Things I’d like to ask the Wizard, if I could…


I shaved my beard off on All Saints Day. The night before, I’d been trick-or-treating with most of my grandchildren, and they informed me I had missed a big opportunity: I should have dressed as a wizard!

They were right, of course. So before shaving the next day, I did a selfie with a hoodie on. Not just any hoodie. The hoods on many of them don’t have enough material to cover my big head. This one, which is getting kind of ragged now, has a comfortably capacious cowl, which helps approximate a sort of Gandalf effect.

See what I mean?

No, I’m not going to share an “after” picture. I don’t like the way I look without the beard. My visage is less… wise, mysterious, knowing. Less esoteric. Now I’m just this guy, you know?

Looking back at the picture above now, it occurs to me I’d like to have a wizard I could go see, and ask some questions. Not about getting a brain or a heart, and definitely not to get me back to Kansas — I came home in 1987 to get away from Kansas. I have other questions these days. Here are a few:

  • Why did so many people vote for Donald Trump two weeks ago? Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Wizard, I’m as grateful as can be that Joe won. Thanks for casting that spell on South Carolina back on Feb. 29. We’d be in real trouble if you hadn’t. But I just need to know why he didn’t win with 100 percent of the vote. Really, after the last four years, I can’t believe anyone was planning to vote for Trump at the start of 2020, and that’s before COVID. And all year, he kept doing and saying things that, translated, said “DON’T VOTE FOR ME!” There were no excuses this time. No Hillary. No, “I was sure he’d lose, so it was a protest vote.” I’ve spent the last four years trying — really trying — to understand why anyone voted for him in 2016 (and the two things I just mentioned were all I came up with). And every day since then, people have been hit with a tsunami of evidence that this is really, absolutely, not anyone you would ever put in charge of anything. So I really, really don’t know why even one person voted for him this time — much less 70 million. So please, ‘splain it.
  • Oh, and what’s with the utter rejection of reality? How can someone who so obviously exhibits the perspective and self-interest of a two-year-old persuade people that his fantasies are real? Seriously, how can half of Republicans — which is a bunch of people — actually believe assertions that are based in nothing — nothing! — but a disturbed man’s self-delusion?
  • What happened to Lindsey Graham? Oh, I don’t just mean over the last four years — how did he get even worse after the election? Why didn’t he take a vacation or something, which might have given him a chance to get better?
  • Why don’t I know the names of the astronauts who just went to the space station on the new ship? A change of pace there…. I knew the names of the first two guys — Bob and Doug. The only name we hear any more is “Elon Musk.” That’s like knowing the name of Bob Gilruth, but not John Glenn. It’s weird.
  • Is there something in our food, or air, or water that has damaged our brains? Yeah, I’m drifting back toward the first couple of questions. but no, I’m not just talking about people who voted for Trump, even though, yeah, they’re a great example. My next couple of questions provide examples from completely different segments of the population…
  • Why does a sensible woman like Abigail Spanberger have to explain to fellow Democrats that failing to distance themselves from absurd statements such as “defund the police” or labels such as “socialist” hurt them in the election? And how come she’s still sensible while others are not? Does she not eat the tainted food or breathe the tainted air? In any case, thank goodness she was re-elected — barely.
  • Why did those people in Portland keep coming out and protesting day after day, as though it were a job or something, when it was painfully obvious that every day they did it, they were providing Donald Trump with ammunition, helping back up his paranoid talking points? I mean, if you have a point to make, haven’t you made it with the first protest? It’s one thing if you live in a place — such as Hong Kong — where actually being free to protest is in a way the point.. You might do that over and over — until they stop you, as China has done now (thereby proving there was a point to the protests). This is different. It’s not like the initial George Floyd protests, or those in Kenosha or Louisville, which were specific responses to clear events, as opposed to the Portland goings-on, which were more like a… lifestyle or something.  It would make sense if we learned those protesters were in the pay of the Trump campaign. That would add up. But I’m pretty sure that’s not it. You know, I watched maybe one episode of “Portlandia” and lost interest. Something about free-range chickens or something. Maybe I should have kept watching…

Well, there’s more, but that’s probably enough for now. Maybe I’ll ask more questions another time, if that dude in the strange green outfit will let me in…

33 thoughts on “Things I’d like to ask the Wizard, if I could…

  1. Doug T

    Is anyone watching “Rise of the Nazis” series on PBS? I think it’s a BBC production and is somewhat different than run of the mill documentaries.

    The parallels are chilling when compared with you-know-who. The attacks on the press, influencing the courts/justice department, scapegoating a segment of the population that is “different”, demanding the imprisonment of political enemies, etc.

    I’ll never again take democracy for granted after four years of Trump.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Nor should you.

      I’ve been watching the series. Obviously, the makers of the series were quite aware that they were making it during the era of Trump — and of the rise of similar thugs around the world. Part of the introduction of the second episode sounded a bit like a column about current events from 2020…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I just went back and played that bit over, so I could be more specific.

        The narrator is describing Germany in 1933, and its new chancellor, Herr Hitler:

        “He refuses to engage in the boring day-to-day detail of running a country. He has no interest in the opinions of experts, and refuses to read briefings….”

        If that’s not chilling enough, here’s the next line:

        “Instead, he tasks his team with a simple assignment: Destroy democracy and make him dictator.”

        This, we are told, will take only six months.

        We hear the narration over a silent scene in which an actor playing Hitler is lounging on a sofa, alone in a room, looking like he has all the time in the world. He’s casually leafing through a newspaper.

        So, I tell my wife as we watch, this is Hitler’s version of spending half the day watching FoxNews. Of course, he couldn’t comment on it via Twitter, but he made do with Goebbels and the radio…

        1. Doug T

          Maybe it’s hyperbolic to see Stephen Miller and William Barr as 21st century versions of Himmler and Goebbels, but I’m not exhaling until December 14 when the Electoral College votes. When Bill Maher and others said months ago that Trump wouldn’t leave I’m like “C’mon”, but now it is getting scary what could happen to our country.

          …and Bush was worse than Trump? C’mon.

        2. randle

          If the GOP doesn’t overturn the election by whatever means, it won’t be for lack of trying. They are counting on getting to the state legislatures and then going to the Supreme Court. If this slow-moving coup doesn’t illustrate the dangers of the Electoral College, nothing does.
          This article by Bill Kristol lays out the possible GOP scenario. Part of the strategy is to delay certification while repeating the big lie about election fraud until it is accepted, just like with every other egregious breech. The best defense is to clap back loudly and nonstop until the election is certified. And, of course, lawyers.

          and this:

    2. Scout

      “I’ll never again take democracy for granted after four years of Trump.”

      It’s true. I’ve been thinking lately – all through elementary school, every year we had to write an essay called “what freedom means to me”. it was a contest of some sort, maybe state wide. Maybe it was for Veteran’s day or President’s day, not sure, but something like that. It wouldn’t have been July 4 since we weren’t in school and Memorial day is too close to the end of the school year.

      Anyway, I really feel like I could do a much better job at it now.

  2. Bob Amundson

    All humans are irrational and biased, much of it implicit. I am irrational and biased, but I become more rational and less biased when I accept my flawed self. I am fascinated by the study of consciousness; I did some “studies” in the early ’70s when I learned that my consciousness was a hallucination. If anyone is interested in further understanding my current hallucination, search for information on researcher Anil Seth. I recommend his 17 minute YouTube video “Your Brain Hallucinates Your Conscious Reality” or a 2018 NPR interview “How Does Your Brain Construct Your Conscious Reality?”

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I hope you didn’t share that information with the flight surgeons when you were an aviator. I think they would frown on that sort of thing… 🙂

      I never read about Anil Seth. But I did enjoy some of that alternative stuff from the 70s, when I was in college. R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience, for instance. It’s been a long time since I read it, but at the time I recall summarizing Laing as suggesting that schizophrenics were actually the sane ones. Which may not be exactly right, after all these years.

      I also enjoyed reading Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, which for some reason my mind associates with Laing, even though it was about, you know, drugs. It was probably Huxley as much as anything that kept me from using psychedelic drugs. I’ve seldom read anything more terrifying than this passage from Huxley’s book, about an experience on mescaline:

      “Confronted by a chair which looked like the Last Judgment — or, to be more accurate, by a Last Judgment which, after a long time and with considerable difficulty, I recognized as a chair — I found myself all at once on the brink of panic.”

      I’ve had dreams sort of like that. Sort of. But one can wake up from dreams. The idea of having my brain manacled to such an experience by a chemical, unable to break away, was more than enough to persuade me to avoid such a chemical.

      In my mind, I guess what I read there was tied up with what I had read years earlier in Twain’s “The Great Dark,” a story never published in his lifetime. It appeared in the same volume of “Letters from the Earth” that I read in my teens. In that, the story’s narrator finds himself trapped in a nightmare that lasts for many years, after he makes the mistake, early in a dream, of insulting a figure known as the Superintendent of Dreams.

      I came away from that not wanting anything — a chemical or anything else — to trap me in such a state of being.

      But I digress…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I just looked him up, and now I see why I hadn’t “read about” Anil Seth back when I was into reading such things, and why we can see him on YouTube.

        He was born in 1972 — after I read some of those things I cited above…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        The thing is, when I read that Huxley passage, I knew exactly what he meant. I could see the chair in my mind, and I could perceive it as the Last Judgment. I could see just what he was on about.

        That was enough.

        I didn’t really need drugs.

        Maybe that’s why my memory ties the Huxley book and R.D. Laing together…

        1. Bob Amundson

          Reading Laing and Huxley resulted in my reading of Castaneda’s books (now considered fiction), which led me to “researching” native shamanism. So, when I understood the process to receive a security clearance, I thought I was done. Either “they” talked to the wrong people or too much money had already been spent on my training.

          Native shamanism is making a comeback in the mindfulness movement. “Medicine men” in the Americas had a fascinating pharmacopoeia in their toolkits. Been there, done that.

  3. Ken

    It seems increasingly apparent that the problem with the Republican Party is that many in its ranks don’t believe anyone else should govern, EVER. That the GOP is the only legitimate governing party. Only it has the best interests of the country at heart. And everyone who thinks differently is wrong, and may potentially even pose a threat. There is a strong underlying contempt for any alternative political option. Why have so few of its members spoken openly in favor of accepting Biden as President Elect? Because they don’t believe that a Democrat, or anyone for that matter who isn’t a Republican, can genuinely represent the country’s interests. That and not wanting to be captured on camera saying anything positive about Biden, lest it be used against them in the next campaign.

    1. Bart

      Based on the rhetoric from Democrats over the past several years, I thought it would be a novel idea to reverse your comment and turn it around to reflect what Republicans think about Democrats. This is what continues to separate us as a nation politically. No matter what you and the other 99% who post here believe, there are millions and millions of Republicans who don’t like Trump at all but support him anyway because they have the same sentiment toward Democrats as Democrats have toward Republicans. There are many Democrats who don’t like Biden but they voted for him because he isn’t Trump. The same way Trump voters did in 2016 because they simply didn’t like Hillary Clinton at all.

      “It seems increasingly apparent that the problem with the Democratic Party is that many in its ranks don’t believe anyone else should govern, EVER. That the Democratic Party is the only legitimate governing party. Only it has the best interests of the country at heart. And everyone who thinks differently is wrong, and may potentially even pose a threat. There is a strong underlying contempt for any alternative political option. Why have so few of its members spoken openly in favor of accepting Trump as President Elect? Because they don’t believe that a Republican, or anyone for that matter who isn’t a Democrat, can genuinely represent the country’s interests. That and not wanting to be captured on camera saying anything positive about Trump, lest it be used against them in the next campaign.”

      Think about it.

      If I were invited to have a beer with either Biden or Trump, as much as I dislike both, I would rather have a beer with him than Trump. They are both liars of the first order but Biden is less offensive personality wise and his tall tales are more entertaining, especially the one about “Corn Pop”.

      1. Ken

        “Turnabout is fair play” — so goes the saying.
        But it doesn’t necessarily make for truth.

        And then there’s this:

        “They are both liars of the first order”

        This is the very cynicism that Trump built his campaigns and his presidency on.
        It is a disservice to the country.

        1. Bart

          “They are both liars of the first order” …”This is the very cynicism that Trump built his campaigns and his presidency on.
          It is a disservice to the country.”

          On the contrary, it was an observation and a truthful one. The true cynics are the ones who deny Biden’s lies by defending him against any call for accountability. The disservice to the country is to ignore Biden’s lies that are on record beginning with the disciplinary actions when he was in college and found guilty of plagiarism. Then the other lies about attending Delaware State when no record of his enrollment can be found nor can anyone recall seeing him in attendance. The lies he was caught in when he made his false declarations about his college record that resulted in his dropping out of the primaries in 1988. The list can go on and on but Biden’s lies have been ignored and defended by the silence of the media in general. Remember when Biden walked up to the young girl and promised her that there would be no fracking in his administration only to later deny he ever made such a statement?

          No need to delve further into Trump’s lies, they are out there for all to see. I know he is a liar and he has no problem stretching the truth to serve his own purposes. The hypocrisy is the denial and lack of reporting about Biden’s lies, past and present.

          If either one were interviewed for a top management position by an honorable company or institution and presented their resume’ based on what their public comments have been, they would be escorted out of the building and instructed to never return.

          However, this is what we have and Biden is POTUS in waiting. The question is if the media will hold Biden accountable with the same diligence they have held Trump accountable.

          “Turnabout is fair play” — so goes the saying.
          But it doesn’t necessarily make for truth.”

          Okay, tell me where the lack of truth is in the reversal from Republican to Democrat for your comment. Are you trying to say that Democrats in general don’t believe that only Democrats can govern the right way? Have you been living in a cave and only interpret the shadows on the wall as truth?

          1. Ken

            No, I don’t live in a dark cave. And I don’t take simulacrums of reality projected onto its walls for the real thing. I study reality straight on.
            Unlike some folks, however, I’m not retired. So I can’t go on as fulsomely about this as I might like. I certainly can’t offer the seminar it deserves, and needs. But in lieu of that, here’s something by a long-time observer of American politics, Michael Tomasky, that helps. I don’t expect this will change your mind even slightly. But I offer it as food for thought for the thoughtful.

            “[W]e appear to be headed for two more years of gridlock. McConnell will pass nothing. As for the Supreme Court, not only will Biden not increase its size, which he’s hesitant to do anyway; we may be locked into a situation where Justice Stephen Breyer, now eighty-two, can’t retire and give Biden a chance to put a younger justice on the Court, because McConnell will likely not allow a vote. There will be two years of finger-pointing and nothing getting done, which as McConnell knows will hurt Biden and the Democrats more than the Republicans. Dispirited liberals will stay home in 2022; the Republicans will recapture the House and be well positioned to take back the White House in 2024.
            [E]ven if Trump himself fades, it’s hard to see the changes he has effected being undone. No one else will be quite as brazen as Trump, but he and his 73 million votes have taught the party that created him a great deal. Openly being a white ethnonationalist carries surprisingly little penalty, and in fact brings considerable reward. Ditto flouting constitutional traditions and norms—oh, they will eviscerate you on Morning Joe and the Times editorial page, but Amy Coney Barrett sits on the Supreme Court and Merrick Garland does not. You can lie and lie and lie and invert and pervert the truth endlessly, and half of the media and country will be onto you, but the other half will pick up on your cues and rearrange their understanding of the world to suit yours, and together you will fight the other half to a rough draw, even on a matter as serious as the effective negligent homicide of tens of thousands of Americans, if not more.
            The Republican Party will not stop doing, or being, all of the above. Its authoritarian impulses, which predate and have enabled Trump, will continue. There is no one in the party—no one—urging it to pull back from the pursuit of total dominance by means of the courts, racial gerrymandering (which it will continue to control), the rules of the Senate, and the imbalance of the Electoral College.”

            I’ll just add that Vaclav Havel, Czech dissident and first post-communist president of the Czech Republic, famously pointed out that the fundamental characteristic of authoritarianism is how it forces people to be dishonest in their public lives. The Republican Party is now demonstrating this sort of characteristic authoritarian behavior.

  4. Judy Cooper

    Brad, I’ve been asking myself these questions for 4 years. For the life of me I can’t understand it. Luckily, my family (most of them) are staunch democrats, as are most of my friends. I’m thankful for that. One city that really puzzles me is Jackson, TN. I’ll bet Biden didn’t get a dozen votes in that city. Just don’t get it.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Which, of course, isn’t the way I remember West Tennessee at all. When I was at The Jackson Sun, everything was in its proper place: East Tennessee had been Republican since there were Republicans, Middle Tennessee was dependably Democratic, and West Tennessee could go either way…

  5. James Edward Cross

    Brad, Brad, Brad.

    You forgot the most important question of all:

    Is Nigella Lawson right? Should I butter my toast twice?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, ya gotta make allowances for me:

      • I don’t eat any kind of bread — I’m sorta going paleo these days.
      • I’m very much allergic to butter, and all other dairy products. Like seriously.
      • I had to Google to find out who Nigella Lawson was…

      So, good thing you were here, right?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I used to have a boss — a great guy, in spite of this story — who had one of those habits like the Richmeister on SNL. I guess he did it to help himself remember new people’s names. When I was new at the paper, he’d greet me by saying, “Brad ‘n’ Butter!”

        I didn’t have the heart to say, “Well, not really…”

      2. James Edward Cross

        Well, I thought that since you are interested in things British that you would be familiar with the latest Threat to the Life and Traditions of the British People. 🙂

  6. Carol Smith

    This latest article and your picture were the best yet. I keep thinking I am in some kind of alternate universe, surely not the USA. It baffles my mind that after 4 years of craziness anyone would vote for Trump. But now that the election should be over, those same people are claiming they won. I can’t even figure out any logic there. And the comparison to Hitler, yes, yes, yes! I traveled in German, Austria a few years ago. Seeing all of the tragic effects of it made it super real and then a year later we woke up to our own dictator. Keep telling the truth!

    1. Doug Ross

      Please enumerate the top three things Dictator Trump has forced you to do in the past four years. Which concentration camp were you assigned to?

      I’m not sure which is worse: Trump as President or the irrational, hyperbolic, emotionally deranged use of terms like dictator, fascist, racist, misogynist by people who haven’t been impacted in any way by Trump’s presidency. Trump’s a buffoon but he hasn’t cause any of you whiners any significant problem. He didn’t kill people with COVID so don’t play that card. Nobody in power handled it well in this country. Cuomo was worse than any “leader” by far and continues to fail.

      1. bud

        Since Trump did kill people with COVID through his utter incompetence I’ll disregard your nonsensical declaration not to play that card. That harkens back to the days when Brad falsely claimed W didn’t lie us into war. But really this isn’t about me. Yours and my white privelage largely isolate us from the worst of Trumps atrocities. But others are not so fortunate. 260+ children were forcibly separated from their parents and never reunited. Muslims have never been allowed to reunite with family members. Trumps outrageous support of white hate groups has resulted in great increase in hate crimes. Unemployment rises while the national debt soars. Suicides and drug overdoses are at epidemic levels. Iran is building stockpiles of enriched uranium. Hurricanes and wild fires are at record levels while our ignoramous president ignores the science that clearly links global warming to these events. So in a time honored fashision of answering a question with a question can any Trump defender name 3 things that have improved in this country since Trump became POTUS? The stock market doesn’t count.

    2. Barry

      I agree with you Carol.

      Trump is a disease, but he’s a loser now and he’s out the door- albeit screaming like a child all the way.

      I’m reminded of the times when trump first took office where his advisers had to tell him “no sir, you can’t do that.”

      1. Doug Ross


        a) Trump only won in 2016 because of Russian interference. #resist and #nevertrump hashtags were immediately implemented from all sorts of people in the government. That’s considered a reasonable response by some people.

        b) Trump got more votes in 2020 than in 2016 but the elections are sound, no interference, no chance of a single illegal ballot despite a whole new system of distributing, collecting, and counting them across the country.

        Had it been the end of Obama’s first term in 2016, he would have been just as petulant and employed all the same legal avenues Trump is using. Obama HAD to leave when Trump won. Democrat politicians would be doing exactly the same thing as Republicans. Scumbags gotta scumbag.

        1. Barry

          A) While some democrats certainly will believe Trump won from Russian interference, I don’t. Similarly, Joe Biden could have won by 24 million votes and 70 additional electoral votes and a majority of trump jock sniffers would say Trump was cheated and it was stolen from him.

          B) Trump got less actual and electoral votes than Joe Biden and lost. He’s a one termer- a loser.

          Every election has irregularities, some illegal votes, and some strange shenanigans. Just last week we learned a Trump supporter was charged with trying to vote twice in Pennsylvania. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. Just today we learned of what was a fake House candidate in Florida with a similar name to the Democratic House candidate in the race. When reporters investigated, the candidate, who had no website, and spent no money campaigning, lied about his identity. It’s now clear his entry into the race was to confuse voters and pull votes away from the Democrat in the race who lost by 34 votes. Junk happens but that’s not the standard used to overturn any election.

          C) “ Had it been the end of Obama’s first term in 2016, he would have been just as petulant and employed all the same legal avenues Trump is using.”

          You are now resorting to proposing made up, completely unknowable scenarios to make Trump look reasonable. Sorry, it didn’t work.

Comments are closed.