The Year of the #T_Rump

The Donald wasn’t the worst thing about 2015, but he was the most irritating.

Donald KaulIs 2015 over yet? Is it safe to come out now?

What a bummer. Mass shootings, cops using unarmed civilians for target practice, the Middle East in rubble, terrorist attacks, Donald Trump.

Trump wasn’t the worst of it, perhaps. But he certainly was the most irritating.

It was a spectacle worthy of Tennyson — “Trump to the right of us, Trump to the left of us, Trump in front and behind. Into the valley of Trump rode the 300 million.”

A year ago he was a loud-mouthed reality show host who moonlighted as a developer of ugly buildings. Now he’s the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

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Statue of Trumperty, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

To any patriotic American with a sense of history, it’s embarrassing. We are a country of 320 million people — many of us smart, some informed and reasonable. And the best we can do is Donald Trump?

I used to marvel at the Italian propensity for electing ludicrous buffoons to high public office — people like Benito Mussolini and Silvio Berlusconi. How could so civilized a place treat the vote so lightly?

But, I reasoned, the Italian national pastime is the opera: the province of great, outsized, slightly ridiculous characters. Their politics seemed to be an extension of that.

Trump’s supporters don’t suffer traditional opera gladly. They’re more the Grand Ole Opry type, a different thing altogether.

It’s as though the Republican Party, a year ago, took an ad in The Wall Street Journal which read:

“Wanted: energetic self-starter to run a large, diverse organization. No experience necessary. As a matter of fact, experience is probably a disqualification.

“Nor is any knowledge required, particularly in the fields of science and arithmetic. A complete ignorance of history would be welcome, too.

“What we’re really looking for is someone who believes. The specific content of the beliefs required will be given to the applicant once he or she wins the job, but a passionate belief in God and the free market will be paramount among them.

“The job offers a handsome six-figure salary, free housing, and a liberal vacation allowance (that’s the only thing liberal about it), as well dynamite retirement benefits.

“Candidates must be prepared to spend the better part of the next two years telling people what they want to hear. Integrity is optional.”

It’s as though they ran the ad and, lo and behold, applicants began crawling out from under their rocks all over the country. And the loudest, most outrageous of the rock dwellers was Donald Trump.

So-called political experts like myself have been predicting Trump’s demise ever since he flashed upon the scene insulting war heroes, women, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, the mentally ill, and worst of all, journalists.

We all thought that, politically speaking, he’d be sleeping with the fishes by now, along with more plausible candidates like Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Bobby Jindal, Lindsey Graham, and that Democrat from Virginia whose name no one bothered to learn.

Well, to make a long story short, that’s not the way it rolled.

Ted Cruz, the meanest kid on the block, is gaining in Iowa, but the Donald is still leading in national polls.

Is it possible that, against all odds, this joke goes on into the general election — with Trump carrying the Republican banner into battle with Hillary Clinton?

I still say no. Not possible. We are not Italy. I refuse to believe that one of our major parties — the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower — would pick a clown like Trump to represent it. Ronald Reagan was bad enough, and Trump makes him look like Thomas Jefferson.

I don’t know who the GOP candidate will be, but not Trump.

On the other hand, one of the pluses of last year was Barack Obama awakening from his six-year slumber to begin acting like the president we elected, actually doing things despite the relentless opposition of the Republican Congress.

It wasn’t nearly enough. But, in the land of Trump, every ray of sunshine is welcome.


OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. OtherWords.org.

Give the Post Office a Break

If the Postal Service were run like Congress, postal workers would only show up on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays — except when they were on vacation, which would be a lot.

— by Donald Kaul

Donald Kaul

The Postal Service says it’s going to stop delivering mail on Saturdays. This won’t happen until August, but the overseers of our postal workers in Congress are already swooning.

Outrageous” is the cry rolling through the halls of the Capitol.

Can’t help it, responds Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe. Our postal service is hemorrhaging money, he says, and we have to cut back. Cutting Saturday delivery would save $2.7 billion a year.

I don’t know about you, but my mail consists mainly of bills, circulars, and requests for money. I can get by with five days of that instead of six.

Apparently Congress can’t. Many of our lawmakers are fuming. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called it “short-sighted” and a “crippling blow.”

Whoa! Am I hearing right?

Listen, if the Postal Service were run like Congress, postal workers would only show up on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays — except when they were on vacation, which would be a lot.

Postal workers would repeatedly go overseas on fact-finding missions and come back empty-handed. Empty-headed too, for that matter.

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They’d have to change their motto from, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” to, “Will deliver mail for campaign contributions.”

The postal system today is under siege from the Internet. The volume of mail handled by the postal service dropped 22 percent between 2007 and 2011. People complain about the Postal Service all the time. But that’s largely because people these days complain about almost everything all the time.

My own experience with the Post Office has been excellent. The clerks at the office I frequent are polite and helpful. The mail I send gets where it’s going in a reasonable time. And my postman knows my name.

The Postal Service is a strange, hybrid creature. It’s not quite private, but not completely public either. It doesn’t get any money from Congress, but Congress gets to decide how it runs its business.

It’s saddled by our lawmakers, for example, with the obligation of setting aside $5.5 billion every year for future retirees, an obligation that no other entity, public or private, endures.

Meanwhile, we have the cheapest first class rates in the English-speaking world.

A first class stamp in Canada costs 63 cents. In the United Kingdom, it’s the equivalent of 94 cents. Here, it’s 46 cents. And we complain about that, naturally.

The Postal Service is running about a $16 billion-a-year deficit these days. It has some ideas to close the gap, beyond getting rid of the pre-funding of retirement benefits and dropping Saturday delivery. It would like to reduce door-to door service in favor of centralized neighborhood mailboxes, and run its own health care system. But it can’t do all of that without Congress’s cooperation, which seems to have gone on permanent vacation.

Sometimes I think we’d be better off if we let Congress run the mail system and let postal workers run the country.

At least they’d show up for work.


OtherWords

columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. OtherWords.org