Category Archives: Politics

2020 Dreams from My Mother

Mom in Chair

By most estimates, moms have had it rough this year. Day care centers are closed and moms are working from home; at the same time they’re homeschooling, keeping their children from watching porn on the internet, and sanitizing everything. And then there’s that former reality television star who perpetually gets himself in the news, rambling in front of cameras about treating the novel coronavirus with disinfectants in the body. In an optimal world, mothers would get celebrated way more than once a year. In a decent world, they’d be able to protect their children from exposure to Donald Trump.

Looking back 50 years or so, my own mother—she’s in a care facility now—was a mysteriously effective role model. She was more submissive than dominant, never hit me or raised her voice, didn’t directly boss anyone around, but indirectly gave my sisters and me VERY CLEAR guidance on what behaviors were expected in our home, and out in the world.

Rarely did my mother explicitly tell us how to behave. But once, when an African American family moved into our all-white neighborhood, she proactively, quietly, and firmly sat my sisters and me down and told us we would always treat them with respect. We did. When my mom got serious, we never questioned her authority.

One time, she was driving and a car squealed past us in a no-passing zone. She sighed, glanced over at me, and said, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever drive like that.” For the next 5 decades, including my teen years, my friends and family have ridiculed me for my slow, conservative driving. I watch my speedometer, stop at yellow lights, and slow down at uncontrolled intersections. My mother said it once, I remembered what she said, and I still don’t want to disappoint her.

Without a stern word, my mother taught us to love our neighbors (even when they were annoying), showed us how to treat everyone with kindness and respect (even when they didn’t deserve it), and modeled how we could be generous with our time and energy by focusing on the needs and interests of others.

Once, when the family was out watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a sex scene started. Immediately, my mom elbowed my dad, and I was ushered from the theater. My mom didn’t want me to see or hear things that might lead me down the wrong path. She would cover my eyes and ears (literally) to stop me from being exposed to negative influences.

All this leads me to wonder how my mother would handle the disastrous role-model-in-chief. Mr. Trump is a mother’s nightmare, spewing out perverted values on a daily basis.

My mother’s first strategy would be to not let me hear whatever terrible ideas Trump gets out of his brain and into his mouth. She would have blocked me from watching news pieces about Mr. Trump’s playboy models, paid off porn stars, shitholes, Pocahontas, pussy-grabbing, gold star families, and references to women as pigs.

As much as my mother would have hated Mr. Trump’s sexist and racist words, she would be even more apoplectic about his poor character. If we saw or heard Mr. Trump counterattacking his critics, she would have sat us down, and talked about how an eye for an eye will leave us all blind.

If my mother caught us reading Trump’s tweets, she would have gathered us around the kitchen table for a spelling lesson. She would explain, “there’s no such word as unpresidented,” the phrase “twitter massages” makes no sense, “smocking guns” is just wrong, “the Prince of Whales” is from Wales, and journalists cannot win the “Noble prize.” She would never allow us to utter the word covfefe in our house.

My mother would be deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s incessant lying. If she were parenting us right now, every day she’d find a way to show us how we should admit our mistakes, take personal responsibility, and resist the temptation to blame others. She would talk about truth-telling. She would explain that Mr. Trump being President is a tragic mistake and that we should all work very hard to make sure this tragic mistake ends, so this malevolent man cannot continue to abuse women, minorities, and the American people.

But, for parents like my mother, Mr. Trump offers small advantages. As a teaching device, horrendous role models work quite well. In the end, and with one sentence, my mother would steal away all of Trump’s past and future influence. She would say, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever act like that man.”

And we wouldn’t.

 

The Day the GOP Died

Mad Bomb

There’s a new song on the internet. An appalling remake of an old song.  Aside from making me depressed when I’m working on happiness, listening to the new song reminded me of an old blog post I wrote in June, 2018. I used words and imagery from Don McLean’s American Pie to write of my disappointment with the GOP. Although I submitted this piece to a few news outlets, there was only one taker: Me. That makes sense because I almost always publish my own blog posts.

Skip this if you’re sick of political stuff.

The Day the GOP Died

By John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.

A long, long time ago, the Grand Old Party stood for family values, moral standards, and apple pie. Now, with Trump as leader, it’s more like family torture, infidelity, and borscht.

Less long ago (Thursday, May 31, 2018), former House Speaker John Boehner quipped: “The Republican Party is kinda taking a nap somewhere.” Boehner was drinking a bloody Mary at the time, so maybe we shouldn’t blame him for not noticing that his former party’s nap has already lasted nearly two years.

Given there’s no chance the GOP will get woke, it’s time to say, “Bye, bye American GOP.”

The GOP was mortally wounded on a Super Tuesday back in September, 2016. In seven states, the Party of Lincoln voted to nominate Donald Trump for President. Sure, “Lying Ted” won a couple states and a few #NeverTrump folks were hanging on, but the die was cast, probably in some Trump casino, where the GOP’s mortal soul was traded for unlimited gaming opportunities. No longer was the GOP about marriage, civility, and moral virtue. Instead, along with Trump, so-called Republicans were embracing race over rights, disrespecting gold star families, degrading and sexualizing women, and undermining family values. And there was that White Nationalism thing. His crown stolen, Lincoln would have been apoplectic.

Resuscitation attempts failed. The Access Hollywood recording created a ripple of discontent and the gnashing of a tooth or two. But hey, it was locker room talk, and everyone knew who had the votes and who had the money. Jeff Flake and “Liddle Bob Corker” gave us hope, but our hope quickly gave way to calling respectful Black football players sons of bitches and making parents cry and children scream. Opposing Trump was too costly. Not only would there be hate mail, hate email, hate instant messages, and hate signs posted on your lawn, there would also be death threats, lost fundraising revenue, and lost elections. Republicans like balanced budgets. Opposing Trump did not pencil. #NotWorthIt. DJT would refuse to yield.

Later, the GOP voted that a generation lost in debt was preferable to confronting their friendship with the devil. Obsequious coveting of the naked emperor became de rigueur. Satanity laughed at tweets about pig’s blood, shitholes, and witch hunts. Fox News had spoken.

Even later, or perhaps earlier, there was Russian meddling, references to Rocket Man, and about 50 departures from the White House staff or cabinet. Going along, the GOP normalized talk about sex, presidential lies, and fantasized audio recordings. There were payments to porn stars, pay to play with China and Indonesia, and open theft of our national morality, with Trump metaphorically riding away in a taxpayer paid for golden golf-cart. The evangelicals were copiously ignoring the growing cracks in their church bells.

Mostly the GOP lay in a Boehner-nap, awakening only briefly for intermittent nips of bloody Marys and rye. A few free market optimists imagined the GOP was saving its strength for one last-ditch effort to #DumpTrump. But, right about then, because the three politicians I admired most were already dead anyway, the rest of the GOP joined them. The Republican Party, upon whom we could formerly count for at least a façade of morality, had its thousand points of light torn away like a Puerto Rican roof. Final confirmation of the GOP’s death occurred in July with continuing news from the Mexico border that made us shiver. John McCain’s angel was in a body cast, because he was “Dying anyway.”

The GOP, having given away its moral authority to speechless speakers, vapid veeps, and the money man, is no longer grand, no longer old, and no longer alive. The Party of Lincoln is dead. Let’s drive our Harleys to the coast and pray that the Party of Trump is short-lived.

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John Sommers-Flanagan is a clinical psychologist, professor of counselor education at the University of Montana, and author of eight books. The views expressed here are solely the views of John Sommers-Flanagan, and not representative of the University of Montana or Don McLean.

And here’s the youtube link for the new song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQPeVJQaUSw

 

In My Great and Unmatched Wisdom

One Wipe Charlies

In my great and unmatched wisdom I hereby proclaim that today is Opposite Day.

Never mind that Opposite Day is a fictional children’s holiday and that it’s officially celebrated on January 25. Just because today’s not January 25 and I’m not a child, doesn’t mean I don’t get to say opposite things. I get to say opposite things because I’ve said I get to say opposite things.

When my nephews were little, we never waited for Opposite Day. Instead, we’d suddenly start playing the Opposite Game. It’s just like Opposite Day, but spontaneous. We’d say hello when we meant goodbye. I’d say things like, “Tommy, you’re the smartest person I know!” Or, “Paul, you’re one good looking guy.” I was totally hilarious, maybe the funniest uncle ever to exist on planet Earth.

Sometimes our spontaneous opposite games got a little out of control, but that was the point. One time, when grandma showed up and Tommy and Paul rolled their eyes and said, “It’s terrible to not see you” she looked hurt. We had to call time-out and explain the game to her. Even after the explanation, she didn’t seem to get it.

Funny thing, even when you’re playing at saying things that are the opposite of the truth, sometimes people don’t catch on. People get confused. For example, if the media happened to be listening to us, they might get confused and literally report things we said, even though we meant the opposite. That’s especially funny. When that happens, whether it’s by accident or on purpose, the correct response is to say, “I was only joking.”

After a while, if you intermittently play the Opposite game and mix it with being normal, people won’t know when to take you seriously and when to not take you seriously. For example, the other day I made a phone call, it was a perfect phone call. I said, “Hey dude, I’ll bring you over some of that medicinal plant you’re needing for nausea. It really sucks to feel sick, and I want to help. I’d like you to do me a favor though. If you could spontaneously give my boss a call and tell him how much you appreciate my great and unmatched wisdom, that would be nice.”

To be certain that I’d communicated perfectly, I ended the conversation by saying, “I’m only joking you know. I’m quite the humorist. Never mind what I said before. You look really good today.”

The best thing about being in charge of the opposite game is that it keeps everybody else off balance. In comparison, I’m always on my game, because I’m the only one who knows when the opposite game rules are in effect. Sometimes I forget whether I’m playing the opposite game or not. Hey, not really. You and I both know I’m the most self-aware and evolved person ever to inhabit the planet. Me forgetting? Not possible. Or, maybe it’s possible, but I’d never forget the important things.

I remember how me being in charge of the opposite game worked with my nephews. At the end of the day, sometimes I’d hug them and yell, “I hate you.” They knew what I really meant.

Oh, and BTW. Thanks for reading this. I value you as a person and I hope you love yourself. You know one thing that might help. If you’d just keep this blog post to yourself. Don’t share it. Seriously. I’m joking.

 

Without a Trace of Shame: Looking Back at Trump’s Personality

IMG-5443

Donald Trump told another joke today. Problem is, his jokes frequently include death threats. I recall back in the day when he implied that his 2nd amendment supporters might want to stop Hillary from appointing Supreme Court justices. He played that off as a joke. Today the joke was about how America used to treat spies.

Like most things Donald Trump, what he says is usually half-impulse, half-informed, half-truths, half-ass, but wholly designed to trumpet his dominance.

The focus right now is on Trump’s Mafioso-like negotiation with Ukraine’s President. The press and politicians call it a “quid pro quo.” I think they’re using their fancy Latin to refer to a shake-down, which, if you read the transcript is obviously happening. To be more accurate, the Latin refers to “this for that.” But the Urban Dictionary might put it clearer with, “I want something, you want something. You give me what I want, I’ll give you what you want.” Even better, if you want to really know what’s going on, check out Urban Dictionary’s definition for “Quid pro quo-job” (which, because of my PG-13 rating, I’m unable to share here).

Some people act surprised that Donald Trump’s behaviors are so reminiscent of the Godfather. I’d say Mafioso, but Trump’s not Italian and consequently cannot qualify . . . which is probably at least partly why he’s acting so much like he’s trying to gain Mafioso status without having it. As Alfred Adler would say, that’s the way psychological compensation works.

If you’re a conscious and sentient being, there’s nothing particularly surprising here. Trump was being Trump. To review (which us academics do all the time, mostly because we’re forgetful), let’s look at the personality traits I wrote about in Slate Magazine last year around this time.

The following descriptions are summarized or paraphrased from the famous personality psychologist, Theodore Millon. Millon’s work was immense and immensely interesting. Read the following descriptions and contemplate two things:

  1. Do they fit Trump?
  2. What might the future of a Trump Presidency hold?

As I said last year, Trump has virtually all the qualities of someone with narcissistic personality disorder. But that’s not particularly interesting because most big-time politicians, media personalities, and rock stars have at least some narcissistic qualities. What’s unusual (and dangerous) is that Trump also has antisocial personality traits.

Generally, Millon summarized antisocial personalities as:

“Driven by a need to . . . achieve superiority.” They act “to counter expectation of derogation and disloyalty at the hands of others,” and do this by “actively engaging in clever, duplicitous, or illegal behaviors in which they seek to exploit others for self-gain.”

With that general description as backdrop, here are specifics.

Impulsive Imprudence. Antisocial personalities are “. . . shortsighted, incautious, and imprudent. There is minimal planning, limited consideration of alternative actions, and consequences are rarely examined.”

Blaming Others for Shirked Obligations. Antisocial personalities “frequently fail to meet or intentionally negate obligations of a marital, parental, employment, or financial nature.” This is the equivalent of a personal philosophy in direct opposition to President Harry Truman’s, “The buck stops here.”

Pathological Lying. Millon wrote, “Untroubled by guilt and loyalty, they develop a talent for pathological lying. Unconstrained by honesty and truth, they weave impressive talks of competency and reliability. Many . . . become skillful swindlers and imposters.”

Declarations of Innocence. During times of trouble, antisocial personality types employ an innocence strategy. “When . . . caught in obvious and repeated lies and dishonesties, many will affect an air of total innocence, claiming without a trace of shame that they have been unfairly accused.”

Empathy Deficits. Antisocial personalities are devoid of empathy and compassion. Millon called this “A wide-ranging deficit in social charitability, in human compassion, and in personal remorse and sensitivity.” He added that “many have a seeming disdain for human compassion.”

Counterattacks. Millon noted that antisocial personalities are hyper-alert to criticism. He “sees himself as the victim, an indignant bystander subjected to unjust persecution and hostility” feeling “free to counterattack and gain restitution and vindication.”

Moral Emptiness. Antisocial personalities have no ethical or moral compass. As Millon described, they “are contemptuous of conventional ethics and values” and “right and wrong are irrelevant abstractions.” Antisocials may feign religiosity—when it suits their purpose. But the moral litmus test will always involve whether they stand to gain from a particular behavior, policy, or government action.

Whether you think Donald Trump’s personality is captured in this short list of descriptions probably depends on your politics. I should also add that it’s perfectly possible for someone to have all these qualities and still have positive qualities as well. We’ve known—probably since the beginning of time—that people with antisocial personalities can be quite charming and charismatic. What’s crucial, and also intuitive, is that we the people recognize that despite his intermittent charm and charisma, Donald Trump is not to be trusted . . . which is likely why one of his favorite lines is “Trust me.”

My perspective is precisely the opposite. Please don’t trust me. Do the work, think about Trump’s pattern of behavior. It’s about far more than this latest incident regarding Ukraine. Take a look at the long list of behaviors that are consistent with Millon’s criteria. And then decide where you stand on a future with Donald Trump.

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The views expressed here are my own. They’re not representative of anyone else. They’re also not part of a quid pro quo.

For the whole long version of the Millon and Trump’s personality article, go here: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2018/09/03/the-long-version-of-the-trump-personality-slate-magazine-article/

Wanted: A Conservative Candidate for President

John Prof 2018Not long ago, on This American Life, Bill Kristol, conservative journalist and #NeverTrumper (not to be confused with the comedian Billy Crystal), touted the benefits of having a legitimate contender in the republican primaries. He acknowledged former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld’s candidacy, but I’m guessing Mr. Kristol was hoping for someone with more firepower, and maybe someone not named Bill. Naturally, after engaging in self-reflection, I immediately concluded that Bill Kristol must be thinking of me.

But why me?

Because watching me dance around Donald “Old Man” Trump in a debate, would be a #NeverTrumper’s fantasy. I’d be floating like helium and stinging like a scorpion. Because I’m a shrink, it would take me an estimated microsecond to get under Trump’s microscopically thin orange skin to reveal his huge—never seen bigger—INSECURITIES.

I’m already practicing a coughing routine; at this point, I automatically cough whenever I hear his voice. Just ask Mick Mulvaney how much Trump likes people coughing while he’s talking. I can see Trump responding to my coughing fit like an old man with uncontrollable tremors.

Speaking of Trump being an old man, I’d casually and repeatedly make note of the fact that I’m younger, stronger, fitter, and a better golfer than he is. Me being a better golfer than Trump might be a lie, but I’d still challenge him to a televised round of golf (if only to have America watch him cheat). I’d also challenge him and his sagging body to be video recorded as we meet with his physician to undergo simultaneous physical exams.

Although it’s probably unnecessary, I’d show off how much BIGGER my IQ score is, first by pointing out that anybody who knows anything about IQs, never says IQ, they always say “IQ score.” Duh, Donald! Then I’d challenge him to a spelling bee, wherein the first word would be “conservative” and the dunce that is the Donald won’t even be able to spell it, let alone act like one. Just in case he’s lucky and gets it right, the second word would be “unprecedented.”

My conservative street cred dwarfs Donald’s. He’s a weak old man who knows more about bankruptcy than he does about balancing budgets. That’s not conservative. During the debate, just before dropping the mic, I’d drop the fact that I’ve never declared bankruptcy, that I don’t live on debt, and that I’ve proportionately made way more money than he has (and I’m way younger than he is and so I’ll just keep on making money and paying taxes for far longer than he’ll be making money and not paying taxes).

Sadly, Trump puts his mental weakness on display daily. That’s not a conservative quality. He can’t resist lashing out at anyone who doesn’t worship his beautiful bleach-blonde hair. Trump insults everyone from Gold Star families to porn stars to people who suffer from mental disabilities. Strong people don’t do that. Real conservatives don’t do that. He’s. Not. Even. Close. To. Conservative.

Growing up I learned of conservative principles of integrity and self-discipline. Conservative people have excellent self-control, and lead by example.

Lead by example? Trump is every parents’ nightmare role model. Can you imagine having an Uncle Donald Trump? You’d be hiding the kids when he came to visit. Who wants to raise a weak-minded bully who cheats on his wife and whose buddies are mostly criminals? Trump’s whole behavioral palette is the antithesis of traditional conservative values. Anybody want to argue that one? Anybody? Kristol?

How about me?

I’m an old-fashioned conservative. I believe in practical solutions to personal, national, and world problems.

I live by conservative values, including honesty, respect for others’ freedoms, and a commitment to fairness and the rule of law. I want a level playing field for everyone, recognizing that for too long the field has been tilted in favor of white, wealthy, and the politically connected. Speaking of playing fields BTW, I played college football, the sport of conservatives. What sport has Trump ever played, besides golf on the taxpayer’s dime?

I’m all about Christian, Jewish, and Eastern religious values. I attend church more often than Donald. My favorite Christian value is “Love thy neighbor as thyself” . . . which is clearly NOT Trump’s favorite Christian value; he doesn’t believe in loving thy neighbor, unless the neighbor happens to be a playboy bunny or porn star.

To the best of my knowledge, which, during our debate, I would quickly point out is better than the best of Donald’s knowledge, Jesus said something about treating children with great care and compassion. Maybe Trump didn’t get the memo about Jesus loving the poor or the story about the Good Samaritan? Maybe he never listened to the voice mail Jesus left for him about not separating children from their parents and putting them in cages. In case the debate audience didn’t get the point, I’d make it clear: cages aren’t Christian, and cages aren’t conservative.

Unlike Trump, I’ve got a plan to reduce abortion rates (hint: it involves education, career opportunities, and libertarian values, not degradation of women and their personal freedoms).

Unlike Trump, I’ve got an environmental plan for an economic stimulus. Even Ronald Reagan knew you couldn’t tax cut the country to prosperity. Believe me, my economic policies would be more sophisticated than giving tax breaks to the wealthy, slapping on tariffs to raise prices for Americans, and pissing off our allies.

Unlike Trump, I’m pro-education. I wouldn’t appoint a wealthy, dull donor who hates education and has never stepped into a public school as my Secretary of Education. I’d follow the guidance of John Adams, a white, Christian, who also happened to be the second U.S. President. President Adams said that when it comes to the education of low income youth, “no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

Unlike Trump, I’m not racist, I don’t call countries “shitholes” or Tweet weird statements about “pig’s blood” or pitch my tent in white supremacist territory. I think most Americans and conservatives would appreciate a straight-up conversation about racism. We’re not a racist nation, and I’d make that point, and then make it again, and then I’d make it again.

Unlike Trump, I’ve got a foreign policy that involves something other than slumming with dictators. That alone should be a relief to bona fide conservatives. Because I’ll be taking a conservative approach, photo ops in North Korea and off-the-books meetings with Putin will not be part of my presidential foreign policy agenda.

In conclusion, let me say:

“Hey Bill Kristol, if you’re reading this, give me a call. I’m ready to be Trump’s biggest nightmare (next to you, of course). I’m happy to volunteer; it’s an easy job, especially because Trump is so old, weak, feeble, and liberal.”

Continuing the Trapper Creek Job Corps Magic

The RoadLast night’s (6/19/2019) news that Trapper Creek and the other Civilian Conservation Corps Job Corps will stay open is good news for everyone. Cutting Trapper Creek would have made little sense. Job Corps builds on common sense and conservative principles: Young Americans experiencing poverty need what Job Corps offers, “A hand up, not a hand-out.”

For 11 years I dodged deer and Bitterroot drivers on the 140 mile round trip from Missoula to work as a mental health consultant at Trapper Creek. From the moment I started back in 2003, I was hooked on Job Corps. I got hooked the same way most Job Corps employees get hooked. Helping young people turn their lives around is deeply fulfilling. I’m thrilled that the Trapper Creek magic will continue.

At Trapper, many students told me grim stories of their lives before Job Corps. These stories included school failure, chronic delinquency, gang and family violence, residential treatment, alcoholic black-outs, psychiatric hospitalization, foster care, parental suicides, and desperation so disturbing that teenagers regularly talked of putting the barrel of a gun into their mouths or a bottle of pills into their stomachs.

Trapper Creek magic often worked quickly. Students who came in on heavy doses of psychiatric medications were often medication-free in 3-6 months. Somehow, three meals a day, a safe place to live, being around adults who set limits and provided encouragement, opportunities for education, vocational training, and recreational pursuits accomplished the unlikely: mental disorders simply went away.

In one (of many) cases I treated a young man whose nightmares of a violent past were keeping him up at night. He showed up. We got to work. After 10 minutes, I stopped and asked him to reflect on his experience.

He turned his head back and forth and said, “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Then he grinned, “I feel like I can breathe again.”

And then, “I wish I’d known about this ten years ago.”

My favorite Job Corps scene was at an evening recreation event. I invited two counseling interns to stay late and attend “Trapper-Idol.” A man named “Fergie,” the recreation director, organized a talent show like you’ve never seen.

A short, stocky blonde girl stepped up to the microphone. She squeaked through a solo singing performance. She was completely vulnerable. My interns and I ached with anxiety for her. But we didn’t understand how Trapper-Idol worked. As she finished, the crowd of about 50 Job Corps students leapt to their feet, shouting and clapping in support. She bowed, walking off the stage to a series of hugs and high-fives.

On the drive home my interns and I couldn’t stop replaying the event. None of the performers had much talent, but they stepped up, performed, and were greeted with enthusiastic acceptance. We marveled at the therapeutic magic. These young people—young people who were never cool in school—got to have a health experience of social support and acceptance.

The Trapper-Idol experience is a microcosm of Trapper Creek magic. Students don’t have to be perfect—and they aren’t. What they have to do is show up, stand up, face their doubts, manage their behavior, and get to work.

I’m ecstatic that Trapper Creek didn’t die a cruel bureaucratic death. I’m happy for the community and for the Trapper employees. But mostly, I’m thrilled for the current and future students. Trapper Creek isn’t perfect, but for many students who have experienced poverty, it’s a balm of opportunity . . . and it’s one of the ways we can invest our tax dollars in America’s future.

Now I’m hoping for more Trapper Creek magic for decades to come.