Revenge of the Bobo

Humans are social animals. Yes, even you sullen loners, shy introverts, and lone-wolf bad boys out there — deep down, all of you need to connect with other people, at least on occasion.

One aspect of our social nature is that we take cues from one another. Although we want to believe that we think for ourselves 100 percent of the time, and are not subject either to the overt influences or the subtle hints of our peers, the truth is that we are constantly looking at, listening to, and measuring ourselves against others. Deny it all you want — science backs up the idea.

By the way, if you bend too easily to the will of others, you may end up a Nazi, and if you don’t bend at all, you may end up a sociopathic killer.

So once again, moderation is key.

However, it’s not just basic concepts such as personal space, small talk, and sarcasm that we learn from our fellow humans. We also learn how to be aggressive.

For proof of this, let’s look at the famous Bobo experiments of the 1960s, which were held at Stanford University.

In addition to having the most adorable name ever for a psychological study, the Bobo experiments showed that children learn through the observation of adult behavior. 

The study used inflatable plastic toys called Bobo dolls, which are basically large cartoon clowns bottom-weighted so that they return to an upright position when knocked down. 

You’ve probably seen one, or at the very least, had a terrifying nightmare involving them. 

The researchers divided preschoolers into one group that observed aggressive adult behavior, another group that saw nonaggressive adult behavior, and a third group that didn’t watch any adult behavior.

The kids in the first group saw adults punch, kick, and generally pummel the Bobo dolls. And you guessed it —  children in that group later modeled the adults’ behavior by attacking the doll in the same fashion.

In sum, if kids saw a grownup kick the shit out of the Bobo doll, they were more likely to be violent too.

The researchers said that the kids had, more or less, gotten permission to be aggressive little jerks because they saw an authority figure do it first.

OK, that’s all very interesting, you say. But certainly it’s not the case that grownup, voting American citizens “get permission” from authority figures to, for example, be racist — right?


Well, it may intrigue you to know that researchers have “found empirical evidence that Trump’s rhetoric has indeed lead whites to express more bigoted views of ‘the other.’”

After analyzing white people’s attitudes toward race and individuals of different ethnicities, researchers found that since Trump began his campaign in 2016, many white Americans have expressed more bigoted views about Latinos, blacks, and other groups, and as a bonus, they are more comfortable saying these statements out loud. 

The researchers conclude that “Trump is giving respondents tacit permission to be bigots.”

You see, Americans heard a major party nominee for president begin his campaign by slurring Mexicans, and as a result, years later, we discover that “Trump’s language [about Mexicans] doesn’t just embolden people to say more negative and more offensive things about the group he’s talking about, but it actually leads them to say more offensive things about all groups.”  

For these Americans, Trump has been an authority figure punching Bobo dolls. They think that if the president “is using this language, then it must be acceptable for me.” 

They have, psychologically speaking, been given permission to be racist. 

By the way, the original Bobo study found that the effects of modeling violent behavior lingered in children for months after witnessing aggressive actions. The researchers believed that once people have deemed a behavior to be acceptable, it is difficult for them to regain their previous mindset. So the kids had their personality altered in the long term.

Feel free to draw your own analogies to that.



From a Whisper to a Shout

So our malignant clown of a president recently commandeered a couple of television networks and, to no one’s surprise, proceeded to spew lies, racist innuendo, and bizarre conspiracy theories — all in the service of appeasing his base and making a final, desperate gambit to get his idiotic wall on the Mexican border constructed. 

And just today, he stormed out of a meeting when it became clear that Democrats had not inexplicably come around to his xenophobic worldview, stomping out like a belligerent toddler who has been denied playtime at Chuck E. Cheese.

Note: I have been saying since 2016, and will continue to say, that no damn wall is ever going to be built — as in never.

In any case, while Trump is prone to exaggeration and mendacity on a level never before seen in a chief executive, he does often tell the truth — usually when revealing his sincere, horrific opinions about “very fine people” who happen to be Nazis and his distaste for individuals who come from “shithole countries.” Oh, he’s also being honest about his feelings when he denigrates women and/or ethnic minorities via Twitter.

But Trump’s supporters have now one-upped the president by speaking the truth — at least their sick, twisted version of it.

You see, the New York Times recently profiled a Trump supporter in Florida, a woman whose fragile livelihood has been threatened by the president’s moronic shutdown. In between expressing shock that Trump might not have her best interests at heart, she also issued this truly intriguing quote:

“He's not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”

As others have pointed out, this Trump supporter has let the truth slip out, which is that “one aim of the Trump administration is to hurt people — the right people. Making America great again … involves inflicting pain.”

And as we should know by now, “this is not an accident. Trump’s political victory and continuing appeal depend on a brand of politics that marginalizes and targets groups disliked by his supporters.”

So just who are these people who Donald Trump “needs” to be hurting? I imagine a brief list, in rough order, goes something like this:








Transgender people

“Uppity” women




East Coasters

West Coasters


The college educated

Never Trumper Republicans

Anyone who likes kale


Of course, I’m probably missing a few, and the exact order may vary with some Trump supporters, and there may be some overlap in those categories, but you get the gist. In essence, conservatives have a long list of targets, people who are not “real Americans,” who not only deserve pain, but actively need to be hurt. They require a beat-down, whether literal or figurative, because … well, why again?

Because their values are weird?

Because they are not sufficiently respectful of white, Christian, straight America?

Because they have dared to question the mighty leader?

Yes to all of that. But the chief reason is because people like the Trump supporter in Florida — people whose lives are often a mess — see no relief in sight. The GOP has no interest in helping anyone other than their billionaire donors. So the only way a struggling working-class conservative can feel better about herself is to drag others down, to make others suffer, to make all those smug liberals pay. Because it has to be their fault, right?

Or maybe Trump, through his embrace of sociopathic deviance, just attracts people who love to hurt others.

Keep in mind that “the cruelty of the Trump administration’s policies, and the ritual rhetorical flaying of his targets before his supporters, are intimately connected.” For his most ardent supporters, it is not an unpleasant distraction that Trump maligns and mocks the vulnerable. It is a selling point. The president’s “particular brand of identity politics — the racist attacks on blacks and Latinos, the Muslim ban, his cruel treatment of women — similarly depends on negative rather than positive appeals” and “is the dark heart of our political moment.” It is, more or less, “what makes Trumpism work.”

We can assume, therefore, that Trump’s campaign slogan in 2020 will be the following: 

“This time, he’ll hurt the people who need to be hurt.”

Kind of catchy, don’t you think?



Not a Single Brick

We start the new year as we ended the old one:

With a deranged old man holding the country hostage over a xenophobic fever dream that will never come true.

I’m talking, of course, about the continued government shutdown over the president’s insistence that he can bully Congress into funding his idiotic (and totally imaginary) wall on the Mexican border.

This comes despite the fact that Trump abandoned his early promises that Mexico would pay for the wall, and then couldn’t get funding for his simplistic, fear-based solution even when his party controlled both chambers of Congress for multiple years. And it comes despite the fact that Democrats have absolutely no incentive to compromise with Trump on anything. And it comes despite the fact that fewer than 40 percent of Americans support this boondogglish foolishness in the first place, and that the percentage of support drops into the 20s when people are asked if the wall is worth shutting down the government. And it comes despite the fact that ex-Trump officials, who are becoming as plentiful as cicadas, are now admitting that the wall is never going to happen. And it comes despite the fact that illegal immigration is down, and a damn wall wouldn’t stop anybody anyway. And it comes despite the fact that… well, you get the picture.

Basically, the president has gambled the tattered remnants of his pathetic reputation on fulfilling a bizarre campaign promise that only the hate-filled, the ignorant, and the delusional ever believed in the first place.

Trump now says that the resulting government shutdown could last “a long time."

It could indeed last a long time. Not because Trump is a shrewd negotiator who is standing firm on principle, but because he is a sociopath who doesn’t care about the people he’s hurting and the country he’s damaging.

Yes, within this whole sad spectacle, there is just one thing that all Americans can agree upon:

The Steel Slates is a great name for a rock band.



How About That?

If you’re anything like me (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), then you are starved for the tiniest semblance of good news from the White House of Horrors.

Well, in what can only be called a Christmas miracle, or just a fluke happenstance that statistically was bound to happen, we have our first significant positive political development in the two years since Trump began wrenching America from its moral moorings and started flaying the Constitution.

Yes, it looks like criminal justice reform is finally coming, not because Trump endorsed it or even understands it, but because for once he got out of the way of social progress and decided to not do the worst possible thing just because he could.

The legislation was championed by an oddball mix of social justice warriors, surly libertarians, religious types on both the right and left, and basically anyone who believes pot dealers shouldn’t get longer prison terms than rapists.

Of course, the impact of this on ethnic minorities cannot be overemphasized. After all, it is primarily Latinos and African Americans who have been the victims of the misbegotten war on drugs and idiotic mandatory-minimum-sentencing laws. And all it took was a couple of decades of ruined lives, destroyed communities, and gruesome injustices to convince America to be a little more civilized and get in line with just about every other industrialized nation in the world.

Hey, forgive us — sometimes we’re not the brightest. 

In any case, I am happy to report this sliver of good news at this most joyous time of the year.

So never let it be said that I am just a seething cauldron of cynicism, misanthropy, and bitter rage who focuses all his energy on the dark devastation that has befallen America.

Well, at least that’s not me all of the time, and that’s something.

Oh, in other news, the president’s moronic idea of building a wall on the Mexican border appears to finally be dead, dead, dead.

Merry Christmas.


Holding On

There is a persistent myth that depression and suicide increase during the holidays.

It was even a memorable line in When Harry Met Sally (yeah, I’m a straight guy who loves that movie — deal with it). 

In any case, there is no doubt that suicide — whether related to the holidays or not — is an American crisis. In fact, “nationwide, suicides have increased nearly 30 percent since the turn of the century.”

Clearly, this is grim news.

However, a weird paradox has developed within this surge in self-harm. You see, “even though Latinos face economic disadvantages and other stress in their lives, their suicide rate is about one-third that of non-Hispanic whites.”

It’s odd that Hispanics are much less likely to take their own lives than other demographics. After all, Latinos earn less than non-Hispanic whites, and are more likely to lack health insurance coverage.”

And if that is not enough, Latino immigrants contend with the challenges of moving to a new country, sometimes after leaving violence and other traumatic conditions at home.”

So why are Latinos less likely to want to end it all?

Well, “experts attribute the relatively low suicide rate among Latinos to the culture’s strong family and community support systems, which appear to provide some degree of protection.”

Yes, the legendary Hispanic emphasis on the family seems to give us a boost when it comes to psychological health. I’ve written before about how obsessed Latinos are when it comes to blood relations. There are some negative elements to this cultural trend, but the positives overwhelm them, and to this lengthy list of benefits can be added the results of this latest study on suicide.

As for community bonds, well, I’ve always found it freaky that so many Americans don't talk to their neighbors, don’t partake in any group activities, and often maintain an aloof presence.

And I say that as an introvert (but a Latino one). Trust me — it’s good to socialize. 

Of course, there are other reasons for the Hispanic tendency to avoid suicidal actions.

For starters, there is the strong Catholic foundation that underpins so much of Latino culture. The religion’s teaching that suicide is a sin may have a preventative effect on some Hispanics.

In addition, numerous studies show that Latinos are more optimistic than other groups, which can only help. And there is a theory that Hispanics may even be more genetically predisposed to being happy.

Put it all together, and Latinos may have “relative immunity to suicide” compared to other demographics.

In any case, if you are having difficulty this holiday season, reach out for help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or another organization.

Take care of yourself.