Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Saint Ronald And The Death Of Democracy

Other than Trump’s election lies, America’s most damaging, anti-democracy presidential utterance exited the face of Ronald Reagan on the occasion of his inauguration: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government IS the problem,” said he, thus igniting the incremental incineration of democracy that’s inflamed our country ever since.

But WE are the government. We choose it, we empower it, we -- when we’re dutiful -- direct and limit it. If government is the problem, therefore, the problem is us

JFK spoke, intimately, inspiringly, at my very small college only a month before his assassination. But one might question his inaugural admonition, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” Because “doing for us” is what democracies are about. What we can do for our country is to put competent people in charge who are committed to good governance; rather than Trumpiloids, committed to big donors, big lies, and power for its own sake.

LBJ wanted his “Great Society” to promote “the desire for beauty and the hunger for community … a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods… [T]he Great Society is … a challenge constantly renewed, beckoning us toward a destiny where the meaning of our lives matches the products of our labor.” That’s the “do for you.” Later, in a graduation speech, he defined “do for your country.” “Will you join in the battle,” he asked, “to give every citizen the full equality which God enjoins and the law requires, whatever his belief, or race, or the color of his skin? Will you join in the battle to give every citizen an escape from the crushing weight of poverty?” How unlike Reagan!

Therein is the immutable difference between Democrats and today’s Republicans. Democratic presidents and Congresses have aimed to help all Americans, while Republicans, echoing Saint Ronnie, have worked to keep it from happening. Convincing the convincible that a government that’s “here to help” is their enemy, they claim social programs create laziness, that regulations choke capitalism. Why? Because they cost money, which means higher taxes and safety constraints on their donors. So, instead of Democrats’ vision of government serving its people, we get Reaganite Republicans serving only the wealthy. And themselves.

We get Trump, whose “renegotiating” NAFTA was a major factor in the current baby formula shortage. We get 192 Republicans voting against a solution because they’d rather see babies go hungry than help President Biden fix it.  

We get every Republican voting against a bill cracking down on gasoline price-gouging, in order to hurt Biden (and us) and help their fossil-fuelers enrich themselves. Fifteen years ago, when a barrel of crude cost seventy-five dollars higher than it is now, gas cost about $1.50 less per gallon. But gouge away, say Republicans. You keep the donations coming and we’ll keep blaming Biden. (Fact: prices are higher in many other countries. President Biden’s fault, too?)

We get this year’s CPAC meeting in Hungary, home of Trumpists’ second-favorite tyrant, whose list of speakers featured hate-fomenting liar Tucker Carlson and a Hungarian journalist who’d called Jews “stinking excrement,” Gypsies “animals,” and Blacks even worse. And, completing the trifecta, Trump. It’s now who they are, and, through indifference by some voters and intent by others, that’s what we get.

We get a Republican party determined to reject healthcare for all Americans, spiking Democratic proposals while offering none. A party committed to creating distrust in our electoral system by perpetuating transparent lies about fraud, to justify disenfranchising voters most likely to vote against them; wanting to hand presidential choices to their state legislatures rather than voters. A party to blame for the anti-science beliefs, conspiracy theories, and distrust, as well as incompetent and inattentive management, that led to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths from Covid-19.

We get Mitch McConnell’s 6-3 “pro-life” SCOTUS, ready to ban abortion, simultaneously ruling that innocence isn’t enough to keep a state from executing someone. 

We’ve gotten a party that chooses an evolution-denying, “Trump never said the election was stolen,” domestic-abusing, self-described mentally ill, unintelligible football player and a clueless coach as Senators, as long as they’ll beat qualified, honorable Democrats; and which is itching to remake America as a puritanical Christian theocracy. 

Whether or not it’d have prevented any of America’s almost daily, heartbreaking massacres, we get fifty, backboneless senators afraid of even the most minimal gun control legislation. Whose stars are still scheduled to speak at a NRA convention in Houston. But we do get thoughts and prayers.  

And, because enough people believed Reagan, we got January 6, too.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Replacement Reality

“False flag.” It’s among the preferred excuses offered by the don’t-blame-us right, to defend the indefensible. After the murders of Black Americans in Buffalo, by an admitted white supremacist, racist antisemite bedeviled by bogus “replacement theory,” it took only a day for it to be applied, Alex Jones/Sandy Hook style. Jones, himself, dredged it up again. Republican candidates and legislators, too. 

Guns are now so deeply embedded in America, it won’t ever change. Shortly before the massacre, two Trump-appointed judges struck down a California law banning sales of military-style weapons to people under twenty-one, like the Buffalo assassin, calling it a violation of the Second Amendment. Maybe it was. But the judge who wrote the opinion offered this bit of Trumpismic illogic: "America would not exist without the heroism of the young adults who fought and died in our revolutionary army," Judge Ryan Nelson wrote. "Today we reaffirm that our Constitution still protects the right that enabled their sacrifice: the right of young adults to keep and bear arms."

Right. Because youngsters joined the Revolution keeping and bearing muskets, we must allow modern killing machines to be purchased by everyone of any age. McConnell-selected, Trump-appointed. Nothing more needs saying.

“Consider your man card reissued,” creeps an ad for the Bushmaster war-weapon clone the murderer used. “If it’s good enough for the professional, it’s good enough for you.” That's a testicle-tanning-Tucker two-fer. BTW: studies show shooting accuracy of professionals drops by 40%, in pressure situations. And amateurs? 

In Ohio, you can now carry a concealed weapon without a permit or training. You no longer have to tell a cop who stops you that you’re armed. Lying about it is now a misdemeanor instead of a felony. So guns will only become more available and less regulated. By now, blaming gun laws for Buffalo is like blaming water for drownings.

Innocent lambs, Foxian talkers blame mental health issues. It’s no excuse: knowing mentally ill and impressionable people are out there, they pound their lies anyway. Any sentient human – which, setting the bar low enough, includes Carlson and fellow promoters of “replacement theory” – recognizes the deadly combination and its inevitable tragedies: guns for the having, plus disturbed people vulnerable to fear- and hate-mongering. Violence in response is entirely predictable. It's happened many times before.

If a tinder-dry forest catches fire, you don’t exculpate the person who walked through it with a flame-thrower. Because America will do nothing about the tinder, the only hope for change is confronting the people who, knowing the forest is a firebox, keep firing flames into it. If it’s impossible to rid ourselves of guns and mentally fragile people, it’s possible, theoretically, to do something about the harm people like Tucker are doing.

Our constitution gives them the right to spread their lies, though it’s homicidally close to shouting “fire” in a packed theater. We’re blameless, they insist. But they know who’s out there, on whom their words are falling, and they keep doing it. Lacking morality, they won't stop. Pressuring their sponsors might be the only option. That, and less “bothsiderism” from “liberal” media.

So let’s consider the “replacement theory” they’re pushing, convincing armed and fragile people and everyone else there’s a plot to “replace” them with people unlike them. (We can hope.) Deniers of most reality, Trumpicists have correctly noticed that American demographics are changing. Behind which, they see a dastardly liberal plot. Which is ironic, as it’s their party’s policies that ensure the birth, among others, of more people of the sort they abhor. Who, if they are voting, are Americans, enjoying the same freedom as they. But Trumpophiles reject all Americans’ freedoms except their own.

Then what about immigrants? If it’s true, which it isn’t, that America-hating liberal groomers of innocent children are opening floodgates to create more voters, it’d be the flipside of Republican lawmakers doing everything they can to ensure only their voters vote. Lacking the most minimal empathy, ignoring the fact that, except for Native Americans, we’re all immigrants, they can’t imagine the possibility that it’s BECAUSE we're descendants of immigrants, that liberals welcome them. And because immigrants aspire to the “American dream” far more than those who didn’t have to fight to get here.

As Republicans insist on mis-educating their own, America counts on immigrants, not just to become voters, but to keep the dream alive. Quoting NYT's Brett Stephens, "What the far right calls "replacement" is better described as renewal." (

Replacement theory is just another time-tested, dishonest scare tactic to secure votes from people about whom they’ve never cared, for whom they haven’t had helpful policies for decades.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Arthur Of The Missing Stomach

There’s lots to say about Mike Esper’s book, with its too-tardy revelations of Trump’s lunatic, despotic inclinations. But it’s too depressing, because, rather than reflecting on our narrow escape, Trumpists don't care. Their ideal of a “great” America is Saudi Arabia. So, for a needed mental health break, here’s a surgical diversion:

High on my list of favorite operations was surgery on the stomach: the anatomy is neat, the re-plumbing alternatives clever, technical challenges rewarding, and, because it’s well-supplied with blood, complication-free healing is pretty predictable. Also, several procedures were conceived by and named for history’s pioneer surgeons, and it’s nice to feel the connection, heir to the discoveries and invention of the greats. Herewith, the story of a recipient of one of my favorite operations.

Already slight and small, Arthur A. had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, located where removing his entire stomach was necessary. He was a "whatever-you-say-Doc" sort of guy, but his wife was literally beside herself. Vibrating in such a way as to appear to be two people must be how the "beside herself" expression came to be. That's what she was doing. "How can he live like that? He'll starve to death!! Look at him!! How can I feed him? What can he eat? I can't cook like that. What'll I do? What'll I do?"

It's entirely reasonable, of course, to be shocked by the idea of an absent stomach, but she was letting my words bounce off without sticking, like tennis balls off a wall. I was telling her that most people, especially older folks, get along surprisingly well without a stomach, that he'd probably be able to eat whatever he wanted, but in smaller portions. There’d be no special diet. No absolute restrictions. He should try whatever sounds good to him, and we can see what works, modify if necessary.

Boing, boing, my words ricocheted, un-received. But there wasn't much choice; it’s what he needed, and as our meetings continued, I managed -- calling upon my fabulous communication skills -- to lower the vibratory amplitude. Relative calm prevailed.

The operation went fine, despite finding that the tumor had grown directly into the left lobe of Mr. A’s liver, requiring that I take a pie-shaped slice of it along with the whole stomach. The reconstruction techniques are part of why surgeons like being surgeons. The way I did it for him and most other candidates involves fashioning a sort-of neo-reservoir for food at the bottom of the esophagus, along with some fancy intestinal rearrangement to restore continuity. It’s somewhat of a big deal, but it works. Lacking a particular hormone it makes, people missing their entire stomach need monthly B-12 shots, but that’s the only certain nutritional requirement.

Arthur made an uneventful recovery and was ready for discharge in a quick few days. Stopping by his room for a final goodbye, I found his wife -- who'd relaxed a bit as she watched him sailing smooth -- wide-eyed and pale-faced, vibrating anew as a dietician instructed her on a "gastrectomy diet." For which, because of my prior efforts with the wife, trying to preserve the peace, I specifically hadn’t asked.

Delicately as possible, I invited the dietician to join me in the hall, where I explained that this was exactly what the woman did NOT need; that I'd take care of the dietary management myself. Had anyone requested the visit? No, she said. She'd just noted that the man had had a gastrectomy, and had taken it upon herself -- per some protocol or other -- to make the connection. I explained the peculiarity of the situation while she nodded nicely; then returned to the room, taking up where she'd left off, as Mrs. A. levitated to the ceiling.

This sat unwell with me, and there were subsequent, uh, communications. It's my parenthetical opinion that there are many extremely useful services provided by many excellent professionals attached to a hospital. And they should be used. When invited. Carved-in-stone protocols can, on occasion, be counterproductive. But I digress.

After the dietician left, I managed to restore trust that he’d be okay at home, and off they went. At subsequent post-op visits, Mr. A. continued his uncomplicated recovery. His wife, too. And how did he do with his extensive cancer and complex surgery? Two answers: first, about ten years later he dropped by to have his gallbladder removed. Second: around a year after the gastrectomy, my wife and I were eating at a local steak joint. Couple of tables away was Arthur, doing justice to a New York strip and a baked potato, as his wife, calm and cool, did likewise.

They had dessert, too.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

No Surprise

So Justice Alito’s opinion overturning Roe v. Wade has been leaked. Inevitable since Mitch McConnell embarked on court-packing during President Obama’s terms and, therefore, no surprise, leaking it was unhelpful. Like the dog who caught the car, anxious to change the subject, Republicans are calling the leak the “real insurrection.” 

But it won’t impact the decision, assuming Alito’s philippic is the final product. And everyone except Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski saw it coming when McConnell blocked Merrick Garland for the flimsiest of reasons, then did an extraordinarily hypocritical (even for him) one-eighty for Amy Coney Barrett.

I happen to agree that, ideally, the right to abortion should be legislated rather than adjudicated. Which is what Mr. Justice implied, knowing his court had previously made sure it would never happen, butter not melting in his mouth. Nevertheless, butter dripped from his lips like MAGmA when he insisted the decision is no threat to other SCOTUS rulings; and when he specifically eschewed caring about its impact. What happens to babies force-born into poverty, when Republicans, as always, refuse to pay for help? And women who’ll die? Irrelevant. Abortion is a “profound moral issue,” Alito wrote; but those, evidently, aren’t.

His rationale – that abortion isn’t mentioned in the Constitution -- can be applied to virtually every non-enumerated right the court has previously sanctified: access to birth control, same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, integrated schools, fair housing, even the very right to privacy. The system is now so perfectly rigged in favor of disfavored, minority preferences that there’s practically no way Congress will enact legislation to guarantee any of those things, despite the fact that a majority of Americans support them all, not just the right to abortion (with widely-accepted restrictions).

Blatantly unfair gerrymandering; voter suppression laws precisely aimed at Democratic constituencies; wildly disparate numbers of polling and registration places between white and minority districts, “legal” since Roberts’ gutting of the Voting Rights Act; the “Citizens United” decision allowing unlimited political bribery by the nameless super-rich; attacking public education; Trump’s Big Lie. All serving their ultimate goal: turning the United States into a theocratic oligarchy, run by powerful corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals, based on a “Christianity” that’s as far from Christ-like as a drug cartel. Tweet it!

Americans consider voting the ultimate defense of democracy, placing our country’s direction in the hands of its citizens. While still theoretically true, the ability to maintain small-“el” liberal democracy via the ballot box is under relentless attack from the right. Kept distracted and disinformed by their anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian media, the people most adversely affected by the agenda of today’s Republican Party, which includes the majority of Trump voters, are being convinced to vote against their own interests. In order to save their children from being “groomed.” Or eaten. Or taught empathy. Or American history. To save themselves from the One World Order, the Great Replacement. Or George Soros.

It’s self-perpetuating. As people like Margorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, and depressingly more are welcomed to center stage of their party (let’s not forget Trump), good people are leaving. Any ethical Republican, a term rapidly becoming oxymoronic, will be primaried by Trumpists and endorsed (assuming he can remember their names) by Trump. The more deplorable, the better. Name nearly forgotten by Trump, J.D. Vance accused President Biden of deliberately letting fentanyl through the southern border in order to kill MAGA voters. And won the Ohio Republican senate primary. (MAGA voters are addicts? Explains a lot.) In fact, interdiction of drugs by the Biden administration has increased tenfold over Trump’s time. But lies and liars win, yet again.

If it hadn’t yet been obvious to everyone, now there’s no denying America is a country whose policies are decided by a minority of its citizens. Proving the point, four of SCOTUS’ hard-right, Roe-ending ideologues were appointed by “presidents” who lost the popular vote. Able to block nearly all legislation, including the rights-restoring Women’s Health Protection Act, Republican Senators represent forty million fewer voters than the Democrats. That’s not democracy. But it’s America now.

Perhaps the elimination of abortion rights will awaken voters to the precarious standing of all protected personal decisions. Maybe it’ll be the long-overdue catalyst for enlightening the “They’re all the same,” “I’m voting third-party,” “Why bother to vote,” “It doesn’t affect me” people who’ve repeatedly ceded elections to those who’ve facilitated appointing a court bent on returning us to the eighteenth century and a former “president” eager to preside over a kleptocratic plutocracy. Preventing all that will take an unprecedented turnout of caring voters, now, this year, against massive efforts from the other side to keep it from happening. In Trump’s America, it seems increasingly unlikely.

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