Sunday, July 15, 2018

Donald Trump: Literary Giant

     As we approach the one-and-a-half-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency, undoubtedly commentators will take it upon themselves to assess his performance for the eighteen months ending on July 20th. And, in all likelihood, many of those assessments will not be flattering.
     Yet from where I sit, The Donald has not been an unmitigated disaster. Notwithstanding the numerous racist, sexist and puerile tweets from the Tweeter-in-Chief and the countless dysfunctions emanating from the White House, President Trump should be given credit for his accomplishments.
     First up is his revolutionary communication strategy. Love it or hate it, Trump’s use of Twitter as a means of announcing his administration’s positions, plans and policies has been a huge success.
     Trump has violated just about every traditional political rule of conduct and jettisoned conventional communications strategies. He has fashioned himself into America’s first social media president with an electronic bully pulpit having forty million followers.
     Instead of carefully crafted press releases and intricately massaged messages from the White House press secretary, we now have direct, unfiltered, unedited pronouncements from the President himself. No more inoffensive, non-contentious bureaucratese; now it’s Trump’s stream-of-consciousness 24/7.
     But governance-by-Twitter is not Trump’s only accomplishment. Believe it or not, the President has broken new literary ground both verbally and in written form.
     In this past year alone, the President has expanded the English language beyond even what George W. Bush managed to do in his two terms in office. Thanks to Mr. Trump, we now have such words as “bigly”, “yuge”, “schlonged”, “covfefe” and “euphenism.” Not since Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Sheridan’s play The Rivals has anyone twisted the English language so frequently and delightfully.
     My favorite accomplishment in this vein is what Los Angeles Times columnist Virginia Heffernan called Trump’s tweet that Steve Bannon “not only lost his job, he lost his mind.” She labeled it “zeugma” which, it turns out, means a modifier used for two words in a different way.
     Who would have thought that Donald Trump would become a presidential linguistic giant? Not only has he “authored” several books, it turns out that he has also broken new presidential ground in the use of literary devices.
     Zeugma is only the latest in the President’s forays into the creative use of language. Think “foreshadowing” as evidenced by Mr. Trump’s favorite response to media questions: “We’ll see. We’ll see.”
     Or what about his carefully crafted euphemisms such as his “bigger button”, “tiny hands”, “drain the swamp” and “locker room talk”? Or his creative insults like “Sad!”, “Pathetic!”, “the failing New York Times” and “fake news”?
     Then there are his endless epithets such as “Little Marco”, “Crooked Hillary”, “Low Energy Jeb”, “Lyin’ Ted”, “Little Rocket Man” and “Sloppy Steve.” And the “millions” of uses of hyperbole like “the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period”, “we’re going to win so much you may even get tired of winning”, “my I. Q. is one of the highest” and “we’re going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.”
     Donald Trump’s final and perhaps greatest accomplishment has been the validation of the American myth of the self-made man. As Adlai Stevenson, Jr. once said: “In America, anybody can become President. That’s one of the risks you take.”  For that poor youngster waiting to inherit a million or two from his father or that failing businessman filing for bankruptcy for the third time, thanks to Donald Trump, there is now hope. You may not be able to hang on to your house but not to worry; you’ll still have a shot at the White House.          

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Death Notice for Civility

WASHINGTON, D. C. – July 4, 2018
     The American family is sad to announce the death of Civility. Born in 1776, Civility was present at the country’s founding and was carefully nurtured by her Founding Fathers including George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Her enduring effect can be seen throughout the nation’s founding documents including the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
     Over the years, Civility helped a young nation grow and thrive assisted by her siblings Reason and Compromise. Her calming presence allowed for difficult issues to be discussed sensibly often leading to mutually acceptable solutions.
     Hers was not an easy life and, in fact, in the early 1860s, she was hit with a life-threatening ailment called the Civil War. Despite four years of severe illness, Civility persevered and helped oversee the reunification of the nation.
     In every age and era, Civility came under attack from many sides but usually was able to transcend the petty squabbles of the day and overcome many strident differences. Her ever-present equanimity helped defeat historical demons like bigotry, hatred and inequality. She was even able to survive such nasty pestilences as Jim Crow and the KKK.
     It was not advancing years that felled Civility for even at the age of 165 during the early 1940s, she was able to unite the nation in its fight against fascism and tyranny. She became a shining beacon and a glowing example for all citizens of the world.
     It was hoped that Civility could continue to prosper, thrive and grow and thereby spread her good cheer everywhere. However, in recent years, she made fewer and fewer public appearances and was quickly forgotten and ignored.
     The nascence of her fatal illness is hard to identify. Some say it began ten years ago with the advent of the Birther Movement. Others believe her fate was sealed in the presidential campaign of 2016 which was marked by a precipitous increase in name-calling, vitriol and ad hominem attacks. The proliferation of lies, slander and hate-filled invective clearly took a toll on her failing health.
     Much of the blame for Civility’s decline can be placed on one party, possibly even one man. Doctors attending at her deathbed noted multiple wounds and cuts inflicted upon her just within the last two years.
     Civility’s body was riddled with racist sleights, character assassination, gross exaggerations and outright lies. Even when the source of these attacks was identified, they were repeated again and again with few persons intervening to stop them.
     People from all sides pretended to befriend Civility but their actions were often disingenuous or too little, too late. In fact, many people began to engage in uncivil retaliations themselves thereby further endangering the Public Discourse and undermining Civility’s chances for survival.
     On her deathbed, Civility was surrounded by many well wishers but few true supporters. Some paid homage to her achievements but the praise was hollow and ineffective and did little to stem the onrushing tide of boorish attacks.
     Civility was predeceased by Tolerance, Patience and Politeness. She is survived by her ailing mother Democracy who many fear does not have long to live.
     A memorial service for Civility will be held on November 6th. In lieu of flowers or donations, mourners are urged to exercise their franchise.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Associate Justice Trump

     Wishing to facilitate a quick replacement for retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, President Trump took to Twitter today and announced that he would be nominating himself to serve on the U. S. Supreme Court.
     “The Democrats wanted to delay the procedure and make us wait until after the mid-term elections,” said Trump. “But they didn’t count on this brilliant move, did they?”
     Given an opportunity to seal the Court’s rightwing bias, the president wasted no time in naming himself as the new person on the bench, later confirming the announcement tweet at a hastily arranged press conference.
     “Who better to carry out my agenda than me,” Trump said. “After all, I’m the guy who won the last election promising more conservative judges.”
     Dismissing the fact that he is not a lawyer or a judge, the president trumpeted his legal abilities as more than sufficient to qualify him for the highest court in the land.
     “Look,” said Trump. “I have more legal knowledge than half the judges out there. How do you think I’ve been able to get away with not revealing my income tax returns, appointing family members to my Administration and engaging in all manner of conflicts of interest?”
     Some Democrats are confident that the Senate Judiciary Committee will not let Trump’s self-nomination stand but, according to Trump, that seems unlikely.
     “How many senators on that committee?” asked Trump. “21, right? And eleven are Republicans? Believe me, there’s no problem there. Believe me.”
     Questioned about whether he would have time to carry out both his presidential duties and those of an associate justice, Trump assured the assembled press corps that it would not be a problem.
     “I barely spend any time doing presidency stuff as it is,” said Trump. “And if it looks like I need more time to do judgey things, I’ll just cut back on my golf and TV viewing.”

Monday, June 25, 2018

Summer Blockbusters

    Summer is here and that means it’s time for leisurely getaways to the cottage and the beach. And that, of course, means finding the right books to read while relaxing in your hammock or Adirondack chair.
     The latest trend in summer reading is the politician-penned political novel like Bill Clinton’s thriller The President is Missing co-written with actual novelist James Patterson. Other entrants in this new field include:
The Art Of The Steal by Donald Trump and Steve Bannon
     Much to the surprise of many, famed businessman and reality TV star Ronald Drumpf is elected president. Owing nothing to anyone, Drumpf seeks to feather his own nest by inducing foreign dignitaries to stay at his Drumpf-branded hotels and resorts. In an unusual and unexpected plot twist, the new president declares martial law and proclaims himself president-for-life.
Peace For Our Time by Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping
     Loosely based on Neville Chamberlain’s 1938 speech about the Munich Agreement with Adolph Hitler, this political thriller details how North Korean leader Hes Quite Yung plays a feckless U. S. president for a fool. President Dotard returns triumphantly to Washington apparently unaware that he has conceded much in return for a simple hollow promise.
I’m With Stupid by Mike Pence and the Lord
     Crusading Christian Spike Tense makes the penultimate sacrifice and serves as vice president to an out-of-control president thereby keeping him from starting a nuclear war. However, in a cruel twist of fate, when the president is removed from office, Tense takes over and immediately launches nuclear missiles in the Middle East in pursuit of his post-apocalyptic vision. (Sold in a package with the Book of Revelation.)
I’m Also With Stupid by Donald Trump, Jr. with illustrations by Eric
     Two sons of an unexpected president compete for his affections but fail to win his love. Whether it’s shooting big game in Africa or arranging meetings with Russian operatives, Tweedle-Don and Tweedle-Eric consistently annoy their father who is obliged to defend their idiotic escapades.
Not So Sorry, Eh? by Justin Trudeau all by himself
     A little-known Canadian prime minister named Just A. Canuck decides to stand up to a hectoring U. S. president and gains the admiration of many. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Canuck forgets that he’s dealing with the world’s only superpower and eventually must sell off his country’s entire supply of poutine, maple syrup and red serge uniforms to avert complete bankruptcy.
Keep It In Your Pants by Hillary Clinton with an apologia by Bill
      Supremely-qualified Mallory Wonton seeks the highest office in the land but is repeatedly undone by philandering males, first her husband Bubba and then the genitalia-grabbing Fred Frump. Mallory blames her failure on the males in her life including the FBI director and her Democratic opponent Overly Earnest Sanders and not on her decision to forego campaigning in the Rust Belt.
The Russian Candidate by Vladimir Putin and Paul Manafort
     Benevolent despot Vlad the Derailer seeks to tame the American tiger and restore Russian glory. Enlisting an unheeding real estate developer named Urine Trouble, Vlad is able to secure him the presidency and gain his everlasting loyalty due to some shady dealings and a so-called pee-pee tape.
The Elf On The Shelf by Jeff Sessions and Martin Keebler
     A diminutive Alabamian elf is recruited by the president to inconspicuously sit in on meetings and report back to his boss about those who are disloyal. Unfortunately for the elf, he recuses himself from an investigation into possible ties with Russia and earns the wrath of the president. Ultimately, however, the elf redeems himself by doing God’s work by separating children from their parents at the Mexican border.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Well, Pardon Me!

     Traditionally, U. S. presidents exercise their pardoning power judiciously, generally following established protocol, usually doing so near the end of their term and often in accordance with a recommendation from the Office of the Pardon Attorney. 
     President Trump has changed all that, now unilaterally issuing pardons seemingly whenever he feels like it.
     Many have criticized Trump but I think he should be lauded for his generous actions. In the spirit of forgiveness evidenced by the President, I, too, would like to issue my own personal pardons to the following people:
1)  The used car salesman who sold me the 2002 Mazda just before it blew a tie rod through the engine.
2)  The server who gave me two cups of regular coffee for breakfast when I specifically asked for decaf thereby ensuring no afternoon nap that day.
3)  The guy down the street who bought a leaf blower and lends it to everyone on the block.
4)  The woman who cut me off last week before running a red light. (You know who you are!)
5)  My idiot neighbor who mows his lawn at 7 A.M. on Sunday mornings.
6)  The moron who snuck into my parking spot just as I was starting to back up.
7)  The petty bureaucrat at the DMV who let me stand in the wrong line for an hour before telling me to go stand in another hour-long line.
8)  The cable installer who showed up at 4 P.M. after saying that he’d be there between 8 A.M. and noon.
9)  The militant cyclist who sped through the crosswalk causing me to brake so hard I left two strips of rubber on the pavement.
10)  My boss who dumped an urgent file on my desk at 5 P.M. on Friday and said, “Have a nice weekend.”
11)  The guy who hit my parked car leaving $1200 in damage and no note!
12)  The telemarketer who called three times at dinner time to ask me to switch my Internet service provider.
13)  The TV network that switched to regular programming in the middle of the overtime of game seven.
14)  The woman in the eight-items-or-less checkout line who had seventeen items. (I counted!)
15)  The jerk at work who ate the tuna sandwich I left in the fridge with my name on it. (It’s not too late to make amends, Peter.)
          The only pardon I won’t be issuing at this time is to the 63 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump. I’m just not that magnanimous. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Jeff Sessions Strikes Back

     Last week, Attorney General and Chief Elf Jeff Sessions justified the new “zero tolerance” policy regarding immigration at the Mexican border by citing Romans 13 and the Apostle Paul’s command to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purposes of order.  
     Sessions has now decreed that anyone convicted of a crime, charged with a crime or likely to be charged with a crime shall be separated from their children. Sessions cited Matthew 19:14 wherein Jesus said: “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me.”
     “As much as I support President Trump,” said the former senator from Alabama. “It is clear to me that I must apply the law fairly, evenly and impartially. Consequently, I am obliged to separate Mr. Trump from his children.”
     While not identifying any crime that the president has been convicted of, Sessions did suggest that the fact that Trump is under investigation by Robert Mueller, is under legal attack from Stormy Daniels and could be indicted on any number of income tax and conflict of interest charges is more than sufficient justification to take his children away from him.
     Rumors abound that federal agents have already removed Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner from the White House for their own safety.
      As Ivanka and Jared were being whisked away to an unnamed detention facility, agents were also descending on Trump Tower in Manhattan to rescue both Don, Jr. and Eric. Both sons reportedly fiercely resisted their apprehension but were eventually subdued with Eric’s elephant tranquilizer gun.
     As the two sons were driven to an abandoned Walmart in Westchester County, further unconfirmed reports issued claiming that steps have been taken to remove the children of Trump insiders for their own safety and the safety of the nation. Paul Manafort, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon were not available for comment although their children appear to be greatly relieved.  
     As for Attorney General Sessions, he has apparently been unable to stop smiling.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Fifty-dollar Non-disclosure Agreement

     What’s a reasonable amount to buy your silence with a non-disclosure agreement? Is it the $130,000 allegedly paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels? Or maybe it’s the $150,000 doled out to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to shut her up.
     In my case, the price to keep me quiet was less, a lot less, as in fifty dollars. Let me explain.
     My story begins with a Caribbean getaway last March booked through a firm I’ll call Sunwing because that, in fact, is the firm’s name. My wife and I travelled to Cayo Coco in Cuba and were looking forward to a restful, sunny beach holiday. Sadly, that was not to be.
     The trip was not an unmitigated disaster but there were enough shortfalls that we felt that some compensation was owing to us. We stayed in an aging, mold-infested room with peeling paint although, on the bright side, we had hot water, a comfortable bed and a functioning air conditioner.
     The resort was recovering from Hurricane Irma and we therefore made allowances for that. However, Irma did not excuse the sad condition of the resort’s public washrooms or the stagnant, fetid pool outside the main restaurant. Most importantly, we happened to be there when the resort was restoring its beach resulting in murky water and no shade umbrellas or palapas.
      There were other minor irritants but it was the loss of the beach for our one-week stay which we felt deserved some compensation. Not a full refund or anything close to that amount but at least a token ten or twenty percent reduction in the overall cost of our package.
     So once we got back home, I took computer keyboard in hand and wrote the tour operator, outlined the problems we encountered and requested some money back. Not surprisingly, the operator blamed everything on the resort and said it wasn’t responsible for its shortcomings.
     I persisted in my complaint and was ultimately successful in getting Sunwing to agree to have the resort compensate us fifty dollars for our troubles. And that was no ordinary fifty dollars; it was $50 US or approximately $65 Canadian.
     At that point, I figured why not take the token offering and be done with it. After all, it was clear that unless I was willing to go to the trouble of filing a small claims court action, I wasn’t likely going to squeeze any more blood out of this particular stone.
     So I printed off the form Sunwing required me to sign in order to access the wealth on offer. What I was asked to sign, however, looked to be drafted by an understudy of Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen.
     The payment would not be an admission of liability by Sunwing and the resort. Fair enough. And the fifty dollars would be a final settlement of any claims I might have had. Also fine by me.
     What rankled, however, was the final paragraph which was essentially a hush agreement and a non-disclosure agreement rolled into one. If I signed, I would be prohibited from “directly or indirectly” talking about our negative experience “to anyone in any way.”
     The terms of the settlement would be confidential and we would agree that our intention would be to “avoid and prevent publicity regarding the settlement.” Finally, if I breached the terms, I agreed that such breach would cause “unquantifiable damages” to the tour operator and the resort.
     As I had already directly informed a number of friends and relatives about our “negative experience” and indirectly informed many more people in a published opinion piece, I couldn’t, in all good conscience, agree to the onerous terms on offer. More importantly, it seemed totally unfair and completely over the top to muzzle me forever for the grand total of fifty dollars even if it was in American currency.
     So I told Sunwing to take a hike and keep their fifty dollars. It turns out that it’s worth a whole lot more to me to preserve my freedom of speech. It’s also far more satisfying to vent than to dream about how I might have spent that giant payout.
     If a six-figure settlement had been on offer like those available to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, I can’t claim that I would have taken the high road. But I do know that my principles are worth something more than fifty bucks. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

It's A High School Election

     Thursday is Election Day in Ontario and, if you’re like many Ontarians, you’re finding it awfully hard to make up your mind whether to vote at all, much less decide who you should actually cast your ballot for.   
     This state of affairs is hardly surprising given the less-than-stellar field of leadership candidates on offer. Yet we are a democratic society, this is an election and it behooves us all in Ontario to make our best efforts to select someone, anyone. As Melania Trump might put it, we should “Be Best.”
     If you’re still resistant, hear me out and hopefully I can provide you some guidance as to who you should vote for. As I see it, this election bears an uncanny resemblance to those we participated in years ago to choose our class president in high school.
     Think about it. Doug Ford is the popular jock who doesn’t really care that much about platforms and policies. He’s running on his personality and is appealing to the frat boy in all of us.
     The PC leader promises everything to everybody including tax cuts, hydro rate decreases and gasoline price reductions at the same time he says we’ll get more spending on heathcare and education. A detailed platform and costed policies are for nerds and eggheads. Doug the jock wants you to once again enjoy a buck-a-beer lifestyle in Ontario.
     Kathleen Wynne, on the other hand, is that nerdy egghead everyone in high school loved to hate. While she is undoubtedly bright and experienced, she can’t help coming off like some old tyme schoolmarm lecturing and hectoring one and all.
     To her credit, she has the courage and honesty to admit that her chances on Thursday are somewhere between zip, zero and nada. But even when doing so, she can’t help complicate the situation by urging people to vote Liberal, not to reelect her to Queen’s Park but rather to allow her party to prevent the PCs or the NDP from forming a majority government. If you’re parsing things that closely and voting strategically to that degree, you’re likely as nerdy as her.
     Finally, there’s Andrea Horwath, the quintessential goody two shoes who just can’t help herself. Remember that girl back in high school who supported every noble cause, went to bat for every weirdo and loser and adopted every stray cat and dog? Well, that’s Andrea, the conscience of the province.
     And nobody likes a conscience. The last thing you wanted in high school was to feel guilty about not doing your share or somehow being less sainted than anyone else. Let Mother Theresa be Mother Theresa but God forbid that she gets to run the show and rub it in our collective face.
     So what’s the answer? Well, just like high school, pick your clique and vote accordingly. If you’re a jock or someone who just likes to party, then vote for Mr. Party On himself: Doug Ford.
     But if you see yourself as an informed intellectual or what others call a policy wonk or what we all called a nerd back in high school, then Kathleen Wynne’s your choice.
     And if social causes, both real and lost, are your thing, then Andrea Horwath is the gal for you. You might not be voting for the winner but you’ll get a nice hit of sanctimony in doing so.
    Maybe you’re saying this approach doesn’t work for you, that you don’t see yourself fitting into any of these three cliques. Fear not; that simply means that you’re a member of that final clique: the rebels and outcasts. If that was your high school label then you can just spoil your ballot or not vote at all or if you really want to let your freak flag fly, vote Green.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Aesop's Modern Fables

     Aesop, the ancient Greek slave and storyteller, created numerous character-based fables, each ending with a moral. If he were alive today, he might be telling the following tales:
The Peacock, Twitter and the Fox
     A vain Peacock once announced that he wanted to become President. Everyone laughed and said it was a joke and that he could never win.
     But the Peacock enlisted his avian friend Twitter to help him and began insulting all his opponents and eliminating them one by one. He made all kinds of crazy promises and said he would “Make America Great Again.”
     The Peacock then engaged the Fox and his news network to help him in his quest and the Fox demonized and vilified his final opponent and helped him win the presidency to the surprise of almost everyone including himself.
MORAL:  Never underestimate the gullibility of the American electorate.
The Donkey and the Elephant
     One early winter’s day, the Donkey was moping around worrying about the sad state of things and how he would possibly be able to feed his family over the winter months. He spotted the Elephant and thought it would be wise to ask his advice since the Elephant had always preached the gospel of frugality and fiscal responsibility and surely would know what to do.
     When the Donkey explained his dire situation, the Elephant simply laughed and started dancing. “There’s nothing to worry about,” said the Elephant. “All I have to do is pass a bill with a huge tax cut for me and my friends and we’ll be set for life.”
     “Thank you Mr. Elephant,” said the Donkey. “I feel so much better knowing that we all will be fine this winter.”
     “Not so fast,” said the Elephant. “Those tax cuts aren’t for you although I’m sure that some benefit will eventually trickle down.”
MORAL:  Don’t worry about balancing the books so long as you have majorities in both houses of Congress.
The Orange Tortoise and the Hare
     The Hare was boasting of her electoral prowess, especially against Elephants.
     “I’ve seldom been beaten,” said she. “I am very skilled and I challenge anyone to a presidential race.”
     The Orange Tortoise called her “Crooked Hare” and took on her challenge notwithstanding he had never held elective office.
     A course was set and the race began. The Hare ran almost out of sight but soon stopped and, to show her contempt for the Orange Tortoise, lay down for a nap and chose not to campaign in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
     The Orange Tortoise plodded on and by the time the Hare awoke and realized her mistake, it was too late and she lost the race although not the popular vote.
MORAL:  Plodding and plotting win the race. A popular vote victory is meaningless if you don’t win the Electoral College.
The Russian Fox and the American Crow
     A Russian Fox once made friends with an American Crow and made sure he obtained some kompromat on his new ally. To show he was the Crow’s friend, he did everything he could to help him win the White House.
     Once the Crow had the presidency in his beak, the Fox congratulated him and flattered him.
     “You are an amazing politician and your skills surpass those of all others,” said the Fox. “And since you are so smart, I know you will lift any sanctions against me.”
     The Crow lifted up his head, cawed in victory and in the process dropped the sanctions and was eventually impeached.
MORAL:  Do not trust flatterers even if they provide you with favors be they financial, political or sexual.
The Pig and the Chick
     One day, a famous Pig was tired of dealing with his third wife and her new baby so he ventured out to satisfy his needs. He soon ran into an attractive Chick and asked her if she would like to recreate some of her video roles with him.
     The Pig and the Chick engaged in various relations although apparently only of the textbook generic variety. The Pig thought little of the affair until years later he found himself running for President and afraid that the story would harm his chances.
     A lawyer was engaged to discuss the matter with the Chick who agreed to take $130,000 in return for signing a non-disclosure agreement. Unfortunately, the Pig forgot to sign the agreement which led to much litigation and possible impeachment.
MORAL: Don’t engage in extramarital affairs but, if you must, ensure that you get an ironclad, enforceable NDA at the time of the breakup to avoid later complications.