The race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is close, and that fact has surprised everyone, including the Trump supporters themselves.  That fact also raises a deadly serious question:  Why does such a large percentage of the American people feel that we should put in office a person with so little political experience and so many personal flaws?  Call it insanity, if you will.  Joke about the failings of the masses, if you will.  But there it is, and it, this widespread desire for change at any cost, is ignored at the peril of the entire country fundamentally losing its way.

It is too easy to ascribe Trump’s success to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the last several decades in various attacks on the Clintons — Watergate and philandering and Benghazi and emails.  Even if there is a “vast right-wing conspiracy” against the Clintons, the outcome has been little or nothing.  There is something much deeper here, something that goes beyond Clinton, that goes even beyond Donald Trump.  Remember that this galactically incompetent candidate bested sixteen other people in the Republican primaries, among whom were some very attractive and intelligent and experienced people.

I put it to you that this huge chunk of the American population is rebelling against the status quo, which they see as a bunch of self-promoters who have ignored the needs of the people for far too long.  They want politicians to cut out their incessant bickering and filibustering and sandbagging and get down to solving fundamental problems like crime and jobs and debt.  It is too easy to think them fools, to assume that they don’t care about the environment or education or healthcare.  Of course they care.  They are good, decent people who work hard and care greatly for their little corner of the world.  They want their children to inherit a clean world and get a good education and be able to get decent healthcare.  They are simply saying that our politicians have ignored all of that and have instead wasted all their time assuring their re-election by pandering to special interests and attacking their opponents.

The fairly incredible ascendancy of the cartoonish Trump is a deafening siren warning that this country only works when it works together.  The slash and burn politics, both of those in office and of those of us who partake in political debate, does nothing to mend this fundamental schism in the body politic.  It may well take Trump’s election to finally awaken us to the need to put aside petty differences and return to the pursuit of that grand ideal on which our nation was founded — the inalienable rights we owe to every human being.



Last night, Donald Trump made two offhand comments that showed more than anything else what his character is.  The first was his response to Hillary Clinton’s comment that Trump had welcomed the 2007 Great Recession with the comment that the collapse of the economy would afford him the opportunity to go in and buy a lot of property for a low price and make a great deal of money.  His comment was, “That’s called ‘business’, by the way.”  the second was his response to Clinton’s suggestion that he was hiding his taxes because it would show that he didn’t pay any taxes.  He commented:  “That shows I’m smart.”

We use the term “business” to refer to our commercial activities.  A mason is in the business of building up structures.  A pastor, we say, is in the business of saving souls.  Business is what we do for an occupation, a profession, a career, a vocation.  In many ways, business, in its most general sense, defines what, and who, we are.

By defining business as the ability to prey upon the ills of others, Donald Trump displayed himself as a predator, and it explained his evident pride at such things as having an annual income of $650,000,000, and at using the bankruptcy laws to his own profit.  It made clear that Donald Trump defines his “business”, and ultimately his character, as doing whatever it takes to serve his own interests.

Nothing illustrates that better than his second comment.  For him, tax avoidance is a badge of honor, a sign that he has been successful in putting the burden of paying for this country on the shoulders of others, that he has once again feathered his own nest by using what he called “OPM” — other people’s money.

I can’t say how having such a person as the President of the United States would affect us as a nation financially or militarily.  I can say this:  naked self-interest is not who we are.  The very first, founding principle of this nation is a self-evident, i.e., unquestionable, commitment to the inalienable rights of every human being.  That principle is what has made us great as a nation.  We may be in a debt from which it will take generations to repay.  We may still suffer from racial and religious and gender bigotry.  We may be slow to respond to national and global crises like the environment and poverty.  But if we define ourselves by our success or failure in serving our own interests, we have lost our way altogether.

I frankly don’t know if Donald Trump is smart.  I don’t know if he is well-informed.  What I do know is that last night he showed us that he is completely about himself, and that alone renders him unfit to represent this nation.  The United States defines itself as being about each other, and if we lose that, we have lost everything.


One of the things that griped me most about the way that the Bush administration handled its invasion of Iraq was that, if one criticized the war, the representatives of the administration would accuse the critic of not honoring “our brave soldiers.”  This is not the first time that tactic has been used.  Those who objected to the Vietnam War were often characterized as insulting the American soldiers fighting there.  It was a clever way for those responsible for the war to avoid the difficult question of whether we should have been involved in the first place.

Last night, MSNBC’s Matt Lauer had the veterans who participated in the Iraq invasion to identify themselves, and then asked Secretary Clinton whether she worried about how it made these people feel for her to say that the Iraq invasion was a mistake.  It was a profoundly improper question, and oddly enough it was not asked of Donald Trump, who also now claims that the invasion was a mistake.  The real problem with the question, however, was that it was so misplaced.  The real question should have been asked of the veterans, most of whom quite likely agreed with Clinton’s opinion that the whole thing should never have happened.  They should have been asked how they felt being sent to a war that should never have been started.

This kind of thing happens far too often in the political world.  The powers that be make some awful decision on policy, and then, when it is criticized, those same powers announce that the critics are un-American.  This was the atmosphere during the Nixon years, when any criticism of presidential policy was considered just shy of treasonous.  It is yet another example of replacing the reality with the symbol.  “America, love it or leave it” is an insult to the very ideals on which the nation is founded.

The essential beauty of the United States is that we are free to express our opinions and free to live our lives as we wish.  That is, of course, a two-way street.  Those who oppose us are equally free to live as they wish and criticize as and when they see fit.  It is the genius of the American ideal that our own freedom does not stand alone but is rather derived from our recognition of the rights of every other person.  It is that very genius that is renewed in the expression, “I object to what he says but I will fight to the death to allow him to say it.”

That fact, that our own freedom is derived from the freedom we recognize in others, is essential to the American ideal.  And it is just that deep commitment, that enspiriting core of the American ideal, that is under attack when politics comes down to name calling, when reasoned discussion of issues is replaced by appeals to bigotry.

We are faced, in this presidential election, with two candidates who have none of the appeal of a Kennedy or a Reagan.  Well, good.  Maybe we will set aside images and vote for what the candidate’s policies are rather than what the candidate’s looks are.


I hold a doctorate in philosophy.  That doesn’t make me a philosopher, but it does give me the ability to play with, and even make a contribution to, the difficult jargon in standard use by professional philosophers.  My one contribution to the field is the invention of that awful bit of jargon used in the title here:  eidetic displacement.

Here, basically, is what this fancy term means.  We humans have a tendency to make symbols to represent our ideals.  We make statues to represent our God.  We create organizations to embody, preserve and pursue our religious and social and political ideals.  And we create flags to symbolize ideals of various kinds:  The Red Cross flag to represent care for the sick and the injured and the poor, state flags to represent the spirit of our individual states, and, of course, the American flag to represent the ideals upon which this country was founded:  that all human beings were created equal, and that every human being is endowed by her or his Creator with certain inalienable rights.

However, we humans also have a tendency to shift our allegiance from the ideals to allegiance to the symbol.  So, for instance, we create a church to embody our dedication to God, and then we gradually begin to worship the church instead of the God it was meant to serve.  Then, instead of supporting and aiding all of the people God sends our way, we oppose and denigrate and sometimes even kill those who are not members of our church.  What we are doing is replacing the reality with the symbol or representation of that reality.

This is a deep, deep tendency of humans.  We do it all the time.  We replace the reality with the form we have shaped to represent that reality.  We judge people, not based on what they are, but rather based on our impression of them.  We judge religions, governments, people of different races or nationalities, not on what they are, but rather on some pattern we have formed of what those people or organizations are.  You can call this prejudice, but it is more fundamental than that:  it is the constant temptation to replace reality with our impression of that reality.  The Greek word for form is eidos, so I invented this term for that tendency:  eidetic displacement.

So:  Kaepernick.  Colin Kaepernick is a professional football player, a quarterback for the San Francisco Fortyniners.  He has some African-American heritage, and, besides being a very good football player, he is an intelligent human being concerned about contemporary events.  Kaepernick has condemned the racial bigotry that has led, in America, to the mistreatment of the African-American community, and specifically to the deaths of many African-Americans, including the deaths of several unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers.

So, to emphasize his objections to this mistreatment, Colin Kaepernick, before a football game, refused to stand for the national anthem.  And for doing this, for exercising one of those inalienable rights that the American flag and the national anthem stand for, Kaepernick was roundly condemned.  Example:  someone wrote to my local newspaper that Kaepernick should be suspended for not standing up, because by not standing up he was insulting the national anthem.  Get it?  He was honoring the country’s ideals, but he was insulting the symbol.  Eidetic displacement.

What is to be an American?  Is it to live and die for the ideals of universal human rights?  Or is it to belong to a clan opposed to all other clans?  That contrast, so blaringly obvious in the present presidential campaign, is at the heart of our continued existence as a truly great nation.   Either we are a nation committed to the inalienable rights of every human being, whether American or not, or we are just another tribe, another clan identified first and foremost by our commitment, not to ideals, but to the trappings of our clan.  If we are the latter, then all those brave men and women who fought and died for the American ideals fought and died for nothing.  Our brave dead did not die protecting the flag that drapes their coffins, but for the ideals that that flag represents.  One would hope that we all live our lives for the same reason.