The Way It Was| Part 10

   Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

EDITOR’S Note:

Welcome to Part 10, the final installment  of “The Way It Was” (Eshrink’s memories of WWII from his perspective as a young boy growing up in Ohio). 

2014-07-08_New_Deal_GI_Bill_Rights_03

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) signing the G.I. Bill in June 1944.

Our conquering heroes were treated as such. Many would return to their old jobs and families. But colleges, universities and trade schools were flooded with students as nearly 8 million veterans took advantage of the GI bill which paid for tuition, and living expenses for any approved college, high school, technical, or vocational school. Many universities found it necessary to erect quonset huts to handle the influx, while others opened branches in enabling some vets to commute (the latter allowed me to start college).

Low interest mortgages and business loans were made available, along with one year of unemployment compensation if needed. There were some who objected to the policy as being socialistic along with the prediction that it would encourage laziness. It turned out that this time the unintended consequences of a government policy were positive. Teachers and professors almost unanimously applauded the GI’s for their discipline, and dedication to their studies. Employers were recruiting rather than shunning veterans.

Sociologists and economists mostly agree that this massive educational effort contributed in a big way to the post war era of prosperity and to our becoming the dominant force in the world. We gained respect for not only our military prowess, but intellectual and artistic pursuits. For example, It would no longer be advantageous to study medicine in Europe, rather Europeans would now line up to study in the US. The ready availability of an educated workforce allowed us to move ahead of other countries in industrial and scientific research, and to mold our “swords into plowshares.”

Learning from History

Of course, we had a head start in the race for supremacy considering the fact that the rest of the industrial world was in shambles having suffered the brunt of the war’s devastation. In a rare display of good judgement, we seemed to have learned from past mistakes and decided to use our new-found prosperity to create the “Marshall Plan” which was designed to help rebuild and revitalize Europe including Germany and Italy.

This was in marked contrast to the treatment of Germany after the first World War, when they were severely punished. This was undoubtedly a major factor in causing WWII a mere 20 years later. The Marshall Plan, i.e., the general strategy of helping the countries we had just defeated, was roundly criticized by many who felt we were rewarding bad behavior. However, the rebuilding of Europe combined with a similar program for Japan has resulted in the establishment of democratic governments and prosperity for all, but most of all peaceful relations which have lasted for 70 years.

Those postwar years were full of the promise of peace and prosperity. The boys had come home, were going to school, or working better jobs. My Brother and my uncle as beneficiaries of the GI bill were the first in our family to have ever gone to college. As with millions of others, they were soon starting families, and the baby boom began. In 1948 I graduated from high school and worked briefly as a go-fer at an automobile agency, where there was a long list of people waiting to buy a new car. This was true of all kinds of items which had not been produced during the war. There was building everywhere, the economy was booming, and the future looked bright, but that euphoria was short lived when Joseph Stalin entered the picture.

War Makes Strange Bed Fellows

Stalin was at least as ruthless as Hitler, and is said to have executed millions of his political adversaries with even more dying in his gulags as his concentration camps were called. Nevertheless, he had been welcomed into the fold as an ally after he declared war on Germany. He called himself a communist but his definition of communism involved the presence of an all-powerful dictator.

Yalta Conference. Winston Churchill, Franklin

Left to Right: Churchill (PM of England); Roosevelt (President of the USA); Stalin (Leader / United Socialist Soviet Republic-aka: Russia)

At the famed Yalta conference called to decide the fate of post war Europe, Stalin was granted control of Eastern Europe after suckering FDR and Churchill into believing he would keep his word about establishing democratic governments in those countries. His duplicity marked the beginning of the Cold War which would become more frigid with Russia’s development of a nuclear bomb in 1949. This led to the policy of “mutually assured destruction” (a.k.a., a Mexican standoff) and the construction of backyard bomb shelters, air raid drills in schools, and teaching kids to sit under their desks…as if that would do any good in an atomic bomb attack.

air raid picture

air raid info

air-raid advertisement

Why?

It should come as no surprise that since I am a psychiatrist I might have some interest in human behavior, Although you could legitimately question if some of our world’s worst tyrants mentioned in this paper are really human. As a teenager during that great war I was subjected to a lot of news of the atrocities carried out under the direction of these people who at first glance would seem to be free of a mental illness. One of my friends had occasion to spend a great deal of time with Saddam Hussein following his capture. He was surprised to find him quite personable. In one of their conversations Saddam stated that he acted as he did because it was necessary to save his country. I am left to wonder if he really believed that, and if is such a rationalization is common among Tyrants.

After endless years of speculation as to what makes these guys tick, they remain a mystery to me. We psychiatrists are well versed in labeling various conditions, but not so good at finding causes. I am aware and concur that power corrupts, but still after those years of mental gymnastics I remain perplexed as to how these otherwise apparently normal people can do such evil deeds. Even more puzzling is how they are able to convince masses of people to follow their lead and participate in the torture and murder of others.

Nuremberg Trials

020419-nuremberg-trialWith the end of the war members of the Nazi hierarchy were rounded up and charged with “crimes against humanity.” I was 16 years old and found time to follow the trials in Nuremberg in spite having recently found the love of my life.

Nuremberg-trials-8

There apparently was some effort to learn something about these guys for I recently found they were all given Rorschach tests (these tests are now discredited by many). Herman Goering was second in command in Germany under Hitler, and I recently found a transcript of his testimony.  He was surprisingly open about the operation of his government and freely discussed the operation of the concentration camps and how adversaries were ordered to be killed by the SS or Gestapo. He was sentenced to be hanged, but managed to have cyanide smuggled in and killed himself.

goerring 1

Although, I knew the story of Goering’s suicide it was only recently that I learned there was a very interesting and strange sequel to the story. Goering had been examined by an Army psychiatrist by the name of Lt. Col. Douglas Kelly. He apparently shared some of my curiosity as to what made these guys the way they were. He is said to hope he would be able to identify what he called a “Nazi personality” which could be identified before such bad guys could come to power. From the story it sounds as if he was suffering from a serious mood disorder, which must have gone undetected by the army. In any event, after a minor disagreement with his wife he ingested cyanide and killed himself in front of his wife and children a la Goering.

True to the Biblical prophecies we have continued to “hear of wars and rumors of wars.” I was one of the lucky ones for my brief stint in the Navy was in between wars. It seems I will go to my grave with no understanding of why we do what we do to our own species. I have some ideas, but none seem to make sense. Perhaps we should add another diagnostic category called evil people to our diagnostic manual.

Thanks for the Memories

On this cheery note I leave you all to ponder those ways of the world which are beyond my understanding. I do want to thank Peter for suggesting this topic. The reminiscences have been fun, and as I have mentioned before that is the thing we old folks do best. It has also reminded me to be grateful for having been born in a time and place where I was loved, and for the good fortune that has accompanied me all these years.

 

 

The Way It Was| Part 9

   Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength.
While loving someone deeply gives you courage.
Lao Tzu

Editor’s Note: Above is a quote Eshrink found while doing research for this series of blog posts: The Way It Was (a glimpse into how he saw life growing up during The Depression and WWII). He said it might be his all time favorite quote so I decided to put it at the top of each post in this series as a reminder of the power of words and the power of love. Eshrink’s writing illustrates the power of both! In case you missed earlier posts in this series, I’ve provided links below.

EDITOR’S Note:

Welcome to Part 9 of “The Way It Was” (Eshrink’s memories of WWII from the perspective of a young boy). This will NOT be the last chapter of our series as I had written previously. The FINAL installment will be Part 10: Life After Victory (plus, 10 signifies completeness/order…seems odd ending this incredible series on a 9). In this post, Part 9, Eshrink takes us through the end of the war. What he remembers and new information he uncovered during his research. 

The Big 3 WWII, Churchill, Stalin, FDR

The Allied Forces were referred to as the Big 3 WWII. The Big Three were Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union with their leaders being Winston Churchill (right), Franklin D Roosevelt (middle) and Josef Stalin respectively.

After the invasion of German-held countries (D-Day), things began to look up as the allies made substantial gains, although those telegrams kept coming and daily we saw blue stars in many windows turn to gold.  Patriotic fervor never wavered and with better news from Europe there was more focus on the Pacific theater (I always wondered who came up with the term theater, and if he really thought war was entertaining).

FDR

According to the FDR Library/Museum (go to: fdrlibrary.org – it is a wealth of information), this is the last picture of FDR, which was taken April 11, 1945 (the day before his death) at Warm Springs, Georgia.

As you might expect there was wild jubilation in the streets all over the country with the defeat of Germany and Italy (V-E day or Victory in Europe Day) in May 1945, almost a year to the day that my brother had been drafted, and one month after the death of Roosevelt, who had served nearly 12 years in office.

Mussolini was summarily executed and his body mutilated by partisans.  Hitler had committed suicide along with his longtime lover, Eva Braun. Actually, Mussolini was executed with his mistress, Claretta Petacci, also.

I do remember there were rumors that Hitler had escaped and the body found was not his, but there seemed little doubt about the fate of Mussolini as his body was hung out for all to see (Editor’s note: in all fairness, the caption from the picture of Mussolini and his mistress hanging in the center of Milan says the “fascists” who were executed, including Mussolini and Petacci, were hung in the exact spot where civilians from Milan had been hung a year earlier after being executed on Mussolini’s orders for being part of “resistance” activities).

In days, it would all be over and the dancing in the streets would begin with confidence that Japan would soon fall.  The most shocking of all those incidents during the final days was the death of Goebbels, who poisoned his six children before killing his wife and himself.  In some way this seemed the most heinous of all the millions of evil crimes committed by these mass murderers, and it has stuck with me to this day.  It remains beyond my comprehension how someone could kill his own kids, though it is true, he did have a lot of experience murdering innocent children.

All this took place in a matter of weeks after a woefully unprepared new President was sworn in.  Harry Truman was chosen by FDR for Vice President as one who could help him carry the Midwest.  He was not included in FDR’s inner sanctum, and it has been said they did not even like each other.  In July of 1945, the atomic bomb was successfully tested at Los Alamos and Truman was faced with the choice of what to do with it.  He was later discovered to have written: “It is an awful responsibility that has come to us”.  (This links to a series of articles about that difficult decision Truman made). He was of course referring to the decision to use the bomb on Japan.  Having served in WWI as an artillery captain, he knew something of the horrors of war.  He had distinguished himself as a Senator, was the only President of the 20th century that hadn’t attended college, although he was proud to say he had read every book in the Independence Missouri Public Library.  He kept a sign on his desk which said The Buck Stops Here, and indeed in this case, it did, for few would want the responsibility which rested on him.

With the defeat of the Germans, and the Japanese fleet and air force nearly destroyed, it was obvious Japan would not last long.  Nevertheless, there was continued concern about the fighting to come, due to the Japanese honor code, which prescribed that one must fight to the death.  Even more extreme was the requirement that high-ranking officers must literally fall on their swords if defeated in battle.  Thus, the fighting in the island jungles continued.  It was brutal but futile.  To make matters worse, Russia declared war on Japan, and Russians were not known to be very gentle occupiers as evidenced by their European conquests.

My memories of the fall of our European foes are clear, but I don’t know if we were informed as to what was going on with Japan in the time that followed.  I have since learned that Japan had indicated their desire for a peaceful settlement.  I do recall the term “unconditional surrender” voiced a lot by our new President, and I believe I heard the term used once by General MacArthur, the chief of military operations in the Pacific.  An invasion of Japan was in the planning stages and expected to result in as many if not more casualties than in Normandy.  The potential for invasion was achieved during the Battle of Okinawa when we took the island of Okinawa, which proved to be the most bloody conflict of the entire war as mentioned previously.

With the taking of Okinawa, the Japanese mainland was within reach of our bombers and Tokyo was basically destroyed with a firebombing even more devastating and with more loss of life than either Germany’s Blitzkrieg of London or our firebombing of Dresden.  In researching for this blog, I was surprised to learn that those saturation bombings of Japan had killed more people by far than both atomic bombs.  In spite of the obvious hopelessness of their position, the Japanese showed no sign of surrender.  Their kamikaze pilots continued their suicide missions, and many of their soldiers chose suicide rather than capture.  With that in mind, our military predicted invasion of Japan would result in an even higher body count than previous operations.

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 with the name Enola Gay would become famous as the first plane to deliver an atom bomb.

It flew from the Marianna Islands to deliver the most efficient killing machine yet.  Indeed, we had come a long way since those days of one-on-one killings with clubs or spears.

Little Boy The Atom Bomb used to end WWII

The Atomic Bomb nicknamed “Little Boy” before it was loaded onto the Enola Gay.

When the bomb dubbed “little boy” went off, the entire city of Hiroshima, along with 80,000 people, were incinerated.

But that was only the beginning for untold thousands who would subsequently suffer from various forms of cancer, organ failure and genetic diseases in the years to come.  Three days after Hiroshima, Nagasaki would suffer the same fate.

Over 50 years later, I found myself treating a former Navy medical officer who was one of the first to enter the ruins where that city once stood.  He was still tormented by memories of what he saw there.  There is no denying that in spite of the horror of those two days, the strategy was effective. Just a few days after Nagasaki, Emperor Hirohito ordered the “unconditional surrender” demanded by the Allies.

Truman Oval Office announcing surrender of Japan

President Truman in the Oval Office announces the surrender of Japan.

The term “celebration” does not do the public reaction justice, and was probably exceeded only by the elation felt by those troops who were already preparing for the assault on the mainland of Japan. They must have been aware of the thousands who had died on the beaches of Normandy, and there were expectations that a mainland invasion would be even more deadly.

Celebrations in Times Square

The image that has become the symbol of the end of WWII. This was made famous by LIFE magazine. It was taken in Times Square upon the announcement that Japan had surrendered.

The movie newsreels showed images of the wildly spontaneous celebrations throughout the country, but they also showed a mushroom cloud (filmed at Los Alamos) as it rose ominously toward the heavens.  In some ways, that enthusiasm was to be tempered by the implications raised with the development of such an unbelievably destructive weapon.

As more news became available as to not only the deaths but possible long-term effects of radiation exposure, Truman’s decision to use the bomb was called into question by many.  Later, we learned that Germany had been on the verge of developing their own version and the scourge that continues to haunt us was inevitable.  We were now well on our way to developing the power to create our own version of an apocalypse, and the cold war soon began with Russia.

Our boys, as we called them, were soon on their way home to be greeted as heroes.  There were home coming celebrations everywhere.  The patriotic fervor persisted or even increased.  The 4th of July celebrations were spectacular and veterans of all stripes were treated as special.  The marriage business flourished as the vets were reunited with the girls they had left behind, and many brought wives home with them. There were happy days, except for those who returned with injuries or illnesses suffered in the fighting.  Even the politicians were united and nice to each other in spite of some differences in opinions or policies.

My Brother

My brother died a few years ago and at his funeral was an 8×10 photo of him in uniform with an army issue Colt 45 strapped to his waist.  I was amazed at how young and innocent he looked, and I realized that we really had sent kids off to fight a war.  Upon his return, two years after that picture was taken, he had aged beyond his years.  Like most combat veterans, he never wanted to talk of his experiences.  But I once heard him talking to another vet about the cruelty exhibited by some of our soldiers, and in particular one solider in his squad who was ordered to take a prisoner back to the POW camp.  Soon after leaving, they heard a gun shot. The soldier returned with a smile on his face and said “he tried to escape.” This confirmed my opinion that war does terrible things to both the victor and the vanquished.

My brother’s discharge was quietly celebrated.  I was particularly enthralled with the contents of his G-I duffel bag, which proved to be full of all kinds of goodies including a luger pistol which had been confiscated from a German officer.  Then I noticed a blue box with the U S Seal on it, which he quickly took from me saying something like, “That is just some of that junk the Army passes out.” Of course, I would never let that sort of thing rest without my perusal and when I opened it, there was a Bronze Star with the citation that he had made his way through enemy lines at great danger to himself to notify headquarters of his company’s location, which resulted in the rescue of his company that was surrounded by superior forces.  He also brought with him a special gift for me, an attack of scabies, took little note of my protests, and reported that such things were standard issue to dogfaces like himself.

Editor’s Note: Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Eshrink’s final installment, The Way It Was: Part 10, where he touches on the aftermath of the war, the good and the bad.

A brief interruption of the “The Way It Was” Series as we return to “Shrink Stuff” | Personality Disorders 101

PERSONALITY DISORDERS

The other night while dining with friends, I was asked for my professional opinion as to the mental health of our President.  My response was not very professional as I responded “I think he is nuts!” There is a caveat, especially important in our business, that one must carefully consider any pre-determined bias before rendering a diagnosis, and my response suggests that I had violated that rule.

In retrospect, I realize that my friend was asking for a less flippant answer to his question.  Anyone who owns a TV (or uses Twitter) would probably agree that Mr. Trump’s behavior is different from what we are accustomed to seeing in our politicians.   His detractors suggest this is evidence of significant mental disorder while his supporters applaud him for being earthy and “unconventional.”

I have previously written (click this link to read that post from 2016) about Mr. Trump in not very flattering terms concerning his mental status, and the non-position taken by the American Psychiatric Association of which I am a lifetime member.  Those mental health professionals who insist that Trump is mentally impaired and therefore unfit to hold office in most cases make a case for the diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  After the conversation with my friend, it occurred to me that most people might be unfamiliar with what signs and symptoms might lead to such an impression

In the first place, it may be helpful to explain what we in the shrink business mean by the term personality disorder as people sometimes overuse a term and its true meaning from a psychiatric standpoint gets watered down (for example: a person who might say upon having a bad day or disappointing day, “I’m so depressed” when in reality they aren’t clinically depressed, just a little down).

Personality Disorders | Definition by Psychiatrists

The general criteria listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM which is now in its fifth edition. The definition of personality disorder as summarized in DSM IV is “an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture” (not caused by such things as drug abuse, or other medical problems).  Unfortunately, for me the criteria as listed in DSM V are more complex, and since I am a simple-minded person I will stick with DSM IV in my discussion (but perhaps more to the point I am reluctant to invest a hundred bucks in another 900 page dust collector for my bookshelf).  In either case, it is clear that those who suffer from a personality disorder are very different.

Signs & Symptoms of Personality Disorders

Signs of personality disorders characteristically have been present for long periods usually from childhood.  These patients are difficult to treat.  Although some psychotropic medications may be helpful, the gold standard remains long-term intensive psychotherapy, a commodity which is in short supply these days.  The symptoms usually serve a protective function. Consequently, patients in treatment have difficulty giving them up.  An even bigger problem is that in many cases people who need treatment most are those lacking in insight. Consequently, they are convinced there is nothing wrong with them.  This is especially true in cases of narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders.  They believe they are perfect in every way so why in the world would they need a psychiatrist?

Narcissism | Signs | Symptoms | Cause

The term narcissism is from the Greek myth about Narcissus who fell in love with his image while gazing into a pool of water.  This did not work out too well for him for he eventually committed suicide when he realized his true love was himself.  A bit of narcissism is not a bad thing…as a matter of fact most therapists would probably report that low self-esteem is one of the most common problems they see and that they spend a great deal effort trying to help their patients learn to like themselves.  But as with most things in life, it is the extremes which cause us problems.  We all know people who are arrogant and self-centered, but those with a narcissistic personality disorder take that to the level where their self-image is so far removed from reality that it approaches the delusional.

He/she of the narcissistic personality disorder is the master of the superlative.  He is never simply good at something, he is the best.  Others are not bad, they are the worst.  Everything in life is measured against the perfection that only he possesses.  The need to maintain this distorted image of himself dominates his life and leaves no time to consider the needs of others.  He is convinced he is special, and deserves special treatment.  He courts admiration or subservience in relationships, and is pathologically intolerant of criticism.  This preoccupation with self, frequently distorts perceptions and may affect judgement.

As with many mental health problems, the causation is up for grabs.  There may be some abnormality of brain function, environmental factors, or both.  Some postulate that excessive adoration by parents is the cause, while others feel the opposite, namely that excessive criticism is the culprit.  Whatever the cause, most agree that such extremes of narcissism serve the purpose of protecting a very fragile ego.  His need for attention is never satisfied.  Indeed, the tenacity with which the narcissist holds onto and nurtures these false opinions of himself leads one to suspect an underlying desperation at the core of his being.  The most readable synopsis of narcissistic personality symptoms I have found lie in a pamphlet distributed by the Mayo Clinic as follows:

  • They have a sense of entitlement and require constant excessive admiration
  • Have an exaggerated sense of self importance
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Preoccupied with fantasies of success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
  • Insist on having the best of everything (for instance the best building, golf course, yacht, wife, etc.–the examples are my words NOT Mayo Clinic’s example–they used car and office)

Narcissism & Trump

So, there you have it – all you need to make a diagnosis.  You Trump watchers have certainly observed enough behaviors to decide if the shoe fits.  If you conclude that the diagnosis of Personality Disorder fits, you should be concerned as to the fitness of POTUS to handle the job.  Those so diagnosed are prone to react in irrational ways when their distorted view of themselves is threatened and consequently are very sensitive to any kind of criticism, often reacting with over-the-top rages.   Mistakes are never acknowledged for to do so would shatter the myth of their perfection.  They react poorly to stress and to change, and there is no doubt that POTUS must be under mountains of stress considering all the investigations currently underway with many of his former supporters on their way to jail.

While in the midst of writing this, I was directed by one of the friends I mentioned in my opening statement to a YouTube presentation by John Gartner, a Ph.D. psychologist at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Gartner is convinced that Trump is demented.  Gartner is adamant in his diagnosis and convinced that he should be removed from office.  In spite of Gartner’s intensely verbalized political views, he does make a good case for an Alzheimer’s type dementia.  However, I believe the evidence he presents is not unusual for one afflicted with a narcissistic personality disorder who is under threat of losing that shield, which protects him from facing the reality of his deficiencies.

Narcissism Exposed (“s#@t hits the fan” time)

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, my major concern is that the current investigations will turn up things which he will not be able to deflect with his usual strategies of denounce, deflect, or deny.  Recently, he has seemed less rational with a 2- hour long rant at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and the strange attempts to demonize John McCain months after his death.  In the so-called Twitter storm from last week, he seems enraged at everyone within range.  It appears that his only respite is the campaign rallies at which he is able to bask in the attention accorded him, confirming to him that he really is “The Greatest.”

Some say our President is “crazy like a fox”.  It is true that he has turned self-promotion into a very successful career, even becoming the world’s most powerful man.  Those same talents have served the additional function of satisfying insatiable ego needs.  I believe that Trump’s narcissism governs every aspect of his life, and explains the “crazy” things he does and says.  I believe that he is psychologically vulnerable and likely to demonstrate irrational and impulsive behaviors if his defenses are destroyed.  With that in mind, I hope all these investigations do not burst the President’s fragile ego for that could be disastrous.

Editor’s Note: I was slow on the editing of Eshrink’s post and so much has happened since he originally wrote this article. The Attorney General released a 4-page summary of the Mueller Report on a Sunday while many of us were watching our brackets bust during the NCAA basketball tournament.  I kept asking why the full report wasn’t being released to the public (the taxpayers paid for it, as POTUS continues to remind us in the context of money wasted) or at least released to Congress (it seems Nancy Pelosi wonders that, too.) However, Eshrink’s post about Narcissistic Personality made me think maybe the inner circle knows more than we think about the stability of POTUS and his psychological vulnerability that could lead to an even worse outcome. History will tell the tale… I’m sure those working inside the Oval Office will have plenty of great material for books once this crazy time in our republic’s history is behind us–if the Republic survives that is. God Bless America. We need all the help we can get!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Way It Was | Part 2

Note from the editor: Click here to read Part 1 of “The Way It Was”

Conversations Overheard

There was a fringe benefit for me from the depression in that I received my first indoctrination into the ways of the world which included comprehensive discussions of politics, economics, world affairs, and morality but with a special focus on means of survival in difficult times.  My education occurred while lying on our living room floor listening to Dad and friends (not to be confused with Fox and Friends) debate all kinds of issues while they focused on possible work sites.  The men were regular visitors to our house where they met and planned strategy to find work.  It is likely that they were attracted to our house as a meeting place by Dad’s famed home brew.  Although he was not a bootlegger per se, he was known to have occasionally traded a bottle or two for some needed commodity.    I was an accomplice in the enterprise as I took great delight in placing a cap on each bottle and watching Dad press it in place. 

There must have been a robust feeling of camaraderie amongst those guys who were all in the same sinking boat.  There was laughter in spite of their dire circumstances, and there were frequently told colorful stories which without benefit of Dad’s home brew would not likely have reached my tender ears.  The coarse language was not lost on me, and was quickly incorporated into my vocabulary, the use of which would often get me in trouble.   One particularly memorable event occurred when Dad took the guys down to our cellar to show them his success of the day.  He had received a feisty old rooster in return for a day’s work, and the rooster was confined to the cellar, a small space with a dirt floor cool enough to render the beer palatable.  Someone stumbled over the pan of water left for the rooster and Dad filled it with beer.  Surprisingly, the old guy imbibed with gusto and was soon stumbling, flapping his wings, and attempting to crow in a falsetto voice.  If he was hung over in the morning it was short-lived as a few hours later he would be on a platter sharing space with some drop dumplings.

Work

In spite of the bravado most of the conversations had to do with work or rather the lack of it.  The meetings were unscheduled and men would drop in at various times during the evening with comments like “I thought I would drop in to shoot the shit.”  There were always rumors of things to come both good and bad… this place was laying off, another was going to be hiring, another business was in trouble and about to go under, etc.   In 1933 the unemployment rate is said to have been 25%, but that number does not tell the whole story.  Many who were said to be employed were actually able to work only part time.  For example, Barb recalls her Father listed as an employee at a local steel mill, but usually actually working only one day a week and sometimes sent home early even for those days.  He avoided eviction by painting houses owned by his landlord. 

One conversation in particular stands out in which one of the men who was employed at a local glass container factory said he had just come from his workplace and had been turned away.  He reported that at every shift change there were huge crowds of employees at the entrance hoping to be chosen to work that day, but few would be chosen.  He loudly and profanely complained that the foremen “suck asses” and relatives were always the first chosen to work.  Some jobs or professions previously considered ordinary were highly prized.  Postal workers, school teachers, and local government jobs were highly prized for their stability.  The lack of available cash led to a great deal of bartering, especially with farmers who had no one to whom to sell their crops.  Conversely, professionals such as doctors and lawyers along with day laborers were often paid with food (e.g. the story of the inebriated rooster).   

Civics (Yesterday’s Term for Politics)

No education is complete without lessons in civics and the down-but-not-outers were not shy about expressing their opinions in such matters which was probably enhanced by the tongue loosening effects of Dad’s beer.  There was considerable disagreement amongst the group with almost everything.  In our home Dad was registered as a Republican and Mom was a lifelong Democrat.  I have the opinion that in those days one usually belonged to the party with which they had grown up much as with they do with religion.  Dad in spite of his upbringing had experienced an epiphany: he blamed Hoover for the depression and lauded FDR’s efforts to restore the economy. 

Those on the negative side of the debate were equally vociferous in their ridicule of FDR’s “make work programs” and “socialist stuff.” There were all kinds of jokes referring to the WPA and their workers having a penchant to be seen leaning on their shovels.  With the establishment of social security in the mid- thirties the idea of government taking money out of his check (if he had one) and giving it to someone just because he got to be 65 years old did not sit well with the naysayers.  A typical analysis might go something like this: “What ever happened to the idea of saving for old age” or “If they can’t take care of themselves, they should go to the poor house” (large forbidding appearing buildings euphemistically referred to as county homes).  Families were expected to care for their elderly or infirm parents consequently; they shared in the disgrace, and were denigrated for forcing their parents to “suck on the public tit.”

The most often discussed and vilified make work program was the WPA (Works Progress Administration).  The average wage was $52 per month yet one of my uncles worked in the program until it was disbanded in the early 1940s.  During that time, he managed to raise two children with the help of his wife who was able to find work cleaning the house of an affluent neighbor.  Although largely removed from most employment opportunities, wives did find ways to contribute.  For example, Barb’s Mother did laundry in her home in spite of a childhood injury that left her crippled.  The WPA worked on infrastructure projects while the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) focused on environmental projects.  It was an organization for young men who were housed in barracks throughout the nation and paid even less.  They were best known for planting millions of trees, often in areas where logging had left a desolate landscape.  Roosevelt in announcing its formation said; “forests are the lungs of our nation.”  They also fought forest fires, worked in national parks and landmarks building roads, trails and camping facilities.  Many such projects remain in use to this day.

Philosophy 101

While listening in on those conversations from my vantage point on the living room floor I was also privy to discussions of moral issues some of which have bedeviled philosophers for eons.  For example, one evening one of the guys reported that he knew of a place where it was possible to steal casing head gas.  Although gasoline was 18 cents a gallon, he did not have 18 cents, his car was out of gas, and he couldn’t look for work. (For the unenlightened of my readership: casing head gas is formed by compression of natural gas by functioning oil wells.  It is a very low quality fuel and can cause significant damage to automobile engines.)  Since he was without the means to get there, he was attempting to recruit an accomplice.  This provoked a heated debate.  Not only was his proposal illegal there was that “thou shalt not steal” thing in the Bible for which some thought there were no exceptions.  This brought up oft delivered hypotheticals one of which was very relevant to their situation which was “would you steal food if your children were starving?”   

Keep Walking or Go to Jail

Vagrancy laws made homelessness even a greater problem than it is today for one could go to jail for “having no physical means of support.” When I looked up the origin of such laws, I was surprised to find they were written after the Civil War as as a means to get freed slaves off the street and into the chain gangs which could be rented out, a process some called a new form of slavery.  These laws were found to be useful during The Depression as a means to rid the parks and other public facilities of the homeless.  I had always wondered where all those men I used to see walking along the highways were going.  Later it became obvious that they must stay on the move or go to jail.

These were the same guys who would sometimes appear at my Grandmother’s back door offering to do work for food.  Of course, there was no expectation that work would be done.   Grandma would bring a plate out for them and after a brief repast they were on their way. Since farmers were those who were most likely to have food to spare and cops were scarce these backroads were fertile territory.   I heard stories of farmers who discovered “bums” asleep in their haymows especially during inclement weather.  Depending on the compassion of the farmer they might be awakened by the business end of a pitchfork or sent to the house for something to eat then on their way.

Many of these hoboes or bums as they were called in those days would become so enured to that lifestyle that they would spend the rest of their lives on the move never staying more that a few days in one place.  They became expert at hopping freight trains, knowing their schedules and where they slowed enough to get on them.  They often migrated with the birds following the seasons.  They eventually developed places where they could hide for a few days at a time usually close to a rail depot but far enough away to avoid the railroad police.  It is said they verbally catalogued places that were soft touches for hand-outs.  Thus, a nomadic subculture came into being demonstrating the remarkable change which can be brought about in an industrial society by an economic crisis.

An Early Exit Prevented

At some undetermined time during those preschool years I experienced life threatening incidents one of which would label my Father as an unlikely hero.  In what was probably an effort to provide food and recreation simultaneously, he had decided to take me, my brother and mother fishing probably with the hope of making a meal of our catch.  The site, called Pleasant Valley was a favorite of mine and was next to a small conclave of houses reached via a covered bridge over the Licking river.  Its only reason for existence was a Post Office situated next to a major rail line.  It was a mail distribution facility for a large part of the county, and its fascination for me was to be able to watch the train rush past at what seemed to me to be at least 100 mph, while a metal arm reached out from the mail car, dropping a bag of mail, while snatching a similar bag, and pulling it back into the car without even slowing.

Most likely, on that day I was preoccupied with the hope that the mail train would come by.  The river was high, and I recall staring at the water as it rushed by, then everything was suddenly brown.  Probably that memory remains so vivid due to fact that I would have a recurring dream of that incident for years although; such dreams were not frightening but consisted of the sensation of floating in that brown water.  I am told that Dad saw me fall into the swollen river and immediately jumped in although he could not swim.  I was told that my life was saved by a single button for I was wearing a light jacket with one button fastened and Dad reached out with one hand and was able to grasp the jacket with one hand.  He threw me upon the bank and as he was floating by, managed to grab a root growing out of the river bank and save himself.  Thanks be to God that the button held for had it not you would have been denied the joy of reading these blogs!

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned for Part 3 of The Way It Was! 

CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG?

rodney king

It has been 27 years since Rodney King, an alcoholic drug-addicted Los Angeles cab driver, tearfully uttered those words. Rodney was a troubled soul whose beating by police officers was filmed by a bystander and precipitated the L.A. race riots which resulted in the death of 63 people, hundreds of injuries and massive property damage. The answer to Rodney’s question remains moot, for we are still not getting along very well. Perhaps we need to spend more energy on learning why this is still true.
REAL CHANGE OR WINDOW DRESSING?
It is true there has been progress in race relations, the issue of police brutality is being seriously addressed, and the “metoo” movement has garnered some traction, but we continue to expend a great deal of energy in fruitless debate which never seems to find resolution. This is especially true in our current political scene where vituperative language has become the norm, and both democrats and republicans cling so rigidly to their positions that compromise is impossible. Disagreements have become personal. Name calling and character assassinations are routine.
A PERFECT STORM
Not since the civil war has there been so much divisiveness or tribalism as is the currently fashionable term. It appears to me that there are multiple reasons why we can’t “all just get along,” one of which is the nature of our political campaigns. Somewhere along the way experts in such matters determined that so-called negative campaigns are the most effective strategy, and that has become the modus operandi for all kinds of kinds of candidates from dog-catcher to president. With the candidates continually trading insults and accusations, there is little relevance paid to issues and the undecided voter is left to decide which of the candidates is worse. Since his vote is based largely on his disdain for the character of his hero’s opponent rather than issues he is likely to retain very negative feelings towards the one whom he voted against. Such feelings may be carried forward and make it more likely that when a discussion ensues between two on opposite sides of an election civility is less likely.
NEWS. ARE YOU KIDDING?
So-called cable TV news stations have also in my opinion contributed to this giant schism in our political discourse. I use the term so called for they can hardly be called news outlets, but are dominated by political commentary to be generous or perhaps more accurately political propaganda outlets. Fox News leads the pack with the most viewership and the most conservative commentary. Their current star Sean Hannity is said to be one of Trump’s most trusted political advisors yet they have the temerity to call themselves “Fair and Balanced.” At the other end of the political spectrum is MSNBC who no longer attempt to hide their pro democratic bias. Then comes CNN which makes a pretense of being neutral, but fails miserably. They do have some conservative consultants on their staff which they bring in on occasion for their group discussions.
WHERE IS THE MIDDLE?
One thing these networks have in common is their programming which consists mostly in bringing in groups of experts (there must be a lot of experts in Washington for they never seem to run out) and have a group discussion with participants representing more extreme positions on both sides of an issue. Consequently; a viewer is likely to choose a more radical position. The days of political reporting in which both sides of an issue are elaborated upon by a single person with no skin in the game seems to be long gone. Only PBS seems to follow that old-fashioned format of simply presenting the facts and allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions.
GROUP THINK
During my career as a Psychiatrist my patients taught me much about our desire or perhaps more accurately said our need for validation. As such we are inevitably drawn to those who share our beliefs and perceptions, and therein lies the effect of today’s dueling media outlets. Those of us who harbor conservative beliefs will be drawn to Fox while the more liberally oriented will stick with MSNBC or CNN, “and never the twain shall meet”. The same phenomenon is operant with “talk radio” and with the internet which is becoming a news source for increasing numbers of people. As we continue to be immersed in one particular viewpoint and converse only with people of like mind we find ourselves rigidly attached to one particular political philosophy having convinced ourselves that we are the only custodians of truth.
LOGIC BE DAMNED
An argument can be defined as a person or group attempting to convince others that they are wrong. It is also true that political issues can have serious consequences therefore; political arguments can and often do become emotional. I recall as a child hearing the admonition that one should avoid discussions of politics or religion in polite company, and indeed these are the two subjects about which people are likely to have the most intense feelings. Since I am a peace-loving man and something of a wimp to boot I must admit that I tend to shy away from raising the issue of politics with friends whom I know to be on the opposite side of the fence. I submit that this same phenomenon exists throughout society and deters us from discussions of the issue that divide us and hopefully learn to compromise or at least respect the opinions of those with whom we disagree.
Advertisers have long proven that repetition in TV ads will sell everything from Viagra to Tylenol, so why not politicians. The Washington Post reports that $6.5 billion dollars were spent on the 2016 election much of which undoubtedly went to television ads leaving us drowning in a sea of powerful messages describing how terrible are all those candidates for office. Little wonder that elected officials now share the worst favorability ratings ever, and that disgusted citizens are so sickened they don’t even bother to vote.
BAD GUYS EVERWHERE
Among the most powerful motivators are anger and fear, and those masters of propaganda who manage elections are adapt at using them as weapons. Naturally when one votes for a person because he is persuaded that the other candidate is a threat other issues will become irrelevant adding more fuel to that fire which inhibits reasonable discussion.
Our prevaricator in chief has proven himself to be a master at eliciting those feelings and continues to describe the press as “the enemy of the people” and members of the Democratic party as “evil”. There are also the warnings about immigrants characterizing them as criminals, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and subversives. His talent for instilling such feelings is well demonstrated by the behavior of some of the attendees at his rallies. History shows us that a very effective way to unite a group of people is to find a common enemy, and his followers revel in chanting “lock her up”.
THERE REALLY IS “FAKE NEWS”
Last but certainly not least is the effect of the internet and social media which held such promise in bringing people together has now become a powerful weapon to interfere in our elections primarily by propagating conspiracy theories and lies of all kinds so numerous that it is virtually impossible to rein them in. Artificial intelligence has further sharpened these tools so that individuals can be targeted with false information tailored to their own particular biases or prejudices, and can reach millions of people in short order with very little expense. Nearly everyone except Mr.Trump agree that the Russians were very involved in such shenanigans in our last election and although we are told the effects on the election cannot be determined there is little doubt that it has contributed to much confusion and misinformation designed to enhance our divisiveness.
WISHFUL THINKING
The other day when I began writing this I thought there were signs of at least some yearnings for a coming together to work out problems. Niki Haley in her retirement announcement appeared to break from her boss and indicate that she did not think political opponents to be enemies. There was commentary on our need to come together, but those hopes were soon dashed with the pipe bombs, and now the senseless shooting of 2 black people in Kentucky followed by the mass murder of Jews in Pittsburg.
SOME BEHAVIOR IS PREDICTABLE
With such horrors filling the headlines you might think they would provoke serious talk about bridging the now toxic divide that separates, but after expressing regrets and sympathies yesterday our fearless leader is back on track today blaming the news media for causing the tragedies. Apparently, the false flag theory which named the Democrats as the perpetrators didn’t fly so he was forced to go to his fall back strategy. Nevertheless, we once again hear talk of our need to come together in spite of our differences. Will we follow through this time?  Hope springs eternal!

Rebuttal to Op/Ed

When we officially abandon civil discourse | Christine Flowers

Hoping that a child will be raped is the vilest thought that can be formed in the civilized brain.  There is no “larger picture,” no justification, no explanatory context. You cannot say, “Well, yes, that’s bad, but what I really meant to say was that the kids of any conservative who supports that bastard Brett Kavanaugh deserve to be treated the same way (she says she) was.”
Hoping that a child will be raped is inhuman, but it is no longer out of bounds in social discourse.  Recently, I came across a public posting on Facebook, which means the author wanted the world to have access to her thoughts.  It was a jeremiad against Donald Trump, which is unexceptional these days, since he seems to turn certain people into human volcanoes that spew rivers of hateful prose.  I avoid them when I see them scroll through my Facebook news feed.

 

But this one caught my attention because I love children, spend a lot of time with them, and used to teach them. I also represent them in immigration court, like the little girl whose hand I held as she told the judge the other day that she was from Honduras, and that she was 5, and that pink was her favorite color.

So when I saw these words, I froze:

 

“Time to burn everything to the [expletive] ground, when  it comes to this vile, non-human garbage who by stealing and cheating ended up in the White House.  Are we going to take as any kind of truth an ‘investigation’ that isn’t one? Are we going to take his a–hole supporters who say ‘lock her up’ to Dr. Ford? I’m a good and nice person, a peace-loving person but let every one of them and their sons and daughters get raped, accosted by one of those ‘boys will be boys.’ ”

 

It went on.  I reported the post to Facebook, and as of this writing, it’s still there.  That’s Mark Zuckerberg’s problem now, because I’ve blocked the poster.  But it was important for me to not simply shake my head as I used to do and move on, narrowing my group of friends to those with whom I could share photos of my sweet black Labs and funny anecdotes from my family along with political essays and ruminations.  I’ve resigned myself, ruefully, to the realization that this political and social climate is choosing for me, without my permission, the comfortable echo chamber, where even though I hear kindred thoughts, I miss some of the kindred spirits who didn’t share them.

In other words, I am becoming increasingly isolated from liberal ideas because it is much harder these days to have a civil conversation. And yet I have very good, very decent, liberal friends, like Robin and Donna, Jennie and David, John and Victor, who would never in a million years write about the rape of children in the same breath as they wish death on a president they can’t stand.  They make me realize that this is not a partisan disease, even though many of my conservative friends urge me to see “the other side” as the enemy.

 

I have to admit that these past two weeks, the “other side” has been Dixie to my Union, the Axis powers to my Allies, guillotine-wielding Jacobins to my aristocracy.  The Democrats, for whom I have vowed to never again cast a vote, have morphed into a caricature of their former selves in their duplicitous crusade to destroy a man and his reputation. I see nothing there that reminds me of the party I belonged to for 37 years. But that is political, and I understand that there are just as many Democrats and liberals who read my words defending Brett Kavanaugh last week and felt the same revulsion for me that I feel for the despicable assault on the judge.

I would sincerely hope that even they, disgusted with our president and with the people he has chosen to represent him in the cabinet and now on the court, would recoil from the suggestion that my hypothetical children and the children of Kavanaugh supporters should be raped.

 

You might say that this is anger speaking, and of course it is. But the appropriate place for that anger to burn is in the deep and quiet recesses of the mind, hidden from view. That we have now reached the point that assaulted children are considered appropriate conversational tender sterilizes the soul and induces a nausea that can’t be eliminated by blocking the person who dares to write the words.

And not even the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice will make it better.

http://www2.philly.com/philly/columnists/christine_flowers/facebook-social-media-civility-conversation-20181004.html

RESPONSE from ESHRINK

Dear Ms. Flowers:

Perhaps you are right that we should limit discourse on the subject of sexual assault on children, after all hiding  such incidents has worked quite well for the Catholic church [editors note: the movie Spotlight is a peek into the importance of a free press and the commitment real reporters have to exposing the truth].  However; you should be congratulated on your effective use of the time honored strategy of blaming the victim, or even better to further politicize it by holding democrats responsible.  Little wonder that you “feel revulsion for the….despicable assault on the judge.”  After all he has lived a life of privilege and as he frequently reminded us was an honor student at Yale, which should immunize him from any such accusations.

As a recently retired psychiatrist I have many memories of times spent with patients who have been unable to dismiss the pain from having been violated, often as children.  That pain often results in a lifetime of impairment.  Dr. Ford’s story was very familiar to me as was Kavanaugh’s response, which was to release an explosion of suppressed rage.  His behavior has been excused by his supporters who suggest he has a right to be angry however;  were he seen by me as a patient I would consider him a good candidate for anger management training.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those “liberal democrats” who would very much enjoy having that “civil conversation” which you say is lacking in your life.

POWER OF THE PRESIDENT

john-adams-war“Power always thinks it is doing God’s service when it is breaking God’s laws.”  – John Adams

Nearly 250 years ago, a bunch of guys got together and decided they had enough of being ordered around by some guy wearing hardware on his head. They decided they wanted to let everyone in on the act of running their country. Even though there was not a large populace, there were obviously too many people to get together in one place and debate issues without the whole thing degenerating into a riot. There were also logistical issues since they were lacking planes, trains, automobiles, phones, radios and such, not to mention the massive undertaking of assembling adequate numbers of port-o-potties.
The solution of course was to have the people select citizens of like mind to represent them and assume responsibility for running the country. In spite of their abhorrence to one person rule they realized it was necessary to have an executive type person charged with the duty to implement their decisions. Since this person was to represent everyone, he was elected by a nationwide vote. Of course, there is nothing in this overly simplistic civics lesson that is not already known by anyone capable of reading this thing however my point is to suggest that we have deviated from the original script handed to our Presidents by those original designers of our government.

WHO IS THE BOSS?
It is clear that the Constitution expects the President to do the bidding of congress. Although he is free to initiate some actions on his own, most require congressional approval. Politics is all about power, and those guys writing the Constitution were wise enough to realize that the pursuit or even lust for power is an inherent quality which afflicts all mankind. I suspect they were well aware there would always be those lurking in the shadows looking for an opportunity to take over consequently; they saw fit to distribute power among three separate branches.

In addition to a legislative body charged with making laws and an executive to implement them, there was need for a judiciary to resolve differences in interpretations of the Constitution. It was to be headed by a supreme court which would be the final arbitrator. In an effort to provide those judges with immunity from political pressure, they were given lifetime tenure. Now these judges render decisions that are very predictable and just happen in most cases to coincide with the political party which sponsored their appointments. This lack of objectivity is so blatant that we now label each judge as either liberal or conservative, and their votes reflect their political biases. But that is another story, and for now I wish to focus on what I see as problems with the power of the President.

THE OLD BAIT AND SWITCH
It is obvious the original intent was for the balance of power to be heavily weighted towards the legislative branches, and that the President couldn’t do much without their approval. It appears to me that the roles have been reversed, so that the President now carries the big stick and congress sucks up to him. As a matter of fact, the President is now often referred to as the most powerful man on earth. The question arises as to how this power shift came about.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON
Consider the State of the Union address mandated by the Constitution: The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” Article II, Section 3, Clause 1. Those of you who have managed to put boredom aside long enough to listen to some of these performances may have noticed that those “recommendations” often sound more like demands these days.
Indeed, his entrance to the hall is greeted with a reception fit for a king or even a rock star. He is announced with great fanfare, and his fellow travelers surround him reaching for his hand or the opportunity to touch the cloak of the great one as he moves toward the podium. As he speaks his fans cheer from one side of the aisle while the opposition ensconced on the other side glowers. The entire spectacle reminds me of a high school football game where the fans of each team sit on opposite sides of the field cheering for their guy no matter the content of his words. In the game of politics the prize is power. With millions watching worldwide this is the ultimate in “bully pulpits”, and POTUS uses it to great advantage.

WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT ALWAYS WHAT YOU GET
Image is most important as a means of gaining power. A popular President can be of great help to a congressman seeking reelection, and likely result in a tendency to bow towards the President’s demands. FDR made effective use of radio with his “fireside chats” as a means to not only reassure the nation but to bypass congress and appeal directly to the people to support his views. Now we find there is hardly a day goes by without some pronouncements from our President on TV, not to mention his very effective use of social media to influence voters.

PROBLEM SOLVING VS. FOOD FIGHTS
Our two-party system nearly guarantees support from congressional members of like party affiliation. Consequently; when his party is in the majority he is unlikely to face much opposition, and even when faced with a majority opposition he needs to schmoose only a few, in order, to have his way. The extreme divisiveness we have experienced in recent years results in what Truman called “a do-nothing congress” with the chief executive taking charge by default. The hostility of political debate has become so intense that it often seems as if those we elect show more loyalty to their political party than to their country. This allows a power-hungry person (and aren’t they all) to rise above the fray and be seen as the adult in the room. The current divisiveness encouraged by our political parties was predicted by both our first and second Presidents even though Adams laid the groundwork for the 2 party system.

FOLLOW THE MONEY
The nearly limitless budget of the executive branch allows the president other opportunities to curry favor and therefore power. For example, Woodrow Wilson was able to overcome the resistance of U.S. involvement in World War I by hiring a full-time person and staff charged with selling the idea to the public, all of which naturally was paid for by that same public targeted by the propaganda. A more current example concerns the amount of costs to taxpayers of travel to deliver “campaign style speeches” by our current president. There appears to be no such accounting available. In similar manner Presidents early on learned of many ways to influence public opinion by using taxpayer money to burnish their image and enhance their power.

NEED TO KNOW
Secrecy is vital to maintaining a grip on power, and generous use of the rationale of withholding information due to alleged risks to national security has become commonplace. The most egregious example in my lifetime was the continued involvement in the Vietnam war long after it was clear to those in charge that the war was lost, yet I don’t recall any apologies by our leaders, including the commander in chief, for the thousands of lives lost in order to protect the image of presidential infallibility. More recently of course was the use of black sites for torture, and procedures designed to invade the privacy of the citizenry. These activities also had been kept under wraps and only disclosed via the work of the press and so-called leakers who in many cases should be renamed as patriots.

TRUST, BUT VERIFY
Yes, we are living in the information age and information is power, even more so than in the early days of the country’s formation. The liberation of secrets is the job of the press, which must remain apart and free from government influence. Following a debacle early on in which a number of publishers were actually imprisoned, the founders wisely passed the 1st amendment to the constitution which among other things guaranteed the freedom of those truth finders to accomplish their missions. Many Presidents’ relationships with the press have been contentious to some extent as the struggle for openness is continuous. Our current leader disdainfully describes the press as “enemies” of the people, but our founders saw them as protectors of liberty.

WHEN THE PRICE IS RIGHT
As our government has grown exponentially so have the number of jobs controlled by the President. There are staff members, judges, lawyers, a cabinet, department heads, ambassadors, an office staff, advisors, and many other positions to be passed out to the faithful. Generally, the president is given a great deal of latitude in choosing these people, and confirmation by Congress when required is usually a formality. The power to hire or fire in these highly valued jobs is considerable, and an effective form of patronage which guarantees loyalty and influence.

THE BIG CLUB
The impetus for writing this little ditty came about as I recently noted that a number of executive orders were being reversed. I set out to find what the executive order thing was all about, and found it had its origins from Article 2 of the Constitution. My take on that was that they saw the need for the president to have sufficient power to implement laws passed and to make decisions regarding his operation of the executive branch. Congress could also cede power to him when required. I also learned that executive orders are subject to judicial review and carry the power of law. The biggie of course is the President’s ability as commander in chief to wage, but not declare, war which in the atomic age is about as powerful as one can get.

The executive order has been used with great effect to increase the power of the President. It was not until Theodore Roosevelt that it found its greatest utility as he averaged nearly 3 EOs per week during his tenure. The fad caught on quickly and successive presidents upped the ante with Teddy’s cousin FDR, who has remained all time champion, with twice that amount. His three term total was 3,721. Not to be outdone, our own Donald Trump is on track to sign the most such orders in 50 years.

People being the way they are, it is not surprising that our presidents continue to test the limits of executive orders. In response to an article in the New York Times titled “Shift on Executive Power Lets Obama Bypass Rivals” Bruce Fein writes in a letter dated April 24, 2012, the following:
“Executive branch power at the expense of Congress and the Constitution’s checks and balances has mushroomed since World War II. Examples include President Truman’s undeclared war against North Korea; President Eisenhower’s executive agreements to defend Spain; President Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin Resolution regarding Vietnam; President Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia and assertions of executive privilege; President Clinton’s undeclared war against Bosnia; and President Bush’s countless presidential signing statements, Terrorist Surveillance Program, waterboarding and Iraq war.”

Another problem with executive orders is that they can be rescinded by subsequent Presidents as has been the case with nearly all of President Obama’s orders. This does not provide for a great deal of consistency especially when they involve issues involving other countries, leaving them to wonder if they can count on our commitments.

SORRY GEORGE
George Washington in his farewell speech cautioned against “foreign entanglements”. We have ignored that advice in spades and Presidents are largely responsible for many of the worst entanglements from which we now find nearly impossible to extricate ourselves. Granted the world is now smaller and more interconnected than in the early days, thus isolationism is no longer an option, but promises to deliver “shock and awe” or “fire and fury” must imbue one with a greater sense of power than to engage in some mundane international trade agreement.

HELP IS JUST A DICTATOR AWAY
As the world shrinks not only our own troubles but those from thousands of miles away appear as if on our doorstep. The presence of an ocean separating us offers little protection, and the world becomes a scary place. The world is now troubled and there are volunteers everywhere promising to fix everything. Today there appears to be a trend towards authoritarianism with some leaders now in office for life. Madeline Albright in her book “Fascism A Warning” points out conditions that lead to fascist take overs. In a previous blog, I mentioned Erich Fromm a German psychoanalyst who proposed in his 1941 book “Escape From Freedom” that freedom is anxiety provoking and that in times of crisis people naturally look for someone to take charge and tell them what to do and how to do it. There is an upsurge of fascist activities throughout Europe and the U.S.

According to the Economist’s Democracy Index of 2017, they have noted a worldwide trend towards autocracy including Hungary, Egypt, North Korea, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela. Their 2018 report indicates continuing decline, and they re-categorized the United states from a democracy to a flawed democracy. Perhaps, even more disturbing was a report from the Pew foundation which showed a decline in Americans’ faith in their government from 70% to below 20% in the past 50 years. Albright says, “We are becoming disconnected from the ideals that have long inspired and united us.”

TOO BUSY TO VOTE?
Those ideals were put forth by a group of revolutionaries many years ago who so believed in those ideals they were willing to risk being hanged as traitors. It is difficult for a wimp like me to imagine the courage required by their decision to go up against the most powerful man on earth, or to imagine the courage of the nearly 3,000,000 Americans serving in the military who have since died in defense of the ideals that are the foundation of this great Republic. Though some of those efforts may have been misguided, they certainly were real to those who fought for them. The ultimate shame must reside in those in positions of power who may have sent them in harm’s way for any reason other than the defense of those ideals.

There are many who believe that we are now facing a time of greatest threat to our democracy since its birth. In any event we can now longer take it for granted. If we really care we must become involved. Our voting records are appalling. The greatest threat to our democracy is and perhaps has always been from the inside. My favorite birther of our nation John Adams recognized this in the very beginning in the following statement: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”.
Some of our current President’s behaviors may seem laughable but they are not funny! They deserve our serious attention.