Every day there’s something on the television screen that you’ve never seen before. Something that you want to capture for your own historical record. The departure of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, has produced many. More than any other president in the history of the country, to borrow a phrase from Mr. Trump.
Here are a few of the shots I grabbed my camera for. They are just from the past ten days. Only one more day, and he’s gone. But I think there will still be newsworthy, even historic, images on our tv screens for quite a while to come. He may be going, but I doubt he’ll quietly retreat.
But I gave up predicting what Trump might do a long time ago. Soon into his term, I didn’t think he’d make the full four years. He’d quit – bored by all the work people expected him to do. Be impeached – for just about anything he was doing. He was impeached, but his fellow party members made sure it didn’t come to anything. The 25th Amendment. A military coup to take power away from a madman. I actually saw that as an option preferable to him remaining as president!
A Teflon Horseshoe
None of those things happened. He’s got a horseshoe – the luckiest horseshoe ever – firmly up there somewhere. The Teflon President, Ronald Reagan, has nothing on The Donald.
Trump has often been compared to Richard Nixon, the last president before him to be impeached for political chicanery. But Matt Tynhauer, director of The Reagans, compares Trump to Ronald Reagan. It is a compelling argument, in terms of the two men’s media styles, their responses to domestic crises. and the international political havoc they wrought. Also in their long-term effect in moving to Republican Party to the right, the evangelical, and the lunatics. Reagan gave voice to the Moral Majority, which led to the Tea Party, which led to – well, a siege of Capital Hill by Trump supporters.
I will miss Donald Trump, though. Living in a Biden presidency, I think, will be like being back with Dad after a wild weekend with crazy Uncle Donny. You never knew from one minute to the next, with Trump, what would be headlined in the news. “He did what?” was a phrase often heard in our household. Sometimes whatever it was made us laugh ’til we cried. Other times, we just cried, or got really angry. Four years of watching a nation unravel.
I will also miss the First Lady. Melania, we hardly got to know you! Her clothes spoke for her mainly. Fitting, I guess, for a model. But what messages they so often gave! Where were the handlers, the image managers?
Sometimes, though, Melania herself speaks. Maybe best of all was her heal-the-nation statement following the attack on Congress. After expressing her disappointment that people had been mean to her, she wrote:
“It is inspiring to see that so many have found a passion and enthusiasm in participating in an election, but we must not allow that passion to turn to violence.”
I hope this sentence is put on a plaque and displayed prominently in the Donald J. Trump Presidential Library. Right above a picture of QAnon Shaman sitting in the Vice-President’s Senate seat. Or the mob beating a guard with a flagpole, American flag still affixed. It’s like Participaction endorsing dine-and-dash: Eat healthy and get your exercise!
And a park!
The Trump legacy will maybe best be found in a New York park. The Donald J. Trump State Park in Westchester and Putnam Counties. He donated the 486 acres to the state after being unable to turn it into a golf course. He got a substantial tax deduction for doing so. It hasn’t been developed as a park either. It is vacant land. There is, apparently, lots of road signage for it, but nothing there. That’s beautifully emblematic of Donald Trump. And it’s likely the only land that Donald Trump has ever protected. For both those reasons, I think the state of New York should leave it exactly as it is, both the land and its name.
Goodbye, Trump family. We’ll never forget you. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
From way back in the early Trumpian era, here’s my First Hundred Hours, when I couldn’t really imagine that it could get much worse.
The King’s Curse by Philippa Gregory is about Henry VIII. It was published in 2014. Despite knowing this, I kept checking the publication date because of passages like this:
Dear God, I’d never tell the truth to this king… He has become a man quite out of control of his teachers, of the priests, perhaps of himself. There is no point giving the king an honest opinion, he wants nothing but praise of himself. He cannot bear one word of criticism. He is merciless against those who speak against him. (p. 495)
In 2019, two years into US President Donald Trump’s reign, The King’s Curse reads like subversive allegory. That is unintentional of course. It was written pre-Trump. Also Philippa Gregory is a historian, and keeps her imagination true to historical likelihoods.
A passage in her author’s note, about “how easily a ruler can slide into tyranny,” is chilling, though. And it applies equally to those born to the position or elected.
Because no one effectively defended
As Henry moved from one advisor to another, as his moods deteriorated and his use of the gallows became an act of terror against his people, one sees in this well-known, well-loved Tudor world the rising of a despot. He could hang the faithful men and women of the North because nobody rose up to defend Thomas More, John Fisher, or even the Duke of Buckingham. He learned that he could execute two wives, divorce another, and threaten his last because no one effectively defended his first. (p. 603)
Henry VIII just wanted people to like him. He was a breath of fresh air at the beginning. Accomplished in everything he did, young and handsome, in love with his Queen Katherine. But then it went wrong. His moral compass, it seems, centred on himself. The belief system and welfare of the country took second place to what he needed. And he needed a son. So began his complete upheaval of everything sacred and secular in Britain. For Henry, the political was extremely personal.
Lady Margaret Pole
The King’s Curse tells Henry VIII’s story from boyhood, when he was the “spare”, to midway through his six wives. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, tells the story. She is a York from the Plantagenet line of British monarchs. The Yorks wore the white rose in the War of the Roses, opposed to their cousins, the Lancasters, whose emblem was the red rose.
Henry VIII’s father was the first Tudor king. Henry VII took the throne after defeating Richard III, the last Yorkist king, in battle. So Henry VIII was desperate for a son to ensure the continuation of the still new House of Tudor. But it lasted only to the next generation. First the brief reign of his young son Edward VI, then his daughter Mary, and finally Elizabeth I. She fulfilled her father’s dreams of empire but, having no children, the Tudor dynasty died with her.
The King’s Curse is the last in The Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory. It also fits in with her Tudor Court novels (philippagregory.com). Despite it being late in the story, you could easily start her books with this one. It stands alone and touches on much of what is in the other novels. For more on those, see my Reading History.
Donald Trump calls it “the Democrat Party led… assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador…” (Twitter Oct. 18, 2018). A caravan of migrants started in Honduras, headed to the US border. This is one time when he legitimately can blame his predecessors. Especially the Reagan Republican administration which did everything it could do, legally and illegally, to get rid of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. That included funding an army and basing them in – guess where – Honduras. Honduras and all of us are still paying for that today. This is what I saw at a contra camp in 1989. (Click/tap photos to enlarge.)
Killing Time in the Honduran contra camps
The Sunday Express, August 20, 1989 pp 25, 40
Last week, five Central American presidents signed a peace accord for that region, agreeing to demobilize the Washington-backed rebel army by December 1989. Contra leaders say they will not lay down their arms, but nine commanders have already asked for asylum in the U.S. In April, Dorothy Anger visited the contra camps.
By Dorothy Anger, Special to The Sunday Express
From 1 a.m. until almost daybreak, the slap-slap-slap of hands shaping corn meal into tortillas is the only sound heard in the camp in the jungle of the Yamales Valley in southern Honduras. This is the strategic command base camp of the Nicaraguan resistance army – the contras. Nearer dawn, the noise of roosters and cicadas is joined by noise of the waking troops. The soldiers bathe and do morning exercises before daylight.
At 6:30 breakfast is served from a kitchen hut just outside the barbed-wire which surrounds the camp. Fifteen kilometres from the Nicaraguan border, this is the administrative centre for the 10,000 contra troops. The troops are divided into 26 regional battalions scattered over several kilometres in the valley.
Women and men commandos
Most of the commandos, as they call themselves, are men, but there are some women among them. Now that they are not engaged in active fighting, the women have been removed from combat roles and instead are responsible for cooking. The soldiers said that when they were militarily active, both men and women cooked and fought.
The women, both commandos and civilian family members, seemed shy. They, and the children, avoided me during this visit, only occasionally scurrying by with a pot of food or jug of water. The men, however, were happy to talk about anything from politics to North American music. Most of the men I met were young, in their 20s. However, there were some as young as 13 years old carrying rifles in the drills. They jokes and laughed, talking about being homesick, posed for pictures, wanted to take pictures, and were quite happy to talk in sign language to a non-Spanish speaker like me. No different than the guys on the other side of the border, except that these guys were killing the ones across the river in Nicaragua.
Outside the base camp is a collection of plastic-covered tents, hammock shelters and small wooden huts. The soldiers on guard duty are rotated from within the ranks of the regional commands. Some soldiers, such as the five musicians in the camp band, are permanently stationed in these huts. Half a kilometre from the guard post there is a row of wooden shacks where Hondurans sell pop and food or clothing and trinkets to the troops.
Large pine trees, palm trees and ferns cloak the surrounding hills. Helicopters go back and forth all day long from a nearby U.S. Agency for International Development landing pad used to supply the contra. Security measures for visitors to the camp are even stricter since a news photograph was published, showing the USAID helicopters carrying armed contra troops, in direct violation of U.S. regulations prohibiting military assistance by the agency. Everywhere there are automatic rifles – a presence that was very disturbing at first, though I soon stopped noticing them.
Eventually I was allowed into the camp, accompanied by a man who used as his nom de guerre Commander Jackson, and was second in command of psychological operations. With him, I visited a classroom where a human rights class was in progress, a regional command post, and the strategic base command.
Classes are periodically given in literacy, artillery practice and human rights. Human rights in this context does not only mean what the contras must do to ensure they do not violate human rights. Rather, it is mostly an explication of the ways in which the Sandinistas violate Nicaraguans’ human rights. Literacy classes are held less often but are necessary because, according to one estimate, as many as half the contras are unable to read or write. Skill-development classes, such as carpentry, are supposed to be taught in order to prepare troops for return to civilian life, but as yet none have been held.
Salvador Perez regional command
In the Salvador Perez regional command, 500 commandos and some family members live in plastic-covered or wooden huts perched on the side of a hill. At the bottom of the hill is a parade ground which doubles as a baseball diamond and volleyball court. I watched a dress rehearsal of military drills being prepared for a visit by American officials the next day. Commander Jackson gave the troops a pep talk, exhorting them to remember the struggle, and the importance of throwing over the so-called communist dictatorship of the Sandinistas. The weapons carried by the soldiers included AK-47 automatic rifles obtained from the U.S. and some weapons taken from Sandinista soldiers. At sunset, the men sang the Nicaraguan national anthem, followed by their own Resistance army hymn. Night fell quickly, as it does everywhere in Central America, and the troops dispersed back up the hill in virtual blackness, to sit outside their tents and talk or play cards by flashlight.
Waiting while war is on hold
Military drills, particularly with arms, are rare now that the contra war is supposedly on hold. They probably provide the most excitement available in a very boring routine. A tiny girl of about three looked out through the doorway of her family’s hut, watched by her grandfather who lay on a hammock inside. A pig strolled across the parade ground during the exercises, causing a recess until it was shooed away.
Back at the strategic command base, there was a bit more excitement this evening, for the guide brought movies with him. The choices are a soft porn movie, “The Terminator” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The VCR machine made the decision for us, giving only Indiana Jones both a clear picture and sound. About 50 men crowded around the rolled-up flaps of the administration tent, standing or sitting on wooden benches, to watch the derring-do of Harrison Ford.
$4.5 million US per month
The overwhelming impression of the camps is of people putting in time. They are no longer actively fighting, but neither are they farming or doing any other type of productive work. They are being paid $4.5 million U.S. per month to be there.
Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the contras over eight years in military and non-lethal aid. Nicaragua has moved ahead elections by six months to February of 1990 as part of a deal which would have demobilized the contras within 90 days. This was the peace plan signed by the presidents of five Central American countries in February of this year. Despite this accord, the Washington administration wants to keep the contras in place until the Nicaraguan elections take place. The American argument is that the contra presence will ensure that the Sandinistas run a fair and open election and that without this threat they would not. The problem is, contra leaders such as Adolfo Calero have stated that, “If it is a free electoral process, it is almost impossible for the Sandinistas to win.” A Sandinista victory, therefore, could provoke charges of unfairness and allow the Americans to justify re-engaging the contras in military action.
Pawns in international games
So for the time being, the soldiers wait, with their material needs looked after but their futures in limbo. They are pawns in the international games of the United States, as ex-contra leaders have said, but they get three good meals a day to be pawns. That is more than they would get in Nicaragua or as civilians in Honduras.
A storehouse by the kitchen hut is filled with sacks of rice and flour. Big slabs of beef are served along with rice and beans for breakfast. Cattle awaiting slaughter are kept in pens near the camps. The men receive soap, toothpaste and other such items. Bedrolls and tents are basic, but durable and warm, and have “U.S. Army” stencilled on them. Cigarette rations are supplied fortnightly.
The only items in short supply in the camp are cash and information from the outside. The men get about five Honduran limpira a month – enough to buy a couple of beers and a few packs of cigarettes in Los Trojes, the nearest town. Thirty-five kilometres away, Los Trojes is as far as the men can go without special permission and a pass. The town is small, with wide dusty streets with more horses on them than cars. Along the main street in its small wooden or adobe buildings are stores, restaurants, bars, and even a disco and hotel.
No communication but contra radio
But for the most part, the troops stay at the camps or surrounding area if their families are living there. In the camps, they see no newspapers and hear no radio aside from the contra radio station. They have no communication with their families in Nicaragua. Many have been told that family members are dead or imprisoned.
The level of political analysis ranges from simple repetition of anti-communist slogans, from most of the men to whom I talked, to a willingness to consider both sides of Nicaraguan-American history and philosophy, from Pepe, a senior advisor with the contras. His willingness to discuss the possibility that the Nicaraguan people might want a Sandinista government did not extend to permitting such thoughts to be recorded on tape, however. The other extreme, more commonly found, was the opinion that life in Nicaragua would be better under anyone other than the Sandinistas. An 18-year-old recalled how much better life was under the ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza and said he was fighting to restore that. When Somoza was overthrown, he would have been eight years old.
Somocistas, anti-Sandinistas and non-affiliated
There are some Somoza-regime leftovers in the contras. Some others are disenchanted Sandinista supporters. However, most had no overt political affiliation with any side in Nicaragua, but are poor peasants or labourers who volunteered or were recruited by the contras. Coming from these men, the political rationale of oppression in Nicaragua sounds like so much cant. For example, torture by the Sandinistas was frequently given as the reason for joining the contras, although the only example of torture provided was the men’s conscription into the Sandinista army.
Despite the ban on military action, the troops still get to see some fighting. During my visit, they were talking about a recent incursion into Nicaragua and another planned for the next month. And the next week, near the border on the Nicaraguan side, I was told of a recent attack in which contra soldiers repeatedly raped a 16-year-old girl in front of her house and then kidnapped her.
There, I met two “secuestrados,” people who had been kidnapped and held by the contras. In April they and two others were released by the contras after two American doctors and a journalist located them in the camps. The Nicaraguan National Reconciliation Council, a bipartisan committee headed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop, says that 3,000 of the contras are secuestrados. The contra leaders do not like discussing the point, acknowledging only that they “conscript” people.
Dr. Susan Cookson and Dr. Tim Takaro, now living in North Carolina, worked in the northern Nicaraguan province of Jinotega. They knew nine people from the area, including several community health workers, who had been kidnapped by the contras. Finding these people in the Honduran camp was made very difficult by the contra officials, but the doctors succeeded in talking to five of the nine. One young woman to whom they talked did not want to leave the camp. She was pregnant by one of the soldiers and wanted to stay with him.
They were examined and interviewed by the doctors, with a contra lawyer in full military uniform present. The four who left signed statements which were taken to the United Nations human rights officer in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, who arranged for their return to Nicaragua.
Health-care worker and a cook
I talked to José Gabriel Lopez, a farmer and health-care worker near the village of Mancantal in northern Nicaragua, and Gema Valásquez, a 16-year-old who had been working as a cook at a Nicaraguan army camp near the town of Jinotega. Both still feared that the contras would return and kidnap them again.
José Gabriel spent nine months with the contras after he was taken from his house at night. Gema had been walking home from work when she was taken, and spent 10 months in Honduras.
The prisoners’ walk to the camp took six weeks. Neither José Gabriel nor Gema attempted to escape during the walk; José Gabriel saw what happened to people who did try. One of the men with him tried to run the night they were abducted, and was shot as he ran. Gema was beaten with the butt of a rifle when she was unable to keep up the pace.
Isolation and indoctrination
Once in the camp, isolation combined with indoctrination to make the secuestrados believe that they had no choice but to stay with the contras. Gema was told that her mother, a Sandinista supporter, had denounced her. When Dr. Cookson told her that her mother sent her love, Gema simply cried, saying, “I knew my mother hadn’t forgotten me.”
Neither Gema nor José Gabriel have strong political leanings in either direction. Gema is a young girl concerned with music and clothes, the usual interests of 16-year-olds, even in Nicaragua. José Gabriel is a Catholic lay minister whose foremost allegiance is to his faith. José Gabriel assumes he was abducted because of his health care work and Gema says the contras took her employment at a military camp to mean she was a Sandinista supporter.
For two weeks after her arrival in Honduras, Gema was imprisoned in the military police camp. She was kept blindfolded the whole time, was beaten with a hose, tied up all day with no water. What she especially dreaded was having a poncho wrapped tightly around her head smothering her, a torture widely used in Latin America, and known as la capucha, or “the hood.” Dr. Cookson said that many women are sexually molested but Gema was fortunate to escape that, although she did see another woman die after being beaten by the soldiers.
Gema said that during the night that the doctors talked to her, Pepe, Jackson and other officials warned her that she would be killed by the Sandinistas if she left, offered to move her to any camp she wished to go to, and, finally, asked that she make clear in her statement that she had not been mistreated in any way so that negative publicity would not result for the contras.
Gema and José Gabriel both said that there are many in the camps – “hundreds,” according to José – who would like to go home. They do not go because, unless people like Drs. Cookson and Takaro find them, there is no escape. They do not know whether they will be safe in Nicaragua or if their families are alive. And even if they do not believe what the contras tell them, they have no money and they cannot get further in Honduras than Los Trojes without official contra permission. If they overcome these obstacles, they must then navigate through the contra land mines on the border with Nicaragua.
“they don’t want to leave”
According to the contra human rights officer at the base camp, although the contras do take people by force, “after they see what it’s like with us, they don’t want to leave. There is no one here who does not want to be.”
Gema and José Gabriel, as well as the other two men who were freed, have returned to their customary routines. José Gabriel is again living with his wife, child and parents on their farm about an hour’s walk from Mancantal, a small community north of Jinotega. He said that he intends to continue his health care work.
Gema is in Managua living with her mother and brothers and sisters. Her father lives in Jinotega, but the teenager does not intend to visit him again until she feels safe, for the contras still patrol the area. Sitting on the couch holding a doll, she talked only to an intermediary until he convinced her that I was trustworthy.
Aileen Tobin is a Canadian nurse working in Mancantal, the village close to José Gabriel’s farm. Several of the area’s health care workers have been kidnapped or threatened by the contras, and the small clinic in town has been attacked five times in the past three years.
Afraid to travel
Ms. Tobin said many health workers have stopped going about their jobs because they are afraid: they have to travel long distances to small settlements and outlying farms and they are vulnerable to attack on the lonely roads. More importantly, they feel that they are special targets for the contras because of their work in the health field. Ms. Tobin agrees with them, but laments the resulting loss of proper health care. A Canadian doctor in Jinotega, Dr. Myung Kim, said that his tuberculosis patients often do not get the necessary treatment because they don’t have transport to the clinic and he can’t travel to outlying areas because of risk of attack.
Dr. Kim, Ms. Tobin and other health workers are angry because they see the deterioration of a health system which won a World Health Organization award in 1983, and they can do little about it. They have no medicine or supplies, and a worsening economy means there is no money to buy any. Fear of contra attack keeps patients away from clinics.
If children start to die again…
Ms. Tobin said health care workers and teachers are targets of the contras because they represent the most basic and universally available improvements in ordinary people’s lives brought about by the revolution. If children start to die again from malnutrition and other easily-cured illnesses, and if access to basic education is lost, then ordinary people will no longer see that the revolution is giving them fundamental social benefits. Combine this with an inflationary economy which means that while food is available, people have no money to buy it, and the foundation is laid for a crisis of confidence in the government.
On both sides of the Nicaragua-Honduras border there are Nicaraguans carrying no strong ideological flag who have become part of a battle which, at root, is about the right to self-determination on the part of Central America. The United States has long considered Central America to be its backyard, with plantations and industries which produce goods for the American market, and governed by American-installed or approved leaders. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 made official policy of the American belief that no other country had any right to intervene in the Americas. Nicaragua is the first country since Cuba in 1959 that blatantly went against this dictum, accepting support from Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Contras, Cubans and Washington
The perception of Nicaragua is so radically different in Miami, Honduras and Nicaragua that one could be excused for not realizing that the same country is being discussed. In Miami, contra leaders and the Cuban exile community plan a new Nicaraguan revolution, a reversed one. In their minds, even if Washington backs down in its support of the contras, their movement will continue, with the help of “right-thinking” Americans like Oliver North.
In Washington, the highly charged rhetoric of the Reagan administration is being downplayed by President George Bush, but the same interventionist policy is being pursued.
In the Honduran contra camps, where the commanders imagine victory and the U.S.-supplied soldiers regularly eat meat, Washington is criticized because more aid is not forthcoming. In the Honduran capital the views are more diverse, but with one factor remaining constant. If you walk through the crowded main square, it is almost impossible to find a Honduran who does not want the contras to leave immediately.
Coping with an embargo and war
And in Nicaragua the leaders cut back on social programs, and devalue the currency, and scramble to obtain the hard currency needed to buy industrial equipment and other goods. They try to cope with the continuing American trade embargo and rebuild the Atlantic coast after the devastation of Hurricane Joan. They still find time to release National Guard prisoners, remove restrictions on La Prensa, an opposition newspaper, and prepare for the February 1990 election. Ordinary people now watch their children die of malnutrition and lack of health care. (In Mancantal, Aileen Tobin says, “Even aspirin, I often haven’t even got that to give people.”)
In this eight-year war, 40,000 have been killed on both sides and hundreds of millions of dollars given to the contras by the United States. Although former president Ronald Reagan did not succeed in displacing the Sandinista government, his actions in promoting trade embargoes and a costly war did succeed in destroying the economy.
“Washington created them…”
Now, thousands of Nicaraguans are leaving the country. Because the U.S. considers them to be fleeing “communism,” none have been sent back to Nicaragua. If the American demobilize the contras, most spokespeople for all sides of the issue believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take them in. Julio Somoza, a Miami restaurateur who is the nephew of the ex-dictator of Nicaragua, has said “Washington created them, Washington has to look after them.”
There are two great tragedies in this seemingly never-ending war. One is the waste of lives on both sides, through death in battle and through the slow death of poverty and displacement. The other tragedy is the possible death of a Nicaraguan idealism which brought social justice to a country and a region more accustomed to mass poverty amid pockets of opulence and brutal repression.
It has been said that the real threat posed to the United States by Nicaragua is not the threat of encroaching communism, but “the threat of a good example.” That example is of a Central American country which despite the opinion of its critics is democratic and independent. Against all the odds, it still exists.
In 1971 my parents and I drove through West Virginia on our way from Ontario to Kentucky. We’d never been there before and it was stunningly beautiful. So we took back roads and made lots of stops.
The stop I remember most was at a small house. A wooden sign, “antiques for sale”. A table covered with old glass bottles and china. Over by a tree, machine parts and old tools.
Everybody came out to see the pickup with Ontario plates come in the driveway. A man from somewhere out back. Woman and kids from the house. Lots of kids, teenage to toddlers.
Mom looked at the glass, Dad the car parts. But I saw a kid holding a pup. Then I saw kittens playing in the flowerbed. Chickens scratching around the side of the house. I went to the kids, and the animals.
We stayed a long time, long enough for the woman to ask if we’d like a cold drink. So lemonade and cookies, served on a small table under a tree. When we left, with some blue medicine bottles, they asked if I wanted a pup or the kitten I held. A gift. No, sorry, our dog doesn’t take kindly to sharing.
That small farm in the hills was one of the most magical places I’ve ever been. They farmed a bit and they hunted. The kids knew the woods as well as they knew the inside of their house.
I don’t remember anyone mentioning coal. But it had to be coal country. Commercial coal mining had been a part of West Virginia for a century and a half by then. But underground mining, not strip mining. Not mountaintop removal. Not on a large scale anyway. Mountain-top removal mining started in the 1950s but didn’t take off as the preferred method of mining until the early 1970s. Just a couple years after we stopped at that house to look at glass bottles.
The oil crisis of 1973 gave an impetus to fast, cheap coal mining. Bulldozing and blasting soil, trees and rock to reach the seams of coal under the land. Taking down the mountain to reach what’s underneath. And taking it down further and further, to reach each seam deeper in the mountain. Until there is no mountain left.
All that soil, vegetation and rock has to go somewhere. Into the valleys, filling them. Thereby filling rivers and lakes, farms and houses. Then the mined coal has to be cleaned. More waterways polluted by the runoff from the washing process.
This is the industry that President Trump wants. Despite the demand for coal having dropped over the past years, due to no real need for it and no desire for the air pollution that burning it causes. Yes, less coal mining in Appalachia caused unemployment. But retraining and economic aid programmes were helping. Then Trump swore he’d revive coal. Miners would go back to work, he promised. Are there really markets for what they’d produce? Not so sure, even in China where coal-burning plants are being phased out.
EPA and coal lobby
The US Environmental Protection Agency, under Trump, is now headed by a former coal lobbyist. Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator, took over from Scott Pruitt, himself a former energy industry lobbyist and a big friend of big coal. Neither Wheeler nor Pruitt have rethought their former employment positions. Both have publicly stated their support for coal and energy industries, even their pride in their former work. Both in charge of the federal agency responsible for, well, protecting the environment. Fox guarding the henhouse?
Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed the mountains of West Virginia and throughout Appalachia. Destroying the mountains also means destroying the entire waterway system of lakes, rivers and ponds. It destroys wildlife and fishstocks and their habitats. It also destroys human habitats.
The other big industry in West Virginia is drugs; meth labs and distribution of opiods. That filled the economic gap left by the loss of mining jobs. It destroys people’s health and lives. But it doesn’t destroy the environment as well. Mining destroys people’s health, their homelands and the whole environment. That damage hurts Appalachia and everywhere else too.
If you want a quick primer in the coal industry and mountaintop removal mining, and a good story, read John Grisham’s 2014 novel Gray Mountain. He also writes about those fighting back. The lawyers and legal clinics who fight big coal and fight for the miners suffering black lung disease and other debilitations caused by their profession.
Coal Consumption Affecting Climate – 1912 News
Today, the Trump Administration announced a major scale back of constraints on emissions from coal-fired power plants. The EPA said the regulations set by the Obama administration were “burdensome”. President Trump will celebrate this at a political rally in Charleston, West Virginia, tonight.
One Trump year is like one dog year – very long! Tomorrow, January 20th, is the first anniversary of his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States. A lot has happened, both silly and serious. The tweets and braggadocio coming from the White House have been entertaining and frightening. Also so mind-occupying that it’s hard to think of the serious stuff that’s happened. Actual legislation passed, revoked, deferred and proposed.
So here’s a summary of just one aspect of the past Trump year, the effect of his administration on the environment.
Earth’s 1st Trump Year
January 20, 2017
Trump is inaugurated. He says he’s going to drain the swamp. He meant the swamp of Washington politicos. But it’s real swamps that need to worry.
January 24, 2017
Trump issues memoranda to permit Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines. He does this despite indigenous peoples’ protests and environmental concerns.
January 25, 2017
All references to climate change removed from White House website.
February 1, 2017
ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson is appointed Secretary of State. From 18 Dec 2016 in OilPrice.com:
[P]utting Tillerson at Secretary of State does present some questions over conflict of interest. After all, Tillerson could be instrumental in removing sanctions on Russia, which would be a highly favorable outcome for ExxonMobil, where Tillerson has worked for his entire 41-year career… As Vox’s Brad Plumer succinctly put it, “In a lot of ways, Putin and Exxon need each other. And Tillerson is now in the middle.”
February 14, 2017
Trump signs a Congressional Review Act resolution that ends a financial disclosure requirement for energy companies.
February 16, 2017
Trump signs joint resolution passed by Congress revoking “Stream Protection Rule”. The rule had placed restrictions on dumping mining waste into surrounding waterways.
February 17, 2017
Scott Pruitt confirmed as head of Environmental Protection Agency. When he was Attorney General for Oklahoma, Pruitt was best known for suing the EPA. He was also known for his close relationship with oil and gas companies.
March 2, 2017
Newly appointed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rescinds ban on lead ammunition on federal lands and waters. NRA approves the move as being good for hunters. Conservation groups disapprove as poisonous for wildlife.
March 6, 2017
After ordering an EPA review of it on Feb 28th, Trump announced his decision to rescind or revise the “Clean Water Rule: Waters of the United States”. Intended to clarify federal jurisdiction over US waters, it had extended federal protection to some waterways, wetlands and lakes.
March 7, 2017
EPA Office of Science and Technology removes word “science” from its mission statement. New wording stresses “economically and technologically achievable performance standards”.
March 13, 2017
First preliminary budget makes cuts to EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, other science and environmental agencies and social programmes. The cuts are made in order to allow $54 billion increase to defense spending.
March 15, 2017
EPA considers rolling back emissions standards for future new vehicles, as goal of greater fuel efficiency said to be unachievable.
March 17, 2017
EPA does not rescind $100 million to Michigan for water infrastructure upgrades in Flint. Hurray.
March 21, 2017
The rusty patched bumblebee is listed as an endangered species. Trump had previously signed an executive order that delayed its listing by one month. It used to be a variety of bee commonly found in North America.
March 24, 2017
Keystone XL pipeline given permit by State Department.
March 27, 2017
Oil is pumped into the Dakota Access Pipeline.
March 28, 2017
Trump signs Executive Order to begin rescinding EPA’s Clean Power Plan, moratorium on coal leases, and more.
April 3, 2017
Trump donates first quarter of his presidential salary to National Park Service. His 2018 budget plan includes a $1.5 billion cut to the Department of the Interior. The National Park Service is part of that department. Funding for some National Heritage Areas will be eliminated.
April 19, 2017
All but one reference to climate change are removed from the climate change page on the Interior Department’s website.
April 26, 2017
Trump signs Antiquities Executive Order, instructing review of national monuments created since 1996.
April 28, 2017
Trump signs an executive order for a review of bans on offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Also stops designation or expansion of National Marine Sanctuaries unless an “energy or mineral resource potential” estimate has been done by the Interior Department.
April 28, 2017
EPA climate change website is removed, remaining on the new page only in archived form.
May 5, 2017
EPA dismisses several scientists from the Board of Scientific Counselors. The EPA says this allows a “more diverse” membership of the board, including industry representatives.
May 23, 2017
Trump sends his budget to Congress. It proposes a 31% cut to the EPA budget. It also eliminates Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound restoration programmes.
June 1, 2017
Trump says the US will pull out of the Paris climate agreement.
June 12, 2017
Interior Secretary recommending decreasing size of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah.
June 13, 2017
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration cancels a rule designed to prevent endangered whales, dolphins and sea turtles getting entangled in fishing nets.
August 7, 2017
Interior Department recommends relaxing plan for protection of greater sage grouse habitat. The Department also recommends reprioritizing oil development in the affected federal lands.
Interior Departmental Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement stops a study of health risks from mountaintop removal coal mining. Also, the Trump administration disbanded a federal advisory panel for National Climate Assessment.
October 9, 2018
EPA head Scott Pruitt announces plan to eliminate the Clean Power Plan, saying “the war on coal is over.”
October 23, 2017
Department of Interior announces largest ever auction of offshore oil and gas leases. 77 million acres of federal water in the Gulf of Mexico outer continental shelf, off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The announcement comes days after a 672,000 gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico due to a pipeline leak off the coast of Louisiana.
December 4, 2017
Trump announces an 85% reduction in size of Bears Ears National Monument and an almost 50% reduction of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Both are in Utah. The Valley of the Gods, above, is now outside the boundaries..
December 18, 2017
Trump administration drops climate change from national security threat list.
December 20, 2017
Congress approves opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. It was bundled with the tax reform bill.
December 22, 2017
Department of the Interior removes “incidental takes” – industry-caused bird deaths – from being a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
January 4, 2018
Interior Department releases new offshore drilling plans. 5 days later, Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts are excluded. “Florida is obviously unique” said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It’s also home to Trump’s “Winter White House”.
January 6, 2018
Interior Department says it will approve a road to be built through Alaska’s Izembek National Wildlife Refuge. One village and a fish cannery wanted it. It was added to the tax reform bill passed by Congress in December.
January 15, 2018
Nine of the 12 member National Park System Advisory Board resign. From their letter of resignation: “For the last year we have stood by waiting for the chance to meet” with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
In the early part of World War II, the enemy was breaking every military code that was being used in the Pacific. This created a huge problem for strategizing against the enemy. Eventually a suggestion was made in early 1942 to use the Navajo language as a code.
The Marine Corps recruited 29 young Navajos, not telling them what they are being recruited for because this was a top secret operation. They were just asked ‘you wanna join the Marines? You wanna fight the enemy? Come join the Marines.’ Then they were separated from all the rest of the Marines. Took them to a top secret location. That’s where they created a military code to be used in the Pacific.
After creating 260 code words, the 29 young Marines – half of them were sent overseas to join the 1st Marine Division. On August 7th 1942, 1st Marine Division hit the beaches of Gaudalcanal. This was the first battle where the Navajo code was to be tested in actual battle.
Three weeks after the landing, General Vandegrift, Commander of the 1st Marine Division, sent word back to United States saying, this Navajo code is terrific. The enemy never understood it, he said. We don’t understand it either, but it works. Send us some more Navajos. So that opened up the gate for United States Marine Corps San Diego to start recruiting more and more Navajos, using the same tactics.
The 13 of us, we still have one mission. That mission is to build National Navajo Code Talker Museum. We want to preserve this unique World War II history for our children, grandchildren, your children, your grandchildren.
Why? Because what we did truly represents who we are as Americans. America, we know, is composed of diverse community. We have different languages, different skills, different talents, and different religion. But when our way of life is threatened, like freedom and liberty that we all cherish, we come together as one. And when we come together as one, we are invincible.
-Peter MacDonald, Sr., Navajo Code Talker
This is part of what Peter MacDonald Sr. said at the White House on Monday. Mr. MacDonald, Fleming Begaye and Thomas Begay are Marine Corps veterans of World War II, Navajo Code Talkers. It played on Wednesday’s As It Happens on CBC Radio (beginning of Part 3).
This was a rare opportunity to hear about the history of the unit directly from those involved. But Mr. MacDonald’s speech didn’t get a lot of television coverage. Yep, President Trump opened his mouth.
So thank you, CBC, for playing this excerpt. It made me go look for the full speech, which I found on Real Clear Politics – both transcript and video.
David Duke said “we’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump” during the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville VA on Saturday. David Duke, former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, using the president’s name as justification – that’s ballsy, I thought.
My husband said Trump’s brand is his name, and nothing is more important to him than his brand. Trump Tower, Trump Water, Trump Steaks, Trump University. Donald Trump emblazons everything he does with his name. Looking at it that way, Duke’s statement is even ballsier!
So I thought Donald Trump would unleash his full fury on David Duke personally and, by extension, all the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and Klan members at the rally and in the United States.
But he didn’t. Trump did not thunder about his name being taken in vain. Instead, In a mealy-mouthed ‘everybody is responsible, therefore nobody is responsible’ type of statement, he let the white supremacist organizations off the hook. He said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
Omit those last three words, and it’s a vague decrying of violence and racism. But at least it doesn’t imply that blame should not be placed on torch-carrying, Swastika flag-waving racists.
Given his history with David Duke and white supremacists, it particularly behoved the president to speak out loud and clearly against domestic terrorism that is inspired by racism. The virulently racist factions of the far right supported his candidacy and still support him.
On Saturday, David Duke linked the Trump brand to organized American white supremacists. On that same day, other brands distanced themselves immediately from any implied association with the groups rallying in Charlottesville. The Detroit Red Wings, the NHL, Tiki Brand. Even webhost GoDaddy told The Daily Stormer to move its website to another provider.
Finally on Monday, Trump spoke again. About two minutes, with the first minute devoted to how great he has been for the US economy. Then he did name “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups” as repugnant. Such as it is, it’s about time!
The groups that were at the Virginia rally are terrifying. Seeing the Nazi flag on parade in an American city is spine-chilling. As Republican Senator for Utah Orrin Hatch tweeted, “My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.”
The Confederate flag, representative of America’s Civil War, a division between North and South over the socio-economic institution of slavery. The Ku Klux Klan, no longer wearing white robes and pointy hats, but still carrying fiery torches.
The Klan is a home-grown American terrorist organization. It predates Hitler’s Nazi Party by half a century, based on the same kind of racist ideology. Astoundingly, it is still alive and well in the US. And they see President Trump as their man. Surely not good for the Trump brand.
The mother of the kid who drove into the crowd and killed Heather Heyer and injured many others said that she thought her son was going to an event that “had something to do with Trump”. That’s maybe the most telling statement of all.
From More in Anger (1958), a collection of essays by American social critic and satirist Marya Mannes. From 1904 to 1990, her life spanned most of the 20th century.
A fictional life-story of a man who, Mannes says, “drew strength” from the “poisoned climate of McCarthy”. Just change a few words and, maybe, ‘plus ça change…’?
The Brotherhood of Hate: Three Portraits (Pt. II)
If you should come across Charlie Mattson and his family barbecuing in the back yard of their Darien home, you would think they came straight off the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. There is the jolly father-chef in his apron, the pretty – but not too pretty – wife in slacks, the twelve-year-old boy with the T shirt and the crew cut, and the teen-age girl in heavy white socks and loafers, blue-jeaned, sweatered and pony-tailed. They appear to be having a genuinely good time.
There is no reason, really, why they shouldn’t. Charlie has a good job in a factory sub-contracted to a defense plant, his family is healthy, and he is a pillar of his American Legion Post, the Presbyterian church, the Kiwanis and the weekly poker group. One reason for this is his good nature, another is his repertory of jokes, mainly for male consumption. Charlie rolls ’em in the aisles.
Yet Charlie is one of those men who was, whether he admits it or not, happiest in the war. He got overseas late in the game, but not too late to taste the liberation of Paris and the advance into Germany, and he can never forget the excitement and fulfilment of either. Nor can he forget the German girl he shacked up with after the surrender, in the months of occupation that followed. Ruins, starvation and all, he found the Germans very much to his liking, and he joined a number of other Americans in wondering why the hell they had fought the Krauts instead of the Frogs. Fundamentally, the Germans had the right ideas, and one of those was plumbing.
The nearest he could come to those war days now were bull sessions at the Post, where the men would reminisce about the war and the women they had. But the years after the war were a letdown to men like Charlie. They were conscious of a great lack: there was no place to go, nothing to do, no direction, really. They were disgusted with the untidiness and frustration of civilian life, and they began to blame it on all sorts of things, beginning with socialism (the bastard Truman and his goddam Fair Deal) and ending with Jews, foreigners, do-gooders, pinkos and longhairs.
It was small wonder then that when the Junior Senator from Wisconsin began raising his voice in 1952, Charlie began to listen. Here, at last, was a call to action, a new kind of war for good Americans to wage. McCarthy gave men like Charlie a motive and a function: to rid this country of the traitors in its midst, to hunt down the enemy, to restore America to its rightful owners and guardians. The bugle had sounded and Charlie Mattson joined the colors.
But things have died down a bit since, partly because most of the reds had been smoked out, and partly because there was nobody left in the government who had the guts to keep up the fight against subversion. For there was no doubt in Charlie’s mind that his country was in constant danger of penetration, that the wrong people were getting back into power, and that the only reason the Russians were ahead of us was that they stole our secrets.
But what can you do when people are dumb? Make money and mind your own business and tell your children what the score is. If folks can’t realize, for instance, that this whole integration business is one more communist plot and that the Supreme Court is playing right into their hands, it’s their funeral. [pp 84-86]
If Marya Mannes saw America now
Mannes’ Charlie Mattson would be the father or grandfather of one type of Trump voter: the white man from the Rust Belt. The man who remembers, and wants back, those good factory jobs. Donald Trump says he’ll restore the jobs, restore “Made in the USA”, restore America. Many want to believe that. And some want the “call to action” that he appears to promise. No matter what it costs in the long run. No matter what it costs others, and us all.
In his first hundred hours – from midday Friday to this afternoon, President Donald Trump has been busy.
Signing executive orders:
Directing all federal agencies to ease the “regulatory burdens” of ObamaCare by waiving or deferring any provision that puts a “fiscal burden on any State” or clients, insurers, medical services and manufacturers. Not included are the specifics on what and how.
Imposing a hiring freeze for federal government workers, excluding the military.
Withdrawing the USA from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. He also plans to renegotiate NAFTA.
Reinstating a ban on federal funds for international development NGOs that provide abortion information or services. First brought in by Ronald Reagan in 1984, this “Mexico City Policy” can adversely affect health care provision for people around the world.
Reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as related orders that would expedite their environmental assessment process.
Trump has also told large corporations that he will cut taxes, fast-track their factory openings and remove 75% of government regulations affecting their operation. That’s the carrot. The stick is “substantial border tax” on companies that move production outside the US.
Sunday, he said discussions would begin on moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. With Israel and Palestine both having claims to Jerusalem, that puts the cat amongst the pigeons. He named son-in-law Jared Kushner as senior White House advisor and said Kushner would be part of Middle East negotiations. “If [Jared] can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.” Dad-in-law just made the job even more difficult.
Trump’s minions have also been busy. On Friday, the White House website was updated. Gone were pages on climate change, civil rights, LGBT and disabled peoples concerns.
Spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway gave us a new term for lies: alternate facts. She did that after Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, tore strips off the media for publishing photos and estimates of the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration. Spicer gave much larger figures not backed up by any evidence whatsoever. “Alternate facts” Conway explained.
Trump, his staff and federal offices are not the only ones sweeping with a new broom. On Monday, the Texas Supreme Court said it will revisit a 2015 case allowing spousal benefits for gay city employees.
All this in 100 hours – after a bizarre inauguration day.
Trump’s inauguration speech emphasized the me in America. He went on to insult 40 years worth of presidents sitting beside him in decrying the nest-feathering and self-serving of previous administrations.
Then he watched the parade. He had wanted a tank in it. I don’t know if it was due to the “optics” or the damage one would inflict on the pavement, but I’m glad the answer was no.
His last public function was attending the inaugural balls. At $50 a ticket, they were overpriced. In the First Dance with the First Lady to the song ‘My Way’, he smirked and mouthed the words “my way” directly to the camera. OMG!
I didn’t think it could get worse than that, or more surreal. But it has. And it’s only been half a week.
Yesterday, in Value Village in Saint John, I saw a woman with George Orwell’s 1984 in her shopping cart. I wonder how many copies of it have sold lately.
What is the appeal of The Donald as president? Trump imagery over Trump policy, I suspect. But why? Reading The Englishman’s Boy, I got a clue from a 1923 fictional Hollywood studio boss:
Last year Mussolini marched his Blackshirts on Rome and the government, the army folded. The government possessed all the material force necessary to prevail, and yet they gave way to a few thousand men with pistols in their pockets. Why? Because Mussolini orchestrated a stream of images more potent than artillery manned by men without spiritual conviction. Thousands of men in black shirts marching the dusty roads, clinging to trains, piling into automobiles. They passed through the countryside like film through a projector, enthralling onlookers. And when Rome fell, Mussolini paraded his Blackshirts through the city, before the cameras, so they could be paraded over and over again, as many times as necessary, trooped through every movie house from Tuscany to Sicily, burning the black shirt and the silver death’s head into every Italian’s brain. [p. 109]
Guy Vanderhaeghe published The Englishman’s Boy in 1996, long before the phenomenon of Trump the Candidate. Trump moved on a fractured Republican Party, and America, the same way Mussolini moved on a post-WWI fractured Italy and Europe. Like Mussolini, Trump knows the power of image. Donald Trump is showbiz and glamour, gossip and myth. His actual beliefs? Do we know? Do we care? Donald Trump is a green screen of outrageousness. You can project whatever meaning you want on to his words. Be offended or be empowered.
Trump as Green Screen
To his supporters, he is Everyman: just like us, with money. If you squint right, you can see the Horatio Alger story in him. A “small loan” from his father set him up to become fabulously wealthy, so he says. He knows how to play the system. We go to his casinos, hoping that Lady Luck gives us a helping hand. We dream that we could parlay that stake into our fortune. Those with a more scholarly approach subscribed to Trump University, hoping to learn the art of the deal.
But if we can’t, maybe he’ll do it for us. He will stand up to big corporations and job-stealing nations and immigrants. He’ll out-bully the bully boys of international politics (who are ‘taking advantage of us’). He can arm-wrestle Vladimir Putin figuratively and probably literally.
To his opponents, however, he is racist, sexist – every ‘ist’ that is vile and not part of the mantra of “diversity and inclusivity.” Including fascist. (Here is an excellent article on Trump and fascism.)
Stylistically, he is everything that gilt and mirrors are. Braggadocious, as he might say, décor. The décor of his houses. But his political and social philosophies are less consistent. So look at his statements and performance and choose your interpretation. For example: he’s anti-women because he insults women; he’s pro-women because of his hiring practices.
Whatever the topic, his very public life provides the canvas upon which you can draw the picture you want to see. He knows the art of the image better, perhaps, than he knows the art of the deal. This election campaign is proving to be more about imagery than about deals and policies.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.