The crack in the solid blue wall

So earlier today, former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of all charges in the death of George Floyd, an event that kicked off a summer of massive protests last year.

With a few outliers, most of my social media are rejoicing at this event. Although I share their appreciation that justice has been served, I’m not sure that joy is the correct emotion for how I feel.

After all, no verdicts and no amount of money will bring George Floyd back. The best that I can hope for is that George Floyd’s family can find a modicum of peace in knowing that, at least in this one instance, a bad cop has been held accountable.

I admit it: I’m in awe of the very fact that so many of Chauvin’s former colleagues were able and willing to speak out against him. After all, up until now, whenever a cop would kill an unarmed black man (or boy) the internal police review of the scenario would usually yield a finding that the cop acted “by the book”. And I’ve been saying for years that if that truly is the case, then they need to burn the book to ashes and start over.

It’s why arguments about how those kinds of things are the actions of a few bad apples within the police force, are so unconvincing: if the good cops being unwilling or unable to speak out against the tactics and attitudes of their malintentioned comrades, then how can we even tell which ones are the good ones and which ones are the bad ones save for the ones we read about in the news?

And I know that it can be hard to speak out against injustice when you’re the only one speaking out. I get it. After all, I didn’t even kneel when I had the chance and should have.

That’s partially why I feel as though my home town has been somewhat tone deaf in the past year. Last summer, I started seeing signs going up in various neighborhoods that read that the people who put up the signs support our local police department. No other neighboring towns have signs like this. They started going up at around about the same time as the riots last year started. And in most of the neighborhoods in the immediate area, I’d estimate that they’re on maybe about one out of every three yards around here. (Including, unsurprisingly, the neighbor who yelled at my son.)

Let me make it clear that I’m not aware of any incidents of bad actors within my local police department and, at least in my limited engagements with them, I haven’t had any major problems with any of the cops who patrol my town. (And that does include when I’ve had black friends over to visit.)

I would like to believe that none of the cops in my home town would do anything like the scores of bad cops who are making news for what appears to be excessive use of force, but the truth is, I don’t know if that’s universally true.

Do I support my local cops? Only if by “support” you mean “not actively oppose”. I certainly don’t need to advertise to the world that I “support” them. Because doing that, in this day and age of increased scrutiny of police procedures and tactics, makes it look like you don’t care about when and where mistakes are made.

That these signs first started cropping up after numerous high profile abuses of force around the country, that’s tone-deaf at best. Shameful at worst.

And the police in my town are better than that. Or so I’d like to believe.

The son is worse than the father

When it comes to buffoonish, prudish, amoral, hypocritical religious leaders, Donald Wildmon never achieved the notoriety of, say, Jerry Falwell Sr or Pat Robertson or Billy Graham.

(And that’s saying something, considering that Wildmon founded an actual hate group.)

George Carlin called him out by name in his 1988 comedy special What Am I Doing in New Jersey? And Wildmon didn’t come out looking good for it.

Donald Wildmon’s son Tim has been running his hate group for twelve years now. Tim appears to also be giving his father a run for his money about being more loathsome a person.

Take, for instance, his latest essay on the AFA’s website. Filled with lies and willful ignorance of history, civics, and what it means to be a decent person, the article would be funny if he didn’t want to be taken seriously.

He starts by invoking a false patriotism about the Pledge of Allegiance, a topic covered by one of the oldest entries on this blog. I should expand on that old entry by pointing out that it’s ridiculous that we teach it to young children and tell them to recite it before they know what the words actually mean. Anyone who waxes nostalgic for young children speaking it, should be ashamed of their nostalgia as compelled speech is light-years away from what America truly stands for.

(That said, I have no qualms about waxing nostalgic for it if you said something like this. That’s more like how some kids might really have handled it. I personally recall saying that I led the pigeons to the flag, and that we were one nation, invisible…)

He jumps from the pledge to the national anthem. I can think of scores of songs that actually speak to the greatness of America, that are far better than the Star Spangled Banner in every way possible. There’s nothing wrong with kneeling during whichever song we sing, though. It’s the American thing to do.

I hate the phrase “founding fathers,” as it implies a unity among the people who laid the groundwork for the nation that simply wasn’t there. The musical Hamilton does a great job of showing just how little unity there really was among the founders. They were human and had very human failings and do not need to be deified unless you’re looking to mislead.

But by the time he conflates the constitution with the end of slavery, he has truly gone off the rails. I don’t need to reiterate how ashamed we should be that slavery was even thought to be a worthwhile institution, much less that it required a devastating civil war — which in some ways we’re still fighting — to put an end to it.

The rest of his essay is hateful word salad.

It looks like Tim might have done what Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr achieved independently in the past couple of years. How is it that all three of them have managed to make their respective fathers look like decent, honorable men by comparison?

It’s very telling…

People out there are hurting during the pandemic. Physically, emotionally, financially. And, as usual with these things, the people who are most in need in good times, are getting slammed even worse.

That, of course, is nothing new.

That’s what makes the recently signed relief bill such a good investment: it helps the people who are most hurting in this pandemic in more ways than one. Criticisms that it’s a giveaway to the poor ring hollow mainly because the poor watched as the rich made money off of their suffering this past year and with past relief bills.

But before this bill was passed, something interesting happened that I honestly didn’t expect. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement in opposition to this bill because it said nothing about abortion.

Bill Donahue of the Catholic “League” wrote about both his agreement with this assessment and added more detail to this perspective.

I read this and couldn’t help but think “wow!” (With an added “who are these people?” thrown in for good measure.)

(Side Note: Donahue makes a reference to “CNS News, a site of dubious journalistic integrity. Are they trying to snatch viewers away from CNN or CBS?)

I find myself bemoaning the fact that the issue of abortion has become so poisonous to civil discourse in the United States. I hesitate to even call it an “issue” since, as a matter of dispute between two parties, it’s best resolved with a resounding “mind your own business”.

But to actively oppose a law that is intended to alleviate suffering on so many levels simply because it doesn’t expressly prohibit money funding the procedures? Has the so-called “pro-life” side of the debate gone insane?

I know that you can’t reason with antiabortion zealots, but still…

By doubling down on abortion here, the USCCB (and by extension the Catholic Church as a whole) appears to have abandoned all pretense at caring for the sick, poor, or downtrodden.

You know, all of the things that they claim Jesus stood for per the New Testament? Forget those. At least when there’s a woman who might want to make her own choices out there.

Congress needs to pass a law reaffirming the right to an abortion before the activist SCOTUS takes it away.

Between the myriad child molestation scandals and now this, I sincerely wonder if the Catholic Church is trying to hasten its own demise.

The Right Wing Propaganda Machine is in Full Force

A couple of days ago, Breitbart reported that Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) appeared on Fox and Friends to bemoan the termination of Operation Talon, a Trump-era initiative that ostensibly targeted sex offenders in the U.S. illegally.

Given that (1) Breitbart has a history of misleading reporting that are essentially pro-GOP/anti-Democratic party propaganda, and (2) this particular article isn’t exactly full of a lot of details, I was skeptical of the story.

Now before I continue, I should state for the record that I don’t actually use Google as my search engine. I use DuckDuckGo, which is usually pretty good at finding search results, but occasionally falls short of the standard for other search engines. I think that’s a fair trade-off for privacy protection most of the time.

I readily concede that I’d never heard of Operation Talon before this article, and I suspect that’s true for most people not involved in the actual operations of it. And the DuckDuckGo search of it really wasn’t very helpful. It was mostly a mix of right-wing sites, sites whose reliability is questionable (if you’d ever even heard of them), and local news reporting. Clicking through them randomly, you’ll likely find a regurgitation either of the Fox News interview or the Breitbart site.

I thought it was noteworthy that it wasn’t even in Wikipedia. (But I decided to search that site too, and found a section of the article on the Burma Campaign during World War II).

Is it any wonder I’d never heard of Operation Talon?

Now before I proceed, I should make it clear that Breitbart and Fox News are in the business of misleading and generating outrage over otherwise real news; they don’t make up things completely out of whole cloth. I don’t doubt the existence of Operation Talon and its mission may have had something to do with sex offenders, even. But everything else is more or less open to questioning.

So here, I’ll admit that I was tempted to try to do the same search using Google. But before I did, I went to the Washington Post’s website and searched for the phrase there first. (They’re one of the online papers I subscribe to.) And I found the truth, buried in a greater article on new rules for Immigrations and Custom Enforcement, the agency that was notorious for abuses during the Trump administration.

And to no one’s surprise, it is not the cause for outrage that Breitbart and the Florida AG are trying to sell it as. The reality is that it was kicked off after the election and never actually undertaken. When Biden came in, ICE itself actually put it on hold in anticipation of new rules.

So all of this right-wing outrage is aimed at a project that never actually got off the ground. A greater push to eliminate the excesses and abuses of an agency that needs to be reined in, has morphed into outrage at stopping something that never actually did anything in the first place.

Stopping sex offenders is absolutely an important initiative. Neither citizenship or immigration status should matter in the prosecution of a sex offender. But implying that only undocumented immigrants (or as Breitbart might prefer to call them, “illegal immigrants”) commit these kinds of crimes, actually makes the investigation and prosecution of the crime more difficult.

But if this is what they’re going after, they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t they?

Recognizing Tyranny

According to contemporary reports, when Timothy McVeigh was arrested after the Oklahoma City bombing, he was wearing a t-shirt that had a quote from Thomas Jefferson:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

About a month ago, I spoke about the misappropriation of the word “patriot” by Trump’s supporters and the Republican Party in general. This time I’d like to talk about the other group of people whose blood occasionally ought to refresh the tree of liberty, according to Jefferson.

Of course, the implication of the quote is that a patriot is not a tyrant, and a tyrant is not a patriot. The true patriot should oppose the tyrant because the tyrant cares not for the country beyond keeping it “in line” with his corrupt goals and needs.

Indeed, the most compelling argument made by advocates of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, is that we need strong weaponry if we should need to use it to overthrow a tyrannical government.

Watching the presentations made by the House managers in the Second Impeachment trial of Donald Trump, drove home just how problematic this particular argument against gun control really is, even if we ignore the fact that for any protracted rebellion against the government, the government will always be better armed than an insurrectionist militia not beholden to the government. (And we wouldn’t want an independent militia to have nuclear weapons, before we go any further.)

If you look over the plethora of entries in this blog about Donald Trump, I have been very careful about the terms I would use for him and his message, no matter how extreme and un-American his message may have been. Not once, for example, did I call him a fascist or a tyrant.

I did, however, speak of his autocratic tendencies and frequently bemoaned the cult of personality that he himself cultivated among his supporters.

But the presentations, especially the video on the first day of the trial, underscored, to me, just how much he wanted to be a tyrant, a dictator, or an autocrat, even if he never quite reached the level of power or influence required to have one of those titles.

It is the tyrant who convinces his followers that he alone can solve all problems, and that those who oppose him, are a part of the problem. It is the tyrant who conflates fealty to the person, with fealty to the land and the nation. It is the tyrant who attempts to squeeze out those who might wish to preserve not just the government but the idea behind it.

We can look back over the well-known tyrants of history. King George III. Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm II. King Louis XVI. Tsar Nicholas II. Generalissimo Franco. Hitler. Stalin. Pol Pot. Saddam Hussein. People lived in fear and awe of the power they wielded.

Questions about the popularity of tyrants are fraught. Certainly there was a subset of the population that always supported them and a subset that always opposed them. It’s hard to gauge how many people consistently supported them because they liked the tyrant’s actions, compared to those who turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the tyrant.

The people who stormed the Capitol on January 6, did so as individuals and a few right-wing militias, but certainly not as representatives of the government or military, even if they may have been employed by the government or military. When you join the government or the military you swear an oath to the Constitution.

If they swore an oath to anything or anyone, it was to the man who fashioned himself an autocrat. That is the exact opposite of the ideals this country stands for, and to disrupt a process spelled out in the Constitution, might as well be an act of insurrection against the very Constitution they think they’re upholding.

We need the second amendment in order to be able to rise up against a government that has ceased to be “by the people, of the people, and for the people”. Unfortunately, far too many people can’t discern which actions qualify as sufficiently tyrannical to justify the uprising.

If Venn diagrams had existing back in Thomas Jefferson’s day, patriots and tyrants would have been represented by non-overlapping circles. Thanks to Trump’s lies and falsehoods, the circles have moved closer together.

The tree of liberty may actually need to be refreshed, that much is true. But before we shed blood in its honor, I think we first need to know which side we’re fighting for.

Is this the future of the GOP?

I thought I’d said this before, but a search on this blog of the phrase “22nd Amendment” didn’t yield the results I thought it did. So I’ll say it now:

The fact that the 22nd amendment exists, smacks more of hypocrisy than actual problem solving. That’s not to say it’s a bad idea, but it also was as much a consequence of sour grapes than anything else.

For a little background, the 22nd Amendment to the US a constitution is the one that limits a president to no more than ten years. (Two full terms plus, if they ascended to the presidency because of the death or resignation of the prior president, no more than half of the remaining term; it’s a question of timing of when they ascended.). It became law while Harry Truman was president but first applied to his successor, Dwight D Eisenhower.

Since then, only one president who was constitutionally eligible to seek re-election, chose not to. (LBJ in 1968.) We also had four presidents — Ford, Carter, Bush 41, and Trump — lose their re-election bids and who, therefore, if they had chosen to run again in later years, would not have been ineligible to do so.

But going back to the reason why the very existence of the 22nd Amendment is not a solution to a real problem, we need to go back to George Washington, who stepped down as president after two terms, creating an informal precedent that almost all US presidents honored. The first time in US history that a president sought a third term, was Grant in 1880.

And at first Grant adhered to the precedent, since he was elected in 1868 and then again in 1872. He wasn’t a part of the election of 1876 and everyone thought he’d retired until he came out of retirement to run in 1880. And he wasn’t even on the November ballot that year.

The second time a president sought a third term, was in 1912 when Teddy Roosevelt came out of retirement (not unlike Grant 32 years earlier) formed a third party to challenge his hand-picked successor (with whom he’d grown disillusioned), and essentially handed the presidency to Woodrow Wilson.

And then came FDR, who, in 1940, became the first incumbent president to seek a third term. And then, after he won that year, he sought, and won, a fourth term in 1944.

And, because of that, no one may seek a third term again. 1944 was the 40th presidential election in US history. And the second time we had to worry about one president wielding too much power and clout. That doesn’t sound like an incredibly pressing need.

But that’s not where the hypocrisy really lies. After all, once the precedent had been broken once, the precedent ceases to exist so who knows if any of the five presidents since the 22nd Amendment who became constitutionally ineligible to run again, would have tried it if not for that amendment. At least two of them (Reagan and Obama) joked that they might have tried.

No, the real hypocrisy is with the fact that, with the exceptions of four elections between when Abraham Lincoln (our 16th president) won the presidency in 1860, and when FDR (our 32nd president) swept into office at the height of the Great Depression in 1932, the Republicans won all but four of those elections. (1884, 1892, 1912 because of the split ticket as mentioned above, and 1916). Sixteen presidents. Fifteen unique ones. (Or if you’re willing to bypass Presidents Andrew Johnson and Chester Arthur because they happened to be Vice President when the president died but didn’t win election as president in their own right, thirteen.). Dominated by the Republican Party. Sure, most of these elections were squeakers where the Republican barely beat the Democrat, but in the end, the Republican candidate still was the victor.

And the Republicans got upset over losing four in a row? Yeah, there is some hypocrisy there.

But let’s dig deeper. I mention all of this because during that time period, the Democrats were not the liberal party it is today. At least not on social issues. They pandered mostly to racists in the south and the midwest, where they more or less dominated local politics but had almost no presence anywhere else. Their party was (justly) linked to an insurrection. They aligned themselves with evangelical pastors whose views were, at best, unscientific and antithetical to the enlightenment values upon which the country was founded. Hell, during that period, they nominated the same evangelical pastor for president three times.

I’m not saying I can predict the future. But the modern Republican Party is doing pretty much the exact same thing by doubling down on its defense of and alignment with Donald Trump despite the fact that he has shown no deference to anything in the constitution, all the way down to encouraging his own insurrection.

Will they be locked out of the White House for the next seventy years? It’s certainly possible. History, as they say, repeats itself. But maybe they’ll be able to learn from their mistakes.

Comparing Apples to Orange

I’ve been thinking a lot about James Buchanan, the fifteenth president of the United States and the individual who, historians generally agree, was our worst president.

It’s one thing to categorize our presidents in general terms like “good” or “bad”. It’s something completely different to go for the superlative.

So without going through a blow-by-blow summary of the events of his presidency, it’s fair to ask the question of why his presidency is so poorly regarded. Let’s start with the timing of when he was president: elected in 1856, took the oath of office in 1857, and served one whole term. His immediate predecessor was Franklin Pierce, and his immediate successor was Abraham Lincoln.

I’ve written before that when I was in high school, the AP history test had a heavy focus on three decades, and the 1850s were one of those decades, so the events of the presidencies of Pierce and Buchanan played a strong part in that.

Buchanan came into office knowing that the issue of slavery was reaching a boiling point: the slaveholding south was doubling down more than ever on its stance, and the antislavery movement was becoming louder and more vocal. More than 25 years of compromise going back to when Missouri became a state became less and less viable moving forward, as evidenced two years before his election by the bloodshed commonly known as Bleeding Kansas.

If you lived anywhere in America in the mid-1850s, and without regard to your position on slavery, the odds were pretty good that you could tell that Civil War might have been on the horizon, but it wasn’t exactly inevitable. Not yet anyway.

Buchanan certainly didn’t want a civil war. That much is clear. But with both sides becoming increasingly vocal, he sought a way of tamping down the volume on both sides, as he hoped that it might calm tensions down.

And the opportunity arose pretty quickly. A few months before he took the oath of office, the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case about a slave who had escaped from his master and reached a “free” state, thus suing for his freedom. The Supreme Court wanted to rule narrowly on the case and not have it apply broadly to the question of jurisdiction across the board.

President Buchanan lobbied the Court to make it a broader precedent, in the hopes that something definitive would help to tamp down the tensions between the two sides, and the Court agreed.

I don’t know that a broad ruling in this case — in either direction — would have eased tensions. The south was digging its heels in deeper and deeper, especially as it must have known that it was losing some degree of clout and power as many of the lands out west really didn’t justify holding slaves to maintain them. And the antislavery movement was still divided between people who wanted to ban it outright and those who just wanted to curtail its expansion.

So knowing that the antislavery movement was divided, President Buchanan sided with the slave states. Repeatedly. And vocally.

If a civil war wasn’t inevitable when Buchanan came in, it certainly was when he left. Secession was on everybody’s minds and lips, and he took the position that states shouldn’t secede, but at the same time, the federal government was powerless to prevent it.

If that sounds wishy-washy, well, it is. But you could at least back up that position based upon the tenth amendment to the constitution. But it’s not really leadership. Or the stuff of a good president. A president who accelerated the approach of a civil war is definitely a good candidate for our worst president.

So now let’s talk about Donald Trump.

Now before I go on, I would like to underscore that I’m very much aware that I’m on the record as saying we really shouldn’t judge any presidency until after they’ve been out of office for at least thirty years. This way we can get a good sense of the long term results of their policies that might not have been immediately obvious in the time. I like to point out, for example, that I’m still not sure if George H W Bush’s push for Most Favored Nation trading status with China is a good or a bad thing. And that has been thirty years now.

But I’m going to make an exception for Donald Trump, as the events of his presidency certainly do demonstrate that, as far as his temperament, his policy decisions, and the scope and depth of his public statements and policies, if nothing else, we don’t need to wait. Waiting longer will almost definitely reveal things that are bound to solidify a standing that supplants James Buchanan as our worst president.

James Buchanan made some bad choices in a vain attempt to prevent the country from devolving into a civil war, effectively hastening that very result. Trump, on the other hand, demonstrated at every turn exactly how unfit he was at being president.

I want to underscore that there is one thing that doesn’t necessarily matter with regard to judging a president: opinion polls. Gallup recently published a poll that underscores that Trump has record low polling numbers. In the lens of history, polling numbers don’t mean much of anything.

But even without polling, there are five aspects of Trump’s presidency that catapult him past James Buchanan and will solidify his position as the worst president of all time.

First, was the sheer corruption he and his cabinet embraced. There’s a meme going around the internet that claims that Trump didn’t collect the presidential salary of $400,000.00 annually, and that he lost money as president. It’s true he didn’t collect the salary, but if he’s not willing to release his tax returns, we have no way of knowing how much money he lost (if he actually lost any money). And just because he didn’t collect a salary, that doesn’t mean he didn’t have other ways of profiting off of the presidency. Every time he visited one of his properties, the Secret Service had to spend money for lodging of the agents protecting him. Foreign governments would buy rooms in his hotels in hopes of getting access to him. The Republican Party hosted countless parties in his various properties. That’s all invisible money, so his decision not to collect the presidential salary was visible and he knew he could do without that and still look good.

Second, was pure spite. You can argue that Donald Trump’s political ambitions started in earnest when Barack Obama poked fun at him in the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner, and everything Trump did after that was little more than spite aimed at Obama. From Trump’s calls to pull out of both the Paris Climate Accords and The Iran Nuclear Deal, Trump did these things to the detriment of both national and world security and without any good reason other than Obama negotiated them. We may never know the exact decision-making process that led to the disastrous Raid on Yakla a mere nine days after Trump took the oath of office, but undoubtedly a part of the reason why Trump green-lighted it was because Obama had said he wouldn’t do it.

Third, was petty grievances. Related to the second, of course, but Trump would attack anyone and any entity that dared to challenge him on anything he might have said. Hillary Clinton called it out in the debates leading up to the 2016 election and she was right. If you did good things for him, he was your best friend; if you didn’t, he’d drop you faster than you could say ‘boo’. When he fired James Comey, he thought for sure that doing so would win him some support from people who might not have voted for him, and he apparently was quite angry that this wasn’t the case. In late 2019, when the Pentagon made the decision to award a cloud computing contract to Microsoft instead of Amazon, everyone wondered whether this was due to the Trump’s animus with Jeff Bezos or whether Microsoft legitimately earned the contract. (Disclosure: I own some shares of Microsoft, so my openly wondering it could actually affect my own personal bottom line.) He co-opted the term ‘fake news’ to mean any news that was not favorable to him, rather than what it really means: news reporting that isn’t based in actual fact.

Which of course, leads us to the fourth aspect of Trump’s presidency: the absolute dishonesty. I get that politicians as a general rule will not always be truthful, but Trump’s lies are so legion, they are in a category all their own. And he lied about stupid things that shouldn’t even matter, like his inaugural crowd size to the path of Hurricane Dorian. And those lies are part of the reason why the United States has fared so poorly in the face of a worldwide pandemic. He really seems to have taken Adolph Hitler’s advice about the Big Lie seriously. To be honest, I’m not even sure which of his lies is the biggest.

Which brings me to the fifth and final aspect of Trump’s presidency: the cult of personality that arose around him. I’m not sure it’s the biggest of his lies, but his insistence that the 2020 election had been stolen from him, despite a complete lack of evidence, enabled the people gullible to believe and accept his lies (a frighteningly large number of people) to Storm the Capitol Building in an attempt to disrupt the constitutional process of verifying the election.

President Buchanan might have been wrong about the direction he wanted to lead the country, but he at least thought or hoped that he was going to make things better. He was an experienced politician who at least showed some humanity to Lincoln on the way out the door (and was wise enough not to seek a second term). Trump, on the other hand, ran the country like a mafia boss and never once gave any consideration to anyone other than himself. Everything he did for other people, was a function of how much it would / should pay off back to him. (Note that this link is to the blog of an old friend of mine from college, who is now an established author…)

Worst president ever? How could he not be? Could there be some long-term effects that might rehabilitate his piss-poor presidency? I’m going to say no in even the most generous timeline we can imagine, partially because he didn’t really accomplish all that much, and partially because the one thing that he did that could truly have long-term positive results — the Abraham Accords — aren’t anywhere near enough to cause me to rethink the above.

This ought to be a warning to future generations about whom we should and should not vote for.

The word is everywhere among Trump supporters

Donald Trump hasn’t sent any new emails to his supporters since they rioted and tried to take over the Capitol Building the other day. It’s been … refreshing, to say the least, not to hear anything more from him.

Surely, the growing chorus of voices calling on him to resign, be forced out under the terms of the 25th Amendment, or be impeached (again) has to be fodder for a new fundraising email to his most fervent supporters. I’m legitimately impressed and pleased that Sen. Pat Toomey has joined the chorus.

Allow me to send him a hearty “welcome” as a part of this essay.

Of course, there’s no shortage of people out there who think that Trump has done nothing wrong. See, for example, this thread over at Rapture Forums. It would be laughable if the people speaking here didn’t believe what they’re saying.

But there’s a single word that unites all of Trump’s supporters; it pervaded his fundraising emails and is even in the name of a related spambot that’s had my email address ever since I got on Trump’s mailing list. The linguist in me is intrigued by the emotional power of this word even as its definition has been perverted and subverted, corrupted and disrupted, twisted and torn and tattered and tarnished.

The word, if you didn’t guess, is patriot.

The people who breached the walls of the Capitol building believed themselves to be patriots even as they staged what was essentially an armed insurrection against the nation they claim to love and support.

The etymology of this word is quite simple: it comes from the Latin word pater, which means father, and it implies love for one’s fatherland.

In the traditional sense of the word, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a sense of patriotism, a love for one’s homeland. But the way Trump has used the word, love for him became synonymous with love for country. And anyone who didn’t love him, by definition hated the country as well.

Let me make this abundantly clear: that’s not what patriotism is or should be. A better word for what Trump did, wasn’t patriotism. It was jingoism and nationalism. And nationalism, from any country, is dangerous.

Mix in the religious fundamentalism he embraced, and you’ve got something truly dangerous. I strongly recommend checking out the book The Founding Myth by Andrew L Seidel for more details on the dangers of mixing religion (especially Christianity) and nationalism. (As if the link to Rapture Forums above wasn’t enough…)

There’s an interesing irony in that I actually do consider myself a patriot, as I hope comes through in some past writings of mine. You can argue that I consider myself a patriot in the same sense that Phil Ochs did.

I love the promise of America, what I idealize it to represent in all of its enlightnment-era wonder and glory. I love the landscape of America and how you can throw a dart at a map of the country and hit something beautiful and inspirational. I love the hope of America even when it falls so far short of what it knows it can be.

And damn, it’s fallen pretty far short in recent years. Trump is as much a symptom of the greater problems as he is the problem himself. I love this country. It’s the leadership that leaves a fair bit to be desired.

And Phil Ochs knew it. I think of one song of his in particular, called “I’m Gonna Say It Now“. There’s one specific verse that ties back to the meaning of ‘patriot’ that seems more than fitting here:

You’d like to be my father, you’d like to be my dad
And give me kisses when I’m good and spank me when I’m bad
But since I left my parents I’ve forgotten how to bow
So when I’ve got something to say, sir, I’m gonna say it now.

That’s a good point. Throughout literature (including The Bible) there’s talk about children growing to appreciate their fathers, if not their parents, as they grow up. They’re still independent of their parents and won’t necessarily say and do the same things. And they will try not to make the same mistakes as their parents. That’s the way we love our fathers: to build on what they said and did and work to make the world better.

And that’s also the way we love our fatherland.

That’s patriotism.

I’m not unsympathetic…

I’ve been watching with bemusement all of the various attempts by various republicans to challenge the electoral victory of President-elect Joe Biden. I’m not pretending they have to like it or be happy about it. I legitimately wonder if the pre-existing “NotMyPresident” hashtag is going to get anywhere near as much use under Biden as it has under Trump.

More than a few pundits have spoken of the dangerous precedent that’s about to be set when Rep Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) make good on their respective promises (as the first members of each chamber of Congress to announce they will do it) to challenge the electoral college victory, which has already been certified and allegations of fraud or improper results have the same weight as “I don’t like the results therefore they must be fraudulent”.

(Side note, weren’t these the same people who told the liberals to just shut up and accept the results when there was much more documentable “funny business” four years ago? The ones who complained that Hillary Clinton waited until the morning after the election to concede?)

But there’s the thing, and the reason why I’m more bemused than anything. They actually have the same grievance with the electoral college that the “left” has: with the exceptions of the states of Maine and Nebraska, all states have a “winner take all” system of assigning their electors. It doesn’t matter that the margin of victory of a given candidate — democrat or republican — was less than 1% of the vote. All of that state’s electors will go to whichever candidate got the most votes.

You can call this a form of disenfranchisement. More people in California voted for Trump than there are residents of some smaller states that actually went for Trump. And yet all of California’s electors went to Biden, who got even more votes in California.

The solution to this disenfranchisement is simple and one I’ve previously advocated: abolish the electoral college.

Of course, doing that still wouldn’t give Trump the victory, not in 2020 and not four years ago either. He lost the popular vote and badly both times. Abolishing the electoral college is not the solution the republicans need to rectify whatever injustice they may perceive.

So they’re grandstanding and advocating for a complete overturning of the rule of law.

It would be funny if it weren’t so sad.

I think I triggered a few snowflakes

So I’m in a few Facebook groups for my local neighborhood. That’s certainly fairly common.

The administrator of one of these Facebook groups, shared an article from the local Patch about restaurants in my county that are planning on opening despite our governor’s order to cease in-person dining as the pandemic has been raging out of control in this area. Our hospitals are at or near capacity and if some steps aren’t taken to curtail it, things are about to get a LOT worse.

So I posted a comment about how it would have been nice if the article had actually provided a detailed listing of local restaurants, so we can know which ones not to patronize.

The first comment after that said, and I quote (although I won’t name names), “‘It would be nice if they provided a list of the Jewish families or maybe they could, like wear a star on their shirts.’ Gtfo.”

Yes, I know that Godwin’s Law holds that in any protracted political debate, eventually someone will compare someone else to Hitler. I directed my correspondent to read the wikipedia page on the informal logical fallacy known as reductio ad Hitlerum after defending the completely reasonable position that we don’t want things to get any worse than they already are.

Things went downhill from there. I provided a host of arguments that I consider reasonable, appealing to empathy, humanity, and a recognition that short-term pain now — which could and should be eased by the government — is better than the long term pain if we allow the pandemic to continue unabated.

Everyone who trashed me, I told them that I sincerely hope that they do not fall ill with the virus, and I hope that none of their loved ones do either.

The one place where I made a comment that had political connotations, was when I remarked that Donald Trump’s cavalier attitude towards the threat posed by the virus, undoubtedly has made the pandemic worse in this country than it needed to be. (Source: literally the rest of the world). Exactly how much worse, I don’t know and we probably won’t know until well after it’s over and the statisticians can take a long hard look at the real numbers.

The arguments against me have all been regurgitated and refuted ad nauseam. An infringement upon personal freedoms. I have it in for Trump. This is no worse than the flu. Masks protect you from everything. I’ve seen literally every one of these Fox News talking points countless times before and their connection to reality is tenuous at best. I might have antagonized a few people when I used a few ten-cent words as I said, “I see absolutely no reason sort of a myopic, misplaced Ayn Rand-style selfishness to unnecessarily endanger other people.”

My last comment in this thread was about seven hours ago as I type these words. Several people continued to hurl invectives at me, armed with easily disproven statistics and conspiracy theories. That much I can roll my eyes at.

What I can’t roll my eyes at, is the last comment, fifteen minutes ago as I type these words (and the reason why I’m writing this blog entry in the first place). Made by the same group administrator who posted the original article. This person said, “you started this. You got everyone all wound up. Please stop it.”

In other words, I challenged the fragile worldview of a few people who have drunk the Kool-Aid of dishonest conservative media, and they didn’t like it. Maybe someone complained about me to the administrator. Maybe not. I legitimately don’t know and have no desire to find out.

I still don’t get why they think liberals are the fragile ones. They’re the ones that have gone out of their way to isolate themselves and not hear contrary views.

Edit: The administrator just made a post about how he backs off of the debate unless someone complains. So I guess someone did complain about me. Poor snowflake.