Friday, July 03, 2020

Locking Down and Masking Up is the Only Way We Get Through This. Trump is Killing Us.

WTF is the matter with people?


The entire rest of the world had managed to grasp something that we can't seem to - that the only way out of this pandemic is to lock down and mask up.


But the delusional science-hating reality-deniers are insisting that it's more important to "get the economy going again" by reopening and putting people back to work than to save hundreds of thousands of lives.


The problem with this is - reopening and putting people back to work before this pandemic is under control will NOT "get the economy going again." 


In the very short term, the economy could incrementally improve. But the cost in lives will nullify *financially* (since this is the only lens these people can see things through) any short-term financial gains. 


We will be set back *financially* much, much farther than we would if we stayed locked down. There will be less people alive, more virus roaring through the remaining population - and good luck getting a functioning ecomony going in those circumstances.


What's happening here is the same old Republican trope about lazy poors sucking up unearned money from the hard-working well-off.


It is KILLING them that there are  people who are momentarily receiving more money from unemployment and stimulus payments than they were making before the pandemic.


Every second this is happening is burning them up inside.


The idea that the government is paying people not to work is driving them out of their minds.


Some Republicans are coming right out and saying it.


Vanity Fair reports that "Senators Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse, Rick Scott, and Tim Scott are sick with fear that the legislation will make unemployment so enticing that low-wage workers will decide to lay themselves off."


Claiming the relief package will encourage people to stay out of the workforce, Graham told reporters that the bill “pays you more not to work than if you were working,” noting that it would provide the equivalent of $24.07 an hour in South Carolina versus the state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.“If the federal government accidentally incentivizes layoffs, we risk life-threatening shortages in sectors where doctors, nurses, and pharmacists are trying to care for the sick, and where growers and grocers, truckers and cooks are trying to get food to families’ tables,” Graham, Sasse, and Scott said in a statement. 


Somehow, they don't seem to take in the fact that sending these low-wage workers (whose wages are too low to support themselves working full time) back to work while the pandemic still rages is condemning them (and the people who interact with them) to a possible death sentence. 


These people cannot do their jobs from home. And the people who are hotly demanding they go back to work are, more often than not, people who can work from home or who can afford to stay home.


The demands to send the low-wage workers back to work and off the government teat are not accompanied by the requisite protections to keep them safe - mostly because right now, there IS no safe way to go back.


The best way to protect ourselves and even our ecomony is to literally pay people to stay home. 


Pay people to keep them from killing themselves or other people. 


Cam you imagine, if this were the bubonic plague, that it would be "freedom" to force people to choose between starving because they have no money and going to work and spreading the plague wherever they went?


This has to be done from the federal government, because their first responsibility is to keep Americans safe - to save American lives. Nothing is more important than this. Certainly, making sure poor people don't get too much money is not more important than saving hundreds of thousands of American lives.


The fact is, we have to think of the money as an investment - one that will, in the long term, truly "get our economy going again." We simply can't be so short-sighted as to be "penny-wise and pound-foolish".


The federal government also MUST make wearing masks and social distancing a requirement, not a suggestion.


Right now, Trump's politicization and personalization of mask-wearing as an insult to him is a literal death sentence to countless Americans. It needs to be understood as such.


The rest of the world has already done what's necessary to get to the other side of the pandemic. They have nationally mandated masks. They have locked down and stayed down until the numbers came down. 


They're already back to work, back to school, back to restaurants, back to a sort of normalcy that we cannot possibly achieve until we take the steps that the rest of the world have taken.


And as long as Trump is refusing - because of his own personal vanity - to do what's necessary to get us out of this, and forcing his ride-or-die supporters to choose between him and their lives (and the lives with whom they interact, i.e. the rest of us) and frame lifesaving measures as an assault on liberty, we will continue down this highway to hell with no exit ramp in sight.  

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

March of the Republican Zombie Ants


There are species of ants that have been seen to exhibit behavior straight out of a horror movie. A seemingly normal, healthy carpenter ant, going about its normal ant business, suddenly exhibits strange behavior.

It leaves its nest, staggering and stumbling like a drunken sailor on shore leave, and begins searching for a plant to climb. When it reaches a particular elevation, it climbs onto the underside of a leaf and clamps its jaws down in a death grip onto a leaf vein on the north side of the plant.

There it remains, paralyzed and waiting to die.

But that is not all.

The final horror: after three weeks or so, the dead ant, devoured from the inside, is covered in fuzz, and displays a gruesome tentacle that has burst out from its head.

They are nicknamed "zombie ants", and they seem to be compelled by some malevolent force beyond their control to destroy themselves and then once dead, to create more like themselves.

The real culprit? A parasitic fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis.

This fungus replicates itself by attaching its spores to the exoskeleton of an ant. As it penetrates the exoskeleton, it infects the host ant and compels it to march to its death, where it eats the ant from the inside and then once it has grown large enough, sends a long tentacle-like stem called a "fruiting body" out from the ant's head, which has pods containing spores. When the pods burst, the spores are scattered by the wind to infect other ants, and the process begins again.

The infected ant will look and act normal for a while as the fungus incubates, which is another brilliant move by Cordyceps because normally if an ant appears sick, the other ants will eject it from their colony in self-preservation. But once the infection develops enough, the fungus apparently invades the muscle bundles of the ant, interferes with its nervous system, and controls its movement. 

It compels the ant to climb to a certain height off of the ground, with the right amount of light and humidity that the fungus needs to grow and reproduce. Then it takes over the mandibles and forces the ant to bite down on the vein of a leaf on the specific side of the plant and paralyzes it so it can't unlock its jaw.

Then, after devouring the ant from the inside, it forces it to infect other ants.

One interesting thing about Cordyceps and related fungi is that, while an insect-pathogen itself (which kills and eats the ant, and then uses the corpse for its reproduction) it uses what is called a "secondary metabolism", which acts to immunize the ant from other pathogens, thus ensuring it is healthy enough to stay alive for the necessary amount of time to complete the fungus' reproductive cycle.

I can't help but see a parallel with the Republican party as it exists today with the infection known as Trumpism (or in the Latin, Trumpyceps republicanis).

Once-seemingly normal Republicans exhibit a puzzling and bizarre turnabout from ideas and principles that once were a hallmark of the Republican Party - fiscal conservatism, personal and fiscal responsibility, Russia hawkishness, respect for the rule of law, law enforcement agencies, and national security - and have replaced these with a march to self-destruction and the annihilation of the democratic process, replacing it with blind loyalty and support of a venal, lawless, cruel, dictator-loving would-be autocrat whose goal seems to be the elimination of the principle of government of, by and for the people in favor of a classic tinpot totalitarian state ruled by him, his family and his toadies, using the coffers and the power of the government for their own personal benefit and enrichment.

There was a time when Republicans were fiercely opposed to these things. There was a time when they would excoriate Democrats for being insufficiently supportive of law and order, too skeptical about the CIA and FBI, for being too soft on Russia and North Korea, for deficits and spending without balancing it with budget cuts.

Many of these Republicans whose mandibles are now permanently clamped to Trump's posterior were his most strident critics before the election. They raged about his immorality, his vicious invective towards anyone who he didn't like, his shady business practices, his complete and utter unfitness for public office of any kind, let alone the Presidency of the United States.

Now, they enthusiastically defend his every vile word and action to the death. They cheer while he insults our allies and destroys our relationships with them; they cheer while he grovels before Putin; they cheer while he encourages white supremacy, religious bigotry and lawless aggression; and they cheer as he attacks immigrants and cages children.

They defend his looting of the government coffers for his own enrichment; they defend his blatant nepotism and cronyism; they defend his dismantling of the State Department and rejection of diplomacy in favor of his secret plans to benefit himself and Russia at the expense of our own national security.

They support his outright rejection of legal subpoenas, they support his crazy claims of complete and total privilege - not just for himself but anyone he wants to keep quiet - and immunity from oversight and even of investigation of wrongdoing.

"Donnie is just all right with me!"

These Republicans, who had conniptions over the color of a suit that President Obama wore, have given Trump the green light to do whatever he wants. Overturn the conviction of a war criminal? Sure! Overrule security experts to give highest-level security clearances to his spectacularly unqualified daughter and son-in-law and many other people with no business being anywhere near a classified document? Go right ahead! Have secret conversations with our adversary Vladimir Putin and refuse to disclose the contents as required by law? Why not? Handing out his private number to have unsecure cellphone conversations and talking about important national security issues with world leaders surrounded by random paying guests at Mar-a-Lago? No problem! Bribery, witness intimidation, you name it - it's all good!

This is literally insane.

I'm no Republican and I do not support the bulk of the Republican agenda, but it seems there are some basic things here that normal Republicans in any other era would have howling fits about - even if (I would hope) another Republican president had done them.

There seems to be some kind of bizarre pathology that changes law-and-order, fiscally conservative, national-security-hawk Republicans into gibbering sycophants who will fight to the death for Trump's right to do anything he pleases, even things that are clearly illegal, even things that endanger the founding ideals on which our country was built.

The Trump fungus' "secondary metabolism" has immunized its victims against any other influence that could move them from their death march. Trumpyceps republicanis seems to have infected an entire political party, and it appears to be 100% fatal for democracy.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

The Suit

@BillBramhall NY Daily News Dec 19 2019
The President of the United States is not a person. The President is a suit, and a person wears that suit for a term of four to eight years. The Suit has its own powers and the wearer of The Suit can wield those powers while they are wearing The Suit, much like a suit of armor, or like Iron Man. It is also, however, a garment of service, like a butler's tuxedo or a military uniform. It indicates that the wearer has a purpose and that purpose is to serve and protect those for whom they are charged to care.

But make no mistake: those awesome powers belong to The Suit, not to the person wearing it. That person is only renting it for a limited time from the United States of America, and, per the terms of the rental, is expected to return it in as good condition as when it was received.

The wearer of The Suit can treat it with respect - they can keep it clean, keep it washed and ironed and fresh. They can mend it if it needs it. They can treat it gently so that it will be useful for a long time. They can wear it only when appropriate, so that on the occasions it is worn, it is taken seriously. They can keep The Suit looking good, so that the wearer of it exudes purpose and dignity and strength, inspires confidence, respect and trust, and when it is time to take off The Suit, it is in as good or better shape as when it was first put on, so that the next wearer may get as much good use out of it as the current wearer.

Or, the wearer of The Suit can soil it, stain it, tear it, wear it out. They can use it to intimidate, to dominate, to further their own selfish ends. They can stretch it out so badly by self-indulgence that it won't fit anyone else. They can damage it so thoroughly that it can't be worn again.

Donald Trump is sh*tting the pants of The Suit.

He believes that Donald Trump is in charge of the United States of America, not the President. He doesn't understand that he is not The Suit. Or, maybe he does. Maybe he knows that The Suit rightly belongs to America, but he is trying to steal it for himself.

This is what autocrats do. People like Putin or Kim Jong-Un or Xi wield personal power as themselves, not as temporary representatives of a sovereign nation. They take to themselves the resources of an entire country for their own benefit, enrichment and power, and view their country as existing to serve them, instead of being servants to their country. This is what Trump longs for and aspires to.

His idea of 'leadership' is his personal transactional relationships with world leaders one-on-one, not US policy painstakingly hammered out by the State Department in concert with Congress, the Department of Defense, and longstanding treaties and understandings with our allies and adversaries forged over decades. He thinks it's none of our business who he talks to and what he says to them, as if he was just a private individual - a private individual who is not accountable to anyone, least of all the people he supposedly represents. He wants to be the most powerful person on Earth, without any limits. He spits on the Presidential Records Act and doesn't think anyone should listen to or take notes about his conversations with heads of state, especially the autocrats with whom he identifies.

Donald Trump has no intention of being in service to anyone. He has never understood the concept of service, public or otherwise - he only understands obedience and loyalty from others to him, not to others from him. He expects to be served, not to serve. He does not understand that The Suit, with all its mighty powers, represents the ultimate in service to your country and that you are entrusted with the care of The Suit.

And so, he is befouling, ripping and destroying The Suit, believing that it belongs to him to do with whatever he wants. He becomes furious at any attempt to restrain his wanton mistreatment of The Suit, because he considers it to be his personal property. And he is aided and abetted by those who also benefit from his misuse of The Suit, like dressing up in a bank guard's uniform to let his accomplices into the vault.

He has publicly stated (in that 'joking but not joking at all' childish attempt to say what he means but avoid responsibility for what he says) that he does not want to give back The Suit when the time comes to turn it back in. He has said that he can do whatever he wants with it and that the real owners of it have no say about how he treats it. He calls anyone who opposes him 'traitors' who should be punished, since he sees no difference between loyalty to him and loyalty to America. And he dares anyone to try and do something about it, knowing that the real owners of The Suit fear that, in struggling to restrain him from misusing it, The Suit itself may get torn beyond repair.

So, he continues to sh*t the pants of The Suit, knowing that if he can't keep it, at least it will be unwearable by anyone else when it is taken from him.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Hooterville 15 Years Later - Keeping On Keeping On

As I was looking back at some of my old blog posts, I realized that yesterday was my 15 year Blogiversary. It took me back to how I felt when I began writing this blog. After waking up the day after the 2004 election to find that Dubya was still in the White House, I was dazed and disoriented. I had never written anything before, but in reading other blogs, I wanted to try writing myself as a way to deal with the insanity that I felt all around me, and maybe experience a little catharsis in expressing how I felt, and to connect with other people who felt like I did.

It became one of the most rewarding things I've ever done, and along the journey I met so many amazing people who I never would have known in my regular life, but who inspired me greatly.  It became a way for me to get into positive action and activism, and motivate and be motivated by my fellow bloggers and readers. Up until then, I had not been especially political or informed, even though I have always been a Democrat. But I found that in talking about what was happening in our country, and reading what other people were writing about, that it moved me to become involved in my local politics and it showed me that every action you take in service of what you believe makes a difference, no matter how small.

The difference between a small action and a large action is nothing; the difference between action and inaction is everything.

Becoming a blogger helped me to clarify what I believed America was about, what democracy was about, and it showed me that I could be a part of something vitally important - active citizenship. The greatest danger to citizenship is apathy, and when you feel like your voice is not heard, that what you do or say doesn't matter, then it often follows that you don't bother trying anymore and withdraw. "Why should I bother voting? It won't make a difference either way."

When that happens, you've given your power away.

But if you take action, no matter how small or large, you gain power.

I want to stand up for my progressive values. I have learned that whether or not you obtain your objective doesn't matter. The ONLY thing that matters is that you fight for what you believe in. It's easy to fight if you have hope that you're going to get what you want. But what about when you don't have hope? Hope is all very well, but hope is just an emotion. All the important advances in our rights - the abolition of slavery, civil rights, women's rights, worker's rights, child labor - have been fought for and in many cases died for by people never saw the causes they fought for come to pass.

But they did come to pass because of the people who never saw the victory.

We need to do that too. It seems hopeless sometimes when the overwhelming forces of money and power are arrayed against us.

But it does not matter.

The only thing that matters is that we fight for what we know is right.

When we do, we lay the groundwork for those that will come after us, even if we don't prevail today.

So, don't give up because it seems there's no way to win. Reach out to others. Join in with those who are calling and writing and donating and knocking on doors and organizing and marching and running for office. Find a candidate you like and do whatever you can to support them. BE a candidate. It will always be a constant battle. But if we keep on working for justice, we have already won.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

I Know Why The Caged Republican Sings

Tweet, tweet!





Charge of the SCIF Brigade



Attorney General Bill Barr’s speech at Notre Dame chilled me to the bone, because it was as upfront and direct about how this particular religious sector of the right really feels about Democrats and the left in general as I’ve ever seen publicly stated.
Militant secularism, he said, is to blame for the country’s greatest ills, including drug use, mental illness and “an increase in senseless violence.” Given such crises, Barr urged his audience to fight back against “so-called ‘progressives’ ” and others who insist upon respecting America’s pesky, constitutionally mandated separation of church and state.
“This is not decay,” Barr said. “It is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshalled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”

It speaks to what seems to me to be the real core issue that drives the Republicans in power right now — that, to them, liberal values and the Democrats who hold them are fundamentally illegitimate and should have no place in American government.

The article I wrote last year (Legitimacy is at the Core of Republican Hypocrisy) touched on this. It’s the only explanation that makes sense of why Republicans are acting the crazy way they are acting. These people are not, as many progressives like to think, all stupid. Not all of them are exactly rocket scientists, of course, but many of them are Harvard grads, Rhodes scholars (like Louisiana senator John Kennedy) and first in their class at West Point (like Mike Pompeo). They truly believe that progressive values and policies are dangerous and destructive and, for the sake of American freedom, prosperity, morality and stability, must be eliminated from the public sphere. They see the left as a literal existential threat to the United States of America.

They really do believe this.

They really do.

That’s why the people who believe this feel morally justified in blatantly lying, cheating and saying batshit-crazy things all day every day with a straight face and a clear conscience.

If you are fighting an existential threat, there are no “bridges too far”. It is not hypocrisy, it is any tool available with which to defend yourself, your country and your way of life.

The idea of Democrats in power is beyond terrifying to them.

We need to be very, very aware of this.

I cannot overstate its importance.

This is a belief that has been held among many (but not all) Republicans for decades, but has been gradually gaining ascendancy and seizing power since Newt Gingrich (with the help of Frank Luntz) spelled it out in his “Contract with America” in 1994. He said out loud to the entire country what was usually said only among like-minded people. Liberals and liberalism was what was wrong with America and must be stomped out. Democrats were not the “loyal opposition”; they were a threat to be vanquished.

It’s a particular expression of authoritarianism, and it’s why many of them are pushing the “unitary executive” theory (provided, of course, it’s the right kind of executive.) As a generalization, conservatives are attracted to what Dr. George Lakoff calls the “Strict Father” frame, which emphasizes a hierarchical leadership structure with a leader at the top who must be obeyed by those below him. This must be a particular kind of leader — not any old leader will do (sorry, President Obama.) This must be a leader who leads by intimidation, who will brook no disobedience and rule with a firm hand. If this leader is obeyed, everyone obeying him shares in the benefits (and power) of this firm structure. They must support him unquestioningly in order to partake of his power. More moderate Republicans who did not ascribe to this mindset were slowly being pushed out of the Republican power circles. Many of them said, “I didn’t leave my party; my party left me.”

This belief structure has been here for a while. It did not start with Trump, but Trump weaponized it to an unprecedented degree.

The Trump phenomenon is multifaceted. There was an extant political space that went from Newt’s “conservative renewal” to the neocons of the Bush years, to the Tea Party of the Obama years, the ascendancy of unapologetic evangelical nutball Sarah Palin and the refusal of Republicans to acknowledge the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency, which evidenced itself with birtherism. This was where Trump inserted himself into the national political sphere.

He made his bones with his vile and racist birther attacks. Republicans of the authoritarian bent loved how he took on their hated “Obummer”.

He had other factors going for him at the same time. The popular reality show The Apprentice cast him as practically an emperor of business, where he sat on his gilded throne in his gilded palace and judged those below him who were desperately vying for his approval. Celebrity Apprentice was even more appalling, with actual celebrity-types groveling at his feet in pursuit of money for their pet charities (which Trump acted like he was magnanimously donating from his own pockets, but as is his way, took credit for it while the money came from the show), saying, “Yes, sir, Mr. Trump, sir! I respect you so much, Mr. Trump, sir!” (He loves him a good Sir Story.)

The fact that in real life he was anything but successful and self-made, with inherited wealth and real-estate connections which insulated him from the consequences of his shockingly poor judgment, numerous bankruptcies, fraudulent businesses and shady financial dealings made no difference in the way he was seen by the swath of America which was impressed by symbols of wealth and grandeur. But it was his imperious “You’re fired!” that spoke to the heart of these people who were entranced by the appearance of a strongman who said and did whatever he wanted without apololgy or consequences.

The appeal of the “prosperity gospel” — the idea that God rewards those in His favor with earthly riches — was what enables the megachurch pastors to flaunt incredibly gaudy and ostentatious lifestyles, with opulent mansions, fleets of private jets, and gold-plated everything. In fact, the more ostentatious and over-the-top their conspicuous consumption, the more their followers love them and support them with their donations from their own, more meager stores. It’s because there is a deep-seated, unconscious feeling that lives inside many people that says “wealth equals morality”. The idea that the more you have, the more righteous you are and the more that God approves of you is what makes pastors like Jim Bakker, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Ted Haggard, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen (to name a few) so very successful and looked up to by their flock.

The ostentation of Trump engenders similar feelings of respect and admiration among people of this persuasion. And to combine the gaudy ostentation with the aggression towards his enemies and willingness to call names, insult anyone and everyone who crosses him say whatever he thinks without regard for anyone else ratchets that admiration up into a fevered love and fierce, aggressive loyalty.

And since that kind of rabid adulation is what he has longed for all his life, he reflects that back to them in his rallies, which he needs like oxygen.

Don’t forget, also, for those of us who are not Fox watchers, that for years he was a regular guest on Fox. The Fox viewers knew him long ago — he was a familiar, highly entertaining and trusted figure who had the imprimatur of the Fox gods like Hannity and O’Reilly and the close-knit family of Fox and Friends. For Fox viewers he was a known and beloved friend years before he announced his intention to run for President.

When the circuit is complete between Trump and his base, a synergistic kind of power is engendered. A social dominator like Trump is just manna to authoritarian followers, and they are violently attracted to one another. Trump truly loves his base (as a group, not individual people) in a way that he has probably never loved anything or anyone else. He soaks up the roars and chants and I think it’s probably the only time he is really, genuinely happy. You certainly never see him happy anywhere else.

The three most basic traits of the authoritarian follower personality, as defined by Theodor Adorno in his groundbreaking study of authoritarianism after World War II and the Holocaust, are:

Conventionalism: the tendency to accept and obey social conventions; adherence to the traditional and accepted

Authoritarian Submission: submission to authorities and authority figures. This includes acceptance of inequality as something that is a natural consequence of wrong action.

and (most important to this discussion)
Authoritarian Aggression: an aggressive attitude towards individuals or groups disliked by authorities; particularly those who threaten traditional values.

This is a key point right here.

As I mentioned earlier, the Trump phenomenon has many components. It is a “perfect storm” of confluence. He has many spheres of dominance. One section wants and needs him because he is a vehicle to deliver a permanent Republican majority by way of the judiciary, which these Republican legislators such as Mitch McConnell know will be influential long after Trump is gone. These people are not his “followers” in that respect; most of them no doubt loathe him like poison but recognize that, being basically an empty vessel with no political agenda — or even political interest whatsoever — he is Grover Norquist’s “working digits”, his Sharpie at the ready, his policies directed by those in a place to influence him. A real politician with real personal policy ideas and ideals of their own cannot be managed so easily. And the theocratic right has embraced him as a “flawed vessel” who is delivering God’s will to America. These are the people like Bill Barr and Mike Pompeo who believe that government should be ruled by Christians and are working diligently to make that happen. Trump is coming through for them in a big way — more than any other Republican president. Not St. Ronnie, and not even the true evangelical Dubya.

Big Business, the check-writers and legislation-writers, know full well that Democrats do not believe that the interests of business should come first, that “what is good for GE is good for America.” They have spent fortunes over the decades to insure that money is speech and whoever has the most money has the loudest voice. The twin devils of taxation and regulation will strangle them if they are not in a position of control.

And Republicans also realize that, if they lose Trump, they all lose their power. Not only that, they will be unable to stop the existential threat of a Democratic administration and/or majority. The idea of that fills them with horror.

It is usually not expressed in the public sphere that way (Barr being a breathtaking exception) because it is so deeply un-small-d-democratic, so antithetical to our stated American values of freedom and equality and separation of church and state — in a word, un-American. But please believe that this is the underlying truth. This is what they feel.

They don’t believe that Democrats can be trusted to do what’s right for the country. They believe that power should rest in the hands of those qualified to wield it — themselves. Real small-d democracy doesn’t work. It’s much easier to control policy when you have an autocrat — which is basically what they mean by unitary executive.

These are the yummy carrots that keep the Republicans in Trump’s iron-fisted control, and willing to do and say anything to protect him.

But there is also a big, ugly stick that packs a real wallop — the aggression of his base.

As I mentioned above, these three main traits of authoritarianism are right in line with Trump’s base.

Trait #1: They long for a return to “traditional values” and a time that only exists in their imagination. This is MAGA. The present is horrific, the imagined past is golden, and he’s the guy to take them back there.

Trait #2: They long for a strongman to whom they can submit (as is outlined in much of fundamentalist Christianity). When everyone stays in their place, the world runs right. Children submit to their parents, wives submit to their husbands, their husbands submit to God — or God’s designated authority. The God of the fundamentalists is often a punishing, angry God when he doesn’t get his way, and a rewarding God if only you obey him unconditionally. Trump gives them all of that in spades. He loves to be kowtowed to, and rewards them with his love.

And Trait #3 is authoritarian aggression. This is where they attack whoever their authority dislikes. We have seen it on so many fronts — in his rallies and online, from hateful speech to physical aggression, anyone Trump targets (and he loves to target and aim his followers at his enemies like an AK-47) receives anything from vicious insults to death threats, and sometimes more than speech, such as the guy with the Trump-festooned van who sent bombs to the targets of Trump’s invective. They are empowered by Trump, who delights in their attacking of his enemies. That is the loyalty that he craves and demands but does not get from the people around him.


And if Trump targets a Republican who doesn’t toe his line for any reason, you had best believe there are serious consequences meted out by his base. A mean tweet from Trump can ruin someone’s life and all the Republicans know this. It sounds ridiculous on its face, but this is a reality that they are all too aware of. Ask anyone who’s been targeted online. Death threats are common, and you can’t discount the possibility of one of them being more than a threat.

So, there is every reason in the world to stay in Trump’s corner no matter what, no matter how insane you have to get — carrots and sticks.

The up side is that you share in the power and your long-term political goals of protecting America from the threat of the godless commie hell the Democrats are waiting to plunge you into are within reach. Or, if your concerns are more, shall we say, personal with regards to your financial interests, the guy whose number one priority is the almighty dollar is in your corner. The other guy or gal is ready to snatch your hard-earned goodies away to give to some lazy freeloader.

And, of course, the down side is being cast into the darkness of the Trump attack machine, from which none emerge unscathed.

Plus, there’s the “sunk costs”. From the first time Republicans excused Trump’s egregious and disgusting behavior on the campaign trail — mocking the disabled reporter, the Access Hollywood tape, the insulting of Megyn Kelly, Carly Fiorina’s appearance, Ted Cruz’s wife, Ted Cruz’s father, too much more to even list — from the moment they first excused his vile conduct in service of their own political interest, they took a step down a path they can no longer come back from. The have continued, step after step with no road back. How can they criticize anything he does now after allowing so much grotesque behavior to go unchecked and unremarked — even supported and justified?

They have sunk every bit of credibility they ever had down the black and gaping maw of Trump’s venality, narcissism and outright lawlessness.

I can honestly see why they are behaving as they are — answering every Trump lie with a lie of their own to serve and protect him, to aggressively go after his enemies in classic authoritarian follower fashion. As Trump careens headlong into chaos and endangers our national security and cedes our sovereignty to Vladimir Putin, Republicans are left with no option but to “go big or go home”, as Gordon Sondland told Marie Yovanovich. They literally have no other choice. They squandered their moral authority from the start in exchange for what they thought would be the long-term benefit, and they have nothing left. All of the off-ramps are closed to them now.

So, here is the point of all this:

If we — Dems, the left, progressives, whatever — do not recognize that the real issue here is not any of the stuff we’re arguing over, but the underlying premise that Democrats should be eliminated from the public sphere because their beliefs and policies are immoral and dangerous for America, then we will continue to tilt at ever-shifting windmills. Does every Republican believe this? No, but the ones currently in power do. The Republican goal at this juncture, with reasonable, bipartisan Republicans an endangered species, is a permanent Republican majority.

They haven’t achieved it yet, but it is still very much a goal.

Ask Bill Barr.



Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Above The Law

I'm really worried.

For all the dramatic proclamations that "no man is above the law", it is looking to me like someone definitely is.

As this president continues to flout every norm and even law that he doesn't like, he is getting away with it.

I wish I could be as optimistic as some, such as my husband, who continues to believe that Trump is digging his own grave, and with every grotesquerie he commits, every vile offense he perpetrates, that people will see how heinous he is and reject him – in one way or another; either by impeachment or at the ballot box. "Look what he did today! He's going down now!" But then, he didn't think that Trump could possibly be elected. He was sure that the American people would not let that happen.

A while back, I had some sort of dim hope that the special counsel's investigation, and the SDNY prosecutions, would be a means of holding him responsible for his actions and checking him. But with the installation of Bill Barr as attorney general, all of those investigations and prosecutions were quickly and quietly nipped in the bud. 

Now, in addition to the Republican Party which has completely accepted and embraced every horrific thing he does, he has the highest law enforcement officer in the country protecting him from any and all consequences, and rendering the rest of us unable to do anything to stop him as he launches a sustained attack on the very foundations of our democracy and our place in the world. 

I'm not even going to bother to enumerate his many offenses. We all know what they are, from the picayune to the undeniably criminal to the dangerously authoritarian/wanna-be totalitarian. He is insulated by congressional Republican utter unwillingness to do anything to jeopardize their jobs or their political dominance, and the benefits accrued from them – the tax cuts, the deregulation, and especially for the evangelicals, real inroads into dismantling the right to an abortion. They love him because he has delivered unto them these things that St. Ronnie promised and then ignored, and what even a true evangelical like George W. Bush could not deliver. They operate on the 'flawed vessel' concept – that no matter how repugnant and immoral Trump is, he is being used by God to bring about His will (that is, what they want). And they're not really wrong. 

And those who aren't motivated by greed are motivated by fear. If he indicates that he dislikes someone in his own party, that person is liable to be attacked by his horde of rabid Twitter followers, hounded out of office or inundated with death threats. They will do that, and have done that. It's easier to stay on the 'winning team' than to leave it only to be savaged by his base. 

So, we're unable to charge him, much less convict him of any crimes that the overwhelming evidence points to him committing, because 'the president can't be prosecuted for crimes while in office', and he can't even be charged because he can't defend himself in court against accusations. So that's ruled out.

Impeachment, one of the few options that Democrats can avail themselves of, seems to be off the table as well, in practice if not in theory. Since there is no chance of conviction in the Republican-held Senate, it would seem to be a futile political exercise that could strengthen the president's position and weaken the Democrats ("They couldn't impeach me, so I've done nothing wrong.")

And you can't use legal means when the country's top law-enforcement officer, who is in charge of what gets prosecuted, declines to uphold the law when it comes to the president. So, this makes him, in effect, "above the law."

But here's the thing – in addition to the Repubs and Bill Barr, we also have to contend with the fact that the Russian hacking of our elections is deliberately being ignored by this administration. Even though the entire intelligence community agrees that Vladimir Putin interfered in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump administration understands that they benefited from that interference, so they have absolutely no incentive to do anything to prevent it from happening again. 

So even if the will of the majority were to prevail at the ballot box, there's an excellent chance that the tactics used by the Russians in 2016 – social media microtargeting using stolen personal data, hacking into county databases which hold voter rolls that could be deleted (preventing those voters from voting), hacking into the DNC and Clinton campaign servers, stealing emails and releasing them to the public in order to sow dissension within the Democratic Party – will be used again, perhaps even more, because Trump has made it slavishly clear to Vladimir Putin that he does not believe that Russia interfered with the election that put him in the White House, and therefore there would be no attempt to prevent it again.

Even if you did believe that there may have been Russian interference in the election but that it had no effect on the actual outcome (I do not), that alone should impel you to take immediate and drastic action to make sure it doesn't happen again. That is, if you were acting in good faith. But there has been no action taken in that direction.

So – where does this leave us in terms of checking this lawless president? 

The courts? 

Not while Bill Barr is attorney general. Even if other parts of the department of justice were to want to take him to court, as long as Bill Barr is in charge of it, there will be no prosecutions. And if somehow there were, Trump would challenge it all the way to the Supreme Court, where his two ill-gotten selections for the bench, which created a conservative majority, owe him "big-league" and would be very likely to not bite the hand that fed them.

So, the argument goes, the courts aren't the proper remedy for dealing with a president. The way you deal with an errant president is through impeachment. Well, we see where that is going. Or not going, as the case may be.

Impeachment?

It seems to be contingent upon an impossible standard - that Republicans will go along with it. Since that will not happen, there doesn't seem a way forward there. And also, we are almost upon the election year, in which the claim will be made that you can't do anything like that so close to the election.

Legislation?

Not while Mitch McConnell is Majority Leader and has bragged that he will allow no Democratic legislation to even be brought to the floor. He has already subverted the prerogative and duty of the last president by not allowing Barack Obama to nominate a Supreme Court justice to fill a vacancy left open for a year, claiming that it wasn't right to fill the seat during an election year, so that "the American people" would be able to choose. He has also stated, with a chuckle, that were a Supreme Court vacancy to occur in this election year, of course he would allow Trump to fill it.

Election?

See above. I have no confidence that our election will be more secure than before; I'm betting on less. In addition to the Russian interference I referenced, there are serious concerns about the security of electronic voting machines, which more states are using. Hand-counted paper ballots are the least-hackable voting mechanism available. But even if the voting machines themselves were completely secure, there is the possibility that hackers who hack into the county voter rolls can remove voters from the roster.

Combined with gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics, I am not at all sure that our votes will be counted. And, sadly, this is the exact result that the Russian attacks on us are trying to achieve. I do know this – if Trump does not win, he's going to scream that the Dems cheated and stole the election (most likely by the millions of 'illegals' that just waltz into the voting booth and cast a felonious vote, assisted by eager Dems) and will likely be very difficult to remove. 

So what we're left with is a circular set of options – what about taking him to court? Can't do that, gotta impeach him. What about impeaching him? Can't do that unless the Republicans agree. Can't prove that he broke the law because you can't take him to court. Can't impeach him because it wasn't proven that he broke the law. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Maybe something will happen that will change my mind. I really hope so. I wish with all my heart that I could be wrong about this. But right now, it seems clear to me that Trump is, in fact and in deed, "above the law." 

He's getting away with it. 

And no one is stopping him.

And that scares the bejesus out of me. 


Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Legitimacy is at the Core of Republican Hypocrisy

The arrogance of Republican hypocrisy is breathtaking. Trump, of course, is the most visible, blatant, and audacious, but it has been going on much longer than Trump has been on the scene. 

The most recent (as of this morning) has been the Eric Schneiderman debacle. After credible witnesses and contemporaneous corroboration of physical, mental and emotional abuse from someone who has been an outspoken advocate for #MeToo, Democrats rightly called for Schneiderman to step down, which he did. And Twitter was ablaze with the pearl-clutching condemnation of Republicans who were shocked and disgusted that a man in public office could behave so reprehensibly, and who must immediately be removed from that office.

But when confronted with abuse and assault accusations of their own, they stubbornly insist that A) all of the accusers, no matter how credible, are lying; B) the accused are denying any wrongdoing so must be believed; and C) that regardless of the truth or falsity of the accusations, their guy was elected by the people so it doesn't matter.

This extends to every corner of political and public life, from the accusations of corruption and self-dealing from the White House on down, to evangelical support of the most egregious moral failings of the President, and any kind of transgression that they would excoriate Democrats for. They lambasted President Obama for wearing a tan suit, which they accused of being 'disrespectful of the office', while giving a pass to the most vile insults that the current resident of that office throws around at anyone he doesn't like, including mocking a disabled reporter. They berated Michelle Obama for wearing a sleeveless dress, while giving the current resident's wife a pass for nude photographs.

It has always puzzled me, because it's not just the 'low-information' base and die-hard Trump fans who do this - it's smart, well-educated Republicans in and out of public office who do the same. How can they possibly keep a straight face? How can they constantly excuse and justify bad behavior of their own while being outraged over the slightest transgression - real or imagined - of any Democrat? How can they rail against the speck in their brother's eye while ignoring the beam in their own? How can they justify this to themselves?

I am thinking that it comes down to the issue of legitimacy.

In 1994, Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, with the help of pollster Frank Luntz, came up with the "Contract with America", a manifesto of conservative ideology and Republican campaign platform wish list that painted Democrats and liberals as not just misguided but illegitimate - not just wrong but immoral. They made the case that conservative values must prevail, not just to improve the economy or strengthen America, but in order to keep liberal values out of the public sphere altogether. This document referenced traditional Republican ideas such as cutting taxes, slashing the safety net, a balanced budget amendment, tort reform, term limits, cutting regulations, etc. Along with that came language that encouraged the Christian Coalition to consider it a legitimization of their 'place at the table' of government legislation and a rejection of the separation of church and state.

Frank Luntz helped Newt to make the case that America itself was conservative, and therefore anything non-conservative was, by definition, un-American. Luntz gave Newt a treatise on language to define his position and denigrate the opposition, telling Republicans to use words like choice, children, common sense, confident, duty, family, freedom, liberty, opportunity, precious, prosperity, protect, rights, strength, tough, truth. And he told them to use words to define Democrats like abuse of power, betray, bizarre, bureaucracy, cheat, coercion, corrupt, decay, destroy, fail, greed, hypocrisy, ideological, intolerant, liberal, lie, obsolete, punish, radical, selfish, shame, steal, threaten, traitors, unionized, waste, welfare.

Of course, there have always been fundamental differences between the two parties/ideologies, and plenty of partisanship, but even with all that there was the idea of the 'Loyal Opposition' with whom you had vigorous, even heated debate on the floor, but respected as a person and a fellow congressperson. You might completely disagree with your opponent but at the end of the day you did not question their right to be there. Newt and company weaponized disagreement, and promoted the narrative that Democrats and liberal values must be eliminated at any cost from a voice in American government. This is not an exaggeration. They speak of a permanent Republican majority, and warn that if Democrats are allowed to have a say, that America itself is endangered.

This is why you hear things like "a child molester/rapist/felon/thief/traitor in office would be bad, but not as bad as a Democrat."

What has seeped into the subtext of the Republican narrative (obviously not all Republicans personally, but the frame, which is embraced by a large portion of the conservative electorate) is the idea that Democrats do not belong in office, period. That their very ideas are not legitimate and that their policies will harm America.

This gives them the freedom to hold a different standard.

If Democrats are fundamentally illegitimate, any steps to eliminate them from government are acceptable. If you believe that the premise of liberalism is dangerous and destructive and immoral, it is easy to justify doing anything possible to prevent or remove them from office. It's a logical extension of "the ends justify the means."

So, no matter what a conservative may do that is questionable, unethical, immoral or even illegal, the bottom line is that they are in the right. They may not be personally honorable but they are standing with a cause that is honorable and essential for the survival of America, so they are legitimate. Trump is just the most egregious and offensive example of this way of thinking. This is why evangelicals will back him no matter what. If a sinner can further God's purpose, then the sinner is not wrong.

Conversely, if a liberal or a Democrat transgresses, it is a confirmation of their basic illegitimacy. There is no cognitive dissonance there if you consider it within the frame of legitimacy over illegitimacy. A Democrat admitting and accepting responsibility for wrongdoing is proof of their fundamental unfitness. A Republican refusing to admit any wrongdoing is proof of their innocence and legitimacy.

Although there are few Republicans who will consciously attest to this underlying premise, and of course many moderate Republicans who do not subscribe to it, I believe that this is an overall driving force in motivating the actions of the current Republican party. A lie in the service of the truth is no lie.

Until we contend with this directly, I think this toxic dichotomy will continue and intensify. We must address this before we are shut out of our country's political process for good. As long as a Democrat in office is considered worse than a criminal, we will continue to have to fight a war for basic legitimacy itself.