Archive for the ‘stinking piece of shit’ Category

Was Mike Pence a Hero? Is there hope for America?

June 22, 2022

Now Mike Pence is called a hero — for shrinking back from the greatest crime in U.S. history. He’s credited with saving the country, which in a sense is actually true. Had Trump’s coup plot succeeded, that would have blown up America.

Pence as Vice President presided over Congress’s electoral vote certification. Trump wanted him to just throw out Biden votes. That Pence even considered this was crazy. At least he was sane enough (unlike many in Trump’s circle) to finally refuse. Pence realized it couldn’t be legal for one person to decide the presidency. (He’d also be re-electing himself VP.)*

At 2:24 PM on January 6, after being begged to call off the dogs, Trump instead unleashed a tweet cursing out Pence. Further enflaming the mob already baying “Hang Mike Pence!” It came within forty feet of him.

Aides tried to evacuate Pence from the besieged Capitol, but he insisted on staying to complete the election formalities. For that at least Pence does merit praise.

But if he really had moral courage, he’d denounce Trump for January 6. He still won’t, despite his own near-death experience. Calling the whole thing just a small difference of opinion. Because he still fantasizes a presidential nomination — by the Trump cult party — that would still actually rather see Pence dead than president.

In a rational world, the January 6 committee’s fact-based presentation would be like a Heimlich maneuver upchucking Trump from our body politic. His crimes make Nixon’s Watergate transgressions look like jaywalking in comparison. Republicans ultimately did upchuck Nixon, but are circling the wagons around Trump. The hearings, instead of opening their eyes, further enrage them against the truth tellers. (My own puny efforts will change no minds.) Trump-sucking election deniers are winning GOP primaries. The Texas Republican party has voted not to recognize Biden as president.

In a recent poll, about half of Americans opined that our democracy is in grave peril. Mostly Democrats, I assumed. Wrong! Both parties were evenly split. So only around half of Democrats see the threat. While half of Republicans (swallowing Trump’s lies) imagine it comes from Democrats.

But Republicans don’t believe in democracy anyway. Not if it means losing elections. They’ll stop at nothing to prevent it. They’re now empowering GOP election officials to throw out lawful votes. If Republicans control Congress after 2024, they’ll do that. And if all else fails, there will be a repeat of January 6 — with more guns.

Prosecuting Trump for his coup attempt apparently hinges on intent — whether he knew his election fraud claims were lies, or actually believed them. Maybe a dicey point when it comes to a mentality so sick. Perhaps his defective mind did convince itself — and he should plead “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

The Justice Department understands that prosecuting Trump would pour gasoline on what’s already our political conflagration. And could backfire if he gets off. Those are grave considerations. But his return to power would be worse. If prosecution might forestall that, let it be our gotterdammerung.

Yet it’s doubtful America’s democracy can still be saved. The necessary sense of national togetherness among citizens has been shredded. Likewise our democratic ideals, when the country just yawns at Trump’s shocking assault upon them.

Perhaps there’s this slim hope: that his death might lance the boil and open a restorative path.

* If the VP had that power, Al Gore would have liked to know it when he presided over the count for the 2000 election — decided by 537 genuinely disputed votes in just one state. Trump’s idea of Pence messing with the electoral vote was cooked up by law professor John Eastman, and even he apparently realized it was illegal. The plot also included sending fake electoral vote certificates to Congress — talk about ballot fraud!

The Hearings: January 6, Trump, The Big Lie, and Democracy in Peril

June 14, 2022

Trump concocted his big “stolen election” lie because his sick psyche couldn’t face losing — and to help him overthrow democracy and retain office by coup.

Any sensible person already knew that, but the January 6 Congressional committee’s hearings, says The Economist, are the most important in U.S. history. The scandal bigger than any before. And the hearings are filling in compelling details. Trump’s own hitherto toady Attorney General Barr testified that he told Trump his vote fraud claims were “complete nonsense . . . idiotic . . . silly . . . crazy stuff . . . bullshit.”* Yet the evidence shows how Trump nevertheless worked a host of illegitimate schemes to undo his election loss, conniving at the Capitol violence as his last-ditch ploy. Gleefully watching it unfold, refusing to act to stop it, even endorsing the insurrectionists’ cry, “Hang Mike Pence!” Failing only by a hairsbreadth.

Who could ever have imagined so criminal a U.S. president? So why hasn’t he been indicted? The Department of Justice seems to be proceeding very carefully, striving to avoid any appearance of a partisan witch-hunt (though Republicans will scream that anyway). Even in normal circumstances the DOJ wants to be pretty sure an indictment will result in conviction. These are far from normal circumstances. The last thing we need is Trump indicted and then acquitted. Plus, even a conviction would provoke endless appeals, and the politically tainted Supreme Court majority might find some pretext to exonerate Trump. Maybe better to leave the case to the court of public opinion. Despite its questionable wisdom.

For a moment after January 6, it seemed GOP officialdom was washing its hands of Trump for what he’d wrought. But they quickly turned tail upon realizing the cult of Trump voters was unshaken. So Republicans refused to support a congressional investigation, they denounce it as a partisan sham, and even obstruct its work by defying subpoenas. The committee’s two Republican members, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, are lonely heroes, being purged from a party now making itself totally complicit in the attempt to overthrow American democracy.

You’d think this would destroy its credibility and bona fides forever among most voters. How could any serious civic-minded person, believing in America’s founding democratic values and ideals, continue to support such a party?

I’d long warned that our democracy was not ordained by God forever, and could not endure without a citizenry steeped in those values. Now we’re seeing what little presence those values still have in our political landscape. A president’s attempt to overthrow democracy is shrugged off. Candidates embracing him and his big lie suffer no electoral penalty. We’re told voters care more about issues like inflation, crime, gas prices. And that Democrats will fail if they stress January 6 in their midterm election campaign.

It’s tempting to say, I give up. Like I’m howling at the moon.

Meantime, columnist David Brooks has a different take on the congressional hearings. Again, all honest people already know the truth about January 6 and Trump’s ghastly malfeasance. But what really needs investigation and exposure — ringing a five alarm fire bell — is the ongoing Republican effort to make sure they “win” future elections — regardless of votes. All under the dishonest guise of “protecting election integrity” while actually blowing it up.

This will culminate in January 2025 with a GOP-controlled Congress making Trump president, setting aside if necessary the actual election results.

Voting Republican now is insane.

* Barr also denounced as rubbish the feature film Two Thousand Mules, pushing false vote fraud claims and garnering huge audiences in Trump country.

Biden should not run again

May 27, 2022

I supported Biden from the start in 2020, strongly, as the candidate best positioned to save the country. I think events bore out that judgment, and I don’t regret it for a minute. President Biden is a decent, honest, conscientious public servant. The antithesis of his monstrous predecessor.

America will need saving again in 2024, but this time Biden is not the right candidate.

First, forget the disgraceful nonsense impugning his mental capacity. He is demonstrably sound of mind (again in stark contrast to Trump’s cesspool of vicious psychological pathologies). Biden is generally low-key and mild-mannered — a blessing in these febrile times.

However, many voters have a natural human attraction for what they perceive as “strength” in a political leader. This has actually proven to be a huge problem for democracy, but it’s a reality, and Biden’s image doesn’t play to it.

He will be 81 in 2024. Well, “Blind Old Dandolo” led the Venetian conquest of Constantinople at 95. But here again many voters see Biden’s age as signaling weakness. Trump, note, will himself be 78, probably in worse health (physical as well as mental); yet all his negatives his cultists disregard.

Meantime negativity about Biden’s performance has taken hold. The Afghanistan debacle was a totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound, that I think was where a lot of people lost confidence in Biden. He’s taken a beating too over inflation. But a recent NY Times analysis sees the real problem as Covid fatigue, with Biden faulted as having over-promised. Yet to prefer Trump over Biden on that score makes no sense, when America’s continuing problem, and unduly excessive death rate, are rooted in Trump’s idiotic misfeasance. Biden, dealt a bad hand, did much to put things right. And to the extent he hasn’t been fully successful, that’s largely down to so many Republicans, blinded by partisanship, foolishly refusing vaccination.

Nevertheless — looking at this whole political landscape — I regretfully conclude that Biden is not the Democrats’ ideal 2024 candidate. I think he should bow out.

Kamala Harris? I don’t believe Hillary Clinton lost just because she was female — though on balance it didn’t help. But a nominee both female and nonwhite might be pushing the cultural envelope too much, unless she were otherwise a terrific candidate (as Obama was). However, so far, Harris has not made a very positive impression.

My choice? Pete Buttigieg. Yes, he’d push the cultural envelope too, but less far I think, and anyone holding gayness against him would not likely vote Democrat anyway. And Buttigieg would be a terrific candidate. In 2020, I was extremely impressed at how assuredly and eloquently he expressed himself, radiating good sense. The contrast between his strong (that word again) youthful goodness and Trump’s monstrousness would be compelling. And Trump can be counted on to utter something utterly vile about Buttigieg’s private life. Bring it on.

I believe Buttigieg would win the November election. Whether a Republican-controlled Congress would let him take office in January is another matter.

NY High Court Ruling May Doom America

May 1, 2022

The backstory: In 2014 Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through a constitutional amendment supposedly ending gerrymandering. This involves legislative district maps, with one party packing the other’s voters into a few districts — so they lose everywhere else. Cuomo’s reform was a sham. Ostensibly establishing an independent redistricting commission, but engineered to fail and thus throw the process back to the legislature. Which then drew maps giving Republicans only four congressional districts.

The state’s highest court has now ruled this unconstitutional, appointing a “special master” to replace those maps with (presumably) non-partisan ones.

Ordinarily, I’d have applauded. But Republican-controlled states are heavily gerrymandered, while some others (notably California) have non-partisan systems. Giving Republicans, nationally, a big advantage. New York’s gerrymander would have offset that somewhat. But the court ruling should now give Republicans several more seats. Quite conceivably, in a close contest, tipping control of the House of Representatives.

Republicans also gain from voter negativity toward President Biden and Democrats, over issues like inflation, immigration, crime, etc. This might seen understandable, under political normalcy. But we don’t have that. Now there’s one giant issue that should trump all others:

How can Republicans be trusted on ANYTHING?

They’re a cult worshipping a very bad man who literally attempted to overthrow our democracy, instigating a violent insurrection attacking the Capitol. Based on a stupendous lie, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Created because Trump’s diseased psyche couldn’t face losing. Any fool knows that.

But it’s not just that Republicans swallow this lie. They’ve actually made it central to the party’s whole ethos. In Georgia’s gubernatorial primary debate, one candidate (Dave Purdue) literally led off by declaring the 2020 vote fraudulent. Both then argued over who is the truest believer. (Probably neither; most Republican politicians know it’s a lie, but they cynically exploit it.)

The lie corrodes trust in the integrity of elections, a key underpinning of a democratic system. Moreover, Republicans are acting on the lie to mess with voting procedures going forward. While also striving to whitewash January 6 and obstruct the investigation of it. And if they control Congress after the next presidential election, they will throw out its results if necessary to put Trump back in office.

That’s no fevered fantasy. Nothing would restrain them from such a brazen deed, if they have the votes. Remember how they stole a Supreme Court seat. Stealing the presidency would kill American democracy.

How can voters shrug off the unprecedented threat of today’s deranged Republican party, while in contrast viewing Democrats with unforgiving harshness?

Recently the NY Times reported on a conversation shortly after January 6, wherein House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy held Trump culpable for it, said he’s “done” with Trump, and would call for his resignation. But as with other Republicans, McCarthy’s moment of clarity quickly passed, and he pilgrimaged to Mar-a-Lago to kiss his master’s ring. And when the Times story broke, McCarthy roundly denied having said what was reported.

Then the newspaper released the audio, proving McCarthy’s denial an outright lie.

Once upon a time this would have ended a politician’s career. And McCarthy was doubly in trouble because of his lèse-majesté. Yet Trump magnanimously forgave him. (Groveling by toadies feeds his voracious ego; McCarthy’s earlier betrayal made his recanting especially delicious to Trump.) Then McCarthy went before his GOP colleagues — and wound up with a standing ovation!

“It’s debasing for Republicans to give this guy a standing ovation,” said one GOP Congressman on Fox News. So at least one retains some integrity? No, it was Florida’s walking cesspool Matt Gaetz — unwilling to forgive McCarthy’s prior momentary apostasy.*

Talk about “debasing.” Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert, Madison Cawthorn, Paul Gosar, Elise Stefanik, and McCarthy himself, are the leading face of today’s Congressional Republican party. All dishonest and irresponsible to the core. The worst of the worst.

This is the creep squad American voters seem blithely likely to hand control of Congress. McCarthy will be speaker. What a disgrace; totally insane. I’ll weep for my country, fallen so low.

*Liz Cheney is the lone remaining honorable Republican seeking re-election. The party is intent on her destruction.

THE RATIONAL PESSIMIST

March 5, 2022

My blog, “The Rational Optimist,” was started in 2008 while writing my book The Case for Rational Optimism. That now seems long ago, in far-away galaxy.

I have argued that a species capable of living in the Sahara and the Arctic could cope with climate change. But also that while we must do everything reasonably possible to curb greenhouse gas emissions, even reducing them to zero (impossible) would not stop temperatures rising. So we must also work on defensive preparations, and ways to cool the planet. Yet climate warriors seem to wage an anti-industrial jihad, fixated solely on emission reduction. Even there, nuclear power should play a big role; but many oppose that too. And the recent global climate conference, COP26, was pretty much a cop-out.

So our climate action is too little, too late, and global warming looms faster and more severe and harmful than once thought. Humanity may still be resourceful enough to cope, though at great cost. Yet there’s danger of a tipping point to runaway warming that feeds on itself. Earth’s climate has always naturally cycled through warmer and colder periods, but that could be thrown off-kilter by human activity, a significant new factor.

Venus shows what a runaway greenhouse effect can do. Reaching a permanently toasty temperature — high enough to melt metal. Something no life can survive.

Recently I listened to a 2017 public debate, by serious scholars, on “Is democracy committing suicide?” Suicide may not be quite the right word, but the proposition was that democracy does have characteristics dooming it. Those so arguing had much scary fodder to invoke. The other side said things like Brexit and Trump’s election actually show democracy working. Considering it, at least in advanced countries like America, deeply resilient, its institutions strong enough to withstand challenges.

Note was made of Trump’s ominous 2016 refusal to say he’d accept the election outcome. What if, one debater queried, in 2020 he loses but calls on his supporters to reject that result? Well, it happened. Our democracy survived — but just by the skin of its teeth.

Numerous examples tell us a democracy is just one dumb vote away from autocracy. In America it might take two. A recent poll showed Trump defeating Biden.

Our species’ entire progress, from its beginnings, has been achieved through reason. We are very smart, but not smart enough to avoid many pitfalls of irrationality. Rejecting reality is the essence of irrationality. And that’s Trumpism, rejecting the reality of the 2020 election; of his rotten character; of his party whitewashing January 6. The reality of making America not great again, but shredding what makes it great. Yet some voters are turning against Democrats because of . . . mask mandates. Returning Trump to power would slap rationality in the face.

Democracy was so ascendant in the late 20th Century because it fulfills a basic human thirst for recognition of one’s individual dignity and value, as Francis Fukuyama argued in The End of History. And its debate defenders were right that people won’t knowingly give it up — though actually polls show increasing numbers saying democracy is not that important, and they’d be fine with military rule.

Too many fall for the idea of a strongman, to fix everything. (Strongmen never do, one debater observed; instead they find scapegoats.)

And they never come in saying, “No more democracy.” Indeed, democracy has become so entrenched as a fundamental human value that even the worst regimes pretend to honor it. The world’s autocrats, after being caught flat-footed for a time by democracy’s rise, eventually perfected techniques for manipulating it — giving it the death of a thousand cuts — and then to prevent its resurrection. Thus Venezuela’s regime is impregnable despite crashing GDP by 75%; Russians cannot get rid of Putin even as he drives them to catastrophe.

The paragon is China — it too insists it’s “democratic” — taking the surveillance state to heights beyond Orwellian, making life impossible for anyone not the regime’s obedient toady. The picture of the world’s 1984 future?

Even before 2016, I kept saying America’s democracy is not ordained by God, and could not be forever sustained without a citizenry deeply internalizing its values, understanding what it’s all about. Which was already crumbling. Democracy is not just a matter of elections; more importantly it’s a culture. Of which a key aspect is pluralism — accepting people unlike you having a legitimate role, even having power. That ethos is stomped down in today’s America.

The debate questioned whether democracy is its own worst enemy, allowing people to make bad choices. But an enemy at least as dangerous is guns. However strong people’s democratic feelings may be, guns can be stronger, especially when wielded by regimes without scruples. Look at Myanmar’s army, at war with the entire populace. Too many countries have militaries that are good for nothing — nothing — except using force upon their own populations, to entrench their power and privileges. Guns and democracy don’t mix. That’s why America’s ever growing gun infatuation bodes ill.

An important basis for my 2008 optimism was the post-WWII rules-based world order, evolving into the post-cold war Pax Americana. While guns did continue wreaking havoc within countries, at least major advanced nations were no longer using them against each other. That has now changed. Russia’s monstrous crime against Ukraine is another assault on human rationality. And a huge test, whose outcome will be enormously consequential. If Russia, however bloodied, is seen to ultimately prevail, subjugating Ukraine, we’ll be living in a different and uglier world. While if Russia is bloodied and thwarted, the lesson will be salutary. So much hangs on Ukrainians’ strength and courage.

For the moment at least, those inspiring Ukrainians, and a stronger global response than expected, are antidotes to pessimism. On the other hand, it’s always depressing how many dupes will dance to a tune like Putin’s.

And it’s another weakness of democracy that a lot of people “don’t care about politics.” Thus being oblivious when the thousand cuts begin. Disengagement from politics — not having to worry about it — is actually a luxury of living in a stable democracy, under rule of law, cosseting people (as it should). Inhabitants of Myanmar don’t have that luxury.

Yet broadly speaking, it’s true that politics is not everything. Science, technology, and commerce should continue improving quality of life. And America and its people (even most Trumpers) have many great virtues of which democracy is only one. Without it maybe the rest can endure. Even under a Trump dictatorship, most of ordinary daily life might go merrily along. At least half a loaf. I’ve promised my wife we won’t move to Canada unless truly necessary.

The “yes” side won that debate. I once dreamed of living to see a news headline about the ouster of “The World’s Last Dictator.” Now I wonder if it will be the end of “The World’s Last Democracy.”

The Tyranny of Merit — And Trumpist Revolt of the Losers

March 1, 2022

What is justice? People getting what they deserve — for good or ill. Thus talents and efforts being rewarded. That’s meritocracy.

But meritocracy has a downside, argues Michael Sandel in The Tyranny of Merit. In a society where rewards are unconnected to merit, such as a hereditary aristocracy, non-aristocrats don’t feel shamed by their deprivation. However, in a meritocracy, where winners are reckoned deserving, loserhood is compounded by the sting of feeling personal inadequacy.

That, Sandel posits, drives the populist political upsurge — the Brexit vote, the Trump vote, and so forth. A revolt by meritocracy’s losers, against the winning elites. Feeling disrespected, and resenting it. He says idealistic rhetoric about “going as far as your talents and efforts can take you” creates that resentment, in people whose talents and efforts just don’t take them very far.

Aggravated by disappearance of the 1950s kinds of jobs enabling masses to join the middle class. But rather than jobs “shipped overseas,” the far bigger factor is technology and automation. We’re manufacturing as much as ever — just doing it with much less labor. That frees up people to be productive differently, making us collectively richer. Indeed, the middle class is not disappearing; and more people are rising rather than falling out of it. It’s poverty that’s been shrinking; moreover, Americans classed as “poor” today would, in terms of the life amenities they enjoy, have been rated “middle class” not many decades ago. So the problem Sandel sees is not just economic.

He challenges the very idea of deservingness. I myself have flourished, thanks to traits like intelligence, conscientiousness, etc. Thus deserving? But did I deserve to have those winning traits? Was there some innate, pre-existing deservingness in me, entitling me to be so endowed? Or was it just the luck of the draw?*

The Bible’s Job experienced a blitz of misfortunes, and protested to God this was undeserved. But that’s not how it works, God replied, in Sandel’s reading. “Not everything that happens is a reward or punishment for human behavior.” And this Sandel deems “a radical departure from the theology of merit” infusing the rest of the Old Testament. Going on to discuss how Christianity forever wrestled with the deservingness problem, that is, whether you get into Heaven by being good or because you’re so predestined. (A philosophical black hole.)

Sandel extensively discusses what “luck” really means in the context of inequality. He doesn’t even think intelligence has much to do with it. A football star earns more than a ditch digger because society just happens to be set up in a way that rewards the former more than the latter. Should we try to undo that? By bailing out losers? Hobbling winners? They’re not morally equivalent.

And even if we recognize that success is ultimately a matter of luck, which should be somewhat rectified, to negate such luck entirely would seem, well, crazy. If, for example, everyone is equalized no matter their talents and efforts, then why develop skills or work hard? That was the fatal flaw in the communist idea (which no nation ever truly implemented).

The book extensively discusses “credentialism” — how degrees, especially from elite institutions, serve to divide society between winners and losers. That’s meritocracy if you suppose well-educated graduates contribute more to society. Actually a problematic proposition. And the division is perpetuated because student bodies skew heavily to children of the better off. A more egalitarian society would give the rest better college opportunities. (Rather than compounding deprivation via crappy public schools in disadvantaged places.)

As suggested, Sandel bemoans meritocracy because its losers feel bad about themselves. He wants a society where nobody does. But what, you might ask, is really the alternative to what we’ve got? If rewards don’t go to merit, to talents, to efforts, then what kind of bizarre society is that? Is that just? Is it even conceivable?

That’s not what Sandel is proposing. In his eyes, meritocratic equality of opportunity is a good thing, but it’s not enough. It “does little to cultivate the social bonds and civic attachments that democracy requires.”

And, he says, “a sterile, oppressive equality of results” is not the only alternative to equality of opportunity. Another is “a broad equality of condition that enables those who do not achieve great wealth or prestigious positions to live lives of decency and dignity — developing and exercising their abilities in work that wins social esteem, sharing in a widely diffused culture of learning, and deliberating with their fellow citizens about public affairs.”

A nice utopian vision. But the harsh reality is that many people aren’t equipped for the kinds of jobs that “win social esteem” today, or to hold up their end of Sandel’s civic participation ideal.

I’ve long considered the inequality obsession misdirected. It usually comes down to resentment of wealth (the word “obscene” often deployed as a moral judgment). Very different from seeing poverty as morally repugnant. If there were no poverty — no absolute want — with everyone being able to live at least decently — then the very rich are simply not a problem.

Still, just relieving deprivation does not produce the kinds of civic paragons Sandel hopes for. He himself argues that welfare recipients often resent the relationship this puts them in vis-a-vis the rest of society. Part of the overall resentment fueling the populist revolt. Sandel is right that it’s a problem when large population segments feel such alienation. But he doesn’t really have an answer for it.

His concluding paragraphs argue that the problem lies with different societal echelons leading largely separate lives. This recalls Charles Murray’s 2012 book Coming Apart (see my commentary, very relevant here).** Murray basically suggested (naively, I thought) that the upper classes should interact more with the rest. And what Sandel finally calls for is humility on the part of the rich and successful as “the beginning of the way back from the harsh ethic of success that drives us apart. It points beyond the tyranny of merit toward a less rancorous, more generous public life.”

And how to get from here to there? Sandel offers no clue.

The book does, again, attempt to explain Trumpist populism in terms of class resentment. Murray was right that social segregation has grown; Robert Putnam began Our Kids by similarly lamenting that rising barrier. But meantime, increasing egalitarian thinking means people no longer feel deferential toward their “betters.”

Who in past times were indeed widely seen as better, their elevated status accepted as right and natural. A social ethos epitomized by FDR, elite in every bone of his body, yet his leadership was totally embraced by the masses. In a society quite different from ours today. Trumpism is an antithesis of such FDRism.

As such it’s comprehensible. But FDR was a virtuous leader in many key respects, making the political support he inspired appropriate. Whereas Trump, like FDR very elite himself, is the opposite in character. Perhaps his fans latched on to him simply for lack of other alternatives filling the anti-elitist leader role. But it’s still tragically baffling to see unswerving cultist loyalty to a stinking piece of shit.

* Considering it the latter, philosopher John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, argued for (in theory) setting up a society under a “veil of ignorance” where you don’t know what your status will be. He thought that would suggest an egalitarian system.

** https://rationaloptimist.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/the-two-americas-cash-is-not-the-answer/

American Dystopia: Inverted Trumpian Reality

February 4, 2022

We’re heading into a “systems collapse,” of the societal structures underpinning our very way of life. The culprit? “Hard Left ‘woke’ ideology.” So says Victor Davis Hanson in a syndicated column. It’s scary — scary that anyone could see things so upside-down.

Hanson is not obviously a nut job; a right-wing “public intellectual,” with a seemingly impressive resume. And his column might resonate, if you knew nothing of reality.

He asserts that “wokeness” is making the U.S. fall apart like Venezuela (whose socialist dictatorship has crashed GDP by 75%). “Crime soars. Inflation roars.” Law enforcement defunded. “Millions of impoverished foreigners” allowed to enter illegally. U.S. global credibility shattered. Politicized health bureaucracies discredited. Et cetera.

And, Hanson says, “after decades of improving race relations, America is regressing into a pre-modern tribal society.”

Most of this is overblown or outright false. America is enjoying stonking economic growth, with unemployment nearing record lows and wages rising. Police budgets, on average, are increasing, and despite recent spikes crime is still way below levels decades ago. Border policies remain very restrictive. Health authorities are demonized by fools.

We do have problems — but blaming them all on “woke ideology” is just silly. I’ve criticized it harshly myself, yet in fact wokism doesn’t hold power (outside academia). While conspicuously absent from Hanson’s screed are the words “Trump” and “Republicans.” As if they did not rule for four of the last five years; as if the world began on January 20, 2021.

“Systems collapse?” With Trump the bottom fell out of our civic culture. Shredding rule of law, presidential accountability, norms of public civility, and our global standing. Trump’s handling of the pandemic was idiotic; vaccine refusal by his cultists remains a huge problem. And particularly outrageous is Hanson’s saying it’s “critical race theory” that has wrecked “a once tolerant, multicultural nation.” Forgetting Trump’s ugly racial divisiveness, pumping up white supremacism, grievance, and caste anxiety. A far bigger accelerant for tribalistic antagonism.

And get this. “Strangest in 2021,” Hanson writes, “was the systemic attack on our ancient institutions.” Does he mean January 6, when a violent mob stormed the Capitol as part of Trump’s attempted coup? And his big “vote fraud” lie, propelling Republican efforts to undermine voting rights and public confidence in our election systems? Of course not. Those go unmentioned. (Instead it’s the left assaulting the time-honored electoral college, the filibuster (!), and even, Hanson says, our “50-state union.”)

He finally speaks of “a tragically bewildered, petulant, and incompetent president . . . who seems to believe his divisive chaos is working.” A perfect description of Trump? Yet Hanson is talking about Biden! Elsewhere, he has likened Trump to a hero of ancient literature sacrificing himself for the greater good. (If he evokes anyone in ancient lore, it’s Narcissus.)

You may have reasons to be a Trump supporter. And Biden has his weaknesses. But Hanson’s ridiculous inversions of reality bespeak a brain blinded by partisanship.

However, he’s right that America is in deep trouble. Its democracy is endangered — by people like him. Returning Trump to power would be its destruction

* * *

Hanson’s column was reprinted by the Albany Times-Union, perhaps mindful of right-wing bias accusations. But freedom of speech does not include the right to an audience. Press efforts like this to appear even-handed help spread and legitimate Trumpist propaganda. Thus mainstream media is accomplice to its own destruction, an ultimate Trump goal. The T-U should not have run Hanson’s atrocious piece.

Would I kill him if I could?

January 27, 2022

A radio interview with scientist Robert Sapolsky shocked me. My humanist book group was currently discussing his tome on human behavior. Sapolsky spoke of his fantasy of killing someone. Not just killing — but with torture, described in graphic detail.

The “someone” was Hitler.

Sapolsky’s fantasy might seem innocuous because of course Hitler is already dead. But if this were 1944?

Capital punishment opponents deem killing always morally unacceptable, no matter how bad the person. Yet I believe some people deserve the ultimate punishment, as a matter of justice.

So with Sapolsky: fantasizing himself an avatar of justice. However, torture adds a problematic dimension; it must entail mindful cruelty by the torturer, a corruption of their soul, and of the moral legitimacy of whatever authority sanctions it.

There used to be a widespread fetish in academia denouncing “judgmentalism,” with categorical judgments considered always suspect. Of course that’s turned completely around, now academia embraces judgmentalism with a vengeance, punishing viewpoints not in lockstep with the catechism of the day. But without going to such extremes, the former anti-judgmentalism was surely wrong. Humans are built to be judgment machines; life is all about making judgments. We are also programmed to be justice seekers. Thus Sapolsky vis-a-vis Hitler.

My own judgment app is set on “high.” A lifetime of hard thinking about issues confronting us makes me feel, at this point, pretty strong in what I judge good or bad, right or wrong.

Certain personages are on the wrong side of that judgment, earning the sort of hatred Sapolsky evinced toward Hitler. This is not hate as a baseless prejudice (as with, for example, white racial hatred). To the contrary, its salient characteristic is being justified by sound rational considerations. Thus I hate Putin; Assad; Maduro; Lukashenko; Ortega; Erdogan; Kim Jong Un; Xi Jinping; Min Aung Hlaing; alas the list goes on, it’s far too long. I hate them for the evil each has perpetrated.

There’s one person I hate more than anyone, ever. (You knew where this was going.) A hatred burning with a pure incandescent flame. Yet this too is no irrational prejudice, but its exact opposite. A deeply considered moral judgment grounded in facts. The crimes are not in the Hitler-Stalin-Mao class; however, unlike the other mentioned cases, this one for me is personal. Because it concerns my own country, which I have profoundly loved for what it represented and stood for. Which this evil monster has damaged beyond calculating. Maybe wrecked forever.

So do I fantasize like Sapolsky? Or would I actually do the deed if I had some opportunity? In fact, no. It would be self-immolation. He’s already caused me so much suffering — heartache, anxiety, literal lost sleep. He can destroy my country, but I would not let him destroy my life itself. And assassination would make him a martyr in many eyes, throwing gasoline on America’s political dumpster fire.

However, I do harbor a fantasy, every morning, when I retrieve our newspaper and open it. A fantasy of a big black headline. It might not be justice; after all, everybody dies. And even if it’s from natural causes, conspiracy theories would run wild, and millions of his cultists would expect him, Christlike, to return. But he could do no more harm. And maybe, just maybe, most of America could recover its sanity.

Trumpism and religion: God help us

January 11, 2022

Nobody is a better advertisement for atheism than Trump.

A man many evangelicals view, despite all his demerits, as God’s instrument for achieving their triumph. That’s how they justify backing such a person. But it’s actually ruinous for the religion they profess to serve.

So argues Jennifer Rubin in a recent Washington Post commentary. Writing about people “in the throes of white grievance and an apocalyptic vision,” seeing America under attack from socialists, immigrants, and secularists. Leading to “an ends-justify-the-means style of politics in which lies, brutal discourse and violence” are embraced. And their rejection of objective reality.

Also their rejection of democracy itself. A democratic culture means not just elections, but acceptance of a pluralism in which diverse voices all have legitimate roles. That in particular they hate, seeing it as a threat. Thus, for all their invocations of “patriotism,” they reject the very meaning of America — the ideas of the Declaration of Independence — in favor of exclusionary blood-and-soil white nationalism.

One might have thought the advent in 2021 of a more conventional, lower-key national administration, of serious purpose, would calm the waters. And that the horror of January 6, a violent attempt to overthrow American democracy, would be electoral poison for Republicans whose deity and his Big Lie instigated it. Yet the opposite has happened. The crisis of our democratic soul has intensified.

Rubin’s main focus is again on the religious dimension. She quotes Peter Wehner (an evangelical Christian and G.W. Bush advisor), discussing a recent speech by Donald Trump Junior. Its message, says Wehner: “The scriptures are essentially a manual for suckers.” Jesus’s teachings have “gotten us nothing.” Indeed, have handicapped prosecuting the culture wars against the left. “Decency is for suckers.”

This, Rubin says, helps explain “the MAGA crowd’s very unreligious cruelty toward immigrants, its selfish refusal to vaccinate to protect the most vulnerable and its veneration of a vulgar misogynistic cult leader.” While “their ‘faith’ has become hostile to traditional religious values such as kindness, empathy, self-restraint, grace, honesty and humility.”

Vaccine refusal not only does trash basic religious ethics, but also reflects a perverted notion of freedom, disregarding that freedom doesn’t mean a right to harm others. That harm is a reality vaccine resisters refuse to believe (killing them in droves). While it’s their dogma that the 2020 election was stolen — also thoroughly proven false. Together showing the astonishing depth of this insanity.

I heard one January 6er on the radio declare he’d taken “an oath to God” that Trump would remain president. “An oath to God!” he repeated, almost shrieking.

Religion is a fundamental divorcement from reality that paves the way for further ones. If you believe in heaven and hell, you can believe nonsensical anti-vax and election fraud lies. If you believe in the man in the sky, it’s but a small step to believing Trump is his instrument. The history of religion is full of suckers falling for what are obvious con men, blind to being manipulated for bad ends. That’s the Trump story.

Rubin’s key point is that while all this “has done immeasurable damage to our democracy,” it also “has had catastrophic results for the religious values evangelicals” supposedly hold. Their God-talk and Jesus-talk has become hollow, their belief systems hijacked by the rotten-hearted Trumpism that cheers making orphans of migrant children.

And this travesty does not go unnoticed by Americans with sanity still intact. It drenches religion in shame. Makes all its pious moralistic prattling a cruel joke. It’s a big reason why younger Americans especially are turning away from religion. Polls show numbers soaring for those saying their religion is “none.”

Republicans, with deranged ferocity, accuse Democrats of somehow, literally, wanting to destroy America. But Rubin concludes that evangelical Republicans are turning it into “a country rooted in neither democratic principles nor religious values. That would be a mean, violent and intolerant future few of us would want to experience.”

Idiocracy

December 11, 2021

As someone vaunting human reason, the 2006 comedy film Idiocracy haunts me. It starts with an upscale couple — intelligent, educated, thoughtful — agonizing about whether to have a child. Then we see a gaggle of lowlife dumbasses reproducing like rabbits. Repeat for a few generations and you get a dumbass nation. An idiocracy.

The president in this dystopian future is of course a crass buffoon (Black — go figure). Back then we could laugh. But politics is incidental in the film, more concerned with a dumbed-down cultural landscape. Epitomized by its most popular TV show — “Ow! My Balls!” Yucks galore. (As if people would still be watching network TV generations hence.)

The film’s premise of an intelligence collapse was silly. Studies show average human intelligence is actually increasing (the “Flynn Effect”). Yet what’s descending upon us is something darker and scarier than mere innocent dumbness. Imagine another movie:

Though 74 million vote to re-elect a crass buffoon president, he’s unsurprisingly defeated. But his deranged ego can’t accept it. So he makes up a lie that the election was a fraud. Laughed out of court; but instead of hooting him off the stage his cult followers storm the Capitol in support of his attempted coup. After which his hold on his party actually grows, their indignation over the imaginary “election steal” intensifying. And its unprincipled politicians use that as a pretext for every possible underhanded trick to steal the next election themselves and return to power.

Nah, that movie would be too implausible. This is America, not some banana republic (or “shit-hole” country.) Weren’t we made great again?

Meantime, polls show voter support for Biden and Democrats plunging. A lot of the reasons are bogus (“socialism,” “defund the police,” “critical race theory,” “open borders”). Biden is not blameworthy for inflation. And voters are also venting frustrations over the pandemic — perversely, since of course it’s Republicans hugely blameworthy, insanely battling against needed public health measures. Forgotten too is the rest of Trump’s litany of atrocities, even including the January 6 attack upon our democracy itself, and how Republicans have abetted it.

There’s been tons of analysis trying to explain voters. Many just act like bloody-minded nihilists. Maybe it’s idiocracy after all. So as of now, reprobate Republicans (helped too by their gerrymandering) look poised to retake the House of Representatives in 2022.

But if you suppose this would be just another routine swing of the political pendulum, you’re not paying attention. We saw what lengths Trump went to, last time, to overturn the election and keep power. He might have succeeded, if Democrats hadn’t (barely) controlled both House and Senate. Next time, a Republican-led House of Representatives can block certifying electoral votes. Throwing the election to the House itself, where they’ll crown Trump. They’ll have the votes; think they won’t have the balls?

We see country after country where such manipulations prevail. Often just simply fabricating vote counts. Even presidents with real public support skirting zero, like Maduro, Ortega, Assad, and Lukashenko, get “re-elected.”

This is the movie we’re in now. A tragedy, not a comedy. Much darker than Idiocracy, with its mere innocent dumbness.

We won the Cold War, defeating Communism, with democracy ascendant. But now it’s under vicious assault again, as Anne Applebaum writes in The Atlantic, from what has grown into a new alliance of anti-democratic regimes, supporting each other and perfecting the tools of repression. Trump actually aligned with them. If he returns to power, sinking democracy even in America, it’s game over.

I could live in an idiocracy. Not in a trumpocracy.