Archive for the ‘stinking piece of shit’ Category

Trump’s latest criminal pardons

December 24, 2020

In 2007, four Blackwater organization operatives, working on contract for the U.S. military in Iraq, committed what by all accounts was an unprovoked and indefensible massacre, a shooting spree killing 14 innocent Iraqi civilians including women and children, and wounding 17 others. It was called Baghdad’s “Bloody Sunday.” The U.S. government went to great effort and expense to investigate this atrocity, gather evidence, and bring those responsible to trial. In compliance with our obligations under international law, and demonstrating America’s commitment to humanity and justice. The four were found guilty and received prison sentences from 12 years to life.

Trump has now pardoned them. Mumbling something about trial irregularities — dismissed as simply nonsense by people knowledgeable about the case. It was thoroughly investigated by the FBI, and the verdicts were hailed as incontrovertibly proper.

Blackwater is headed by Eric Prince, who just happens to be a big Trump donor and the brother of his Education Secretary, Betsy DeVoss. This week Trump also pardoned several criminals who were prosecuted in connection with the proven 2016 Russian election subversion (which Trump falsely calls a “hoax”), including supreme slimeball Paul Manafort (convicted of illegal lobbying, tax evasion, and multimillion dollar financial fraud connected with his working for foreign dictators). And Trump pardoned two ex-Congressmen, Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins, both convicted of serious financial crimes, who had been among Trump’s earliest Congressional supporters in 2016. And Jared Kushner’s father (prosecuted by Chris Christie), convicted of tax evasion, witness tampering, and campaign finance violations.

Presidents were given pardon power for mercy and to rectify injustices. But one former federal prosecutor likened Trump’s latest pardons as those of a mob boss.

All this comes on top of a long string of other politically smelly and corrupt crony pardons, including racist Sheriff Joe Arpaio; propagandist Dinesh D’Souza; Roger Stone; and Michael Flynn. All convicted of serious crimes. None of these pardons went through the customary Department of Justice review process. They were just Trump’s whims.

And the Blackwater case reprises Trump’s previous pardons for a Navy SEAL court-martialed and convicted by a military jury for war crimes, and other soldiers punished for misconduct. Trump’s actions horrified military brass, who said they represented a crisis in military governance, undermining good order and discipline in the ranks. Which of course rests upon the concept of accountability for transgressions. Trump also fired the Navy Secretary who objected to those pardons. (So much for Trump posturing as a champion of the military.)

The further perversion of justice represented by the Blackwater pardons has been met with widespread shock and dismay by responsible observers. Human Rights Watch calls it contempt for the rule of law. It’s a gut-punch to the people of Iraq, who’d believed justice was being done. It’s a terrible black eye for America’s standing in the world. It will make things harder for U.S. troops everywhere, who will now be looked upon with heightened suspicion.

America’s greatest asset, in its global relationships, has been not its economic or military power, but admiration for this country as being indeed admirable, standing for what’s right, upholding universal values. Putin and China jeer that that’s just bullshit, that we’re hypocrites, as bad as they are. Trump is trying to prove them right after all. Telling the world we don’t give a damn if our soldiers commit atrocities.

Trump did this latest pardon blizzard while completely ignoring covid’s accelerating death toll; except to irresponsibly trash the covid relief bill negotiated without him; and vetoing the military budget for taking Confederate names off bases; while still obsessing about somehow overthrowing the election.

Trump cultists, who call themselves “patriots,” trying to shrug off or defend the pardons (with predictable whataboutism — Marc Rich pardon? — and other lame deflections) will prove their literally insane moral depravity.

Equally insane is their denial that Trump lost a fair election — in part due to his long record of reprehensible conduct like these despicable pardons.

Is this their idea of “draining the swamp?” Of “law and order?” That slogan may still play in Trumpmania. But I wonder how it plays today in Baghdad.

Still four weeks to go. God help us.

For Trump disease, there’s no vaccine

December 20, 2020

WAMC, the local NPR station, has a morning “roundtable” of journalists and others discussing the news. In 2015 it became the Trump roundtable; even while his candidacy was still seen as a joke, he was sucking up attention like no other personage ever had. Of course it intensified during his chaotic presidency.

That would cease, columnist David Brooks once predicted, with Trump’s 2020 defeat. Republicans would abjure him as that most despised of beings, a loser. But Trump seems to be pulling off his biggest con of all — convincing them (and probably himself) he actually won the election. Being cheated by a massive conspiracy of fraud.

This delusion piles one more upon a towering edifice of nurtured grievances, and fits right in with fantasizing Trump as some tribune battling a Satanic “deep state” cabal conniving to bring him (and America) down. They’ve long salivated for his final triumph. Seems they’ll have to wait longer. More reason to continue giving him money.

Which of course he’s cynically exploited, with floods of “stop the steal” email appeals. They’re the real 2020 election fraud — because instead of financing Trump’s disgraceful ballot litigation, most of the money goes elsewhere. After the electoral college vote, the “defend the election” theme vanished from emails, perhaps now looking too absurd even for Trump chumps. Yet they’re still being relentlessly squeezed for cash.

And the sore loser assault on democracy is unabated. The messages now label Biden an “illegitimate president,” while Trump refuses to meet with him or otherwise cooperate in the transition, continuing his shredding of civic norms. It’s not merely ugly. All this does great harm to the country.

Key to democratic culture is willingness to amicably accept election outcomes and the legitimacy of the other side’s role. We’ve already long had a real problem here, with such divisiveness that political legitimacy itself had become a sore point. A president explicitly declaring his successor illegitimate carries that to a whole new level. 

One more way in which Trump has been the most destructive single person in America’s history. Being well versed in that history, I say this literally and judiciously.

We did hope to turn the page by voting him out. But this monster will continue sucking up attention, grinding down democratic norms, dividing us, and sabotaging efforts to dig ourselves out of the hole. Making his cult followers even more angry, embittered, and disaffected. Their worship unfazed by his hunkering in the White House dementedly plotting to overthrow an election he lost by seven million votes while he ignores everything else — including three thousand daily U.S. deaths.

For this sickness there’s no vaccine.

Another facet of Trump’s destructiveness is his blowing up our information ecosystem. To discredit any news he doesn’t like and create an alternate reality. Many Americans don’t know what to believe any more when it comes to basic public facts. Many, indeed, so befogged they can’t see through the most blatant disinformation — as with Trump’s “election fraud” scam. 

The internet’s proliferation of infogarbage paved the way. And now we’ve got lies spewed by shameless national propaganda broadcasters masquerading as news sources — Fox, and even more egregious, One America News Network and Newsmax.

The huge irony here is that for all Trump’s “fake news” assaults on mainstream media as his enemy, it’s actually that very media that played his game and gave him power by gifting him with an unprecedented spotlight. And while Trump whines that the media was out to get him, it was a largely uncritical spotlight. (Only lately have they found the guts to speak forthrightly of “baseless fraud claims” and the like in news coverage.) Many in the mainstream media by now seem to recognize how much they themselves foolishly helped create this monster.

Will they finally learn the lesson, and dampen Trump’s spotlight once he’s out of office? Or will they, like heedless moths to a flame,  continue giving over-the-top coverage to his every abominable rally and deranged tweet?

A test will come on January 20 when Trump tries to upstage the inauguration.

A Christian asks Christian Trumpers: “What in God’s Name are You Doing?”

December 15, 2020

Kathryn Shihadah wrote this piece (11/15/20) on, a religion site. My humanist society’s newsletter reprinted it. I found it quite powerful too, and have edited it slightly: 

Trump-supporting Christians have abandoned the call to be Christlike, and turned Christianity into something barely recognizable. It’s time to ask ourselves honestly: what are we doing? I’ve been a lifelong Christian, and I intend to remain faithful to God till I die. But I’m no longer sure about wearing the “Christian” label. Why? Trumpism. 

Here’s a quote I saw recently, trying to belittle atheists: “When people choose not to believe in God, they then become capable of believing in anything.” No, the exact opposite is true: When people choose to believe in God, they become capable of believing in anything.

It’s true. We have been guilty of a massive lack of discernment, and the sooner we admit it, the better. First we paired ourselves with a man who . . . well, you know the long list of strikes already against him even before 2016. In spite of his many indiscretions and deep-seated vices, we Christians excused and embraced him. Every time some new trespass came to light, we found a way to brush it off. 

Everyone is a work in progress; everyone deserves forgiveness and a second chance, but we’re not talking about a friend or coworker here. This is the man we put in charge of our country. He showed us he was a fake Christian. Showed us he was self-centered and arrogant. Showed us he was a racist – even as he told us he was “the least racist person in the room.” The opposite of Christlike. We are guilty. We knew all this and we elected him. We looked at him and his Muslim ban, and his Mexico wall, and we said, “yes, this is the man for us.” We completely ignored Jesus’s straightforward words, “whatever you have done to the least of these, you’ve done to me.” 

That’s right, we turned away Jesus at every international airport and deported him at our southern border. We ripped babies from Jesus’s arms and put them in cages. Not Obama. Us. Nearly every day for four long years, the president we elected did something obscene, or lied to us or to the world, or bullied the weak, or cozied up with tyrants. For the last ten months, he has ignored hundreds of thousands of Americans as they died. Now, the majority of Americans are done with him. And we can’t handle it. He is probably the most hated man in the world right now, but we think the only way he could lose an election is through some kind of massive conspiracy. 

What have we become, Christians? Do we still believe we have the moral high ground here? Do we even care about integrity? It seems to me (and hundreds of millions of people around the world) that all Christians care about anymore is winning. 

Are our leaders being Christlike? Christian leaders weaponize Christianity, and use it to demonize and/or ridicule every American who didn’t vote for “our man.” Paula White** talks of a “demonic confederacy against the election, against America, against who you have declared to be in the White House.” Kenneth Copeland: “The media said Joe Biden is president. Hahahahahaha. Hahahahahaha.” Michelle Bachmann: “God, take your rod of iron and smash the delusion of Joe Biden as our president – he is not.” 

When the president tear gassed a peaceful protest so he could walk across the street and hold up a Bible for a photo op, that was distasteful. We can say, “Father, forgive him. He knows not what he does.” But Paula and Kenneth are pastors. They know better. Not only are these people’s words offensive and decidedly un-Christlike, they are using God’s name and the Bible as a weapon. In defense of a man who watches TV and plays golf all day while Americans are dying. 

So I ask again, what have we become? Does this in any way resemble Jesus? Are we being Christlike? We’re pretending like we just want a fair election, but won’t consider it fair unless our candidate wins. We’ve suggested that “liberals” must have tampered with vote counts, and implied that “conservatives” would never do such a thing. We cannot accept the fact that it’s over. We are demanding to keep that person in charge of our country. Oh, and many of us are still selfishly refusing to protect our communities by wearing a mask. 

Yeah, I’m still a Christ-follower. But “Christian?” I’ll have to think about it. When people choose to believe in God, they become capable of believing in anything.  What in God’s name is wrong with us? 

* Here’s a link:

** Trump’s so-called “spiritual adviser.”

America’s sanity crisis

December 9, 2020

Though just 51% voted for Biden, I’d hoped his election might dispel the fog of insanity gripping most of the rest. But so far if anything it’s deepening.

Deepening too is America’s worst crisis of my lifetime. A 9/11’s worth of deaths every day, 15 million sickened, hospitals overwhelmed, psychological trauma, economic devastation widening. And where the fuck is the President??

If ever there was a time crying out for real national leadership, this is it. But Trump has been MIA for months about the pandemic. Except to claim credit for vaccines, even while he disregards the daunting challenge of administering them. Instead of working on that, or to curb covid’s spread, or with Congress on stalled relief legislation, instead of rallying the nation’s resolve or comforting the suffering — a deranged president in his bunker fixates on trying to undo the reality of his amply deserved election defeat. Spewing lies about nonexistent fraud. When the real fraud is scamming his suckers to donate to a phony “election defense fund” ($200 million and counting).

Peter Baker’s Sunday analysis in The New York Times* — “Trump’s final days full of rage and denial” — reads like literature. Full of Shakespearean references. Trump as some mad medieval monarch careening toward the implosive last act. Even after four appalling years, the picture now is yet more extraordinary and unnerving.

And astoundingly, 47% voted for this guy! One of the vilest men on Earth. Still swallow his lies, still worship him. Only 27 of 249 Republican members of Congress recognize Biden’s election; many say Trump won. In Pennsylvania, 75 GOP state legislators have called on Congress to reject the state’s Biden electors. Almost the whole party is complicit in what truly amounts to Trump’s (fortunately shambolic) coup attempt.

This is insane.

And it has grave consequences. It sets a terrible precedent for a future bad guy slicker than Trump. It will hobble the Biden administration’s ability to function in this time of crisis. While trust in the integrity of elections is a key pillar of our democracy. Now almost half the country thinks the whole system is illegitimate. Indeed, millions of Christians believe Trump was installed by God, with Biden a Satanic usurper. Literally! This is part of the crisis we’re in. It’s a sanity crisis.

A Staten Island bar owner was cheered by “supporters” after being busted for violating covid restrictions and then attacking a cop with his car. Last Friday, the New York Young Republican Club held a big gala in a New Jersey restaurant — none in New York would host such a prohibited event. The revelers, including Matt Gaetz, a Trump-crazed Florida Congressman, posed pressed together with big smiles — and no masks.

Local officials harshly condemned this irresponsibility. But club president Gavin Wax responded, “We embrace life and living while you all cower in your pods worried about a disease with a 99%+ survivability rate. The left wants you to live in a world where socializing and being with friends and loved ones is a crime and a sin. It’s sick.”

I too embrace life and living; I want to continue it. The 99% number is Trump’s, false of course, the true figure being somewhat lower. Yet even for survivors the illness is often a horrible ordeal, and a great many suffer lasting health problems. It’s the mindset represented by that club president that’s sick. Responsible for most of our quarter million deaths.

As is his inspiration: the U.S. President. Who could so easily have been a hero in this crisis. If only he’d taken it seriously, and especially, pushed masking and social distancing. They became anathema on the right only because of him. It made no sense. For all Trump’s obsession with re-election, by inviting the covid catastrophe he screwed himself (and us). But it’s not inexplicable. He’s clinically insane.

The six more weeks before sanity is restored in the presidency is way too long. During that interval covid’s ravages will be devastating. And so sadly preventable. President-elect Biden talks of asking Americans to mask for 100 days. Asking— not curtailing “freedom” but begging us to be good citizens, to protect the lives of others as well as our own. And while Trump has assailed Biden as threatening an economic lockdown, we already had that — under Trump — so mismanaged it didn’t work. We don’t need to repeat that disaster. We could keep most of the economy (and, especially, schools) open as long as we do so smartly, with ramped up testing and tracing, and observing the other kinds of sensible precautions, mainly masking and social distancing.

But too many Trumpsuckers, like those New York Republican clubbers, won’t comply. Half of people polled say they’ll even refuse vaccination. Theyll listen to a low-down lying lunatic of a president — but not Biden.

I’ve quoted Lincoln saying America cannot endure half slave and half free. Nor can we endure half sane and half nuts.

* Here’s a link:

Understanding Trump voters #386: the personal is political

December 5, 2020

Like half the country, I’ve spent four years struggling to understand how the other half could vote for Trump. It seems insane.

A piece on by Jeff Valdivia has some insight.* He mainly discusses a podcast by Sam Harris (End of Faith author). They see Trump’s unspeakableness as perversely working in his favor. For all his self-praise, one thing he actually never claims is moral virtue. Welcomed by people sick of having their own virtue impugned. At last, someone who’s not a role model they must compare themselves (unfavorably) to. Harris thinks Trump offers a kind of “spiritual balm” of comfort for them.

A good example, says Valdivia, concerns fast food, the obesity epidemic, etc., with many Americans feeling shamed by a scolding commentariat. In this, and many other regards, Trump’s own shamelessness is appealing to his supporters, giving them a kind of personal validation.

But Valdivia, again citing Harris, says Trump’s appeal is best understood vis-a-vis the far left. With their moral censoriousness and virtue shaming on steroids: “a level of sanctimony that defies all reason.” Which normal people rebel against.

I recently reviewed Robert Boyers’s book, whose title fits perfectly here: The Tyranny of Virtue. It’s aimed at academia, where the slightest deviation from the left’s catechism incurs Savonarolan retribution. But such “cancel culture” has spread to the wider society.

Just one example: transgender issues. I fully support people wanting to live as their true selves. But this too has become an all-or-nothing, scorched earth orthodoxy. As with J.K. Rowling called a transphobic monster for making some actually obvious observations distinguishing between cis and trans women. It’s a real issue in sport, where genders have competed separately due to physical differences; a trans woman would have unfair biological advantages. Meantime, we see maladjusted teenagers suddenly deciding to change sex, with lifelong consequences, but no one allowed to caution them. A scientist, Lisa Littman, who dared to study the matter, was fired. If you’re not transfanatic, you’re transphobic!

Such deranged moralistic absolutism is very antagonizing. To the extent Trump is seen as pushing back against it, he mines a rich vein of political gold.

Recall how Hillary’s “deplorables” comment backfired, Trump supporters wearing it as a badge of honor. Refusing to be looked down upon by hoity-toity snot-noses. It’s one thing to disagree about an issue; quite another to call you deplorable. Or racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Especially racist. People’s feelings about race are often complicated. Few see themselves as “racist.”

For this judgmentalism many Republicans hate Democrats. Also because of the hard left, even though most Democrats actually reject it too. But much Republican hatred for Democrats is based on falsehoods. It’s mainly sheer tribalism — my tribe good, other tribe bad. And your tribe is a package deal. If it includes deeming climate change a hoax, or Biden’s election fraudulent, you buy the whole deal. America’s right is now enraged believing the lie that Biden won by fraud. Threatening violence.

Thus Valdivia sees crazy on one side driving crazy on the other; each continually upping the ante of our polarization. How can we break out of this? He reports on an initiative called Braver Angels, getting political opposites together to converse in a “safe space.” To elide the shouting and demonization to arrive at what co-founder Bill Doherty calls accurate disagreement. While seeing more in common than they’d realized. People being “more complicated and less evil” than we think, says Valdivia.

It isn’t rocket science; in fact, earnest initiatives like this are legion. But it requires good will and open mindedness to begin with (certainly scarce on the hard left). And what tiny percentage of the U.S. electorate would participate in such get-togethers?

A recent David Brooks column is also on point. It’s all about epistemology: how we know things. There are basic methods for that. Rejected by today’s Republican Trump cultists. This is part of the obvious growing cultural divide between urban educated people and those who see them as distant, condescending, having it easy, with different values. Causing cynicism and alienation. The “evangelists of distrust, from Trump to Alex Jones to the followers of QAnon” play into that, providing a tribal bonding. Conspiracy theories are effective emotional tools, conferring a perverse kind of power. Believers imagine themselves privy to some hidden truth. In sum, Brooks says today’s Republican identity is defined not by policies but by a paranoid mindset.**

He does believe that honest discourse, like in the Braver Angels thing, can help, narrowing the social/cultural chasm. However, he says, “you can’t argue people out of paranoia;” can’t talk them out of an emotional state. Brooks thinks a lot of it stems from economic anxiety, and we really have to make life more secure for people losing out, mainly those without college degrees. Yet, on the Newshour, he spoke of a neurosurgeon inhabiting the Trump alternate reality.

Brooks, Harris, and Valdivia do help demystify Trumpdom, from a psychological standpoint. However, as voters we really have a responsibility to see past our personal stuff and give thought to the bigger picture. And even from the perspective of raw self-regard and self-interest, does it really make sense to install so vile and feckless a president? Look at the covid disaster. Does this “make America great again?” Is it the role model you want for your children?

Or else you can blind yourself to such realities, which again is indeed a large element of Trumpism. But whatever reasons may lie behind your voting choice, it can’t possibly be a good idea to base it on flouting reality. That can only bite you in the behind.

At what point do you finally say, “Enough; this is insane?”

* Read it here:

** This partly explains polls underestimating Republican votes. They didn’t lie to pollsters; instead many wouldn’t answer at all, seeing polling firms as part of the elitist establishment they despise.

The GOP: The Grievance Obsessed Party

November 28, 2020

I left the Republican party when it stopped being a party of principles and ideals. Becoming instead a party of grievance.

The grievances have been economic, cultural, and ethnic, all mashed together. Rustbelt working class resentments about an economy leaving them behind; a culture that seemingly doesn’t care, and disrespects them; displacing them with people who don’t resemble them, whose preferment feels undeserved.

Throw into the mix yet another kind of grievance, over abortion. It’s a legitimate (and difficult) moral issue. But it’s become an obsession out of all proportion to its real societal import. Pro-lifers throw every other moral concern under the bus in pursuing this one White Whale.

President Obama was a vessel for all these grievances — a perfect storm, whipping them up into a toxic stew. Out of which popped another perfect storm: Trump. Whose whole personhood is a grievance machine. He gave voice and vent to the grievances, while doing nothing to resolve them. Instead cynically ratcheting them up.

But at least all those grievances have some tether to reality. Rustbelt economic malaise is real. The nation’s cultural divide is real. Likewise its changing population mix. And abortions actually occur. All complex issues. However, today a new and different kind of grievance beast is rising up, one unique to Republicans, and one divorced from the real world: the mythos of The Stolen Election. Taking hold like the South’s post-Civil War “lost cause” mythologization.

We always knew Trump’s psyche could not accept losing. Crying fraud in advance was his preparatory defense mechanism. Probably his diseased mind actually believes he “won.” But now most of the Republican party seems to be following him down that rabbit hole. Obsessing over this new grievance which, unlike those others discussed, is quite simply a lie.

Polls show 77% to 86% of Trump voters embrace the election theft lie, whose stridency rises even as its credibility collapses. Republican officialdom goes along, afraid to antagonize their base. This rejection of our government’s very legitimacy is deeply poisonous for us as a nation going forward.

And it’s crazy on multiple levels. In the first place, there’s simply no actual evidence for the vast multi-state conspiracy theorized. Secondly, thinking Trump could only have lost by fraud makes no sense. I can understand (sort of) why people voted for him. Can his supporters really not understand so many voting against him? And — if Democrats so easily stole votes, wouldn’t Republicans (surely more unscrupulous) have stolen at least as many? After all, they control more election infrastructure than do Dems. And if Democrats stole the presidency, how come they neglected to steal the Senate and other downballot races?

But a popular trope goes, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” A similar epistemology seems operative for Trump cultists. He’s their god, he says “massive fraud,” so they believe it. Never mind his consistently blatant pathological lying. In for a penny, in for a pound.

America was already suffering an epistemological crisis. Epistemology refers to how we know things. For matters of public concern, we cannot obtain information directly, but must rely on trusted sources. And how do we know which to trust? In such judgments too many people discard plain common sense, often rejecting responsible mainstream sources with proven track records while instead putting faith in obvious fraudsters (like Trump). And with today’s proliferation of sources, it’s easy to convince yourself you’re getting information from a broad variety of them while actually still inhabiting a partisan bubble. With a picture of the world that’s just fundamentally false. Frankly this now afflicts the right far more than the left. I say that objectively, as someone who always considered himself conservative.

America has long been undergoing a schism into two different nations, with two different realities. The disaffection between them aggravated by this toxic new Stolen Election myth. It’s not the only Trumpland lie, just another piled on top of a mountain of them. And without a common understanding of factual reality, the kinds of reasoned public debates that are essential for democracy to function are impossible. Lincoln said America could not endure half slave and half free. We cannot endure half in reality and half outside it.

Covid-19, Trump, election integrity, masks, schools, and everything

November 20, 2020

Covid is surging in virtually every state, worse than ever, a million U.S. infections a week, a quarter million dead and rising fast, hospitals overwhelmed — and national leadership is out to lunch. Not even trying, or pretending to, any more.

Remember the task force Mike Pence headed? Whatever became of that? And Trump has not met with disease experts in months. Real ones he’s shut out, elevating instead this crackpot Scott Atlas, with no epidemiology background, who’s helpfully advising Michiganders to “rise up” against their governor’s anti-covid measures.

Trump campaign e-mail blasts tout vaccine progress. While he actually sabotages the vaccine rollout by refusing cooperation with the incoming administration. Based on the absurd lie that Trump actually won the election. But claims about a big conspiracy to steal it from him, massive fraud, dead people voting, observers kept out, ballots mishandled, etc., are all simply made up nonsense, devoid of evidence, laughed out of court. Giuliani’s appearances there (billing the campaign $20,000 a day) shred his reputation’s last dregs.

Trump would have to somehow flip at least three states with five-digit Biden margins. That being impossible, now his grift is to get Republican-controlled state legislatures to brazenly override popular votes and appoint Trump electors regardless. Never done in our history. Talk about a conspiracy to steal the election! After all Trump’s past false accusations of a “coup” against him, thisis a real coup attempt.

Farcical though it might seem, this is no joke. “It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president,” said Republican Senator Mitt Romney. People around the world are shocked by such banana republic shenanigans. And even if he can’t overturn the election, Trump’s baseless fraud claims — 77% of Republicans polled believe this insanity — 86% in another poll — aim to destroy the next administration’s legitimacy and hence its ability to govern. Aided by continued Senate control by a morally bankrupt and intellectually deranged Republican party that, shamefully, nearly half of Americans still support.

By the way, did you know that, on top of everything, a mid-December government shutdown looms?

*   *   *

After eight months’ experience with covid, we actually know what’s needed. But we’re not doing it. Indeed, Trump continues to fight against doing it. Much of the U.S. is keeping restaurants, gyms, and other public venues largely open, but schools closed. Much of Europe does the opposite — with better results.

Because it’s indoor adult gatherings that most commonly spread the virus. That’s what Europeans are cracking down on. This does create much economic hardship, but reflects an understanding that we can’t get past all this and restore economies while covid continues running amok. This doesn’t seem to penetrate enough American skulls.

Arizona covid chart

We’ve done some locking down, but haphazardly, so incurring the pain without getting the benefits. The New York Times cites Arizona’s example, with a big June covid spike, prompting harsh restrictions. They worked splendidly, but then were eased in August, and infections shot back up. With that happening all over now, another round of restrictions is underway, but often again falling short of what experts say is needed. Many rules seem just weird. New York recently announced that venues can stay open til 10 PM, if they have a liquor license. Huh??

Masks and social distancing help tremendously. It isn’t rocket science. We know the virus spreads mainly via droplets in the air, coming out of noses and mouths and getting into other people’s noses and mouths. Your mask blocks droplets both going out and coming in. And because droplets tend not to travel far before falling to the ground, people keeping some distance apart also reduces ingestion.

Most Americans have acted accordingly, only 15-20% refusing. It’s those 15-20% responsible for causing most infections and deaths. With Trump’s insane encouragement. Literally insane, because for all his obsession with re-election, he destroyed his chances by encouraging anti-maskers, so covid predictably exploded in his face.

*   *   *

Meanwhile, research shows the one type of indoor gathering least risky is school, especially elementary school (with social distancing and other precautions). While, on the other hand, closing schools has long-range consequences far more dire than closing restaurants, bars, or gyms.

Millions of students are being switched to remote learning. But for too many, it’s more remoteness than learning. Indeed, what we learn in school is far more than reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. A key part of educational development is socialization — how to negotiate relations with other people. (I missed some of that, being out of school a lot, and still feel handicapped by it.) But even for the more academic stuff, there’s much evidence that learning together with others in a classroom setting works better than solitary study. Particularly for reading and math, surrounding kids with letters and numbers. And one key thing a classroom provides is feedback — children “need people to see what they are doing, to cheer them on, to rally them to care and respond,” says literacy expert Lucy Calkins, quoted in a Times report.

What this means is that we’re raising a cohort of future adults who will never fully make up for lost classroom time, going through life less educated than would otherwise have been the case. A disaster when a solid educational grounding is more vital than ever for flourishing as a member of modern society. The cumulative hit to GDP, over decades, will be astronomical.

Affluent families, with parents who are themselves well-educated and capable, riding herd on their kids, with good home infrastructure and resources, can be expected to mitigate the damage somewhat. But less so as you descend the socio-economic ladder. Many poor kids lack basics of computer equipment and connectivity.

It’s long been a huge scandal of American society that whereas education might ideally be a great equalizer and engine of upward mobility, instead, for those who start out disadvantaged, our educational system actually worsens that. Affluent kids go to decent schools; underprivileged kids to lousy schools. Widening the inequality.

Covid-induced school closures widen it yet more. The whole remote learning thing is largely new, that educators weren’t trained for, and they’re scrambling to adapt. It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s going better in schools in affluent suburbs than in poverty-ridden inner cities. And here again, strong parental partnering helps a lot. But parents in less affluent homes — often single parents — have too many other problems of their own.

Just getting kids engaged with schoolwork at home is a challenge. A study by ParentsTogether, an advocacy group, found low-income parents ten times likelier than those with $100,000 incomes to report their children doing little or no remote learning. Indeed, The Times quoted an administrator in a high school full of low income and immigrant students saying many are just disappearing — quietly dropping out of school altogether. It’s no mystery that remote learning feels remote to them, in contrast with a classroom experience.

Yet in many places we’re closing schools but letting bars stay open. UNICEF says school closures are creating a “lost generation” of students while doing little to curtail the virus.

*   *   *

Two months to go with Trump. Throughout, I’ve kept on saying, “it will get worse.” It always has. And so it will still.

The Million Moron March, and political tribalism

November 13, 2020

There were fears of a violent insurrectionary “March on Washington” by gun nuts to keep Trump in office. Violence may yet occur. But what we’ll mainly see at tomorrow’s march is a sad sick freak show. (Hopefully way less than a million.)

Featuring “Proud Boys” and other white nationalists, the deranged Alex Jones and other conspiracist cuckoos, you get the picture. The worst of the worst, all marching for a loony lie — that Trump actually won the election. The march endorsed by his campaign, and Fox’s national joke Sean Hannity.

Its marquee is “Stop the Steal.” More accurately “Start the Steal,” because the real aim is to somehow steal the election Biden won fair and square, by a pretty strong margin at that.

Calling it stolen from Trump is not just a lie (backed by no substantive facts), it’s an extremely harmful lie, because it tears apart the nation’s fabric, by undermining trust and respect for its key institutions and democracy itself. Exactly what Putin and China want. And these people have the brass to wave the flag and call themselves “patriots.”

Trumpism has always been an edifice of lies. Starting with “birtherism” and building from there. Lie upon lie upon lie, making war on the concept of truth itself. So people won’t know anymore that there’s even such a thing as truth (the ultimate triumph of postmodernism).

Look, I get it that people have political opinions different from mine. That’s fine. But it’s unnerving to see how people’s political views can override what should be normal resistance to being manipulated by a blatantly self-interested fraudster. How blind can you make yourself?

It’s political tribalism carried to its farthest extreme. An ethos of us-against-them, with winning becoming all, no matter the cost. That’s bad enough. But now it’s even sustaining a fiction of winning despite actually losing.

The New York State Writers Institute hosted a talk by Yale Law Professor Amy (“Tiger Mother”) Chua, whose latest book concerns political tribalism.* She sees America as a “supergroup” nation. Nationalism is a kind of group identity. But what sets us apart is the degree to which subgroup identity also thrives. Referring to ethnicities, religions, cultural affinities, and of course politics. She contrasts this with other countries like France, for example, with nationalistic feeling, but limited opportunity for expression of subgroup identities. It’s the interplay between the broad nationalism and the strong subgroup factor that makes America distinctive, Chua argues.

It can be a great thing. My town has had an annual Greek festival, where Greek-Americans celebrate their heritage — with no insularity, but the wider community welcomed to participate; I’ve attended myself. Exemplifying our apt national motto, e pluribus unum. 

But such subgroup identity can be toxic, Chua says, when it infects politics. There’s nothing zero-sum about the Greek festival, but politics always entails winners and losers. Okay when it’s just your candidate losing. But when it’s your tribe, that’s something else.

And worse yet, for too many people, political tribalism has gotten entwined with another sort. Mainly white identity.

As Chua notes, this is a relatively new development. Indeed, white identity didn’t even seem to be a thing so long as whiteness was unassailably dominant as the cultural standard. There was nothing for whites to think about.

Exemplar of white racial superiority

But now there is, for some, seeing that white dominance eroding. “White supremacy” is a quite accurate term — it’s not just the idea of racial superiority, it’s also white cultural and political supremacy.

To be clear, it’s only a minority of whites feeling this way. But it’s a significant minority. And while not all Trump fans buy into it, it’s nevertheless at the heart of Trumpism.

For those people, it’s not just Trump losing. It’s whiteness. That’s what many are really marching about tomorrow.

Chua quoted Nietzsche, that mental illness is rare in individuals, but less so in groups. We sure see it in the Trump world’s willingness to disengage the normal human lie detector. That’s where political commitment transmutes into mental illness. Exemplified by the “Stop the Steal” movement.

But Chua concluded on a positive note, saying that what should be the core of American nationalist identity, holding all our subgroups together, are the values embodied in the Constitution. Thus a nation founded not on blood and soil, but on ideas and ideals.

* Here’s a link to view it:

Transition travesty: the expanding Republican alternate universe

November 11, 2020

After years of falsely saying Democrats “refused to accept” the 2016 election — actually, it was Trump refusing to accept losing the popular vote — we always knew he’d never accept a 2020 defeat.

Descending farther into its alternate universe, now one where Biden didn’t win the election, the administration is flouting legal requirements for cooperating with the transition. In 2000, even before the Supreme Court sealed Bush’s razor-thin victory, the Clinton administration was already working with Bush’s team on the transition.

But Secretary of State Pompeo yesterday promised “a smooth transition to a second Trump administration.” Challenged by a reporter’s question, he dismissed it as “ridiculous.” Attorney General Barr has announced there will be vote investigations — without citing any evidence warranting them. (The Justice Department official in charge of such matters resigned in protest.) Congressional Republicans are all-in on this disgraceful opera buffa, insisting the election is not over, it’s not up to the media to decide it, no results have yet been certified, it was a giant fraud, Trump should to pursue all legal remedies, and may actually have won.

Reality: the news media merely report vote numbers that state election authorities officially announce. “Certifying” them is a mere formality later. Reality: Biden was elected, by a clear and actually sizable margin. Growing as vote counting continues. Reality: no conceivable lawsuit or recount will reverse that. This is not like 2000 where the outcome hinged on a few hundred unclear ballots in a single state. Here tens of thousands of votes in each of several states would have to be flipped. The chances are zip, zero, zilch.Reality: Trump’s fraud bloviations are unencumbered by any facts. All his lawsuits have been laughed out of court so far. There’s nothing here that will ever get to the Supreme Court.

And if counts in states Biden carried are investigated, how about investigating those Trump won?

Reality: for all Trump’s all-in-caps bombast about CHAOS, FRAUD, and a STOLEN ELECTION, what’s truly remarkable is just how smoothly and fairly this election went. Despite the pandemic, despite all the intense partisan bitterness, and fears over violence, foreign hacking, disinformation, and other sorts of mischief. Election chicanery has historically been as American as apple pie; I wrote a book in which it featured prominently; yet in this election it was conspicuous for its absence. Really a great credit to our democracy and all the good dedicated public servants responsible. Reality: the big fraud is Trump’s assault upon our democracy.

Back in the actual universe, President-elect Biden is calmly showing a steady hand, getting to work on the transition, tackling the real challenges confronting the nation. Exemplifying why voters chose him over Trump bedlam.

Republicans bleat about patriotism. Their email blasts repeatedly call upon “patriots” to “protect” Trump’s “victory” and “the integrity of the election.” Calling Democrats “unhinged” and “insane.” This hysteria is the antithesis of patriotism. It makes America look like a banana republic. Transition non-cooperation harms national security. And it injures America when people are falsely told it’s somehow mired in corruption, destroying their allegiance to the country. Instead of helping us get past our divisions, it enflames them. (At least Trump hasn’t explicitly incited his gun nuts. Yet.)

So why are Republicans doing this? What can they gain? Well, money, for starters. The emails flooding in by the minute all ask for money. With the usual fake “1000% match.” Likely the money won’t even be used for the advertised purpose, defrauding donors.

Of course they’re also coddling Trump’s diseased psyche, that cannot process losing. But it’s more than that, and even more cynical. Convincing Republican voters the election was stolen fires up their sense of grievance and embitterment, stoking their future loyalty to the cause. Even while it disgraces that cause.

This was all actually predicted. Trump’s discouraging Republicans from voting by mail was a set-up to create the Election Night “red mirage” of his leading before mail ballots could be counted; then to falsely cry fraud when those (lawful) ballots, inevitably favoring Biden, appear “magically” and reverse Trump’s leads.

Rudy Giuliani thundered, “Are we stupid? Are we fools?” Well, if the shoe fits.

Reality: our system, thankfully, is working. The locomotive of normal processes for electing and installing a new president implacably barrels down the track. Trump’s lies cannot derail this reality train, at long last steaming toward him.

Bye Bye Trump — good riddance

November 6, 2020

Last night at the White House podium he gave the vilest presidential speech in history. Eclipsing the mark set the previous morning.

He accused polling firms of having falsely reported pro-Biden results, supposedly to suppress Republican voting. So — pollsters deliberately conspired to destroy their own credibility! You can’t make this stuff up. Oh, wait — Trump can.

Note, only around 92% of the national vote has been counted, most of what remains are mail votes, which heavily favor Biden, so his final tally will get closer to what polls indicated.

It’s because so much voting was by mail that the count is taking so long.* Moreover, it was Republicans that fought to bar counting mail votes before election day. They did not somehow appear “magically,” there’s virtually zero evidence for that, or for any of Trump’s other incendiary fraud accusations. And mail votes heavily favor Biden because Trump urged his fans to vote in person. We knew all this was a cynical set-up to fraudulently cry fraud.

Trump said last night this concerns Democrat-run states. In fact they’re mostly Republican-run. Charges of observers kept out are likewise false. Elections everywhere are overseen by representatives of both parties. And if this whole thing was some huge Democrat steal, how come Republicans other than Trump did so well? Keeping the Senate and gaining in the House.

Recall that, stung by losing the 2016 popular vote, Trump also cried fraud, saying millions had voted illegally. He convened a commission to investigate. It disbanded, finding nothing.

Trump said this election disgraces America. What disgraces us is a president’s shocking lies. Russia and China are cackling. And the Republican party is disgraced by abetting it. Cruz and Graham going on Fox to back up Trump’s speech was despicable.

Republicans, to this day, continue to bray that Democrats refused to accept the 2016 election. Democrats bemoaned it, investigated Russian subversion, and opposed resulting policies, but did not deny Trump being lawful president. Unlike the “birther” denial of Obama’s legitimacy. And unlike 2020 now, refusing to accept Biden’s. This false claim that he’s won by fraud will poison our politics for years.

It’s an attack on America’s democracy and its institutions. We were already suffering degradation of trust throughout society. This worsens it. It’s Trump’s true atrocious legacy.

And his attack on democracy makes no rational sense, because it can’t succeed. But Trump is not rational. This isn’t even about his continuing in office. It’s convincing himself he’s not actually a loser, which would be existentially annihilating for him. This is the finale of the Trump psychodrama afflicting us for four ghastly years.

New U.S. covid cases this week smashed previous record levels. Our economy is in ruins and cannot be restored until covid is controlled. That’s the crisis Biden will face January 20. Worsened by this crisis of democratic trust and legitimacy selfishly exacerbated by Trump.

I want to say here some very nasty things about Americans who still support him, even love him. But I will refrain. This culture of recrimination must end.

* Though I’d warned of the “red mirage” of early counts favoring Trump, I fell victim myself. Went to bed at 3 AM election night unnerved by big Trump leads in key states. Got up at 7 and had a delicious rush; already clear to me that Biden had won.

I don’t understand the networks holding back from declaring it. They declared, for example, New York for Biden the minute the polls closed, with no votes counted, because they knew enough. For two days now Trump’s winning has been impossible.