A peek of sun

This is a miserable day: there’s a small hurricane a few hundred miles to the south that is shooting enough rain over my area that the golf course has actually closed, and they rarely do that; I’m finishing four months mostly stuck at home doing my tiny part to stifle the spread of COVID-19, which has a renewed outbreak here in southeast Texas thanks mostly to simple impatience encouraged by misguided state and national political leadership; and while the Major League Baseball season finally began in Houston last night I found from watching just a bit of it on television that the lack of fan excitement in the ballpark compounded my disinterest arising from the off-season report that my team cheated.

But there is good news: support for Donald Trump among Republicans is starting to crack!  Finally.

I do not understand—have never understood—the attraction of Donald Trump to the American people, beyond the fact that he is not Hillary Clinton and that was enough for many.  Trump has no guiding philosophical principles (beyond self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement) that might attract like-minded people, and even if he did, you’d think the cold, clear reality that Trump lies (about everything) should be enough to persuade those people that he cannot be trusted in anything that he says.  Even his TV catchphrase “You’re fired” was misleading, in that we’ve now seen that he doesn’t have the courage to fire anyone to their face, no matter how much they may deserve it.  He’s a con man; a fraud.  He’s also an incredible whiner, obsessed with whether people have been “fair” and “nice” to him—why didn’t he ever learn that life is not fair, and people are not always nice?  (Has he looked in a mirror?)

He’s also proven himself to be conspicuously susceptible to praise—he thrives on having others tell him how great he is.  Don’t think the leaders of Russia, China and North Korea haven’t noticed.  I’ve never seen anything as demeaning as those Cabinet meetings and other gatherings at which Trump kicks it off by going around the table “giving” everyone the chance to open up their Roget’s and find new ways to kiss his ass—in public!  Like they had a choice…I do not understand why, after the first one of those, the people around that table ever came back.

Actually, I think I do understand, at least to an extent: leaders of the Republican Party in and out of government are willing to put up with all the hideous and despicable behaviors of Trump because that’s the price to pay for getting what they want from having their party in power.  What other reason could there be for men and women who have demonstrated their skill in the system and risen to these positions of power to now debase themselves without public complaint to the same man most of them strongly dismissed and ridiculed right up to the minute he secured their party’s nomination?

The “what” of “what do they want?” from Trump differs, of course.  It could be as simple as political spoils, personal appointments or government contracts.  It could be as clear as being part of the plan to advance a philosophical agenda, either by, for example, enabling racists to control the levers of power, or by installing a generation of judges to lifetime appointments to influence the nation’s laws.  But in supporting him as president, they have also enabled all that we get from Trump: the disinterest in properly handling the government’s response to a pandemic, the misguided policy priorities, the self-inflicted trade wars, the attempts to use the government to enrich himself and to punish his enemies, the damage to relations with our allies as well as our enemies, including the attempt to blackmail a foreign leader for his personal and political gain that led to his impeachment.  (Don’t forget impeachment!)  And despite all that, the polls have been showing that Republicans still support him.

But if you look carefully, as Greg Sargent did in the Washington Post this week, you can see some cracks in that wall of support.

In a revealing aside, President Trump told chief propagandist Sean Hannity on Thursday night that he traces much of the overwhelming enthusiasm for his reelection now sweeping the country back to his Mount Rushmore speech commemorating Independence Day.

“Since that time, it’s been really something,” Trump told Hannity, before raging that fake polls are deliberately obscuring the mighty depth and reach of his support.

In that speech, Trump offered his canonical statement on the unleashing of federal law enforcement into cities, conflating protests against police brutality and systemic racism with a “far-left fascism” out to “take” our “national heritage” away from the “American people.”

At around the time Trump appeared on “Hannity,” all four Major League Baseball teams playing Opening Day games took a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter before the national anthem, flatly defying Trump’s relentless disparaging of the protests, and more broadly, the vision outlined in that speech.

In all kinds of ways, Trump’s depiction of this national moment, as enshrined in that speech, is losing its grip on the country. In some cases, Trump’s own officials are defying his efforts to carry that depiction to the authoritarian climax he so craves.

Meanwhile, Trump’s sinking popularity — which is linked to that loosening grip, as his efforts to impose that understanding on us are surely helping drive his numbers down — is leading to open defiance among his own party.

Players taking a knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Republicans standing up to Trump on Confederacy issues and on vote by mail: Sargent cites these among seven examples where, across the country and including Republicans, people may finally be getting so tired of Trump and his constant drama that they are ready to tell him to shove it.  I hope he’s right.

Another example: Republican Congressional candidates in the Houston area who recently won their party primary runoffs by trumpeting their support of Trump are kicking off the general election campaign by…toning it down.  A lot.

Of course, I wonder why it’s taken so long, especially for elected officials who generally consider themselves, each and every one of them, the bright center of the universe around which all else revolves.  After swallowing their pride and kowtowing to this spoiled child for so long, they would not be abandoning ship now if they thought he was going to win in November.  Maybe they’ve finally seen the light and are doing what’s right for it’s own sake.  (Right.)  You decide.

Now.  For.  The.  Twitter.  Fun.

Person, Woman, Man, Camera, TV!

Where we go from here

We’ve endured the Democratic and Republican parties’ conventions, which spit out the nominees for president that we’ve been expecting for many many weeks.  What are we faced with, looking at the 100 days left before the general election?

Donald Trump is not well known, perhaps in his inconsistencies unknowable, but what he has shown us, or what we’ve been able to learn despite him, troubles many people–including some leaders of the Republican Party, who even now refuse to endorse him.  Hillary Clinton is not an unknown, and what we know isn’t especially inspiring. She is not well liked by many Democrats and has been demonized for so long by her enemies on the right that it’s hard to imagine her being able to work with Republicans in Congress and get much done.

Ezra Klein on Vox.com makes the case that we have a choice between normal and not normal.  It seems to me that, given today’s dysfunctional dynamic between Republicans and Democrats, making a “not normal” choice could be a good thing, and I guess many of those who support Trump feel the same way.  But let’s agree that while something better than what we have would be welcomed, simply being different doesn’t automatically make a thing better.  A Trump presidency would not be better.  Not by a long shot.

The Washington Post calls Trump “a unique threat to American democracy”:

He is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance. To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions. Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew.

Any one of these characteristics would be disqualifying; together, they make Mr. Trump a peril.

Frank Bruni in The New York Times finds that Trump’s simple patriotism “doesn’t add up.”:

But there’s nothing simple about a patriotism that allows someone to brag, as Trump has done, about paying as little in taxes as he can possibly get away with, and that permits him to flout an important political tradition of candidates’ releasing their tax returns.

There’s nothing simple about a patriotism that advocates torture, as Trump has also done, when our conduct in waging war is ideally what sets us apart from less principled countries and earns us the respect of the world.

And there’s nothing simple about a patriotism that’s really an amalgam of nativism, racism, isolationism and xenophobia and that denies this country’s distinction as a land of fresh starts, its arms open to a diverse world.

The specter of Trump was enough for Mr. Republican, George Will, to decide to terminate his membership in the Republican Party, for former GOP congressman and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough to urge Republican candidates to keep their distance from the top of the ticket, and for Republican political pro Mark Salter to deliver a clear and concise list of reasons why Republicans with any sense of integrity or shame should avoid him, including:

He’s an ignoramus whose knowledge of public issues is more superficial than an occasional newspaper reader’s. He casts his intellectual laziness as a choice, a deliberate avoidance of expert views that might contaminate his ill-informed opinions.

(snip)

He’s a charlatan, preposterously posing as a business genius while cheating investors, subcontractors, and his own customers. He’s rich because his father left him a great deal of money. He couldn’t turn a profit with a casino, for crying out loud.

(snip)

He possesses the emotional maturity of a 6-year-old. He can’t let go of any slight, real or imagined, from taunts about the length of his fingers to skepticism about his portfolio.

(snip)

He doesn’t appeal to a single honorable quality or instinct in our society. He exploits fear and incites hatred. They are the emotions that impel him. He wants us to make our way in the world as he does: selfish, insecure, angry, scapegoating, small.

Do we want change for the better?  Sure we do.  But do we want to change to someone who is radically outside of the norms of political activity as we’ve known it, and as it’s developed in this country over hundreds of years?  If this is the available choice, I don’t think so, and I’m not alone.  Today Houston’s Leading Information Source joined the group of publications that are already endorsing Clinton because Trump is so damn terrible!

An election between the Democrat Clinton and, let’s say, the Republican Jeb Bush or John Kasich or Marco Rubio, even the hyper-ideological Ted Cruz, would spark a much-needed debate about the role of government and the nation’s future, about each candidate’s experience and abilities. But those Republican hopefuls have been vanquished. To choose the candidate who defeated them – fairly and decisively, we should point out – is to repudiate the most basic notions of competence and capability.

Any one of Trump’s less-than-sterling qualities – his erratic temperament, his dodgy business practices, his racism, his Putin-like strongman inclinations and faux-populist demagoguery, his contempt for the rule of law, his ignorance – is enough to be disqualifying. His convention-speech comment, “I alone can fix it,” should make every American shudder. He is, we believe, a danger to the Republic.

After more than a year of campaigning–a hell of a slog for us voters to endure, if you ask me–this campaign still has more than three months to go, and there’s a danger that we may become inured to the outrageousness of Trump’s actions and words.  Let me warn again: please, do not let the craziness of Trumpism become normal; don’t let yourself come to believe that what he’s doing and saying isn’t so bad because we’ve been hearing it for so long.  They are far from normal, and we need to still be able to see that when election day finally gets here.

Take no pride in the stars and bars

This should be an easy call for everyone: the battle flag of the Confederate States of America is a symbol of traitors who went to war against their own country with the primary goal of preserving their ability to buy and sell human beings as property.  I don’t understand why that flag has been treated with respect anywhere since the day Lee surrendered to Grant.

This was never an issue for me as a kid: either we lived in New York, Ohio or Minnesota where I don’t remember ever seeing the Stars and Bars displayed, or we lived in Alabama and Texas but I was too young to understand what the flag symbolized, or how often one would see it flying.  I admit, ashamedly, that once I was old enough to understand, I didn’t think much of it: so what if a neighboring high school was named after Robert E. Lee, and their mascot was the Rebels, and the Confederate battle flag was their flag.  It didn’t register for me, meant nothing.

The first time I experienced cognitive dissonance over the display of Confederate symbols was when I arrived at college, at The University of Texas at Austin, in the fall of 1975.  Suddenly there were a lot of places where people were very seriously, and very publicly, paying homage to the men who provoked a war with America over the issue of slavery.

Mostly for me, it was the statues. The South Mall, just beyond the plaza in front of the Main Building—the Texas Tower—features heroic statues of three icons of the Confederacy: CSA president Jefferson Davis, and army generals Robert E. Lee and Albert S. Johnston (plus CSA postmaster general John Reagan).  They were put 3371952120_246b01a6ed_zthere in the early 20th century, along with a statue of President Woodrow Wilson and one of former Texas Governor James Hogg, in conjunction with the Littlefield Fountain, all envisioned as a grand entry to the university and a memorial for the university students who died in World War I, which in the sculptor’s view was the beginning of real healing after the Civil War since it was the first time Americans from all across the country started to act as citizens of the same country again.  There was also supposed to be a statue of George Washington that didn’t get finished in time due to finances, and it was later placed nearby.  (A good short history of the UT statues is here, in a recent article in the Austin Chronicle.)

You put up a statue of someone, you’re honoring them and what they did and stood for in their lives.  For me, one day on the South Mall, I finally thought, why the hell is my university honoring traitors?  Racist traitors?  Why do we in Texas name streets and schools and public buildings after these people?  The fountain nearby (pictured) has an inscription memorializing those who died in WWI, and a second inscription recognizing another conflict:

To the men and women of the Confederacy, who fought with valor and suffered with fortitude that states’ rights be maintained and who, not dismayed by defeat nor discouraged by misrule, builded from the ruins of a devastating war a greater South and to the men and women of the nation who gave of their possessions and of their lives [so] that free government be made secure to the peoples of the earth this memorial is dedicated.

Just a few more blocks to the south, on the grounds of the state capital, there’s a Confederate Soldiers Monument, and another to the 8th Texas Cavalry known as Terry’s Texas Rangers.  What the f***?

The shooting deaths of nine people in a Charleston church last week, by a young man who used the Confederate battle flag as part of his symbology of white supremacy, has sparked (seemingly from out of nowhere) a lot of discussion about the propriety of governmental display of these symbols of racism , and caused me to consider the issue.  Let me be clear about my position.

I’m not saying that all the Confederate flags and all the statues of all the Confederate “statesmen” and generals, and all the memorials to the Confederate soldiers, should be banned or removed or destroyed.  I’m not suggesting we pretend that the Civil War didn’t happen; we need museums and displays that can tell the story in context.

I am saying, those people were wrong to enslave their fellow men and women and children, and they were wrong to try to secede from the United States so they could continue to do so; they lost the war they started, which cost their part of the country most dearly in lives and treasure.  And we as a people, as a nation, as state institutions, should not be seeming to honor them and their actions by displaying their flag.  As individuals, you or I can fly any flag we choose, for whatever reason; but there is no reason I can think of that any government entity in the United States should make any prideful display of the symbols of a failed racist rebellion.

And let’s be clear about the motives: the states of the Confederacy fought that war to protect their ability to engage in human slavery. Ta-Nahesi Coates has the goods in a recent article in The Atlantic.

The Confederate flag is directly tied to the Confederate cause, and the Confederate cause was white supremacy. This claim is not the result of revisionism. It does not require reading between the lines. It is the plain meaning of the words of those who bore the Confederate flag across history. These words must never be forgotten. Over the next few months the word “heritage” will be repeatedly invoked. It would be derelict to not examine the exact contents of that heritage.

And examine it he does, using the words of the secessionists to deny any modern-day claim that the Confederacy was not about preserving slavery. 

  • South Carolina: “…A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.”
  • Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin…”
  • Louisiana: “As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of an­nexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.”
  • Texas: “…in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states….”

You get the idea.  Civil War documentarian Ken Burns backs up the argument; South Carolina state senator Paul Thurmond, son of famous racist and Dixiecrat presidential candidate Strom Thurmond, says the “heritage” some claim to be glorifying is nothing to be proud of.

All the talk of “state’s rights” is just polish on the pig: the right that the Confederate States of America was trying to protect was the right to own other human beings.  Their agricultural economy depended on free labor in the fields and in the master’s house.  Those people fought a war to maintain slavery in this country; that’s not worthy of our respect, and neither is their flag.

#JeSuisCharlie

What happened in Paris this morning?  Well, for starters, it’s not about cartoons:

…this isn’t about Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, any more than a rape is about what the victim is wearing, or a murder is about where the victim was walking.

What happened today, according to current reports, is that two men went on a killing spree. Their killing spree, like most killing sprees, will have some thin rationale. Even the worst villains believe themselves to be heroes. But in truth, it was unprovoked slaughter. The fault lies with no one but them and their accomplices. Their crime isn’t explained by cartoons or religion. Plenty of people read Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons and managed to avoid responding with mass murder. Plenty of people follow all sorts of religions and somehow get through the day without racking up a body count.

Read Ezra Klein’s essay.  And this one by Joe Randazzo, a former editor of The Onion.

If it turns out that members of Al Qaeda or some other radical “Islamic” sect carried out this attack, the saddest, most profoundly ironic thing about it will have been that the satire worked. It did its job. It so threatened its target, cut so deeply at the truth, that it resorted to the most cowardly, most offensive and despicable form of lashing out.

Satire must always accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms, they understood the need for the court jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter. It is, in many ways, the most powerful form of free speech because it is aimed at those in power, or those whose ideas would spread hate. It is the canary in the coalmine, a cultural thermometer, and it always has to push, push, push the boundaries of society to see how much it’s grown.

It’s about freedom—of speech and of religion.  Yes, I know that the people who committed the murders in Paris today probably aren’t Americans with an American’s sense of those freedoms—more the reason why people who do have an American’s sense of freedom should be spreading the message.

The TV news is an ass, the sequel

I failed to give credit where it was due when I wrote early yesterday about how television “news” ignored the dramatic events at the Texas state capitol.  There was a filibuster-to-adjournment over a bill that would drastically reduce the availability of abortions in Texas and that caused citizens to fill the galleries, and later to express their anger when they saw, plain as day, the lieutenant governor and his supporters try to railroad the process, and at one point saw that an official record of a vote had been changed.  I was annoyed that I couldn’t follow the story on television–it was not being covered on any of my local stations in Houston nor on any of the national cable “news” channels.  I was keeping up on Twitter.

What I neglected to do was to consult other avenues available on the Inter-Webs, and I was reminded of that today by Time and by Rachel Sklar.  The state senate was live-streaming itself, and the big show was available on other live streams, too, with some great work done by the Austin American-Statesman.  Congratulations to them all for recognizing a newsworthy event when they saw one and doing something to let the rest of us keep up.

Time: “As protesters massed in the gallery, the GOP majority attempted to close debate and bring a vote, and Democrats maneuvered to stall after their rivals forced [Senator Wendy] Davis to stop speaking on procedural grounds, well over 100,000 YouTube viewers were tuned to the channel–closer to 200,000 as zero hour approached. That’s a six-figure viewership, after primetime in most time zones, watching legislators argue over Robert’s Rules of Order and who properly held the floor.”

Sklar: “The clock struck midnight. Victory! They had run out the clock! The chants continued. Twitter exploded. But that was weird, it seemed like that vague roll call was still going on. What, exactly, was going on in that huddle by the Chair?

This is what was going on: They were taking the vote. It was after midnight, and suddenly that strict adherence to rules didn’t seem so strict anymore. Whispers were trickling out, confirmed by the AP: SB5 had passed, 17-12.

Twitter was going bananas. I checked the networks again. CNN was re-running Anderson Cooper. MSNBC was re-running Lawrence O’Donnell. Fox was re-running Greta van Susteren. Journalist Lizzie O’Leary tweeted, ‘Interesting choice you made tonight, cable news executives.'”

By now you’ve heard how it turned out: the good old boys intent on changing a law that most Texans thought didn’t need changing (and despite having failed in their effort to change the law during the regular session, by the way) were gobsmacked at the reaction of the crowd, yet tried to push ahead and took a vote on the bill after the deadline and declared victory, only to be confronted with not only the evidence of their failure to act within the rules of the chamber but evidence that someone messed with the records (Anthony De Rosa posted screenshots of the evidence, here and then here) and ultimately conceded defeat of the bill on other technical grounds.  And just as expected, Governor Haircut issued a call for another special session starting next week so legislators can have a third bite at the apple.

Yeah, but we didn’t need to see any of that live as it happened, did we…

UPDATE 6/28 8:00 am CT: Patti Kilday Hart at Houston’s Leading Information Source solves the mystery over the conflicting reports of when the Texas Senate voted on the abortion restriction bill, and it turns out there was no hanky-panky.  The respected secretary of the Senate Patsy Spaw explains that the vote started before the special session ended at midnight–she knows because it’s her job to check the clock before starting the roll call–and the rules allow such a vote to count; because of the noise in the chamber the staffer charged with recording the vote had to leave her desk to hear the result, and it was past midnight when she returned to her workstation to enter the result; someone later manually changed the date in the system to reflect the correct date of passage.  But the bill ultimately was not passed legally because, as Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said at the time, it hadn’t been signed by the presiding officer “in the presence of the Senate” as required by the state constitution: all official action of the special session ended the moment the senators left the chamber (because of the noise) after midnight, and could not resume when they returned some time later Wednesday morning.