Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Fair Warning


“Is there no virtue among us? If there be not, we are in a wretched situation.” — James Madison

A wretched situation, indeed. Because, whereas many of the Republicans in Congress – McCarthy, Boebert, Gohmert, Gosar, Taylor-Greene, Brooks, Paul, Cruz, Tuberville, etc. – are liars, stupid, or nuts, not all of them are. Mitch McConnell, though a liar, is a genius at perverting everything Democrats are trying to do to help average Americans: which happens to include most of his red-state constituency. He can’t be ignorant of the damage he’s causing; by that, and by closing his eyes to Trumpism. Destitute in virtue, rich in avaricious cowardice, he remains silent; the poster boy for the impending crisis. 

Everyone who cares about America’s future must read the recent dissertation in the Washington Post written by Robert Kagan, actual conservative and member of America’s most respected and balanced think tank, the Brookings Institution. Titled “Our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here,” it’s a frigid dose of reality. If you profess love of America and its form of government, read it, as an act of patriotism. That includes Trumpists, professors for sure. (Non-subscribers have access to a limited number of articles.)

The opening quote of this column, above, also begins the essay. It continues: “The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves…” Later: “… Trump and his Republican allies are actively preparing to ensure his victory by whatever means necessary... Some Republican candidates have already begun preparing to declare fraud in 2022…

Kagan’s analysis of why Trump can do no wrong in the eyes of his supporters, why cowardly Republican leaders fear him, and what it means for democracy, rings true. Justifying red state legislatures’ efforts to legalize overturning disliked election results, unwavering belief in his “stolen election” lie is at the heart of it. A trumpet, heralding the political apocalypse.

The more Trump’s lies are pointed out, the more his cultists love him. “The events of Jan. 6 … proved that Trump and his most die-hard supporters are prepared to defy constitutional and democratic norms…,” writes Mr. Kagan. Said a capitol-rioting woman, he reminds us, “We weren’t there to do damage. We were just there to overthrow the government.” “Just,” she said. Just.

More convincingly and eloquently, Kagan echoes what I’ve written many times: that Madison, et. al., figured they’d created the checks and balances necessary to prevent authoritarianism. Then, though, there were no political parties. If they arose, they surmised, it’d be limited to some states; and, whereas a psychologically unfit deceiver like Trump might become popular locally, national appeal was impossible. Wrongly, they assumed an informed electorate. White, male, and landed, to be sure; but well-enough educated to rebuff demagoguery. Modern Republicans have put that fantasy to rest. Our forefathers were tragically mistaken.

Nor could they imagine today’s rightwing wholesale rejection of the backbone of democracy: elections. Accepting outcomes. Instead, it’s willingness to burn the country down (figuratively, mostly, so far), including threats to poll-workers and their families, to maintain their personal privilege, dismissing the impact on our future. Virtuous it isn’t.

If legislating away free and fair elections is Trumpism’s most obvious threat, anti-mask/anti-vaccine activism is vivid proof of the loss of American idealism for a third of the country and ninety percent of Republicans. All-but-inexplicable susceptibility to transparent lies. Overarching disinterest in understanding the avarice behind them, uncaring how their selfish, misguided, manipulated refusals harm others. (Obvious statement: had American virtue been more present among Trumpists, mandates would have been unnecessary.)

Republicans love to claim Abraham Lincoln as their own, while ignoring his ethos: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right…” Speaking of Whom, they also claim exclusive rights to Jesus. Which makes sense only if they believe the Sermon on the Mount is fake news. Also fake: Republican Secretaries of States’ attestations to a fraud-free election. And that Arizona thing.

Nothing can convince Trumpists they’re being lied to: about the election, CRT, masks and vaccines; glaring, dangerous, and deeply cynical as those lies are. If Mr. Kagan is to be proved wrong, it’ll be when people like Mitch McConnell and actual conservatives, caring nearly as much for America as for themselves, find the courage to disavow Trumpism and the corrosion at its core. Now or never. Like climate change. Time has all but run out.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Critical Thinking. Or Lack Thereof.

File under “duh.” Is what I thought when I saw the headline: “Conspiracy theorists lack critical thinking skills: New study.” But it was a slow day, so I read the article. Although it lacked a link to the study, it described what was done: giving groups of students an established critical thinking essay test and correlating results with belief in conspiracy theories. The unsurprising results, and the test itself, are stated in the article. Like I said: duh. It did make a provocative, if questionable point, saying susceptibility to conspiratorial thinking had nothing to do with intelligence. Well, okay. Maybe it’s a matter of definition. 

But that’s not the important part. The article also cited studies showing that, unlike intelligence, critical thinking can be taught. Which led to an “aha” moment. It explains the depressing scenes of demon-possessed parents at school board meetings, spouting insane falsehoods, threatening jobs and lives, based on fact-free belief in repeatedly disproved conspiracy theories. Critical Race Theory being taught in schools. Unnamed “studies” showing the ineffectiveness and dangers of wearing masks. And of vaccines. Comparing (because Tucker Carlson and the rest of Fox’s falsifiers do) mask mandates to felonious child abuse, or to the Holocaust. Threatening dire reprisals

Lacking, as they do, critical thinking skills, those blood-in-the-eye, crazed true believers can’t help themselves. Knowingly pushing those lies, though, the prime poisoners of their paralyzed perceptions can. Which is where the article triggered the “aha.” It’s in public schools, after all, that people begin to acquire critical thinking skills and the desire to engage them. And what Foxotrumpian leaders fear most is critical thinking.

As with the need to create distrust in free and fair elections, which they know they can’t win, so the Trumpublican Party needs to create as much distrust in public education as possible, lest too many citizens become thinkers. They’ve been working on it for decades; now, the pandemic has gifted them the perfect whipping-up boy. Vaccines. Masks. Mandates. Pure evil, right in our schools, intentionally harming our kids. Just like those child-trafficking, baby-killing, blood-drinking, liberal hangers-out at pizza joints.

But, Q dang it, critical thinking can be taught! Which imperils the con; namely, spreading lies to keep people distracted from what Trumpublicans are doing to their health, their education, their planet, their future, (in the case of infrastructure, it’s what they’re not doing), their chance at The American Dream -- in order to reward themselves and their donors.

Uncharacteristically, a guest on Fox “news” just unbagged the feline. “This is gonna be a boon, or a boom,” he said, referring to those demented protests at school board meetings, “for private schools, for charter schools, for homeschoolers, who are gonna look for an alternative other than in the public schools…” 

That’s the logic: Voters who think critically see through the grift. Critical thinking starts with public education. Ergo, destroy or dumb it down to meaninglessness. Whitewash history. Knowing it’s nothing of the sort, call teaching about slavery or the Trail of Tears, for example, attempts to get white kids to hate themselves. Describe efforts, in K-12 education, to mitigate the effects of poverty on performance, as “divisive.” Ban it from curricula. It’s “cancel culture,” multiplied times Texas. Where it’s been raised to supra-snowflake levels

In fairness – and I’m nothing if not fair – I’ll assume most of those furious parents believe they’re acting in their children’s interest. Because they lack the tools of resistance to Carlsonian confabulations, they’re unquestioning in their conspiratorial worldview, certain that even violence is justified. Who wouldn’t be, to protect their kids? Sadly, for everyone, they’re incapable of realizing the harm being done is coming from them

But, we’ve read, they’re not all stupid. Which means, had they any desire, they’re capable of exerting the minimal effort required to learn the truth. Theories abound about the attraction of conspiracy theories, and why such people prefer them. Mental illness. Loneliness. Desperation to belong. Validation of self-worth. Brains evolved to seek connections, short-circuiting into paranoia. Whatever the explanation, it’s there for exploitation by people of ill will. And if it’s always been a part of the human condition, the internet and (anti-)social media have given it the power to destroy. Nations. Democracy. Schools.

On the same slow day, I read an article about people trying to free themselves from the brain-eating bondage of Q-anon. Seeking cult-conversion therapy. Both hopeful and depressing, it describes only a small number of victims finding a way out. While others dig in deeper. 

At this point, is there a solution? Education? If only. Watch this, and decide.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021



Readers of last week’s column, which highlighted Trump’s bizarre claims about the extraneous Arizona election audit, are now convinced he’s a pathological liar or clinically insane. After this week’s, none will doubt he’s a would-be Mafia Don. Capo di tutti capi. Who controls a nationwide criminal organization intent on taking down democracy the way the Sicilian Mafia took down the few brave police and prosecutors who stood in their way.

(Having just spent time there, seeing memorials, everywhere, to those selfless resistors and the pride Sicilians deservedly take in finally standing up to the mob, we hope for comparable monuments in a future America. Assuming she has a future.)

Despite Republican/Trumpist/Foxian efforts to disappear it, some Americans might remember January 6. Some may even have sought legitimate, Fox/Newsmax/OAN-free sources of information about it, and discovered how Trump nearly accomplished overturning a legitimate, fraud-free election, by way of corrupt insiders and orchestrated insurrection. And the extent to which prominent Rs abetted the sedition. And still are. 

So, though its Republican members would like to rub it out, we have a Congressional Commission looking in. Subpoenas have been issued to Trump’s henchmen and consiglieri, as well they should. Because Congressional oversight is how our democracy protects itself from despotism. It’s in the Constitution – that hoary document which, while claiming willingness to die for it, today’s Republicans and their draft-dodging leader are setting on fire to light their torches of demographic resentment.

Overseeing the Executive is our Constitution’s second-most important safeguard. The Declarative Dads got several things wrong (slavery, women, Electoral College, too-skewed Senate), but, familiar with the tyranny of monarchical power, that part they got right. Without it, dictatorship is inevitable, and getting all too close.

Venerated parchment has no power of its own. Absent universal, non-partisan buy-in, calligraphic words are vapor. We’ve seen how close we came to a failed republic when Trump put lawless lackeys in charge of critical institutions. And we’ve heard the Republican hos and hums that followed.

Don Trumpleone doesn’t buy in, nor do members of his party in Congress. Or out in the states. So, despite lacking the power of office, but supported by his 24/7 network of media wiseguys, he made an offer they couldn’t refuse: Defy the subpoenas. Put concrete shoes on the rule of law. Shove it through smashed windows. Reveal yourselves as an anarchic crime family. It worked during impeachment, consequence-free. The party of law, patriotism, family values, and fiscal responsibility: making words meaningless; getting away with it.

Defy them they did. Which bids us to remind their cheerers-on, in case they’ve forgotten, that when a Republican Congress blamed Hillary Clinton for all our country’s woes, she, believing in law and order, answered their subpoenas, sat for eleven hours straight while trumped-up charges kangarooed her way; amounting, in the end, to nothing.

Contempt of Congress is a punishable crime, as it must be. This time, actual crimes were committed. Trump’s Department of Justice, upon which the responsibility of prosecution falls, was headed by an obsequious lieutenant, willing to lie to America, who considered his job protecting the godfather, rather than the law.

Now it’s Merrick Garland, a man of unquestionable integrity. Understanding and committed to preserving the independent role of his Department, unlike his conscience-free, Trumpophilic predecessors, it’s likely he’ll see justice served. And, accordingly, that our democracy and respect for its laws are preserved. 

At least we hope so. If not, it’s over. Foxotrumpification has brought us closer than the founders imagined possible. Not just politicians, and not just their disingenuous repetition of Trump’s Big Lie.

With deliberately incendiary language, amoral Foxfather Tucker Carlson, in it for money and the orgastic thrill of power over the incurably incurious, called on viewers to attack school boards for requiring masks. Criminal child abuse, he called it. They did as commanded. Such malleable idiocy is inimical to democracy and an embarrassment to long-gone Republicanism. It’s only one example of what they’ve become. 

More powerful than Congressional oversight, fair and free elections are the ultimate bulwark against authoritarianism. While proclaimed “conservatives” cheer in deadly silence, red states are close to obliterating that, too. With ever more egregious and blatantly race-based gerrymandering, along with phony laws aimed at non-existent fraud, the Trumpist gang has ordered a hit on majority rule. A carefully-calibrated coup

Without resistance from within, of which there’s little left, the Don and his transcontinental crime family will confirm how powerless our Constitution really is, when so few on the right actually believe in it.

But don’t take it from me. Take it from one of their most-targeted truth-tellers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

News Of The Week


If the current big and predictably evanescent story is the “Pandora Papers,” which confirmed – surprise! -- corruption among many world leaders and other wealthies, and how states like South Dakota, governed by one of Trump’s biggest sycophants, are welcoming tax cheats, there are other indicators, too, of how close to collapse we are. 

Anyone remember that “forensic” audit of votes in Arizona’s Maricopa County? By a group headed by another Trump-fluffing faker? Which would prove Trump won and sell lots of pillows? Well, months and millions later, it released its findings: Biden still won. By more votes than previous recounts had found. Which might surprise Fox “news” viewers; after pre-hyping it incessantly, Fox made nearly zero mention of the final report.

But that’s not the story. The story is that, after the results became public, Trump stood before an enraptured crowd and, preceded by his usual hallucinatory word-salad, uncorked the following grotesquetude: “We won on the Arizona audit yesterday at a level you wouldn’t believe.” 

They would, though. In a functioning democracy, having borne witness to real-time, living proof he’s a liar or insane, everyone in attendance would have flown the coup. They didn’t. Didn’t even blink. Which underscores the success of perpetual Trumpic election fraud claims: suborning rejection of elections past, present, and future in which Republicans lose. To that end, despite multiple audits showing no fraud, more are underway in other red states, the outcomes of which don’t matter. To the pre-softened, it’s show, not substance.

Like the debt ceiling charade. Per usual, Republican tax cuts broke the budget. Then, predictable as Trump’s next confabulation, when the bill comes due, they threaten default, dishonestly blaming Democrats’ future plans, which include pay-for.

Speaking of duplicity, a member of the right-wing, white-supremacist group known as Boogaloo Bois just admitted posing as a BLM member while shooting up a police station in Minneapolis. It’s not the only instance; the FBI has said so. In fact, it’s a solid bet that nearly all violence at BLM demonstrations was by racist poseurs. Another instance of convincing the eagerly susceptible. “BLM is a terrorist group” is ubiquitous Foxotrumpian fake news. And believed. 

In another threat to the Republic, we’ve now passed 700,000 deaths from Covid-19; even as red-state governors do all they can to keep the pandemic alive. Even as deaths are now nearly exclusively among the unvaccinated. Doesn’t matter. If Trumpists believe he “won” the Arizona audit, they’ll believe anything, literally to their dying day.  

And they’ll believe, for another democracy-killing example, that Texas’ egregious anti-abortion law, based on lies, religious hypocrisy, false promises, and bad science, represents no threat to anyone other than young women and their doctors; because who cares? Monday, in a New Yorker interview, Attorney General Garland warned of disturbing possibilities.

The law, for technicalities that challenge comprehension, avoids judicial review of its blatant unconstitutionality by having “deputized” citizens, not state agencies, to become watchdogs and bringers of lawsuits against anyone exercising what remains, for now, a constitutional right. That’s as cynical as it gets.

The same approach could be legislated against any other right, avoiding judicial review, Garland stated. Not worried? What if it were guns? Or religion? No worries: it’d only be Islam, right? Judaism, maybe. Sikhs. Heads covered by anything but white sheets. Hyperbole? Texas is the latest red state proposing to make the Bible its “state book.”

Speaking of head-coverings, we learned last week that the anti-masks-in-schools movement gets funding from Koch-related money. Same with groups pushing the lie that Critical Race Theory is taught in our K-12 public schools. So virulent is that duo of disinformation that school boards around the country need federal protection. But, hey, it's okay with Republicans.

Clearly, Koch and other involved billionaires believe the way to keep their money safe from taxes that help average people, is continual, manufactured outrage. Truth being unprofitable, they opt for lying to reliably gullible Trumpists. 

But there’s no more sickening example of manufactured outrage than Fox “news” latest attack on Tammy Duckworth. What horrible people they are. 

Finally, there’s President Biden’s $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” bill. An unimaginable amount of money, causing predictable splits within the perennially suicidal Democratic Party, and fainting-couch hypocrisy from Republicans. How unimaginable? Well, it’d be spent over ten years. Meaning $350 billion per year, on programs that’d make millions of Americans safer, healthier, more secure, less impoverished, better prepared for employment. How much is that, in context? Less than half of what’s spent, annually, on the military. Makes you think. Or would, if thinking were still a thing.

Popular posts