The following column by contributing editor, journalist and author Mort Rosenblum is from his regular comment The MortReport. Illustrations are by Global Geneva contributing editor Jeff Danziger, a poltical cartoonist and author.
TUCSON — On a downer evening in 1882, Edvard Munch watched the setting sun turn clouds blood red over a Norwegian fjord. “I sensed a scream passing through nature,” he wrote in his diary. “The color shrieked.” Tonight, the Arizona crimson sunset is screaming.
Munch captured the deepest anxieties of the human condition with an agonized gaunt face in his painting, “The Scream.” Those hands clapped tightly over ears might be blocking out the poisonous lying harangue of a cruel despotic narcissist who threatens unspeakable calamity.
This sounds overdramatic, and that’s the problem. It isn’t. If the worst of human nature muscles aside the best of it on Nov. 3, we can only guess at the unavoidable consequences for America and the wider world it is abandoning.
More than 90 million early ballots are already cast, and few made-up minds are likely to change. Still, enough undecided or apathetic eligible voters remain to sway the results either way. We have only hours left to persuade everyone within our reach to consider the stakes.
My last Mort Report, a flat-out rant, detailed a range of overriding issues. At this point, we need calmly reasoned conversations within our own circles, by phone if not in person, to focus on their personal concerns. Every minute counts.
There is the obvious: carpools for people who need a ride or moral support to brave long lines and the menace of goons trying to steal their most valuable asset: the right to choose leaders who faithfully represent the citizens they are sworn to serve.
But more, we need a firm grasp on what Donald Trump and his enabling Republicans have already stolen. For the quarter-million victims of a plague he purposely let run wild, it is too late. If he is reelected, far more will be lost.
As Bob Woodward reveals, he hid the threat for his own purposes. He left states to flounder, favoring partisan governors. He blocked tests and tracing, replaced world-class experts with quacks, and he lied baldly at White House campaign rallies masked as press briefings.
This was a master stroke, Jared Kushner boasted to Woodward. Trump put himself in a position to blame every failure on governors and claim any success for himself alone. Remember? “I take no responsibility.” When he could no longer deny the pandemic, he blamed it all on China.
Covid-19 is the immediate crisis, a harbinger of inevitable killer pathogens to follow. It pales compared to the climate collapse that his shortsighted, self-serving policies worsen with each passing month. Meantime, he fans embers into global conflicts that risk flaring out of control.
We need to help people see this deeply disturbed sociopath for who he is. His success centers on a single skill: an ability fire up fearful cultists he privately disdains, selling a reality that is patently, and spectacularly, horseshit. And faithless lawmakers sustain him.
Even if Trump had improved the economy for more than a wealthy few (he’ll complete his term with the worst economic record since Herbert Hoover despite inheriting the Obama-Biden boom), money is not how a civilized nation keeps score.
In talking to friends and family, local situations bring it home. But for a godawful example of the dichotomy between the best of human nature and the worst, look at Arizona and the Department of Homeland Security.
Miles Taylor, as DHS chief of staff, wrote that “Anonymous” op-ed in The New York Times in September 2018 and followed with a book: A Warning. Professionals should keep their jobs to curb Trump’s excesses, he wrote. But recently, like so many others, he had enough.
George W. Bush created DHS after 9/11 to thwart terrorist and other external threats. It also oversees immigration and border security. Now, as Trump creates endless enemies abroad, he has perverted the department into his personal Gestapo, focused on domestic dissidents.
Chris Cuomo grilled Taylor on CNN this week for lying months before when asked if he was “Anonymous”: “Why should we trust you now?” He acknowledged that but explained why. Trump would have narrowed the story to one disgruntled flunky. He wanted a focus on facts.
Taylor has a point. Trump has lied at least 25,000 times, all for ignoble purposes. Taylor has owned up, as he promised he eventually would. His book proceeds go to charity. And his basic truths are substantiated by countless other defectors, with documents, audio and video.
Trump, Taylor said, told top-level aides at a strategy session that he wanted agents to gas, jolt with electricity and fire live ammunition at asylum seekers who approach the border. By long-standing international accords, people in danger have the right to a fair hearing.
Cuomo was stunned: “We’re talking about women and children seeking a better life in the United States, fleeing violence and persecution,” he replied, “and the commander in chief is saying he wants to electrify them?”
Yes, Taylor said. He added that when Trump noticed shock on his aides’ faces, he said, “Well, maybe you could just shoot them in the legs to slow them down.”
Cuomo asked again: ‘You told him that it was mostly women and children, and he said that they should be shot or gassed, seriously? ‘
“Correct,” Taylor replied. His quotes, he said, are verbatim. “And if that’s not gut-wrenching to you, then you are not human.”
Taylor said Trump promised pardons for border agents who pushed beyond legal limits. “I don’t care what you need,” he quoted Trump as saying. “Just break the law and do it.”
Unethical conversations were common in the Oval Office, Taylor said. Reporters who cover Washington well know how often Trump’s will prevails across the board. But immigration policy, pushed by Stephen Miller since Inauguration Day, now defines us as a nation.
In the final debate, Joe Biden confronted Trump about 545 children lost in the system who may never see their parents again. “They are so well taken of,” the president said. He had been shown a spiffed-up model. “They’re in facilities that were so clean.”
Stunning as that is, it is a mere peek under the corner of a filthy rug. Few Americans know what it hides, but the outside world does, and we are hated for it.
The Obama Administration built wire enclosures for asylum seekers who awaited processing, which belies Trump’s claim that Democrats want “open borders.” In 2017, Jeff Sessions ordered family separations, taking even toddlers from their mothers, to discourage new arrivals.
Holding centers were jammed with people waiting endlessly in limbo. From the outset, Miller invoked Title 42, a public health provision that bans immigrants with communicable diseases. Now, the Covid plague that Trump says is over, provides a perfect excuse.
Now asylum seekers are kept in Mexico in defiance of international norms, prey to drug cartels who extort ransom from their families. They wait in Kafkaesque limbo, with no guidance about how to apply for a rare hearing. Those already in the United States are shipped out en masse, often to Central American states adjacent to those they fled, with no facilities to receive them.
Private contractors grow rich in the process, paid to keep migrants in hotel rooms, guarded by hired toughs who forcefully repel civil rights lawyers trying to help them. Despite it all, destitute families still sneak across, facing increased risks in a hostile desert to escape corrupt authorities and murderous gangs back home.
The southern border is only part of it. In 2015, at the height of human tides triggered largely by fallout from Bush’s senseless Iraq War, Angela Merkel took in 1.1 million refugees. After five years, a study shows a net gain to the German economy. Trump’s slashed aid to Africa and drought-caused famine provoked a new surge. This year, America capped arrivals of desperate people at 15,000, down from 18,000.
It is not just asylum seekers and refugees. Brilliant students who enrich our society are being giving limited visas, forcing them to return home midway through their university studies. And Trump is extending his war on truth to foreign correspondents.
A new law under review would limit journalist visas to 240 days. Serious news organizations can’t maintain bureaus under that restriction. Governments would retaliate, as China has done, leaving us blind, deaf – and dumb – in a world that needs reporters more than ever.
Solutions demand diplomacy to ease conflict; targeted aid to help people survive at home; international pressure on authoritarian governments; and serious global cooperation to mitigate climate collapse. Trump is heading us in all the wrong directions.
Now, with only hours left, what matters most is seeing Trump for who he is.
I almost felt sorry for my senator, Martha McSally, who is among the most hypocritical, press-averse, partisan, incompetent and slavishly pro-Trump legislators in Congress. Her blatantly false ads slander Mark Kelly, who I know to be dead honest and believe is infinitely better qualified.
She was named to fill John McCain’s empty seat after losing her own race in 2018. PACs linked to Mitch McConnell dumped $15 million into her campaign just in the last month, narrowing Kelly’s lead.
At a stop near Phoenix, Trump called her to the stage like this: “Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast. Come on. Quick. You got one minute! One minute, Martha! They don’t want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let’s go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let’s go.”
She bounded up like a happy poodle, spoke a few words and melted away. Two non-entity Senate candidates, male and not from Arizona, droned on at length. When reporters corralled her later, she said, “Give me a break. President Trump will be President Trump.”
Exactly. He is a tone-deaf misogynist, along with everything Lindsey Graham called him before joining his circus: a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot” as opposed to Biden, who Graham said back then is “as good a man as God ever created.”
One ad by McSally’s supporters faked a photo purportedly showing Mark Kelly dressed as Hitler at a 1985 costume party, and he is taking it to court. Eerily, echoes of Der Führer are getting louder.
This morning, I got a note from a German friend who, like me, was born in 1943 when Nazis still threatened to put their stamp on a world at war. “Don’t get too close to the Trump cult,” he wrote. “This looks like a rerun of Germany 1933/4. Sorry to observe this.”
Polls suggest a far happier picture. Trump is on the run. With nothing to lose in his final years, Biden could rise above his image of a comfortable old shoe to be a boot ready to kick ass. Bright young comers, multihued with fresh energy and ideas, are ready to move it.
Now it is up to us, and we cannot underestimate the danger. If the coming months go badly, Edvard Munch’s screaming face might well be the icon that now defines us.
Global Geneva contributing editor Mort Rosenblum is a renowned American journalist, editor and author currently based in France and Tucson, Arizona. He has travelled and reported the world more years than he can remember. His regular column, The MortReport, is available online and by email.