American Farce – Raising a Dictator

It’s obvious that Trump’s campaign slogans of 2016 had a hidden message, available to all but the truly naïve: when Trump wanted to “Make American Great Again”, he clearly meant to “Make White America Great Again”, and when he said “America First” he meant “White America First”.

When Trump ran for office, he did so as an economic move, a ploy to strengthen his position with the Russians. According to his own insiders, Trump never expected to win. His election to the presidency of the United States was the last thing he wanted and I’d wager the worst day of his life.

Unqualified, untrained, inept, and intent on his own aggrandizement, Trump set about conducting his office with all of those qualities pushed to the forefront. Trump is nothing but brazen and cannot be shamed. Anyone else would blanch at his own poor performance but Trump’s self-mythos demands he cannot do wrong, he cannot fail, and he never loses.

After tasting the power of his office, he’s become intoxicated. Always admiring of autocrats like Russian Premier Putin, North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, and Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Trump imagines himself as the dictator of a New White America. After all, his self-mythos allows no checks and balances, no curtailing of power, no agreement from Congress, no reliance on a Supreme Court. He would dissolve all of these checks to his power if he could. As it is, he removed many key Inspector Generals, stacked the Attorney General’s office in his favor, removed the competent civilian commanders in the Pentagon, and surrounded himself with sycophants.

That his followers are delusional is both true and false. Some are, some aren’t. Those that are desire a return to the Jim Crow era of White Supremacy because they are too lazy to compete with their minority neighbor and would rather bemoan their plight than do better. Those that aren’t deluded are attempting to overthrow our democracy to make the return to the Jim Crow era of White Supremacy a reality, the only way they believe that will happen.

White, internal terrorists have been with us a long time. The bombing of the Oklahoma Federal building was the single largest loss of life through terrorism on US soil before 9/11. The Unabomber had an agenda. The sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco, whose events are disputed on both sides, were propagated by firearms infractions and charges of stockpiling illegal weapons.

Now, these terrorist extremists have found their leader. And Trump wants to lead them. He believes in many of the same things they do, but his motivation is more prosaic: their gains increase his power. They make great show or protecting their constitutional rights, then spit on our constitutional institutions and don’t seem to mind abrogating these great rights to a dictator. They worship a man who will toss them aside at his convenience, and later strip them of their power when they threaten him. The extremists believe they have a genie in a bottle, but they are unprepared for the day they liberate him.

So who is Donald Trump? What does he believe in?

I want to quote from historian Alan Bullock’s biography of another would-be dictator:

He never trusted anyone; he never committed himself to anyone, never admitted any loyalty.… He learned to lie with conviction and dissemble with candour. To the end he refused to admit defeat and still held to the belief that by the power of will alone he could transform events.

Alan Bullock, 1971

On this man’s professed use of legal means:

However much [he] underlined his insistence upon legal methods, the character of the [activists he led] was such that the idea of a [coup] was bound to come naturally to men whose politics were conducted in an atmosphere of violence and semi-legality.

Alan Bullock, 1971

This would-be autocrat developed his ideas over years while observing the people around him, watching how they reacted to his outbursts of political fury, noting who was strong and who was weak, what ethnic minorities he could hate with little backlash in order to whip up the jealous anger of his political base. He wrapped his will to dominate in nationalistic banter, promising to make his country great again. He would fulfill the promise of the republic.

It worked. Slowly, over years, this would-be autocrat stoked the embers of his national fire until appointed to high office. Then he revealed his actual program. His great achievement had been mobilizing his gangs of street thugs into a fighting force. From hundreds he formed them into hundreds of thousands. His propaganda machine never ceased and he turned out his followers at elections for gains in the parliament. With parliamentarian support, he found his legal way into the highest office. The rest is history.

That was the turning point. Now with authority over the state, he could begin his autocratic rule, first by weeding out and destroying his enemies (any who defended the republic or opposed his insane autocratic rants) until he surrounded himself with yes-men of similar delusional inclinations. Empire—from a whispered hope, it became the watchword of a nation now bent on conquest.

In the man’s own words:

“I also came to understand that physical intimidation has its significance for the mass as well as the individual … For the successes which are thus obtained are taken by the adherents as a triumphant symbol of the righteousness of their own cause; while the beaten opponent very often loses faith in the effectiveness of any further resistance.”

Alan Bullock, 1971

Echoes of this sentiment ring true today. Back and forth, lawmakers debated whether pursuing action against the president for inciting a riot at the Capitol Building was wise. Excuses fluttered like the dying embers of a fire: “…will only make it worse … will rile up his supporters more … will lead to escalation….” among other specious comments.

Like deciding to confront a bully, one might think escalation only brings more severe beatings, but inaction emboldens the bully to greater acts of terror against you and ever stronger opponents.

We’ll achieve de-escalation only through strength within the boundaries of our law and ethos. If neither side backs down, don’t blame our mostly Democratic (and some Republican) lawmakers for standing up to tyranny and terrorism—this is the extremists’ fight, but the law-abiding citizens, those respecting our great Constitution, will end it.

Alan Bullock’s biographical subject could not have succeeded in his tyranny without collaborators at the highest level of the political spectrum. Collaborators took several forms: his adherents, worshipping the cult of his personality; those deluded into thinking this man was a means to a greater good; and those he duped into believing they could trust him.

His lack of scruple later took by surprise even those who prided themselves on their unscrupulousness.

Alan Bullock, 1971

And who were these collaborators?

But the heaviest responsibility of all rests on the [the country’s] Right, who not only failed to combine with the other parties in defence of the Republic but made [him] their partner…. What the [country’s] Right wanted was to regain its old position … as the ruling class … to put the working classes ‘”in their places”…. Blinded by interest and prejudice, the Right forsook the role of a true conservatism, abandoned its own traditions and made the gross mistake of supposing that in [this leader] they had found a man who would enable them to achieve their ends.

Alan Bullock, 1971

Donald Trump cannot be trusted. He is a person who is only interested in his own acclimation, his gain, his power, and his money. We have seen favored advisors, fed up with his nonsense, step out of line. He quickly and efficiently denounces them as if they were never close to him in the first place, indeed, he hardly knew them, and had he known of their traitorous intentions he would never have talked to them. Then they are vilified in the foulest terms.

Trump requires worship. Nothing else satisfies him. He is unwavering in his own rightness. He must be. His identity is so tied up in his self-perpetuating mythos of invincibility that any crack in its foundation will cause his ego to tumble into a black abyss.

This is a picture of a man with a closed mind, reading only to confirm what he already believes, ignoring what does not fit in with his preconceived scheme.

Alan Bullock, 1971

I’m sure you’ve guessed that the subject of Mr. Bullock’s biography is Adolph Hitler. All quotations are acknowledged as Mr. Alan Bullock’s copyright from his excellent book:

Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, Bullock, Alan, Perennial Library, Harper & Row, abridged edition, 1971.

I leave you with this image, chillingly applicable to both men:

When you lie, tell big lies…. Above all, never hesitate, never qualify what you say, never concede an inch to the other side, paint all your contrasts in black and white.

Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, abridged, 1971

Stay Friendly and Healthy.

The Declining Value of Our Food: Another Step Towards Fascism

Remember day-old bread? I’m not saying it’s a fond memory, but if you’re old enough you can still see the carts of your childhood supermarket stacked with the day-old loaves of commercial bread priced at half off. My mother would buy a loaf or two of day-old if she was cooking with it, and buy fresh for her, my father, and the three boys (I was the youngest) for today’s meals and sandwiches.

I mean, seriously, half-priced loaves of bread that were only a day old. Was that better? I’m not saying so. Preservatives and advances in food preparation, processing, and delivery have been a godsend to the world, feeding those otherwise left to starve. In fact, I saw an article that said it wasn’t antibiotics, airplanes, automobiles, or the computer that qualified as the greatest advancement of the twentieth century: it was food processing, because it had the greatest impact on saving people’s lives.

Hard to argue. I can’t say my desktop pc has saved any lives lately. That’s flippant, since modern computing does its part in connecting us, securing resources, finding and delivery food, etc. Tangentially, the space program has done wonders for food processing, e.g., freeze-dried food is a direct result of research for the space program.

None of it is simple since food transport relies heavily on the speed and reliability of air transportation, communications, etc. But for saving lives, ok, the hated preservative has done its job.

Day-old bread got hard and crunchy. While good for turkey dressing, bread crumbs, bruschetta, and fillings, it was not ideal for a ham sandwich.

Preservatives changed that. Now bread lasts over a week, indeed two weeks or more and seems nearly indestructible. For a while, artisanal loaves were a throw-back to days of yore. A good Italian boule lasted about a day with a soft and fluffy interior and flaky, crusty exterior until the ravages of time (next day, that is) softened the crust and hardened the rest. In a couple of days, rigor mortis was evident and a day or two after that—the first signs of mold.

No longer. Artisanal bread (at least in the suburbs) has gone the way of all good, niche ideas that a majority discover, embrace, then immediately find impractical. The preservative strikes again.

I pulled a hamburger bun out of my bread drawer the other day that must have been three weeks old. It was stiffer, but not hard, edible but not savory, and had not one spec of mold apparent on its surface. How many preservatives does it take to do that?

And if I could say that was the only issue with the adulteration of our bread then that might be acceptable. But bread is as much water and sugar nowadays as it is wheat—if enriched, bleached flour can be called wheat anymore. I’m sure sugar adds taste (not that a good bread needed it) and the extra water adds bulk (to the detriment of flour). Add all the preservatives and binding agents (some of which are detrimental to human health by themselves) and it seems a slice of bread is a shadow of its former self.

I imagine I could place a slice of commercial white bread in a shallow dish of cold water and it would instantaneously dissolve like a breath strip on your tongue. It’s not quite that bad, but do you see how steamy bread gets out of the toaster? Take it out hot right away and lay it flat on a plate. It leaves a sweat behind of excess water about as appetizing as licking the arm of a weight-lifter.

Why? Well, we know why the commercial enterprises making our bread do it—to make more money. CEOs are under constant pressure to expand their companies and the quick and easy ways to do that are twofold: either reduce the cost per item made (make more with less) or if the market won’t bear that, sell at a higher price per unit of measure (by reducing the amount of inventory used per item) so that less sells for the same price.

In other words, make it smaller, but don’t reduce the price proportionately. That’s why all of our food products are shrinking. This affects even fruit where no apple, orange, or peach is allowed to grow to maturity and fully ripen on the vine when it can be picked pre-maturity and shipped to ripen in your refrigerator or on your countertop. It’s smaller, less tasty, but the yield to consumers is higher. That it’s inferior matters not. And consumers seem ok with this.

I see the clamor for organic and farm-fresh and produce bought fresher at farmer’s markets is on the rise. That’s good. But still, the great majority of Americans buy their produce at the supermarket and it’s unquestionably declined in quality from just a few decades ago.

Value for the consumer is not the riding concern of the commercial enterprises growing, processing, and shipping your food. But shouldn’t it be our government’s?

It seems that local, state, and federal agencies are complicit in this trend. I’ve talked before how there seems to be no truth in advertising when it comes to the commercialization of food. Why not? Did our government just give up? Is the chase for profit turning us into a nation of fascists?

We are barely a century removed from the rampart fascism of late nineteenth and early twentieth century big business. Carnegie, Frick, Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Ford—they all built empires and collected personal wealth on a scale still extraordinary by today’s standards. When Bill Gates crossed 60 billion dollars in wealth some years back, he was considered the wealthiest man on the planet. Rockefeller’s wealth (adjusted for today’s money) was 150 billion dollars. There are a few approaching this recently, where Jeff Bezos recently passed 200 billion while Bill Gates next trails at 116 billion.

Is this a good trend? I don’t begrudge the wealthy their riches. What we need to ask is not whether Mr. Bezos is worth his money but rather: is a company that makes its founder so wealthy under any control at all?

I’ve written before that I am rather anti-Socialist, but in the same way, I am vehemently anti-Fascist. And such wealthy individuals wield inordinate power over our elected officials. Case in point: the last four years under President Trump. He, his cronies in his cabinet and other high-ranking positions, et al (meaning those career governmental employees who didn’t resign out of disgust) bow to corporate America. The entire America First campaign was code for Corporations First, Consumers Second. The specter of Fascism rears its head.

I bring up Amazon since they are now (as of May, 2020 according to Progressive Grocer) ranked second only behind Walmart in food sales in the US. These two companies (Walmart and Amazon) offer differing delivery models, but both appeal to the convenience of choice, ease of purchase, and price satisfaction.

Two large retailers in my area (Giant Eagle and Shop N Save) offer remote shopping and food delivery. I love to cook and food shopping is one of my favorite ways to relax. Yet now, since about April 2020, I allow someone else to pick my apples, my oranges, my avocados—all of my fresh produce. Do they always pick the nicest and freshest out of the pile? No. They do well, but they aren’t perfect and I can’t expect them to be. I get what I’ve asked for.

This is another way our food delivery model is changing. Remote this and remote that is the name of the day. I remember once (years ago) a produce vendor in a farmer’s market chastised me for inspecting her apples before I purchased them. She expected me to pick two apples from the top of the pile and hope they were not bruised or unfit for purchase (some were). I took my business to the next stall.

Now I just take my chances.

Stay Friendly and Healthy.

Spartan Roasted Potatoes Au Fromage

Scott Louie Cooks

Spartan potatoes are a favorite side dish that goes with any roasted meats, steaks, sausages, or chicken. The “Spartan” simply means a classic combination of SPinach and ARTichokes, to which I add roasted garlic and leeks. Plus I love cheese so any au fromage is a winner.

Ingredients

  • 2 russet potatoes, washed, skin-on, cleaned of eyes and rough spots
  • salt and black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil (as needed to coat the potatoes)
  • rosemary, chopped finely if fresh, or powdered if dry
  • ½ Tbsp unsalted butter
  • ½ cup chopped leek (can use a little more if you like the taste)
  • 3-4 cloves roasted garlic (or use 1-2 cloves of fresh minced)
  • 1 bunch spinach, cleaned and mostly de-stemmed (about 8 oz)
  • 1 14 oz can whole artichoke hearts, cleaned of tough leaves and coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2-3 Tbsp sour cream (to taste)
  • 2 Tbsp grated romano cheese (or pecorino romano or parmesan, etc.)
  • chopped parsley
  • paprika
  • 6 oz grated extra sharp cheddar cheese

Roast the potatoes

Preheat the oven to 425° F.

Slice the potatoes in ¼ to ½ inch thick rounds, trying to maintain a consistent thickness between the slices. In a large bowl, wash the potato slices to remove some of the starch, and drain. Lightly salt, tossing to distribute. Drizzle olive oil over the slices and mix up the slices with your hands, coating them as evenly as possible on all sides.

Distribute the slices on a foil-lined baking sheet. Lightly dust with rosemary. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the slices are somewhat browned on top and soft to a fork, i.e., ready to eat but not overdone.

Make the spartan filling

Over medium heat, sauté the leek in the butter. When just soft (1-2 min—leeks cook quickly), add the roasted garlic and mash and mix into the leeks. Add half the spinach leaves and let wilt, then do the same for the second half. Add the chopped artichoke hearts and mix until all is combined and well distributed (spinach tends to clump together) and remove from heat.

Make the cream sauce

Whisk the sour cream into the heavy cream. When mixed, add the grated romano cheese and whisk until combined.

Assemble the dish

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Into a glass 10×6 inch casserole dish (or your near same size equivalent), add a little of the cream sauce to barely coat the bottom. Swish the dish around to coat. Then layer half of the roasted potatoes along the bottom, piling them up as needed (may make 2 layers). Then sprinkle a little salt and pepper (not too much, or omit this step entirely, as the cheeses add a lot of salt already). Sprinkle some chopped parsley over the potatoes, then dust with paprika as if coating deviled eggs.

Scoop in the spartan filling to create the next layer. Cover with the remaining half of the roasted potatoes, layering as needed. Sprinkle more parsley and dust with more paprika. Carefully pour the cream sauce all over the spartan potatoes, ensuring it goes down all the sides and into the middle. Top generously with grated extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Bake

Bake at 325 for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is crusty and golden. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Make it Your Own

Try substituting a hearty vegetable instead of potatoes for this dish, such as french endive or cauliflower. Instead of roasting, I would sauté the sliced endive with a little sugar to caramelize it. For cauliflower, you could simply steam the cauliflower if using florets, or sauté or roast the cauliflower steaks if using half inch slices.

To turn Au Fromage into Au Gratin simply mix the cheddar cheese with seasoned bread crumbs and distribute over the top of the dish before baking.

NOTES: On Ingredients

I keep an herb garden in the summer and I dry the leftover herb in my perpetually cool unfinished basement during the winter. Rosemary sprigs dry very nicely hanging by twine from a rafter. I also dry-hang thyme, sage, and oregano. If they dry properly, they will last forever (well, years). I take a few sprigs at a time, remove the dried leaves, and grind in a spice grinder (aka coffee bean grinder). Fresh is even better or if you have dried sprigs, grind them up.

I use Kerrygold unsalted butter for cooking and Kerrygold salted butter for the table. It’s just the best although Land O’Lakes does in a pinch. Never use margarine, which is oil that’s been emulsified to act like butter, but it gets the Razzie. Since trans fats are banned by the FDA, margarine is better for you than in the past, but still, butter wins the Oscar for taste every time. If concerned, use a little less or for a recipe with 2 Tbsp of butter, use 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp of a healthful vegetable oil like olive oil. I use this technique often anyway.

Leeks are a great onion substitute. When you want a mild but still very oniony flavor, leeks are best. If you want mild and less oniony, use shallots. If you want a full onion flavor, use an onion.

Roasting garlic is easy and tastes great. I use Jacques Pepin’s technique of slicing the whole garlic bulb through its middle, without slicing through and separating the halves. Then propping it open, I pour olive oil into its center, then shut the halves. I place the garlic bulb in a square of foil and wrap up all the edges so they meet at the top and seal it with a twist. Then roast in the over at 425° F for 30-40 minutes (careful—ovens vary, so at 30 minutes you might want to pull it out, carefully open the foil while minding the heat, and make sure it’s soft but not burning up). When done, let cool, unwrap and the gooey goodness can be squeezed out of the cut bulbs and used for a milder garlic flavor on toast, in dishes like this one, or any way you want. Wonderful.

Careful with cans of whole artichoke hearts, meaning they are not always ready to eat from the can (or jar). I prefer packed in water and not marinated. Drain off the liquid, then gently squeeze each heart to remove more liquid and test an outer leaf by pulling it off and seeing if the top is too tough to bite into (much less chew). Often the bottom half is soft and delicious while the top is still tough and unpleasantly chewy. Usually only one layer may be like that (or not at all). Check each one before quartering it and you have ready to eat artichokes in your fridge for salads and other dishes (like this one).

Stay Friendly and Healthy.