This is not the president you’re looking for

I get tired of feeling like I have to write about Donald Trump, and about what he has done and is doing to our country and our society.  I get tired of reading about the topic, too: it’s unhappy, repetitive, disillusioning news for anyone who believes in the American ideals of justice and tolerance and fair treatment and service to others.

The thing is, we can’t stop reading and writing about it because it’s too important.  None of us should just let what Trump and the Trumpettes are doing become background noise, or just blindly trust that someone somewhere will take care of it all eventually and things can go back to the way they were.  (First of all, things the way they were weren’t all that grand, but still…)  The least we can do is keep reminding ourselves and others of what is really happening—to recognize reality, to see the truth—and remind ourselves and others that things are not supposed to be like this.  We have to stand up for ourselves, and for our country.

David Brooks of the New York Times did a good job of that last week, sadly reminding the Republican Party and those who claim loyalty to its beliefs that they’ve betrayed their own ideals and are letting their party rot away.  He told Republicans who believed “…You didn’t have to tie yourself hip to hip with Donald Trump…You could sort of float along in the middle, and keep your head down until this whole Trump thing passed…it’s clear that middle ground doesn’t exist.”

First, [Trump] asked the party to swallow the idea of a narcissistic sexual harasser and a routine liar as its party leader. Then he asked the party to accept his comprehensive ignorance and his politics of racial division. Now he asks the party to give up its reputation for fiscal conservatism. At the same time he asks the party to become the party of Roy Moore, the party of bigotry, alleged sexual harassment and child assault.

There is no end to what Trump will ask of his party. He is defined by shamelessness, and so there is no bottom. And apparently there is no end to what regular Republicans are willing to give him. Trump may soon ask them to accept his firing of Robert Mueller, and yes, after some sighing, they will accept that, too.

That’s the way these corrupt bargains always work. You think you’re only giving your tormentor a little piece of yourself, but he keeps asking and asking, and before long he owns your entire soul.

The Republican Party is doing harm to every cause it purports to serve. If Republicans accept Roy Moore as a United States senator, they may, for a couple years, have one more vote for a justice or a tax cut, but they will have made their party loathsome for an entire generation. The pro-life cause will be forever associated with moral hypocrisy on an epic scale. The word “evangelical” is already being discredited for an entire generation. Young people and people of color look at the Trump-Moore G.O.P. and they are repulsed, maybe forever.

You don’t help your cause by wrapping your arms around an alleged sexual predator and a patriarchic bigot. You don’t help your cause by putting the pursuit of power above character, by worshiping at the feet of some loutish man or another, by claiming the ends justify any means. You don’t successfully rationalize your own tawdriness by claiming your opponents are satanic. You don’t save Christianity by betraying its message.

(snip)

The Republican Party I grew up with admired excellence. It admired intellectual excellence (Milton Friedman, William F. Buckley), moral excellence (John Paul II, Natan Sharansky) and excellent leaders (James Baker, Jeane Kirkpatrick). Populism abandoned all that — and had to by its very nature. Excellence is hierarchical. Excellence requires work, time, experience and talent. Populism doesn’t believe in hierarchy. Populism doesn’t demand the effort required to understand the best that has been thought and said. Populism celebrates the quick slogan, the impulsive slash, the easy ignorant assertion. Populism is blind to mastery and embraces mediocrity.

(snip)

[Unlike the tax cuts of 30 to 40 years ago] Today’s tax cuts have no bipartisan support. They have no intellectual grounding, no body of supporting evidence. They do not respond to the central crisis of our time. They have no vision of the common good, except that Republican donors should get more money and Democratic donors should have less.

The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational. More and more former Republicans wake up every day and realize: “I’m homeless. I’m politically homeless.”

We don’t have to end up that way; we don’t have to let it happen.  Start with this Jedi-mind-trick chant: this is not the president you’re looking for…

You wouldn’t mind if we just arrested you a little bit, would you, since you look like you might hate America?

Did you ever run across something that’s so bizarre, so out there, so freakin’ weird, that you think you must have heard it or read it wrong?  I did recently, when I read the story that the Congress of These United States was ready to pass a law making it perfectly legal for the government to use the Army to arrest American citizens here in America and hold them in custody, indefinitely, without charges or trial, if in the government’s wisdom that person was a terrorist threat.

Wait, what?

Yes.  Apparently still shivering with fear over the possibility of another September 11-type attack, Congress was ready to pass an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would authorize the use of the military as a domestic police force and give clearance to arrest and detain citizens on the mere suspicion of terrorist complicity; there would be no messy and time-consuming need for formal charges to be filed, or for due process or habeas corpus to be respected.  Congress seemed confident that the American sheeple either wouldn’t notice or were so scared of terrorists that they would happily line up to trade in some of their Constitutionally-protected liberties for an unkeepable promise of safety in the future and the warm confidence that comes from thoughtlessly submitting to government authority over their lives.

(When, please, are we going to stop being scared of terrorists?  I’m not saying we should ignore threats, or even that we should demand to keep our shoes on at the airport, but living our lives in quaking fear of possible terrorism isn’t much different from looking over your shoulder all day every day just in case there’s a tornado following you.)

But Congress didn’t pass that law, because enough people saw what was coming and made enough noise to shame the members into backing off.  They approved an additional amendment that specifically disallows the arresting-American-citizens-here-in-America-without-charges part.

What in the wide, wide world of sports were they thinking?  Seriously: what drives the thought process of supposedly mature and rational adults to think it’d be OK to do this, even though the Constitution expressly forbids using the military as a domestic police force and forbids indefinite detention without charges?

One of the richly ironic results of this misadventure is that it caused political enemies and philosophical opposites to unite: the “Say what?” reaction came from liberals and conservatives and moderates, who all recognized a ham-handed attempt to take a big bite out of the personal liberties that America promises to all of its citizens.  And they rose together—as Americans—to emulate Buckley and yell “Stop!”.

The lesson?  Keep your eyes and your ears open, because someone will try something like this again; they always do.  It’s up to us—all of us—to see that they don’t get away with it.

OK, now that you’ve eaten all your vegetables, here’s dessert:

3338df600dac012f2fc600163e41dd5b Thanks to Tom the Dancing Bug and his friend Ruben Bolling.

Faster? I’m trying to write at all

For anyone else who has faced a blank screen—and for those old enough, a blank sheet of paper—and wondered, “What the hell do I think I’m doing here?” and need another distraction/excuse to keep from typing, have a look at this fun column about how to write faster.  Here’s a taste:

Hunched over my keyboard, I’m haunted by anecdotes of faster writers. Christopher Hitchens composing a Slate column in 20 minutes—after a chemo session, after a "full" dinner party, late on a Sunday night. The infamously productive Trollope, who used customized paper! "He had a note pad that had been indexed to indicate intervals of 250 words," William F. Buckley told the Paris Review. "He would force himself to write 250 words per 15 minutes. Now, if at the end of 15 minutes he hadn’t reached one of those little marks on his page, he would write faster." Buckley himself was a legend of speed—writing a complete book review in crosstown cabs and the like.

(snip)

[Ronald Kellogg:] "Writing extended texts for publication is a major cognitive challenge, even for professionals who compose for a living." See, Dad! This is hard work.

(snip)

Kellogg is always careful to emphasize the extreme cognitive demands of writing, which is very flattering. "Serious writing is at once a thinking task, a language task, and a memory task," he declares.

(snip)

Kellogg terms the highest level of writing as "knowledge-crafting." In that state, the writer’s brain is juggling three things: the actual text, what you plan to say next, and—most crucially—theories of how your imagined readership will interpret what’s being written. A highly skilled writer can simultaneously be a writer, editor, and audience.

Since writing is such a cognitively intense task, the key to becoming faster is to develop strategies to make writing literally less mind-blowing.

There are tips for “would-be writers” at the end…but don’t jump ahead, do the work!

Tear down this wall

This was supposed to be the last obstacle, right?  This report was to be the last gasp for members of Congress who imagine themselves, in Buckley’s phrase, standing athwart history yelling Stop, at the unstoppable sunrise of civil liberties for homosexuals in America.  Well, now it’s here; let’s see what they do.

Today the Department of Defense released its own report on the anticipated impact to military readiness if Congress were to repeal the hideously-christened “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prohibits homosexual Americans from being honest about their sexuality if they want to serve their country in the armed forces.  DOD found that, by and large, there’s no problem—you can read the reports from the major outlets:  New York Times, Associated Press, Fox News.

The House of Representatives already voted to repeal the law; some in the Senate resisted, wanting to give the Pentagon a chance to determine if changing the law would weaken our national defense.  To those senators who were betting that, surely, the men and women in uniform would object vehemently to gay men and women serving openly, and thereby provide needed political cover to affirm the ban—shame on you for thinking so little of American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The former maverick John McCain was perhaps most prominent about yielding to the military leadership on this question; a couple of weeks ago Jon Stewart bothered to remember what McCain had promised. (click the pic)

imageThe Pentagon report concedes that a world without DADT might experience growing pains, but it assures Congress that some brief discomfort is no reason to wait.  Logically, then, there’s no valid reason not to repeal the law, and any objection that the change should be delayed until it’s not so hard to implement should be answered with a reminder that the same argument was floated when President Truman ordered desegregation of the military.

Yes, this is a civil rights issue; I’ve made my case here before.  There’s no stopping it—the change is coming—and if some lame duck members of Congress who aren’t worried about re-election any more make the difference in changing this law, so be it.