The Ugly American

A friend just asked me an interesting question: why do you suppose no one has interviewed Dick Lugar about the merits/demerits of the agreement with Iran?

A good question, to which I have no good response. But it does raise another question: when and how did the party of Dick Lugar, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller–among many, many others–become the party of Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump?

I have resisted writing about Trump, because really…why waste the digital ink? But it occurs to me that the reason I find him so repulsive is because he embodies everything that is wrong with my country; he’s like the “ugly American” tourists who used to roam Europe routinely embarrassing the rest of us.

  • Start with the narcissism: the belief that he is “exceptional.” The insistence that he is always right, and any critic is wrong, jealous, unable to appreciate his superiority.
  • The glorification of money and the delusion that he is self-made: I’m rich so I’m better, and it’s all due to my brilliance; I don’t owe my (exaggerated) fortune to my inherited wealth, or my ability to avoid the consequences of bad business decisions through multiple bankruptcies, or the “old boys” network available to the sons of well-to-do white Christian males.
  • The substitution of witless name-calling for discourse: if I disagree with you, you’re a dummy or a clown. I don’t have to explain why you’re wrong, or what I would do instead, or why my idea is better. Just playground-level epithets.
  • The full-throated bigotry and racism: Obama is black, so he couldn’t possibly have been born in the U.S.; brown people are all illegal immigrants who are murderers and rapists.
  • The chutzpah. Denigrating John McCain’s service while Trump was taking advantage of deferments available to the pampered and privileged.
  • The confusion of tasteless and tacky with quality.

There is more, but what I don’t understand is how a significant part of the Republican base can take this delusional buffoon seriously. He is an embarrassment to the party and the country. Granted, the rest of the field ranges from undistinguished (to put it mildly) to terrifying, but Trump’s antics are so outsized as to make even Rick Perry (“oops!”) look sentient by comparison.

We live in a world that is complicated and increasingly interdependent. We need leadership that understands those complexities and can analyze and debate the available options for dealing with them–not purveyors of bumper-sticker slogans, faux machismo and belligerent bullshit.

The party of Dick Lugar and Bill Hudnut is long gone.


  1. Our media is a joke, the coverage feeds this “clown” phenomenon. As you’ve stated here before they are doing us all a disservice by giving “the Donald” all this coverage while ignoring the real issues. No solutions just blah, blah, blah.

  2. However, Trump is self-destructing as a result of his inability to form and express complex thoughts and ideas. He has marginalized himself and left alone he will help further marginalize his party.

  3. Donald Trump represents everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. The greed, the self-righteousness, the bigotry, the racism, the religiosity. They pulled together this coalition of fringe groups, kicked out the moderates and intellectuals, and are now reaping the consequences. As my daddy taught me long ago, “When you lay down with dogs, you should not be surprised that you get up with fleas.”

  4. I like Trump more and more, every day.

    America might need a leader from the real world instead of a career politician who never tried to make a dollar in the entrepreneurial sector.

    As Trump’s views are much closer to Real American views than Sheila’s, the histrionics on the Left make it look like he’s doing something right.

    Chicago has a flashy new Trump Tower. I don’t see a Lib Tower anywhere.

  5. I’m sure the anti media guy can express many thing well. However, to turn to the “straw person” to have something to knock down is waste. Name calling is useless! There are media who don’t know how to report news. They do propaganda instead. In effect, they use to ways of fundamentalist religion: stick a doctrine or creed on it and rationality is forsaken. In Missouri there is an excellent program for young aspiring journalist; normally a part of the English departments. Perhaps it should be required for all, so all might discern journalism from propaganda. The best news I’ve seen and heard is from the major networks: NPR, NBC, CBS, ABC or PBS. MSNBC and Fox tend to stand as thumbs that can’t touch their little fingers.

  6. As the first comment notes, media is the culprit. This has absolutely nothing to do with an alignment with “Real American” views. Media outlets all battle for audience, and the most outrageous views and behavior get the most attention because they draw the audience. That drives out intelligence and moderation. Would any media outlet have an interest in someone like Lugar, no matter how valuable his/her insights might be? Obvious!

  7. ” …the party of Dick Lugar, Bob Dole, Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller–among many, many others–become the party of Ben Carson, Bobby Jindal and Donald Trump?”
    I am not sure the Good Old Party ever really existed.
    This is the same party that was 100% apposed to Social Security
    (and 100% apposed to anything that FDR tried to do to help regular Americans)
    100% apposed to Medicare (& Medicaid)
    100% apposed to Gay folks or Black folks having equal rights
    They are more “in your face” today but the positions are about the same.
    Same crowd… Different presentation.
    Finally they are more honest about who they really are today.
    They have always been awful folks.
    Now we can see it more clearly
    The more Hateful Trump gets, the more the GOP Base LOVES him
    Yep… that is the GOP I have always seen
    Distract the stupids with nonsense while you shovel money to the 1%

  8. Two observations:

    The current crop of “journalists” couldn’t tell you who Dick Lugar is.

    There is no “Lib Tower” because liberals tend to not build monuments to greed and excess, but spend money on things like schools, health care, etc.

  9. I suppose a country that gorges on reality TV and calls it entertainment has in fact devolved to next to monkeyhood and could well be gullible enough to be taught that buffoons are Presidential material. Remember were not talking real minds here but those who outsource thinking to Fox’s foxes.

    It wasn’t that many decades ago that many were wondering if brain washing was real or not. I guess that we’ve settled that.

    The Great Awakening is merely normal cognition emerging from the fog of lazy thinking. Give me my opinion is about as easy as life çan get and those who prefer life like that really are not capable of contributing anyway. But they’ve gone from merely being in the way to being active obstacles. That’s why among these pages conservative non thought never gets defended. Only proclaimed.

    It is indefensible so we’ve become two tribes. Those that have fallen for it and are comfortable that they no longer have to think and those who still enjoy figuring out the why of things.

    Which tribe will eventually out adapt the other? As human evolution has always been based on our one advantage, intelligence, it’s clear that conservative non thought would be the end of our line. It’s already pretty much ended the American Dream.

    Can the Great Awakening catch up, overtake, then adapt the species for survival instead?


  10. I noticed this morning that Trump is their party’s frontrunner in the polls with 24%. My thought was “keep him as their frontrunner, let him win their primary, and then watch it all fall apart in the presidential election when a Democrat is elected”.

  11. It isn’t a matter of which news outlets are better as much of where people’s views are formed. Look at the crap that circulates on Facebook. And how many people are on Facebook compared to viewers for CBS Evening News?

  12. The evidence has been available to us for at least a decade, so I’m not surprised by Trump’s approval rating. I’m saddened, I’m disappointed, I’m even quite frightened that there are this many Americans with this mentality to embrace Trump’s message, but I’m not surprised. The number of Fox News viewers is just a portion of the evidence that there are this many American’s with this mentality to rally around the Trump mentality. Add to that evidence the radio audiences and the social media rants and it’s even more apparent. I’ve become more frightened by the evidence from the Trump soar, but I’m not surprised.

  13. Sheila, do you write the Gopper part? If so, you have my respect. He is a brilliantly ignorant character.

    Regarding those who think Trump is a creation of the media, he is winning in the polls of republican voters. That should remind us all that we are dealing with a party that, at its base, consists of unsophisticated racist buffoons. So he is the real GOP, and they will not win the presidency. And it is now obvious that they are nearing extinction, which certainly does make me giggle.

  14. There are some of us who believe that destroying the Earth would be a bad thing not for Earth necessarily but for life certainly. Among us a word has bubbled up repeatedly to describe how we should prepare for whatever degree we might fail in our efforts.

    Resilience. A term related to adaptability. How to prepare for unpredictable but certain change.

    Of course the concept was invented and practiced by life since its inception and is the reason that we made it this far. Evolution is random but natural selection insures that all species are resilient to whatever curve balls nature throws our way.

    A curve ball that we threw ourselves is the real current raison d’être for resilience though and that is our civilization, our infrastructure, our stuff which is fixed and not adaptable. We have to make that as resilient as nature made us in order to adapt not to nature’s environment but the one that we are creating. Unpredictable but certain change.

    The opposite of resilient is, in military terms, hardened. A hardened defense is one not flexible but less pregnable by a specific offense.

    Conservatism is a hardened defense against change. All change, so by definition not at all resilient. The perfect defense for an unchanging world. If there were such a thing.

    Donald Trump took a great deal of his father’s money and turned it into a great deal of his own money and would like nothing to change so he can brag about that lack of accomplishment. He therefore attracts conservatives who also fear change.

    As the campaign unfolds we will ultimately get to vote on whether the future will be different or the same as today and how to prepare.

    I say resilient. Trump says hardened.

  15. True words written by David Dunning of Dunning Kruger Effect fame.

    “An ignorant mind is precisely not a spotless, empty vessel, but one that’s filled with the clutter of irrelevant or misleading life experiences, theories, facts, intuitions, strategies, algorithms, heuristics, metaphors, and hunches that regrettably have the look and feel of useful and accurate knowledge. This clutter is an unfortunate by-product of one of our greatest strengths as a species. We are unbridled pattern recognizers and profligate theorizers. Often, our theories are good enough to get us through the day, or at least to an age when we can procreate. But our genius for creative storytelling, combined with our inability to detect our own ignorance, can sometimes lead to situations that are embarrassing, unfortunate, or downright dangerous—especially in a technologically advanced, complex democratic society that occasionally invests mistaken popular beliefs with immense destructive power (See: crisis, financial; war, Iraq). As the humorist Josh Billings once put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” (Ironically, one thing many people “know” about this quote is that it was first uttered by Mark Twain or Will Rogers—which just ain’t so.)”

    “Because of the way we are built, and because of the way we learn from our environment, we are all engines of misbelief. And the better we understand how our wonderful yet kludge-ridden, Rube Goldberg engine works, the better we—as individuals and as a society—can harness it to navigate toward a more objective understanding of the truth.”

  16. As the President is finishing his remarks to some real, serious heroes at a VFW meeting, the Donald is preparing to spew more foolish noise in South Carolina, of all places. Haven’t those people been through enough? He won’t be speaking to quite the same crowd. This bunch will be old racist white guys who will swallow every word he says. Hard to imagine, I know.

    I think that way down deep, so far down deep that no one else can see, DT (who gives me the DT’s) is beginning to realize that not only will he never be a war hero (something about those five chicken deferments for bone spurs), nor will he EVER be the President of the United States. We have so much to be thankful for!

  17. I don’t think Trump is serious at all–he says these outrageous things because they garner him attention, which he needs like a heroin addict needs a fix. His cheesy hair, “apprentice” series, beauty pageants, flaunting a much-younger wife who feeds his ego with her displays of ample cleavage and gaudy jewelry and his grandiose lifestyle prove this. He needs attention so badly that he stoops to attacking John McCain when neither he nor his children have ever served in the military of this country. Does he really think that any member of the armed services would salute him as Commander In Chief after what he said?

    That said, there is one thing about Trump’s diatribes that does ring true, and that is the dissatisfaction of a substantial number of ordinary Americans with illegal immigration. He touched a nerve there, which other politicians should take note of. The wealthy, who rely on illegals to work in their restaurants, hotels, mansions and to do child care, housekeeping, gardening and other manual labor want lax enforcement because it costs less to employ illegals than U.S. citizens. Liberals see the human side of this–people wanting a better life style for their families. However, lots of ordinary Americans are fed up with people illegally coming to this country, working and living here, sending money back home and not paying Social Security or state taxes, but still using schools, hospitals, etc, built and maintained by middle class people. None of us could illegally move to Mexico, Guatemala or any other south of the border country and knowingly violate their laws and expect to get away with it just because we want a better lifestyle. Also, we couldn’t acquire the right to stay there permanently just because we got away with it for many years. There is also the security issue and costs to try to shore up our borders, which it seems almost anyone can cross. Even when one is caught and prosecuted, they just turn around and come back, sometimes over and over again, as that San Francisco murder proved. Reagan’s grant of amnesty only encouraged more illegal immigration, and unless there is serious enforcement, our immigration laws will be meaningless. In fact, they practically are already. People are sick of it and want it stopped. Trump stumbled into this sentiment.

  18. The Machiavellian part of my brain says, “Go, Trump! This is the best thing yet for the Democrats!” My more sober part says that Mr. Trump a reflection of and gathering place for some citizens who have lost the meaning of this “Grand Experiment”, and confuse grandiosity, blunt statements and swagger with truth telling. When that number is 24%, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised (28% thought Richard Nixon was a wonderful president on the day he resigned), but it also locates the serious weaknesses in this republic, where thoughtful deliberation, serious thought and respect for facts are conscious aspirations. Remember when great men ran for office and great poets and writers talked about the aspirations of the republic?

    The Republican party is beginning to see where self-centered narcissistic thought, taken seriously and applied, can take people who hold it in high regard. This is a monster that they have created, and now the Frankenstein is roaming the landscape. This is consistent with the cognitive behavior approach in psychology, in which therapists operate on the assumption that when you tell yourself garbage and really believe it, you are likely to become very confused, anxious and in trouble with people. Now that’s happened, let’s see if the 24% can begin to understand that, and if the 76% can learn from it. If we take this sad man seriously and consider well the deeper meaning of what he is saying and its consequences–not just the content and whether it’s true or not–we could actually become better people. In a strange way, Mr. Trump could save the Republic, serving as our teacher about what it means to self-destruct.

  19. Natacha, your sentiments about illegals reflect the talking points we hear from people such as Mr. Trump, but many of them a just not true. For example, illegals do pay Social Security–$13 billion in 2010), often into bogus accounts from which they will never benefit. In fact, without illegals contributing to Social Security, the Social Security crisis would have happened in 2009. And they do pay taxes, state and federal. There are a number of other myths that drive people, but as I said before, when you don’t believe the truth about stuff, it’s easy to end up confused, anxious and in trouble. You might check out this CNN Money article, but there are many more, even from the SSA:

  20. The other thing about illegal immigration is nobody has even suggested a practical solution. The talk about it is merely whining about a problem created by the business community that is impossible to prevent. It’s a geography problem. It will stop when the economy collapses, not before.

  21. Stuart: first of all, those illegals being paid “under the table” don’t pay anything in federal or state taxes. No one really knows how many of them there are, but it cannot be disputed that the number is large. How large is the question. There is little doubt that it has grown since Reagan’s amnesty order.

    Secondly, as to those illegals who provide their employer with a SSN, the employer deducts taxes and remits them quarterly, reporting the wages under the SSN provided, as required by law. The employer then receives a “no match” letter, indicating that the SSA’s records indicate that the name and number do not match. In the case of illegals, this is because they procured the number fraudulently (something else that costs us dearly–the expensive process of safeguarding SSNs, paying government employees to check records, issue “no match” letters, etc.). The employer is NOT allowed to fire the illegal just because of a “no match” letter, but is requested to check their records, to ask the employee to check their records, to see if there was an error, or to go to the SSA office to see if there is an error in the system. Eventually, if an innocent explanation cannot be given, the employer is obligated to fire the illegal, who then moves on to some other job somewhere, starting the cycle over. The taxes paid, however, are subject to reimbursement as being paid in error. Illegals are not likely to seek reimbursement, but I believe the employer may be entitled. However, advocates for illegal immigrants tell them to keep their pay stubs because they believe that someday Congress will allow these lawbreakers to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits. Therefore, don’t bank on the contributions of illegals for keeping the system solvent.

    Then there is the scenario of the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which still does not allow an illegal to work legally, but it is a means for employers to comply with the law requiring them to collect employment taxes. I don’t know whether taxes collected under an ITIN are subject to reimbursement, but they may well be. These are two scenarios in which money from the work of illegals flows into the SSA system. At the end of the day, because no one knows how many are paid under the table, or how much is being refunded as paid in error, to imply that illegals are paying their fair share of Social Security and Medicare taxes is without factual basis. Merely reporting the amount paid into the system under the “no match” system does not tell the entire story or justify what is going on.

    Illegals were, for a time, also obtaining billions of dollars in child tax credits, a story that was broken by Bob Segal of WTHR. The government didn’t even require proof that the child lived in the U.S.. Who knows whether the amounts paid in child tax credits offset the amount of taxes being held by the SSA under the “no match” system? Was there even a net benefit to the U.S. Treasury?

    At the end of the day, illegal immigration undermines the social safety net we have established in this county. Billions of dollars in wages are being paid which are not in the system. Taken as a group, illegals don’t pay the taxes that the rest of us must pay, plus they come here with the intention of flaunting our laws, which, in itself, is a sufficient basis not to allow them to live here. That is the problem many people have with illegals. Trump tapped into that sentiment, but he is wrong to accuse them of being rapists or otherwise bad people.

  22. The various ways to be reimbursed nothwithstanding, the SSA plans for $13 billion a year to be paid by illegals, and expects to only reimburse $1 billion of it, which serves to sustain SSA for the people who receive it.

    I understand about half illegals pay income tax, but last year they paid $8.4 billion in sales tax, $1.6 billion property tax, and $1.2 in personal income tax.

    There was a time when undocumented workers came to the U.S. and worked seasonally, and returned to Mexico to be with their families. With the current legislation, these people are “stuck” in the U.S., because they may not be able to return. Portraying them as “the bad guys” in our economy is not helpful to them or to us. They do contribute to this country and the story is much more complicated. Fear is always the default message, and facts don’t always come through.

    Another story is developing, in Mexico, where (despite what we hear about the drug gangs), education is rapidly improving as well as the jobs sector. Americans are likely to see the day when Mexicans do not want to come here. Where will the growing group of people who depend on cheap assistance find willing and able people to serve them? What will the farmers do when they can’t find people to pick their crops? It’s already happening. This illegal immigration problem may come to an end by itself, and the xenophobic Americans may be the losers.

  23. Illegal stuff happens all of the time. Stuff that occurs contrary to what law prohibits. Generally then passing more laws is an ineffective solution. The stuff is already prohibited.

    If there is a government solution it must be in law enforcement of which we already have much.

    Illegal immigration occurs almost completely over our 1,933 mile long mostly uninhabited border with Mexico. Virtually impossible to secure. Certainly unaffordable to secure.

    It occurs because American business offers employment to illegals much superior to what is available for them where they come from.

    There is much for both businesses and consumers to loose if it were ever to go away. So we don’t really want it to.

    It, like, many other things, is merely a topic to be whined about, fed by media, bought by oligarchs to destroy American government, and ultimately America, because that would be lucrative for them.

    There is nothing to see here folks, please move on.

  24. The only illegal immigrant information that I have first hand knowledge of is of a man who was working at a restaurant for $40.00 a day cash. No taxes withheld, no benefits of course, and no record of his employment. He believed he was rich. Living the big American dream because compared with where he came from this was a lot of money. He was not intentionally breaking the rules except for coming over the boarder illegally (as many of our ancestors did). He was too ignorant of the laws to know he was being taken advantage of and braking the law too. I suspect there are many, many more just like him. Our illegal immigration problems have many causes. There is no one solution.

  25. Pete: I think there is something to see here, and that is that Trump stumbled onto a sentiment shared by many Americans that no one else has addressed. I see that as the big story about Trump, not his clownish lifestyle and pathetic bids for attention.

  26. The only case of illegal immigration I know of personally was brought here as a young child, is approximately 30 at this time. Attempts to apply for citizenship when they became an adult would cost approximately $10,000 and take three years or more. The Patriot Act can be thanked for this; years ago it was a relatively simple procedure and help was available through government centers. Also, ESL classes were sought by immigrants and were provided for all foreign speaking people who did become American citizens. We are now overrun with the vast number of them. There is no easy way out of this mess; Congress blocking any and all recommedations with nothing offered to replace what they turn down, is slowing the process to it’s current standstill.

  27. I think we can have our agreements and disagreements about immigration, but it looks like that will not do-in Mr. Trump. I understand that when he made those remarks about John McCain, he put his foot in it. MSNBC reported that his poll numbers started to drop immediately after those comments. The establishment folks of the Republican party know that Mr. Trump’s candidacy would lead to a death knell they don’t want to hear. After all, if he’s can’t control his mouth now, just think about the future, when he’s on a roll. A 70% – 30% defeat and Mr. Trump would simply go back to real estate or whatever money-grubbing activity that helps him pass time, but that could spell the end of the Republican party, at least on the national level. I expect to see a lot of heavy Republicans begin to beat on him to turn the tide, because they are getting desperate.

  28. Natasha, the part about Trump running his mouth for fame and fortune I understand and completely agree on. My point is that like most of what he says the content is zero. He’s merely taking advantage of what oligarchs use media for. To create make believe problems that non thinkers can fear and fret about and blame government for in order to keep their plot and plans off the front page. And to get pliable people in power. If the ignorance ever spread to his election the country wouldn’t last four years and they’d have it all.

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