Monthly Archives: September 2016

Sometimes You Can’t Even Give Your Money Away

The Curmudgeon understands that sometimes he can be a real pain in the ass.

And this was apparently one of those times.

Allow him to explain.

As he has written many times in this space, The Curmudgeon is a big fan of the New Yorker magazine. He has been reading it off and on, mostly on, since he was in college. Recently he realized he hadn’t received a new one in a while and concluded that he had inexplicably allowed his subscription to expire. As soon as he noticed he took steps to re-subscribe.

First he went to one of the magazines he still had around the house. Like most New Yorker readers, he suspects, he is usually a few weeks behind in his reading – okay, sometimes more than a few weeks. No luck: the only subscription postcard in the magazine was for 12 issues for $12: a good price but not long enough. He wanted to subscribe for a year or two. He also wanted a paper bill so he could mail a check as payment; he doesn’t like using credit cards for such things, as subscribing online would require.

So decided, he went to the magazine’s web site, where he found the same offer: 12 issues for $12. No alternatives.

The New Yorker’s web site has a “live chat” option so he decided to give it a try, feeling just a little sorry for whomever was going to draw the short straw and have to deal with him.

Once he got someone he stated his interests, described above. The person wanted his zip code and last name, and when he insisted that without the name he couldn’t help The Curmudgeon and The Curmudgeon inquired why not, the live chatter closed the chat session.

The New Yorker and The Curmudgeon:  "Reunited and it feels so good..."

The New Yorker and The Curmudgeon: “Reunited and it feels so good…”

In other words, he hung up on him.

So The Curmudgeon found a toll-free number on the New Yorker’s web site and called. The woman to whom he spoke understood what he was seeking right away and offered him the same good deal for a longer term: 47 issues for $47. She understood that he wanted a paper bill, took his name and address – but only after he heard the terms and decided he liked them – and that was that. Oh, she wanted his email address, and he told her what he tells pretty much every business that asks for his email address: “I like you guys but I’m not looking for that kind of relationship with you.”

So the first issue of The Curmudgeon’s new New Yorker subscription will arrive in early October, the same time as his bill, he will write a check, and he will be a happy camper once again.

Okay, a relatively happy camper. After all, he is still The Curmudgeon.

And now, for your viewing pleasure, the transcript of The Curmudgeon’s live chat with the New Yorker representative.




A Man of Principle

Earlier this year, Texas Senator Ted Cruz said Donald Trump is “a pathological liar.”

Called him “utterly amoral.”

Suggested he was a “serial philanderer.”

Cruz:  "I love you, man."

Cruz: “I love you, man.”

Said Trump is “a narcissist at a level I don’t think this country’s ever seen.”

And called him a “sniveling coward.”

So of course last week Cruz endorsed Trump to become president and leader of the free world.

They Don’t “Create Jobs”

We heard it when Mitt Romney ran for president four years ago and we’re hearing it again now that the blistering, open, puss-filled wound that is Donald Trump is the Republican choice: candidates insisting that they have “created jobs” and that their opponents have not.

And The Curmudgeon believes that’s a load of crap.

Yes, these men, and others like them running for local, state, and federal offices, have run businesses that employ people and have seen their businesses grow and employ more people, but not a single one of them – not ONE – ever set out in business “to create jobs.”

Nobody sets out in business to create jobs.

No, they set out in business to make money.

And there’s absolutely, positively nothing wrong with that.

If a would-be Romney or Trump has a $10 million business that employs 200 people and he thinks that by employing 20 more people he can turn it into a $15 million business he will happily hire 20 more people.

But if that 200-employee, $10 million business has a 25 percent profit margin and he thinks he can run the business with five fewer people and increase that profit margin to 30 percent, thereby making more money, he wouldn’t hesitate to hand five employees their walking papers.

So do these candidates employ people? Absolutely.

Do their actions create jobs?


But do they set out to create jobs?

Absolutely not.

And is there anything about what they do and how they do it to suggest that they have any idea how to use public policy to create jobs?

Again, absolutely not.

The Curmudgeon’s Reaction to Donald Trump’s Debate Performance

Someone else said it better. See it here.

A Twisting Tale of Political Corruption


Leslie Acosta is an elected member of Pennsylvania’s state House of Representatives. She is a Democrat and represents a section of Philadelphia.

Earlier this year Acosta “secretly” pleaded guilty to one federal count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in a scheme to embezzle money from a mental health clinic and will be a witness against her boss, who goes on trial later this year. According to published reports, between 2008 and 2012 Acosta had a no-show job: she received and cashed paychecks and then gave the money to her boss, the embezzler. At this time it does not appear Acosta got any of this money, but you have to wonder. The Curmudgeon says “secretly” because even though she entered a guilty plea in March this only became public knowledge this month. For reasons that haven’t been explained, details of her plea deal were sealed by a federal judge – although the federal prosecutor, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, told the judge that “The witnesses have expressed security concerns to us.”

“Security concerns.” ‘nuff said.

Despite pleading guilty to a federal crime in March, Acosta sought renomination to her office in April. The public was in the dark about the conviction, so she won.

And now she’s on the ballot in November. Even though the public is no longer in the dark, Acosta, after pleading guilty to a federal crime, has refused to withdraw from the ballot and is adamant that she is running for re-election.

And she’s going to win, too, because while Republicans bitch and moan about one-party rule in Philadelphia, they couldn’t even dig up a warm body to run against Acosta, so she’s running unopposed.

That’s too bad: the warm body might’ve won.

That’s a real capable group, that Republican Party, isn’t it?

But the Democrats are even worse: she’s their candidate, and in a part of the city where the machine candidate almost always wins, they bear responsibility for putting someone who is now a convicted felon in public office.

Philadelphia has a lot of experience with that: Acosta first won nomination to her seat running against an incumbent who had just been accused of – here it is again – a ghost employee scheme. In this case, he gave a no-show, no-work, full-pay job to his sister. (Acosta won, the guy she beat pleaded guilty.)

Since her guilty plea has become public knowledge, many people – the governor, the head of Philadelphia’s Democratic party, virtually all Republicans and many Democrats in the state legislature, the newspapers, and others – have called on Acosta to resign and withdraw from the November election.

And so far Acosta has said nuts to that.

Under Pennsylvania’s constitution, Acosta isn’t required to leave office until conviction, which is defined as including sentencing. Sentencing is scheduled for nine days after next year’s legislative session is scheduled to begin.

Nine days.

Yet she is running for re-election. In an act of incredible selfishness, knowing that her term will last only a few weeks, she is running for re-election.

But hey, it’s a paycheck, right?

The person Acosta is accused of helping embezzle the money, and whose prosecution she is now assisting with her testimony, is Renee Tartaglione, who ran the behavioral health facility. Tartaglione has quite a family tree. Her mother Marge served nine four-year terms as an elections commissioner in Philadelphia; that is an elected office. Never implicated in any legal scandal – and The Curmudgeon has personal experience of a situation in which she attempted to address what she feared might be a scandal in her own office – Marge nevertheless has been one of the hardest-fighting, nastiest, down and dirty and profane politicians most people have ever encountered. Before becoming an (alleged) embezzler, Renee served as her mother’s deputy – served, that is, until she resigned after admitting to the Philadelphia Board of Ethics that she committed nine violations of a provision in the city’s charter that prevents city employees from most types of participation in political campaigns. Renee’s husband, Carlos Matos, was a Philadelphia Democratic ward leader who was convicted of bribing councilmen in Atlantic City and was sent to prison for three years to contemplate his crime against society. Once released, Philadelphia’s Democratic Party, that bastion of integrity, welcomed him back with open arms, restoring him to his previous role as ward leader, until a federal judge banned him from holding that office while still on probation, maintaining that the temptation to return to his life of crime would be too great. Once the probation ended Matos was re-elected ward leader by his peers – a position he still holds today. In hindsight, it appears that Renee’s violations of the city charter came while she was unofficially serving in her husband’s capacity as de facto ward leader while he was in the hoosegow.

Those Philadelphia Democrats are big on integrity.

Oh, but back to that family tree: the under-achiever in the family, since there’s never been a whiff of scandal involving her, is Renee’s sister Christina. Tina, as she is known, has served as a state senator representing part of Philadelphia since 1995. For the last eight years The Curmudgeon lived in Philadelphia, Tina was his state senator.

Imagine his pride!

Holding onto at least one last shred of self-respect, Acosta has chosen not to travel to the state capital for the legislature’s remaining days in session. Oh, she’s still on the payroll, but she’s just not showing up for work. (Such as “work” is: the not-so-hard-working Pennsylvania state House has scheduled only 11 days in session between Labor Day and the end of the year. Nice work if you can get it at an annual salary of $84,000, an additional “per diem” payment of $157 for every day they are in the state capital, regardless of whether the House is in session, and of course the kind of benefits that make 95 percent of us drool with envy.)

Ironic, ain't it?

Ironic, ain’t it?

One last thing worth noting: one of the issues Acosta has attempted to champion is that of helping the recently incarcerated return to the community. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported recently that “She had announced plans next month to host a ‘Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People Conference’ with several other state legislators…”

One of those “other state legislators” is Vanessa Lowery Brown, about whom The Curmudgeon has written in the past: Ms. Brown will soon go on trial for corruption in office.

So maybe it’s just a coincidence that Acosta and Brown are so interested in the challenges facing those recently released from jail.

Or maybe it was just a case of really, really good planning on their part.

For a Real Laugh…

The Capitol Steps are a musical comedy act that began, according to legend, with several people who worked on the staffs of U.S. senators in Washington, D.C. going into a bar and changing the words of popular songs in ways that made fun of their bosses and politics in the nation’s capital. Eventually they took their show on the road – and what a show it is. The Curmudgeon has seen them three times, and whenever they return to town he hopes to see them again for their parody and satire.

capitol-stepsThey take songs like “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” from the Sound of Music, for example, and turn it into the political question “How do you solve a problem like Korea?” or turn the Music Man song “76 Trombones” into a parody of all those people who were running for the Republican presidential nomination called “76 Unknowns” or turn the Abba song “Mama Mia” into the political commentary “Obama Mia.”

The highlight of any Capitol Steps performance, at least for The Curmudgeon, is a feature called “Lirty Dies.” Lirty Dies is just what it looks like: someone with pretty spectacular skills flips the first letters of words in ways that have spectators practically rolling in the aisles. There’s a term for this practice – “spoonerisms,” which sounds like a style for cuddling with your one and only – and they’re fast and furious and you have to really, really pay attention because it goes pretty fast, but the rewards make the effort worthwhile.

See a terrific example of Lirty Dies here.

Life Imitating Art


Not long after Donald Trump started expressing admiration for political strongmen – Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, Moammar Khadafy, Kim Jong-un, and others – we started to recognize that he doesn’t really understand how the American form of government actually works. Remember when he made a statement that suggested that he thought he could direct Supreme Court activities? Or when there was a Supreme Court decision he didn’t like and he said the court would never reach such a decision if he were president? That’s when people started using words like “fascism” and “totalitarianism” to describe what life in this country might be like if the American people were to lose their collective mind and elect him to the presidency.

While The Curmudgeon’s own fears are not quite so apocalyptic, observing this national nightmare sent his mind drifting back to a book he read a decade ago.

plotThe novel is The Plot Against America, by Philip Roth. The basic premise is that Charles Lindbergh, who at the time was an American hero of epic proportions and also a pretty well-known anti-Semite who had expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and all the good things he was doing in Germany, swoops down on a deadlocked Republican presidential convention in 1940 as an unannounced candidate, wins the nomination, and proceeds to defeat Franklin Roosevelt, who was seeking a third term, by a landslide. On the campaign trail Lindbergh travels alone, from destination to destination, in his own plane and making only one campaign pledge: if elected, he will keep the U.S. out of the war in Europe.

A little background here. Lindbergh was an isolationist: after he earned his fame by landing a plane on foreign soil he didn’t want his country to have anything else to do with anything that wasn’t on American soil. In both real life and in the novel he was a spokesman for an organization called America First – the name is pretty self-explanatory – and America First was strongly opposed to the war in Europe. Lindbergh was fascinated by Hitler and the Nazis and was even presented the country’s Service Cross of the Golden Eagle by Goering, on Hitler’s behalf. About his opposition to the war Lindbergh declared that

These wars in Europe are not wars in which our civilization is defending itself against some Asiatic intruder…This is not a question of banding together to defend the white race against foreign invasion…our civilization depends on a Western wall of race and arms which can hold back…the infiltration of inferior blood.

Hmmm: a white race and a wall to hold back the infiltration of inferior blood. Does this ring a bell?

Lindbergh also thought he knew who wanted war most.

The three most important groups who have been pressing this country toward war are the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration.

And he had some choice words for the Jewish.

Instead of agitating for war, Jews in this country should be opposing it in every way, for they will be the first to feel its consequences. Their greatest danger in this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government.

Roth picked his bad guy well, didn’t he?

He went from American hero to American villain in just a few years.

He went from American hero to American villain in just a few years.

Getting back to the novel, Lindbergh wins in a landslide. Once in office, Lindbergh signs a treaty with Germany – at one point he holds a state dinner honoring its foreign minister – and another with Japan. Because the story is by Philip Roth there is, of course, a lot of Jewish stuff. Some Jews in the story flee to Canada, with good reason: Lindbergh wants to assimilate the Jewish culture right out of American Jews and creates a new department in the federal government, the Office of American Absorption, to do just that. One of the new office’s biggest programs, called “Just Folks,” sends Jewish teenagers living in predominantly Jewish communities to the midwest for the summer so they can lose some of their Jewishness. In the novel, Roth’s brother goes to Kentucky and comes back pronouncing certain words differently, is a fan of Lindbergh, and calls his parents and their friends “ghetto Jews.” The Lindbergh administration even enlists large companies to transfer their Jewish employees working in predominantly Jewish communities to places in the midwest – ostensibly to assimilate them as well but also to dilute opposition to the president and to put them in an environment where they will no longer be able to earn a decent living. In the novel, public violence against Jews, not quite of a pogrom level, is tolerated by the government, and at a crucial point in the story the city of Newark’s Jewish mob – yes, a Jewish mob –sends its thugs onto the street corners of Jewish neighborhoods to protect their own.

Needless to say, The Curmudgeon was not the only person to see Trump’s candidacy in Roth’s novel – or, if you prefer, to see Roth’s novel in Trump’s candidacy.

 A candidate galvanizes a weakened and divided Republican Party. He’s a celebrity, a charismatic outsider with no political experience, and his racist rhetoric does nothing to halt his momentum.

That’s how a July article in the magazine The Forward begins. The article also noted another similarity between the fictitious Lindbergh and the very real Trump: the Democrats didn’t take Lindbergh seriously.

Sound familiar?

And it continues:

Donald Trump, like Lindbergh, arrives at his position as an established personality rather than as a politician. Of course, while Roth’s 1940-era Lindbergh is a classic, rugged, Midwestern man of few words, Trump’s vulgarity is part of his appeal. On the campaign trail, Lindbergh’s anti-Semitism is implied: Trump does nothing to tamp down his rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants.

A look at Roth’s novel and other political fiction in the Washington Post offered a similar perspective:

Reading these works [note: the Roth novel and others] in this moment, it is impossible to miss the similarities between Trump and totalitarian figures in American literature – in rhetoric, in personal style and even substance.

Also from the Post,

Much as Trump’s claim that only he is tough enough to restore national glory, in “The Plot Against America” Lindbergh is hailed as a “man’s man who gets the impossible done by relying solely on himself.” Republican leaders despair over Lindy’s refusal to take any of their wise advice on how to run his campaign. Defenders believe that Lindbergh’s strength of personality will enable him to strike deals – great ones, the best ones – with the world’s bad guys. “Lindbergh can deal with Hitler, they said, Hitler respects him because he’s Lindbergh.

Again, sound familiar? Trump as the only one who can “make America great again,” ignoring the campaign advice of others, and the self-proclaimed ability to deal with Hitler, which echoes Trump’s insistence that he’ll be able to deal with Putin – and the Chinese and those dastardly Mexicans, too.

Writing about the Roth novel and another work of fiction, Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, in which the political demagogue is a Democratic senator named Berzelius “Buzz” Windrip, the Post explains that

The dictators who Roth and Lewis conjure share the intolerance underlying Trump’s most controversial proposals – banning Muslims from entering the United States, building a wall straddling the U.S.-Mexico border, deporting millions of undocumented immigrants – but the fictional characters often go further and scarier. Lindbergh moves Jews from urban centers into the rural heartland through an ominous Office of American Absorption, leaving them vulnerable to anti-Semitic violence. Windrip creates concentration camps for dissidents; establishes a sham judiciary; and bars black Americans from voting, holding public office, practicing law or medicine, or teaching beyond grammar school.

And of course the demagogues have their defenders: just as it’s now Paul Ryan and John McCain and Orrin Hatch and Mike Pence and other establishment Republicans, in the Roth novel it’s a well-known Newark rabbi, Lionel Bengelsdorf, who himself hungers for power and fame and sells his soul to attach himself to the new president:

In The Plot Against America, a leading Jewish figure assures the nation that Lindbergh is not really anti-Semitic, even though the president hosts a high-ranking Nazi official at the White House. “Before his becoming president he at times made public statements grounded in anti-Semitic clichés,” Rabbi Bengelsdorf acknowledges. “But he spoke from ignorance then, and admits as much today. I am pleased to tell you that it took no more than two or three sessions alone with the president to get him to see his misconceptions.

Once again, sound familiar? How many times have we heard prominent national conservatives and Republicans who are clearly appalled by Trump twist themselves into knots trying to find a way to rationalize Trump’s irrationality: the most recent groundless accusation, the latest round of name-calling reminiscent of nothing but third-graders in the school yard, this week’s bald-faced lie, the thinly veiled racism and misogyny and xenophobia and just plain unending mean-spiritedness?

Unwilling to let us see that for ourselves, the Post – which, you should know, really, really has it in for Trump – spells it out for us:

Consider how Trump’s success has produced agony among longtime Republican foreign policy experts, to name one group, who wonder if they could live with themselves working in a Trump administration that threatens to target the families of terrorists and destroy trade deals. And top GOP elected officials, such as House Speaker Paul Ryan and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, have made their bed, if not their peace. Principle vs. opportunity is their unending dilemma.

A few weeks ago the Los Angeles Review of Books made many of the same points:

Originally read (despite Roth’s protests) as a roman à clef of the George W. Bush administration, The Plot Against America is now impossible to see outside of the shadow of Donald Trump. Like Lindbergh, Trump has used his celebrity and wealth — and a private plane! — to triumph over a hopelessly fractured Republican party. Joining a boisterous field that swelled to 17, Trump entered the race at a time when no single candidate regularly polled over 15 percent; even as the immediate front-runner, Trump didn’t regularly draw more than a third of the GOP electorate until late November 2015. Politically, Trump and Lindbergh share an isolationist ethos that bleeds into ethno-nationalism. The fictional Lindbergh echoes his historical counterpart, whose anti-Semitism and admiration for Hitler was sold to the American public as a principled resistance to engagement in World War II. Lindbergh’s dialogue, much of which is adapted from the historical record of his speeches, reads like a taciturn adaptation of Trump’s meandering stump speeches, in which “Mexican immigrants” and “China” have been swapped out for “Jews” and “Great Britain.” Trump wants to make America great again, while Lindbergh wants to keep America out of the Jewish war; both see themselves as dealmakers that will achieve their goals through sheer force of personality. As Roth’s narrator, a Jewish nine-year-old from Weequahic, New Jersey, named Philip Roth, explains it after President Lindbergh signs a non-aggression pact with the Third Reich: “Americans everywhere went about declaiming, No war, no young men fighting and dying ever again! Lindbergh can deal with Hitler, they said, Hitler respects him because he’s Lindbergh.” Trump’s candidacy, of course, is predicated on his ability to make better deals — on trade and on funding the construction of imaginary walls.

The Los Angeles Review of Books article blames the press for how it has reported on Trump and his shenanigans, but it also has some choice words for us, the voting public:

Just as important as the press reaction to Trump, though, is the American public’s unwillingness to acknowledge that a major political party has nominated a racist, xenophobic zealot. Despite the explicit racism and nationalism that has always been the raison d’être of Trump’s campaign, many political pundits have been eager to ascribe his support to economic concerns or a sudden public interest in multilateral trade agreements. In Roth’s novel, it isn’t just the press that misunderstands the nature of Lindbergh’s appeal to the public; many of the Jews in Weequahic refuse to believe that virulent anti-Semitism has taken hold of the United States. Despite his own experiences with anti-Semitism, Philip’s father Herman has a false sense of security that Lindbergh’s victory can’t, won’t, and isn’t happening in the United States. Herman’s confidence endures even after Lindbergh is elected, inspired in part by the bravado of speeches by Walter Winchell, Dorothy Sinclair, and Roosevelt. As young Philip tells it, one of Roosevelt’s anti-Lindbergh speeches at a Democratic Party rally was,

[…] so stirring and dramatic that every human being in that crowd (and in our living room and in the living rooms up and down our street) was swept away by the joyous illusion that the nation’s redemption was at hand.

This false confidence leads to Herman’s major mistake: refusing to move his family to Canada before Jewish families in New Jersey are forcibly dispersed to rural areas and violent anti-Semitic riots erupt around the country.

Like the residents of Weequahic, contemporary Americans from across the political spectrum cherish a version of history in which the United States has moved steadily, if slowly, toward acceptance and equality, from the Emancipation Proclamation to Brown v. Board of Education to the Voting Rights Act, to Barack Obama’s election and a post-racial future. Although this narrative has always been a fantasy, Trump’s popularity on the heels of Obama’s reelection renders it incoherent — that is, unless Trump is bizarrely cast as an economic populist standing up for the little guy, an impulsive and uncouth corollary to Bernie Sanders. “Economic anxiety” has become a popular term for articulating Trump’s appeal; even when his campaigns explicit appeals to racism are acknowledged, we want to assume that this racism is caused by economics rather than by a resurgence of white nationalism that we’d rather believe remains buried in the past. Never mind that the median household income of Trump primary supporters was higher than the national average, as well as the average income of Clinton and Sanders voters. At times, even Trump seems confused about the nature of his appeal, as in early August, when he sympathized with residents of Ashburn, Virginia, about all of the factory closures they’d suffered through.

Thousands of local residents attended the rally, but not because of economic anxiety; Ashburn is in the wealthiest county in the nation, and the crowd reacted with confusion when Trump asked if any attendees had worked at the shuttered Smithfield Foods plant, which is three hours away. They did, however, enthusiastically heckle a group of silent Muslim protestors.

The Review notes that when Lindbergh takes office he knows how to deal with those who oppose him.

Unlike the Third Reich, Lindbergh doesn’t enact an American version of the Nuremberg Laws or instigate violence (the anti-Semitic riots in the novel increase after he mysteriously disappears). Rather, he clearly signals to the German American Bund and to other anti-Semitic groups that they no longer need to hide their prejudices. The Roths feel this stigma immediately after Lindbergh’s election in a sightseeing trip to Washington, DC, where they are refused service at their hotel and verbally accosted by fellow travelers. When Herman Roth is called a “loudmouth Jew” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he immediately blames Lindbergh.

This is vaguely reminiscent of the business about the Mexican-American judge whom Trump deems too Mexican and not American enough to have the right to sit in judgment of him, is it not?

And this:

Lindbergh’s election legitimizes and activates a powerful but latent strain of anti-Semitism that creates an increasingly hostile world for the Roths and other Jews.

Which is certainly happening today – not to Jews but to Mexicans and Muslims and, when you think about it, pretty much anyone with brown skin. Trump has validated the prejudices of many white Americans – those we now seem to be calling the “alt-right” – and it has suddenly become acceptable for many of them to articulate the kinds of racist nonsense that Archie Bunker shamed us into having the good sense to keep to ourselves more than 40 years ago.

Again, from the Review:

Trump’s signals to his supporters are equally clear: use violence if necessary to expel protestors from rallies; blame Muslims and Mexicans for all of the United States’s shortcomings; celebrate power and authority over consensus and negotiation. His name has been invoked as a taunt against minorities at high school sporting events, as an accompaniment to a swastika in the vandalism of a Northwestern University chapel, and in the assault of two students — one Muslim, the other Hispanic — at Wichita State University. Even if Trump is soundly defeated in November, his success has exposed a sizable bloc of American voters willing to embrace his unapologetic mix of ethno-nationalism, authoritarianism, and transparent egoism. The German American Bund existed quite apart from Lindbergh, and now that Trumpism has been revealed as such a powerful, lucrative, and politically viable force, it would be naïve to imagine that no one else will try to activate it once Trump himself fades away.

The ending of The Plot Against America is unsatisfying. When The Curmudgeon first read the book in 2005 he had to re-read the ending just to make sure he didn’t miss something (he is not always a careful enough reader of fiction). In the end, controversy and violence erupt after a candidate for president who is virulently anti-Lindbergh – strangely, the Jewish gossip columnist Walter Winchell – is assassinated. Lindbergh leaves the White House, flies by himself to Louisville where Winchell was murdered to quell the violence that has erupted – and then takes off to fly home and is never seen or heard from again.

So what happened to Lindbergh? Roth never says. Some say his plane crashed and he was never found; some say he was kidnapped by Jews; others suggest he returned to the Germans, who essentially owned him because it turned out that his kidnapped son hadn’t been killed after all but was just being held by the Germans, who then blackmailed Lindbergh into all of his damaging, downright un-American actions.

The Curmudgeon had another theory the first time he read the novel and the first time he re-read the ending and then again when he finished re-reading the book last week: that Lindbergh had no idea what to do when faced with a real and serious challenge and simply up and ran away. (Worth noting:   between the time Lindbergh disappears and Franklin Roosevelt wins an emergency election to return to the presidency, the Lindbergh apparatus clamps down on dissent hard and violently, in a manner reminiscent of fascism, which calls to mind Trump’s insistence that if elected he will “open up the libel laws” to make it more difficult for the press to be critical of him.)

Yes, he wants to get elected president, but do you really think he wants to BE president?

Yes, he wants to get elected president, but do you really think he wants to BE president?

This meshes neatly with The Curmudgeon’s perception of Donald Trump. In his eyes, Trump wants to be president because he wants even greater fame and glory than he already has and feeds off the adulation of his supporters. Trump may even be interested in doing a few things if he’s elected. The Curmudgeon finds it inconceivable, though, that Trump actually wants to be the everyday president of the United States. Does anyone seriously believe he wants to get involved in agriculture policy, in energy policy, in health care? Could he be even remotely interested in environmental issues, urban affairs, any country in the southern hemisphere, or housing that doesn’t cost seven figures? In the end, The Curmudgeon thinks he wouldn’t, that while he’d love being elected president he would actually hate being president and that at the first hint of adversity – and maybe even the first hint that being president doesn’t leave time, or the opportunity, to make more money, or that the presidency is hard work and that no matter how well he does in office tens of millions of Americans will always hate him – he will, like Roth’s fictitious president Charles Lindbergh, get into his private plane and fly off, never to be seen or heard from again.

The Curmudgeon, for one, hopes we never get to find out.

An Interesting Perspective on Trump

Sometimes other people say it better.

In a terrific column two Sundays ago the New York Times’ Frank Bruni totally nailed the Trump personality in all its inglorious glory. Bruni is typically pretty interesting and always worth reading but this time, in a piece titled “Donald Trump’s Ideology of Applause,” he really nails it. Read his column here, on the Times’ web site, or below.

Americans are such sticklers. Such poops. Sure, some of Vladimir Putin’s political opponents wind up in jail, while some of the journalists he dislikes end up in the morgue.

Yes, his government is apparently committing cybercrimes to meddle in our election. And there was that small matter of invading and annexing one of Russia’s neighbors.

But look at his numbers! What’s a little blood on your hands when you’re polling like that?

“He does have an 82 percent approval rating,” Donald Trump said during the special “commander in chief” forum last week. It’s worth dwelling on that sentence, because it’s the key to what drives and guides his presidential bid. It’s the giveaway.

For Trump, the whole point of political office is adulation, and adulation is the ejkbvntire proof of a person’s worth. Rectitude pales next to ratings. Ethics are a sorry substitute for applause. And the methods by which a crowd is fired up don’t matter, so long as he can bask in the clapping.

This is Trump’s core — or, rather, his terrifying lack of one.

It’s why he swerves from one pronouncement to its opposite and one position to its alternate. It’s why he tells lies with such ease and glee. He’s not sweating the substance of what he’s saying or doing, because that’s a negotiable, trivial thing. He’s just gauging the reaction, and a positive one — in the form of victories in the primaries, dominance in the media or supremacy in polls — means that his course is just. If Trump’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

He’s not confused about immigration. He’s confused about how to wring the most love from the issue.

He grew so enamored of a magnificent, impenetrable wall along the Mexican border because the primary-season voters who thronged his rallies went gaga for it. He was a rat pressing a lever and getting precisely the pellet of reverence that he sought, so he kept pressing, over and over, harder and harder: Mexico will pay for it! Meanwhile I’ll round up and deport all the illegals! Let’s ban Muslims while we’re at it!

If he’d elicited the same orgiastic response by promising free milk to every malnourished child in the developing world, he would have built his entire campaign around a new era in lactose diplomacy and named a dairy cow as his running mate. He has no real philosophy, just an all-consuming need.

And so his immigration policy softened, only to harden anew. The general election is a laboratory with rules different from those of the Republican primaries, and he’s still trying to figure out which lever to press.

In a sense he’s a fun-house mirror of the inconstancy, vanity and insecurity in almost every politician. But the distortion is extreme. From the start of his campaign, he has exhibited a near-pathological obsession with how people and organizations fare in the fickle (and corruptible) court of public opinion. When his insults aren’t about physical appearance, they’re about popularity.

A newscaster is incompetent because his or her show isn’t No. 1. A newspaper isn’t trustworthy because its profit margin is down. Jeb Bush wasn’t fit for the presidency because voters didn’t swoon for him. Trump deserved the job because more people chanted his name.

Detailed policies? Those could come later. Mastery of issues? He’d bone up on them in due time. A sophisticated campaign operation? Any dweeb could put that together. Trump led the polls. None of the usual, humdrum preparations or qualifications for the job held a candle to that.

The idea of intrinsic merit is alien to him. Numbers render the final verdict, and numbers don’t lie.

Except they do. Putin’s routinely high approval ratings exist in a context of intimidation and fear. There’s no way to know how many Russians feel free to speak their minds to pollsters. There’s no way to overstate the amount of propaganda that they’re subjected to. There’s no way to adjust for the lengths to which Putin will go to stoke nationalist fervor and whip Russians into a state of Putin-worshiping pride.

Trump’s possible blindness to that is scary. His probable awareness of it is scarier still.

Several Republicans who have had dealings with him tell me that they can’t really determine which of his most outrageous, deplorable statements are instances of a mask falling away and which are instances of a mask being put on, because with Trump it’s all about the situation and the audience, and if the audience signals an inclination to embrace him, he recites the lines that guarantee the hug. Never mind if the script is hateful. Never mind if it causes hurt.

He praises Putin in large part because Putin praises him back, or so he’s convinced himself. “If he says great things about me,” Trump told Matt Lauer during that forum, “I’m going to say great things about him.”

But the compliment in question is open to question. As The Times’s Steven Lee Myers recently explained, the Russian word that Putin used for Trump can mean not only “brilliant,” which is Trump’s interpretation, but also “colorful” or “flamboyant.”

Trump hears only what he wants to hear. He bases his regard for people on their regard for him. He judges their actions in terms of the benefit to him. When he demeans the very Republican senators whose re-election campaigns he should be helping, it’s typically on the grounds that they haven’t showered him with praise or genuflected when he draws near. No sin is graver than the diminution of Donald Trump.

And no cause is nobler than his elevation.

He has long boasted of a plan to defeat the Islamic State, but has vowed not to share it because Barack Obama might implement it and take the victory lap. Follow that reasoning. He’s saying that if lives are lost in the meantime, so be it. At least the bump in the polls won’t be the president’s.

Of course there’s no plan, just a blowhard ceaselessly tooting his horn. Of course he’s blasé about Putin’s possible manipulation of our presidential election — and at one point encouraged it — because he assumes the manipulation will favor him.

He’ll play a fascist if that’s the path to the throne. He’ll weave ludicrously tall tales if that’s the route. Should he get there, he’ll proclaim his arrival the very evidence that he’s worthy, and then he’ll do whatever it takes to continue feeling as affirmed as he wants to and as invulnerable as he’ll need to. Ratings are rectitude, and he has found his role model — in the Kremlin of all places. Eighty-two percent or bust.

A Comment About Commenting About Pro Athletes Protesting During the National Anthem

As visitors to this space might expect, The Curmudgeon has no problem with professional or college or even high school athletes doing something during the playing of the national anthem before their games to protest what they perceive to be social injustice. It is, he thinks, truly the American way.

He also realizes there are compelling reasons for them not to protest at that particular moment in that particular manner and that doing so is grievously offensive to many.


sports-equipmentHe really, really, really doesn’t want to read or hear anything about this subject from the people who report about and comment on the games at which the athletes are protesting, as we have seen in recent weeks. If there’s anyone who has chosen to live in a fantasy world divorced from reality it’s the people who write and talk for a living about sports. These sports people should spare the rest of us their non-existent wisdom, limit themselves to covering the fun and games and sniffing jock straps, and leave the real thinking to the grown-ups.

An Interesting Perspective on Vote Fraud

The July/August edition of the magazine Mother Jones informs us that there have only been 31 documented incidents of vote fraud among the more than one billion ballots cast in the U.S. from 2000 through 2014.

Contrary, by the way, to what many Republicans seem to feel: that elections are being stolen left and right in this country. Memo to Republicans: they’re not. Grow up.

Anyhow, Mother Jones offered these numbers in an interesting context: according to the magazine, you’re 15 times more likely to die of constipation than you are to be a victim of voter fraud.


It couldn’t hurt.

So on election day, loosen up, go to the polls, and don’t worry about your vote not counting.

And it wouldn’t hurt to get a little fiber in your diet, too. An apple might be nice, or maybe a bran muffin.