The Trump “Movement:” Fascism as Cult

I have been of the opinion for some time that the “movement” around now President-Elect Donald Trump is a cult. This view has been expressed by writers in several publications (see here, here, and here, for example).

I have also expressed my belief that Trump is a fascist. The possibility that Trump is the center of a fascist incursion into our political system has also been explored by writers in a number of publications (for example, here, here and here.)

Now I want to put these ideas together and explore the possibility that fascism is, by its nature, a cult.

I previously published a blog post in which I asserted that religion is essentially ideology. I noted that religious ideas and political ideologies have common elements and intersections. I noted that there are modern “ideologies that have had tremendous power at various times and in various societies, and operate in ways similar to religion. Among these are communism, capitalism, fascism, Nazism, and various expressions of nationalism. Cult-like ideologies created around national leaders have also arisen in the 20th century – Peronism, Maoism, and the cult of the “Leader” in North Korea are three notable examples.”

Umberto Eco famously identified 14 defining characteristics of “ur-fascism.” His list includes:

  • the cult of tradition;
  • the rejection of modernism;
  • action for action’s sake;
  • rejection of critical distinctions as a sign of modernism;
  • disagreement within society seen as a sign of unacceptable diversity;
  • individual or social frustration;
  • for those experiencing social frustration, the only privilege is to be born in the same country;
  • followers feel humiliated by the ostentatious wealth and force of their enemies;
  • life is lived for struggle;
  • an aristocratic and militaristic elitism that expresses contempt for the weak;
  • everybody is educated to become a hero;
  • permanent war and heroism being difficult, the Ur-Fascist transfers his will to power to sexual matters;
  • a selective, qualitative populism;
  • and, the use of “newspeak,” as defined by George Orwell.

This reads a lot like a description of Trump and his followers.

The other part of the equation is the concept of “cult.” Cults figure importantly in the history of religions. The simplest and most neutral meaning of the term is the devotion of a group to a divine being.  The cults of Mithra, Isis, Dionysus, and other deities in the Greco-Roman world are part of the western cultural heritage. The worship of Jesus as a god has been described by some scholars as a version of the cult of the dying and rising god (Osiris and Dionysus, for example). The cult of the Virgin Mary is a dominant element of Roman Catholic Christianity, and has been for centuries.

But the term has taken on a more negative connotation in the 20th century. In 1981, Robert Jay Lifton, MD, then a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, published a paper entitled “Cult Formation” in The Harvard Mental Health Letter. In this paper, Lifton identified three characteristics of cults:

  1. a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose their power;
  2. a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;
  3. economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the ruling coterie.

 Lifton was concerned with the psychological process by which an organization becomes a cult. Numerous books and papers have been published by authors claiming to have a detailed understanding of how cult leaders are able to manipulate and control their followers. However, there is a great lack of consensus regarding the credibility and objectivity of this literature. Much of it demonstrates religious or anti-religious bias. The credentials and overall integrity of some “experts” have been vociferously challenged. The best scholarly information has been derived from the study of extreme cults and their leaders: the (Charles) Manson “family,” Jim Jones and Jonestown, and the Branch Davidians (Waco, TX).

A major, and consistent, element of cults is the leaders’ lack of accountability to the followers. The leader is exempted from the normal moral constraints the apply to other member of society. This is especially true in matters of sexual conduct and financial management. Behaviors that would normally be branded as sexual predation and financial scams are overlooked, excused, or even praised when practiced by the cult leader.

In my opinion, the Trump “movement” has all of the trappings of a cult.

But if the Trump “movement” is a point of intersection between fascism and cult, is it not reasonable to consider whether fascism is, by its nature, a cult? I believe so. In fact, it now appears to me that we can apply the contemporary definition of cult to all expressions of ideology that have at their center the person of a founder or leader. Fascism is one such expression, but it is one of several.

What we are looking at is the situation that is created when a cult takes control of the government of a nation-state.The task that we face is that of wrenching our democracy out of the hands of a cult leader and his inner circle who have, through subversion of the democratic process, the undermining of free and fair elections, the corruption of executive agencies, the complicity of the media, and, probably, the assistance of foreign enemies, taken control of the national government.

What we know about freeing people from the grasp of cults is that it is extremely difficult. “De-programming,” when successful, occurs on an individual basis. Cult members passionately embrace their new reality and view any effort to break their connection to it as a violation of their personhood. Indeed, so-called de-programmers walk a fine line between lawful intervention on behalf of loved ones and criminal acts of abduction and unlawful restraint. To their beneficiaries they are life-saviors and heroes. To their detractors they are zealots, vigilantes, and criminals.

But the de-programming of a single individual, or even a small group of people, pales in comparison to breaking the hold of a charismatic leader on thousands of people. The cult followers are still a minority of the US population. But it does not require the active support of the majority for a dictatorship to hold power. It requires only the ability to intimidate and demoralize the opposition, provide symbolic victories for the believers, and have at hand a ready supply of scapegoats to blame for the regime’s inevitable failures.

Liberals (and especially members of the Democratic Party) are conflicted about the way to deal with the right-wing regime and its followers. Some liberal-minded people are ready to try to reach the “hearts and minds” of Trump’s followers. But they have been encouraged to turn off their minds and harden their hearts.

So, what strategy is left?

I am not so arrogant as to think that I have the best answer to this question. I will also admit that I have done what I criticize other for doing: presenting an analysis of a problem without proposing a solution. I do plan to follow-up with some suggestions for action. But for now I want to put our current situation into an historical, cultural, and psychological context.

We cannot defeat an enemy we don’t understand.


Under Aerial Bombardment

As I write this, I’m under an aerial bombardment. Not really. It just feels – or, more precisely, sounds – like it. The Chicago Air and Water Show 2016 is upon us.

The US Air Force and Navy are using area military bases as launch sites as they practice their routines. Unfortunately, their flight path over the lake brings them over my neighborhood. When they get into full high speed performance mode, it sounds like Edgewater is under attack, experiencing the full force of the US military machine.

This is the time when I most wholeheartedly empathize with people whose cities have experienced the destructive force of modern air attacks – the people of Beirut, Belgrade, Gaza City, Baghdad, Aleppo, Sanaa, and other cities, mostly in the Middle East and North Africa. The distant roar that becomes an earthshaking rumble. The low growl that becomes a high pitch screech. Everything but the unleashing of missiles and rockets.

Chicago is under attack. No, we won’t be bombed, just brainwashed. The Chicago Air and Water Show is a giant publicly financed commercial for the nation’s military industrial complex. You and I are paying to have our children bedazzled into the cult of war.

The Air and Water Show is a showcase for the so called “defense industry.” The show’s web page gives military contractors full recognition for their contribution. The show is co-sponsored by Shell Oil – polluter (both in the US and Africa), PAC contributor, lobbyist, and producer of military jet fuel. The list of participants in the show pays homage to McDonnell Douglas (the F/A-18) and Lockheed-Martin (the F-18, and the overpriced, underperforming F-35).

Of course, there are the vintage military aircraft with all their historical significance and elegance of design. There are the vintage civilian aircraft of equal importance and beauty. They celebrate our country’s contribution to the history of flight, from Kitty Hawk to the Mars Rover. But the overarching theme is military prowess. The victorious past is evoked to conjure up a victorious, secure future, all the while obscuring the violent, resource devouring, unaccountable global thrashing of an empire trapped in endless war. (Not coincidentally, the TV networks are filled with recruiting commercials for the Air Force.)

Yes, I view the Air and Water Show with contempt. Our public schools are being destroyed. The working people of the city are being taxed beyond our means. The weekend of the show will doubtlessly register another tragic toll of shootings and gun deaths. The infrastructure of Chicago and the rest of America is in desperate need of repair, maintenance, and upgrading. But the military continues to consume limitless resources while, in collaboration with our civic elites, it distracts us with spectacles.


The Millenial Vote and the Politics of Distraction (Part II: Conspiracy, no. Theory, yes.)

In Part I of this article, I offered the idea that The Game of Thrones (TGoT) and Pokémon Go contributed to the disengagement of millenials from the political process by luring them into alternate worlds that are more satisfying than the one where we struggle with the complexity of real politics.

Perhaps this is overthinking and overreach. And I have to confess (as I have done previously) that I have never watched The Game of Thrones. If I want Eurofantasy, there’s Wagner. If I want to see nudity and sex, there’s the rest of HBO and Showtime. If I want unremitting violence, I can watch foreign media coverage of the carnage that occurs throughout the world on a daily basis.

On the other hand, I am a little more familiar with Pokémon, having grandchildren who collect the cards and play the game, and occasionally watching the charming animé TV series with them.

I read many of the same online news sources that millenials follow: Salon, Vice, Slate, Huffington Post, and even occasionally Buzzfeed. I frequently look at Redeye, a free local newspaper targeted toward the millennial demographic. In all of these media, the mix of news and entertainment is organized within clear boundaries. “Straight” news stories might appear on the same page with entertainment news and food and drink news, but there is little if any likelihood of a reader being confused about the category to which the content of each story belongs.

Except for The Game of Thrones. Reporting on TGoT is treated pretty much like straight news. Not just as entertainment news (we’re way past coverage of ratings and behind the scenes stories), but as “real news.” (For Redeye articles on TGoT, look here and here. For other media entries look here and here and here.) Once you get into the article, you have to wonder whether they’re writing about the plot of a TV show or a capsule of events in the real world.

So, who watches The Game of Thrones? Obviously everyone. But, in fact, the viewing demographic is heavily weighted toward the younger demographic. However, the ratings services define the demographic group as 18-49, which makes it difficult to separate the millenials from the “GenXers.”

Pokémon Go is based on the pursuit and capture of otherwise invisible characters that appear on a person’s smartphone screen. Thousands of people worldwide are at any moment looking at the world as configured on their screens, searching for an incongruent image. Add to these the thousands who walk their cities’ streets focused on text messages, only peripherally in touch with the world beyond their screens, and you have legions of humans navigating the world with their heads bent, eyes fixed on smartphone screens. The difference between the two groups is that in the case of text reading, the outer world is intentionally blocked out by the smartphone. In the case of Pokémon Go, the world is not blocked out as much as redesigned – smaller, rectangularized with sharp edges, and, if the player is fortunate, inhabited by a Pokémon.

So, who is playing Pokémon Go? Would we be wrong to predict that it is people who enjoy technology, who regularly play digital games, and who formed an attachment to Pokémon as children?  And data confirm that the majority of players are millenials.

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Beginning in 1999, the Matrix series of films presented the world as a Gnostic myth. The films dramatized the neoplatonic concept of the world as illusion, where only the truly enlightened are able to see beyond the façade of appearances into reality.

Is the world in which Pokémons become visible when seen through a special lens less real than one that we see without (we believe) the aid of technology? Is the world in which people engage in the cyclical rituals of electoral politics more real than the politics of Westeros? Imaginary worlds present formidable competition to the real one. The strength of that competition is open to question. We accept the value of fiction as a source of distraction, but also a source of insight and inspiration. And the mature mind is willing to accept the words “The End” and exit the fictional world and re-enter the drudgery of everyday life.

I am not given to conspiracy theories. I don’t accept them and I don’t pass them along. I don’t believe that the “corporations” have decided to sell people distractions in order to keep them away from political engagement.  The goal of business is to sell us the products that make us feel better. By definition these products distract us from the many things over which we have no control. By buying the product we gain some control or at least the semblance of control, over some area of life, for some period of time.

None of us can completely ignore the placebos offered us by the corporations. We are consumers. The issue is how much we surrender to the culture of consumption. The challenge is to know when we’re being seduced by illusions presented to us by corporate advertising. We can enjoy the products the corporations sell us without buying into the belief that these products will give us access to a world that is better than the one we’re stuck with.

I am not blaming a TV show or an online game for the disconnection of young adults from politics. They are just the currently dominant and most publicized distractions. Their uniqueness is their capacity to present alternative versions of reality that are capable of drawing in large numbers of people.

I am also not condemning those in the current generation of young adults who have chosen to opt out of politics. After all, I came of age in the 1960s, when a large number of young people followed the path of “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll,” and the admonition to “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.” Unfortunately, it took eight years of Richard Nixon to call some of them back into the world. And I fear that even one year of Donald Trump will create a dystopian world from which escape will be very difficult indeed.


The Millenial Vote and the Politics of Distraction (Part I: Demographics and Dire Warnings)

The Republican National Convention formally nominated Donald Trump and Mike Pence in an orgy of hatred and fear mongering. This week the Democratic National Convention will confirm Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine as its presidential and vice-presidential candidates.

Rational people will rally behind the Democratic candidates and reject the Trump rhetoric of racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. They will reject the litany of lies and the evocation of failed ideas and programs that constitute the Republican Platform. But people – even generally rational people – are not always rational. Often they let their emotions and desires govern their political and economic choices.

So, while Clinton and Kaine should achieve a solid victory over their opponents, we cannot simply assume that this victor is inevitable. We must consider the fact that, given our electoral system, enough of the American people could be seduced by the snake oil sales pitch of Donald Trump to give the Republicans the White House.

Radical film-maker Michael Moore has predicted a Trump victory. He believes that the frustrations of alienated white men in the “rust belt” states will lead them to respond to Trump’s message of restoring US manufacturing and rejecting injurious trade agreements. This, coupled with the sense of diminished status and power in an increasingly non-white America, will be enough to bring about a Republican victory.

He reiterated this view on the Bill Maher show last week. He was challenged by fellow panelist Joy Reid, who argued that Blacks, a crucial Democratic voting bloc, will turn out in great numbers for the presidential election, even though they tend to sit out so called “midterm” elections – actually enormously important congressional and state elections.

Reid’s comment highlighted the issue of turnout, the key factor in Democratic electoral victories. We are currently living with the consequences of the low turnout of important Democratic constituencies in 2010 and 2014. And while we can hope with some confidence for a large turnout among Black, Hispanic, Jewish, Asian, LGBT, and other Democratic groups, the one group about which we need to be seriously concerned are young voters.

The “Millennial Generation,” those aged 19-29, have been shown to vote in lower percentages in elections at all levels. The United States Elections Project tracked the voting trends of various demographic groups from 1984 to 2016. Millenials trail all other age groups in the percent voting in elections. They do consistently vote at higher levels in presidential elections than in congressional elections. And they significantly increased their participation in the elections of 2008. But their voting numbers declined in the elections of 2012.

The recent trend in declining participation by 19-29 year olds bodes badly for Democrats if it continues into this year’s presidential election. And the current trend, indicated by participation in 2016 primary elections, indicates that it will. A Harvard University Study, reported in US News and World Report, found that young voters are no longer a reliable constituency of the Democratic Party. Millenials demonstrate a distrust of the political system and the political parties. They have not attached themselves to one of the other parties, but have disengaged from the system as a whole. While the campaign of Bernie Sanders may have generated enthusiasm among young potential voters, it did not significantly increase their turnout in the primaries. Although millenials voted for Sanders over Clinton by wide margins in key state primaries, the percentages of young voters who turned out was far below the percentage of older voters, who overwhelmingly favored Clinton.

There are many reasons why young adults are not engaged in the political process. Many attended high school in an era when Civics was not a required part of the curriculum. Many are struggling to get through college while working to pay tuition, and graduates are burdened with substantial student loans. Many encounter difficulty in making social connections and forming significant relationships.

The stresses on young people are often tremendous. And coping with these stresses seldom takes the form of tackling their alienation at its source and fighting to change the political and economic system. Often the path taken is that of escapism, shutting down the stress by withdrawing from it, in effect, self-medicating. For some, it’s the continuation of the “Joe College” and “Jane Coed” culture of weekly overconsumption of alcohol. For some it’s engaging with technology. The ubiquity of digital diversion provides a ready escape from the anxiety of everyday life. Video games and binge watching television shows has become an accepted retreat from day-to-day reality.

In this context I have noted two major sources of escape that happen to loom large on the scene just as Americans should be turning our attention toward the most important election in a generation. These are The Game of Thrones and Pokémon Go. These two products have in common that they fairly successfully substitute virtual universes for the real world we live in.

I’ll discuss this more in Part II of this article.


The Family was Cancelled. What it Tells Us About Serious Drama on TV.

In a recent post I stated that, in my opinion, The Family was the best new TV series. Was is the operative term; true to form, ABC has cancelled this program. But we shouldn’t worry. The network has renewed some good programs, including Black-ish, How to Get Away with Murder, and American Crime. It’s also renewed fan favorites The Bachelor, Dancing with the StarsGrey’s Anatomy, Quantico, and Once Upon a Time.

There is possibly some logic to this cancellation decision. Let’s consider what was cancelled and what was renewed. Sitcoms are the most successful category of show. They have a good chance of going on forever (The Middle and Modern Family are entering their eighth seasons.)  Soap operas (Gray’s Anatomy, Scandal) are a staple; they have a loyal audience and attract sponsors. Crime shows are also quite popular. And shows that combine elements of both soap opera and crime story (How to Get Away with Murder) have a lot going for them . “Reality” shows and quiz shows are also long lived: The Bachelor has run for 20 seasons, Shark Tank for 7, and Dancing with the Stars for 22. But shows in each category were also cancelled, apparently due to low ratings. And new shows in each category are scheduled for the coming fall season.

The most interesting (and, in fact, encouraging) thing about the ABC schedule is the fact that American Crime has been renewed.  This leads me to an observation about what can succeed on network TV. The Family was a dark series, steeped in angst. Its events unfolded in the present and the past, revealing the obsessions and lies that defined its characters, one episode at a time. The stories told on American Crime were similarly dark and tragic. Each episode uncovered secrets and drew us deeper into the lives of the characters.

The biggest difference is that each season of American Crime was a complete story. However ambiguous the conclusion (and they were ambiguous – by design) each season followed the standard structure of drama: it had a beginning, a middle, and an end – a central conflict, an exposition, development, and a climax, with the resolution left for the viewer to imagine.

The Family, on the other hand was conceived as an ongoing, multiseasonal , series.  In a TVLine interview, showrunner Jenna Bans discussed her plans for the future of the series. The loose ends left in the season finale that became the series finale were to be explored in the next season.  But it is not clear how the story would expand and develop over subsequent seasons. But that seems to be true for a lot of series.

TV series are developed in the hope that they will continue over many years. This is understandable: a TV show, like a feature film, is a massive undertaking. It is comparable to a major construction project, involving many different trades, a lot of physical material, and a lot of coordination. One need only look at the closing credits of an hour-long episode of a TV show to see the number of workers in various crafts (often mandated by union contracts) that are required to create the show. The budget per episode for the average show is over $3 million. That’s a lot of money and it’s expected to generate profits.

The concept and structure of the TV drama has changed a lot over time. In the early history of television, one successful format was the drama series structured as an anthology. Each week featured a different story, with a different cast, all produced by the same company.  The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Kraft Television Theatre, Studio 57, Zane Grey Theater, Playhouse 90, Science Fiction Theatre, Danger, Armstrong Circle Theatre, Lights Out, Play of the Week, and Fireside Theatre are some of the anthology series that were mainstays of the 1950s and ‘60s.

The current TV scene has featured successful season-long anthology-like series. American Crime, True Detective, and American Horror Show are three shows that have revived the extended anthology format. They have been successful, critically acclaimed (notwithstanding the second season of True Detective), and popular.

Had The Family been one story in an extended anthology, it might have ended with greater finality, to be followed by another engaging exploration of the dark side of the human psyche struggling to find the light.

In my opinion really good shows are more likely to get cancelled while the bland, stupid, and  vacuous ones are likely to get renewed.  But, I cannot claim to be objective.  I’m sure that my criteria are as subjective as the next person’s. But shows like The Family are rare enough to make me want more of them.


Hillary’s “Unfavorables:” Is She Paying for the Shortcomings of Bill and Barack

I have an idea about why Hillary Clinton’s “unfavorables” are so high, especially among supporters of Bernie Sanders. I have heard more than I care to about the “civil war” within the Democratic Party between Hillary and Bernie supporters.  Liberal talk radio is filled with unconditional condemnation of Ms. Clinton by people who take the “Bernie or bust” position. Perhaps not too surprisingly, these critics include Millenials, Gen-Xers, and a few Baby Boomers. I have heard vociferous rejection of Clinton by women as well as men.

We have come to accept without question the fact that Hillary Clinton is viewed with such disfavor by the voting public in general and by certain Democrats in particular. But, this acceptance should be questioned. What has she done that generates such unrelenting condemnation? Is she being made the scapegoat for the failings of the men who preceded her as Democratic presidents?

The Jewish scriptures include a humorous and insightful episode. The god has appointed Adam, the first human, with the assistance of his wife Chava, to supervise the game preserve where he has placed all of the living creatures. At the end of Adam’s first day on the job, the god arrives, looking to find Adam, who it turns out has broken the only rule that the god has imposed. In his defense, Adam claims that his infraction wasn’t his fault; it was “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” Thus, Adam manages to blame his wife and his god.

There is a tendency in many societies, including our own, to blame women for the failings of society in general and of men in particular. Women need to dress “modestly” in order to prevent men from sexually assaulting them. It’s Mom’s fault that Billy can’t do his math homework.  Men have affairs because their wives are sexually unsatisfying or emotionally distant.

It’s my opinion that the Hillary Clinton is the victim of misplaced anger at and disappointment with Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Ms. Clinton is criticized for not being a real “progressive.” She is accused of being too close to “Wall Street.” She is supposedly too “hawkish” because of her vote (with 76 other Senators, 28 of them Democrats) authorizing the invasion of Iraq. She is held accountable for the harsh federal sentencing policies put in place by her husband and supported by most of the Congress, including the Black Caucus (with reservations).

The fact is that neither of the two Democratic presidents before her was a “progressive.” Bill Clinton transformed the Democratic Party into a bad imitation of the Republicans. He welcomed the corporate elites into the Democratic inner circle. He was a genuine friend of notable establishment Blacks, while helping to shred the safety net needed to hold Black families together when the tech bubble that generated his vaunted budget surplus went bust. He cynically chose to keep hands off the genocide in Rwanda while raining hell from the skies over Zagreb.

And America paid dearly for his arrogance. His sexual appetites opened him to the legal sanctions he had avoided despite the years-long probing of his finances. His anticipation of the growing power and expanding reach of radical Islam came to nothing. His efforts to blunt Al-Qaeda were dismissed as a “wag the dog” ploy. He was tried before the Senate for lying about sex with an intern. Yet, after his impeachment his popularity rebounded.

Bill Clinton used his charm to play the public like a saxophone.  And even now he is admired, venerated really, by supporters who may not actually know why he deserves their adulation. But Bill was handsome whereas Hillary was plain. Bill was cool while Hillary was drab. Bill was charismatic, but Hillary was matter of fact. It might surprise her critics to find that Hillary was, in fact, more liberal than her husband.

Barack Obama is also not a “real progressive.” By his own admission his economic policies are those of a 1980s “moderate Republican.” Mr. Obama was elected by voters who projected onto him their hopes for change and their beliefs that a new progressive era was dawning with his inauguration. However, as President he dismissed his ready army of activists with a pat on the head and instead installed as advisors and cabinet members “Clintonistas” and Wall Street insiders.

He saved the economy by continuing Bush’s policy of bank bailouts without giving corporate criminals any reason to fear prosecution for their theft of billions of dollars and their destruction of the incomes, savings, and home ownership of thousands of Americans. His bailout of General Motors was far more equitable in the benefits it provided to both the rich and to the working class. Probably the greatest accomplishment of the Obama presidency is the Affordable Care Act. But this was accomplished through major concessions to the pharmaceutical industry and insurance companies.

It is certainly the case that Black Americans have not seen appreciable improvement in their circumstances under Mr. Obama, as Black unemployment continues to be twice the stated national rate, incomes continue to lag behind those of whites, and the opportunity for wealth formation has declined rather than improved.

Unlike the Clinton presidency, the Obama administration has faced little opposition to military action. After a brief stirring of opposition, drone warfare has faded from the headlines and continues as a commonplace tool of warfare. After drawing down US troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan, the administration has slowly but steadily begun to reinsert forces into these two regions, as well as overseeing a buildup of forces in Syria. In fact, it’s anyone’s guess as to how extensively the US is involved militarily in conflicts worldwide.

Nonetheless, despite some liberal criticism of his policies, President Obama generally enjoys the support of Democrats. The blatant disrespect shown him by Republican politicians and the victories that he has obtained despite consistent Republican congressional opposition has defined him as a heroic president. His support of LGBT rights, his restraint of DOJ action against states where cannabis has been legalized, his advocacy for non-violent criminals in federal prisons, and his support for the labor rights of federally contracted workers have justly earned him the admiration of liberals. But his failure to go after corporate criminals, his aggressive military policy, his refusal to address the needs of Black communities, and his frequent invitations to Republicans to negotiate away elements of the social safety net justify criticism by these same liberal Democrats.

Hillary Clinton is the recipient of relentless criticism. The vast right-wing conspiracy was real and it continues today. So we shouldn’t be surprised that Republicans continue to hound her with baseless accusations. But the vitriol poured on her by some “progressive” Democrats should challenge our comprehension.

I agree that “progressive” or liberal Democrats have been let down and are understandably disappointed. But the proper objects of their hurt feelings are Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. But these men seem to have the power to charm the political-reality-challenged progressive purists with their eloquence and their triumphs over adversity.

In the mean while Hillary Clinton must daily cast off the role of villain that has been projected on her by some of those who have the most to lose if she is not elected President.


Getting up-to-date with TV, Part II: What’s on Now and Looking Ahead

My favorite shows are back or on their way back. I’ve been watching few shows on a regular basis over the last month or so, but I’m really pleased about the return of some of my favorite shows, both the new and (relatively) long running.

Some deserve special note. But first, I have to begin with one of my omissions from last season.

Shades of Blue (NBC). This turned out to be a very good show. The plot concerns a squad of crooked NYC police detectives who are drawn into a plot that leads to grand larceny and murder. Jennifer Lopez plays a member of the squad who is turned informant by the FBI, and Ray Liotta plays the tragically flawed leader of the corrupt crew. Jennifer Lopez can act. The suspenseful series is likely to return.

Now, for the current season.

Black-ish (ABC). The show manages to address important social issues while taking cover behind the sitcom clichés of bumbling men and smart women. It works, and it’s funny more often than not. However, the addition of (the nearly ubiquitous) Wanda Sykes adds nothing to the show.

The Blacklist (NBC). This sturdy and engaging series is winding down to its finale, steeped in tragedy. The characters have changed as the show progressed and I’m curious to see how they end up and who will survive. There are some indications in the media that the show will generate a spinoff focusing on the characters of Tom Keen and the new villain Susan Hargrave (Famke Janssen, recently seen on How to Get Away with Murder).

Blindspot (NBC). In its second season, the show is an entertaining challenge to the suspension of disbelief. An amnesiac woman appears, her body covered in mysterious tattoos, each of which helps solve a significant crime. “Jane Doe” turns out to have Special Forces training, and in short order she becomes a team member of the FBI unit assigned to follow up on the clues revealed in the tattoos. The new season reveals secrets of “Jane Doe’s” past life and her secret mission inside the FBI. As I said, it challenges the suspension of disbelief.

Containment (The CW). This is the latest in the deadly virus-themed shows (The Walking Dead, Helix, The Last Ship, 12 Monkeys). In this case the outbreak is confined to the city of Atlanta, where an area has been sealed off to contain the virus. The central theme is not an impending global apocalypse. Instead, the show investigates political and social issues from the perspective of a Southern, largely Black, city. A mood of dread and despair is created in each episode, as the protagonist, a Black police commander, struggles to maintain his sense of duty as the government’s draconian plans appear increasingly sinister.

The Detour (TBS).  This new show is painfully funny. Jason Jones stars in a show that he and his wife Samantha Bee wrote about a family driving from Syracuse to Ft. Lauderdale through a surreal landscape of absurd situations and even more absurd people. It helps that these parents and their two children are hilariously inappropriate whenever possible.  Did I mention that this show is funny?

The Family (ABC).  This is the best of the new shows. A boy who was kidnapped and declared dead returns to his family after 10 years.  The family to which he returns consists of a mother obsessed with political power, an alienated father, and two damaged children. Everyone has deep secrets, which are slowly unveiled through flashbacks and the persistent inquiries of a journalist and a police detective.

House of Lies (Showtime). In its fifth season, this show continues to pack more into a half hour than any show I can think of. The characters are still trying to conquer the world of corporate consulting as they deal with parenthood, failed relationships, and getting older and remaining unfulfilled. The plots are brilliant and the comedy sneaks up and kicks you in the behind.

Orphan Black (BBC).  This science fiction tour de force has returned with new characters and a continually thickening plot. Tatiana Maslany continues to amaze as she adds to the number of clones she portrays.  The series hasn’t yet run out of plot twists and promises more surprises.

Penny Dreadful (Showtime). This is one of the really good shows. The first two episodes of the third season demonstrate that it has staying power. The show is a creative mashup of horror and Victorian noir. So far it has incorporated elements of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Paradise Lost, La Dame aux Camelias, Frankenstein, Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and the goddess Hecate,  as well as later updates The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolfman. Everything in this series is beautiful, even the most gruesome and terrifying images. The acting is excellent and convincing, the photographic imagery is exquisite, and the musical score is equal to that of any van Trier film.

12 Monkeys   (SyFy). The show based on Terry Gilliam’s classic movie is in its second season. It takes the framework of the film (a plot to destroy humanity with a virus) and expands it into a complex web of characters, groups, and time periods. There seem to be a lot of plot deviations, but the writers succeed in bringing them together and moving the story along in a intriguing way.

Veep (HBO).  Entering its fifth season, the show crams an hour of comedy into each half-hour episode. It joyfully celebrates the craziness of presidential politics and the jockeying for power in the White House. It also skewers the press corps, the lobbyists, and the consultants who multiply the chaos inherent in a colossal collision of egos. The cast is still great and the writing is still brilliant.

I’m also looking forward to the return of some excellent shows from last year, among which are these:

Mr. Robot (USA). Led by newcomer Remi Melek and veteran Christian Slater, this series is part sci-fi, part cyberfiction, part psychological thriller. We watch a hacker collective bring down the world’s most powerful corporation as filtered through the often drug-addled mind of young computer genius with psychological problems.

Wayward Pines (FOX). M. Night Shyamalan directed and Matt Dillon starred in the first season of this story of a group of people who find themselves trapped in a small town in the grip of totalitarian rule with no way out. There are strange secrets and a strange world just outside the town’s impenetrable walls. The season one conclusion foreshadows a continuation of the tragedy that ended the first season. It’s grim and well done.

I’m sure I missed shows that I’ve forgotten about during their absence. I’ll keep you up to date.  And in the mean while, I await the reboot of Twin Peaks.