Flatter, make nice, curry favor, snow, stroke, lay it on, cozy up, toady up, pander, brown nose, apple polish, suck up. Crass or artful, over the top or subtle, whatever you call it, flattery is as old as we human animals. Children learn it from an early age trying to get what they want from parents. Students learn it to ingratiate themselves to teachers. Employees learn it to garner promotions. Fundraisers learn it to secure funds. Preachers learn it to gain appointments. All understand at a visceral level that flattery works. We have experience.
And politicians? For politicians flattery is a sweet, addictive elixir taken as a perk of power. Without a substantial dose of flattery the vast majority of politicians tune out whatever comes next, insulted by its absence. In fact, the omission of flattery disrupts the ordinary flow of getting acquainted. Most politicians expect it, crave it, demand it and consider it their due.
Ritual flattery is so much a part of politics that a common synonym of “to flatter” is “to politic”. Rare is the politician whose expectation to be flattered, especially by ordinary citizens seeking attention to a problem or redress of an injustice, goes unrequited. Rare is the political gathering where mutual praises of extraordinary qualities and accomplishments of fellow politicians aren’t exchanged.
Flattery to achieve a purpose works in the right place, at the right time with the right intensity. Miscalculation leads to embarrassment of the flatterer with the mechanics of the effort outed and the objective laid painfully bare. Rare is the politician who doesn’t suffer flattery exhaustion when tacit rules are repeatedly violated. Flattery fails when motivations independent of the virtues and good deeds extolled appear as cynical manipulations of a vulnerable individual. In this case flattery is demeaning of both the perpetrator and receiver.
By clinging to the goal at hand, the flatterer feels justified to engage in false and misleading expression. The ends justify the means. Regardless, flattery takes a toll on the flatterer as integrity takes a back seat to strategic calculations. The deal the flatterer makes with himself and co-conspirators is one of connivance accompanied by tacit negative judgments of self and others.
All politicians rising to the level of congressional leadership have long been immersed in this kind of deal making. Their experience has paved the way for mastery of skills honed in their own rise. They have developed strong stomachs for the application of strategic flattery. As a consequence, such flattery of their President is no different in kind or motivation from their ordinary practice.
What is different is that the primary object of their faux affections, Donald Trump, is an outlier, oddly incapable of flattery exhaustion. His flatterers have learned from trial and error that breaking rules of restraint applicable to even the most emotionally needy among them don’t apply to him. With Trump there is no “too much”, no “over the top”. Public displays such as those of recent vintage put on by his cabinet and orchestrated by congressional leaders, not to mention his Vice President, both confirm their insight and establish their abject complicity. Together they blast through the guardrails of embarrassment already partially breached in past behavior.
It’s tempting to conclude that Donald Trump’s desperate need for affirmation comes from deep seated, irresolvable family issues buried in the past. It doesn’t matter. His insatiable appetite has a public consequence the workings of which are on display for all to witness. There’s a Wizard of Oz aspect to national politics in the Trump era. A small, insecure man behind a screen using media devices to make false claims to grandiosity.
Ultimately the Wizard was found out by Dorothy and her cohorts who accurately diagnosed the scope and scale of his machinations. The Republicans in the US Congress are traveling no such yellow brick road. But I suspect the majority, maybe vast majority, of ordinary citizens are. Most of us would be deeply embarrassed by the exchanges between Congressional leaders, the President and his cabinet were we put in a situation remotely comparable. Most of us would call it out for what it is because we don’t respect the abject sycophancy currently evident in our national drama. We won’t behave that way ourselves because of how we were raised and the standards of behavior we try to embody. In short, we know ass kissing when we see it and we don’t like it.
Taxpayers and voters of the Tri-Community and Copper Corridor, the part of Arizona where I live, will soon come face to face with what the Tax Cut and Jobs Act means for our communities. Based on demographics of the region, it’s clear that most local taxpayers won’t be major beneficiaries. In fact, Eastern Pinal taxpayers will be big losers if adding a trillion + dollars to the federal deficit triggers cuts to entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Food Stamps.
Rich people and big corporations aren’t located here so their gains won’t be felt here. At best a handful of small businesses may benefit at the margins from changes in tax rules regarding treatment of pass through profits. Another handful who currently deduct contributions to churches and charities may gain from a doubling of the standard deduction. But religious institutions and non profits themselves may be losers as local donors lose tax incentives to make contributions.
On the job growth front, Eastern Pinal County needs investments in infrastructure, education and training to both grow and access good paying jobs. Tax cuts targeting big corporations and the super wealthy will produce none of the above. Even a best case scenario put forward by corporate tax cut devotees fails to envision a surge in good paying jobs to replace those lost to mine, mill and smelter closures in places like San Manuel, Mammoth, Oracle, Hayden, Kearny and Superior.
Many Tri-Community residents will recall that what closed the San Manuel mine, mill, smelter and refinery, when still profitable wasn’t the price of copper, labor contracts, environmental regulations, the corporate tax rate or some combination thereof. It was demands made by a multi national corporation - BHP Billington headquartered in Australia - for an unattainably high return on capital investment and a tax write off that Congress is leaving untouched in current negotiations. Of course, the well being of workers and their families never figured in these corporate calculations any more than the well being of ordinary tax payers figured prominently in congressional deliberations.
The rock solid heart of the new federal tax cut legislation is not “middle class tax cuts”, which are uncertain and, at best, piddling, but huge cuts designed to make Corporate America more profitable than it currently is. Ironically because 35% of US corporations are owned by foreign investors the payoff to them from this legislation is gigantic. The claim that going deeper into debt to aid big business serves the common good is ridiculous on its face.
Congress, as of this writing, is wrapping up the Tax Cut and Jobs Act before sending it to the President for his signature. Unsurprisingly their most recent move is to make additional cuts to taxes on the wealthy.
What we now know is that when the tax bill’s impacts are finally tallied through real life experience, there will be a few big winners and and lots of losers including our children and children’s children who will assume responsibility for the nation’s staggering debt load. If the citizens of the nation can’t stop this massively unpopular legislation now, opportunities for redress at the next election in November, 2018 loom on the horizon.
I expect Roy Moore to win Alabama’s Senate election this Tuesday by six or seven points. His “Evangelical Christian” supporters, a rock solid 35% of the electorate, will have it no other way. They will bring him home to victory.
I suspect Roy Moore could be caught having sex with an Alabama billy goat high on meth (both of them) and still come out victorious. He could shoot a black man (or a Mexican) on Jackson Street in Birmingham and still vanquish his opponent.
Tuesday evening his supporters will be celebrating his triumph over Doug Jones. But not only that. Together they will have vanquished the mainstream media, pointy headed academics, the LGBT community, Muslims and women complaining of childhood harassment, not to mention atheists and bedeviled Roman Catholics.
If all of this renders Moore’s candidacy a clarifying event we have the Almighty to thank. On December 12 when Hanukkah begins and the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated, Alabamans will go naked into polling booths for all to see.
Las Vegas has a special place in my heart. I was called there as an organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation for three years beginning in 2010. My deep affection for the people who live, work, worship and play in Southern Nevada flows from personal knowledge of place - the extraordinary skills and commitment of local law enforcement and casino security, the clergy and lay leaders now called to interpret and comfort, the workers organized by Culinary 226 who represent the best of the US labor movement, even the concert venue which was the locus of yesterday’s horrific tragedy. The list goes on.
I am confident that the religious leaders with whom I worshipped, the labor leaders I got to know, and, yes, the politicians who represent Las Vegas will meet the challenge posed by the shocking violence inflicted on their city. I trust they will break in to the grief and confusion shared by so many with a message of consolation and hope. I have confidence Nevadans of all stripes will pull together through the grinding pain of hurt and grief that won’t go away soon.
For me mourning is overlain by an expectation that Las Vegas - a center of the worldwide tourist universe and home to so many extraordinary leaders - will prove to be the leading edge a groundswell of constructive response to violence in its many forms.
This week in the Las Vegas Valley, in mosques, churches and synagogues, in schools, neighborhoods, universities, in playgrounds, community centers, social service providers, in the streets and social clubs, in the broad based citizens organization Nevadans for the Common Good, stories will be shared, consolation sought and offered, explanations advanced and disputed, relationships affirmed, sacred texts proclaimed.
Pundits will opine that nothing will change after world wide attention peters out and the tweeting, Facebooking and speechifying dwindles. Just like so many other times, they will say, when the horrific happened and lives were lost.
I don’t think so. I know something about the grit, determination and courage of Las Vegans. We, all of us, live in a country desperate for leadership grounded in local experience determined to turn grief into anger and anger into action. My money’s on Las Vegas to step in to this role - the people, the institutions, the leaders, and the spirit of hospitality undaunted by the savagery just witnessed and now ambitious for change. What happened in Las Vegas won’t stay in Las Vegas if, in the days to come, the nation looks to Nevada for a better way forward.
Breitbart just blasted President Trump for phony claims regarding his impact on the recent Republican Senate primary in Alabama. As experts in fake news they should know. In this case the Flim Flam man was trying to salvage something from his disastrous foray into the weeds of Alabama politics. His efforts on behalf of Luther Strange flopped so badly that he decided to invent an alternative outcome affirming his political potency and then tweeting it.
This is but another example of how he works. By now it’s clear Trump is a serial inventor of realities that configure with the needs of his ego. It’s taken a while but his path to ruin lies through an expansive, multi-dimensional fictionalizing of who he is, what he’s done and what he purports to do in the future.
While sooner or later reality may bring him up short, his knack for marketing combined with the capacity of POTUS to weaponize spin in his favor may see him through for a while longer. A case in point is the orchestrated PR campaign by a Homeland security adviser to sanitize the Trump administration’s response to catastrophic conditions in Puerto Rico. Sitting on his fat ass for four days at his New Jersey golf club while conditions on the ground deteriorated isn’t good optics because it makes him appear disengaged if not downright pathologically disinterested. Actually that pretty much sums it up.
This might be the end of it if Axios.com didn’t suss out the orchestrated push back by Trump minions with solid reporting. Mike Allen nails the ongoing media manipulations that leave no stone unturned, no PR trick un-leveraged by the Trump team.
When was the last time Brietbart and Axios rendered a triangulated judgment on Trump’s operational failings and subsequent coverup? Never as far as I can recall.
The opening line of a recent piece about VOICE/IAF by Patricia Sullivan in the Washington Post caught my eye: "An increasingly powerful coalition of faith-based activists won a commitment from a majority of the Alexandria City Council Tuesday night to increase support for public housing and affordable housing in the city."
It wasn't the winning part - anyone who knows Industrial Areas Foundation organizations expects victories. Nor was it the issue of affordable housing being successfully pressed - IAF has long made a mark in this area. Rather, it was the reporter's use of the descriptive "increasingly powerful" that hit home.
Difficult as it is to measure, a raft of IAF organizations around the USA and abroad may be fairly characterized that way. (There's plenty of evidence to support this claim, starting with the top ten stories up on www.democraticfaith.com.) While VOICE is gaining affordable housing commitments in Alexandria, Together Jackson is successfully battling a local food desert, DAI and COPA are championing immigrant rights, ONE LA is running point on a huge housing deal, CONECT and Greater Cleveland Congregations are reinventing the struggle for criminal justice reform, Jersey City Together is in the middle of a major development fight, Together Louisiana just busted up a sweetheart tax deal for big business, DuPage United/Fox River Valley Initiative put over 500 leaders at the center of a multi-issue action in suburban Chicago, 1500 leaders in Brooklyn (EBC, Manhattan, the South Bronx, and Queens) gained a mega commitment from NYPD Police Chief O'Neill to meet with gun manufacturer Glock (a Metro DNSIB goal for three years). More.
And here's a kicker: Many IAF organizations have simultaneously been major players in the battle against Trumpcare. They are positioned to do still more as healthcare politics continues front and center on the national stage. This is because IAF organization tentacles reach into many of the key states, some red, some blue, whose Senators will determine what happens next: Senators McCain and Flake - Arizona Interfaith; Senator Heller - Nevadans for the Common Good; Senator Cassidy - Together Louisiana; Senator Gardner - Colorado IAF. That's for starters. On the Democratic side: Senator Schumer - Metro IAF; Senator Murphy - CONECT; Senator Durbin - United Power, DuPage United, Fox River Valley Initiative, Again just for starters.
This reach and range isn't limited to health care. Also in IAF sights are gun violence, criminal justice reform, job training, housing/infrastructure, mental health and immigration reform. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have a viable, locally supported agenda to address the major issues of the day. Taken together IAF organizations do.
Going forward it's clear that IAF organizations, far from being in the pocket of either political party, have a proven ability to build and sustain institutional power that crosses party lines. This makes these organizations especially efficacious both locally and in the big national battles that matter greatly on the ground where individuals and families live and work.
It is astonishing that national media of record rarely recognize much less explore the substantive public business - of agenda building, action and impact - that IAF embodies day in and day out, year in and year out. (Contrast this with the fascination, indeed, preoccupation with the antics, postures, flash mobilizations and rabbit trails that offer little by way of constructive action linked to budget, policy reforms and engagement with major economic powers.) But in this regard the WaPo story on VOICE noted above may prove a harbinger of a pivot away from frivolous narratives, trumped up fabrications, and mind numbing "he said, she said", towards recognition of rock solid, substantive and meaningful organizing for power and justice. Regardless, IAF is in it for the long haul.
Where it stands: Republicans are likely positioned to shave the edges off the Better Care Reconciliation Act until they get to 50 plus one votes, with VP Mike Pence the decider. The two Republican face saving tickets to “no” are up for grabs, probably reserved for Dean Heller and Rand Paul. Democrats meanwhile will kick up a stink though powerless to change the outcome. But make no mistake, this fight fueled by a remarkably broad based resistance points to real trouble for the perpetrators should Trumpcare get signed into law.
The short game odds on: A defeat for Obamacare backers, a reassuring redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich for elite Trumpcare backers, a devastating loss for folks who depend on Medicaid, have disabilities, suffer from opioid addiction, and/or require nursing homes and other vital medical interventions left unprotected by Trumpcare.
Fat cats will come out ahead on the tax front and poor people will be shafted. Meanwhile the pundit/media universe will continue to build on the suspense angle to attract viewers, clicks and the like. (The Wall Street Journal reports at least six Republican senators “wavering”. The Washington Post reports 11 senators “have concerns”. The New York Times opines that Mitch McConnell may still “win by losing”. NV Senator Dean Heller, a “key vote” says he’s a “no” for now.
So what’s all the noise about from far right poseurs threatening to “withdraw support” unless their demands are met - Senators Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Ron Johnson, the House Republican Study Group and, of course, the House Freedom Caucus? And from the oft touted, oft quoted “moderates” acknowledging the gaping health care wounds Trumpcare will open up among their constituents - Senators Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, John McCain, Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Rob Portman, Shelley Capito? Plenty of misdirection, obfuscation, pretense, butt covering before likely falling in line behind their Leader.
If this were an old time Western, the hero - the people - would call out the lily livered, no account, chicken hearted bullshi*ters and have it out at high noon. In the shootout Trumpcare would go down in a hail of lead filled ignominy.
But the acting Sheriff in town is Mitch McConnell, slithering through the undrained swamp on his belly until the moment has ripened to where he can tweak and grease Trumpcare, corralling 51 votes for a bill almost nobody likes and many truly detest.
Lest anyone think the fight against Trumpcare isn’t worth it, even in what may prove to be a losing cause in the Senate, think again. By the time the key vote is taken most Americans will still have little knowledge of its soon to be realized impacts on themselves, their families and communities. Cloaked in secrecy and rammed through the Senate at warp speed without real debate much less popular input, Trumpcare and its supporters will become stationary political targets. The hard fight against it now will help frame a torrent of stories, conversations, analytics, actions and, yes, organization building. This multi-generational fight isn’t going away regardless of what the Senate ends up doing. In fact, it’s just beginning.
For all the outpouring of Christian clergy praying/participating in Donald Trump’s inauguration festivities, you’d think one of them would have helped him get his theology and Scripture closer to right. They didn’t. As a result their pious words fell leaden on righteous ears.
In a bizarre nationalist twist that turns the Gospel of Jesus Christ on its head President Trump declared:
“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”
So according to Trump, Jesus must have said something like:
“At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to Rome and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”
But He didn’t. One translation of the Gospel of Matthew 22:36-40 reads:
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
In truth, Jesus rejected the ways of Rome and confronted nationalist claims of his day with his radical message of love of God and neighbor. For this He was crucified.
So the clergy, Roman Catholic Cardinal and Protestant Evangelicals alike, professionally steeped in the faith invoked by their prayers, prayed on approvingly as President Trump sought to transmogrify Jesus into a Nationalist in his own craven image.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Queen for a Day Trump Style
Demeaning workers, trashing unions
The latest iteration of Trump’s transition from private citizen to President of the United States features desperate pleas from besieged factory workers imploring Trump to do what they believe he has done for Carrier workers. Indiana Casket workers are now seeking his attention. They won’t be the last.
Casket factories are closing in two states, and the people affected hope Trump can revive their jobs.
I'm reminded of the 1950’s tv show Queen for a Day. Each episode featured desperate people humiliating themselves by exposing to the world just how pitiful their lives were to gain a chance at a payoff of prizes . The winner, decided by an applause meter, always amid tears of gratitude, was expected to heap thank you’s and praise on those responsible for their sudden (and temporary) good fortune. … Queen for a Day!
Trump’s Factory for a Day is up and running. The contestant/workers clamor for attention, begging for the great man to intervene, seeking benevolent treatment. The political applause meters - polls - record the response.
The workers get to keep some of their jobs if their pleas are favored and they look and play the part.
Meanwhile the real engines of worker improvement - labor organizations - are trashed and ridiculed by the Great Man. In Trump’s vision for America it’s all about Trump, his benevolent actions and the lavish praise he covets from the grateful masses. Solidarity based labor organizing, after all, poses a real threat to Donald Trump and everything he stands for. And he knows it.
It’s not surprising that Hillary Clinton spent much of the month of August in the Hamptons. It was a good place to pick up some serious dollars over quiet table talk, expand her patronage network, and distribute IOU’s while discussing important subjects - like what she wanted to do as President of the United States and what the assembled thought about that. The Hamptons are where very rich people gather over the summer to relax and socialize. The Clintons had been there many times before. A two week rental cost them $100,000 for a house with six bedrooms.
Oracle, Arizona, is where my wife Kaz and I live. We heard the news about the Clinton’s Hampton vacation on talk radio while driving back from the nearby town of San Manuel. In the 1970’s San Manuel, then a thriving copper town, invested heavily in family friendly infrastructure like playgrounds, schools and two swimming pools before falling on hard times when the mine, mill and smelter shut down. That’s when several thousand mostly union workers were dismissed and the towns infrastructure began to disintegrate.
News of the Clinton’s Hampton sojourn got us both shaking our heads. In light of the surprising traction of Bernie Sanders and the working class pitch of her competition, Donald Trump, it struck us as politically tone deaf. In fact, right then it dawned on us she could very well lose.
In the years before I returned to Industrial Areas Foundation organizing in 1989. a garage on our Oracle property was the locus of a carpentry/cabinet making venture we set up. We learned the trade at the local community college well enough to make money at it. One early lesson: experienced craftsmen commonly accept a simple truth that if a still, quiet voice announces danger on the job, one ignores it at great personal risk. We were persuaded by stories we heard and by the bodily damage observed. A premonition of danger before the hurried last pass of a board on a table saw, an unsecured truss balanced precariously over head, a nail gun manned by a newbie too close for comfort - if the little voice flashed caution, you’d best attend or a hospital emergency room may be your next stop without a finger, a thumb or worse. We learned to listen differently and changed our behavior accordingly.
Ten weeks after the Clinton visit to the Hamptons, stung by ruinous defeat, 150 of Clinton’s campaign staff were gathered in Brooklyn by DNC Chair Donna Brazile. She offered words of balm, congratulation and justification. Having heard enough, a young man named Zach, a “low ranker”, jumped ahead willy nilly from campaign apologetics to campaign forensics. He burst forth with, “You backed a flawed candidate, and your friend (Debbie Wasserman Schultz) plotted through this to support your own gain and yourself. You are part of the problem.”
“Thanks for sharing,” Brazile saId.
Zach gathered his things and stomped out after he had his say.
My friend and former colleague with the Industrial Areas Foundation Michael Gecan wrote persuasively in the NY Daily News on September 29 about the Clinton campaign’s failure to control the conversation in contrast with Donald Trumps relentless dominance of the action/reaction news cycle. I believe he hoped that, aided by his timely intervention, her campaign would figure out how to fix an ongoing problem before it was too late. Gecan, the leading national voice for the IAF, is an organizer, a master craftsman in the field. He knows his stuff. But the Clinton campaigners didn’t pay attention to his diagnosis, coming as it did from far outside her inner circle. They soldiered on oblivious to his and other potentially corrective voices.
By now it’s obvious. The Clinton campaign missed the kind of gut level warnings that flashed danger ahead. Self justifying, with endless analytics and focus groups, a sprawling patronage network of self referential operatives, funders breathing the stale air of circular reinforcement, they were blind to those moments when mortal danger made itself known.
Down the road, fresh opportunities for organizing and mobilizing will present themselves - maybe sooner than most of us think. They are unlikely to emerge from gatherings in the Hamptons or elite funders conferences in Washington, DC. The conversations pointing the way to better outcomes will be rough edged, clear eyed. The fight against the worst of what Donald Trump heralds for the nation won’t be waged or won anywhere but in the neighborhoods, schools, union halls, town councils, congregations, streets.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Frank Pierson retired after forty years of work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) as a professional organizer. He began his career in 1971 in Chicago, moved to Queens, New York City and migrated west to work in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. He resides with his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda, in Oracle, Arizona. He may be reached at email@example.com