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.

Diagnosing Baby Donald

Franklin Roosevelt took office during the Great Depression eager to try out potential remedies for the economic crisis, so he set an arbitrary mark of the first 100 days in office as a goal for measuring progress.  Ever since, journalists looking for a ready-made story have used the excuse of a new president’s first 100 days to issue a report card on his or her progress in enacting campaign promises into law.  This week President Bannon and his team started off downplaying the significance of the silly benchmark, calling it “an artificial barrier” and a “ridiculous standard” that’s “not very meaningful.”  And then spent the rest of the week in “a flurry of action on health care, taxes and the border wall to show just how much he has done in the first 100 days—amplified by a White House program of first-100-days briefings, first-100-days receptions, a first-100-days website and a first-100-days rally.”

“As with so much else, [Donald] Trump is a study in inconsistency,” said Robert Dallek, the presidential historian. “One minute he says his 100 days have been the best of any president, and the next minute he decries the idea of measuring a president by the 100 days.”

What do others say?  While some think this president has done some good things, I haven’t found anyone outside of the White House who would completely agree with the administration’s estimate of its own effectiveness.

The president stated flatly to an audience in Kenosha that “No administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days;” PolitiFact responds: “Trump has had some achievements in office, but at the very least, they are much less numerous and far-reaching than those of Roosevelt, the standard against whom all presidents are measured. In more recent years, other presidents, including Obama, have accomplished more in their first 100 days than Trump has, historians say. We rate the claim False.”

Vox.com is willing to give the new president credit for his success—at making money for himself, his family, and his businesses while “serving” the American people.

“Trump isn’t failing. He and his family appear to be making money hand over fist. It’s a spectacle the likes of which we’ve never seen in the United States, and while it may end in disaster for the Trumps someday, for now it shows no real sign of failure,” reports Vox, reminding the reader that Trump is still able to personally access profits from his businesses and that his actions as president are actually leading to government expenditures that go straight into his own pocket; for example:

Like many previous presidents, he golfs. And like all presidents who golf, when he hits the green, he is accompanied by Secret Service agents. The agents use golf carts to get around the courses. And to get their hands on the golf carts, they need to rent them from the golf courses at which the president plays. All of this is fundamentally normal — except for the fact that Trump golfs at courses he owns. So when the Secret Service spends $35,000 on Mar-a-Lago golf cart rentals, it’s not just a normal security expense — Trump is personally profiting from his own protection.

Grading a president on how many of his policies have been enacted into law puts his 100-days rating at the mercy of the Congress which must pass those bills.  Although his ability to work with the legislative branch, rather than to try to dictate to it, is a valuable guide to a president’s effectiveness, maybe that isn’t the most straightforward way to tell if he’s doing a good job.

And let’s not indulge the argument here that all of the things Trump said that he wanted to do are bad things; William Saletan argues in Slate that the better way to judge is to consider if he’s done what he said he would do:

You can be sick of low wages and lost jobs, disgusted with the Clintons, angry about Obamacare, and wary of open borders without being a monster. My argument to you isn’t that Trump is bad because he addresses these concerns. My argument is that he addresses them badly. If you want better jobs, better health care, better border security, a stronger America, less corruption, and less debt, Trump is taking you in the wrong direction. And he’ll keep making things worse until you stop him.

Saletan finds that in Trump’s first 100 days  he has failed in his promises to fight for the working man, to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better, to strengthen our borders, to reduce the national debt (he’s increased it!), to drain the swamp, or to honor the military.

What we’ve learned in Trump’s first 100 days, in short, is that he’s bad at the job. Maybe last fall you decided to give him a chance. Or maybe you felt you had to choose between two bad candidates, and you could only stop one of them. So you voted against Hillary, and you got this instead.

You don’t have to stand for it. Call your senators and your member of Congress. Demand better health care and a fairer tax system. Go to their town halls. Tell them to oppose Trump when he doesn’t do what’s right for the country. If they don’t listen to you, organize and vote them out next year. Trump’s first 100 days have been bad. We don’t need another four years like them.

(Even Trump is surprised at how he’s done so far: “This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”)

There’s little reason for us to believe things are going to get better, or normal-er, more like what we’ve been used to with every previous president, all on their own.  Not when you consider that the erratic, impulsive, self-promoting behavior we’ve all been witness to is at such a degree that a group of mental health professionals has felt the need to ignore a portion of the American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics to issue a warning about the president’s mental health and to offer suggestions for how we all deal with the fallout.

Let us stipulate that it is not known for a fact that Trump has any kind of psychiatric diagnosis. Let us also stipulate that, to many observers, the most powerful man in the world displays many of the definitional traits of one disorder in particular: Narcissistic Personality Disorder, characterized by behavior that is impulsive, dramatic and erratic. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with NPD “come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious,” require “constant admiration” and belittle people they “perceive as inferior.” This grandiose, bullying shell hides profound insecurity, so “anything that may be perceived as criticism” can provoke “rage or contempt.”

Baby Donald is a child of privilege who’s always been able to buy whatever he wanted, whether a new toy or a new person in his orbit (or a new wife) or a way out of trouble.  He’s been surrounded by yes-men-and-women who rely on him for their livelihoods, so he has precious little experience of having to deal with a differing opinion.  When he opens his mouth his instinct is to educate the listener about his own extraordinary self, and to state as incontrovertible that which he wishes in that moment to be true, without regard for whether the statement is consistent with previous ones or with any known facts.

In reality, it’s not just Congress or world leaders or White House staffers who are in Trump’s orbit and at the whim of his personality traits. We all are. [New Jersey therapist and author] Wendy Behary says that when dealing with such a person, the best defense is to read deeply about psychopathology. Ultimately, she says, understanding the dynamics of personality disorders will help make what seems unpredictable predictable. The more people know, the less they will wonder, “How could he do that?” and come to understand, “How could he not?”

First the good news, then the better news, then the bad news

The good news is this: Congress has reached a budget deal.  Yes, the U.S. Congress.  And not when facing a deadline.  America’s guests have done a thing that is rare in this day—their jobs.  Here are the details; I’m most enthused at the idea that enough members showed enough maturity and leadership to actually work out some agreement, one which means we and the world can go two years without having to fret about a government shutdown.

Now to the better news, which I would actually classify as a Christmas miracle if I were given to assuming that God takes sides in American politics (or sports): the mainstream Republican Party is showing signs of finally standing up to the conservative extremists.  Speaker of the House John Boehner was the first to publicly, honestly, express his exasperation with the tea partyish crowd that has pushed the GOP so far to the edge of American politics that they have to stand on each other’s shoulders a mile high in order to see the center.  He reportedly got even more “honest” in private:

“They are not fighting for conservative principles,” Mr. Boehner told rank-and-file House Republicans during a private meeting on Wednesday as he seethed and questioned the motives of the groups for piling on against the plan before it was even made public.

“They are not fighting for conservative policy,” he continued, according to accounts of those present. “They are fighting to expand their lists, raise more money and grow their organizations, and they are using you to do it. It’s ridiculous.”

The conservatives of course defended themselves, which is perfectly fine; I hope the center and the far right keep this back-and-forth going ad infinitum (we’re already well past ad nauseum).  For however long they fight with each other—and these things don’t last as long as you might wish them to—it keeps them from concentrating their fire outside the circle; maybe that keeps the extremists from winning more elections and coming into real power to remake America in their own frightening image.

One more politics thing: did you see who was cited by PolitiFact for the Lie of the Year?  Yep, our president.  Selected by a reader poll from among ten finalists, “If you like your health plan, you can keep it” was chosen by 59%, the winner going away and embarassingly ahead of popular favorites like “Congress is exempt from the healthcare law” (Ted Cruz), “No U.S.-trained doctors will accept Obamacare” (Ann Coulter) and “Muslims are exempt from Obamacare” (chain email).  President Obama’s catchy little reassurance actually worked its way up over the years from “half true” to “pants on fire” and now Lie of the Year.  Congratulations, Mr. President, for finding a way to help the self-defeating conservatives survive the circular firing squad.