Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Liberal's Dilemma

It's always been tough being a liberal on crime and gangs. It's true that these miscreants have had really hard lives in many instances. Being raised in a poor and disorganized family with a history of failure is hard for me to understand fully, and I'd guess it's the same for most of you reading this. The social and educational resources offered to the poor are dreadful, as we all know, and prejudice makes it all the harder in every way.

And in addition to circumstances, there's the problem for many of not having much personal potential. We have some elements of a meritocracy in this country, more in theory than in fact, but it's there. So, what about the 50% who are below the mean in various measures? Those afflicted with poor brains or poor bodies or illnesses? Sure, many are not good in one thing but good in another, that's true. We make a mistake if we are unidimensional. Sure, hard work and persistence will get you a lot, and just reliability gets you a lot. But as Bernie and Elizabeth and Barack and others aver, the deck is stacked. Jared Kushner didn't get to be worth billions because of his innate brilliance, I think we can agree and think that this will become all the more clear as events unfold.

So, what are you going to do if your way is blocked by so many obstacles? Some are gifted with optimism and happiness and relilience and succeed despite the obstacles. But most don't. And pressures can mount, from here and from there. In the end, the rule of law and the arms of the police are necessary. And some of these dudes are really bad, too, let's not bleed our hearts for them. My stepson Brian is a prosecutor in Santa Clara county, and had the same job in San Francisco, working on gangs in both venues, and the evidence he sometimes brings to the court is video taken by the accused of he himself torturing and murdering a victim. Not much ambivalence on display there. If we are weighing influences vs. free will, it's pretty hard to gather up the sympathy when you hear Brian talk about these guys.

Perhaps you wonder where I'm going with this. Amazingly, I'm meandering over to the subject of abject victim of circumstances Donald Trump. We all know the problems that the rich may encounter. No one is immune to illness, and Donald is no doubt a victim of both ADHD and learning disorders (probably reading deficiency, possibly from dyslexia), and it would seem from the vision we have been offered of the prime source of his medical care (Dr. Harold Bornstein) that none of this, plus much else, has been properly dealt with. We can also imagine the circumstances of his upbringing. Having a slumlord for a father probably did not introduce liberal, understanding values to young Donald, and one doubts that his medical deficiencies were sympathetically considered. Plus, he was probably pretty much as much of a prick then as he obviously is now.

At the time he was growing up we understood so much less about it medically. My high school friend Jonny couldn't finish homework until 1 AM, and his neighbor and intimate friend John joked that that was when we didn't even have anything assigned. We viewed it as a deficiency of organization or of self-discipline or something, although we all loved him. It was only in later adulthood that amphetamine medication made him functional, and even now reading puts him to sleep. But, Jonny persisted and is a radiologist. He had something going for him, however: a supportive family. His father was a religious scholar, and his mother one of those warm, Jewish mothers who overflowed with affection for her son. When Jonny appeared on the front page of the Philadelphia Bulletin as a soldier who was refusing to be shipped off to Vietnam, the Bulletin interviewed his mother, who said “he is such a wonderful boy!” And not only did Jonny benefit directly from this family, he passes it on and lives his life the same way he was treated, thoughtfully, warmly, compassionately. He should be taking some amphetamines but I don't think he is. Luckily, those xray films don't put him to sleep the way books do.

Donald, we can imagine, got none of what Jonny did. He got shipped off to military school, and instead of standing up for himself during Vietnam, he got deferred, as did so many who could. But there probably was very little humanism from his family to introject. From the way he bullies, one can imagine he was bullied. His father probably found him wanting. Donald always made sure he had a great looking date at school functions. He certainly learned to compete in sports. That was him, trying to measure up, trying to have a positive self-image from the outside in. That usually doesn't work too well.

So here we are with a President Trump who reveals himself everyday as an awful human being. Let me not count the ways; who can't do it for himself or herself at this point? No videos of torture and murder, but he edges up to it. Not just a horrible President, who has the opposite of grace, the opposite of understanding, who knows little and learns little and who is unlikely to ripen in office. He has already shriveled, a fitting twin for Jeff Sessions. Once you're there, there is no going back.

So, we once again confront the Liberal's Dilemma. Do we understand and excuse, or do we capture and prosecute? It is a testament to their hypocrisy that the Republican Party of today says – excuse! He's new on the job, he means well, etc. Of course, it's a load of horse-diggy. They will say just anything, won't they? What a collection of losers, devoted to Wealth Care. They decry the lazy (and the sick, for that matter) while they defend the Loser In Chief.

But what do we do, we who are more enlightened, who can understand how people can go wrong, and can empathize with their hardships and dilemmas? Do we want to be hypocrites, too?

Well, let me tell you where I come out. Personally, I support Brian's point of view. Whatever the background explanation, whatever the mix of determination vs. freewill, I'm coming out with a judgement. Gang member killers? Gotta lock'em up, no? What other way is there? Try to rehabilitate when inside – tragedy and scandal how that doesn't happen – but condemnation is necessary.

Consistency demands that we judge the afflicted Donald the same way. It's very hard to grow up with the family we intuit that he had, the pressures, and the illnesses that he still seems not to recognize, but in the end, he has to be condemned as a terrible human being, and I would be far from dismayed if, in the end, the judge were to say, “Lock him up.”

Budd Shenkin

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