Everything I Need to Know about Donald Trump I Learned at Summer Camp

Several years ago, my late husband and I ran a kids’ summer camp in the mountains of Eastern Oregon.  The camp was an educational experiment initiated by local residents of the remote community, educated folks who loved the beauty of the area and made their livings there, but concerned that their children were affected by the isolation.  They wanted their kids to know more about the world and what it offered.

People from around the country – and a few from other countries – came to teach at the camp, the Chief Joseph Summer Seminars.  The idea was not to run a regular kind of school, but one where the adults taught things they did for a living and loved in one-hour or one-day or one-week courses.  We invited artists, scientists, musicians, historians, professionals of all kinds who taught whatever might engage the students from third grade through high school.

Instructors were encouraged to collaborate with each other on interdisciplinary projects, and the synchronicity and serendipity during these three weeks was amazing.

Our “classrooms” were cleared spots under the pine trees, and we lived in rough Forest Service tents on property that had once been a dude ranch.  The students came on buses every morning from their homes in the valley and left at three in the afternoon, after which the adults repaired with our own families to a private lake for swimming, beer and stimulating conversations before heading back to the big log mess hall for dinner and, later, a campfire and more conversation.

It was a great experience for all.

I’m telling you this because I was thinking about the seminars and the unique structure of CJSS this morning.  In one of those “aha!” moments, CJSS and the current situation in D.C. clicked in my wee brain.

We had few rules for the kids who came:  “No throwing pine cones” (you could put somebody’s eye out with one of those things!) and “no wandering off alone” were the two that mattered for the safety of the kids.  But we also made it clear that if they found themselves in a class that bored them, they were free to leave the class and find something else to do with one of the instructors who was “floating.”

Perhaps more important, though, instructors were allowed to ask a disruptive or bored kid to go find something else to do.  Anyone who’s ever taught anything at all knows about the trouble and chaos the disruptive, bored students can create.

The disruptive, bored ones at CJSS were not allowed to spoil it for the kids who were really interested.  Giving the disruptive ones the option to walk away and, even better,  giving the instructors the option to tell them to find something else to do meant that instructors ended up with kids who were really interested and could enjoy what the instructor had to offer – astronomy, the physics of nail-pounding, dance, you name it.

No kids bothering everybody else.  No blame. No hard feelings.

It was when I remembered this that I started thinking about Donald Trump.

A troublemaking kid could stay with the group if he or she agreed to participate in whatever activity was going on and not be a smart-aleck or otherwise disturb the other kids – make the clay pot, learn about birds, help build the camera obscura, tie-dye a shirt, rehearse a play, whatever.  But only if.

The structure worked brilliantly for the kids and adult instructors.  And I propose it for the current administration in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump is pretty clearly one of those bored, disruptive, attention-seeking kids who wants to turn every “class” into a chaotic circus.  I propose that he be offered the chance to leave.  No blame. No hard feelings.

I also propose that the rest of us be allowed to insist that he find something else to do – get back to his businesses, build a new golf course, put up another tower – and let our country get on with the work we need to do.

The man clearly has little interest in the job of President.  He has little talent for it.  He just wants to raise hell, be a Twitter smart-aleck and make things unpleasant for everybody else.

So, Mr. Trump, since you don’t really enjoy running the country and you keep throwing us into chaos, how about a nice hike in the woods with one grown-up or another?  How about finding something that interests you and leaving the other kids alone?  We’ll all be happier and better off.

And remember, Donald, no throwing pine cones.  You really could hurt somebody with one of those things.  It’s the CJSS way.





Donald Trump, L(iar)OTUS

Donald Trump is going to have a lot to answer for when he does us all the favor of passing to the great beyond.

In fact, Trump has a lot to answer for while he’s still on this planet.

Donald Trump is not a pathetic and senile old man like a doddering old-timer who says things he doesn’t mean or would not say if he were in his right mind.  Enough of that cockamamie idea.

Donald Trump is a mean, spiteful, ignorant, narcissistic son-of-a-bitch who says exactly what he means, and, yeah, he’s in his right mind – the only one he has.

His latest public attack on Barack Obama and other past presidents regarding our fallen military men and women goes way beyond the pale and is so easily disproved, it makes a person wonder about the rest of the million lies Trump has told to his wives, business associates, golf partners, kids, the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker.

A person begins to wonder if he had his tiny toes or fingers crossed when he took the presidential oath of office.

This whole business of telling lies or “porkies” as the Brits call them and then walking back a day or two later has infected our society with a virus that could kill us.  It used to take time for a lie or a made-up piece of trash gossip to make its way into the mainstream, but now it takes seconds to spread to millions.  And once the lie is on the social media wind, no amount of walking back will make it better.

I realize that Donald Trump has reached the ripe old age known commonly as the age when old people start “making shit up.”  But I don’t think that’s the problem here.  He makes shit up because it serves his ego and his purpose.

This time, he went too far. Way too far.  Ask any of the families who were comforted by President Obama or Bush or their predecessors.  Go ahead. Ask.




A Free – if Imperfect – Press

“It is frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write, and people should look into it.”  –Donald J. Trump, October 11, 2017

Many years ago, I started my writing life as a young journalist, an editor on my high school newspaper under the tutelage of a woman who had a deep belief in the integrity of the world of journalism.

After high school, I went on to college and the college newspaper and journalism class.  My first assignment for the paper was an investigative piece about members of the football team being given special “favors,” including financial kickbacks.

The conventional wisdom about the situation was that the players themselves were to blame for accepting the favors, but I dug a little deeper.  Sure, it was wrong for them to take the payoffs, but I opined that a bigger problem was the football-crazy alums who pressured the players and coaches to win.  Certain alums were willing to bend the rules to get those wins and the payoffs were a small part of a darker picture.  There were questions about whether or not to publish the piece I’d written, but it was finally published, and we took the flak for telling the truth.

Such was my introduction to the world of journalism, the ways of the free press.

This was also a time when by-lines – the names of writers on particular pieces – were reserved for opinion pieces.  Ordinary stories and reporting were anonymous, straightforward, just the who-what-where-when-why and how.  Then back in, I don’t know, maybe the 70s or so, things changed.  Every story began to have a by-line and confusion set it – was it a straight story or an opinion piece?

These days, journalism and the media in general – newspapers, magazines, television news, radio commentators and today’s version of soapbox orators – churn out “news” stories 24/7.  Claims are made about fake news – and yes, some of it is without question.  The wonderful Internet has made it simple to distribute fake stories and provide click bait that pays big bucks to those who know how to manipulate it.

But still.

But still we live in a democracy founded on basic freedoms and one of those is freedom of the press.  It’s not perfect.  It was never perfect.  Ever hear of yellow journalism?  It will likely never be perfect.  But infringing on freedom of the press is the last thing we want if we are to keep our democracy going.

Donald Trump wants to curtail freedom of the press to stop anybody or any news organization that does not agree with him.  Well, Mr. Trump, I have news for you and it’s definitely not fake news.  It’s the words of people who have, over the years, said things that matter about freedom of the press.  Here are a few of those words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” –First Amendment

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”   –Thomas Jefferson

“The United States, almost alone today, offers the liberties and the privileges and the tools of freedom. In this land the citizens are still invited to write their plays and books, to paint their pictures, to meet for discussion, to dissent as well as to agree, to mount soapboxes in the public square, to enjoy education in all subjects without censorship, to hold court and judge one another, to compose music, to talk politics with their neighbors without wondering whether the secret police are listening, to exchange ideas as well as goods, to kid the government when it needs kidding, and to read real news of real events instead of phony news manufactured by a paid agent of the state (my emphasis). This is a fact and should give every person pause.”   –E. B. White    

“Freedom of conscience, of education, of speech, of assembly are among the very fundamentals of democracy and all of them would be nullified should freedom of the press ever be successfully challenged.”  –Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” —  Walter Cronkite

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose.”  –George Orwell

“Take away the right to say ‘fuck’ and you take away the right to say ‘fuck the government.’ ” — Lenny Bruce

I have a hope that the following is not what – and who – Donald Trump had in mind in his call to rein in the press:

“It is the press, above all, which wages a positively fanatical and slanderous struggle, tearing down everything which can be regarded as a support of national independence, cultural elevation, and the economic independence of the nation.”   –Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf

I rest my case.


Do No Harm

Several years ago, I moved to Cape Ann in Massachusetts – the “other” cape as it’s locally known, the one north of Boston.  I lived there for a few years and drove around the general small town area – Rockport (where I lived), Gloucester, tiny Pigeon Cove (where I voted), Beverly and Salem, but never once did I venture into Boston.

Boston drivers are notoriously aggressive and hostile, and I recall a letter in the Boston Globe at one point from a newcomer like me who said he had driven in a lot of cities with a lot of traffic but had never felt as if the other drivers actually wanted to hurt him.

I knew that feeling, and I mention it now in light of what’s happening with our government.

I’ve lived many decades as a proud and mostly happy U.S. citizen.  I’ve witnessed some bad politicians and bad political decisions – Nixon, Vietnam, trickle-down economics, Iraq among them – but I have not until now had the feeling that many of the people in Washington D.C. and their cohort actually want to hurt me – and millions of other ordinary Americans.

The Trump administration, coupled with most of the GOP, is a punishment machine built to support and satisfy Donald Trump’s ruthless vindictive and vengeful nature.  Please don’t try to sugarcoat his behavior with excuses.  I’m not buying it.  The man knows exactly what he’s doing and why.

According to Trump and his minions, Americans should be punished for having pre-existing health conditions. Americans should be punished for being poor and not able to benefit from big tax cuts.  Americans should be punished for being the wrong color, loving the wrong people or praying to the wrong God.

We’ve always had bullies around and self-serving leaders who make decisions based solely on their own gains.  I know this.  I also know that what’s happened over the past nine months feels completely different.

The incessant and very public personal attacks coming out of the White House at all hours of the day and night, the exaggerations, the swagger and lies and threats keep the drumbeat of punishment booming in our country now.

“Cross me and you’ll be sorry.”  “Challenge me and I’ll sic the dogs on you.”

This has the unnerving sound of a mafia thug reminding a small store owner that the owner has a nice little place and it would be a shame if anything happened to it.

The Democrats eager to sit down with Trump offer no comfort to me.  These Democrats are being played for fools if they think Trump is really looking for something good for Americans, some dreamed of unity and mutual goals to do better for America.  It’s a fantasy, because Trump is not interested in anything good for Americans including unity and mutual goals.  If he were, we’d be there right now.  Donald Trump prefers chaos and revenge.

The very idea of unity or mutual goals and respect for others makes him break out in hives.  He’ll smile and talk to the willing Democrats and then do exactly as he always does – whatever works for Donald J. Trump.

So, no.  I didn’t want to drive in Boston and I don’t want to drive the same highways that  Donald Trump and his desperadoes believe they own.  I am an old-fashioned person who believes there might be some ultimate goodness in the world.

I believe that bumbling and making mistakes or bad choices doesn’t have to kill us, but that unmitigated vindictiveness and vengeance just might.

I believe that unless we change course and do it soon, we are headed for a spectacular flameout that just might do our democracy in.

And I believe Hippocrates when he cautioned:  “Primum non nocere.”  First – and foremost – do no harm.


Keep Calm and Ignore the Dotard

Good evening, World!

So far, so good.  The world didn’t come to an end today after all.  To paraphrase Stephen Sondheim, we’re still here.  We’re also still being “led” by the Dotard in the White House.

I was sad this week to realize that any number of so-called journalists including many of the pros (everybody’s a journalist these days) had to look up the definition of the word “dotard.”  So much for liberal education and the humanities in our modern world.  I suppose they had some trouble making the connection between “being in one’s dotage” and “being a dotard.”

Being in one’s dotage used to be a polite way of saying Grandpa was acting just like the man in the White House – yelling at the grandkids and the television news, waving his cane around, pointing fingers, repeating old exaggerated stories for the hundredth time, making grumpy faces, muttering to himself, offending those who crossed his path, threatening to disinherit his children, ranting about the good old days, and generally raising hell, mad at everybody who didn’t do exactly what he wanted.  Dotage.  Dotard.

In the big picture, Grandpa was pretty harmless – all bluster and no bite. But he wasn’t in charge of the well-being of an entire nation of people or considered a wannabe world leader.  He was just an old curmudgeon.

The man in the White House is the DOTUS.  Aka the DOOFUS.

Since we managed to dodge some imaginary bullet today and were not left to pick up the pieces of an imaginary apocalypse, I say let’s use our energy to get going on a better world.  Let’s rally around the flag of peace and kindness and clear thinking and high road passage in all directions.

I say let’s clear up our own personal messes, whatever they might be from cleaning out those drawers of junk to paying our bills on time to just checking in on the neighbors once in a while to be sure things are okay.  Let’s pull ourselves away from the computers and the video games and 24/7 smart phones, let’s unplug long enough to enjoy whatever else is close enough to enjoy.

A nice long walk, maybe, or if a walk is not in the cards, let’s revive the leisurely Sunday drives that were once the mainstay of a family weekend.  We had nothing more in mind than to enjoy the scenery along some quiet little road off the beaten path with ice cream cones all around as we headed home.  Make mine Pistachio.

We each have this One Life and maybe before any real apocalypse strikes – and I suppose one day it will as it did over the past few weeks for those caught in the hurricanes and floods and earthquakes – let us enjoy it.  Slowly.  More deeply.  More intentionally.

“Stop and smell the roses” is truly a cliché now, but clichés become just that because of the measure of truth in them.  Whether it’s the roses or the grandkids or your sweetheart or that book you’ve been meaning to read or that old Sunday drive, stop long enough to remember how to do it.  And why.  You can answer your text messages and phone calls and email on Monday.

Forget the news reports, and don’t let the tweeting DOTUS ruin your downtime.  The true revolution takes place when we stop letting ourselves be knee-jerked every time he – or anyone else – yanks the media chain.  If there was ever a time to “just say no,” this is it.

The apocalypse?  Wake me when it’s over…