Facts Aren’t Stubborn Things

In response to my comment urging good folks on our side to “get involved on platforms like Twitter” as a way of fighting back against what we have seen and are seeing in our new Trumpian world, a first-class thinker and blogger, Jim Wheeler, wrote:

Get involved in Twitter? It’s discouraging to think that 140-character opinions can be effective. Feels like he’s dragging us down to his level, a landscape of trolls and brain-farts. Ugh.

Here is my reply :

Jim,

I feel your pain.

But the good guys don’t always get to choose where the battles are fought. I agree with you that it is a little depressing that here in the 21st century we are forced to fight part of the war against Trump-inspired ignorance and bigotry on 140-character terrain, but Twitter is Twitter. It is one of the fronts. There are other, larger battle zones accessible to the public (like Facebook), but Twitter played a significant role in this election and it is something I have chosen to focus on. My thinking, post-election, is that we can’t just allow the bad guys to occupy all the Image result for twitter logosocial media space without a fight. And tweeting is relatively easy. You can do it anywhere, anytime. All you need to do is adapt to the medium, supply good information and argumentation—and develop thick skin.

Let’s review: Trump’s use of Twitter proved effective in two ways. He used it to bring in followers with whom he could communicate directly—and pass on lies and conspiracies and propaganda—who would then retweet his messages to others, amplifying those messages and attracting more like-minded people. And, more important, he used it as a way to get the media to amplify and replicate his messages and present them to an even broader audience, some of whom were then attracted to Trump’s blustering persona and his dark world view and became a part of his loyal following. Think of Trump’s tweets as 140-character rallies. He used his Twitter account much like he used his numerous rallies: to attract adoring fans who would praise him, to give those fans lots of rancid red meat, and then to get out of the way and allow television do the rest. Facts were never a part of the formula, which leads me to my main point.

We all know the old, old saying, “Facts are stubborn things.” But, really, they aren’t stubborn at all. They are easily pushed out of the way, as this past election demonstrated rather painfully. Facts are only as stubborn as the people who value and use them—people like us. It is we who must be tireless in defending and wielding the facts, who must obstinately maintain their place in our discourse. If we give up, if we refuse to engage others with the facts wherever they might be, then ignorance and bigotry will certainly win. Because the truth is that ignorance and bigotry and tribalism really are stubborn things. They tend to be default positions.

Thus, I think we, those of us who want to see more of a fact-loving, inclusive electorate than we saw this cycle, ought to get on social media platforms—my personal emphasis is on Twitter, but Facebook and other forms need us too—and engage those who are spreading misinformation and falsehoods and propaganda. This past summer, Clive Irving, writing for The Daily Beast, argued that “Trump is never going to be the monster that Hitler was,” but, rather, Trump is more like Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi’s Reich Minister of Propaganda:

Had Goebbels been around today he would probably be the master player of the media—of any or all media. He would have grasped and exploited the ubiquity of social media. He would have relished the random distribution of defamatory vitriol via Image result for joseph goebbelsTwitter. In fact, few people have ever understood the technique of selective messaging better.

Goebbels was Hitler’s indispensable genius of spin. Long before the Nazis came to power, Goebbels understood what had to be done to gain that power. Fundamentally the German public needed to be made to happily acquiesce in the idea that the nation needed a demagogue to right its grievances.

It was Goebbels who proved that if falsehoods were repeated often enough they became, in the minds of the ignorant and aggrieved, facts.

I don’t think for a minute that Trump is smart enough to pull this off alone. But media made him who he is, and with a cadre of other liars and deceivers to help him, along with too many profit-chasing news outlets, it does seem we are now experiencing something that looks a lot like a Goebbels strategy. I have called it quasi-fascism. And that is why we must fight falsehoods everywhere they appear. And “everywhere” especially includes social media, since those are home bases for Trump and his followers.

As I have said before, we shouldn’t be under any illusions. Changing minds is difficult, mostly impossible. There are incorrigible assholes and trolls and fake accounts all over the place. But Twitter and Facebook and other platforms are networks that connect all kinds of people. Some of them are without a doubt hardcore haters and fanatics who are beyond rational redemption. Others, though, are only passive participants in the back-and-forth, and if these relatively passive people are only half convinced on one topic or another, seeing a determined person on our side might keep them from turning to the dark side. At the very least they will know there is an aggressive defense to be made against certain assertions, and they may think twice before they pass on falsehoods as “facts.”

And the good people who fear the dark side, but don’t feel confident or competent enough to get in the fight against it, need to know, if only for their psychological well-being, that there are determined people out there willing to fight against ignorance and stupidity and bigotry on all fronts, so that a Goebbels strategy doesn’t become normalized, and successful, in any large-scale way. We are dangerously close to that happening, in my opinion. If we don’t stubbornly defend and advance fact-based information, then falsehoods will become facts “in the minds of the ignorant and aggrieved.”

Finally, like the Internet at large, there is a lot of useful information available on Twitter and other platforms. It’s not all a fact-free sewer. Twitter especially can be a good way to follow what is going on in the country and the world, if you follow the right people. A lot of world-class journalists, literally from all over the world, are on Twitter and offer some valuable insight on whatever is breaking, or whatever has broken. There are, too, a lot of smart people, including academics, sharing pithy commentary and analysis, as well as graphs and charts, etc. These folks need our encouragement. If you look at the nasty responses they often get, you can see why it is important that our side is there to back them up and help shout down the shouters and, if necessary, bully the bullies. We can’t just let the trolls, the misinformed, and the misinformers dominate useful, often mind-expanding, platforms.

For all these reasons, while I share your “ugh”and fear the possibility of Trump “dragging us down to his level,” I think it is necessary for the triumph of good that bad folks pushing bad information be confronted, on Twitter and elsewhere. And even if the good does not ultimately triumph, at least we will know that we did all we could, that we fought the good fight.

 

Watch This.

Fighting Back

In order to preserve and protect a long-living, thriving democracy, citizens need to do some basic philosophical thinking. It’s simpler than you might imagine, but not so simple tImage result for PHILOSOPHYhat people do it well, or often. But it is an essential part of a continued effort to improve our democratic civilization, which can, if we allow it to happen, regress and possibly devolve into something disabling, beyond healing.

Philosophers often start by defining terms. So, let me start by defining philosophy. The best, most concise definition I ever read was this: Philosophy is the critical evaluation of the facts of experience. When you strip away all the fancy talk and fancy philosophers, it’s pretty much that simple. But how many people actually practice such basic philosophy, which is necessary to keep our long but always-endangered democratic experiment going? How many actually evaluate, critically, the facts of their experience? As November 8 taught us, not enough.

And that is, first, where journalism comes in. Despite an ever increasing distrust of the media complex, and despite an ever increasing turn to other forms of information gathering and sharing, it still remains the job of journalists to help people, often busy people with little time for in-depth analysis, to evaluate what is going on in the world. Journalists can and should counter all the fake and propagandistic news out there not just with genuine fact-heavy news, but with genuine fact-heavy news that contains within it some basic interpretations of those facts. It is necessary to interpret elements of the news because people otherwise might misinterpret them out of ignorance or, more likely, confirmation bias. If journalists don’t do this basic analysis, albeit do it very carefully, they are simply stenographers who wasted all their time in college getting an education and are not serving the public good.

Image result for alex jonesAs we all know, Trump believes in ridiculous conspiracies. He counted conspiracy nutjob Alex Jones as a friend of his campaign and now counts him as a friend of his presidency to come. Jones, a radio man who runs a fake-news website called Infowars, thinks those six-year-old kids killed at Sandy Hook were just part of a grand hoax. He thinks the moon landings were faked. He thinks 9/11 was an “inside job.” You get the idea. He’s nuts. But Trump contacted him after the election to thank his twisted listeners “for standing up for this Republic.” We’ve never had a president intellectually dull enough to both believe an extremist like Alex Jones is reasonable and believe it is okay to let us all know he thinks an extremist like Alex Jones is reasonable. It’s a different world now, and the rules for covering Trump, and the strange movement he has inspired, have to change.

A good start appears to be what the Associated Press—which didn’t exactly shine during the election season—is doing. John Daniszewski, Vice President of Standards for the AP, seems to have at least learned something. In a recent article addressed to his journalists (“Writing about the ‘alt-right’”), he wrote:

“ARelated imagelt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the “self-described” or “so-called alt-right” in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.

Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.

He tells reporters writing stories involving the “alt-right” that they should define the term either as,

“an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or, more simply, “a white nationalist movement.”

Daniszewski ends his message to his reporters this way:

Finally, when writing on extreme groups, be precise and provide evidence to support the characterization.

We should not limit ourselves to letting such groups define themselves, and instead should report their actions, associations, history and positions to reveal their actual beliefs and philosophy, as well as how others see them.

This is refreshing and it appears to be catching on. Perhaps it represents the beginning of a necessary adjustment on the part of the press, in response to some of the extremists Trump has emboldened, not to mention one he has promoted to be his chief strategist in the White’s House. But that’s not all the adjustment needed. Trump, in addition to being a sucker for conspiracies and a rewarder of those who will praise him, also has a problem
telling the truth. He has no respect for it. He will say anything that he thinks serves his interests at the time, even if it is clearly, provably adonald-fantasies lie. And journalists must change their reporting and writing approach in order to confront this weird reality, which is unlike anything they have ever covered or we have ever seen.

A recent example of what that change should look like is in how some, but not all, outlets came to characterize, in the headlines of their stories, Trump’s ridiculous claim (promoted by, who else, Alex Jones on Infowars) that millions of illegal votes kept him from winning the popular vote. Needless to say—but say it we all should as often as it takes—the claim is false. A few headline writers got it right the first time, but some, like Politico, initially just framed it, “Trump claims millions voted illegally.” Later, after much outrage online and in social media, the word “falsely” appeared in front of “claims.” The initial non-interpretative headline represents Before Trump journalism. The last interpretative headline represents After Trump journalism. This is 2016 A.T. and journalists need to appropriately adjust to the new calendar, especially headline writers and those who post story alerts on social media. Many Americans only skim the headlines of some major stories and those headlines should convey as much truth as possible.

But it’s not enough for journalists to change. We, as ordinary citizens, have to change too. We can’t assume that all or most of our family members, friends, neighbors, colleagues, or the people we run into online or elsewhere, are navigating through these times in boats of rationality. Some of them don’t have such a boat, or haven’t bothered to move their boat from the dock. Some have a leaky boat. We have to figure out who is who and figure out how to talk to them, how to reason with them, how to counter the misinformation some of civilization-needs-youthem hold in their heads—or promote on their Facebook page—as truth. That all might sound arrogant and condescending, but it is absolutely necessary in these times.

During personal encounters that involve the mention of politics or policy, or on Facebook and Twitter and other platforms where such is discussed, we have to now become tireless purveyors of facts and good analysis, as well as shoot down every piece of propaganda or string of falsehoods we see. We have to become soldiers. We can’t just expect journalists to do all the work. Many of them will simply not do it or will fall short—and we have to let them know when they fail—and the good ones who will do it right can’t make a difference if their good work is not amplified by us. We must become good journalism’s megaphone.

We, as citizens protecting and attempting to advance our civilization, have to get in the fight ourselves and do our part. And for most of us, doing our part these days means cleaning up messes that are often first made on the Internet. We can talk to people. We can respond to blogs or begin our own. We can comment on stories on news sites. We can post and counter-post on social media. Like it or not, that’s where a lot of folks get their information about the world, and we have to be there to make sure they are getting good information, first—and this is essential—by getting good information ourselves, and then passing it on.

This aggressive posture will not often bear fruit. Most people, we have to understand from the start, will not change their minds in response to the facts or to basic, common-sense analysis. They seek out and listen only to bias-confirming sources and opinion. But we have to keep going, have to keep at it. Some will be open to change, especially as time goes by and Trump’s potential decisions become real ones. The landscape will look different when he is actually responsible for governing, and some people will then be willing to listen, willing to reevaluate, especially as he disappoints them by not getting done what he promised or doing exactly the opposite of what he promised. That is why we have to keep up with and address what Trump is actually doing, as opposed to only calling out how scary a person he is as he is doing it.

john-saul-quoteAnd we must also understand that this aggressive posture in cyberspace and elsewhere will cause us all some problems, lose us some “friends.” But picking any side in a fight loses you something. And not choosing to fight may cause us to lose a firm and rational grip on the best thing human beings have ever created: democratic civilization and democratic civilization. We will, if Trump doesn’t get us all killed, hand our children and grandchildren something when this is all over, and I at least want to say I fought like hell to hand them something they will be proud of.

Remarks And Asides, Trump Edition #1

A headline read: “Obama Rushes To Trump-proof America’s Natural Resources.” Sorry. But there ain’t no Trump-proofing anything. America’s natural resources, along with its unnatural ones, are at the mercy of a lying, bigoted conspiracy kook whose impulses are as predictable as they are uncontrollable. Many of us are scared. And we should be. Trump clearly has a head full of personality disorders and he, and those who will actually run the government on his behalf, will muck up the country, and the world, in big ways and small ways. Count on it.

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Trump’s cabinet picks so far are, as expected, terrifying. That’s largely because the people making the picks are terrifying. And as if to terrify us even more, the AP published a story that began, “Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says President elect-Donald Trump offered him the job of education secretary, but that he turned it down for personal reasons.” We were that close to seeing those of us who believe in a federal role in education say we no longer believe in a federal role in education (that conclusion will likely Image result for jerry falwell jrcome anyway, with Trump’s selection of a voucher-crazed activist).

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Jerry Junior’s “personal reasons” for turning down the education job, I suspect, had to do with the fact that poisoning the minds of students at Liberty University pays much better than theocratizing the Department of Education in the name of Jesus. Or maybe there’s a personal scandal or three he doesn’t want uncovered via the confirmation process. God only knows why Falwell said no and God ain’t talking because He is busy getting His post-election affairs in order. Yes. Even God is scared Trump will kill us all. Or make us wish we were dead.

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Image result for pat robertson praying hurricane awaySpeaking of creepy right-wing evangelicals, no word in yet on whether Trump will pick the Reverend Pat Robertson to run the National Weather Service, since he believes he can pray away hurricanes. Trump needs to keep those big storms away from his golf courses by the sea so all the little guys who believe in him and his phony populism can go out and fork over $100,000 for memberships and pay $13,000 fees every year (Mar-a-Lago, anyone?). I bet the folks from rural Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania will get a special discount, no? Uh, no.

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A distracted Trump (there isn’t any other kind) has tweeted like his madman self about the vote recount efforts initiated by Jill Stein and then joined by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Trump’s pissed that someone doesn’t respect his awesome I-won-even-though-I-lost achievement. Pissing off Donald Trump, as someone said, is a damned good reason for recounting the ballots, even if it doesn’t change a thing. The bad part is that the disgraceful Stein stays in the news for fifteen more minutes.

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Speaking of a pissed Trump, he can’t stand it that 54% of voters actually rejected His Orangeness. So, out from his tiny tweeting fingers came the goofy conspiracy theory that “millions” of people voted illegally. And out came the media simply reporting what Trump said, instead of pointing out how false it was. The good news is that after some social media scolding, several outlets began to get the headlines right. Politico went from “Trump claims millions voted illegally” to “Trump falsely claims millions voted illegally.” Hooray for small victories.

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Speaking of the press generally, will it become a habit to call out Trump’s lies, especially in headlines that low-information people scan for their news? Don’t count on it. Access is at stake. Journalists, and their bo$$es, want access to the carnival barker and his gallery of deplorables. And in the new America Trump is creating, access will be denied to reporters and outlets armed with facts and a willingness to openly display them. But good reporters, especially good print reporters, can do their jobs without compromising, without rounding off the sharp corners of the mendacious, scandal-generating administration to come. Let’s hope there are enough of them out there. They need our encouragement. Join Twitter, where a lot of them congregate, and give them some love. They do pay attention.

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post-election-hillarySpeaking of paying attention, I am bleeping sick of people, especially people on the far left, criticizing Democrats for choosing Hillary Clinton in the primary process. “You should have picked a better candidate,” they shout on Facebook or Twitter or elsewhere. Oh, okay. She bested Bernie by almost 4 million votes. And she has, as I write, more than a 2.2 million vote lead on the double-chinned Cheeto-in-chief to be. Her total is only going to go up. And she will end up receiving the most votes of any presidential candidate in American history who is not named Barack Obama. It’s not the fault of Hillary, or the Democrats who nominated her, that our Founders—democracy-distrusting white men of privilege who have been dead for a couple of centuries—are still protecting white male privilege via the Electoral College system. So, all you lefties out there, especially those who voted for Stein or didn’t vote, STFU and pay attention. You are part of the problem.

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Reportedly, Trump isn’t much interested in getting intelligence briefings. He’s only had two since he won the election by losing the popular vote on November 8. But Kelly the Image result for kellyanne conwayCon, his spokesperson, assures us he is getting his double naught spy knowledge “from a number of sources.” She didn’t say who was translating the Russian.

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Speaking of Kelly the Con, she is working feverishly to keep Mittens out of Trump’s cabinet. She says there is a lot of “backlash from the grass-roots,” adding, “You have people saying, ‘Hey, my parents died penniless but I gave $216 to Donald Trump’s campaign and I would feel betrayed.’” People stupid enough to send $216 to Trump deserve a dope-slapping betrayal. If nothing else, it will help prepare them for the beatings to come.

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Meanwhile, many people are saying that Trump is just using the will-he-or-won’t-he theatrics of the Romney-for-secretary-of-state story to humiliate Mittens. Huh? Pulling that off would require at least average intelligence. Failing that test, Trump, therefore, is not trying to humiliate Romney even though that might be the end result. What we have is a clumsy effort to appear magnanimous, sponsored by Mike Pence, who will essentially become Trump’s Beltway Brain for four years, or however long Trump can stand pretending he gives a crap about former coal miners with opioid addictions.

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Image result for castroOh, Castro died. And Marco Rubio, who hopes to be president in 2021, tweeted:  “History will remember Fidel Castro as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery & suffering on his own people.” That statement is pretty clear. What isn’t clear is whether Rubio would have urged the Cuban people to prefer him over, say, Hillary Clinton, if she had been his political opponent. Any bets?

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Speaking of Rubio, the man who told us Trump was a dangerous con man was also critical of the Prime Minister of Canada for issuing a condolence statement that chose to ignore Castro’s worst behavior. It was “shameful & embarrassing,” said Rubio, who also attacked President Obama’s “pathetic statement” on Castro’s death because he didn’t mention the bad stuff. Apparently, only Trump-endorsing Republicans are entitled to overlook the bad stuff. “Viva Donald!”

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Image result for putinBecause Trump doesn’t give a damn about actually doing the job, a great race—which will be covered breathlessly and shamelessly by cable TV news—is shaping up for ultimate control of the Trump administration. The early money is on Mike Pence, who, as Trump’s Beltway Brain, appears set to be our domestic president. But don’t count out our foreign policy president-elect, Vladimir Putin. Rumor has it he is only one or two enrich-Trump’s-kids business deals away from having it all. Будьте на связи.

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For a bonus, I am offering you a look at a tongue-talking Man of God who believes that since Jezebel-Hillary has been vanquished, “Revival’s on the way!” Shababbabbba! It should comfort us to know that while Trump and his kids are preying on us, this man is praying for us. This is Trump’s America:

The Porch Swing

It’s only been ten days. And it may be worse than we imagined.

In the meantime, a personal story:

Like the fall season this year, the fall of 1963 was a time of unthinkable, unspeakable misfortune, as well as a time of natural death. I was five years old. John F. Kennedy—my mom idolized him—was killed in November.  C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer I would later come to admire as a young evangelical, died on the same day Kennedy was shot. So did Aldous Huxley, whose Brave New World introduced many Americans, in 1932, to a fictional dystopia—and as we witness the creation of the Trump administration here in 2016, we can see that what is coming may be no dystopian fantasy. It could be all too real.

The fall of 1963 also saw the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, president of the Republic of (South) Vietnam. The United States government had apparently sought the overthrow of Diem and not his murder, but his death—the killers cut out his gallbladder while he was still alive—would nevertheless lead to greater instability and chaos, which meant greater American involvement in a war in Vietnam that would ultimately cost more than 58,000 American soldiers their lives and would lead to a profound lack of trust in the integrity of our government and the basic honesty of our leaders. That war, the first to be brought into our living rooms by way of television, also demonstrated just how powerful broadcast journalism could be, for good and, as this past election cycle demonstrated, for ill. Thus, one can plausibly argue that the televised Vietnam War, and the cultural cynicism it fathered, helped bring us what we see today in Trump and the deviance and decline he represents.

As remarkable as the deaths and events late in 1963 were, they did not much concern me, a five-year-old boy living in Kansas, in a little town called Fort Scott. Something much more important happened in my life that year, something that changed my world forever. On December 5, Louis Edward Lowry passed away. He was my grandpa. Everyone I knew called him “Pop.”

My mother and father both worked. My dad was a union cloth cutter who commuted to a coat factory twenty miles from home. My mother worked at a “dime store” downtown. Thus, most working mornings I was put in the hands of Pop, my grandmother having passed away a few years earlier. His tiny, fatigued frame house, at 1835 East Oak, was only two long blocks from mine, just up the hill on the edge of the city limits. He had a few cows and some chickens and the smartest dog you ever saw, named Tippy. Pop would always cook me a nice breakfast and lunch, and throughout the day I would drink the coldest and tastiest water in the world from an old tin dipper he had hanging in the kitchen. I can still see the patina and dents. I just wish I could taste the water again.

Pop, who was born in 1888, had once been something of a pool hall hustler. According to family legend, his cue skills were unmatched by the locals. He was really good. There is little doubt that his gambling helped his large family—he had 10 kids—through some tough times. As did his craps shooting. My dad wouldn’t play with him because Pop had a bad habit of taking his money.

popThose things about Pop I didn’t know until later. The Pop I knew at five was a devout believer, a man of God. He prayed a lot. I remember my mom telling the story of how he once prayed a burned-out light bulb back to life. I heard other stories like that. And I believed them. My grandpa was larger than life to me.

Next to his house, just down a small hill, was an empty lot Pop used for planting. I’m sure he grew a lot of things, but I just remember the corn. And I remember the corn because it is tied to the oldest, perhaps most disturbing, memory I have.

After breakfast that December day, Pop and I, with Tippy following, went down the hill to his dried-up garden to get some corn stalks for the cows. We walked back up to the house and around toward the back, past the primitive chicken coop, to where an old wire fence barely kept the cows contained. Just before getting to the pen, Pop turned around toward me and told me that we had dropped some of the stalks and I needed to go back and get them. I looked back and, sure enough, there was one or two dried-up corn stalks on the old narrow sidewalk in front of the house. Right in plain sight.

I obeyed. I got the stalks. When I came back, Pop was flat on the ground, face down. His head had landed such that it was just underneath the old, curled-up wire fencing. One of the cows was licking through Pop’s white hair. I shooed it away again and again, as I tried to wake up my grandpa. But he wasn’t moving. I began to get scared.

On the front porch was an old swing that Pop and I sat on together. That was to be my refuge for I don’t know how long. I sat on that porch swing and rocked. And rocked. And rocked. I didn’t know what had happened. I knew nothing at all about death, about how people die and what that might look like, what it might feel like. I just knew I was frightened and confused—and very much alone.

It happened that my uncle, one of Pop’s boys, pulled up in the driveway. I don’t know why Johnny showed up when he did or why he was there. And I don’t know how long I had been alone on that swing. But I do know I was glad to see someone, anyone. Uncle Johnny got out of his old car and began to gesture toward where Pop was, shouting at me about leaving my winter coat out like that. He had not noticed that the dark heap he saw out by the cows was not my coat. I told him. It’s Pop. And from there, I don’t remember anything that happened, except the arrival of a large black car, men whispering and women crying, my heartbroken mother among them.

Did my grandfather know he was going to die? Did he send me away so I wouldn’t see the moment he was to fall, in an attempt to shield me from something little boys shouldn’t witness? I used to think so. As I was growing up, I used to think that Pop had a special kind of relationship with God, one that involved the two of them speaking back and forth, one that enabled Pop to hide his moment of death from me. Now, I just don’t know and can’t know.

What I do know is how hard that little boy, rocking on that porch swing, tried to cope with all the fear and confusion. How hard he tried, in the only way he knew how, to deal with something he had never seen, something beyond his control. Pop just would not wake up. He never would. I would never see him again. Tippy, who never left Pop’s side, who would bow his head as Pop said grace, would soon wander off and get killed by a car on the highway leading out of town. All that is tough stuff for a little boy. It is tough stuff for grownups, too.

As I sit here, ten days removed from that devastating election, I think about that little boy on his grandpa’s porch swing. I think about how he felt. About how little he knew of the world, how it works and how it doesn’t, how things live and how they die. Part of me wants to reach back in time and tell him to never leave that swing. To just keep rocking. Because too often there is little comfort in the truth, in facing reality. Once you leave that swing, you never know what might happen, what you might find out. Stay put.

But another part of me is wiser. We can’t just sit. We can’t just ignore what is happening simply because it is too terrible to contemplate. We have to get up and do something. Dystopia will certainly come if we don’t. It may even come if we do. After all, societies, like grandfathers, don’t live forever. But even if our cultural demise is inevitable, we can at least try to push back the date. Yes, the election of Trump is a significant sign of American decline. And it is likely there is more decline ahead. But what real choice is there but to fight?

How to fight is what I am now trying to figure out.

 

Always Winter, Never Christmas

Image result for the white witch

I have been unable to clearly think through all the possibilities, or impossibilities, of a Trump presidency. Honestly, it has been much too terrifying to contemplate, to imagine. I just can’t do it. Maybe later.

Right now, what I have mostly is a feeling.

In C. S. Lewis’s fairy tale, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, the White Witch put a spell on Narnia: there would always be winter and never Christmas. Nothing to look forward to except more bone-chilling cold. That’s what this world with President-elect Trump in it feels like to me. A chilling winter with no end in sight. And this paralyzing season doesn’t come with a blanket of beautiful, stunningly white, fresh-fallen snow. The snow I see piled up everywhere is spoiled and dirty and unsightly. Kids can’t play in it. Thoughtful grownups can’t look on it without dread. And fear. Fear that it will never melt, never go away, that a thaw is not in sight. It appears that no amount of low-heat light from a low-sky sun, no flip of a cosmic calendar, no miraculous forecast, can deliver us from this Narnian nightmare.

For some of us of advanced or advancing age, we may never again awake with this nightmare behind us, forgotten with the newness of another day. Four years, we might tell ourselves. Four years isn’t that long. “We can and will survive his term,” we might be tempted to whisper as therapy for our pain. But it isn’t just four years. Or eight years. It’s a generation of a Supreme Court lost to the forces of reaction. It’s a generation or two of young Americans who will face the consequences of doing nothing about a warming planet. And it is the lingering doubts about our democracy. That it is on the brink of a breakdown. That, paradoxically, it may be too late to save it from its own hands.

How fascinatingly ironic it is that it was the Founder’s fear of the ignorant and noisy rabble—a fear that fathered a system in which the popular-vote winner doesn’t win— that will now ensure that the ignorant and noisy rabble will rule. The Electoral College, which was designed to subdue the will of hot-blooded people and cool the nation’s temperature, will soon bless what feels like a perpetual chill. When it votes in December, the Electoral College will in effect become Trump University. It will be perpetrating a democratic fraud by making him president, so he can go on perpetrating his own fraud and enriching himself from the White’s House.

But the Electoral College-turned-Trump University actions next month will do more than make a bloated and bigoted grifter our leader, a leader who, as we can already see, will bring with him to Washington hearts and souls like his own. The electors empowered to vote will memorialize a sad and disturbing truth about us as a people: too many Americans are in love with their prejudices and pale-faced pride. And now they have a champion willing to make them feel at home, feel like they have retaken once-lost ground. And that national fact about some Americans makes too many other Americans, the majority who actually voted for Hillary Clinton, dangerously suspicious of a system that allows a minority of Americans to plunge us into a melancholic wintertide. If that suspicion turns into an incurable cynicism, we are truly doomed.

We now know that a great number of our fellow citizens have a very different understanding of citizenship, a very different set of political and moral values. That’s why it feels so much like a winter without Christmas, a winter without the hope of spring. Trump and Trumpism represent an open rebellion against, a repudiation of, what we thought were unimpeachable American values, what we thought was a universal thirst for equality, a collective hunger for tolerance, and a welcoming spirit. A summer of American progress now seems like a distant memory, or a good dream that has evaporated with eye-opening reality.

All of this brings on a dilemma, as most crises do. For those of us who see Trump for who he is and see his voters as either fools or willing participants in his pageantry of bigotry and hate, what are we to do? Can we tolerate and welcome Trump and his voters in a spirit of reconciliation? I have heard many voices this week try to articulate a need for us all to make peace with each other and move on. The peaceful transfer of power is the one American value we can all agree on, these earnest and hopeful people, including President Obama, tell us.

Well, sure. Peace must rule or ruin will certainly come. But there will be no reconciliation. At least as far as I’m concerned. It is one thing to be friendly toward and tolerant of people who don’t share your politics or your political solutions to the country’s problems. And it is one thing to break bread with people who have different religious views from yours. Or who don’t like your favorite sports team. Or who hate your kind of music. Of course we should make an effort to understand and appreciate all kinds of people who don’t share our religion or our politics or our likes and dislikes.

But it is quite another thing to pretend that our friends or family or neighbors or coworkers who posted or promoted hate-filled bigotry during this election cycle—and there was a lot of it on Facebook and beyond—are people with whom reconciliation is possible. No, no, no. As strange as it sounds to say, there is no tolerating the intolerable. There is no welcoming those who want to tear down an inclusive America, who don’t value diversity. There is no welcoming those who are willing to reject learning and knowledge and science in favor of ancient pride and prejudices. There is no embracing the unembraceable. Hugs won’t fix the divide between those who think Trump is a national savior and those who believe that if he is the savior then the nation is not worth saving.

Trump does not deserve my respect. He did not respect President Obama. He bullied his way into the electorate with racist attacks on Obama’s citizenship. He didn’t respect the job of president enough to learn anything about it or the world. He literally trashed the process and anything or anyone who got in his way. He said he would jail his opponent. He invited in the Russians to sabotage her chances.

And Trump voters do not deserve my respect. By electing him they did not respect our national values and appreciate the beauty and power of a nation of immigrants. Many of them were cheerleaders for his ignorance, for his racism, for his verbal and predatory misogyny. Others had a cultish attachment to him. Still others saw him as a way to blow up a system that so many people depend on.

And Republican Party leaders do not deserve my respect. They sabotaged Obama’s presidency from start to finish. They made the government dysfunctional and then capitalized on the dysfunction by lying to the electorate. They erected barriers to voting for too many young voters and voters of color. They failed to appreciate the fragility of a nation built on an idea, an idea that has evolved over time to now include “all people” under “all men are created equal.”

Finally, there are those who didn’t attempt to vote and those left-wingers who voted for a third party. In some ways these people deserve even more scorn than Trump voters. To purposely not participate, when an authoritarian-talking, vengeful, disordered monster was on the ballot, is unforgivable. For them to say they thought Trump could never win, or to say that there were no good choices, or that they were too busy working, is no excuse. At least Trump voters had the virtue of actually fighting for something, albeit a horrible something. There is no virtue in apathy.

And for those on the left who did see the danger of Trump but failed to distinguish that danger from their hatred of Hillary Clinton and who then voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson, they may be the worst of all. My contempt for these people is probably deeper because I am closer to them in their vision for the country. We share many ideas and many policy prescriptions. That’s what makes their behavior so disgusting. They knew Trump’s presidency will end up hurting vulnerable people. But they didn’t really give a damn. Some of them openly rooted for a Trump victory, so the country could hit bottom, so then a bottom-feeding electorate would turn to the left for its next meal. Well, to hell with these people. Their temperament and tactics are no better than the Trumpers.

So, there you have it. My feelings four days into our new cold world. None of the people above deserves my respect. And they will not get it. All they will get is a promise of peace, as I find a way to make it through this long winter and, in some way, break the spell of the White Witch.

“You Can’t Be Forever Blessed”

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
I’m just weary to my bones
Still, you don’t expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
For we’ve lived so well so long
Still, when I think of the road
We’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying
And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
And looking back down at me
Smiled reassuringly
And I dreamed I was flying
And high above my eyes could clearly see
The Statue of Liberty
Sailing away to sea
And I dreamed I was flying

Oh, we come on the ship they call the Mayflower
We come on the ship that sailed the moon
We come in the age’s most uncertain hour
And sing an American tune
Oh, but it’s all right, it’s all right
It’s all right, it’s all right
You can’t be forever blessed
Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
And I’m trying to get some rest
That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

© 1973 Words and Music by Paul Simon

It’s Cancer.

The doctor, armed with our election test results, just told us what somehow we already knew: America has cancer. Stage 4.

Let us hope that our radiation therapy doesn’t come in the form of a nuclear holocaust.

In the meantime, goodbye.

America’s Bone Marrow Biopsy

Even though I don’t want to, every year I have to see my doctor. He won’t continue my prescriptions if I don’t, so I go. And every time I go he tells me I need to have “blood work” done. “You’re at the age now where we need to take a look,” he says. But I refuse. I just won’t submit to the tests. Why? Because I am one of those people who worry about what the results might be. I worry that the tests might show something is going on inside me that would scare me to death. How did I get to this ridiculous point? Let me explain.

Around 25 years ago I had an illness—some kind of severe blood infection—that resulted in a four-day hospital stay. My doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. He eventually came in one day and said, “I think you may have leukemia.” Huh? Leukemia? Me? He said he wanted to do something called a bone marrow biopsy to see what was going on. I easily consented. It hurt, but I was so sick I didn’t care.

I was released from the hospital to await the results of the bone marrow test. It took a week. In the meantime I thought I was doomed. I read all I could about leukemia. It appeared I had all the symptoms. Yes, I was definitely doomed. I worried and worried and worried, and the worry and stress damaged by digestion. I was nauseated most of the time. Something was wrong and leukemia seemed like the culprit. No doubt about it, I thought.

When I finally got the news that I actually didn’t have cancer, I was absolutely relieved. But the way the doctor delivered the news unnerved me. He said something to the effect, “You don’t have it right now.” He was, I suppose, only making a weirdly placed technical point, but it planted a terrible thought in me. Even though I eventually got myself back to where I had been physically, the psychological damage was done. I knew eventually that something would get me. I had only dodged the bullet this time. If it wasn’t leukemia, it would be something else. No more tests for me, as foolish a notion as that is.

This election, it turns out, is a bone marrow biopsy on America. And like before, I am scared. But this time I fear for our country. What is going on in our national bones? In a bone marrow test the idea is to find out whether your bone marrow is producing healthy Image result for bone marrowblood cells, or whether you have some kind of disease like cancer. This election will ultimately decide whether the obvious infection coursing through our democratic blood—Donald Trump and the alt-right racists and xenophobes and conspiracy nuts he has attracted and normalized—is actually cancer or whether it is something less severe, but still troubling, still able to negatively affect our quality of life as Americans.

No matter who wins on Tuesday, America—understood as one nation united under certain political and moral assumptions—is sick. And we cannot blame our sickness only on Donald Trump. The pathology he represents has been with us since our founding. It afflicts every self-governing civilization to some degree or another. In modern times, America’s democratic immune system has mostly been strong enough nationally to fight demagoguery, bigotry, xenophobia, and other forms of blood- and marrow-fouling hate. In the past we have been strong enough to reject malignant figures like Trump, who has cheated his way through life, molesting women, workers, and the truth.

But there are signs our immune system is weakening. We have symptoms of something terrible going on inside us.

Our FBI director inserted himself, and his agency, into the electoral process ten days ago. James Comey helped Donald Trump and the Republicans, whether he meant to or whether he was merely covering his own behind or whether he was “extremely carelessImage result for james comeyin his handling of the email investigation. He, and the rogue agents inside the bureau who have been leaking damaging (and unsubstantiated, if not false) information about Clinton, have sullied the reputation of an agency we all need to trust, at least as far as elections go. Millions and millions of Americans voted between the time Comey first suggested there was election-affecting significance in a trove of emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop and Comey’s subsequent letter on Sunday saying, essentially, “never mind.” All of that unnecessary and damaging institutional interference is a bad sign of something within America going wrong, but it is not the worst sign.

Generally, the behavior of our political press, which in theory is supposed to protect our democracy from demagogues and dangerous authoritarians, is a more ominous sign that we are in deeper trouble than we might care to admit. In this election cycle, political journalism has ingloriously failed to protect us from a quasi-fascist. Trump can win on Tuesday. That fact itself is enough to cause us to worry that something is terribly wrong with contemporary profit-based journalism and the democracy it helps to preserve, even though there have been several reporting heroes out there like Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald and The Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.

Another worrying fact is that, judging by results, campaign reporters have managed to make Hillary Clinton more untrustworthy to voters than a deluded pathological liar. Focusing on her email controversy (which is, and always has been, a whole lot of nothing) and using Russian-supplied stolen material, they have virtually convicted her of high crimes and misdemeanors—or simply made her appear sneaky and sleazy. The effect has been that large numbers of voters believe that both Clinton and Trump—who is clearly a stranger to facts and a friend of fraud—are equally unworthy to hold office. During the election coverage, Donald Trump’s outrageous and dangerous displays of unhinged behavior faded with every news cycle, but Hillary’s emails, no matter how trivial they were, never went away.

These journalists, taken as a whole, have managed to make a self-admitted adulterer and sexual predator—with many accusers courageously coming forth to confirm Trump’s predation prowess—morally equal to someone whose husband has cheated on her and who is made to pay for his sins—or in the case of the Comey intervention, pay for the sins of Anthony Weiner. Additionally, television journalists and their producers have particularly ignored nearly every substantive issue, which has benefited a policy-stupid Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, who knows more about domestic and foreign policy than perhaps any candidate in modern times.

Polling and the click- and ratings-increasing melodrama it creates has dominated the campaign coverage, while one researcher found that only 32 minutes of air time on the big three nightly news casts this entire year have been devoted to matters of substance—and 24 of those minutes were spent on terrorism and Middle East issues. “No trade, no healthcare, no climate change, no drugs, no poverty, no guns, no infrastructure, no deficits,” the Tyndall Report says. Most Americans, those who get their news from television anyway, don’t have the slightest idea that Trump’s policy ideas are ridiculous and ridiculously unrealistic, or that Hillary Clinton’s are as comprehensive as you are ever likely to see from a presidential candidate. Yes, that journalistic failure is definitely a symptom of something seriously wrong.

Wrong too is the fact that too many Americans get their news on social media platforms or self-select their news sources to avoid news they don’t want to hear. We all know how it goes: Uncle Bill posts on Facebook some propaganda from a fringe website and off it goes, selectively reproduced by those who believe it is true because it has to be true. Facebook itself is to blame for propagating a lot of misinformation, as Vox makes clear:

Facebook makes billions of editorial decisions every day. And often they are bad editorial decisions — steering people to sensational, one-sided, or just plain inaccurate stories. The fact that these decisions are being made by algorithms rather than human editors doesn’t make Facebook any less responsible for the harmful effect on its users and the broader society.

Add all that to the failure of institutions like the FBI to remain neutral in a presidential election and to the profit-obsessed political press that has too many voters confused about the quality of the candidates and we can see that the country has some troubling issues to overcome. But none of that compares to the biggest problem we have: one of our two major political parties is hopelessly disordered.

The Republican Party is the worst symptom of our national disease. It’s crotch-groping presidential candidate last night rallied with crotch-groping Ted Nugent, perhaps the most vile human being breathing American air. Earlier this year Nugent said Hillary Clinton and President Obama “should be tried for treason & hung.” He has called Clinton “a toxic cunt” and a “two-bit whore” and a “worthless bitch.”  But the Republican Party, and the Christianity for which it stands, still cannot manage to denounce Trump for embracing Nugent, an NRA board member. Sick? You betcha.

Maybe sicker is this: The GOP has in many places been at war with democracy by deliberately trying to suppress voters it perceives as political enemies. Thankfully the courts have often intervened on behalf of self-government for all, but not always and not always comprehensively. The story of Republican attempts at suppression has largely gone unreported on television news programs. It is scandalous. But it’s not something most political journalists, or their bosses, find worthy of coverage. I suppose the voter-suppression story doesn’t generate as much income as the gladiators fighting in the pit.

Then there is the fact that not only have most Republican leaders embraced Trump and Trumpism, but some Republicans in Congress are suggesting that Hillary Clinton, even if she triumphs on Tuesday and becomes our first female president, will not really be the president. She will be subjected to enhanced obstruction techniques, to endless investigations and disruptions. Republicans appear willing to waterboard her presidency before she’s even sworn in. In the Senate, some Republicans are suggesting she will never get any of her Supreme Court nominations confirmed. Ever. This is another scandal that not only reveals a nasty pathology in the veins of the Republican Party, but, again, reveals the failure of political journalism because this outrage has largely gone unreported, at least compared to poll results and email news.

Here’s the deal. We know this election season we have had problems with FBI leaks and some shoddy journalism and a grungy Republican Party. But does America really have the social equivalent of cancer? Allow me to quote from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society:

Leukemia begins in a cell in the bone marrow. The cell undergoes a change and becomes a type of leukemia cell. Once the marrow cell undergoes a leukemic change, the leukemia cells may grow and survive better than normal cells. Over time, the leukemia cells crowd out or suppress the development of normal cells. The rate at which leukemia progresses and how the cells replace the normal blood and marrow cells are different with each type of leukemia.

Is the emergence of Donald Trump and his extremist followers a sign that cancerous cells in our national bone marrow—which cells undoubtedly exist—have begun to “crowd out or suppress” normal cells? We will know the answer to that on Tuesday night. If Trump wins, we are in trouble. We will have failed the bone marrow test. The worst diagnosis will be upon us.

More likely at this point is that Trump does not win but refuses to go quietly and civilly. If that happens, we will obviously still face big trouble down the road. We will need aggressive treatment—what that entails is anybody’s guess at this point—for our pathology, and most Republicans, as noted, can’t be counted on to help, especially if they retain their command of Congress. Congressional leaders are perhaps the biggest part of the problem and will do all they can to feed the cancer, rather than eradicate it. After all, they actually need Trump’s legion of angry white voters to win future elections.

Speaking of whom, here is an entry on leukemia from the Mayo Clinic:

Leukemia usually involves the white blood cells. Your white blood cells are potent infection fighters — they normally grow and divide in an orderly way, as your body needs them. But in people with leukemia, the bone marrow produces abnormal white blood cells, which don’t function properly.

In so many ways, this election has been about “abnormal white blood cells,” angry or agitated or aggrieved white voters who find Trump appealing. As many people have pointed out by now, how ironic, if Hillary Clinton wins tomorrow, that it will be people of color who save, at least temporarily, the country from a full-blown Trumpian cancer. It will be people of color who are the “potent infection fighters.”

So, Americans are, like I was long ago, awaiting the lifestyle-changing, perhaps life-threatening, results of an important test. Whatever happens on Tuesday, America will wake up on Wednesday. We may wake up diagnosed with a severe case of national leukemia, with a President-elect Donald J. Trump.  Or we may wake up to the good news that Trump’s presidential hopes are dead. If so, we can rejoice. But we can only rejoice for a day. Trump may be dead as a potential president on Wednesday, but a leukemic Trumpism will still be very much alive in our national bone marrow and bloodstream. How much it thrives will, ultimately, be up to We The People.

Vote.

Barabbas, Trump, And The Death Of The Right-Wing Jesus

jesus-on-trump-cross

I will begin this post with a note to my religion-minded readers. I’m not opposed to religious belief. I’m not opposed to spirituality. I’m not opposed to faith in a higher power. What I am opposed to is the cult of certainty that surrounds so many religions or belief systems. I’m opposed to fundamentalism, to the kind of beliefs that lead to the beheading of infidels in Syria and to the murder of abortion providers in Kansas.

I also want to say that I’m not even opposed to belief in Jesus. Even though I am a former conservative evangelical Christian, I don’t get too worked up over anyone who still does believe, who holds on to the idea that Jesus was killed and then awakened by God as if he were merely sleeping. Such beliefs are your business, as far as I’m concerned. If they motivate you to do good, all the better. If they motivate you to put down others and condemn them, shame on you.

But because I am a former conservative evangelical Christian, because I still closely follow the Religious Right and its attempt to influence, if not control, public policy, this post is about the Jesus of the conservative evangelical movement, the Jesus who conservative Christians say we all should follow and submit to as we await his promised return. This post isn’t necessarily about your Jesus, the one you worship in your church. It is about the Jesus I grew up with, the one I worshiped as an evangelical right-winger, the one that so many prominent evangelical leaders present to us from their pulpits, or on television or through the radio or the mail or, these days, online. And that “family values” Jesus—the Jesus of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Ralph Reed, and other prominent Religious Right leaders—is at this very moment hanging on a cross, a Trump cross, being tortured to death in a way even Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ understates.

The New Testament tells us that Pontius Pilate, the governor of Roman-occupied Judea from AD 26-36, observed the alleged Jewish Passover custom of allowing the public to commute the death sentence of one prisoner held in custody. According to the biblical accounts, Pilate offered to the crowd a man named Barabbas, who was an anti-establishment revolutionary, or Jesus of Nazareth, who claimed to be the son of God. Unfortunately for Jesus, the crowd chose Barabbas. I thought about that story when I read this morning about yet another evangelical pastor who is endorsing Donald Trump. We can add Reverend Tony Suarez to a long list of evangelical Christian leaders who have chosen their Barabbas over their Jesus.

Three months ago, a prominent and influential conservative theologian, Wayne Grudem, authored a piece for Townhall called, “Why Voting for Donald Trump Is a Morally Good Choice.” Grudem’s intellectual credentials are sterling: the man graduated from Harvard (BA), Westminster Seminary-Philadelphia (MDiv. DD), and took a PhD from Cambridge (yes, that Cambridge). In his pro-Trump article, Grudem says he “has taught Christian ethics for 39 years.” In other words, he’s no Jimmy Swaggart from Ferriday, Louisiana.

Grudem told us in July that, despite Trump’s many, many flaws, voting for him “is the morally right thing to do.” Here is a stunning paragraph from a professor of conservative Christian ethics:

He is egotistical, bombastic, and brash. He often lacks nuance in his statements. Sometimes he blurts out mistaken ideas (such as bombing the families of terrorists) that he later must abandon. He insults people. He can be vindictive when people attack him. He has been slow to disown and rebuke the wrongful words and actions of some angry fringe supporters. He has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages. These are certainly flaws, but I don’t think they are disqualifying flaws in this election.

Please note something very important: Grudem categorized Trump’s infamous call for the murder—the murder—of the families of terrorists as just one of several “mistaken ideas.” To Grudem, Trump’s call for murdering innocents was not a morally disqualifying policy statement, not a terrifying glimpse into Trump’s terrifying mind, but merely a mistaken notion that can easily be overlooked because Trump abandoned it (well, no he hasn’t). If such reasoning represents Christian ethics, then there are no Christian ethics.

Grudem came to regret that article, after Trump’s “pussy” recording came out. Suddenly, our pedigreed professor of ethics found his moral footing. Writing again for Townhall, he said,

I previously called Donald Trump a “good candidate with flaws” and a “flawed candidate” but I now regret that I did not more strongly condemn his moral character. I cannot commend Trump’s moral character, and I strongly urge him to withdraw from the election.

The respected evangelical theologian said Trump’s “vulgar comments in 2005 about his sexual aggression and assaults against women were morally evil and revealed pride in conduct that violates God’s command, ‘You shall not commit adultery.'” Yes! Finally, Grudem was on an ethical roll:

I have now read transcripts of some of his obscene interviews with Howard Stern, and they turned my stomach. His conduct was hateful in God’s eyes and I urge him to repent and call out to God for forgiveness, and to seek forgiveness from those he harmed. God intends that men honor and respect women, not abuse them as sexual objects.

Amen! All was right with the world after all. A prominent Christian professor of ethics had found his way back to the ethical! Thank you, Dr. Grudem!

But wait. What? He changed his mind again? Again? Yes. A week ago. He wrote:

I overwhelmingly support Trump’s policies and believe that Clinton’s policies will seriously damage the nation, perhaps forever. On the Supreme Court, abortion, religious liberty, sexual orientation regulations, taxes, economic growth, the minimum wage, school choice, Obamacare, protection from terrorists, immigration, the military, energy, and safety in our cities, I think Trump is far better than Clinton (see below for details). Again and again, Trump supports the policies I advocated in my 2010 book Politics According to the Bible.

Without Trump repenting, without Trump calling out to God for forgiveness, without Trump seeking forgiveness from those he wronged—in fact he’s called them all liars and threatened to sue them after the election—Dr. Grudem nevertheless has, again, chosen Barabbas. And that deplorable turnabout represents the Jesus I have known all my life being nailed to a Trump cross. Such tortured reasoning by a renowned evangelical theologian represents the slow torture of the right-wing Jesus, the one shoved down our throats election after election, the one used to trash Democratic candidates and Democratic policies, the one offered as condemnation of liberalism’s alleged moral failings, or of the real moral failings of liberal candidates.

The conservative-created Jesus is up there hanging on a cross in front of Trump Tower, where so many right-wing evangelicals have gone over the past year to cast their lots with the Republican candidate. The Trump-branded Jesus of conservative evangelicalism is dying before our eyes. And no matter whether Trump wins or loses the election, that Jesus will soon be dead and buried. Like the crowd who supposedly stood before Pontius Pilate so long ago, evangelicals on the Religious Right could have chosen Trump or they could have chosen their family-values Jesus. But they couldn’t choose both. Overwhelmingly, judging by the polls, conservative evangelicals have made their choice. And this time there will be no resurrection from the dead. There will be no Easter Sunday for the Jesus of Wayne Grudem or Jerry Falwell, Jr., or Pat Robertson. And I, for one, will be glad to see that Jesus gone forever.

Who Runs The Government Matters For Reasons Other Than National Security. Here Is Just One.

Back in 1997, after the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) was signed into law by Bill Clinton, some right-wingers were placing the blame on Hillary (surprise, surprise). But by all objective accounts, Mrs. Clinton did play a significant role as First Lady in getting her husband’s administration to not only push for the bill, but stay with a more generous version of it, after House Republicans had cut down its funding (surprise, surprise). Ted Kennedy, who was the leading legislative force behind the CHIP bill, gave Hillary credit for providing “invaluable help, both in the fashioning and the shaping of the program.” 

Today, according to the government, 8.4 million kids are enrolled in CHIP, which covers children whose parents make too much money to qualify for regular Medicaid but not enough to afford private insurance. The program provides qualified kids with health coverage and their parents with, well, some peace of mind. CHIP is funded by both the states and the federal government and likely would be insuring even more kids today if George W. Bush had not vetoed an expansion of the program in 2007 (surprise, surprise). Why did he veto it? Did he hate children? Nah. The bill contained a tax increase on cigarettes to pay for the expansion and Bush told Congress that he “was willing to work with its leadership to find any additional funds necessary to put poor children first, without raising taxes.” In other words, Bush put children second and lower cigarette taxes first (surprise, surprise).

As you can theoretically see, it matters who manages the government, both in Congress and the White House. Barack Obama signed an expansion of the program in 2009, which helped more children and pregnant women. The program was renewed again in 2015 with overwhelming bipartisan support (although there was a “discussion draft” created by right-wingers that was designed to reduce the number of those covered). But it is worth noting three of the eight Republicans in the Senate who opposed that renewal in 2015Ted Cruz. Marco Rubio. Jeff Sessions. All three have a Trump connection. Cruz and Rubio infamously ran against him and more infamously support Trump despite saying horrible things about him. And Sessions was the first big-timer to legitimate Trump and has been his most prominent defender on Capitol Hill.

There were also 33 Republicans in the House who opposed the renewal of CHIP. One of them was Jim Bridenstine, who essentially represents Tulsa, Oklahoma, in Congress. Bridenstine recently blasted Speaker Paul Ryan for not supporting Trump: “If Paul Ryan isn’t for Trump,” he tweeted, “then I’m not for Paul Ryan.” Well, we all know that Trump has repeatedly and forcefully vowed to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, helps “strengthen coverage for children and financing for CHIP.” Again, it matters very much who creates legislation, votes on it, and signs it into law—or doesn’t.

In the case of CHIP, most Americans may not care about who did what and who didn’t. Most folks don’t need the program and probably don’t know anyone who does. Thus, it is an abstraction, something that doesn’t necessarily matter all that much. Sometimes, though, people need a reminder of how much programs like CHIP matter to their fellow citizens and who it was out there fighting for them. Here is one such reminder:

Margaret Sanger, American, World Hero

“We should not have Planned Parenthood exist at all, because we should have a national health care system that covers men, women, and children, where they get full options for all their health care, including reproductive.” 

—Alex Sanger, grandson of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger

Alex Sanger told Vox that he was twelve or thirteen years old when he saw his grandmother, Margaret Sanger, give her last speech in 1960. She was around 81. She “spoke for about 15 minutes about her struggles and about her vision,” he said. More Americans should know about those struggles and that vision.

You should read all of Vox’s interview of Alex Sanger to better understand how profoundly Margaret Sanger changed the world and how hard it was to do it. Along with her sister and a friend, Sanger—a hundred years ago—opened the country’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn. That eventually led to the Planned Parenthood we know today. Here’s how the organization’s official website described what the courageous women’s rights activist faced in 1916:

In Sanger’s America, women cannot vote, sign contracts, have bank accounts, or divorce abusive husbands. They cannot control the number of children they have or obtain information about birth control, because in the 1870s a series of draconian measures, called the Comstock laws, made contraception illegal and declared information about family planning and contraception “obscene.”

Her grandson added this:

I mean, she saw women on the Lower East side of New York and in Brownsville, Brooklyn who were dying from self-induced abortions because they could not have any more children. They simply couldn’t. They couldn’t cope with the children they already had. She saw rampant infant mortality; the infant mortality rate was close to 40 percent in the slums of New York, and she considered this an affront to decency and civilization.

The city of New York’s solution was to open milk stations. And her solution was birth control.

Alex Sanger also remarked on what he called the “great universal among women,” even in 1916:

they wanted to make something of their lives other than childbearing. They wanted the chance to have their children survive. They wanted the chance to be good mothers and nurture the children they had.

Those things don’t at all strike anyone as outrageous demands here in 2016. And that is the point. That they don’t sound outrageous is due to people like Margaret Sanger. And it’s too bad that many young women today don’t fully appreciate that the long struggle to nImage result for margaret sangerormalize women and empower them was directly related to getting women the right to control their own reproductive lives.

And those same young women don’t seem to understand that there exists in this country a reactionary movement that has as its number one goal the limitation, if not complete restriction, of a woman’s right to make her own child-bearing decisions. Donald Trump has pledged to defund Planned Parenthood, often the only resource for poor women seeking birth control. Right-wingers in Congress are more than willing to make sure the defunding happens. That’s a far cry from the historical fact that it was both Republicans and Democrats who fought to liberate women and give them control of their bodies and thus control of their lives.

Margaret Sanger went to jail many times. At one time she was exiled from her country. She started “the first scientific journal devoted to contraception.” She spent half a century trying to change laws regarding birth control, finally and fully succeeding in 1965, a year before her death. And as her grandson Alex said,

It was her idea to create a birth control pill, and she found the scientists, put together the money. It took her almost ten years, but the birth control pill was the result. She did that in her 70s — it was really extraordinary.

Yes. Extraordinary. And she was able to move her liberating message and resources around the world—International Planned Parenthood Federation is working in almost 200 countries.

Like any of our cultural heroes, Margaret Sanger wasn’t without blemishes. Her flirtation with eugenics is something even her grandson cannot condone. But Alex Sanger is on solid ground when he says,

I’m obviously biased, but I can’t think of anyone who’s done as much for the welfare of humanity as my grandmother. A hundred years ago, women and children were dying in droves. And now they’re not. Women are in the workplace, and contributing to the fabric of our society and to the world, and hopefully a women is going to be our next president. This is made possible by women being able to control their fertility, have the children they want when they want them. And she was the one who started it.

And Donald Trump can be the one who ends it.

Trumpangelicals: Explain These To Your Sunday School Class

 

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Trump Jesus

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[H/T to New York Magazine. Photo credits from top to bottom: Michael L. Brown/Twitter; John Bazemore/AP; David Martosko/Daily Mail; Ben Jacobs/Twitter; Matt Stopera/BuzzFeed; Matt Stopera/BuzzFeed; Unknown; Unknown; M. Scott Mahaskey/POLITICO; CNN; Dennis Nett; Dominic Holden/ BuzzFeed; Chris Snyder/Twitter; Jenna Johnson/ Twitter; Heart of Platinum/Twitter; Molly Ball/Instagram; screen shot from MSNBC; Associated Press; Sally Kohn; James McLeod; Philip Rucker; Don Gonyea/NPR; Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images; Jim Acosta/CNN/Twitter (screen shot of video); Jim Acosta/CNN/Twitter]

Michelle. Barack. Period.

It would be hard to find two more powerful speeches given on the same day. I’ll miss them when they’re gone:


Trump Republicans: You’d Better Hope God Ain’t Real

Randolph Blake Farenthold, a Tea Party congressman from Texas who was elected in the we-hate-Obama election of 2010, was born in Corpus Christi, which in Latin means “body of Christ.” He attended a school in that city called Incarnate Word Academy. According to its website, one of the “core values” of the school is,

Belief in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, and his message of love for the world.

Well, Mr. Farenthold, and those other Republicans selling their souls to Donald Trump, had better hope they never meet the world-loving Christ—in body or out. They’d better hope he isn’t real, that his life and death and resurrection is a fable, a figment of the collective imagination of his earnest followers. Because if they do meet the Incarnate Word, if he is who they claim he is, Trump Republicans will be greeted with a variation of these words, from Matthew 5:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

In light of the recent revelations that Donald Trump loves him some genital-grabbing assaults on women, do Trump Republicans think that committing those assaults, possibly including rape, fits into the “right hand” in this passage? The right hand that “causes you to stumble”? The right hand that Jesus suggests—no, demands—should be cut off and thrown away? That seems like an easy question, doesn’t it? But not for followers of the Cult of Trump. Congressman Farenthold is one of those cultists who, when it counted, found it hard to condemn the easily-condemnable. He appeared on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes on Tuesday night. Here is how CNN reported the hell-worthy exchange:

Farenthold was interviewed by MSNBC host Chris Hayes on the political fallout from a leaked video showing Trump, among other things, saying he could grab women by the genitals.

Asking the Republican congressman about the recent wave of party leaders, like Sen. John McCain and Rep. Paul Ryan, pulling their support from Trump, Hayes tried to size up Farenthold’s commitment.

“Until he does something so bad to make him worse than Hillary, I’m still in,” Farenthold said.

Hayes posed a hypothetical: “If someone off the record, in a locker room — this was not in a locker room, it was a workplace — said, ‘I really like raping women,’ would that be locker-room talk?”

Farenthold answered, “Again, it depends, you don’t know the entire context of all this.”

“But you would be fine with that?” Hayes interjected.

“I don’t like what he said,” Farenthold began to answer.

So Hayes repeated his hypothetical: “If a tape came out with Donald Trump saying that, saying ‘I really like to rape women,’ you would continue to endorse him?”

“Again … that would be bad. And I’d have to consider it, but again, we’re talking about what Donald Trump said 10 years ago as opposed to what Hillary Clinton has done in the past two or three years,” Farenthold said. “She’s been a failure.”

Hayes returned to the question and asked if there was a single, conceivable thing Trump could do to earn Farenthold’s opposition.

“Absolutely, but I think actions speak louder than words,” Farenthold said, dismissing the controversy over the leaked tape as a “kerfuffle.”

Here’s a clip of the conversation:

Farenthold, a short time later recognizing that Jesus may be fitting him for a rather large millstone that would assure he was “drowned in the depths of the sea” (thank you, Matthew 18:6), took to Facebook to seek relief from either Americans or the Almighty or both:

I apologize for my failure to immediately condemn anyone who would say something as outrageous as they like raping women. During an interview on MSNBC with Chris Hayes tonight, I was thrown off by the anchor’s use of a hypothetical question. I do not, and have not ever condoned rape or violence against women.

Does it take a moral or theological genius, “thrown off” or not, to “to immediately condemn anyone who would say something as outrageous as they like raping women”? Of course not. Any normal and decent person would pass that test. So, what is going on here?

I submit that it is way too easy to say Planet Trump poisons everything that wanders into its orbit, including a congressman from Corpus Christi. The harder truth is that people who are already poisoned with hate—for whatever reason—seek and fall under the nasty gravitational influence of a Trump. In other words, Donald Trump didn’t corrupt them. They were wounded, corrupt bodies chasing a Father Star. And, in Trump, they have found a home.

The Pain Of Sexual Assaults, “One Tweet At A Time”

As millions of Americans consider whether to put Donald Trump, a champion of sexual assaults, in the White’s House, perhaps they should consider the following:

Mike Pence: “It’s The Greatest Honor Of My Life” Being “Shoulder to Shoulder” With An Admitted Sexual Predator

At this point in this long and ugly campaign, what else can be said? If you watched that debate last night (not to mention the circus leading up to it) and believe Donald Trump is qualified in any way to be president of the United States, then, like Trump, there is something wrong with you that a stadium full of psychiatrists, or a coliseum full of priests, can’t fix. The man is a creep. A lie-stained lunatic. A dangerous authoritarian who would, as he openly stated last night, use his presidential power to jail his political enemies—and only Allah knows what else he would do.

Since there is almost nothing else left to say about Trump’s lack of character and his lack of class and his lack of competence, I do want to say something about his running mate, the Jesus-loving, God-fearing, family values-honoring, Mike Pence. This morning I heard Mr. Pence say, as he does all the time, that being Trump’s running mate is “the greatest honor of my life” and that he is proudly standing “shoulder to shoulder” with Trump, with the same Trump who, behind closed doors, admitted that sexually assaulting women—with impunity—is one of the benefits of being a “star.” And pence on cnn.jpgjust why did Pence say he still wants to shoulder-kiss a man who believes fame entitles him to freely fondle the genitals of, say, Mike Pence’s daughters? Because, as the born-again VP candidate told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Trump “said last night very clearly that that was talk, not actions. And I believe him.”

Let’s think about that for a minute. Pence said that he believes Trump when Trump finally denied—after trying to dodge the question from Anderson Cooper three times last night—he has kissed and fondled women without their permission. Let it sink in just how that must sound to children around the country. A presidential candidate actually has to tell us that when he bragged about being a sexual predator, he was essentially just having a good time with the boys on the bus and he didn’t really mean it. And his running mate actually has to tell us that it is okay with him that Trump lied about being a sexual predator because he was merely talking about being a sexual predator and not acting on the talk. It really is breathtaking.

Here’s an excerpt from Trump’s infamous bus conversation:

TRUMP: I’ve gotta use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything.

BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.

TRUMP: Grab them by the p***y. You can do anything.

Trump, according to Pence, was simply kiddin’ around when he said he was “automatically” prone to “just start kissing” women he found “beautiful.” That was “talk, not actions” said Pence. But what kind of man would pretend, while working on a TV show that highlights beautiful women, that he cannot control himself around them? What kind of man would lie to others about his inability to prevent himself from sexually assaulting women? Is that the kind of man that a born-again Pence wants to stand shoulder to shoulder with? Would he want his two daughters, or his wife, to stand shoulder to shoulder with Trump? Or does Pence believe that the women in his life are not attractive enough to trigger an “automatic” response from the Orange Groper?

We all have asked, when trying to comprehend Trump, what kind of a creep is this? But now, as we try to understand how Pence—who claims the moral high ground with every Christian breath—can proudly embrace Trump, it is time to ask, what kind of creep is Mike Pence?

Defending American Democracy On November 8

In a pretty amazing editorial, The Atlantic magazine—founded in 1857—endorsed Hillary Clinton. Only two other times in its long history has the magazine done such a thing. It preferred Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and Lyndon Johnson in 1964. You should read the entire piece for yourself, but I wanted to highlight one simple point the magazine’s editors made. Stating the obvious by calling Trump “the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency,” and by calling him “a demagogue, a xenophobe, a sexist, a know-nothing, and a liar,” the editors then say,

He is spectacularly unfit for office, and voters—the statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box—should act in defense of American democracy and elect his opponent.

It certainly is overstating the case that American voters these days comprise “statesmen and thinkers.” Some are. Too many aren’t. But it is not overstating the case to suggest that a lot of what is at stake in this election has to do with defending American democracy, even if, paradoxically, it is defending it against a legion of angry and un- and ill-informed voters who think Donald Trump is the answer to America’s problems.

If you think I am being too rough on those angry low-information voters, watch the following five minute comedy piece—that isn’t all that funny when you think about it—produced for Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal.” You won’t see any “statesmen and thinkers of the ballot box” in this segment, but you will see a very real threat to American democracy: the idea that our presidential election is “rigged.” Watch:

Mike Pence, God’s Menstruation Monitor

Vox published a story on Monday that, well, if you didn’t know who and what Mike Pence was, you’d be surprised. But if you did know something about Pence’s extreme religious conservatism, you wouldn’t be surprised. Here is the opening of the Vox story:

It’s no secret that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s running mate, opposes abortion rights. Pence basically invented the Republican Party’s war on Planned Parenthood while he was in Congress. He wants Roe v. Wade to be overturned. He signed every anti-abortion bill that crossed his desk as governor of Indiana.

But Pence signed one anti-abortion bill in March of this year that was so extreme, even some pro-life Republicans opposed it. And it was eventually blocked from going into effect by a federal judge for violating women’s right to choose.

The law did something truly bizarre. It would have basically forced women to seek funerary services for a fetus — whether she’d had an abortion or a miscarriage, and no matter how far along the pregnancy was.

Mandatory funerals for fetuses. Mandatory funerals even for fetuses lost to miscarriages. Keep in mind that Pence signed that horrendous bill—the logic of which led to absurdities like menstrual monitoring—in March. In March of, uh, 2016. Before Trump picked him.

As Vox pointed out, the law Pence signed “would have required all fetal tissue to be cremated or buried.” All of it:

The wording of the burial provision meant that technically, even if a woman had a miscarriage at eight weeks of pregnancy at home, she would have to keep the blood and tissue, take it to a hospital or clinic, and have it buried or cremated by a funeral home.

I’ve written about abortion several times over the years, especially noting that many pregnancies are terminated by “God,” since miscarriages are common in nature. Vox says:

[S]ince about half of miscarriages happen shortly after a fertilized egg is implanted, and occur at roughly the same time a woman would expect her period, many women could be having a miscarriage and not even know it — and thus, technically be violating the law if they didn’t cremate or bury the resulting tissue.

As a protest against the new law’s extreme requirements, women who opposed the law started a Facebook group called “Periods for Pence.” Members of the group started calling Pence’s office in droves to tell him about their periods in graphic detail.

“Any period could potentially be a miscarriage,” wrote the anonymous founder of Periods for Pence in an introductory post. “I would certainly hate for any of my fellow Hoosier women to be at risk of penalty” if they don’t properly dispose of or report a potential miscarriage.

The idea of women reporting their periods as a legal precaution sounds absurd and Orwellian. But it’s also what happens when you take a law as bizarre and medically incoherent as Indiana’s to its logical conclusion.

It’s also what happens when religious zealots—a majority of them men—use extremist theology to control women’s reproductive choices. In this case, they claimed they were protecting “fetuses against discrimination based on disability”—which would have prohibited a woman from choosing to terminate a pregnancy involving a fetus with a Image result for mike penceserious genetic disorder. But like all fundamentalist zealots, what Pence and the Republicans in the Indiana legislature were really doing was forcing women in Indiana to live under the thumb of an extremist religious doctrine, of a wild-eyed religion-based morality, that, if Americans give Pence a chance, he will do his best to force on women everywhere in America.

Let me note here that the federal judge in Indiana who, for now, stopped this legislative nightmare is Tanya Walton Pratt. And let me further note that she was appointed by Barack Obama. And let me now state the obvious: if we don’t stop them, a Trump-Pence administration will bring us judges who will not do what Judge Pratt did. They will approve of it.

We hear a lot of talk, from people like Mike Pence, about “radical Islam” and “sharia law.” No doubt you will hear such talk coming from him tonight during the vice presidential debate. But know that it will be coming from a Republican who, just six months ago, attempted to impose on women in his state a radical form of Christianity, the Christian expression of sharia law. And like his fundamentalist Muslim brethren overseas, Pence is not shy about it. He admits it. He’s proud of it. And he wants to spread it and other manifestations of Christian sharia from sea to shining sea.

God help us if he gets his wish.

Trump Says, Go Check Out Some Porn So I Can Be President!

Hillary Clinton asked a rhetorical question this morning“What kind of man stays up all night to smear a woman with lies and conspiracy theories?” No one had to wonder to whom she was referring, of course. Trump had tweeted early this morning,

Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?

But Mrs. Clinton actually asked the wrong question. What she should have asked is, “What kind of man, tweeting in the middle of the night, encourages all of us—men, women, and children—to watch pornography so he can become president of the United States?” Huh? What kind of man does that? Again, that is a rhetorical question. We know what kind of man does that. Cheeto Man. The man who fell for a false, nasty, alt-right smear of Alicia Machado.

My first thought, when I woke this morning to the news of Trump’s porn tweet, was, “What will all those conservative evangelicals, horny for Trump, tell their children?” Will they say, “Go ahead and check out the video, kids! Donald needs an ego boost right now!” Or maybe, “Hey, your father has already seen the video several times and what Trump says is right. It is disgusting!” 

No, what is disgusting is that people who have always claimed the moral high ground for themselves and the Republican Party won’t bat an eye at Trump’s latest demonstration that he is unhinged in very dangerous ways. They will still run over you on their way to vote for him in 39 days.

Think about what we are seeing, people. A man, who will have the power to destroy the world at his fingertips if he wins in November, can’t keep his tiny fingers from tweeting out disturbing instructions—based on lies spread by right-wing racists, sexists, and assorted freaks—to his cult followers in the darkest hours of the night—all because he got debate-slapped by a woman four days ago.

And think about this:

no matter how low Trump sinks,

no matter how many unseemly manifestations of his personality disorder(s) we see,

no matter how many times he cites phony polls, right-wing conspiracy theories, and Internet hoaxes as fact,

no matter the accumulating record of his personal and business corruption,

no matter is unrepentant racism and his flirtation with white supremacists,

no matter his ongoing sexism,

no matter is unfixable ignorance and bigotry,

all of the current Republican Party leadership, most of the party’s rank and file, most of its Bible-thumping crusaders, and a concerning number of working-class Democrats and independents, will follow him to either his end or, sadly, to ours.

In January I published a piece titled, “Donald Trump is God!” Watch the following video from NBC News and weep:

Randy Turner Gets It Wrong

A local writer and aggregator named Randy Turner recently published a piece of commentary on his website, The Turner Report. He titled it,

If Donald Trump is elected, it won’t be the end of the world

After seeing that title, one would expect that Mr. Turner, a former Middle School teacher, would give us his specific reasons for claiming that a President Trump won’t, accidentally or otherwise, cause the end of civilization. I, for one, would like to be reassured. But Turner didn’t do that. Instead, after a lengthy accounting of a teaching experience he had during the presidential election cycle of 2000 (and a few notes about candidates in other elections), he offered us this:

Now that I think of it, every four years comes around and we end up with two people that we wonder how they ever wound up as their party’s presidential nominees.

Huh? Is everyone who pretends to write objectively about politics prone to promoting this false equivalence nonsense? I grant Turner that a lot of people were, and still are, scratching their heads in wonder at how Donald Trump became the Republican nominee. He stumbled out of Trump Tower and shocked nearly everyone. But Hillary Clinton was expected to be her party’s nominee. There was very little doubt about it from the beginning of the process. And although Bernie Sanders put up a good fight, she won convincingly and put on one hell of a convention and, as we saw during the debate the other night, demonstrated why she is where she is. What Turner says is infected with the fashionable notion that Clinton and Trump are equally repulsive, when clearly they are not.

But that isn’t really my main objection to Turner’s piece. It’s this:

So we end up once more with a choice that is far from perfect, but what can we do about it? Some are talking about staying at home on election day and that is their choice. If those people don’t want to take the time to study the candidates we do have and their stances on various issues and their personal qualities that could either make them great presidents or poor ones, then I would prefer they stayed at home and leave the voting to those who care enough to take the time to study the candidates and the issues.

If we elect Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton and it doesn’t work out, it won’t be the end of the world. The Republic will survive. In two years, we can make changes at mid-term elections in the House and Senate, and two years later, we will select two more candidates to run for president.

This is very dangerous thinking in 2016. It’s certainly true we have never in the history of American presidential politics picked a perfect president. That isn’t exactly a profound bit of punditry. But to put Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, after what we have witnessed the last 16 months, into the same class of un-perfect candidates is ridiculous. And to make this a we-can-fix-it-later-if-we-have-to election grossly understates the perils involved.

This isn’t a contest we can take so damned lightly. The fact that Turner felt it necessary to call his piece, “If Donald Trump is elected, it won’t be the end of the world,” should have told him something. And what it should have told him is that a lot of people, especially people in the foreign policy and national security establishment, are scared to death of what might happen if an obviously unqualified and temperamentally unstable man with a fondness for Russian thugs gets in touch with real power.

A voter’s job in this election is not, as Turner suggests, deciding whether Clinton or Trump will make a “great” president or a “poor” one, in terms of how history might judge either in the future. The job in this utterly unique case is to make reasonably sure there is a future in which historians can make such judgments! The voter’s job is, and has been since June of last year, deciding whether an unstable reality TV star is a man Image result for trump and clinton debateAmericans should trust with the world’s most powerful military and nuclear arsenal, with weapons that could very well mean the end of the world, at least as we know it today. And unless Turner has some evidence that the cartoonish con man we have been watching for over a year now will somehow transform himself into a stable, steady, solicitous president, he should spare us the “there’s always the next election” nicety and stop trying to convince voters that they are not making an existential decision. With Trump in the race, that’s exactly what they are doing.

And speaking of the world as we know it today, that 2000 election Turner references in his accounting of his Middle School teaching experience is the perfect example of why he is wrong to so casually assert that we can, when the next election comes around, “make changes” that will, presumably, mitigate the damage done. The damage done to the world by George W. Bush’s Iraq war wasn’t undone in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, or 2014. And it won’t be undone in 2016. The decisions President Bush made changed the world in ways that cannot be fixed anytime soon, if ever. And those world-altering decisions were made by a mentally stable man.

We cannot afford to think that this current election is like any other we have ever seen in our history. We cannot afford to think that our choice is between two imperfect candidates whose personal flaws are roughly the same. On one side we have a woman with unquestionable knowledge, extraordinary experience in government, and a steady temperament. On the other side we have a man who knows nothing about world affairs, who claims he knows how government works because he purchases corrupt politicians, and who has an ego so fragile he can be provoked by an insult on Morning Joe. We cannot afford to think that a President Trump’s mistakes—and we know all presidents make mistakes—can be fixed in two years or four.

Will a President Trump end the world as we know it? That we even have to ask the question tells you all you need to know about the existential nature of this election.

[Image: Timothy A. Clary, Getty Images]

 

Why The Fight Over Contraceptives Is Stupid

We’ve had good economic news lately (although you wouldn’t know it by listening to Republicans). Now some good news on another issue. From Vox (“It’s official: teen births hit an all-time low in 2015“):

The article notes that sexual activity among teens is roughly the same (although there is some evidence that it has been declining recently). So what’s most likely going on? This:

The share of sexually active teens who used at least one type of birth control the last time they had sex rose from 78 percent in 2007 to 86 percent in 2012. More teens gravitated toward better types of birth control — like pills, IUDs, or implants — rather than relying on lower-quality birth control like condoms.

Sex education and contraceptives matter. Fighting over such things is beyond dumb.

Donnie Finally Admits He Is A Sleazy, Cheating, Uncaring Freeloader

Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke so eloquently and powerfully at the Democratic National Convention, said to Donald Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing.” And last night the Republican candidate continued to prove how right Mr. Kahn was.

Anyone so unprepared, so purposely unprepared, really demonstrated an utter lack of respect for the office he seeks and the people from whom he seeks it. It is that simple. If a man doesn’t care enough to get ready, to bone up in order to show he knows something about the world and the way it works and has worked, to curb his weird enthusiasm for juvenile mannerisms and mumbling, then he should just admit he doesn’t think the job is worthy of his time and effort. He should just say that he believes that we the people aren’t Image result for clinton trump debateworth even the smallest sacrifice. We aren’t worth time away from his Twitter feed.

But Trump, tiredly, soldiered on last night, if for no other reason than this isn’t about him becoming president as much as it is about him not becoming a loser and being permanently branded as one. He made it clear last night that he cares nothing about those poor suckers who buy his hats and his hogwash, otherwise he would have put some effort into presenting himself as someone other than the man—half con man and half clown—he has always been. And he made it clear this morning, as he suggested that the debate was somehow rigged against him, that not losing for the sake of not losing is his only priority.

But Trump did perform a valuable service during the debate. We found out some important things about him, all of which he confirmed himself.

First, we found out he is willing to admit that he is a sleazeball, or at least very close to being a sleazeball. He told us that he “was going to say something extremely rough to Hillary, to her family. And I said to myself I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate, it’s not nice.” He clarified what he meant after the debate:

Everything I wanted to say I got out except for the transgressions of Bill…I’m very happy that I was able to hold back on the indiscretions with respect to Bill Clinton because I have a lot of respect for Chelsea Clinton and I just didn’t want to say what I was going to say.

Except that everyone knew what he was talking about when he brought it up during the debate. And then he doubled down on it afterwards and said he might do it “at the next debate.” So, Trump may just be one debate away from personally and definitively confirming he is a creep.

Then there was his response to Clinton’s charge that he had cheated people who worked for him:

CLINTON: …if your main claim to be president of the United States is your business, then I think we should talk about that. You know, your campaign manager said that you built a lot of businesses on the backs of little guys.

And, indeed, I have met a lot of the people who were stiffed by you and your businesses, Donald. I’ve met dishwashers, painters, architects, glass installers, marble installers, drapery installers, like my dad was, who you refused to pay when they finished the work that you asked them to do.

We have an architect in the audience who designed one of your clubhouses at one of your golf courses. It’s a beautiful facility. It immediately was put to use. And you wouldn’t pay what the man needed to be paid, what he was charging you to do…

TRUMP: Maybe he didn’t do a good job and I was unsatisfied with his work…

He didn’t deny that he “built a lot of businesses on the backs of little guys,” which is what Kellyanne Conway, his campaign manager, suggested when she was working for Ted Cruz. No, he didn’t deny it. He actually confirmed it. Right before our eyes.

Then there was another admission:

CLINTON: Well, let’s stop for a second and remember where we were eight years ago. We had the worst financial crisis, the Great Recession, the worst since the 1930s. That was in large part because of tax policies that slashed taxes on the wealthy, failed to invest in the middle class, took their eyes off of Wall Street, and created a perfect storm.

In fact, Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, “Gee, I hope it does collapse, because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.” Well, it did collapse.

TRUMP: That’s called business, by the way.

He confirmed that he had “rooted for the housing crisis” that, as Clinton pointed out, cost “nine million people” their jobs and wiped out “$13 trillion in family wealth.” He confirmed that all that misery was an opportunity for him to make some money. A real man of the people.

Next, there was the damaging admission about what’s in his tax returns:

CLINTON: Well, I think you’ve seen another example of bait-and- switch here. For 40 years, everyone running for president has released their tax returns. You can go and see nearly, I think, 39, 40 years of our tax returns, but everyone has done it. We know the IRS has made clear there is no prohibition on releasing it when you’re under audit.

So you’ve got to ask yourself, why won’t he release his tax returns? And I think there may be a couple of reasons. First, maybe he’s not as rich as he says he is. Second, maybe he’s not as charitable as he claims to be. Third, we don’t know all of his business dealings, but we have been told through investigative reporting that he owes about $650 million to Wall Street and foreign banks. Or maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

Nothing like a “smart” freeloader. As Clinton pointed out, “if he’s paid zero, that means zero for troops, zero for vets, zero for schools or health.” And Trump did not deny that he pays zero in taxes. He didn’t deny that he is a freeloader, that he enjoys tremendous benefits of living in this country without having to pay anything for them. In labor union parlance, someone who enjoys the benefits of a union without paying dues is a scab. So, Trump admits he is a scab. The people who build his buildings and take care of his golf courses have to pay taxes. The rubes who buy his hats have to pay taxes. The goons who beat up people at his rallies have to pay taxes. But not Trump. He gets a free ride. As Khizr Khan said, he has sacrificed nothing.

So, last night we got a personal confirmation from Trump that,

♦ He was unwilling to sacrifice some time and effort to prepare for a presidential debate.
♦ He is, or will soon demonstrate that he is, a sleazeball.
♦ He cheated “little guys” out of the money he owed them.
♦ He rooted for the housing crisis that devastated millions of Americans.
♦ He hasn’t paid a dime in federal taxes for the privilege of living in our country.

I’d say the debate went fairly well.

Between Trump’s Ears, By Zach Galifianakis

Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis has won at least one Emmy Award. If you have ever seen it, you would know why. It is, uh, unique. Barack Obama has appeared on the “interview” show, which usually features celebrities. Hillary Clinton made an appearance last week and not only survived, but was quite funny and entertaining (some 30 million people watched the interview on the first day; I posted it below in case you missed it).

Naturally, Galifianakis was asked if he would interview Donald Trump. Here was his response:

No. That doesn’t interest me. Doing it the other way doesn’t interest me. He’s the kind of guy who likes attention – bad attention or good attention. So you’re dealing with a psychosis there that’s a little weird.

I wouldn’t have somebody on that’s so mentally challenged. I feel like I’d be taking advantage of him. And you can print that.

The comedian had this to say about Hillary Clinton:

I was very impressed with her. I can’t say that she probably has the same thing to say about me. [Laughs] We chatted about a book I didn’t expect her to know about. We kind of bonded over this book called “Amusing Ourselves to Death” [by Neil Postman].

I walked away from that whole interview going, “She’s cool.” I thought she was cool, and I don’t know if that was my impression of her before that.

How about that? Most of the comedians in this country have figured out the essentials of this race. Now if only journalists on TV could figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

The Trump Dilemma And An Appeal To Anson Burlingame, Part 2

Anson graciously responded to my last post. You can read his response here. I have decided I have to continue this exchange. There is just too much at stake. And besides that, it is therapeutic for me:

Anson,

I appreciate your response, but I confess I am somewhat bewildered by it. 

You seem to be in the grip of the media hysteria (especially on Fox, where you said you were watching TV coverage) surrounding a series of protests in Charlotte, a couple of which evolved into dangerous and counter-productive riots as time went by and law-abiding folks went home. Naturally, news cameras go to where the action is. That is why they weren’t showing scenes from protests in Tulsa. Not much to see there but peaceful protesters. All I ask, regarding the issues related to those protests, is for a little perspective. And you won’t get that perspective by listening to “the on scene reporter at Fox” or Megyn Kelly. However, a discussion about BLM and other issues surrounding police interaction (even black police interaction, as happened in Charlotte) with black people will have to wait for another day (as will a discussion about the white supremacists who are championing Trump). I want to stick to the point of my appeal to you.

You say you still have “confusing thoughts” regarding your vote. You say you are asking yourself who “will do the least harm to America for the next four years.” Then you go on to suggest that the only way Hillary Clinton will get your vote is if she expresses the willingness to “compromise in today’s political divide” and “shows a willingness to at least try to understand her opposition.” Those demands are part of the reason why your response bewilders me. Forget for a moment the idea that compromise is a two-way street and Republicans in Congress have shown almost no willingness to compromise. That has been painfully obvious. And forget the fact that Mrs. Clinton understands her opposition all too well, which is part of the reason she got herself into that whole private server mess. 

Forget all that because the question you asked originally, “who will do the least harm to America for the next four years,” is very close to the right question. And nothing you are requiring of Hillary Clinton has anything to do with answering that question. Why? Because this isn’t an election about policy or ideology or party. We shouldn’t care, at this point, what is his or her position on education policy. Or which one will submit balanced budgets or push for or not push for entitlement reform. Or which one can stand on a debate stage and speak a coherent paragraph or two.

This election is about one thing: preventing an unhinged man with a dangerous personality disorder from becoming president—a man who admires authoritarians like Putin, who would jeopardize NATO and other relationships we have around the world, who doesn’t care about nuclear proliferation, and who does not, in any way, have the temperament to command a small fleet of red wagons, let alone the world’s most powerful military.

I will leave you with the following scenario, based on your experience as a commander of a nuclear submarine, which means you know the temperament required and the challenges involved in such an assignment:

Imagine, in the middle of a hot period during the Cold War, you were Admiral Rickover. Imagine you had to choose a commander of a nuclear submarine. Unfortunately for you, there are only three choices available. Here are their qualifications:

CANDIDATE ONE: Understands how to operate a nuclear reactor and nuclear propulsion systems. Understands the weapons systems on board. Can drive the submarine and chart its position. Knows the communications and intelligence equipment inside and out. Has years of experience involving both shore assignments and command deployments for the U.S. Navy, which is why this candidate is subject to second-guessing for her decision making. 

CANDIDATE TWO: Spent 20 years in the Navy as a Merchant Marine, but most of it was desk duty on shore because he was known for smoking vast quantities of marijuana while serving on civilian ships. Understands nothing about nuclear reactors and nuclear propulsion systems, nor does he know anything about the weapons systems on board nuclear subs. But he says he is willing to learn, if you give him the job.

CANDIDATE THREE: Has never been in the military. Understands nothing about nuclear power or weapons systems or the people who do. Has had no maritime experience other than the fact he does own a yacht, a yacht that someone else commands, even though this candidate claims he “knows more” than the yacht captain.

Those are your only choices, Admiral. Remember, though, by your own admission Candidate Two cannot get the approval of the Secretary of the Navy, which in this scenario is the American electorate. So, you are left with Candidate One or Candidate Three. 

And that is what this election is about.

Duane

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