Sunday, August 7, 2016

West Coast Observer: Great divides

In California & beyond

By William Silveira

I have agreed to become a commentator for Moristotle & Co. I hope that what I have to say does not prove to be too soporific to the blog’s readers. And I hope that I will have the inspiration to say something of interest at least once a month.
    You will notice that my moniker is “West Coast Observer.” It had been going to be “Left Coast Observer,” but my physical perch on the “left” coast is not the place of which people think when they hear the term “left coast.” I am located in Central California. My congressional district is solidly conservative Republican and is likely to remain so into the distant future. Many fine people live here. However, their views on national and local issues differ markedly from those of many persons who live in the San Francisco Bay area and the greater Los Angeles area.
    I think some of the greatest divides are on environmental issues. But on the great social issues of our time – in particular a woman’s right to choose abortion to end a pregnancy – are also great divides. I think that if you superimposed a political profile of people in this area on that of persons in some places in Texas or Kansas, you would find those profiles to be remarkably the same. Maybe this is the reason why James Knudsen refers to himself as a “lonely liberal.” James lives here in the Central Valley too.

I hope the readers of Moristotle & Co. had the opportunity to watch some of the televised proceedings of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Rarely have we been presented with such stark choices between political candidates.
    Before watching the conventions, I had had occasions to discuss Donald Trump with acquaintances here. When I queried them about their thoughts on the two candidates, most of them said they just could not vote for Hillary Clinton, and they would cite her alleged duplicity as the reason. And they avowed they were taken with Trump’s promises to “make things better.”
    Unfortunately, many Americans have little acquaintance with history – including the history of totalitarian dictatorships in the 20th century. So when I say to erstwhile Trump supporters, “Yes, he will make America great again, and he will make the trains run on time,” they give me a blank look. (“Has the Toonerville Trolley jumped its track?”) My indirect reference, of course, was to Benito Mussolini, the Fascist Italian dictator who led a civilized nation like Italy into a World War II alliance with the Nazis of Germany. He promised to make Italy great again. Italy was already great. It didn’t need a second-rate demagogue to make it so.
    Watch some old film clips of Mussolini speaking. Trump has the same arrogant tilt of the head and the same gloating self-satisfied grin. In short, both are demagogues, with the same style and the same empty promises. Ultimately the Italian people paid for their trust in his promises with enormous loss of life, suffering, and economic deprivation.
    Marylin and I had occasion to visit old friends, Joe and Shirley Hickman, on July 25. We briefly discussed politics. I mentioned to them my reply to Trump supporters and, though nearly everyone completely misses the historical allusion, Joe Hickman did not. He knew immediately what I was saying, and agreed. And I left there feeling a lot better.

I heard President Obama speak at the Democratic National Convention, and my heart swelled with patriotism and pride that we twice had elected him our President. And I was so pleased that President Obama referred to Trump as a demagogue. That was what Mussolini was, and that is what Trump is. And that’s what Trump’s buddy Vladimir Putin is.
    Our friend Jim Rix, author of Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out, has spoken of the role of fear in human behavior. He has noted that human fear is closely tied to the amygdala, a primitive region of the brain associated with the flight or fight response. And Jim has shown that petty demagogues playing on fear can cause otherwise rational people to do irrational things – such as convicting innocent persons when the crime is ugly enough. Trump is playing on fear and asking us to trust him. He doesn’t even have the aplomb of a used car salesman who must find something positive to say about what he’s trying to sell. You can’t sell used cars on fear alone. 

    I was glad to see that Trump was called out on his fear mongering at the Democratic National Convention, and I hope the voting public will put him back where he belongs – on his TV show taking joy in firing people for an audience that must enjoy seeing their fellow citizens treated badly, even if it’s for money.
    Hillary Clinton will stand up for what is right and just. She will fight for it. She has an excellent track record for doing so.

Copyright © 2016 by William Silveira


  1. Bill, thank you, thank you for signing up for a recurring column, and thank Marylin for suggesting the phrase that became "West Coast." You are also to be commended, along with James Knudsen, for the fortitude to have endured the Central Valley all these years. I could not have done it.

    1. Ditto about the Valley. My sisters still live there, and are still conservative. My brother and I went on to hang out with scientists, and now scarcely know any conservatives other than immediate family. A topic to be rigidly avoided at family reunions. I was recently startled to learn that a cousin I'd always thought of as intelligent and well-educated is a climate change denialist.

      Nothing to add about The Donald. Except.... to me his most salient characteristic is not his demagoguary, but his stupidity and his juvenile bragadoccio. These were obvious when he first became a celebrity a generation ago. How is it that his supporters can miss this, after all these years?

  2. Very well written Bill and I couldn't agree more.

  3. Bill, I'm grateful that Nicholas Kristov's article in the NY Times yesterday, "Clinton’s Fibs vs. Trump’s Huge Lies," supports your qualifier "alleged" as applied to Hillary Clinton's duplicity. Very timely.

  4. welcome,Bill. Is it a failure to remember history, or never having learned it? Even without history, i am concerned about many of our "great divides"...and hope we can find the ways forward together. stronger together. I watched a great deal of both conventions, to my husbands great boredom. Of course now, its the Olympics, ha ha!