The winter of my discontent has spilled over into the spring

You’d have thought that two months would have been plenty of time.  Time for Americans to take a calming breath, relax a bit, and let the radicalization of thought and action spurred by “the former guy” just naturally subside.  Time for passions to cool.  Time for the recognition of fact versus fiction.

Nope.

Four years of cognitive dissonance generated by the primary source of fake news in our lives reached its crescendo in early January when thousands of people claiming to hold an unwavering belief in law and order ignored the provable facts and attacked the seat of government of the country they swore they loved.  Hundreds of law enforcement officers were injured by the “patriots” who took the law into their own hands that day and tried to overturn the results of a free and fair election because they didn’t like the result.

The man impeached for inspiring that assault has left office, but the “the crazy” is still in the house.  He wasn’t the cause, it turns out; just a catalyst.

I daresay we all know at least a few of these people.  The stone cold racists.  The Christian Nationalists trying to make the United States a “Christian nation” even though the Constitution prohibits that.  The self-styled “conservatives” for whom anything can be said if it annoys their political opponents and inspires their own supporters, with adherence to actual accuracy or consistency with their own past statements not required.

They took advantage of having a mainstream leader—it don’t get any mainstreamer than the White House—who was willing to support their radical beliefs to force a massive change in the course of American society.  For four years, it was working.  They didn’t count on Dear Leader being so thoroughly self-absorbed and delusional that he refused to lead the country against the ravages of a global pandemic, a failure which generated enough antagonism that it inspired the record voter turnout that caused his defeat.

MAGA nation has always been there; it came out of the shadows in 2016, and it’s not done.

For those with no self-esteem and no affinity for truth, the blatant and self-serving lying is still going strong.  (Recent examples here and here.)  The flow of ludicrous conspiracy theories and disinformation is unrestrained—such as Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, “an all-access purveyor of misinformation on serious issues such as the pandemic and the legitimacy of American democracy, as well as invoking the etymology of Greenland as a way to downplay the effects of climate change.”  The absence of any need for intellectual consistency has never been more apparent: a lawyer who is being sued for defamation by a voting machine company she trashed for weeks is defending herself by claiming that “no reasonable person” would have believed the things she claimed in an actual legal filing were actually true!

Many Republicans across the country acknowledge that they have a problem: there are too many Americans who have not drunk the kool-aid and are not voting for Republicans. So they are taking action to make it harder for those people to vote at all.

More than 250 bills have been introduced in 43 states that would change how Americans vote, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice, which backs expanded voting access. That includes measures that would limit mail voting, cut hours that polling places are open and impose restrictions that Democrats argue amount to the greatest assault on voting rights since Jim Crow.

First across the finish line is the great state of Georgia.  In the state where a Republican secretary of state effectively told a sitting president soliciting his cooperation in voting fraud to shove it, the Republican legislature passed and the Republican governor signed an “overhaul of state elections that includes new restrictions on voting by mail and gives the legislature greater control over how elections are run.”

Among other things, the law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.

Democrats and voting rights groups say the law will disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. It is part of a wave of GOP-backed election bills introduced in states around the nation after former President Trump stoked false claims that fraud led to his 2020 election defeat.

The effort in Georgia and elsewhere—including my state of Texas, sad to say—are marketed as laws designed to provide greater ballot security and give voters reassurance about the integrity of election outcomes.  This presupposes your belief in the old GOP chestnut that elections now are not secure and that the outcomes are not legitimate.  Which, of course, is untrue—look at the literally dozens of lawsuits pursued across the country by Republicans trying to change the outcome of the presidential race last year, which could not prove voter fraud sufficient to have changed any results.  No one can reasonably argue that there is no election fraud, ever, anywhere, but there has never been evidence of the kind of massive voter fraud—ever, anywhere—that Republicans falsely assert as reason to make voting harder.  Even to the extent, in Georgia, of making it illegal to give a bottle of water to anyone waiting in line to vote.

Republicans who recognize actual truth understand this: their party controls the legislatures in 30 of the 50 states, and thus the redistricting process in those states, which goes a long way to perpetuate their electoral strength in legislative and congressional elections despite their national weakness.  (Democrats redistrict to their own benefit, of course, but they don’t have as many opportunities.)  In the 2020 election for president, 84.1 million Americans voted for someone other than the Republican incumbent, and another 80.8 million Americans didn’t vote at all, so nearly 70% of Americans who are eligible to vote turned thumbs down at another four years of Republican control of the White House.  In an election where more Americans voted than ever voted before, less than one-third of Americans voted Republican at the top of the ballot.  If Republicans want to hold on to power, they know they had better use their majorities while they still have them.

So must the Democrats in Congress.  The For the People Act, passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting action in the Senate, is an effort to negate the Republican attempts to make voting more difficult: it would expand voting rights, and limit gerrymandering, and take precedence in these areas over any laws passed in the states.  We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Republicans and conservatives seem intent on amusing us with their crying and whining.  The party that used to be all about personal responsibility can’t shut up about being the victims of cancel culture when they get caught doing the very things for which they criticize others.

Trumpeting their true colors

On Wednesday morning, still working from home most days because of COVID-19, I saw an email from the boss a few steps above me on the food chain warning us all of some new procedures to be followed if we had to physically go into the office.  I emailed my supervisor to ask if this new “help” from management was really something new for us and he said we’d talk about it in our regular meeting that afternoon; I replied “Meeting?  But I planned to watch Congress count the electoral votes this afternoon.”

I didn’t get to bed until 3:00 the next morning.

The election results have been clear: Joe Biden won, fair and square.  Recounts, and recounts of recounts, in many states, all showed that Biden won enough states to give him 306 electoral votes—the same amount Trump got in 2016, when he characterized it as landslide victory.  More than five dozen court cases challenging vote totals and voting laws in several states all sustained that result.  None of the accusations of fraud led to evidence of enough illegality that would change the result.  Many of the legal challenges were comically inept in their composition.  Republican governors and legislatures and secretaries of state did not bow to the siren song of a plea from the president to “find” the outcome he desired—they followed their laws and certified the legal winner.  The Electoral College certified those results.  Now it was up to Congress to add up the totals.  A formality.

There were stories online about a rally near the White House that morning where the president was reportedly repeating his regular grievances and his lies about the theft of his re-election, and I ignored that as just so much more of the same old same old, the blah blah blah that I and so many others have become so tired of, and so inured to, that I was so looking forward to, so very soon, not having to hear any more.  I was oblivious to the news that Trump supporters had a plan for the day:

The advance publicity for the “March for America” had been robust. Beyond the repeated promotions in tweets by the president and his allies, the upcoming event was cheered on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

But woven through many of the messages to stand up for Mr. Trump — and, if possible, block the congressional certification of the election he claimed he had won — was language that flirted with aggression, even violence.

For example, the term “Storm the Capitol” was mentioned 100,000 times in the 30 days preceding Jan. 6, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company. Many of these mentions appeared in viral tweet threads that discussed the possible storming of the Capitol and included details on how to enter the building.

To followers of QAnon, the convoluted collection of conspiracy theories that falsely claims the country is dominated by deep-state bureaucrats and Democrats who worship Satan, the word “storm” had particular resonance. Adherents have often referred to a coming storm, after which Mr. Trump would preside over a new government order.

I’d seen the news that Vice President Pence had announced he would not/could not/had no authority to overrule the states and decide which electoral votes could be counted and which tossed aside.  After four years of his incredible obsequiousness to Trump I was surprised that he was acting like his own man but grateful to see it—I assumed now it would just be a matter of waiting through the speeches challenging the votes in a few states, and then the curtain would fall on the last scene of a dreadful play.

In blissful ignorance of what was to come, I tuned in for the start of the joint session of Congress but instead saw video of hundreds of people at the doors around the Capitol—no wait, it’s thousands, in fun colorful hats and shirts and carrying flags and such.  They looked to me like they were having more or less friendly exchanges with the police and security officers while they demonstrated their insistence that Trump had not lost the election.  Inside, Pence started the roll call of states to tabulate the electoral votes…and outside, the crowd was slowly moving up the steps of the Capitol.  And when some of them seemed to have made it inside, I assumed that police had let them in…there was no sign of any confrontation, and no reporting that there had been any.  But that changed.

A bloodied officer was crushed in a doorway screaming in Wednesday’s siege, which forced lawmakers to go into hiding for hours and halt their voting to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. Another officer tumbled over a railing into the crowd below after being body-slammed from behind. Members of the media were cursed, shoved and punched.

A vast number of photos and videos captured the riot, which left five people dead. Many of the images were taken by the rioters themselves, few of whom wore masks that would have lowered not only their chances of contracting the coronavirus, but their chances of being identified. Some took pains to stand out.

My favorite amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees, among other things, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  (Emphasis added.)  When those people forced their way into the building, a peaceful protest turned into a criminal act.  And what I remember thinking as I watched on Wednesday, and knowing as little as I did then about the details, was that the Capitol police—clearly outmanned, and maybe outgunned—were smart to be taking a patient approach.  Rather than open fire, causing more casualties and who knows what kind of potential escalation, they were letting the baby cry itself out.  They even escorted some of the protesters out of the building.  There were no reports of large numbers of people being arrested, or of being injured.  The vote counting concluded.

While the U.S. Capitol was under attack by thousands of people intending to subvert the outcome of our election, some of them meaning to capture and possibly execute representatives of our government, President Sentence Fragment watched from a catered party tent at the White House before moving inside and staying glued to the TV.  He didn’t call out the National Guard, or any law enforcement agencies to assist; until pressed by his advisers he didn’t make any effort to get the protesters to stop, and when he did he told them he loved them; he didn’t make a phone call to find out if his vice president was safe and unharmed; and while the invasion was still going on he continued calling members of Congress trying to convince them to change the outcome of the election.  He is still insisting the election was stolen from him, and said he will not be attending Biden’s inauguration.  Good.

Since the events of Wednesday there are Trump supporters who are calling for him to resign, or to be impeached (again), or for Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office.  Inasmuch as he has proved, yet again, that he cannot be trusted to obey the law or even to control his own impulses, I’d support any effort within the law to remove him from office.  The voters have done what they can, and he will be gone soon.  Others argue that the nation needs to heal, and any effort to remove Trump now will damage that effort.  That’s bullshit.

If we do nothing, if we turn away from this shameful event—this terroristic attack on our nation’s capital, nothing less than that—we will be tacitly encouraging it to happen again.  If we do not hold lawbreakers accountable for their actions, they won’t have any reason not to do it again.  We punish our children so they learn to behave, the same reasoning applies to entitled adults.

I don’t want to leave without touching on another important aspect of what we saw Wednesday.  It is fair to ask why it appears that these protesters—these white protesters—were treated so gently by law enforcement.

Can you imagine a scenario where an African-American mob storms the Capitol and the lawn is not littered with bodies and blood? That happens to Black people when they ask for equal justice, much less if they tried to overthrow the government. Yet this mostly white mob had the run of the building. What a shameful and wretched spectacle. What an embarrassment.

It’s another important aspect of the things we learned last week, thanks to Donald Trump.

For four years, Trump has made war on the constitutional order, on the institutions of American democracy, and on anyone who stood in his way. Almost all of the Republicans on Capitol Hill let him do it. They aided and abetted him. They voted to acquit him of impeachment charges. They endorsed him for reëlection and even acceded to his request not to bother with a Republican Party platform. The Party’s ideology, henceforth, would be whatever Trump wanted it to be. When Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, bragged about Trump’s successful “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party, he was, in a toxically untruthful Administration, for once telling the truth.

2020 vision

If we were to treat this like a “regular” election between “regular” candidates, it would be sensible to compare the candidates’ core beliefs and positions on important issues.  The problem with that, in this case, is not only that Donald Trump is not a regular candidate, he has no core beliefs or strong positions on any issues.

Very important to remember (and I’ve been harping on this, I know): Trump lies.  About everything.  Virtually every word out of his mouth.  There is no good reason to believe anything he says.  The Washington Post Fact Checker documented 20,000 lies by Trump as president, and that was back in July.  (As they say, the hits just keep on coming.)   If in any moment Trump needs his audience to think that he believes A, because he thinks the audience members believe A, he will say he believes A.  If in another moment he needs another audience to think he believes not-A, he will say he believes not-A.  It doesn’t matter to him whether he really does like A or actually prefers not-A, or if he’s even given the whole A/not-A dichotomy any real consideration: he will say anything if he wants it to be true in that moment.  What’s more, he thinks we are too stupid to realize that he has taken both the position of A and not-A at one time or another.

Also important to remember is that Trump has demonstrated he is not good at presidenting.  I mean being president of the USA—don’t even talk about his record of business bankruptcies.  He touts his handling of the economy, but he denies that he took office with an economy that was in pretty good shape and managed not to screw it up.  (By the way, the stock market is not “the economy.”)  He quickly reminds you about passing a tax cut bill…one that primarily benefitted the already-wealthy, AND which he doesn’t want you to remember is only temporary, AND WHICH was contributing to a big increase in government debt even before pandemic relief.

Oh yeah, the pandemic.  Any government effort to protect Americans from an insidious virus that was spreading across the country and killing thousands of people a week would have started by asking people to isolate themselves, and that was what forced so many businesses to temporarily close and shocked the U.S. economy back in the spring.  Once medical researchers identified the transmission path AND a simple and efficient way to block it—yes, the mask—a good president (and governors and mayors) would have been working like hell to get people to voluntarily help themselves and their neighbors by wearing the damn mask.  Other countries did, and they did not suffer the rates of infection and death that America has; they have not suffered the economic hardships that we have.  Trump’s willful mismanagement of the government’s response to COVID-19 is likely to be his legacy: his public denial of the problem, which contributed to the expansion of the problem, which led to more than 9 million infections and the deaths of more than 213,000 Americans (so far) along with the prolonged weakening of the economy.  You’ve probably heard: a third wave is already underway.

(Recently I read a woman’s complaint about wearing the mask; she feels she should not have to do that because “they have already taken so much away from us.”  Honest to god, lady: no one set out to take anything away from you.  There is an attack against our country underway right now, and our best response to the threat—which will help protect you, your children, your neighbors—calls for you to make a tiny sacrifice.  Why is this a problem?  It almost couldn’t be any easier.  Also: who is “they?”)

Very important to keep in mind—maybe most important—is that Trump does not believe in America, or its Constitution, or the rule of law, or our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, or in racial or gender equality, or supporting the sacrifices of our fellow citizens in the armed forces, or in any type of service to country.  He doesn’t believe in Truth, or Justice, or the American Way.  He says he does, but he doesn’t.  (Remember, Trump lies.)

He ran for president as a publicity stunt, and was as surprised as anyone when he (barely) won.  He has used the office to enrich himself and his businesses, he’s alienated our allies, and he’s used the government itself to attack protesters and political enemies—he was impeached for doing that!  He wasn’t removed from office for it because he has also, somehow, managed to drag the Republican Party and a lot/many/most (?) of its leaders down to his level.  They talked themselves into believing that protecting Trump is what “real Americans” want them to do, because…why again?  Because with Trump as president they will get judges who will incorporate their political and religious beliefs into American law?

There was an ad on television the other day (please, Jesus, end the TV ads!) in which the candidate looked sincerely into the camera and told me “this election is about getting our economy moving again.”  No; no, it’s not.  I understand why you say that, and that would be a very good thing to get the economy back up to speed…also, to be able to go to a restaurant or a ballgame again, or even back to the office.  But no, that’s not what this election is about.

This election is about saving the United States of America from the chaos and fascism and authoritarianism that is undoubtedly right around the corner if Donald Trump wins re-election.  Even if Joe Biden is not everything you want in a president, he is one thing you need in a president: he is not Donald Trump.  He is a patriot, and he will govern with the best interests of this country at heart.  Just ask these Republicans:

You could also ask yourself, when was the last time I remember a president promising me that the next election was going to be rigged…unless he wins?  The last time a president running for re-election, and his political party, spent so much time making it harder for people to vote, and laying the groundwork to overturn the results?

He’s a clown…a cartoon.

Vote him out of office next week.  Do it for America.  A landslide may not be enough—let’s make it an avalanche that will also defeat whatever nonsense he pulls to try to ignore our votes and hold onto office (and stay out of jail).  That will make America great again.

Five weeks

The job of president of the United States was meant to be a manager who would lead the executive branch to efficiently carry out the business of the nation’s government.  It still is that, but it’s also become a symbol of the battle between competing claims to exercise a moral imperative: on one side, those who want government to enforce upon the rest of us their idea of the one right way Americans should live their lives, and on the other those who have a broader view of the meaning of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The situation is tedious, and divisive, and destructive of our ability to get along with those of our fellow citizens who have different opinions of the proper role of government in our lives.  What’s worse is, the campaign for the job never stops—thank you, sir, may I have another!

Right now, five weeks before the election, is when we should be starting the campaign.  That’s time enough to review information about the candidates, time for reflection…and after election day it would be time to go back to regular life, where if you choose to you could escape the obsession with the daily minutiae of politics.  Time enough to make a reasoned decision, and move on.

The two major party candidates for president have their first side-by-side appearance tomorrow night (I’ll be surprised if they actually engage in debate), to talk about issues and make the case why we should give him the responsibility of managing—just for starters—our national defense; our response to global pandemics and natural disasters; our relationships with our allies and with our enemies; the delivery of our mail!  Someone we can trust to look out for our country’s best interests, and to obey its laws.

So, I’ll watch the debate tomorrow and I’ll think, which of these guys do I want representing us…me…for the next four years?  Will it be the guy who

(There are plenty more where those came from.)

No, it will not be that guy.

You get to make your own choice, and you’re pretty smart, and there are five weeks left to think it over…before you get to make a secret choice, and no one will ever know who you voted for unless you tell them.  Just sayin’…

Teleholiday Journal: Eyes on the prize

More American deaths than were suffered in the Vietnam War—less than a month ago, that was the comparison meant to shock us into the reality of the depth and breadth of the COVID-19 pandemic.  But it didn’t.  It was too little too late: for the tens and tens of thousands of the sick and the dead, and the millions and millions of Americans who got the message when they lost their jobs, because a significant portion of American businesses had to shut their doors as part of the effort to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes the disease.  Since this started, U.S. unemployment has moved from a level that was arguably full employment across the country to now 14.7% actively looking for work—”Employment fell sharply in all major industry sectors, with particularly heavy job losses in leisure and hospitality”—just in a matter of two months!

Today, the day we honor the more than one million of our fellow Americans who lost their lives in military service in the defense of our country, we are told we are days from seeing the COVID-19 death toll in our country pass 100,000.   Worst death toll in the world; also the most total cases in the world, with new ones still added every day.

Americans are not particularly known for being overly patient.  It’s kind of part of the ethos that when we want something, we go get it.  Or make it.  Sometimes we take it.  But we don’t like being told we can’t do something we want to do.  Our initial cooperation with directions from federal, state and local area governments to stay home and keep our distance from one another, as our best defense to fight a virus for which we had no medical weapon, had a positive impact, lessening the out of control spread of the virus.  It also caused the economic crisis.  And we are tired of that.  Understandably so.

America, and Americans, have a well-deserved reputation, for generations now, for generosity toward others in the face of natural disaster or economic crisis.  The orders to stay home, and to shut down businesses, were a call to us all to help us all: if we can keep from spreading the virus, it will die out when it has no one new to infect.  The urge to put an end to the hardships of social distancing and self-isolation, and to the self-inflicted damage to shuttered businesses and their laid-off employees, is a strong and an understandable one.

How then do we reconcile the apparent contradiction between the recognized generosity and civic-mindedness of the American people, faced with the sacrifice needed to defeat this generational challenge to our society, and the blindered selfishness of those few who are demonstrating against the restrictions because…because what, actually?  Because they are tired of it?  Because they don’t want to be told what to do?  Because they have long guns and Confederate flags laying around, and a desire to intimidate others that is going unfulfilled?

Or maybe it’s because they’ve fallen for a subversive attack:

Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyzed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and related issues since January and found that roughly half the accounts — including 62% of the 1,000 most influential retweeters — appeared to be bots, they said in a report published this week.

That’s a far higher level of bot activity than usual, even when it comes to contentious events — the level of bot involvement in discussions about things like US elections or natural disasters is typically 10% to 20%.

The researchers identified bots using artificial-intelligence systems that analyze accounts’ frequency of tweets, number of followers, and apparent location.

There is an interesting paradox about many of these demonstrators that is also found among others of the conservative right these days, including President Trump.  Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put this way:

From time to time when hearing a new complaint from the president, it has occurred to me to wonder, why is he bitching about unfair treatment again?  Has he lived his life to this point in a world where he has received, and has dispensed, only fair treatment?  In any case, there has always been what seems to me to be an inordinate amount of whining coming from Trumpworld, totally at odds with it being the source of so much winning that we can’t stand it.

Yesterday Trump tweeted that the number of new cases of the disease and the number of deaths are all down; in all fairness, not so much:

While total new cases nationally have begun declining, hospitalizations outside New York, New Jersey and Connecticut have increased slightly in recent days, as Mr. Trump’s own former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, pointed out.

Altogether, cases are falling in 14 states and Washington, D.C., but holding steady in 28 states and Guam while rising in eight states plus Puerto Rico, according to a New York Times database. The American Public Health Association said the 100,000 milestone was a time to reinforce efforts to curb the virus, not abandon them.

“This is both a tragedy and a call to action,” it said in a statement. “Infection rates are slowing overall in the U.S., but with 1.6 million cases across the nation in the past four months, the outbreak is far from over. New hot spots are showing up daily, and rates remain steady in at least 25 states.”

And even that grim total barely begins to scratch the surface of the pain and suffering endured by a country under siege by the worst public health crisis combined with the worst economic crisis in decades.

I know that in some ways this crisis feels like it’s over, or at least has turned the corner.  That probably is due at least in part to seeing restaurants and bars begin to re-open in states where governors are saying enough is enough, let’s get back to business.  I think that feeling comes mostly from us wanting it to be true.  But it’s not true, and it’s up to us to do our part.  All of us.