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.

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