Friday, 23 December 2016

Trump saves the GOP (from himself)

Only a few months ago, the pundits were predicting a sorry future for the Republican Party. It was about to tear itself to pieces over the candidature of Donald Trump. And the prediction seemed to becoming true as one leading Republican after another distanced himself or herself from the candidate, often with harsh words. According to Mitt Romney, Trump had "a character and temperament unfit for the leader of the free world." Kingmaker Karl Rove described Trump as "a complete idiot" who is "graceless and divisive." And Senator Lindsay Graham stated, "If we nominate Trump, we will get destroyed ... and we will deserve it."

Boy, was the good senator wrong. Trump won and the GOP rode his coattails to complete political dominance. It controls the presidency, Congress and soon, no doubt, the Supreme Court—a hat trick. Those who scorned him now trudge meekly to Trump Tower to genuflect before King Donald. And any concerns that Republicans may have had about their party seemed to have vanished. Almost 80 per cent say they are very or somewhat optimistic about the party's future.

Ah, the unpredictability of politics. Anyone care to forecast the future of the Democratic Party?

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Supporting the Guardian

I usually start my day taking a look around the world to see what's going on. The look includes perusing three websites, the CBC, the Guardian and Al Jazeera, and sometimes others if my curiosity persists.

All of these are offered free, and freeloading had began to bother my conscience a little. Gathering and collating the news as these fine sources do is a very expensive business, and I thought I should be paying my dues, as I did in the old days when I subscribed to a daily paper. The CBC I pay for through my taxes, so no conscience problem there. Al Jazeera is owned by the government of Qatar (the richest country in the world per capita) and partially funded by the ruling and filthy rich Thani family, so it doesn't really need my few dollars.

The Guardian is a different matter. It has to earn its income from readers and advertisers. Unfortunately, as with much of the media, advertising is dropping off while many readers, and I used to be one of them, exploit the free access. Some online media charge but, so far, not the Guardian. Owned by the non-profit Scott Trust Limited, the Guardian pays no dividends but rather plows any profits back into journalism. The trust's role is purely to "secure the editorial and financial independence of the Guardian."

One of the world's premier media, the Guardian offers a liberal view while often presenting stories of great import hard to find elsewhere. For instance, it broke the Edward Snowden story, revealing the disturbing extent to which the American and British governments were spying on citizens and their leaders around the world.

In order to maintain its high standard of journalism, and its independence, the Guardian welcomes donations. Living in Calgary where all four dailies are conservative, I find a liberal voice welcome and well-worth paying for. For others who wish to support outstanding news-gathering spiced with cogent analysis, you can become a Guardian supporter here or make a one-off contribution here.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Trump exposes the "truth" myth

One of the most common comments voters make about politicians is "I wish they would just tell us the truth." If only that were true. But it isn't. Voters don't want to be told the truth, they want politicians to say what they, the voters, want to hear, things that reassure them in their prejudices.

One of the few favours Donald Trump has done us is expose that fact. Trump is a flamboyant liar. He lies with gusto and glee. He is a showman and like any good showman, he plays to his audience, telling a crowd whatever it wants to hear. And yet Trump supporters insist that their hero "tells it like it is." Actually, he mostly tells it like it isn't. Climate change, for example, according to the Donald, is a Chinese hoax designed to undermine the American economy. Bullshit yes, but it carried him to victory.

One refrain that political audiences especially like to hear is that they aren't responsible for their problems. "They" are responsible. In Trump's world, "they" are immigrants, or Muslims, or the liberal media, or the Chinese, anybody but old stock white Americans. His audiences love every bit of it, truth be damned. Perhaps no demagogic strategy is more effective than scapegoating, no appeal more compelling than an appeal to the tribe.

But Trump's "deplorables" aren't alone in their need for reassurance at any price. Unfortunately, citizens across the spectrum appreciate a little rabble-rousing from time to time. Any politician who cleaves too closely to the truth puts himself at a disadvantage. Successful politicians are inclined to say what pleases their audience, usually with a great deal less dissembling than Trump, but nonetheless something less than the truth. And that, unfortunately, is exactly what we want from them. We do, indeed, get the politicians we deserve.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Everyone has their favourite dictator

Our Prime Minister recently ran into a flood of criticism, particularly from conservatives, for his kind words to the Cubans upon the death of their leader of many years, Fidel Castro. The Trudeaus did indeed have a congenial relationship with Castro, but then, even though we all proclaim our commitment to democracy and human rights, everyone has a favourite dictator.

Certainly conservatives do. There was, for example Margaret Thatcher's infamous fondness for Chile's military strongman, General Augusto Pinochet. She loved to have the old monster in for tea whenever he was in the neighbourhood. And then there is the cozy relationship between the Bush family and the Saudis, which has included visits by Saudi royalty to the Bush ranch in Texas. Indeed, the American politicians who criticized Trudeau's sentiments about the Cuban dictator seem completely unbothered about the massive amount of weapons the U.S. peddles to Saudi Arabia, one of the world's fouler dictatorships.

For that matter, Prime Minister Harper's statement upon the death of Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz wasn't entirely dissimilar to Trudeau's upon the death of Castro, with the same warm from me and mine to you and yours sentiment.

These attitudes are not unexpected. If a dictator does something one supports it is hardly out of place to express respect for it, if for nothing else. Augusto Pinochet imposed neoliberal economics on his country, something dear to Thatcher's heart. And folks on the left cannot ignore Castro's creation of one of the world's best medical care systems, to say nothing of an excellent education system.

From the contrary perspective, the left is less than impressed by neoliberal economics just as social infrastructure is not always a high priority among conservatives. To each his own. The question is whether or not admiring an achievement or two by a dictator justifies having him over for tea or down to the ranch to hold hands, or effusing kind words upon his demise.

I think not. Keep to the facts, I would say. Save the affection for leaders who deserve it, leaders who build democracy and civil rights. Nonetheless, let us not be too critical of those who flatter their favourite strongmen lest we appear as hypocrites. We all, to our common shame, are guilty of it.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Dr. Strangelove redux

I was recently roaming through a list of Rotten Tomatoes best 100 movies of all time when I encountered the 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove. I asked myself if it was worth another viewing. As great a movie as it was, I wondered if it wasn't more than a little passe in this new century, twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War. And than I read in the news that President-Elect Trump had just appointed a retired marine general named "Mad Dog" Mattis as his Secretary of Defence. I decided another look at Dr. Strangelove was definitely in order.

Welcome to the Beltline

After blogging for over ten years as Bill Longstaff and before that as the Matriarchist, I decided to take a short break. It seems the short break has turned into a long break, so I am starting afresh and here I am as Views from the Beltline. A new blog for a new year. Why the Beltline? Well, because that's where I live ... in Calgary.

I took a short/long break after becoming wearied of the lack of civility in the blogging world. There's nothing like anonymity to bring out the worst in people.

Nonetheless, I am drawn back. I enjoy scribbling too much to stay away, and I find there is no better way to ferret out what you really think about something than trying to write it out in clear, concise language.

As for the incivility thing, I will welcome comments but only from authors who identify themselves, i.e. those who have the courage of their convictions. I may accept pseudonyms from bloggers I have gotten to know and respect after my many years on Progressive Bloggers. Anonymous comments will neither be read nor published. And I will, of course, attempt to maintain a civilized tone myself.

So with that caveat, I am back on the Web. I hope you'll join me.