Sunday, August 25, 2019


Sometimes the best strategy is to do nothing at all. President Trump hasn't learned that lesson, and it's going to cost him and us.

The president is ordering (ordering!) Americans to stop buying from China and for our companies to leave the Chinese market and build products in other countries or the United States. And he's ordered (ordered!) package carriers to search all packages for drugs. Not only is this farcical from a political angle, it makes little economic sense. China does need to follow trade rules and stop pirating intellectual property, but clearly, and it was clear years ago, that getting into a trade war with them was not going to change their behavior. President Xi is just as much of a nationalist dictator as Trump would like to be, but Xi really can unilaterally make demands that President Trump cannot, so ordering citizens and companies via Twitter is just another sign that the president doesn't really know how our system of government works.

Economically, the Chinese market is far too big and powerful for the United States to ignore or abandon it and I think the president knows that, though I can't be too sure about what he actually knows. Further, the way to force China to change is through sustained economic pressure, but since the president withdrew us from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to do just that, we are. Yes, the TPP did need a review and updating, but now we got...nothing except another example of the president misreading his own power and ignorance of what the economic numbers really mean.

But of course the president could follow his own advice and just say, "fine" to the Chinese action. After all, that's what he called for the Danish Prime Minister to say, rather that to paint his absurd plan to buy Greenland as "absurd." Because most sober-minded people saw it as an absurd gambit to buy a huge swath of land for its oil at a time when we should not be investing heavily in resources that are fossil-based.

My take is that he was insulted, and maybe embarrassed because a powerful woman, and a white woman at that!, dismissed his perceived manhood by calling his proposal what it was. But since he can't call for her to be jailed or sent back to the place where she came from, he had to throw an international hissy fit and cancel his visit. And after what he's called fellow Americans, such as calling Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell an "enemy," who have opposed him for good reasons, and people in his own cabinet, his saying that nobody talks to Americans like that is just too laughable to be taken as anything but the  disconnected rantings of someone who doesn't read his own words.

And as a disloyal Jewish-American who votes Democratic and believes that peace will only return to the Middle East if Palestinian demands are taken seriously, I am beyond incensed that this president can rake the killing field and give oxygen to the most noxious anti-Semitic language and images for his own political gain. Bad people will take bad actions because of this. It's happened before; it will happen again.

Reality shows thrive on the chaos of what could happen next. Real reality needs order and trust and unity. The president is doing real and sustained damage to the country by undercutting our allies, labeling our citizens as threats, and making pronouncements that make little sense in any context.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 11, 2019

We're the New Jews

Welcome to the club.

And there's more to come.

This is all being driven by the sworn enemies of functioning democracy: Fear, suspicion, accusations of being an "other" or anti-whatever the fear-mongers want to define as their normal, anxiety, and loss of a way of life. Immigration might be behind much of the problem, but there's more. We are two or three generations removed from the horrors of World War Two and worlds removed from the Great War of a hundred years ago. People forget, then the new students never learn, or don't learn well enough of the dangers that led to those catastrophes. Nationalism. Imperialism. Militarism. Shifting alliances with weak or no oversight.

We are living is similar, but also vastly different times. Nationalism is rising and many countries have drawn sharp lines between who is acceptable and who is not. International tensions are rising because leaders like Xi, Kim, Duterte, Orban, Modi, Putin and Trump are feeding the fear and the uncertainty rather than trying to find common ground and common solutions.

I would be surprised if the Congress votes on, and passes, meaningful gun legislation that would require background checks and taking guns away from those who are deemed dangerous to themselves or society. I hope it happens, but we've all seen this before. There's a great outrage, then the defenders of unlimited gun rights turn to their favorite causes; mental illness and video games.

I've read the posts on social media and they make sense. Why is it that the vast majority of mass shootings are done by white males? Don't video games affect other ethnic groups. If so, why aren't they as affected as whites? If not, what the heck is wrong with white males? And why aren't we looking at the mental health of suspected foreign terrorists? Why just throw them is Guantanamo if the real problem is much deeper than that they simply hate America?

And, of course, there's the old standby: None of the proposed legislation would have prevented whatever massacre has just occurred. So let's do nothing. That's the trick.

Meanwhile, Hispanics are feeling targeted, and with good reason. The president's rhetoric since he started his campaign has labeled them as everything negative, from dealing drugs to joining gangs to fomenting crime to taking our jobs to marrying our women. He can't escape that and he certainly can't deny that his words have created an atmosphere that allows and encourages those people who can't process the nuances to take action.

This is what happens when politically correct speech is stripped away. People can say what they truly believe and, unfortunately, we've realized that there are a whole lot of racists out there who've been holding their words. In a way, it's good to know who they are. In a worse way, it's terrible to know that they are our neighbors, our friends, and our elected leaders.

If you want this to change, then the change begins with us. Speak out. March. Post. Get involved with a community group. Vote. For different people.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Message That Wins

I didn't watch any of the Democratic debates this past week, preferring not to be pandered, lied or appealed to in electronic form. I do read the electronic versions of newspapers and periodicals, but I mostly skip the videos. Spare me the TV moments. I want substance. But that's hard to come by these days.

Yes, that Triceratops skull was mine.

So as the President's security helicopters fly over my house (he's in NJ this weekend), I am reminded that he really needs to be defeated in 2020. The problem so far is that the Democrats need to solidify their message so it attracts the widest possible public support. As much as I like what Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are saying about how to narrow the wealth gap and that the ability to pay should not determine whether you are able to get a quality education or health care that cares for your health, I think that their ideas are akin to what many reactionary Republicans were running on in 1980. They appeal to the farther reaches of the party, but will take time before they become popular and palatable ideas for mainstream audiences.

Please do not get me wrong. The ideas that reactionary Republicans were running on beginning in 1980 were noxious, odoriferous, racist, pro-corporate, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ, pro-fossil fuel and all of the policies that are now, you got it, mainstream in the party. It took a good long while for many people to come around to the idea that corporate taxes should be slashed and that unions should be deligitimized.

And that's where we are with the most radical of the Democrats' ideas. Perhaps in ten years we will have fully funded college tuition, a health care system where people can get effective care at a low cost, an orderly, humane immigration system, and climate policy that promotes clean energy, but right now I would say that those are aspirational policies, not ones that will get a Democrat elected. The more moderate voters Democrats need to keep or pry away from the GOP are not all in on scrapping the health coverage they get at work or paying significantly higher taxes in return for tuition guarantees, nor do they agree that people should be able to cross the border without penalties.

What I would suggest is that the Democrats start answering every question by questioning the president's actions on the issues because the president's actions are unpopular and so is he. Talk about pollution that will result from burning more oil, his denial of climate change, the tariffs that we (not the Chinese) will be paying for in higher prices, his coddling of dictators, and the extent he and his advisers went to legitimize Russian influence in our democracy. Talk about decency and equality and the rank racism that infects every corner of his administration. Provide a stark contrast.

At this point, I think that Joe Biden is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump. Democrats might be weighing his performance in the two debates, but most other people aren't paying attention yet, so he still has time to refine his message and his performance. If he proves otherwise, I will reassess my position.

Never forget that Donald Trump was elected as a minority candidate by the slimmest of margins, and he's done more to alienate than to unite. Most people do not agree with him.

For more, go to or Twitter @rigrundfest