Monday, December 5, 2016

Flotsam from the Trump thought stream

The early projection: Donald Trump is the end of satire.

Not that as president he would ban it, although in his fantasies he shuts down "Saturday Night Live." It's that based on his early proclivities, Trump is beyond lampooning.

Whatever scene a humorist might conjure, he lives it. He is his own work of fiction.

Presidential? Oh my; with smart phone in hand, he is a running joke. Consider the laughable data he mined from a sophomoric web site to assert that Hillary Clinton's 2.3 million-vote plurality comes from illegal votes.

Granted, the man may turn out to be FDR. Based on his material, however, as of now Trump is Kanye West without rhythm.

So is this what we face: Late at night, when Trump should be doing something constructive on behalf of the republic, he paces his quarters, armpits ablaze, sleeveless like Brando on stage, rat-tat-tatting out dubious mind-blorts into the wee Twitter hours.

With fake news and a never-ending stream of bad information, with fact-checkers hospitalized for exhaustion, President Trump finally may answer the question, "Can anyone break the Internet?

Just another night: Trump tweets his thoughts about flag-burning. Flag-burners should be jailed and their citizenship revoked, he says. 

The Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag-burning is protected symbolic speech. (Arson is a crime; inciting a riot is a crime; theft is a crime. Symbolism is not a crime.) Not only that, but the court elevated such an act above free-speech quandaries like obscenity, for one reason alone: Flag desecration is a commentary on the government.

The proposition that a nation based on freedom of thought would dictate how people could comport themselves around a government symbol should repel anyone who embraces American principles.

The type of authoritarian patriotism Trump craves was embraced by India's highest court recently when it ordered movie theaters to play the national anthem before each show, with the audience required to stand. 

More on inconvenient speech: In the campaign, Trump said that as president he would "open up the libel laws" to allow public figures to sue the press. So doing, Trump showed that he didn't have a clue about press law or what his threat would mean.

In the landmark New York Times vs. Sullivan ruling of 1964, the Supreme Court told people like Trump who seek to run the country, or a state, or a city, or a school district, that the bar would be set purposefully high for defamation claims. The low bar that existed before the Sullivan ruling chilled discussions of public policy.

Oh, in case Trump also doesn't know about the court's ruling in Hustler Magazine vs. Falwell (1988), he also can't sue for being spoofed. Opinion is protected speech.

           So much to learn about the Constitution, Mr. President.

The New York Times ruminated the other day on the dilemma of treating every tweet from Trump as news. This is more than a media problem. For a president-elect to use social media as a nightstand scratch pad is childish and dangerous.

How about an Etch-a-Sketch, Mr. Trump? It can be erased.

Here's wishing that at some point the president-elect realizes it's in the interests of the nation to give more than a moment's thought to the sharing whatever notion crosses his mind.

Right now, undoubtedly, seasoned aides offer reassurance about all the legal and ethical vagaries:

"Your elitist, know-it-all critics assert that at every turn you are giving out bad information. No problem, Sir. The nifty thing about this First Amendment is that it protects even that."

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

 

Monday, November 28, 2016

America is not an Orange Julius; is it?

It turns out our ambitions were quite similar, Donald Trump's and mine.

We were both interested in acquiring a franchise – a business opportunity.

I always had an affection for Orange Julius and its one-trick-pony stands at malls. I told my betrothed that when we had the scratch, the itch I'd pursue was an OJ franchise. We could have one stand and live out our days drinking in the proceeds. All it would take is some up-front money and some oranges.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the up-front, not the kind Mr. Dreamcicle Hair does. So I sat back. Meanwhile, Trump set out to buy The Franchise.

Trump's first comments as president-elect sound exactly like this. The government-by-the-people thing is just, in Molly Ivins' words, another bidness opportunity.

He will not shed his role as business mogul while he runs the people's business. He says he will meet with business partners in the Oval Office.

He told the New York Times, "The president can't have a conflict of interest" regarding business ties carried on while in office.

"In theory," he told the Times, "I could run my business perfectly and then run the country perfectly."

Just like an Orange Julius stand.

          Voters can be excused for being confused by what Trump just said. After all, he and all those suckled on the Fox News loop foghorned righteous umbrage about potential conflicts attached to the Clinton Foundation.

          As Trump supporters crowed till hoarse, ethical issues flare when one with government ties wrangles monetary deals. In the Clinton Foundation's case, it was charitable favors to combat environmental devastation, starvation and oppression.

However, making a buck for Trump Inc.? That's just bidness.

          "Get over it," say Trump supporters. "You lost. Let him get on with running the country."

          But, you see, our government isn't something bartered, like one would acquire a casino or golf resort.

          Our government is ours, not Donald Trump's. So let the testing of his theories begin.

          Last week Elizabeth Warren penned a letter with Congressman Elijah Cummings seeking a General Accountability Office investigation into "conflicts of interest related to business holdings of Mr. Trump and his family," as well as a probe whether the president-elect's communications with foreign leaders violated security protocols by failing to use secured lines.

          I hear Trump supporters saying. "Sour grapes, losers."

          Actually, "loser" is not Warren's title. It's U.S. senator. The role of Congress, as with the courts, is to serve as a check on the executive branch. And so she's doing the job she was elected to perform.

          At this point, someone else needs to be reminded of his or her job. That would be anyone who claims the title of citizen.

          Some Americans have the impression that Election Day is the end-all of politics, or of policy discussions. The victorious. The vanquished. Let's get on with the bloodletting.

          That attitude not only is incorrect but wrong, so wrong as to spit on the document Americans say they revere.

The Constitution isn't a framework for one person to have his way with us. It is for us to require that person to comport himself in our best interests.

The only business Trump should do in the Oval Office is our business. We should demand it from day one. We should expect a free press to report on every conflict, and for commentators to explain the ramifications.

We should expect Congress to probe every conflict.

We should expect the courts to stand up to the man who would be king.

Oh, and we should expect of ourselves that we be well-informed, discerning, attentive. Unless we do, we have lost the franchise.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

OK, the second-worst dish known to man

It's time to tone down the hateful rhetoric, we're told. This being Thanksgiving and all, I hear you. So I come with concessionary tidings.

I'm going to stun many and concede that sweet potatoes aren't the worst-tasting food on our planet.

This will come as a surprise, yes, to readers who, if they've been with me for a decade or three, have received a seasonal message each year about sweet potatoes that all should hear:

You can't eat them. I tried that once. Once.

What my tongue told me, oh, back when I was 8, was all the proof needed. Any impression to the contrary is certifiably false.

I've endeavored to inform as many people as possible of this over the years, though some will always be deluded into serving and consuming heaping helpings of steaming orangeness in the Thanksgiving feast.

My brave and dogged crusade has not been without slings and arrows, and death threats.

OK, not exactly death threats. However, I've encountered deadly attempts to get me to eat sweet potatoes in falsified forms. Take the "pumpkin pie" I once found in my mail box at the office.

        Never a chance I'd fall for that.

And there was the letter from the president of the national sweet potato growers' association. He intimated a lawsuit under Texas' food disparagement ("veggie libel") law. I said I'd take the stand any day, any venue, as truth is my defense.

I stand by my critique of the horrid tuber, but now must admit that the claim that sweet potatoes are the worst food in the world could have been better researched.

This is because my researcher son found something worse.

It's called hakarl -- described as a national dish of Iceland, and, wow:

As WorldAtlas.com puts it, hakarl affirms for all time that "one man's trash is another's treasure."

Hakarl is a meal at the end of a long and smelly line. It starts with the harvesting of shark meat, which is then buried for the purpose of fermentation, also known as decomposition.

After it's been in the ground for weeks, long enough to acquire "a smell of rotten cheese mixed with ammonia," the shark flesh is hung for weeks to cure in a moss-covered shed.

My son just acquired a microbiology degree. In the process, he took some fermentation classes focused on making beer. In one of these classes, the professor introduced the class to the fruit of fermentation that is hakarl.

Few of the students actually tasted it. The smell drove most from the room.

This, my son said, should cause us all to think of bad food in a new light.

I've been told by many that sweet potatoes are delicious and nutritious. So is peat moss, says any moose.

The evidence of sweet potatoes' scant edibility is the waves and waves of marshmallows committed for the cause.

A local restaurant shamefully serves "sweet potato s'mores" – with drizzled chocolate and molten marshmallows. Oh, waiter: Smelling salts, please.

Did I say somewhere back there that it was time something about toning down the rhetoric? Ah, yes. So I shall. In deference to Iceland's vice, I take back my assertion that sweet potatoes are the worst food on the planet.

I pronounce them world runner-up.

Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.