Thursday, October 29, 2020

Trump: Teacher Of Truths


Win or lose, Trump has been an effective educator. Some lessons we may have suspected previously, but, like all great teachers, he’s made them unforgettable.

He’s taught us the Constitution is only as good as the intentions of those charged with defending it. Because its creators assumed at least minimal commitment to its principles, it contains all-but unworkable remedies for presidential incompetence, mendacity, and avarice, especially when combined with greed and hypocrisy from his party.

We’ve learned that constitutionally required congressional oversight, and the Emoluments Clause, and such laws as the Hatch Act are meaningless. “Presidents,” Trump teaches us, can ignore them with impunity. By Trump’s schooling, impeachment works only if Congress considers obstruction of justice and abuse of power more felonious than fellatio. And Section Four of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment is vapor.

We’ve learned about turning government agencies – Justice, State, Intelligence, even USPS and the census – into instruments of “presidential” power; about making the presidency a personal profit center, millions not caring how dangerous and corrupt it is, and Republicans uninterested in stopping it.

Since day one, Trump educated us about Americans’ willingness to excuse, deny, or ignore opprobrious presidential lies. He’s shown the degree to which rightwing media have succeeded in extinguishing their audience’s ability to distinguish – much less care about – truth.

What explains continued support for a “president” who’s been lying forever about the pandemic, who just declared his administration has ended it, even as daily cases surpass previous highs and hospitals are again becoming overwhelmed? Trump’s lesson: Care only about yourself. Screw everyone else. Sacrifice is stupid. So are scientists.

Here’s more from Trump University: he and his administration consider their supporters gullible fools, who see themselves as law-and-order patriots even while chanting, without irony, “Lock them up.” Who love it when their “president” says, about the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, “This guy, he ought to be put away, or he ought to be, you know, something should happen with him.” Who cheer and tumesce as they imagine what it might be that “should happen,” thinking whatever it is, it’d make America great.

That’s the starkest lesson of “presidential” pedagogy: America, once the world’s most durable democracy, is no less susceptible to the embrace of totalitarianism than any other formerly free, now despotic countries. The veneer of civilization, he’s shown, is easily peeled away by a demagogue willing to ignite people’s fears and hatreds and insecurities; by lies and unending disinformation; by fascist-echoing rallies meant to inflame division; here, as much as anywhere in history.  

Flinging the word like a throwing-star, Trump demonstrates that because millions of Americans have no idea what “socialism” is, for one example of easy manipulability, the word can be used to turn us against each other in time-tested, big-lie ignorance.

The teachings of Trump are no better illustrated than by the rise of terrorist tribes, dba “militias,” showing up in force, armed, after he urged “liberation” of states whose governors issued orders to control the virus. White supremacists crawling out of the shadows. Bearers of insane conspiracies, funded by and welcomed into his party. Weapons considered indispensable at polling places. Citizens harassed, loudly, contemptuously, menacingly, while standing in line for hours, committed to resisting Trump’s attempts to snuff democracy. Daily, these proto-totalitarians are encouraged by their “president.” How na├»ve to have thought America was better than that.

Did our founders foresee legislators and judges representing, by a large margin, the views of only a minority of Americans, able to shape our laws, including ones aimed specifically at limiting the majority’s ability to cast their votes? Another lesson learned.

Asked whether America remains capable of common purpose and sacrifices seen during WWII, who could say yes, as millions of Americans refuse to help their neighbors by the easy task of wearing a mask in public? As a “president” belittles it and governors pigheadedly discourage it, even as their states lead the nation in infections and deaths, and as their refusals to follow the science have prevented the reopening of the economy they demand.

How did we become so divided, armed and “standing by,” willing to forsake our history? It’s not a multiple-choice question. The answer is singular: Trumpism. Will the tutor be granted tenure? With half the enrollees locked in a windowless classroom, the rest waiting for hours to re-register, we’ll find out.

Extra credit takeaways: When a pandemic gets tough, the not-tough hold rallies. If you can’t win votes, block them. 

Also: we’ve been tucking in our shirts all wrong.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Where's My Laptop?


I shouldn’t waste my weekly column this close to the election, but I need help with a personal matter. From emails I receive, I know people who’d place helping me far below the lowest thing on their list; lower, even, than becoming informed about climate change. With respect, I request they stop reading. Because what follows is embarrassing.

Here’s the situation: not long ago, I found myself unable to access one of my laptop computers, of which, like most people, I have several. Hardly techno-fluent, I took it to a repair shop I stumbled upon on Evergreen Way. Maybe Casino Road. Honestly, I can’t remember. Anyhow, I left it on the counter without providing my name or asking for a receipt. Unconventional, some might say, but others have done it.

I’m hoping the owner or an employee will see this and get in touch. Or maybe someone who was in the shop when I was, or who might have seen a laptop with my personal sticker on it, sitting on a shelf there. Wherever “there” is.

As so often happens after depositing laptops containing potentially incriminating information, I didn’t go back to get it. In fact, until recent events, I’d forgotten I’d taken it in. Completely understandable. Probably because I wasn’t worried. It had that sticker; plus, I’m definitely pretty sure I didn’t give the repair person permission to share it with the FBI.

Since ill-wishers have disengaged by now, I can reveal why it’s so important to get the laptop back. Perhaps those still following along will give me a pass for taking an inculpatory computer to a random repair person, rather than someone I knew well enough to trust. I can’t argue it was prudent. Remember, though: being a liberal, I’m not as experienced with subterfuge as those who’ve stopped reading.

I’m also not a tax cheat. I need records of payments received from George Soros for the pro-communist, anti-capitalist columns I’ve written. (If you missed them, they’re archived here.) For G.S., it was couch-cushion change. For me, though, ten-thousand here, ten-thousand there starts to feel like real money. As they confirm my insider status, I’d also like to retrieve our exchanges about how to keep his involvement hidden. (It’s not plagiarism, by the way, when you quote without attribution but with permission.)

And there are recipes. They aren’t valuable, per se, but I’m creating a cookbook, so I don’t want them leaking prematurely. I recognize its controversial nature, but people are way overreacting to QAnon’s cannibalism revelations. You’d be surprised how well babies pair with a properly-aged California Cabernet.

I’m confident there’s a market for the book, because, as those who are still reading this know, there’s another nationwide cookout/fundraiser scheduled for our deep-state cabal coming up right after the election. If Trump is gone and no longer retweeting “conspiracies,” there’ll be no reason to remain secretive. Plus, it’s not as if we eat all the children we steal. Which reminds me: there are other receipts in there, too.

About the nude pictures, this is more of a warning to the repair person than a plea: I’m way past looking good in the altogether. And although it may appear to be Satanism, it totally wasn’t. Also, the drugs were one-hundred-percent legal. I wrote the prescriptions myself.

I won’t address the pedophilia. Trump just said he’s against it strongly, which explains why people admire him so much. Never mind the fact that the pedophile with whom he liked to party “hung himself” in jail: it was a bold and brave declaration. Mister Soros told me Trump is focus-group-testing taking a stand against coveting thy neighbor’s wife, too, which would further solidify his Christian base and which, ordinarily, I’d be writing about. Unlucky for me, though, the people who know my secrets aren’t the sort who commit “suicide.” It’s another reason I want the laptop back.

Probably I should have deleted Biden’s plans to murder Seal Team 6 right after he emailed them. That, and my correspondence with the president of antifa. Trump would tweet them for sure. And photos of Osama bin Laden living in my basement. Excellent tenant, BTW: pays the rent on time, doesn’t have girls over.

My other laptops are with a guy I met on Twelfth and Broadway who promised to keep them safe. I’ll recognize him if I find him. Has a Russian accent, which I noticed because I speak it some. He was with a friend he called “Rudy,” who seemed nice. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Going, Going.... Gone


Here’s the least hyperbolic statement ever made: today’s Republican leaders don’t believe in democracy. They reject its most fundamental premise: giving the governed a voice in how they’re governed. Which is to be expected when their policies run counter, in every category, to the preferences of most Americans. 

At the beginning of the end, Gingrich, Rove, DeLay, et. al., chose the path of lying and deception only; so, one could argue, they still accepted living in a democratic republic. Convincing voters to vote against their interests, through lies and coordinated propaganda networks, they figured, would suffice to win despite having a losing agenda.

Early in the Gingrichian destruction of conservatism, openly preventing voting was in its comparative infancy. Demographics were changing, though, and policies that favored only the wealthy and the corporate, Republican politicians realized, couldn’t win elections by lying alone. (We’ve just learned Trump aides told donors how dangerous the virus was, even as Trump lied, allowing them to sell stocks before the crash.)

So they upped their game. If voters increasingly disfavored their agenda, the only way to push it through was to prevent those voters from having a say. Brilliant. And it brings us to the present day: the anti-democracy endgame. If the remaining shards of power residing in voters’ bleeding hands are to survive, it’s now or a really, really long time from now. If ever. 

Gerrymandering hasn’t been exclusive to Republicans, but they’ve taken it to Herculean levels, and they and their judges have regularly shut down efforts to make districting more party-neutral. They’ve always had a built-in advantage in the Senate, where, despite being in the majority, Republicans represent millions fewer voters than Democratic senators. It’s in the House and in state legislatures across the land that the discrepancy is greatest, though: in state after state, Republicans dominate the government despite having received fewer votes than Democrats.

But gerrymandering doesn’t tilt elections for presidents and senators. Which is why, as the country is becoming less white and more liberal in its views on such matters as race, gender, religion, climate, taxation, and healthcare, wall-reading Republicans have turned to widespread suppression of likely Democratic voters. No longer are they pretending otherwise, nor are the Republican-appointed judges who’ve been blessing their efforts.

In Georgia, in-person voting has begun. In some precincts (guess which), thanks to targeted limitations on hours, locations, and personnel, people wait in line for as long as ten hours. We’ll see more of it. Trump’s armed terrorists have been intimidating voters in Colorado at ballot drop-offs. Texas's governor ordered that each county could have only one such location; meaning that urban centers, where many millions reside, and which include the greatest number of Democratic voters, would have the same number (one) as rural counties containing only thousands of mostly Republican voters.

To their credit, the Texas Supreme Court overturned that obvious ploy. Then, surprise, a ruling rendered by three Trump appointees to the Texas-based Federal bench overruled the state court. Because, for now, these actions favor them, Republican voters are silent as democracy is relentlessly stolen. Ignoring history, they must assume the resulting plutocracy will turn “for now” into “forever” for them, and they’ll be the ones to remain free.

Recognizing that mail-in ballots thwart their efforts to stop Democratic constituents from voting, Republicans are Goebbeling Trump’s big lie: mailed ballots are rife with fraud. And they’re doing the very thing that Trump made up about Democrats: ballot-harvesting. In California, the GOP, urged on by Trump, refusing orders to desist, is distributing fake “official” ballot drop-boxes, including in predominantly liberal districts. Does anyone wonder why?

Speaking to conservative policy-plotters, Ralph Reed exulted, “Our organization is going to be harvesting ballots … not only to White evangelical churches, but into Hispanic and Asian churches, and collecting those ballots.” At the same meeting, Fox “news” frequenter Brent Bozell said the left plans to “steal this election… Democracy is finished because they usher in totalitarianism.” Said yet another: “We need to stop those ballots from going out, and I want the lawyers here to tell us what to do.” 

Who’s stealing what? Which ushers totalitarianism: quashing voting or facilitating it? And what better nail in democracy’s coffin than packing the courts with anti-democracy judges? And let's not forget politicizing the USPS.

Delivered during this week’s well-coached Amy Coney Barrett confirmation kabuki, Senator Whitehouse’s lesson on where power resides in our moribund democracy should be required viewing for every Republican who thinks their lives matter to their party.



Friday, October 9, 2020

Trump, Pence, And The Right To Choose



Said the person hanging from a fly's belly during this week's VP debate, "President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interests of their health."

Well, then, why not the same regarding a woman's right to choose what's in the best interests of her reproductive health? Because there's another human life involved? But aren't other human lives involved in a person's choice not to wear a mask? Lives of fully-formed people, the timing of whose "personhood" isn't subject to question, scientific, religious, or otherwise? 

In other words, what Pence said (and to which, inexplicably, God didn't respond with a lightning bolt to his wizened heart) was a load of hypocritical bullshit. Which, admittedly, is entirely on-brand.

[Revised censorship: I've activated comments again.]

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Behold The Covid-Conquering Hero



“Give me liberty or give me death,” said Patrick Henry. Nathan Hale expressed willingness to die for a greater cause this way: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.” In Trump’s White House, it’s “Hail Trumpus, we who are about to die salute you.” Risking death for a far lesser cause, a self-serving, vindictive narcissist, they could die for an image-above-all charade. It’s home, roosting. Reality having penetrated the newly-reinforced White House wall, Trump and his morituri are attempting to do what sages know is impossible: polish a [rhymes with “bird”]. 

“I had to confront [the virus] so the American people stopped being afraid of it so we could deal with it responsibly,” said Trump. Right. Like calling to “liberate” states that were dealing with it responsibly. Like attacking their governors, mocking people, including his own staff and his election opponent, for wearing masks and distancing. If it’s helpful to project calm in during a crisis, it’s deadly to display behaviors that make it worse. And threaten national security.

Reverentially, Trumpists praise his dereliction as courageous sacrifice: taking on the virus to save us from ourselves. (cf. John 3:16.) “Covid stood no chance against @realDonaldTrump,” worshipped Georgia’s Senator Loeffler, up for reelection. But wait, there’s more! For a bargain C-note, you can buy a limited-edition, commemorative golden coin: “HISTORIC MOMENTS IN HISTORY: PRESIDENT DONALD J TRUMP DEFEATS COVID,” shouts the website. Flushed from the White House balcony like a bird-rhyme, a fascist-echoing video appeared, with triumphal music, featuring the heavy-breathing hero, glowering and posing like Mussolini.   

And they produced photographs of Trump, taken ten minutes apart in separate rooms at Walter Reed, differently attired but with the same props, signing a blank piece of paper. “Governing!” Metaphor, if ever there was.

“Does anyone else find it odd that no prominent Democrats have had the virus …,” queried a Republican congressional hopeful. Uh, no? Further flaunting her conservative chops, she twitted, “Trump was fine until the debate, where they set up microphones & podiums for him… I put nothing past the left.” Her party’s swamp overflows with insanity.

Discharged, Trump bragged about his treatment as if he developed it himself, bustling beakers and Bunsen burners in a barricaded basement, next to the cheeseburger dispenser and single-channel TV. It’ll be the same for a vaccine.

Deserving of mockery as this is, it’s deadly serious. We, Trump, and his Rosy Gardeners are where we are because of a “president” who accepts no responsibility in the fight; who’s psychologically unable to address it effectively, fearing “looking weak” by wearing a mask. Thousands of unnecessary deaths? A small price for maintaining appearances.

Some hoped Trump’s illness would lead to acknowledging how serious the virus is, that minimizing it was wrong. Telling people to follow those guidelines he aggressively ignored. Nope. It made him worse.

Ignoring two-hundred-twelve-thousand dead Americans and their grieving families, having received an experimental treatment unavailable to the rest of us, availing himself of science he contravenes and healthcare he’s suing to take away from millions, he brays, still unmasked, “Don’t fear the virus.” Which was after putting his Secret Service team at risk, demanding an egotistical drive-by to bask in the deification of the adoring throng, bearing witness, amassed as if at Lourdes. No amount of polishing…

Dexamethasone can get you high and/or create psychosis. Likely, that’s why Trump enthused that he feels better than twenty years ago. Hey, let’s all get the virus! Bless you, Donald, for leading the way. Meanwhile, go forth and govern in your chemical haze, more erratic than ever, while your White House refuses contact-tracing of your partygoers. That’s intentional, reckless endangerment. All to preserve the fiction of “presidential” competence.

Lessons pass unlearned. Mused the Wisconsin Republican Party treasurer: “If the leader of the free world can get this, I think it’s kind of silly for the rest of us to pretend a $3 handkerchief from Walmart is going to protect us.” Republican senators flew home, maskless, from a Covid-positive meeting. Another went to a fund-raiser while awaiting a test that turned out positive. Mrs. Mike loudly wore no mask at the VP debate. 

Then Covid-struck Trump capriciously ended relief negotiations. A mob-style threat? “Vote me out, sleep in an alley”? Covid encephalitis? After markets dived, he sobered slightly, but his foggy finger is still on the button. Steroid high or not – who can tell? -- Trump is a multi-level public health hazard. Try polishing that. Can’t be done.



Thursday, October 1, 2020

Save Democracy? Do We Even HAVE One?




Appalling. Disgraceful. Embarrassment. 

That’s my review of Trump’s performance at Tuesday’s debate. Anti-maskers, white supremacists, those untouched or unmoved by two-hundred-ten-thousand deaths, extremely rude people, and Tommy will disagree. 

Moving on... 

Both sides say democracy is at stake in November. Republican warnings, though, are fake news, whereas Democrats are describing what’s actually happening. To wit: Trump prophesizes, while Trumpists say “amen,” that if Joe Biden is elected, voting will have been fraudulent, America will become socialist, borders will dissolve, police and military will be defunded, and dark-skinned people will move into your neighborhood and rape (possibly eat) your children.

Democrats point to actual events: widespread, multi-faceted voter suppression, discrediting voting by mail, Republicans looking away as Trump dismantles every Constitutional protection against autocracy, including firing departmental inspectors general that speak out. And tipping the economic scales even more toward the already-wealthy, furthering top-heavy wealth redistribution that threatens the survival of capitalism; and, as economic and political power is funneled upward, democracy. There’s nothing imaginary about any of that. 

But do we even live in a democracy? If it’s a system of government in which the preferences of the governed have the ultimate say on the behavior of that government, the answer is, increasingly, no. And therein is the most fundamental difference between the parties: Republicans want even less power allocated to average citizens, Democrats want more. The rest is just noise. 

If Greeks invented democracy, they, like our founders, also distrusted it. The wealth-holding ruling class has always worried about vesting too much power in the “have-nots.” In his writings about the city-state, Aristotle, not exactly an egalitarian, suggested that providing the non-ruling class with value, like education and an obtainable route to happiness, made revolution unlikely. 

Choosing another option, our founders went with limiting the influence of “regular” citizens. Thus, the Electoral College. Thus, senators chosen by state legislatures, not voters. Granting only to white men the right to vote. Many, in fact, argued that only white, male, landowners should be granted the franchise. 

Unable to resolve the balance between rights of “property owners” and “the majority without property,” Madison’s words, the founders punted, leaving the solution to the states. For many years, in many states, only landed males could vote. Today’s Republican party is, effectively if not literally, trying to return us to those days, and they’re close to accomplishing it. Of the two ways to retain control, namely reducing the influence of voters, versus reducing economic disparity, Republicans, choosing party power and personal money, are working to close door number two. That’s what this election is about. 

The history of tectonic change in America is one of massive, nationwide protest. When laws and lawmakers block the avenues of redress, demonstrations are a natural result. Sadly, when there are huge numbers of demonstrators, violence is ineluctable, either from the most frustrated and angry of the protestors, or, as is mostly the case now, from people trying to discredit the protests and prevent the changes they demand from happening. Because those changes threaten their minority rule. 

In America, economic and political power are inseparable. What we’ve been seeing in the past several months, the protests and the reactions to them, are echoes of those founding barriers, as were the uprisings that gave women the vote, led to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, ended the Vietnam War. In all of those cases, more “civil” ways to achieve them had failed. 

Thanks to Republicans and their artisanal judiciary, citizens’ influence on policy has steadily diminished, as we’re dragged, blindfolded, to plutocracy; which leads, eventually, to Trumpian autocracy. Mitt Romney famously reminded us, “Corporations are people, my friend.” And, we’ve been told, money is speech. In its Citizens United ruling, the Supreme Court handed unlimited influence to the wealthiest people; both the corporate and metabolizing kind. Democracy, already sickened by Reaganomics, took to bed. 

The only “people” who benefit from deregulating poisons are dark-money-donating corporations. Only oil companies profit from ignoring climate change. Those dangers become legislation by muting the voices of voters most damaged by them, which, ironically, includes Trump’s propagandized enablers; and by having in-pocket judges and paid-for legislators. It couldn’t happen if the majority of voters had comparable power. 

Which explains the anti-democracy actions of today’s Republicans: limiting your health, wealth, and power, in order to maintain theirs. It also explains their shameless whitewashing of Trump’s detestable, America-debasing behavior Tuesday night. 

American democracy may be increasingly illusory, but November can keep it from disappearing entirely. 

Added: Trump/Covid. We wish him well and will refrain from speculating.



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