

“To Democrats, it may be self-evident that Joe Biden is far better than Donald Trump, and so they assume that all the bad things he has done will not matter to anyone. Any Democrat in the White House is better than Trump, I hear a lot, and I agree with it. But if you are going to make a clear and powerful case against Trump, you need to be free of the kinds of dirt that are going to muddy your case. If we’re going to point out that the president has been accused by dozens of women of inappropriate touching, we don’t want that message to come from someone who themselves has been accused of inappropriate touching (and who said they are “not sorry” for it). If we’re going to accuse the president of being reckless and warlike, we don’t want the argument being made by a candidate who pushed the most reckless war in the last several decades. If we’re going to accuse Trump of being corrupt, we don’t want a candidate who has done the bidding of the credit card companies while his son took a cushy job with them. If we’re going to call Trump out for separating families, we don’t want a candidate who deported hundreds of thousands of people themselves, and if we’re going to call Trump a racist, we don’t want a candidate who was best friends with segregationists and helped build modern racist policing and imprisonment regime. As with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden’s record is so bad that he’s unable to effectively attack Trump on the areas where Trump is most vulnerable. This is one reason Biden has to resort to simply attacking Trump’s “character” and his “malarkey”—but as I’ve pointed out, Biden himself is of poor character and half of what comes out his mouth is malarkey! He’s exactly the sort of corrupt, sleazy insider politician D.C. is full of, and who we need to get rid of if we’re going to advance the cause of justice.”
~Nathan J. Robinson, Democrats, You Really Do Not Want To Nominate Joe Biden

“So as of right now it’s Trump versus Biden. An incompetent plutocrat president selling himself as an anti-establishment people’s champion while simultaneously advancing garden variety Republican sociopathy, versus a warmongering authoritarian who is too demented to string a coherent sentence together and who is looking more and more credibly to be a rapist.
“Needless to say, this is absolute bullshit.
“How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the electoral contest to run the most powerful government on the planet is between a racist demented right-wing authoritarian warmongering rapist and another racist demented right-wing authoritarian warmongering rapist? How in the hell did this bullshit happen?”
~Caitlin Johnstone, This Absolute Bullshit Would Not Be Possible Without Propaganda

—–

* Some argue that there has never been a president from the Silent Generation. The generations before them had members elected to the presidency. Boomers have had presidents. And even GenXers arguably had Barack Obama, although it depends on where one begins GenX and, even then, barely as he was right on the edge.

We’re not sure we’d agree with this assessment. Trump was born in 1946 and the supposed last year of Silents was 1945. But those cut-off points are arbitrary. His life experience overlaps much with younger Silents. Our father is a Silent and our mother is so close to it that she identifies as a Silent. For those who spent most of their youth in the 1940s and 1950s, it doesn’t make sense to call them Boomers.

Biden is only a few years older than Trump and he is definitely a Silent. These two, Trump and Biden, were born and grew up in the same basic historical moment. It’s probably why they have so much in common, such as their law-and-order, tough-on-crime support of a military and police state. They also both exhibit the casual racism and obtuse white male privilege more typical of that generation.

In that case, the Silents did finally get themselves into the presidency. And it is Trump who represents them. But then again, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were also born in 1946. It’s interesting that all of these first wave Boomers, first year actually, have so much in common with late wave Silents like Biden. As with Trump’s similarities to Biden, Clinton and Dubyah also were white males with that old school assumed privilege and casual racism, not to mention the whole law-and-order schtick.

Despite being from different parties, all four of these rich old white guys have more in common than not. But whatever generation one wants to call them, they came from a drastically different world than the youngest Boomers who mostly grew up with GenXers in the same post-60s culture, violent crime wave, and high childhood lead toxicity rates. So, if we accept this breakdown, the Silent Generation already has had three presidents with one more now hoping to get his chance.

—–

Biden vs Trump: may the craziest man win!
by Freddy Gray

Joe Biden is Demented Racist Shark Food
by Paul Street

Biden’s Delusion About American History
by Miles Howard

Will Joe Biden’s political record come back to haunt him?
from BBC

Joe Biden’s history of austerity
by Ryan Cooper

Joe Biden’s Long Career as a Deficit Hawk Will Come Back to Bite Him
by Jordan Weissmann

WATCH: Joe Biden Once Boasted About Wanting to Cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ Benefits
by Walker Bragman

Why Joe Biden’s Social Security Record Matters
by Nancy Altman

Joe Biden falsely claims he never called for Social Security cuts
by Hunter Walker

Joe Biden Can’t Outrun His Record on Social Security
by Alex Lawson

Biden Says He Won’t Cut Social Security, but His Track Record Shows Otherwise
by Sean Williams

The burden of a 40-year career: Some of Joe Biden’s record doesn’t age well
by Janet Hook

Fact Check: Joe Biden Has Advocated Cutting Social Security For 40 Years
by Ryan Grim

Joe Biden Tried to Cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare for 40 Years
by Branko Marcetic

Biden Says He’s the Workers’ Candidate, But He Has Worked To Cut Medicare and Social Security
by Branko Marcetic

Biden’s record on social security and Medicare is a big liability
by Subir Grewal

Campaign season means ‘law and order.’ Can we break the habit?
by Mary C. Curtis

Before He Was America’s Wacky Uncle, Joe Biden Was a Tough-on-Crime Hardliner
by Patrick Caldwell

Biden Won’t Say If He Still Stands By His Crime Bill’s Ban on Pell Grants for Prisoners
by Madison Pauly

Would Joe Biden Put His Son In Prison For Doing Coke?
by Shane Bauer

On Criminal Justice, Biden Has No Moral Standing Over Trump
by Zak Cheney-Rice

Trump Attacks Biden on Drug Policy From the Left
by Jacob Sullum

Trump Was Tougher on Crime in His 2000 Book Than Biden Was in 1994
by John A. Tures

Will Black Voters Still Love Biden When They Remember Who He Was?
by Eric Levitz

Joe Biden’s Greatest Strength Is His Greatest Vulnerability
by Clare Malone

Joe Biden is losing his glow
by Roxanne Jones

Joe Biden Is Not Helping
by Jamil Smith

Where Is Joe?
by Nathan J. Robinson

Does Anyone Remember Joe Biden?
by Dan McLaughlin

Poll: Biden’s National Lead Over Trump Disappears
by Jazz Shaw

Political Super-Predators

Let’s travel back to the wondrous age of the early 1990s. The Cold War had ended and the culture wars replaced it. It was the End of History and this entailed a sense of anxiety, even moral panic. Change was in the air. One of the changes was seen in the 1970s and even more in the 1980s. A decade after that, it felt like a crisis. There had been a wave of violent crime. That led to a number of crime bills being proposed in the 1990s, although by that point the violence was on the decline, not that anyone was paying attention to such minor details.

We now know it was the result of a twenty-year lag of lead toxicity rates from the rise of post-war mass industrialization and car culture. Basically, lead fucks up brain development of the young. This results in stunted IQ combined with problems of impulse control and aggressive behavior. But the lag time comes from the results not being fully seen until the brain-damaged children reach adulthood. None of this was understood at the time, though. There was simply a sense that something had gone terribly wrong and something must be done about it.

Listen to the fear-mongering of Joe Biden from back in 1993 in his talking about criminal ‘predators’ and realize that Republicans sounded far worse at the time. It was an era of ruthless scapegoating. And reactionary authoritarianism had become bipartisan. Maybe the lead toxicity was impairing the brain functioning of old people too. Such cruel, ignorant words do sound a bit aggressive and lacking in impulse control. Here is Biden ranting:

“We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created…they are beyond the pale many of those people, beyond the pale. And it’s a sad commentary on society. We have no choice but to take them out of society….a cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally … because they literally have not been socialized, they literally have not had an opportunity….we should focus on them now….if we don’t, they will, or a portion of them, will become the predators 15 years from now.”

It was far from limited to Biden. Ignoring Republicans, other Democrats were talking this way. Bill Clinton gained power through racist dog whistles, such as his giving a public speech about the racist crime bill with black convicts chained up behind him and a Confederate/Klan memorial in the background. Even more famously, Hillary Clinton as first lady was just as dehumanizing and demonizing as Biden:

“But we also have to have an organized effort against gangs. Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.”

So, who were they talking about? In early 1990s, I was in high school. That label of predators or superpredators was describing my peers, Generation X. Many people may have forgotten that time or else are too young to have any memory of it. Millennials and Zoomers might be shocked by the kind of language used about the youth back then.

They think they have it bad these days because old people make accusations that they are poor because of eating avocado toast and that smartphones have made them socially stunted. That’s nothing. Back in the day, old people thought my generation was the spawn of the Devil, ridden with soulless sociopaths. Watch some of the movies from that era. Children and youth were commonly portrayed as not only violent criminals but also as monsters, demonically possessed, and other dark fantasies.

Those old white people, Biden a Silent and Clinton a Boomer, were not only yelling at kids to get off of their lawn but to get out of their society and locked away in prisons. That is exactly what followed. It was mass incarceration that targeted the young. The United States prison population was already the largest in the world and it then grew larger still. The schools went into lockdown with security guards and metal detectors. No tolerance policies were put into place and the school-to-prison pipeline was established. Young people were enemy number one.

Here we are still ruled by these hateful neocons, cranky old white people who have become even older and crankier. They won’t just go away and die. Hillary was the last Democratic nominee for presidential candidate. And now it’s creepy Uncle Joe. Of course, Clinton lost to Donald Trump, yet another hateful neocon and cranky old white person, not to mention an old family friend of the Clintons. In that same era during a rape case, Trump pushed for the death penalty of the Central Park Five, the young minorities who turned out have been innocent.

In projecting their own sociopathy, these heartless assholes attacked others as being threatening social deviants. In the decades since that time, these narcissistic authoritarians have done far more damage to our society than all the incarcerated poor and minorities combined. If we wanted to improve the world, I have an opinion about which super-predators should be locked up. Instead, we are discussing which one of these corrupt plutocrats is the lesser evil to be put into the ultimate position of power, president of the United States. So many decades after history supposedly ended, that dark era of history still haunts us.

Biden’s Corruption and Dementia

“Will the Senate investigate Joe and Hunter Biden’s actions in China and Ukraine? We don’t know, but they should. If a two-year investigation of President Trump, Russia and the Trump family was justified to ensure the president isn’t compromised, an investigation into Joe Biden, China, Ukraine and the Biden family is imperative.”
~Peter Schweitzer, Secret Empires *

“It is certainly understandable that people are concerned about the presidential frontrunner having a racist worldview. But what’s really weird and creepy is how few people are discussing the obvious fact that the presidential forerunner is also clearly suffering from the early stages of some kind of dementia. The brain that spouted the gibberish transcribed above would probably score poorly on a basic test for the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, yet discussion of his inability to complete a coherent sentence is relegated to the margins of political discourse. This is someone who is campaigning to have access to the nuclear codes, yet we’re only talking about how he’s kind of racist and not about the fact that his brain is turning into Swiss cheese right before our eyes. It’s freaky.”
~Caitlin Johnstone **

* quoted by Patrice Aymes, Biden Family Corruption: So Common A Thing Democrats & Their Pluto Media Didn’t Notice

** from Open Society blog, Biden’s Brain Is Swiss Cheese and It’s Creepy How Much We’re Not Talking About It

Biden’s VP Debate Performance: Effective or Disrespectful?

I’ve read all the negative responses to Biden by Republicans. My parents are Republicans and they too responded extremely negative. They thought Biden was disrespectful, but beyond just that.

I never saw the video of the debate. So, I can’t speak for the full experience of Biden’s animated performance. But I didn’t get the sense that Biden was being an asshole or acting like a maniac, as Republicans portray him.

I suspect that if Ryan had acted as aggressively Republicans wouldn’t have the same response. Democrats didn’t blame Romney when Obama didn’t perform well. Is Ryan’s relatively lackluster or, if you prefer, subdued performance the fault of Biden or just the fault of Ryan himself?

Does anyone who isn’t a Republican think that Republicans have any valid reason for judging Biden? Or are they just being sore losers? I’m not a big fan of partisan politics, but I don’t mind assertiveness such as Biden’s performance if it serves the useful purpose. Did it serve a useful purpose? I’d really like to know how moderates and independents perceived the debate.

Joe Biden’s laugh in debate: Was he a happy warrior or … a boor?

Joe Biden’s smiling: Was there method to his madness?