Tag Archives: American politics

Assertiveness Training

Alex Milan Tracy / Sipa via AP Images

Susan Sheu | Longreads | December 2017 | 23 minutes (5,862 words)

In the early 1980s, my mother took a class at the local Wisconsin university’s student psychology center called “Assertiveness Training.” She was awakening belatedly to a version of the mind-expanding youth she had missed by marrying and dropping out of college at age 20 in 1967, during the Summer of Love. The class was taught by Dr. B, who told the students to use “I” statements to ask for what they wanted in plain terms during work and family interactions. (“I am unhappy that you said that to me. I feel that I am not heard when I speak to you.”) The idea was to learn to be assertive but not aggressive, to stop being a silently suffering martyr or someone who holds in all their anger and resentment until it boils over into inappropriate and ineffective rage or self-destructive behavior. It goes without saying that the class was all women. As she immersed herself in college again, my mother began to tell me that when I grew up, I could be anything I wanted — a doctor, a lawyer, a scientist. Even though the Equal Rights Amendment had not been ratified, she wanted me to believe that my future was up to me. Perhaps that was one reason she took Assertiveness Training, to be the kind of mother who raised a daughter who wouldn’t need a class like that.

My grandmother was the model of someone who regularly displayed inappropriate anger, someone my mom was trying to avoid becoming. My grandma Violet had once been docile, and my mom believed that she made the rest of us pay for that false submissiveness for the rest of her life. The short version of my grandmother’s story is that she didn’t marry the man she was in love with because he was Catholic and she was Protestant (this was Nebraska, circa 1928); she didn’t attend college despite receiving a debate scholarship because her mother feigned illness to keep her youngest child at home; and she tried to be a good wife in a marriage with a decent, practical man with whom she was not in love. She ran my grandpa’s restaurant while he was serving in World War II, and when he returned, no longer had any day-to-day responsibilities in the business operations.

By the time I knew her, my grandmother was smoking, alternating between Camels and Newports, drinking gin and, if she was feeling moderate, Mogen David wine (“The Jews” drank it. And Sammy Davis, Jr., “that talented Negro,” was a Jew. It had a screw top. And it was sweet.). She told off anyone who stood in her way, and for decades after her death, my mother made me pretend she was still alive, because it was the memory of my grandma’s fiery temper more than the restraining order that kept my father away. My grandma also took Valium, prescribed by the psychiatrist she began seeing shortly before her death in 1978. I was 9 when she died, but I already knew that her outspokenness and self-medication were a great source of shame for my mom and grandpa.

I’ve since come to understand that my grandma had the appropriate response to her circumstances.

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You Can’t Embarrass a Dog, or a Trump

"Felix" -- Photo by Michelle Weber

At The Baffler, David Roth pulls no punches in his assessment of Donald Trump for anyone still confused by his core beliefs and his approach to politics: he’s an asshole, and the self-centeredness that defines him mean that he’ll never change, and he’ll never care.

There is no room for other people in the world that Trump has made for himself, and this is fundamental to the anxiety of watching him impose his claustrophobic and airless interior world on our own. Is Trump a racist? Yes, because that’s a default setting for stupid people; also, he transparently has no regard for other people at all. Does Trump care about the cheap-looking statue of Stonewall Jackson that some forgotten Dixiecrat placed in a shithole park somewhere he will never visit? Not really, but he so resents the fact that other people expect him to care that he develops a passionate contrary opinion out of spite. Does he even know about . . . Let me stop you there. The answer is no.

The answer is always no, and it will always be no because he does not care.

Is this a screed? Yes, but sometimes reading a well-written screed does a body good. I give Roth bonus points for the piece’s excellent dog-focused introduction, tempered by a demerit for in any way likening the gift to humanity that is the dog to Donald Trump.

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New York in the 1970s Gave Us Hip Hop, Madonna, and the Chip on Trump’s Shoulder

Image by Bin im Garten (CC BY-SA 3.0)

New York’s chaotic 1970s — when the city was on the brink of bankruptcy and crime rates reached record highs — have been mythologized as the last great period of unfettered, gritty creativity before yuppies, and later hipsters, ruined everything. It’s a complicated narrative, and the election of Donald Trump, a city-hating city-dweller, makes it even more so. Here’s a man who’s unquestionably among the most provincial New Yorkers of all time, yet he’s just as unquestionably an iconic one. And his rise to prominence came about right at that moment when New York was (supposedly) at its worst and at its best. Michael Kruse, writing at Politico, dives into what we might call Trump’s Studio 54 period, the years when desperate politicians allowed Trump to build an impressive real estate portfolio underwritten by huge tax breaks, and when public (specifically, Manhattan elite) derision shaped his politics of resentment for decades to come.

If he had expected New York to grant respect the way it had handed out tax breaks and opportunities for sheer publicity, he was mistaken. Critics in the pages of the Times called him “overrated” and “totally obnoxious.” It bothered him that he could put up such a glossy building and still be so readily dismissed as an arriviste. “If I were Gerry Hines in Houston,” he told Marie Brenner for a profile in New York magazine in 1980, referring to the billionaire real estate entrepreneur in Texas, “I would be the most important man in the city—but here, you bang your head against the wall to try to get some nice buildings up, and what happens? Everybody comes after you.”

But Trump attacked New York, too. He had, for instance, valuable art deco friezes jackhammered off the face of the Bonwit Teller building during its demolition—even after he had promised to donate them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was a literal and visceral assault against the exact sort of New Yorker who found him so distasteful.

They were “nothing,” Trump said. They were “junk.”

They were not, said a man from the Met. “They were irreplaceable architectural documents.”

“Obviously,” huffed an editorial in the Times, “big buildings do not make big human beings.”

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David Sedaris Is Depressed

David Sedaris in France in December, 2010. (Photo by Frederic SOULOY/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s presidency seems to have only been kind to comedians and the wealthy. At the Paris Review, humorist and expatriate David Sedaris tallies the many reasons for his current state of shame and sadness, which comes from being an American traveling the world in times of Trump. As always, Sedaris’ greatest gift is his ability to laugh at the absurdity of life.

Eight. I join my family on Emerald Isle for Thanksgiving and have a great screaming fight with my Republican father, who yells at one point, “Donald Trump is not an asshole!” I find this funny but at the same time surprising. Regardless of whether or not you voted for him, I thought the president-elect’s identity as a despicable human being was something we could all agree on. I mean, he pretty much ran on it.

Later in our argument my father shouts, “He’s the best thing that’s happened to this country in years,” and, “It was just locker-room talk.”

“I’m in locker rooms five days a week and have never heard anyone carry on like Trump in that video,” I argue. “And if I did, I wouldn’t think, Wow, that guy ought to be my president. I’d think he was a creep and a loser.” Then I add, repeating something I’d heard from someone else, “Besides, he wasn’t in a locker room, he was at work.”

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Donald Trump As Bad Contractor

Most people who have lived through a renovation know the hallmark of a bad contractor. Those renovation survivors probably bristle at the words “two weeks.” Your completely gutted kitchen? It’ll be ready in two weeks. The nursery for your child due in a month? Two weeks, tops. The roof of the house you’re waiting to move into? Definitely done in two weeks, no sweat.

A good rule of thumb to remember, for those who have managed to escape this experience: it’s never, ever two weeks.

Bear that in mind as you read Toluse Olorunnipa’s Bloomberg Politics story, “In Trump’s White House, Everything’s Coming in ‘Two Weeks.’” Olorunnipa chronicles the many occasions on which President Donald Trump has vowed to deliver on a promise, projected a two-week deadline and missed it by a mile (or by 11 weeks, or 15 weeks), and smartly places the tactic in context using Trump’s own words from his book, The Art of the Deal.

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What It Takes to Remove a President Who Can’t Do the Job

(AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster)

The “Goldwater Rule” is a gentleman’s agreement between members of the American Psychiatric Association which “prohibits psychiatrists from offering opinions on someone they have not personally evaluated.” It was put in place during the 1964 candidacy of Barry Goldwater after Fact magazine surveyed more than twelve thousand mental-health professionals and found that nearly half of those who responded said the candidate was mentally unfit of office. Read more…

Stories of Immigration as Protest: Letters to Donald Trump

Photo by Ana Paula Hirama (CC BY-SA 2.0)

At Granta, Barbara Zitwer, Colm Tóibín, Elham Manea, Linda Coverdale, Kyung-sook Shin, and Anne Landsman share their stories of immigration to protest Donald Trump’s Muslim Ban as an abomination in a country built and fueled by people from away.

Barbara Zitwer: I was very moved at an i am muslim too rally in NYC a few weeks ago. There were people of every color, every age and every religion. I overheard a conversation – an elderly woman was speaking so animatedly in a low, raspy voice, and although she had a thick accent her words lodged in my mind: ‘My family died in a camp in Germany. No one stopped them. We can never let that happen again. We can never watch. We must act. I lived for a reason. I am a Jew and today I am a Muslim, too.’ And then she rolled up her sleeve and revealed a tattoo on her arm as if it was a badge of courage.

Colm Tóibín: It is always easy to invent enemies; it merely takes a failure of imagination, a determination to look inwards, a lack of confidence in our own ability to see clearly, to understand, to love.

Linda Coverdale: Many of the more than eighty French books I have translated into English deal with war, oppression, misogyny, racism, the plight of refugees and the gruesome hells of genocide. The second book I ever took on told the story of Molyda, a child who watched without a tear – even a single one would have betrayed her ‘complicity’ – as those she loved died in the killing fields of Cambodia. Rescued from a Thai refugee camp by a couple in Paris, she could not speak for a year, but her new parents, psychiatrists in exile from Communist Czechoslovakia, helped her to dance and sing her memories, which slowly became her French voice.

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On the Thin Line Separating Honesty from Rudeness

Just like beauty, rudeness is confusingly both in the eye of the beholder and a universal phenomenon, something we’re supposed to recognize in an instant. At The New York Times Magazine, Rachel Cusk explores the complicated question of politeness from various angles — from Brexit and the Trump presidency to airport security checks and in-store shopping etiquette. But she also dives deep into the fundamental difficulty of separating honesty from being plain rude.

Are people rude because they are unhappy? Is rudeness like nakedness, a state deserving the tact and mercy of the clothed? If we are polite to rude people, perhaps we give them back their dignity; yet the obsessiveness of the rude presents certain challenges to the proponents of civilized behavior. It is an act of disinhibition: Like a narcotic, it offers a sensation of glorious release from jailers no one else can see.

In the recollection of events, rudeness often has a role to play in the moral construction of a drama: It is the outward sign of an inward or unseen calamity. Rudeness itself is not the calamity. It is the harbinger, not the manifestation, of evil. In the Bible, Satan is not rude — he is usually rather charming — but the people who act in his service are. Jesus, on the other hand, often comes across as somewhat terse. Indeed, many of the people he encounters find him direct to the point of rudeness. The test, it is clear, is to tell rudeness from truth, and in the Bible that test is often failed. An unambiguous event — violence — is therefore required. The episode of the crucifixion is an orgy of rudeness whose villains are impossible to miss. The uncouth conduct of the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross, for instance, can be seen in no other light: Anyone thinking that Jesus could have done a bit more to avoid his fate is offered this lasting example of humanity’s incurable awfulness. They know not what they do, was Jesus’ comment on his tormentors. Forgive them.

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How Mike Pence Came Back from the Dead

Image by Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The months before Donald Trump picked Pence off the political garbage heap were not easy ones for the governor. While Oesterle and others eventually declined to challenge Pence in a GOP primary, his approval ratings remained under 50 percent, and he was even with a Democratic challenger in head-to-head matchups. He did gain experience in being booed that would serve him well at a performance of Broadway’s Hamilton in November. In the aftermath of the RFRA [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] fiasco, Pence was lustily booed at the home opener for the AAA Indianapolis Indians. “This is Indiana, not New York — we don’t boo anyone,” says Michael Leppert, a Democratic lobbyist. “It’s just not done.” Then rumors of Trump’s interest began to spread. At first, Indiana politicos were incredulous and wondered if anyone had actually looked at Pence’s record. But then it began to make a certain kind of sense: Trump was down in the polls, and no one from the GOP elite was interested in joining his train wreck. Pence looked downright statesmanlike when compared to the other possible choices: the Bridgegate-plagued Chris Christie, the thrice-married stegosaurus Newt Gingrich and noted crazy man Rudy Giuliani.

Leppert saw a transformation in Pence beginning with his speech at the Republican National Convention.

“If you watch his State of the State addresses, he seemed disinterested and low-key,” says Leppert. “But once he got on the national stage and could start pontificating on policy issues, it was like a light went back on.”

When he first joined the Republican ticket, media coverage of Mike Pence focused on his ultra-conservative record. In a wide-ranging piece in Rolling Stone, Stephen Rodrick documents an often-forgotten fact: that by the time he was tapped to become Donald Trump’s running mate, Pence’s political career was on the brink of implosion.

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California Defends Itself

California’s best weapon if war does come might be one beloved by Trump: the lawsuit. The man who would likely do the suing is a relatively unknown Los Angeles congressman: Xavier Becerra. He was not among those who won an election on November 8, but with Harris leaving for the Senate, the state attorney general’s seat was open. Brown chose Becerra, effectively making him the top law enforcement officer in the nation’s largest state.

Becerra, who is of Mexican heritage, wasted no time in letting his constituents know where he stood on the results of the presidential election. “If you want to take on a forward-leading state that is prepared to defend its rights and interests, then come at us,” Becerra said. “I believe with this nomination I have a chance to let California know I got their back.” That kind of confrontational rhetoric quickly led to suggestions that Becerra would become the national leader of the movement against Trump, with The Nation calling him “the most important appointment since the election.”

In Newsweek, Alexander Nazaryan details the many ideological and legal fronts on which California and President Trump clash, and the ways Californians are resisting and preparing for future federal incursions.

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