The True Privileged Class

By Bear Gebhardt

I recently recognized that I am privileged—that most of us are privileged—in ways that our President is not. Such recognition of my own privilege helped me find more compassion for that underprivileged man.

Here’s how it happened: I recently found myself hooked on a very well-done, in-depth, four-part  Netflix documentary called, Trump: An American Dream.“   It’s a picture-window into his personal history (raised in a mansion in Queens),  his view of the world (“some people are predators, some are prey”), and his adult “deal-making” philosophy (“I win when you lose”).

Bear Gebhardt is a Colorado writer. Learn more about him…

Watching the last episode, it suddenly struck me how truly rich I am, and how impoverished, in very simple ways, this poor rich guy is. I saw how I often experience life’s authentic abundance in ways that in the long run truly matter, nourish and sustain not only me but those around me. I don’t own a private jet or a yacht or tropical island with servants requiring privacy fences. I have never talked with bankers about billion-dollar projects or loans.

Still, I’m rich, privileged.

Watching this documentary,  I recognized what riches my ordinary life offered that I would have missed if my destiny had been different.

And with such insight, I was also struck with what the “born rich,” and the famous and powerful, usually miss out on, if they are not careful.  To wit:

  • Our President has never in his life had the small but genuine privilege of remembering to take out the trash on trash night
  • I suspect this man has never been privileged to play, and laughed for hours, at a  nickel, dime and quarter poker game with old buddies—a carpenter, a metal worker, a plumber, and a college professor.

    Has Donald Trump ever had the privilege of weekly coffee chats with old geezers?

  • Our tea-totaling President never savors a nightcap, with an intriguing book and the approaching midnight hour
  • I suspect The Donald has never had the privilege of a shared laugh with his wife while the two of them made up the guest bed in their guest room on the morning before their guests arrive.
  • Has Mr. Trump ever had the privilege of writing a late-night haiku about the beauty of life, with the train whistle sound in the background?
  • This President has never had the victorious feeling of getting his backyard fountain to work again, with his own hands, his own shovel and electrical tape, after the fountain’s sudden and mysterious shutdown.

    Scrabble and potluck for Donald Trump–probably never.

  • Has Mr. Trump ever felt the privilege of getting an email from his favorite cousins, announcing they’ll be stopping to visit, just passing through?
  • Has our President ever known the privilege of discovering his favorite chocolates on a “two for one“ sale at his neighborhood store?
  • I suspect DT does not know the deeply enjoyable privilege of a monthly scrabble game and potluck with old friends
  • I suspect he has never had the privilege of a regular, once a week coffee chat with fellow geezers held at the local grocery deli.
  • Has he ever had the small joy of checking off the final item on the grocery list at the grocery store, heading for cashier?
  • Has he ever felt relief at discovering an empty check-out lane at the grocery store with the cashier waiting for the next customer?

    Writing a late-night haiku? Not a pleasure the president has likely ever done.

  • Does he know the modest comfort, gentle pleasure of seeing the “auto-deposit” of this month’s social security payment?
  • Does he know how satisfying it can be to empty the dishwasher?
  • I know this President has never been able to say, simply, “good night, love,” to his spouse of forty-five years as she goes one more night upstairs to their shared bedroom.

Watching the documentary, it was clear the man in the White House is not a man like most of us. His life experiences have deprived him of privileges that  98%, even 99% of the men on the planet share every day. Thus, his basic expectations are different. His reality, his priorities are different. He has never, I would wager, mowed his lawn.

Somehow, these insights helped ease my alienation. The America he wants to “make great again” is not the already-privileged life in America that I know and my buddies know, my family knows, that most of us know. He’s never, I would guess, had the privilege of taking out the trash.

Our simple daily pleasure, obligations, privileges are what make life in America, and on this planet, worth living. The privilege of laughing with our kids, our spouses, our neighbors, our long-term buddies. The privilege of making little things work again—the backyard fountain, an oven light, a garden gate.

What do you think? Take the short poll at the end of this article.

Rather than getting “the bigger picture,” it struck me we can find wisdom in getting the “smaller picture.” What’s really important? The relationships we have with the people under the same roof. The relationships we have with people we have worked with, been in business with. The trust we have in each other. Trust that we are, at root, looking out for each other.

Which we are. A long, happy life has convinced me of this: we do indeed look out for each other, when we can, where we can, as a basic life value. This is true “privilege.”

We don’t need, as our President has insisted, a “killer instinct” to get along, to get ahead. “Ahead” meaning more love in our lives, more peace, more good-will and happy camaraderie. Even if we should be President of the United States, if we have not love, have not peace, have not humor, and the simple privileges of life, what have we?

Sometimes, it’s useful for ordinary, everyday people to talk to each other, remind each other, about ordinary things, and what makes life worth living. What makes this life truly privileged. This seems to be one of those times.

Born in the USA

By Mary Roberts

I lay on my yoga mat in savasana, the sweat dripping in my right ear. The teacher walks around with lavender-infused cold face cloths she places in our open palms. I put it on my forehead, covering my eyes. I feel the tears well up. No one knows that I’m crying. Hot yoga makes us all look like we’re weeping.

Mary Roberts is a writer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Click here to learn more about her…

My mind can’t settle. Trump had just declared the worse dictator in the world to be his bestie and, despite his abhorrence at ripping children from their parents’ arms, said he had to do it because the Democrats made him. Earlier, he had disrespected our oldest and most loyal allies, flipping them off as he ran away from any serious trade discussion or relationship-building, something an ignorant dictator would do.

I feel sick, like I can’t breathe, and think it must be the heat in the room or the high humidity, old memories of Boston summers when even the breezes from the ocean couldn’t dissipate the oppression we all felt, lying still and spent on the front lawn.

I don’t know why I’m crying—is it a sense of hopelessness? A sense of overwhelming disappointment in the GOP? I read that it’s now called The Cult of Trump, formerly known as the GOP. Is it helplessness in the face of 24 hours a day of lies, stupidity and Nazi-like adherence to a hate-filled agenda? Or is it that I can no longer talk to people I know who are Trump supporters? They smile at me and say that I’m just mad we lost.  I want to punch them.

Lying there, I feel like a loved one has died. Someone larger than life, someone I didn’t even know that I loved.

How some people feel about the state of America today: Howard Beale in the 1976 movie Network. Click here to learn more about the scene and to watch a video of it.

It dawns on me that it’s my country I’m grieving.

I’ve been fighting with it for so long (I’m a flower child from the 60s) that even when Obama arrived with hope and change, I was hesitant to expose my heart to a country that had for so long denied its culpability for the continued violence against minorities, had never apologized for its vicious treatment of native Americans, its misogyny, its hate of LBGTQ, its warmongering for oil, etc., etc. It took a couple of years and some changes, but I grew proud of where my country was headed, who we were aspiring to be. I was a little giddy with the beginnings of a nascent love.

What do you think? Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

And then it left me. My country turned and without even a “see ya’ around” changed into a stranger with no morals, no compassion, no idea of what the Constitution and the Rule of Law means. Now it’s just another business meant to keep the richest happy and the poorest miserable because, after all, it’s their fault.

I want to love my country and perhaps that means you and I do something together.

We must fight back and shout “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore” from the rooftops, like Howard Beale in the film classic Network. We must call our Congresspeople. I call Colorado Senator Cory Gardner four times a week and tell him to find his cojones and speak up. Don’t swear on the messages, though. They’ll delete them.

We need to call everyone we know for the next few months and tell them to vote in the mid-term elections. Leave that message all over social media. Make sure all newly-minted voters vote.

It means we must financially support groups that are trying to help the immigrants, like The Florence Project and Catholic Charities. We must give money to the ACLU so we can sue the entire Trump administration for being idiots who circumvented the Rule of Law. We must attend protests whenever and wherever they’re held.

We need to talk to people about what’s happening and if they say, “I can’t hear anymore,” we’re polite but we insist on it. This is too important. I’ve heard that we should talk to Trump voters, but I can’t. They’ll say something about a few more meager dollars in their paycheck or new manufacturing jobs or how the other countries have treated us like a cash cow. I don’t have time for them. There are more of us than them. Frankly, I think they secretly hope we can stop this madness, but they don’t know how to get out of the cult.

The yoga room has cooled off and I get up to leave.  I almost didn’t come to class, seeking to wallow at home in my own impotence and righteous anger. Maybe the first thing we ought to do is take care of ourselves with yoga, a massage, or a walk in the woods with a goofy terrier. I’m feeling better, but my heart is still too tender to test it by checking my news feed and finding new horrors that the Trump administration has concocted in the last hour.

I turn on Pandora and listen to the old protest songs of the 60s. Sam Cooke, A Change is Gonna Come:

“There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, a long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will”

I sing along. I remember. I’m ready. Again.

 

Learn more:

June 28, 2018: Immigrant children are appearing in court alone.

June 30: ACLU says government wrong to detain families.

June 30: As masses of Americans gather to protest, Trump golfs and blames the Democrats for immigration policy.

How Dracula and Trump use horror to scare the “ever-livin’ giblets” out of us

By Gary Kimsey

In 1972, I waited hours on a blustery afternoon to vote in the presidential election. Hundreds of people were ahead of me on the tree-lined sidewalk. As the dead leaves of fall swirled around us, most people grumbled about the long, cold wait.

By contrast, I was immersed in a novel about horror, and even now, 45 years later, I remember the tingling of my imagination from fearful words and suspenseful images.

I was taking a college class on the literature of horror. We studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and, among others, Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This was before Stephen King’s time, or I’m sure he would have been on the reading list.

Gary Kimsey is a writer who lives part of the year in Independence, Mo., and the rest near Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

The current reading assignment: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most people have seen Dracula movies, but few have read the novel. Take my word, the novel is scarier.

A gloomy night had fallen by the time I voted and walked home, frequently glancing back to see if vampires followed. My old house had huge windows with nothing to view outside but darkness. Wait just a Frankenstein moment, did I just see evil red eyes glaring through the black night?

I rushed to close the curtains. I switched on every light and situated myself in a corner chair where no vampire could approach unseen. I read on. I didn’t sleep that night. I was too jittery of things that might go bump.

Richard Nixon won the election. On went the Watergate scandal, dirty tricks, threats, lies, and nasty pronouncements. News commentators observed, “This is like a horror story.”

I thought about it. Yes, indeedy, Nixon’s actions exhibited all the elements of literary horror that I studied in my class.

The quintessential Dracula: Bela Lugosi.

Decades passed. I forgot all about similarities between a crooked president and literary horror—that is, until I saw Donald Trump’s attack on Myeshia Johnson, pregnant Gold Star widow of La David Johnson. Trump’s shameful actions were horrific in their own right, but the issue brought back memories of how a president’s tactics can reflect the elements of literary horror.

Five elements exist. Here is how each relates to the current president’s recent antics—please note that each example is just one of many that I could cite.

Dracula vs. Trump: What do you think? Take a short poll at the end of this article.

One horror element is foreshadowing, the strategic placement of scary tidbits that alert the reader that something bad will come. A recent Trumpian tidbit was dribbled about when the president told the media that his meeting with military leaders was “the calm before the storm.” Nobody knew then or even now what he was talking about. Yet, people began worrying. It could be, of course, that he was merely talking to hear himself talk, yet once again.

Kate Beckinsale as Selene, vampire warrior in the  Underworld film series.

Fear is a critical element. As horror literary expert Amanda Headlee points out, fear is used to scare the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Trump leverages fear by demonizing Muslims, Blacks, Congress, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, among others, the media. The result: Many Americans have gained an uncalled-for fear of those groups and persons.

Another horror element—suspense—keeps us worrying about monsters under the bed. Trump is a master of monsters.  Remember his threat to “reign fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea, a chilling statement that evoked the horror of a nuclear exchange? Since then, we’ve heard more of his threats—verbal slashes that some people worry could bring about World War III.

Mystery is a horror element that keeps us wondering if what we know is really true. In Trump’s case, consider health care. At some moments during the long Trump/congressional healthcare debacle, we thought we understood what was going on but then realized time and again that we knew nothing. Everything was a mystery that created unnecessary suspense and fear in many Americans.

Trump is a user of the most impactful element of horror: Imagination. As horror writer C.M. Humphries explains, “The cool thing about horror…is that you can toy with someone’s imagination. You paint a picture in such a way that the reader’s mind can become lost in thought the same way we might think there’s a ghost in the house during the thirteenth hour.”

As a way to inflame our collective imagination, Trump concocts wild, brash, scary statements—like the “fire and fury” and “calm before the storm” threats—and then leaves it up to the imagination of Americans and the entire world to conjure up terrifying visions.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Van Helsing in the 1992 gothic horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The Dracula novel, which I’ve re-read now and then since that night of the ’72 election, uses horror elements to move the story forward. Count Dracula is a monster who does monstrous things. It’s something he cannot help; evil is his primal nature. By the novel’s conclusion, when he is killed by a band of fearless companions led by Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula has almost become a pitiful character because it’s clear he had no choice over the horror he committed.

On the other hand, Trump is supposedly a human and therefore should be able to make decisions between right and wrong, and good and evil. Why does he use elements of horror? It is not to move our nation, our lives, forward.

The original movie vampire in the 1922 Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

He often uses horror elements to divert the public’s attention from issues that are damaging to him—the Trump-Russia Investigation, for example. Sometimes he solely uses elements like fear and mystery to draw attention to himself as the savior—the Dr. Van Helsing—that he so incorrectly perceives himself to be. And frequently, as we’ve seen in his Twitter attacks, Trump relies on elements of horror because, I suspect, he has a mean-spirited nature.

Americans don’t deserve a president who spends time scaring the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Unfortunately, what we have in the White House is an author writing his own personal horror novel which the rest of us are forced to endure. Rather than close curtains to keep him out, it’s time for Americans to grasp the metaphorical stake and blazing torch, and chase him out of the village.

 

Learn more about literary horror:

Core Elements of a Horror Story by Amanda Headlee.

5 Elements of a Good Horror Story by C.M. Humphries.

 

How Dracula and Trump scare “ever livin’ giblets” out of us

By Gary Kimsey

In 1972, I waited hours on a blustery afternoon to vote in the presidential election. Hundreds of people were ahead of me on the tree-lined sidewalk. As the dead leaves of fall swirled around us, most people grumbled about the long, cold wait.

By contrast, I was immersed in a novel about horror, and even now, 45 years later, I remember the tingling of my imagination from fearful words and suspenseful images.

I was taking a college class on the literature of horror. We studied Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft’s works, and, among others, Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow. This was before Stephen King’s time, or I’m sure he would have been on the reading list.

Gary Kimsey is a writer who lives part of the year in Independence, Mo., and the rest near Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

The current reading assignment: Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Most people have seen Dracula movies, but few have read the novel. Take my word, the novel is scarier.

A gloomy night had fallen by the time I voted and walked home, frequently glancing back to see if vampires followed. My old house had huge windows with nothing to view outside but darkness. Wait just a Frankenstein moment, did I just see evil red eyes glaring through the black night?

I rushed to close the curtains. I switched on every light and situated myself in a corner chair where no vampire could approach unseen. I read on. I didn’t sleep that night. I was too jittery of things that might go bump.

Richard Nixon won the election. On went the Watergate scandal, dirty tricks, threats, lies, and nasty pronouncements. News commentators observed, “This is like a horror story.”

I thought about it. Yes, indeedy, Nixon’s actions exhibited all the elements of literary horror that I studied in my class.

The quintessential Dracula: Bela Lugosi.

Decades passed. I forgot all about similarities between a crooked president and literary horror—that is, until I saw Donald Trump’s attack on Myeshia Johnson, pregnant Gold Star widow of La David Johnson. Trump’s shameful actions were horrific in their own right, but the issue brought back memories of how a president’s tactics can reflect the elements of literary horror.

Five elements exist. Here is how each relates to the current president’s recent antics—please note that each example is just one of many that I could cite.

Dracula vs. Trump: What do you think? Take a short poll at the end of this article.

One horror element is foreshadowing, the strategic placement of scary tidbits that alert the reader that something bad will come. A recent Trumpian tidbit was dribbled about when the president told the media that his meeting with military leaders was “the calm before the storm.” Nobody knew then or even now what he was talking about. Yet, people began worrying. It could be, of course, that he was merely talking to hear himself talk, yet once again.

Kate Beckinsale as Selene, vampire warrior in the  Underworld film series.

Fear is a critical element. As horror literary expert Amanda Headlee points out, fear is used to scare the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Trump leverages fear by demonizing Muslims, Blacks, Congress, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and, among others, the media. The result: Many Americans have gained an uncalled-for fear of those groups and persons.

Another horror element—suspense—keeps us worrying about monsters under the bed. Trump is a master of monsters.  Remember his threat to “reign fire and fury like the world has never seen” on North Korea, a chilling statement that evoked the horror of a nuclear exchange? Since then, we’ve heard more of his threats—verbal slashes that some people worry could bring about World War III.

Johnny Depp as a vampire in the 2012 horror comedy movie Dark Shadows.

Mystery is a horror element that keeps us wondering if what we know is really true. In Trump’s case, consider health care. At some moments during the long Trump/congressional healthcare debacle, we thought we understood what was going on but then realized time and again that we knew nothing. Everything was a mystery that created unnecessary suspense and fear in many Americans.

Trump is a user of the most impactful element of horror: Imagination. As horror writer C.M. Humphries explains, “The cool thing about horror…is that you can toy with someone’s imagination. You paint a picture in such a way that the reader’s mind can become lost in thought the same way we might think there’s a ghost in the house during the thirteenth hour.”

As a way to inflame our collective imagination, Trump concocts wild, brash, scary statements—like the “fire and fury” and “calm before the storm” threats—and then leaves it up to the imagination of Americans and the entire world to conjure up terrifying visions.

Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Van Helsing in the 1992 gothic horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The Dracula novel, which I’ve re-read now and then since that night of the ’72 election, uses horror elements to move the story forward. Count Dracula is a monster who does monstrous things. It’s something he cannot help; evil is his primal nature. By the novel’s conclusion, when he is killed by a band of fearless companions led by Dr. Van Helsing, Dracula has almost become a pitiful character because it’s clear he had no choice over the horror he committed.

On the other hand, Trump is supposedly a human and therefore should be able to make decisions between right and wrong, and good and evil. Why does he use elements of horror? It is not to move our nation, our lives, forward.

The original movie vampire in the 1922 Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror.

He often uses horror elements to divert the public’s attention from issues that are damaging to him—the Trump-Russia Investigation, for example. Sometimes he solely uses elements like fear and mystery to draw attention to himself as the savior—the Dr. Van Helsing—that he so incorrectly perceives himself to be. And frequently, as we’ve seen in his Twitter attacks, Trump relies on elements of horror because, I suspect, he has a mean-spirited nature.

Americans don’t deserve a president who spends time scaring the “ever livin’ giblets” out of us. Unfortunately, what we have in the White House is an author writing his own personal horror novel which the rest of us are forced to endure. Rather than close curtains to keep him out, it’s time for Americans to grasp the metaphorical stake and blazing torch, and chase him out of the village.

 

Learn more about literary horror:

Core Elements of a Horror Story by Amanda Headlee.

5 Elements of a Good Horror Story by C.M. Humphries.

 

Turn Off the NFL

By Bear Gebhardt

When riding a tiger, one should have a plan for dismounting.”                                                                           – old Chinese proverb

Our minority president hopped aboard a tiger when he took on the NFL kneeling practice. I predict this just might be the issue that gets bigger and bigger until it pushes him out of the oval office. You heard it here first.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

How paradoxical for a man who completely flaunts the long-established protocol for the highest office in the land to demand from his fellow millionaires that they follow established protocol!

In common with millions of other American men and women, I love football. As a kid, we boys—and occasionally girls—spent hours and hours playing the game in both front and back yards, in the parks and—a small minority of the time—on the regulated football field. In high school, as most guys, I was not good enough to be the starting quarterback, or even third-string string quarterback, guard or wide receiver. Indeed, I didn’t make the team. (We had 750 students in my graduating class.)

Nevertheless, even though I, and most other guys, were not stars, or even on the team, we loved the game. And as old geezers, most of us still watch it and talk about it and carry on as if it mattered. That said . . .

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

With the NFL Commissioner’s latest letter saying all players should stand during the National Anthem, it’s time, at least for me, to turn off the NFL. (Though I suspect I’m going to peek.)

The commissioner has revealed he has no backbone. He caved in and gave his lunch money to the schoolyard bully and suggests we all do the same. He can do it, but I, and you can bet your jock strap a whole bunch of the NFL players and coaches, are going to say no.

Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

That’s why I suspect this issue isn’t going to go away with the commissioner’s letter suggesting everyone give up their lunch money.

I admit, as an NFL veteran myself, I was conflicted to begin with on this take a knee deal. (I’m a veteran because I sold hot dogs at the Denver Broncos games throughout high school and first years of college.)

Even before the knee deal, however, I had growing reservations about spending my time watching the NFL. I have good friends who haven’t watched football in years—just out of principle—not willing to eat the bread or go to the circuses sponsored by the ruling classes. (Yes, indeed, I have commie buddies).

And then last year a good friend stopped watching the NFL games out of deference and respect to those players who have suffered long-term damage not only from the concussions (a new study revealed  96 percent of former NFL players show brain damage) but also leg and arm and back and butt injuries which often make their later years almost insufferable.

In years past, a different good buddy, watching the “injury time out” for a player on the opposing team, used to quip, “I hope he’s feeling better right after the game,” e.g., after our team wins!  A good way to think about it, we thought at the time.

Now, seeing an “injury time out,” if we’re honest, we have to admit that the injury just suffered, leaving this player on his back on the field, such that we had time enough to cut to a Budweiser commercial, might lead that player to fifty more years of pain and disability.

The guys on the field know the dangers of their work. But they have honed their skills to a degree unfathomable to we high school and college players they long ago left behind.  We ordinary blokes have the greatest respect for not only these players’ natural talents but for thousands and thousands of hours they logged in disciplined training, both on and off the field.

So when one, and then two, then dozens and dozens of these men take a knee to bring necessary attention to the pressing issues of police brutality and institutionalized racism, we have to accept, and respect they know what they are doing.

I am of course a patriot and proud and grateful to be a citizen of the good ol’ USA. One of the things I love most about the USA is our freedom of speech, our freedom of conscience, our freedom from being forced to believe or act in certain ways. We have a history of this. Not always perfect, but nevertheless working in that direction. I’m proud to be an American.

But my basic allegiance, even before to the nation-state, is to humanity itself. Before I was an American, I was born a human being, born a citizen of the earth, with seven billion other citizens. All people, even before they are citizens of the state, come endowed with certain inherent rights.

Every human deserves respect, the right to say, in a non-violent way, what’s on his or her mind. The right to be treated fairly and openly under the law, regardless of skin color, religions conviction or athletic ability. These are not just American values. These are human values.

So when some NFL players make a brief, non-violent, creatively defiant gesture to bring attention to the fact that the nation is not living up to the ideals of justice and equality symbolized by the flag, I respect not only their Constitutional right to do that, but also their human right.

When the NFL commissioner took a knee and bowed to the school bully, handing him his lunch money, it made me sad. It also made me ready to finally give up football, at least until we get a new administration, in both the NFL and Washington.

I do think our Minority President waded into a swamp where the alligators outnumber the “protocol” guys. I suspect the Take a Knee biz will finally show him to be in a position way beyond his skills. He will not easily extricate himself from this—just watch—increasingly fiery issue.

Recent news on the kneeling issue:

Oct. 17, NFL.com: What you need to know from the Oct. 18 owners and players’ meeting.

Oct. 17, New York Times: Trump criticizes NFL for not penalizing anthem kneeing.

 

 

Into what Hell does Trump’s money trail lead us?

By Gary Kimsey

Follow the money.

The boldfaced sentence above was popularized by the 1976 docu-drama All the President’s Men where two Washington Post reporters chronicled the nefarious trickeries of Richard Nixon. In 2016, the sentence emerged again into our everyday lexicon when Donald Trump used it while campaigning against Hillary Clinton.

Gary Kimsey is a former newspaper reporter and magazine editor. Learn more about him…

In a classic twist of irony, it may now describe how Trump will be brought down.

The Trump-Russia Investigation has picked up the scent on a trail that may lead to shady, illegal international deals involving lots of money, Russia and Trump. Most Americans lack knowledge about international banking, money-laundering, bribery, and fraud. However, we’re rapidly learning—thanks to the news media’s ongoing coverage of Trump’s international business deals.

Some Americans ignore or could care less about Trump’s Russian connections. This is unfortunate for our country as a whole. It demonstrates a lack of thinking, reasoning, caring, and awareness among a segment of our citizens.  The Trump-Russia issue has the potential to be more adversely impactful upon the American psyche and self-worth than the Teapot Dome Scandal of the 1920s, Nixon’s ribald lying of the 1970s, and Bill Clinton’s sex scandals. On the other hand—for Americans who follow the Trump-Russian issue—it sometimes seems as if we’re wandering around with Dante through the nine concentric circles of Hell, the realm for those who have perverted “their human intellect to fraud or malice against their fellow men.”

Create confusion: Trump knows an investigative journey into his finances is not good for him. His tactics to deflect the investigation have been of the same ilk as they were to avoid anti-Trump issues during the campaign and since the inauguration. When he wants to sidestep a topic, he relies on combative, nasty tweets and outlandish statements to change the national dialogue and redirect the public’s attention elsewhere.

Don’t forget to take the short poll at the end of this article.

As news gained ground in late July and early August about the Trump-Russian Investigation turning to Trump’s finances, the president suddenly steered us toward the brink of war with North Korea. He also crazily announced the possibility of using the U.S. military in Venezuela. He flip-flopped back and forth on the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacy related to the Charlottesville tragedy, and his inflammatory tweets and public proclamations switched the national dialogue to statues of Confederates and American heroes.

Learn more: This New Yorker article by Adam Davidson offers insights into money-laundering through international business deals and how Russia compiles extensive dossiers on businessmen like Trump with the purpose of blackmailing them at a later date. The article for the magazine’s August 21 issue is detailed and complex, and well-worth reading. The New Yorker illustration is by Oliver Munday; photograph of hand by Skynesher/Getty.

Trump also began a highly public Twitter offensive that attacked U.S. Senators in his own party for various issues such as the Senate’s inability to repeal and replace Obamacare. One attack began after Trump and Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had a profanity-laced phone conversation in which the president berated McConnell for not protecting him in the Russia probe. Next, Trump’s tweets insinuated that McConnell should resign over the Obamacare issue. Well, you get the point…Trump’s tactic is simple: Do what I say to stop the Russian probe or I will attack you on another topic.

Trump’s diversions serve two purposes. They appeal to many supporters in his political base. In addition, and more importantly for his own personal protection, they veer the public’s vision away from the money trail and such related issues as possible collusion between his campaign and Russians in the 2016 presidential election, a topic under scrutiny by the Trump-Russian Investigation.

Art of bad deals: Trump has a well-documented track record in the U.S. for defaulting on loans, business failures, bankruptcies, and deceptions. Years ago, almost every bank in the country started refusing to finance deals in which he was involved. “Trump has had a few successes in business, (but) most of his ventures have been disasters,” pointed out a 2016 Newsweek article which took an in-depth look at business deals he made over decades. “Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion.”

Without access to American financing, Trump turned to foreign countries for money for real estate and other deals: Azerbaijan, Brazil, Canada, Georgia, India, the Philippines, United Arab Emirates, and Uruguay. And Russia. One of Trump’s sons, Eric Trump, once admitted, “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

Confused about all that has happened in the Trump-Russia issue? Check out a deeply comprehensive timeline detailing what actually happened and what’s still happening in the ever-changing story of the president, his inner circle and a web of Russian oligarchs, hackers and government officials. You can find the timeline on the website of newsman Bill Moyers: BillMoyers.com.

In contradiction to Eric Trump, the president’s lawyers have recently and artfully said Donald Trump’s Russia-related income in the last decade only includes $12.2 million for holding the 2013 Miss World contest in Moscow and $95 million from a Russia billionaire who in 2008 bought a Trump estate in Florida, property that only four years earlier Trump purchased for $41 million. The transaction with the Russian was tagged as the single biggest family home sale in the history of America. The Russian never lived there and the home has since been demolished. A good deal that fleeced the Russian? Or a good payoff for some shady deal? Or money laundering? We don’t know.

Most importantly, as a New York Times article pointed out in May, the revelation by Trump’s lawyers leave “other questions unanswered, including whether Mr. Trump or his firms received Russian income or loans from entities registered elsewhere or whether he derived income from Russian-linked partnerships that file their own returns.”

Trump has claimed time and again that he has never had business deals with Russia. He deceitfully crafts such statements so listeners think he means all and any Russians. But, if one reads between the lines and does the research, it becomes obvious he specifically means only the Russian government. It appears to be true, in fact, that he never has had a business deal with the government.

However, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t tried. On August 27, the Washington Post published an insightful article about Trump and his organization attempting to create a deal with a Russian bank—one that is largely owned by the Russian government—to build a massive hotel in Moscow. The effort went on in secret while Trump was a candidate in late 2015 and early 2016.

No, it has nothing to do with sex: The Trump-Putin romance is about money and quite possibly blackmail. This mural of Trump and Putin adorns the outside wall of a barbecue restaurant in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Painted by local artist Mindaugas Bonanu, the mural was unveiled in 2016 and quickly received international attention. Read the Washington Post article about the mural…

Trump and his organization have deep connections with foreign companies, countries, and oligarchs (business elites with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin) strongly associated with and influenced by Putin and the Kremlin. As The New Yorker reported in its August 21 issue, some of these Trump partners have committed or are being investigated for money-laundering, fraud, illegal loans, and bank theft of billions of dollars.

Prevailing theory: The most common theory—which the Trump-Russia Investigation is following—is that Trump has profited through business arrangements with these Russia-associated companies, countries and oligarchs, and such arrangements are illegal under American and international laws. The other part of the theory is that Putin has secret information about Trump’s involvement in illegal deals. As a result, Putin has significant blackmail leverage over Trump.

The idea that Russia uses blackmail as a political tool is not new. The Russians have a name for it: kompromat. Putin and his government have craftily developed kompromat into a major component of foreign policy. They cultivate “marks” like Trump for years, enticing them with money and other promises, involving them in business deals and sometimes sexual opportunities. Remember the dossier about Trump and Russian made public earlier this year? (Read the dossier.) On August 23, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent 10 hours interviewing the owner of the company that commissioned the private investigation into how Trump was cultivated and used by Russia.

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Thus, our president dons kid gloves when it comes to Putin. Thus, Trump dismisses proof about Russia’s interference in the presidential election. Thus, Trump is Putin’s lapdog. Thus, America is in jeopardy; democracy endangered.

All of this, of course, brings us back to the Trump-Russian Investigation. Special counsel Robert Mueller has assembled a formidable team of lawyers with expertise in criminal law, organized crime, money-laundering, racketeering, counterterrorism, cyber security, and foreign bribery. Not unexpectedly, Trump doesn’t like the team. On July 27, he tweeted, “You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history—led by some very bad and conflicted people!”

Regardless of Trump’s views, the Mueller team will continue to focus on Russian connections. Trump will continue to try to discredit the investigation and change the national dialogue. Nonetheless, Americans have opportunities through news reports to learn more about the complexities and possible illegalities of Trump’s international business deals.

What is our role in this journey? Quite simply, we must not get distracted by Trump’s nasty tweets and wild statements; nor by the the Kafkaeque nature—the nightmarishly complexities—of Trump’s international business deals. There are layers and layers of shell companies designed to hide illegal transactions in these international deals. To make matters more complicated, Trump and his organization make it a practice to destroy records and sometimes keep a second set of secret books, as plaintiffs in some of the 3,500 lawsuits filed against Trump over the last three decades have discovered.

The most important action we can take at this moment is to keep abreast of news about his involvement with Russia and their associates. Read. Watch. Listen. Discuss. If the investigative trail leads to where many believe, put heavy pressure on our congressional representatives to vote for impeachment.

Whether Trump is proven guilty or innocent of collusion or other illegal activities, the Trump-Russian Investigation is a historic endeavor that will be discussed by pundits and historians for decades.

If innocence is on Trump’s side, we’ll face more of the same that we currently see under the Trump administration: an emboldened Alt-Right, more pollution of our air and waterways, tax incentives for the rich, fewer civil rights, and, among other things, less economic opportunity for many Americans.

If he’s guilty, well, then, we’ll have the opportunity to claw our way out of Trump’s purgatory and back into being a nation that is governed rather than ruled by hateful tweets.

Keep your eyes on the money trail.

 

Learn more: Read the following articles by respected media outlets:

What Language Might Heal Our Family Feud?

By Bear Gebhardt

Let’s pretend that I have an Uncle Waldo and a Cousin Fritz and a Sister Kate, all of whom were part of the minority who voted for the current Minority President. (How could they!) What am I supposed to say to them? How do I say it?

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

I also need to come up with a strategy to talk with those folks on my very block—that construction guy and his wife and that young kid with the motorboat—who actually put up his signs in their front yards.  How do I talk with them?  These folks are, after all, my family, my neighbors.

Do I just not talk to them ever again? Is the gulf between us now so deep, so vast and unbridgeable that further communication will forever be impossible? When I get together with them do I just not mention that huge, snorting (GOP) elephant in the room? How would my grandma and grandpa feel about such a chasm of “non-talk,” here in the family? Or, God forbid, might grandpa and grandma been part of that minority who voted for him (egads!). How do I get out of this family?

Alas, I can’t. We can’t.

We can’t resign from our families. And I doubt we could find a new neighborhood where no one voted for him.

Talk about it: One strategy, of course—a strategy many of us have been forced to adopt here in the early months of this new administration run by the minority 1 percent—is simply not talking about it. But this seems a rather inelegant, inartistic, maybe even cowardly approach to the problem. But simply to keep the peace, it’s a strategy many of us generously, regularly employ.

But, when the time and place are right, I sincerely do want to talk with Uncle Waldo and Cousin Fritz and Sister Kate, in a way that honors grandma and grandpa, about this bully elephant here trampling through the family gardens. The damage being done is simply too great not to talk about it.  It might, at first, be just a quick talk, a casual aside, but something needs to be done—said—to repair the communication breakdown here in the American family. The rift that has opened in our family in these times is as deep now as it was during the American Revolution, and the Civil War. We must begin to heal this communication breakdown before it becomes irreparable.

But how do we even begin?

The U.S.-Mexican border is not the only place where a wall exists. Americans find that communication walls about Trump and other political issues severely divide their own friends and family members.

George Lakoff, a retired Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley, suggests “The first thing that …should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue, In general, negating a frame just activates the frame and makes it stronger.”

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Lakoff goes on to observe that, The Clinton campaign consistently violated the lesson [not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing. The Clinton Campaign] kept running ads showing Trump forcefully expressing views that liberals found outrageous. Trump supporters liked him for forcefully saying things that liberals found outrageous. They were ads paid for by the Clinton campaign that raised Trump’s profile with his potential supporters!

Don’t empower: It seems like we, the majority, who did not vote for this one-percenter President, all too often fall into the same damned trap. We repeat his exact words and outlandish frames and the words and frames of his millionaire/billionaire buddies he put into positions of power. We repeat them because to us the words and frames sound so obviously outlandish and off the rails. But such repetition just reinforces and empowers those outlandish viewpoints, and keep his base actively supporting him.

Here are a few of the lessons we need to learn to begin to repair the communication “bridge out”:

  • Personal attacks on Trump give energy and credence to Trump.
  • Calling him names gives credence to his own name calling.
  • Making fun of his supporters makes them support him more strongly.

So, how do we begin to talk again with our neighbors and Uncle Waldo, Cousin Fritz and Sister Kate?

Here’s the challenge: We must deeply listen to the real issues behind the fiery words, and then think deeper, feel deeper.

We must look behind the words they give us, beyond the frames they draw.

Erase fears: And then we need to change the language. We need to listen to them, to what they are worried about, what issues they are afraid of. And then think deeper. And offer new frames, new language, to ease their fears. (Wide ranging fear—on both sides—is the dark force that has caused the “bridge out” communication chasm now present. To repair the bridge, we need to lessen the fear.)

Again, it’s worth repeating, as Lakoff observes: The first thing that should be, taught about political language is not to repeat the language of the other side or negate their framing of the issue.

So when Uncle Waldo suggests we should “Build a Wall,” we might first commiserate and agree that current efforts to keep out illegal immigrants just isn’t working. And then taking baby steps we change the frame, if only slightly, “As we all know, we already have 700 miles worth of fences, and concrete barriers and barbed wire, along much of the U.S. border, and how well is that working?”

Offer alternative views: And then we might laugh, remind Uncle Waldo what a great country we (already) have, and that the reason they sneak into the country is because of how much money they can make compared to their own country. If I could make $5,000.00 in a month washing dishes in a restaurant in Canada, I would probably sneak across that border if I couldn’t get a visa. Our own American farmers have been telling us we could go a long way to fix the undocumented worker problem simply by issuing more H2A  visas, get the farmers the help they need, legally. And in the same way we need to issue more J-1, H-3, H2B, L1 visas—help American businesses get the manual labor they need, but legally.  If we granted more visas, offered more work documents, we wouldn’t have so many undocumented workers!

I suspect Uncle Waldo would have to agree, at least a smudge. Again, let’s think deeper, wider, using the facts.

When Cousin Fritz demands, “America First,” we might ask him who should be second? And then ask him if he drinks coffee or eats bananas, and where do we get these wonderful things?

When Sister Kate suggests we “block refugees,” we might suggest the first step might be to stop bombing, stop creating more homeless people.

Instead of talking about “sanctuary cities,” we might talk about “world friendly cities.” Instead of using the words “Fake News,” we can agree that we desperately need “fact-based stories,” that can be verified. We DON’T repeat the Minority Man’s words.

And that’s the point: We must learn not to repeat their words, not to challenge their frames. As Cesar Chavez said, “Our language is the reflection of ourselves. A language is an exact reflection of the character and growth of its speakers.”

Let’s think deeper, think wider, about the issues behind their fearful words and frames. Let’s bravely, openly and lovingly speak our own language, and thus take steps toward healing this painful family rift.

 

 

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