Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Mychal Denzel Smith’s revolution: radical left magical thinking

September 25, 2020

I was shouting at the TV while watching with my wife The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah interview Mychal Denzel Smith (right), author of Stakes is High.

Smith saw little point in voting for Biden, deeming him just the same-old same-old, whose election would make no real difference. He feels America needs a thorough reinvention to right all its wrongs. While Noah suggested Biden would take us in the right direction, Smith was having none of it, saying Biden, once in office, would merely be a tool of the old establishment. Somewhat ironic given Trumpers painting Biden as a tool of radicals — like Smith himself!

Noah also tried to get Smith to acknowledge how bad, for America (and indeed Smith’s own agenda), another Trump term would be. Smith was having none of that either. Seemed to be saying, let the country be wrecked, then we can build our New Jerusalem on the ruins. Finally, Noah asked him what individuals can actually do. Smith’s wordy response didn’t answer that at all — infuriating my wife.

Afterward, we tried to make sense of this Mychal Denzel Smith. She thought maybe he was fine with Trump’s re-election, anticipating an assassination. I didn’t think so, unable to see that as advancing his radical aims. But then how does he imagine their achievement? Given that almost half the country is gaga Trumpist, while on the Democratic side even a moderately radical candidacy got whomped.

There’s something “radical chic” about people like Smith —thinking it cool — hence a kind of one-upmanship in radicalism — “mine more extreme than yours.” Like Smith thinks his politics is more serious. Yet can it be serious without some roadmap for getting there?

Smith seemed to be on a Yellow Brick Road of magical thinking. Simply ignoring that very few Americans actually want his revolution, with many horrified by it. How to win them over did not appear to be of interest to him. Thus he can’t, indeed, envision some sort of political campaign or action movement. Instead, it would have to be magic — America suddenly waking up and saying, en masse, “You’re right! Why didn’t we see it before?”

My wife poked around online and found that Smith, though unwilling to say so in the interview, does actually advocate violent revolution if needed. (Echoing Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary.”)

I said, so does he think they’ll have more guns than the other side?! If violence is to settle our political dispensation, it will be by right-wing gun nuts, not left-wing peaceniks.

Smith reflects a common cynical leftist view of America as irredeemable with racism and social injustice. Epitomized by Noam Chomsky, and by Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States — chronicling two centuries of efforts to overcome injustices and achieve progress, yet with nary a word acknowledging that anything was achieved at all. As if America was born in sin because it did not, in 1787, immediately free the slaves, give women the vote, empower labor unions, and right all wrongs. And it’s no better today.

Zinn’s litany might have included gay marriage. Except that no one could even imagine it when he wrote in 1980. Really proving how little he understood this nation’s capacity for progress.

America was not birthed in perfect justice. But into a world where there wasn’t even any such thing as self-government. Our starting it came to serve as a guiding light for much of humankind. What we also created was the kind of society that could progress and improve and right wrongs. And so we have. We did end slavery, did extend voting to the propertyless and then women, did give labor unions rights, constructing a host of other economic rights and protections, did end child labor, establish minimum wages and build social safety nets, did act to curb racial discrimination and segregation and to integrate our society. And much more — yes, even gay marriage.

Are we perfect now? No, we are still a work in progress, continuing inch by inch down that long hard road, not chasing some mirage of overnight revolution. That’s my noble conception of America. Which people like Mychal Denzel Smith tragically refuse to embrace.

More tragically, as his own book title says, the stakes right now are high, with that vision of America threatened as never before. Trump has already battered it. With four more years, it will be destroyed.

You want a revolution, Mr. Smith? Trump will show you a revolution.

John Lewis and the “Beloved Community”

September 22, 2020

One of my book groups read John Lewis’s 1998 autobiography, Walking With the Wind. He’s long been a hero to me.

The subtitle is A Memoir of the Movement, referring to the 1960s civil rights crusade. Lewis was there from the start, when he was twenty, in 1960. From 1963 to his 1966 ouster he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a frontline organization. Those few years were a very intense time for him.

I was reminded that in the same age bracket, I too was involved in an intense battle against an entrenched power structure — Albany’s Democratic political machine. And as with Lewis, it ended with a betrayal. My Republican party, which had been its spearhead, basically turned its back on that fight. At my last countywide party meeting, my speech was booed. But I never risked my life as Lewis did, repeatedly.

He never wavered from the basic principles that motivated him from the start. A Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence, which for Lewis was a deeply felt moral commitment. With an ideal of equality, all Americans joining together in what Lewis liked to call a “beloved community.”

Perhaps inevitably, such generosity of spirit ultimately could not stand against other impetuses. The degree of violence encountered made some SNCC members want to fight fire with fire. While Lewis’s “beloved community” idea came under assault from those more militantly seeking not integration but separation. Propelled by Malcolm X’s black nationalist radicalism — of which he actually repented before his assassination. Nevertheless, that new “black power” trope made the old SNCC stance seem too tame for some. Stokely Carmichael was in that camp, maneuvering to wrest the group’s chairmanship from Lewis.

In the climactic vote, amid all this dissension, Lewis actually defeated Carmichael by a wide margin. But that was reversed by what amounted to a late night coup, after most meeting attendees had gone to bed. Reading his account, I was surprised Lewis folded to this. But by then perhaps he was no longer up for fighting against what seemed unstoppable.

Two decades later, Lewis returned to prominence, winning a Georgia congressional seat, by defeating his old close friend and movement “golden boy” Julian Bond.

Lewis’s last chapter laments where the country had gotten to, as of the late 1990s when he wrote. His “beloved community” seemed farther away than ever. It felt oddly disturbing to read this in 2020, when the trends Lewis discussed have grown so much worse.

I have no truck with radicals advocating abrupt revolution. America’s great story, instead, has been gradual progress, through hard work, always climbing a steep hill of resistance. That was the story of John Lewis and the civil rights movement. It was a moral battle, and the nation as a whole did come together on the side of what was right and just.

But today it’s a very different country, as Lewis himself already wrote over twenty years ago. In some ways (notably, gay marriage), progress has continued, yet something is very broken. A 2011 book by Tom Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum was titled That Used To Be Us. Referring to how America used to tackle problems and challenges — which in many ways had stopped. And here again, since that was written, it’s gotten even worse.

American democracy was quintessentially a project of Enlightenment rationalism. That’s what is failing. Under sustained assault by almost half the country. We are now in another great moral battle, for truth against lies, hope against fear, love against hate. For right against wrong. But the nation will not come together on the side of right as it did for John Lewis’s 1960s movement. Our “beloved community” is breaking into two irreconcilable warring ones.

The Ginsburg seat: into the abyss

September 19, 2020

We were already at Armageddon. Pandemic and economic collapse, schools closed, racial turmoil, and our political tribalism climaxing with the most divisive and consequential election ever, likely headed for a fought-over result.

And now this. Armageddon squared. Buckle your seatbelts, it will be hellacious.

Weeks ago I wrote a blog post hypothesizing Justice Ginsburg’s death just after a Trump election defeat — and suggesting nonviolent resistance to stop his nominee’s confirmation. But now Republicans can’t be stopped from ramming it through.

The religious right has fought forty years for this, and won’t be deterred from grabbing what’s probably their last nick-of-time opportunity. A Supreme Court majority ending the right to abortion. Which only a narrow minority of Americans actually supports. Such a ruling, in this febrile political climate, would be insanely divisive, shredding the Court’s already frayed legitimacy, and indeed that of our entire civic edifice.

They don’t care, obsessed with this one issue. Willing to burn the house down to get their way on it.

Trump’s likeliest court nominee is Amy Coney Barrett, who seems to feel her religious beliefs supersede the constitution and rule of law. Putting such a person on the Supreme Court is also insane. But why not go for broke?

Only 27 years ago Justice Ginsburg was confirmed by a vote of 96 to 3. That was in a very different country. We’ve always had intense political battles, to be sure, but with all sides committed to bedrock democratic values. That meant accepting pluralism, recognizing opponents’ legitimacy. But Republicans have given up on that. Exploiting levers of power to illegitimately manipulate the system. Like trying to win elections by keeping as many citizens as possible from voting.

And seizing a Supreme Court majority to undo Roe v. Wade, likewise contravening the essence of democratic culture. Simply filling a vacancy might have been legitimate — except for their having previously stolen a seat by blocking Obama from filling it. Their dishonest pretext for that should apply equally to the present vacancy, but of course they’ll hypocritically compound the dishonesty by flouting their own precedent.

Pro-lifers rationalize all this as necessary to combat the supervening moral evil of abortion. But such ends-justify-means thinking is always morally fraught. While a rational analysis of the abortion issue makes it far from black-and-white. And ironically, a Guttmacher Institute study found no link between a state’s abortion restrictions and its abortion rate. A new factor here is increasing use of abortion pills, with no office visits. Probably making the anti-abortion crusade doomed anyway.

Meantime pro-lifers’ refusal to consider the consequences of their single-mindedness is itself profoundly immoral. Consequences like degrading our civic culture by putting a sociopath in the White House. Undermining America’s character as a democratic society founded on truth and reason. This has global impacts on human lives. Two hundred thousand of which — not embryos — have been lost so far in America’s Covid-19 disaster, most of them thanks to Trump being president.

Thanks to the so-called “pro-life” movement.

Trump’s depravity explained by his psychologist niece

September 13, 2020

There’s been much psychoanalysis of Trump. Though his depravity seems obvious to any objective observer, supporters dismiss that as baseless partisan slander. Mary Trump cannot be so dismissed. A professional clinical PhD psychologist, she also has intimate first hand knowledge of Donald, her uncle, having been quite close to the family for most of her 55 years. So her book, Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man is absolutely authoritative.

If she were writing to “cash in,” or vent family grudges, she’d have done it years ago, she says. To avoid any such appearance, she refrained during 2016. Now, however, Mary says her speaking out is a matter of “literally life and death” for the country. (Two hundred thousand, at least, have died so far.)

The book is a family saga. There’s a whole genre of “parents from Hell” memoirs. Donald’s mother was missing in action, too fragile and needy to give her five kids any nurturing. But the main character was Donald’s father, Fred Trump, who made a fortune as a property baron. Fred enjoyed only two things in life: money and cruelty. Devoid of human sympathy, his children meant nothing to him except as tools for his ego.

His eldest son was Fred Junior, “Freddy,” Mary’s father. Initially Freddy was tagged as Fred’s successor to run the property empire. He did spend most of his life employed there. Yet Fred himself sabotaged Freddy in that role. His whole existence was a desperate struggle to earn his father’s approval, but he never could; Fred made sure of it. Her father, Mary writes, “withered and died beneath the cruelty and contempt of my grandfather.”

I kept saying to myself, “Freddy, tell your father ‘fuck you,’ walk away, and live your own life.” But Freddy couldn’t. Instead he stuck around and allowed himself to be destroyed. Driven into alcoholism and dying at 42.

Enter Donald, Fred’s younger son. Watching Freddy’s tragic struggle for their father’s respect, Donald went the opposite way. Instead of sucking up to his father and making himself look weak in consequence, Donald acted out as the bad boy and defied his parents at every turn. And not only was he not punished — not only did he escape Freddydom — he quickly found this did perversely gain his father’s approval. Fred saw Donald as his own alter ego. Just as “tough” and ruthless, just as sociopathic. So Donald became the new heir apparent, and soon had the run of the castle.

Some who experience abusive childhoods repeat the syndromes in their own adulthood. Others can overcome that legacy, and, through social interaction with normal people, rebalance their personas into healthier ones. Donald was certainly in the former category. Indeed, the pathologies he developed growing up in that toxic family intensified, to a grotesquely extreme degree.

As Mary writes, throughout his life, Donald “continued to get away with — and even be rewarded for — increasingly crass, irresponsible, and despicable behavior.” At the final capstone — his election as president — she felt “This can’t possibly be happening.” (Her emphasis.)

Mary agrees with the oft-heard diagnosis of malignant narcissism. But it’s much worse than that — she also sees antisocial personality disorder (i.e., sociopathy) — entailing “lack of empathy, a facility for lying, an indifference to right and wrong, abusive behavior, and a lack of interest in the rights of others.” Surely accurate about Donald.

She says that as Donald grew up, “he needed his father to believe he was a better and more confident son than Freddy was . . . he began to believe his own hype, even as he paradoxically suspected on a very deep level that nobody else did.” Thus his insatiable craving for affirmations of his wonderfulness. Which not even becoming president assuages. So he stages cabinet meetings and pandemic briefings, etc., that are really just sycophantic praise-orgies. Foreign leaders quickly learned to play him like a fiddle with flattery. Indeed, Mary says, for all his posturing as the savvy tough “art of the deal” guy, Donald is actually a thoroughly manipulable patsy. As seen endlessly in his presidential performance.

The irony is that his focus on sustaining an image of vast competence has always blocked him from being competent. Like it’s never occurred to him to earn praise by actually being praiseworthy.

But he does have one true talent— for putting across the scam that his whole life constitutes. Fooling people. As Mary shows chronicling his business history: repeatedly leaving others holding the bag when his business disasters have blown up. Trump may be the most successful failure ever.

He’s often reported as enraged — by what is always really insufficient ass-kissing. So huge is his sense of entitlement that he constantly feels he’s being “treated very unfairly,” a phrase that’s virtually a verbal tic. Mary assesses his predominant emotion as fear. Fear of being exposed, finally, as the fraud he, deep down, knows himself to be. Staving that off is his life mission. (This is why he won’t accept, in the most literal sense, election defeat.)

Mary writes that we’ve “been shielded until now from the worst effects of his pathologies by a stable economy and a lack of serious crises.” But the pandemic, the economic collapse, and deepening societal divides “have created a perfect storm of catastrophes that no one is less equipped than my uncle to manage. Doing so would require courage, strength of character, deference to experts, and the confidence to take responsibility and to course correct after admitting mistakes.” Instead, Trump’s toolkit is limited to “lying, spinning, and obfuscating” — now leaving him impotent.

So what to make of that recorded February 7 interview where Donald said he knew coronavirus was really bad, but was telling the nation the opposite to avoid panic? Some say his only concern is re-election, not lives at stake. Surely true, yet this was no way to gain votes. He could have ensured his re-election with swift and strong covid action. But no — actually, he couldn’t. Was incapable of that.

It was himself he didn’t want to panic. A national catastrophe did not fit with his ideation of personal glory, so he tried to will it away. After all, he’d skated through his whole life on lies. Saying Covid was under control and would magically disappear was just one more. Lying to himself as well as the public. Donald’s biggest sucker is Donald.

Talking heads often discuss his actions as if there’s calculation behind them. Mary Trump makes clear what’s always been obvious — Donald is incapable of real calculation, foresight, or strategy. He’s an unguided missile. True too of his February 7 interview. A considered strategy of avoiding panic? No. That trope came into his head just as the words came out of his mouth.

Mary’s book anatomizes Donald’s depravity, but the picture has long been clear to anyone with open eyes. But too many American eyes were closed in 2016, and far too many still are. While Trump voters are filled with factoids that defy reality,* and too uninterested in learning the real reality. A charitable view is that they just don’t care. Less charitably, they’re so irresponsible it’s insane. No set of political views or supposed values or feelings or resentments can justify it.

Trump is trying to exploit fear of violence in the streets. A poll shows many now fear it more than covid. My own sister shocked me by falling for this. As if Trump isn’t himself greatly responsible for the societal divisions behind these “riots.” And as if they’re harming the country more than the pandemic. What does truly threaten our future is putting it in the hands of this corrupt, incompetent, lying sociopath. Street violence won’t destroy our democracy. Trump will.

*The Economist’s latest issue quotes one who “especially liked Trump’s commitment to reducing the national debt,” and another saying, “He’s made — who is it, China or Japan? — pay our farmers billions of dollars. He got health care done, which the Democrats could never do.”

Darwin’s apostles and evolutionary science: fighting “fake news”

September 6, 2020

Dr. Abby Hafer has her doctorate in zoology from Oxford University and currently teaches at Curry College. She has authored the book Unintelligent Design, among others, and claims to be famous for testicles. (Not her own; see below.) I heard her recent talk about what today’s fighters against fake news can learn from Darwin’s apostles.

She started by suggesting that pre-Trump we could not have imagined an American president establishing a bizarre, counter-factual, evidence-free narrative, yet succeeding in gulling much of the population. But “Welcome to my world,” Hafer said — every evolutionary biologist has always had to deal with such an environment of factual denialism. “Objective reality exists!” she insisted, steadfastly disregarding all the evidence to the contrary.

The Darwin apostles Hafer discussed were scientists who fought, against powerful entrenched interests, to gain acceptance for the concept of evolution by natural selection. After a long hard campaign they succeeded to a great degree (despite pockets of resistance, notably including a high proportion of Americans). Hafer cited publication, in 1889, of a book, Lux Mundi, in which notables in the Church of England discussed reconciling their faith with evolution — which they already assumed was true.

John William Draper was a scientist who authored History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science in 1874. The lesson Hafer took from his efforts: don’t quail from battling fundamentalist religion, but work with religious people wherever it’s possible.

Alfred Russel Wallace was of course the guy who figured out evolution at about the same time as Darwin. Darwin had long feared publishing would cause a big backlash. But Wallace, Hafer said, struck a different kind of terror into Darwin: not getting credit. So he finally finished up the book he’d been working on for two decades. (He and Wallace actually reached an agreement about public presentation of the theory. In this negotiation Darwin had much back-up from colleagues. I recall one writer saying they “took Wallace to the cleaners.”)

Joseph Hooker was one scientist who had long actually fought against the idea of biological evolution. But ultimately, he said, the conviction was “forced upon an unwilling convert.” He couldn’t fight the facts. That was intellectual integrity.

Darwin’s greatest proponent was Thomas Henry Huxley. Hafer discussed his lengthy battle with Richard Owen, who maintained that brain differences ruled out any close connection between humans and apes. Huxley showed Owen was just wrong on the anatomical facts: “Before I have done with that mendacious humbug I will nail him out like a kite to a barn door, an example to all evil doers.”

Huxley was indefatigable, working the “social media of his day” — newspapers. Letters to the editor, and replies, were a very big thing.

One audience member remarked that many people who most need to hear such messages refuse to listen. Hafer acknowledged this, and how a lot of these issues have become politicized. But she held that persistent efforts to debate such issues, vigorously battling error, in the public square, can have an effect. And Americans are actually leaving evangelical Christianity in droves, indeed angry because they feel they’ve been lied to.

A point she emphasized was that to overcome biases you have to tailor the message to engage people. Mention was made of Galileo’s experiments with the motions of balls, illustrating his ideas in a visually unarguable way. Hafer also pointed to her own work on how the human body actually shows un-intelligent design.* A prime example is testicles, hanging vulnerably outside the body cavity, whereas many other animals have them safely inside. It’s because human testicles have to be kept cooler. (I asked whether there was any connection between testicles and Galileo’s balls and she gave a straight-faced answer.) Anyhow, the point was that when you start talking about testicles, people sit up and listen.

She also said the current pandemic is a golden opportunity to make people grasp the importance of being serious toward science. And the virus, of course, evolved. If it weren’t for evolution, there’d never be any new diseases.

Hafer avowed that we are struggling today not only for the soul of this nation — but for its brain. Its integrity. Scientists are on the front lines of this battle.

She channeled Martin Niemoller: First they came for the evolutionary biologists . . . .

* Here’s my earlier discussion of that: https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/unintelligent-design-–-why-evolution-explains-the-human-body-and-“intelligent-design”-does-not/

The Schizophrenic Anti-reality Convention

August 31, 2020

Schizophrenia is characterized by disconnect between aspects of one’s personality; between reality and what’s in one’s brain.

Today’s Republican party, the Trump cult, is centered on white nationalism and nativism, on full display at its convention. Yet part of its brain knows how nasty this is. Dissonant to its desire to present a more positive image.

So they put on the screen just about every black face they could muster, telling us — with straight faces — how they’re all about equal opportunity for all, racial reconciliation, and suchlike warm and fuzzy bilge. Enabling Trumpsters to feel they’re not racist. While schizophrenically contradicting it with the symbolism of presenting the St. Louis couple arrested for pointing guns at Black Lives Matter marchers. Not a racist dog whistle, but a bullhorn. Honoring these lawbreakers while schizophrenically posturing as the law-and-order party.

Meantime Nikki Haley spoke proudly of how, as South Carolina’s governor, she had removed from its capitol a “divisive symbol.” A good courageous thing. But her courage didn’t extend to actually naming that “divisive symbol” — the Confederate flag. Knowing Republicans love it, precisely because of its symbolism that made her remove it in South Carolina. Thus in a single sentence Haley was totally schizophrenic.

While Donald Junior had no compunction endorsing retention of “Confederate” monuments. He and Nikki ought to have a debate.

They kept saying fetuses have a right-to-life. But not, apparently, the thousands of actually living children ripped from mothers’ arms and put in cages, many never to be reunited.

The most bizarre schizophrenic moment was Trump’s swearing in new citizens. As if he and his cult love immigration. As if hatred for immigrants and refugees, wanting to keep them out, were not a key Republican raison d’être. Trump’s citizenship ceremony sure was feel-good imagery. As long as you overlook his administration’s having virtually shut down the entire immigration system and slammed the door on refugees and asylum seekers. In fact it has even halted citizenship ceremonies — like the one he held — for immigrants who’ve already completed the whole rest of the process. Thus denying hundreds of thousands the right to vote in November.

Meantime Melania told us, again with a straight face, of her efforts against bullying, while one egregious bully looked on grinning. She also said we deserve honesty from a president! Well, many love that Trump “speaks his mind.” Unfortunately his mind is a cesspit of vile lies.

They even had the brass to throw the word “nepotism” against Democrats — in this convention where practically every other speaker was named Trump, and his son-in-law is his minister-for-everything.

The Democratic convention wasn’t perfect, but I was uplifted and inspired because its uplifting and inspirational quality was fundamentally authentic. It accorded with reality. You know, actual reality, out there, in the real world. (Or maybe you watch Fox.)

In contrast the Trump convention’s attempt at uplift and inspiration was a fraud. Because it flouted reality — the reality of this president, what he’s done, and what his administration truly represents. They solemnly invoke the American ideals and values they actually trample, making a mockery of them.

The relentless bogeyman portrayal of Biden was just preposterous. As if this most moderate of centrists is somehow fronting for wild-eyed socialists and aims to end freedom of speech. How many times did they say he wants to “defund the police?” Which he has repeatedly and explicitly made clear he opposes. (While in fact the Trump administration has cut money for policing.)

And how often did they say Biden wants to end the Second Amendment? That would require ratification by 38 states — impossible. Of course Biden doesn’t propose it. Nor “taking away guns.” What he does favor are reasonable measures like background checks and controls on the most murderous people-killing weapons, no-brainer reforms which are compatible with the Second Amendment, and which most Americans endorse. If Republicans want to debate these things, fine. But they don’t. They just want to scare people with lies.

Their main scare is saying America is “engulfed” in out-of-control “mob” (read: black) violence. Promising “we will have law and order.” You might think Trump is running against the administration responsible for what he attacks. Saying “this will be Biden’s America” as if Trump is not in charge right now.

But of course he takes no responsibility; while enflaming the animosities we’re seeing, throwing divisive racist bombs. He obviously wants more violence, to help him politically. Certainly threw fuel on the fire in Portland. So is Trump suddenly the right guy to calm things down and bring peace to our polarized society? And listening to Republicans you’d never guess that blacks’ treatment by police has anything to do with the unrest. No mention of cops who murdered George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many others. How about some law and order there?

Meantime, does the Republicans’ dystopian picture bear any resemblance to reality? We’ve had overwhelmingly peaceful protests. True, with a few isolated instances of unjustifiable violence. But at least 99.9% of Americans have experienced nothing of the kind. The “American carnage” picture Trump so darkly paints is absurd. And to claim Biden sanctions or encourages violence? “No one will be safe in Joe Biden’s America?” This nonsense insults our intelligence.

During the convention, protests in Kenosha followed police shooting an unarmed black man seven times in the back. Then two protesters were killed by a 17-year-old white Trump fan with a huge gun. When he tried to surrender to police, they passed him by — to go after protesters. Trump has defended him. “Law and order” Republican style? In that America no one is safe.

And Trump’s whole show was itself a flagrant violation of law: the federal Hatch Act prohibiting use of government property and personnel for partisan political purposes. Turning “the people’s house” into the Republicans’ house. Even literally putting Trump’s name in fireworks above the Washington Monument. He desecrates everything. I’ll never be able to look at that monument again with the same reverence.

No previous president has come close to so blatantly flouting the law, and basic ethics, with an extravaganza so expressly partisan on federal property. Such ruler glorification is what dictatorships do.*

And while Republicans hammer about violence in the streets, which has actually killed very few, Trump blew it in protecting us against the virus that has killed 183,000 so far. The convention’s biggest lie was a lie of omission — almost total refusal to acknowledge this gravest crisis facing America in modern times. The convention took place mostly in an alternate universe where time stopped in February. The keynote events, packing in people closely together with no masks, were saying, “Virus? What virus?” Some attendees will likely die (like Herman Cain after attending, maskless, Trump’s Tulsa super spreader).

While, on those rare occasions where the pandemic was mentioned, it was to tell us Trump did a tremendous job. Lying about numbers to deny that America’s are among the world’s worst. In the real world, the one we actually inhabit, the consequences of Trump’s deranged incompetence every one of us confronts every day.

Trump said Biden’s covid plan would crush our economy. As if it wasn’t in fact already crushed by Trump’s own covid response. So brainless that despite the economic pain it didn’t get the virus under control. Biden recognizes that as long as covid isn’t seriously tackled, our economy will stay crippled.

Listening to Trump’s speech, as a lifelong Republican, at many points I’d have applauded — if I didn’t know the reality. Republicans wouldn’t need to lie so much if they had a halfway plausible story to tell. But bankrupt of true achievement, and of morality, the only story they can tell is fake.

America is broken in many ways. Last time Trump said “Only I can fix it.” It should be glaringly obvious by now that he’s totally the wrong man for the job, making things much much worse. Especially deepening our divisions. Only we can fix it.

If you still support Trump, it’s your right. But at least be honest about why. Face up to the reality. Don’t hide behind a wall of lies.

Trump’s often called a “reality TV star.” But his real talent is in the unreality department. I am proud to support a true reality star — a man of decency, dignity, integrity, truthfulness, human feeling, caring about people other than himself, a genuine public-spirited patriot who really wants the best for this country rather than just to gratify a sick ego. That’s Joe Biden’s reality. Real reality.

* Making a citizenship ceremony a partisan show was an especially egregious violation of legal and ethical norms. Republicans don’t care.

Political violence: thinking about the unthinkable

August 27, 2020

It’s December 13, 2020. Trump’s been crushingly defeated, Democrats have won the Senate — and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died.

Just three weeks of lame duck Republican control remain. Mitch McConnell, who blocked Supreme Court nominee Garland, calling it wrong to fill a seat during a president’s last year, now plans to rush through a Ginsburg replacement.

What could stop them?

It would be so civically destabilizing, so blatantly illegitimate, that forceful action would be justified. I could see legions of people marching on Washington, possibly to occupy the Senate chamber and physically prevent a vote. Non-violent civil resistance. The regime’s response would probably be very violent.

Steven Pinker’s 2011 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, sets forth in exhaustive factual detail how much human violence, in all its many forms, has declined in modern times. And all the many reasons accounting for that. Cynics and pessimists mocked Pinker, but couldn’t refute him. The decline in violence is one of the things that makes me a believer in progress and an optimist about humanity.

But while opposing violence I am not a pacifist. I’ve always believed an ideology of pacifism fails to confront the true moral choices life sometimes presents. That some things are worth fighting for.

While the Ginsburg scenario is hypothetical, Trump’s defeat is highly probable. And with it, a very real danger of political violence. Trump openly says he will reject the election as fraudulent if he loses; laying the groundwork, by impugning mail voting. Even though it’s long widely been used with great reliability and security. Trump would like to create chaos by delaying the Postal Service’s delivery of ballots, and to delegitimize the whole election. Giving America a big black eye; hardly short of treasonous.

Important: a study by The Economist estimates that 80% of mail ballots could be cast by Democrats. Thus on Election Night, before mail ballots are counted, Trump may seemingly be ahead. He will claim victory and then ferociously insist it’s being stolen by fraudulent mail ballots, whose count he will try to disrupt. He’s intent on retaining power by hook or crook. “Will of the people” be damned.

A poll showed 29% of Republicans would back Trump if he refuses to leave office claiming vote fraud. No matter how big the eventual landslide against him? Does that sound insane? But for anyone to still support Trump at this point — after his disastrous record on covid, economic devastation, divisive racism, mountain of lies and corruption, vicious cruelty, and so much else — including trying to sabotage the postal service and the election — isn’t that already a bit insane?  And given all those powerful reasons why so many people will vote against Trump, can Republicans actually delude themselves that only fraud could defeat him?*

A lie cannot be worth fighting for. Yet not only are Trump diehards crazy enough to swallow all his lies, some are indeed the kind of people crazy enough to fight for them. Many of them are gun nuts — besotted with a fantasy of “defending liberty” against “bad people,” with bullets. Convinced, against all reality, that their führer’s been cheated of re-election. Trump’s last stand could well be, for them, a now-or-never, do-or-die moment.

A particular worry is the frighteningly large “QAnon” conspiracist network. Which Trump praises, having retweeted QAnon content almost 200 times. The FBI considers QAnon a domestic terrorism threat, with its members already responsible for gun violence. In their insane mythology Trump is the god, supposedly battling against a vast “deep state” conspiracy of Satan worshippers, engaged in child sex trafficking and even baby eating. His election defeat, accompanied by his flagrant incitements, will send these already deranged people way over the edge. With a very different sort of March on Washington.

This is our coming Armageddon. Ever since the Civil War the idea of an American political settlement through violence would have seemed inconceivable. No longer. What would this do to our democratic way of life? A democratic culture is one in which issues are decided by debate, with acceptance of pluralism, respecting the legitimate role of people who are different and have divergent opinions. Even accepting political defeat. With rule of law — not guns.

That is something worth fighting for. If attacked by people with guns, it must be defended. One might expect law enforcement and the military to do so. I doubt the military would be party to any sort of coup. But the traitor-in-chief being commander-in-chief is a wild card. We’ve already had a foretaste with his deployment of goon squads in Portland. And Trump is the kind of person who, if he can’t get his way, will try to burn the place down.

How all this will finally play out could be very ugly, leaving deep lasting civic wounds. One might rationally suppose a Trump putsch attempt would shred his last remaining political support. But don’t bet on it; rationality is in short supply in that cult. One report on a Trump rally showed a woman saying she’d welcome him as a dictator.

It’s becoming clear that whatever happens, this is not going to be a normal election with an orderly peaceful transfer of power. We’ve had 232 years of them. One way or another, that sterling American record is about to end, thanks to Trump. It breaks my heart.

I pray we can get past this very dark and dangerous passage in our history, that the plague Trumpism represents will finally dissipate, and America will resume its far longer climb toward building a better society for all.

*The same poll showed Democrats would be reluctant to accept an election outcome they believe was produced by Russian subversion, or another Trump electoral college win despite losing the popular vote. Those views would at least be grounded in rationality. But they’re likely moot because Biden is so far ahead.

Political insanity round up

August 23, 2020

While several commentators on a CNN panel lauded Biden’s superb speech Thursday night, stressing the character chasm between the candidates, the Republican Scott Jennings was burbling, “The policies! The policies!” About where Democrats would take the country. As a former Republican I wanted to grab him and shake him. Policies? Where Democrats will take us? As if Trump hasn’t taken America down the toilet. If you really cared so much about your precious “policies,” why did you put their fate in the hands of a man no responsible person could vote for? Taking down with him your beloved “policies,” whatever shreds they might still possess.

Friday I received a Trump-Pence e-mail headed, “The Biden Campaign is unhinged.” It said:

“No one is safe in Joe Biden’s America. Not only is he encouraging the lawlessness in Democrat cities, but his campaign donated money to BAIL OUT DANGEROUS criminals, including a serial rapist, from jail. Disgusting. Can you believe it, Frank?”

Actually, I could not. So, curious, I googled a bit and found that some Biden campaign people — not the campaign — made private donations to a fund bailing out folks arrested in George Floyd protests. No one charged with crimes like rape. So on the truth-o-meter, Trump’s message rates a solid PANTS ON FIRE.

Yes — “disgusting” indeed. Talk about a campaign being “unhinged.” Every Trump accusation or insult is always uncannily more descriptive of him than his target.

And talking about “lawlessness in cities,” the St. Louis couple arrested for unlawful firearms use, for pointing guns at Black Lives Matter marchers, has been slotted to speak at the Republican convention. A really smart move to dispel any stink of racism in Trump and his party, and spotlight their “law and order” bona fides. Reaching out to voters not already crazy enough to support him.

Then there’s Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson. Answering President Obama’s speech ringing the alarm about Trump’s threat to democracy, Pierson tweeted: “We are NOT a Democracy!! Not understanding this simple, yet critical fact, is likely the root cause of Trump Derangement Syndrome!”

I think a symptom of “Trump Derangement Syndrome” is imagining somehow that “We are NOT a Democracy” is a killer defense of Trump, a stirring campaign rallying cry.

The syndrome is contagious. When Michelle Obama’s speech, taped in advance, mentioned 150,000 U.S. covid deaths, Trump mocked her, tweeting, Wrong! It’s 170,000! What a brilliant riposte, sure to win him votes.

Trump meanwhile accuses the FDA of deliberately “slow walking” vaccine development until the election; part of a “deep state” conspiracy against him. While we have the “QAnon” network, seeing that conspiracy (inevitably involving Jewish George Soros) working to destroy Trump and America while engaging in child sex trafficking and even baby eating. The FBI considers QAnon a domestic terrorism threat. But Trump has now publicly endorsed QAnon, saying its devotees love their country (and him).

Then there’s messing with mail service. One analyst said this could finally be Trump’s undoing. No, wait, seriously! Worse than shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. Because so many people depend on timely delivery of checks and medications, etc. Trump does everything for political advantage. Yet is too insane to know what actually helps or hurts.

But alas political insanity is nonpartisan. A survey of 510 Sanders delegates to the Democratic Convention found 33% “strongly disapprove” of the Biden-Harris ticket. A further 19% “somewhat disapprove.” Just 17% “somewhat approve,” and a mere 7% “strongly approve.” Fortunately those hard core Sanders fanatics are —as the primary voting showed — actually only a fringe minority among Democrats. The great mass of the party has its head firmly on straight, not up its ass.

American ideals cannot survive four more years of government by lunatics.

One country, two planets

August 21, 2020

For half a century I would watch Republican conventions and feel reminded of what my Republicanism meant.

This week’s Democratic convention reminded me of everything my Americanism means. And how Republicans endanger it. What a contrast with them was Biden’s superb, uplifting speech.

During President Obama’s searing evisceration of Trump’s unfitness, Trump was busily at work corroborating the indictment with a disgorgement of disgraceful deranged tweets.* All this made me wonder what next week’s Republican convention will be like. How can they defend this monster and his vile record?

They can. They have their story to tell. A false one, but it will be told very slickly, and with the fervent conviction of true believers. How Trump is making America great again after all the Democratic failure, how he stands up for the little guy, for law and order, stands up to China, strengthens our military and border to protect us, rebuilds our international standing. Doing a great job battling Covid-19. While Slow Joe and Phony Kamala and the corrupt Democrats, tools of socialist radicals, want open borders, a weak America, abolishing the police, want our cities destroyed. They hate America, hate God, will take away your guns, and kill babies. (Maybe eat them, as QAnon conspiracists — lauded by Trump — now literally assert.)

A total inversion of reality. The whole Trump project a tower of lies. The mind reels at their ability to convince themselves.

One commentator on PBS, Sarah Smarsh, said that such people can actually be “psychologically rational.” What they see as true is a matter of what information they’re exposed to. They are outside the ambit of genuine information.

Another commentator, Gary Abernathy, disagreed. He said Trump supporters get access to the full spectrum of news sources out there, and take it all in, but they just evaluate it differently from others, and reach differing conclusions.

Smarsh wasn’t buying it. She responded that a person’s outlook is powerfully shaped by how they’re raised and acculturated. Citing a telling example: herself. Brought up in a conservative milieu, and accepting all the intellectual software thusly installed into her brain. Until she left that environment and was exposed to a whole new universe of information, changing her perspective entirely.

Hers is not an unusual case. Look how so many people just run their culturally pre-installed religious software. Oblivious that if they’d been born into a different culture, their faith would be radically different. Christians believe Christianity is true, with one god. A billion Hindus believe Hinduism is true, with 33 million gods. They can’t both be right. But that gives neither side pause.

I often discuss confirmation bias — the proclivity to embrace information confirming pre-existing beliefs, while creating rationalizations to dismiss dissonant information. Smarter people are indeed more adept at this. Abernathy’s picture of Trump supporters scrolling through all sorts of news sources, as though with pristine objectivity, ignored the huge impact of confirmation bias, and pre-installed cultural software filtering the information they see. It’s not a search for truth, but for comfort.

Meantime they’re actually bombarded with a blitz of seeming “information,” much of it Foxian, manipulative or bogus. Sipping news from a firehose; many aren’t fastidious about what gets through. Often it’s a witch’s brew that fails to include some of the most basic facts about what’s actually going on in the world (let alone what they might mean). How many people have a grounding understanding of such realities. equipping them to sensibly evaluate the “news” they see?

This is how people can live in one country but on two different planets. But both are not equally “psychologically rational.”

*Michelle Obama’s speech, taped early, mentioned 150,000 covid deaths. Insane Trump mockingly tweeted that it’s actually 170,000!

Biden’s extraordinary nominating speech: less is more

August 19, 2020

I’m a lifelong political junkie. Watched every national convention over 56 years. A connoisseur of the speeches. Key, of course, is the presidential nominating speech. Normally delivered by a political heavyweight, a long oration of soaring rhetoric.

At the convention last night, the formal nominating process commenced with a video of Jacquelyn Brittany, a black security guard standing in uniform before the elevator she monitors. Telling how she often escorts bigshots to their important meetings, who never give her a thought. But not Joe Biden. He saw her as a person and made a human connection with her.

Okay, very nice. Nothing new there.

Then Jacquelyn spoke the words, “I nominate Joseph Biden . . . ”

Simple words. But I melted into my seat. Realizing this was the nominating speech. Surely the shortest, yet most extraordinary ever. Knowing instantly this was an iconic moment I’d think about, with goosebumps, for the rest of my life.

This is America. The new America. My America. The best America.

The America we’ve got to save this fall.