Category Archives: Donald Trump

DeMarco: Democrats and Independents: The Time to Stop Trump is Feb. 24

The Op-Ed Page

Photo by Gage Skidmore, via Wikipedia

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

Rarely does a state have an opportunity to make history the way we do on Feb. 24 in the Republican presidential primary election.

South Carolina may be Nikki Haley’s last chance to derail Donald Trump’s path to the nomination. It will be hard for Haley to justify remaining in the race until Super Tuesday without a strong showing here.

I won’t rehearse all the reasons Trump is bad for America, just two quick points. First, Republicans could get all they say they want – conservative policies, family values, and respect for the Constitution – from Mike Pence and several other prominent Republicans. Yet they are drawn to Trump’s scorched-earth approach, despite the Sisyphean rock of baggage he bears.

Second, Trump has proven he is dangerously unpredictable. Almost no one on Jan. 5, 2021 would have predicted what happened the next day: a sitting president encouraged his VP to overturn the will of the people, exhorted the gathered crowd to march on the Capitol, and then watched passively for three hours as they ransacked it. When he finally sent out a Twitter video asking the crowd to disperse, his message to the rioters included “We love you; you’re very special.”

S.C. Democrats and Independents propelled Biden to the nomination in 2020. Our task in 2024 will be less comfortable and potentially riskier. Like me, you may prefer Biden over Haley and have deep policy disagreements with her. But this election is less about the candidates than about America herself. Both Biden and Haley will try to leave America better than they found her. Trump has no such desire.

If you are like many in this state and nation, you have had Trump’s number since he first announced for president in 2015. You recognized what a small, soulless human being he was. You understood his drive to be revered and his dearth of compassion and loyalty. Over the past eight years, you have endured his fountain of lies, from the claim that Obama was not a citizen to his claim that he won in 2020. You’ve asked yourself again and again, is this is the best the Republicans can do?

This is your moment. The turnout in South Carolina’s Democratic primary on Feb. 3 was predictably low, since Biden had only token opposition. Only about 131,000 voters participated (about 4 percent of the state’s more than 3 million registered voters). In 2020, when the outcome was not a foregone conclusion, about 540,000 voters participated in the Democratic primary. That means more than 400,000 voters who turned out in 2020 stayed home this year.

So if you’re a Democrat or Independent who voted in 2020 but didn’t vote on Feb. 3, you can make history. If we leave the election to usual Republican primary voters, the latest polls predict Trump will win by 65 percent to 35 percent. If there is healthy turnout, say 700,000 votes, then the final tally will be roughly Trump 455,000, Haley 245,000, a difference of 210,000 votes.

The 400,000 of you who voted in the 2020 Democratic primary but not in the 2024 primary can swing this election. In addition, there are hundreds of thousands of others who didn’t vote in the 2020 primaries who could vote this time around. Everyone, yes everyone, except the 131,000 who voted on Feb. 3, is eligible to vote in the Republican primary (South Carolina has an open primary system, so you can vote in one primary or the other, but not both).

There are two ways to use this power. One is cynically, by trying to elect the weakest opponent for the other side so your candidate can beat them in the general. The better way is to help elect the strongest candidate for the other side, so that America will have the best choice possible. If Haley wins and then goes on to beat Biden in the general, I will disagree with some of her policies, but the country will be in sane, stable hands.

Imagine you have an infant child or grandchildren. How will you explain your vote for Trump to them in 15 years, when they are old enough to understand politics? I suspect many South Carolinians regret their vote for Strom Thurmond as candidate for the Dixiecrat Party in 1948 (more than 70% of SC voters chose him) or for George Wallace in 1968 (over 30% of SC voters). How an evangelical Christian will explain his or her vote for Trump in 15 years to intense questioning from a skeptical teenager, I have no idea (although I would pay to watch it).

I am hoping South Carolina plays the role Iowa did in January 2008 in its first-in-the-nation Democratic presidential caucus. In a state with challenging demographics, Barack Obama won and was propelled to a general election victory over John McCain. Whether or not you agree with Obama on policy, his respect for the office was clear. He adhered to essential presidential norms and left the fundamentals of American democracy as strong as he found them. Needless to say, if someone with McCain’s integrity was the Republican front-runner in 2024, this column would never have been written.

On Feb. 24, we can make a statement similar to the one our countrymen and -women in Iowa made 16 years ago. We can signal the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s political career by voting for Nikki Haley.

A version of this column appeared in the Feb. 14 edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

Do you think Trump is the whole problem? Well, don’t…

I’ve made this point a bunch of times, but having been reminded of it the last two or three days, I thought I’d share it again once or twice.

Over the weekend, my friend Steve Millies in Chicago tweeted this:

What got me going was those last few words, “We should be capable of recognizing him as what he is, never voting for him.” Well, indeed. Anyone who walks into a voting booth should find the idea of voting for him unthinkable. But the problem is, there’s a big difference between should and the way things are. So I responded:

And there you have placed your finger upon the problem with America. Trump isn’t the problem. The problem is that there are actually people who will vote for him. Millions of them. And frankly, I don’t know how we solve that problem…

As regular readers will have noted, I’ve been trying to sort that out since 2016, when something happened that had never even come close to happening in our history. For the first time, American voters were willing to vote for someone as low, crude and grossly unqualified as Trump — enough of them to actually elect him.

Trump had been embarrassing himself on a public stage since sometime in the 1980s. But now, there were all these millions of people who thought he was a great choice to become the most powerful man in the world.

And those same people would do it again.

Anyway, this morning while working out, I got around to listening to Friday’s Matter of Opinion podcast, which was dedicated to the question, “Should Trump Be on the Ballot?” It was provoked, obviously, by the Supreme Court deciding to take up the question after recent developments in Colorado and Maine.

At some point, conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat said the following:

A deeper question here is just, do you think that the challenge to American democracy is just all about Donald Trump himself alone, this one guy, this distinctive figure, this reality TV show, proto-fascist, billionaire, whatever. And if we can just make him go away, things will go back to normal.

Do you think that? Because if you think that, then I can see how you start to talk yourself into the idea that this is a good idea, and you say to yourself, look, I’m sure that a majority of the Republicans on the Supreme Court do not want Donald Trump to be president again. So why shouldn’t they just wave a magic wand and get rid of him? Nikki Haley can run the table or maybe DeSantis could make a comeback. One of them will beat Donald Trump. Everything will go back to normal.

And that’s sort of a view that I had for the first year or so of the Trump phenomenon. And I guess, I don’t understand how at this point, with everything we’ve seen in Europe, in North America, around the world, that you could think of Trump as just sort of a force that you can just make go away, and everything will go back to normal. But clearly, there are people who think that. So that’s what I’m interested in, I guess, again, having thought that once myself…

Which brings us again to the question: If Trump goes away, does the problem go away?

I don’t think so. The problem is bigger and more complicated than that. If you want to paint a picture of it, it’s not going to be a portrait of this one weird guy. It’s going to be more like a Bosch painting. Good luck making sense of it…

The Kochs are backing Nikki

Does it seem weird to anyone besides me for the hopes of Republican orthodoxy to rest on her shoulders?

Hey, remember this mailer I wrote about back in August?

It was the one from the Koch organization Americans for Prosperity Action, urging Republicans to dump Trump.

Now, they’ve taken a more substantive step: They’ve made an endorsement:

A conservative-leaning political action committee backed by the influential Koch network is endorsing Nikki Haley for the Republican presidential nomination.

The Americans for Prosperity super-PAC says Haley is best positioned to beat former President Donald Trump in the primary election and President Biden in the general election.

In a letter addressed to “Grassroots Leaders, Activists, and Interested Parties,” Americans for Prosperity Action says it’s throwing its support behind the former South Carolina governor and United Nations Ambassador.

The statement says the Republican party has been choosing “bad candidates who are going against America’s core principles,” and that Democrats are responding with what it calls “extreme policies.”…

They’re making the move even as, in recent weeks, Nikki’s been making her own moves, rising to battle Ron DeSantis toe-to-toe — for the honor of being in second place, a couple of light years behind Trump.

Interesting. What the boys from Wichita seem to be trying to bring about is a return of the Republican Party, taking it back from you-know-who.

Is that possible? Can they even have a measurable effect in that direction? We’ll see. I wonder. Let’s say these guys could wave a wand and cause Trump to immediately have only one primary opponent. And let’s say every single real Republican left backed that one opponent.

Could they still deny the nomination to the interloper and his barbarian horde?

I hope they’re right to think they can bring that about. And just as fervently, I hope they’re dead wrong that this other person could defeat my main man Joe…

I’m posting this mailer from August because for some reason, it’s not showing up on the previous post…

Yeah, I was wondering about Lindsey…

When Trump and 18 others were indicted in Atlanta, I immediately wondered, “Where’s Lindsey Graham’s name?”

After all, remember all that fuss about him being subpoenaed to testify over there, and before that, his calls to Brad Raffensberger? I mean, after Trump himself, I sort of expected him to be the next guy on prosecutors’ list. Or maybe third, after Rudy.

Well, now we get some of the story:

ATLANTA — An Atlanta-area special grand jury that spent months investigating alleged 2020 election interference in Georgia by Donald Trump and his allies agreed that the former president should be indicted in the case and also recommended charging one of Trump’s closest associates, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), and 37 other people — a far larger group than a prosecutor ultimately charged.

The recommendations were contained in a 26-page final report presented in January to Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) and made public by a judge Friday….

The document offered some rare insight into parts of an investigation typically marked by secrecy — not just on those who were indicted but also those who weren’t. But the report, which is not legally binding, does not include the evidence or reasoning behind the grand jury’s thinking, though testimony transcripts and evidence are likely to emerge as part of the criminal proceedings against those who were ultimately charged in the case….

I wonder why they didn’t press charges against Lindsey…

America finally has its long-awaited mug shot

From the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

Well, here it is.

Note that after the NYT reported that his cohorts were smiling brightly in theirs, Trump rejected that sissy notion, opting to go full surly thug. By comparison, Al Capone was Mr. Sunshine.

No orange jumpsuit, but a mug shot.

See what I meant about Trump knowing how to upstage a dumb ol’ debate?

Did y’all get this in the mail, too?

My reaction of course is, Well, let’s certainly hope it would be my man Joe’s “ticket to another four years.”

Of course, I fervently hope we’ll have the same result even if any of these jokers — the ones having a “debate” tonight — turns out to be the nominee.

Obviously, that’s not what Americans for Prosperity — that’s the Koch brothers’ group — is hoping. They want one of those other Republicans to be nominated, and then beat Joe! (Shudder.)

I’m just curious about who got it, and who didn’t. I probably got it because, living in Lexington County — where the GOP nominee always gets elected — I’ve voted in quite a few GOP primaries. Or maybe it’s just that this is Lexington County. Or maybe, with all that Koch money to spend, everybody got it.

So… who got it, and who didn’t?

 

Somebody fetch the sheriff, quick!

This morning, the national papers to which I subscribe were topping their apps and browser sites with the apparently stupendous news that that twit George Santos was under arrest for at least some of his nonsense.

My first reaction was, why did this take so long? I thought, wouldn’t it be great if these things worked like in an old Western movie? It would go like this:

  • The doofus rides into Washington.
  • He enters the House chamber through the swinging doors (you know, like in a saloon in a Western town).
  • Someone — preferably a House member who looks like this — would shout, “It’s that no-‘count hornswagglin’ George Santos! He’s got no bidness bein’ here! Somebody fetch the sheriff!”
  • A kid who sweeps the place would drop his broom and go tearing out through the swinging doors, leaving them flapping.
  • The sheriff would come, and throw George into the hoosegow.
  • The story — about something more interesting, one would hope — would resume…

All of that would take about 30 seconds of screen time, if properly edited.

Yeah, I know why it took more time in real life. We have this thing called the Rule of Law, and our latter-day sheriffs needed to come up with something more substantive than bein’ a lyin’ doofus before tossing him into the hoosegow. Which is a good thing, if often unsatisfying.

But of course, none of this solves the problem. The problem is that he was there because some people in a district in New York voted for him.

Which brings us to the more substantive story, which had just happened a few hours before, but inexplicably got pushed way down on the page because of the stupid Santos thing. I mean this:

Donald Trump Sexually Abused and Defamed E. Jean Carroll, Jury Finds

Which is gratifying to see. Of course, I’d like to see something done — something effective, that would assure us it won’t happen again — about the greater crime, which is the fact that this slimeball was actually, once upon a time, president of the United States.

Of course, the guilty parties in that case are the people who voted for the slimeball, and would do it again whatever happens. Because we live in a post-truth world, one in which people are easily duped into voting for a Santos, or much worse, a Trump.

So what are we going to do about that? Somebody fetch the sheriff…

So you’re saying it’s the Raskolnikov Syndrome? Maybe, but that doesn’t explain 2016

Georgy Taratorkin as Raskolnikov in a 1969 Russian film adaptation.

As you know, people have been bat-poop crazy lately. We’ve discussed this a good bit.

It’s complicated by the fact that we’re looking at two separate developments, and sort of running them together.

I’ve been searching ever since 2016, trying to understand how this country elected — to the presidency — someone who at any previous time in our nation’s history would have been laughed off the stage the first time he stood up and said “I’m running.” A guy who had been known as a famous doofus since the ’80s. Elected to be the most powerful person on the planet.

I still haven’t arrived, although I did feel I got a lot closer to the answer when I heard that “Rabbit Hole” podcast.

Over the last year or two — starting in 2020, the year we (at least for a little while), corrected the 2016 insanity — we’ve been talking a lot about something else, which is the deleterious effect of the pandemic on human behavior.

I just read another good, thoughtful piece on that in The Atlantic: “Why People Are Acting So Weird.” It begins:

Everyone is acting so weird! The most obvious recent weirdness was when Will Smith smacked Chris Rock at the Oscars. But if you look closely, people have been behaving badly on smaller stages for months now. Last week, a man was arrested after he punched a gate agent at the Atlanta airport. (The gate agent looked like he was about to punch back, until his female colleague, bless her soul, stood on some chairs and said “no” to the entire situation.) That wasn’t even the only viral asshole-on-a-plane video that week.

In February, people found ways to throw tantrums while skiing—skiing. In one viral video, a man slid around the chairlift-boarding area of a Canadian resort, one foot strapped into his snowboard as he flailed at security guards and refused to comply with a mask mandate. Separate footage shows a maskless man on a ski shuttle screaming, “There’s nobody wearing masks on any bus in this goddamn town!” before calling his fellow passenger a “liberal piece of shit” and storming off.

During the pandemic, disorderly, rude, and unhinged conduct seems to have caught on as much as bread baking and Bridgerton. Bad behavior of all kinds —everything from rudeness and carelessness to physical violence—has increased…

You see what happened there? As you will find if you read on, most of the piece is a discussion of what’s happened “during the pandemic.” But the political problem that predates the pandemic by four years comes up as well: “…before calling his fellow passenger a ‘liberal piece of shit’ and storming off.” Do you wonder who that guy voted for? I don’t. I mean, I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I know.

So yeah, behavior has been pretty bad during COVID, but that doesn’t explain 2016.

However, I did pick up something interesting that I hadn’t though of before, in terms of explaining the pandemic craziness, and that’s why I’m posting this. It comes up here:

We’re social beings, and isolation is changing us

The pandemic loosened ties between people: Kids stopped going to school; their parents stopped going to work; parishioners stopped going to church; people stopped gathering, in general. Sociologists think all of this isolation shifted the way we behave. “We’re more likely to break rules when our bonds to society are weakened,” Robert Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who studies social disorder, told me. “When we become untethered, we tend to prioritize our own private interests over those of others or the public.”

The turn-of-the-20th-century scholar Émile Durkheim called this state anomie, or a lack of social norms that leads to lawlessness. “We are moral beings to the extent that we are social beings,” Durkheim wrote. In the past two years, we have stopped being social, and in many cases we have stopped being moral, too….

Though it’s been a lifesaving tool throughout the pandemic, mask wearing has likely made this problem worse. Just as it’s easier to scream at someone on Twitter than in real life, it’s easier to rage at a masked flight attendant than one whose face you can fully see. “You don’t really see a human being so much as you’re seeing someone masked,” Sampson said. Though one study found that face masks don’t dehumanize the wearer, another small experiment found that they do impair people’s ability to detect emotions….

I read that, and it hit me: Whoa! They mean the Raskolnikov Syndrome! Why didn’t I realize this before? After all, I’ve been thinking about it, and sometimes talking about it, since I was in college — although I don’t think I actually wrote about it until 2012. Here, in part, is how I set out the idea at that time:

I’ve long had this theory that people who do truly horrendous things that Ordinary Decent People can’t fathom do them because they’ve actually entered another state of being that society, because it is society, can’t relate to.

Quite simply, people like James Eagan Holmes are able to spend time planning a mass murder, prepare for it, gather guns and ammunition and explosives and body armor, and actually go to the intended scene of the crime and carry it out, without ever stopping and saying, “Hey, wait a minute — what am I doing?” because they’re not interacting enough with other human beings.

This allows their thoughts, unchecked, to wander off to strange places indeed — and stay there, without other people making social demands on them that call them back.

I think there’s a quality in the social space between people that assesses the ideas we have in our heads and tells us whether they are ideas worth having, or so far beyond the pale that we should stop thinking them. This vetting doesn’t have to be conscious; it’s not like you’re overtly throwing the idea out there and seeking feedback. I think that in your own mind, you constantly test ideas against what you believe the people around you would think of them, and it naturally affects how you regard the ideas yourself. I think this happens no matter how independent-minded you think you are, no matter how introverted in the Jungian sense. Unless, of course, you are a true sociopath. And I believe a lack of sufficient meaningful interaction with other people you care about plays a big factor in turning you into one of those.

Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov was the perfect case, fitting all the criteria we keep hearing about. Brilliant young mind, but he suffered a series of setbacks that embarrassed him and caused him to draw away from his friends. Living hundreds if not thousands of miles from his family, he was forced by lack of money to drop out of school. Rather than make money doing the translations his friend Razumikhin tried to throw his way, he fell to brooding in his ratty garret, or wandering alone through the crowded city, thinking — and not sharing his thoughts.

His murderous plan started with a provocative, if not quite mad, idea that he wrote an essay about — setting out the theory that extraordinary people who were destined to do extraordinary things for the world had a right, if not a duty, to step over the normal social rules and boundaries that restricted ordinary people. Had he been in contact with friends and family, they would have challenged him on this, as Razumikhin did late in the book, when he learned of the essay. Maybe they wouldn’t have changed his mind, in the abstract, but if he had been having dinner each night with his mother and sister, and going out for drinks regularly with Razumikhin, it would have been impossible for him to have carried it to the next level…

I explained further, including sharing the passage that “proved” the theory to me, and I’d love for you to go back and read the whole thing. But that’s the essence.

So yeah, the piece in The Atlantic is referring to a form of that Syndrome. Which is cool, and helpful. I feel like I understand the pandemic-behavior problem a bit better now.

This is particularly an eye-opener to me because, as an introvert, I haven’t minded the isolation of the last two years at all. I haven’t found it stressful, and in many ways — such as not going to an office every day (or at all, really) — I’ve seen it as pretty awesome.

But I had forgotten about my own theory about Raskolnikov. Now I get it.

But to repeat myself, that still doesn’t explain 2016, or the fact that so many millions of people did that again in 2020, and can’t wait to do it again in 2024, whether the pandemic is still affecting our lives or not.

So, I’ll have to keep looking. Because helpful as it is, “Rabbit Hole” doesn’t explain it all — does it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, it’s not about the cheese. But what IS it about?

Yesterday was January 6, and you know what that means, right? The Epiphany! Time to start putting away the Christmas decorations!

If you consume news the way I used to, you might think it means something else. A certain anniversary. News organizations have gone sort of nuts about anniversaries over the past 20 years or so. I mean, we were always kind of that way about Pearl Harbor Day or other historical dates, but news folks have gotten way more into it in recent years in the constant madness of filling the content beast. Seems like now, it’s always the first, or fifth, or 10th anniversary of something we are obliged to remember.

Not that what happened last year wasn’t significant. If this nation ceases to exist while some of us are still alive, we’ll look back on Jan. 6 as being the moment when everything changed. Never before in our history had it even been conceivable for actual American citizens to have attacked, trashed and briefly taken the citadel of our government. Sure, Andy Jackson’s supporters trashed the White House that time, but that was just a party, backwoods style. (That was significant, too, though. They were celebrating the greatest disaster in an American election that occurred before 2016. It was the preview of what our civilization would look like when it disintegrated.)

Of course, things had been changing for awhile before Jan. 6, 2021. And not just politically.

Note that last bit. Not just politically. As much of a disaster as Donald Trump was and is, he is not the problem. The problem is the phenomenon of which he is merely a prominent symptom.

Basically, the American people — and people around the world — had been going completely stark, raving mad for awhile.

We worry about COVID — and we should — but it seems that some kind of infection swept through our world several years back and caused some serious damage to our brains.

We’ve been seeing the evidence for some time, but I’d particularly like to call your attention to this piece that was in the NYT the other day. It’s been getting some attention; I see Jennifer Rubin wrote about it in the Post as well.

The headline was “A Nation on Hold Wants to Speak With a Manager.” The subhed was “In our anger-filled age, when people need to shop or travel or cope with mild disappointment they’re devolving into children.” By the way, if you click on the link as I intend you to do, I advise you to quickly scroll down to the main body of the piece, to reduce your exposure to the extremely irritating animated graphic at the top. As though we didn’t have enough things driving us over the edge.)

Here’s the lede anecdote, plus the nut graf (here’s hoping this falls within the range of Fair Use):

Nerves at the grocery store were already frayed, in the way of these things as the pandemic slouches toward its third year, when the customer arrived. He wanted Cambozola, a type of blue cheese. He had been cooped up for a long time. He scoured the dairy area; nothing. He flagged down an employee who also did not see the cheese. He demanded that she hunt in the back and look it up on the store computer. No luck.

And then he lost it, just another out-of-control member of the great chorus of American consumer outrage, 2021 style.

“Have you seen a man in his 60s have a full temper tantrum because we don’t have the expensive imported cheese he wants?” said the employee, Anna Luna, who described the mood at the store, in Minnesota, as “angry, confused and fearful.”

“You’re looking at someone and thinking, ‘I don’t think this is about the cheese.’”

It is a strange, uncertain moment, especially with Omicron tearing through the country. Things feel broken. The pandemic seems like a Möbius strip of bad news. Companies keep postponing back-to-the-office dates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps changing its rules. Political discord has calcified into political hatred. And when people have to meet each other in transactional settings — in stores, on airplanes, over the phone on customer-service calls — they are, in the words of Ms. Luna, “devolving into children.”…

Yep. The piece — all of which you should read — lists a lot of incidents like the one that was not really “about the cheese.”

If you look at the URL for the piece, you’ll see it includes “customer-service-pandemic-rage.” I think the problem predates the pandemic, just as it predates Trump, but there seems little doubt that, like Trump, COVID has helped bring it out.

Of course, it could just be the pandemic, and I’m just the wrong person to assess that. Whenever I read or hear about how horribly stressed people have been, I always have trouble identifying with it. There’s also the fact that since dairy is a deadly allergen to me — I think of what you call “cheese” as “spoiled bovine secretions” — I can’t imagine why someone would get in the car and drive to a store to buy someone anyway, whether it’s some special kind called “Cambozola” or not.

Yeah, I know if you’re a very young person who has career ambitions that can only be fulfilled at the office, and your spouse works too, and you have young children who may or may not be going to school tomorrow, this imposes certain stresses. But since none of those things describe me, I can’t feel it. And I know if you’ve lost someone to COVID, this is a horror of almost unimaginable proportions.

But if you don’t have any of those factors in your life — if you’d MUCH rather stay home than go to an office, see a movie in a crowd of people, attend a sporting event (shudder), eat out in a restaurant, or travel somewhere in an airliner (something that, honestly, was never fun in the healthiest of times, and which I could only make myself do because I deeply wanted to go to the place at the other end of the ordeal) — then it’s hard to understand this stuff.

And I especially can’t understand how someone my age (“a man in his 60s”) who should be past a lot of those stressors in life could be that desperate to eat a piece of cheese.

So it doesn’t work. And I’m left trying to understand what started all this.

Of course, as you know, I’ve been struggling with the challenge of creating a forum ruled by civility ever since I started blogging in 2005. And it gets harder every year. Lately, I notice that a lot of people have been getting as concerned about it as I have been.

Yesterday, I was talking with a thoughtful person who was trying to analyze the problem. How could someone go into a store or a commercial airliner or a public meeting and act this way? He offered this analogy: “If I enter your house, and you have a rule that I take off my shoes, I either take them off or leave,” he said. “It’s a matter of respect.”

Yes it is. And it immediately struck me that, as I look around me at the problem, it seems we’re living in a world that is absolutely crammed — all of a sudden — with people whose mamas didn’t raise them right.

So what happened?

Lindsey tries to outstupid ‘Trumpo’

Graham on TV

I’ve mentioned this before — the “Trumpo” flag I saw at a flea market at the beach a couple of years back. You know, Donald “Bonespur” Trump depicted as Rambo.

Probably one of the funniest — certainly stupidest — things I saw during the Trump years. And as we all know, there was a lot of competition.

Speaking of competition, though, Lindsey Graham has made a brave effort to conjure an image every bit as dumb and ludicrous:

Here, for instance, is Senator Lindsey Graham speaking, this past Sunday, on Fox News: “I own an AR-15. If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to, because I can defend myself.”

Here’s the video, if that quote’s not enough for you.

The picture Lindsey is trying to put in your head is pretty similar to the Trump flag.

But as stupid as that is, it doesn’t quite work, does it? The picture in my head is somewhere between this picture from St. Louis, and Elmer Fudd, on the hunt for that cwazy wabbit.

I can’t decide which part of that McCloskey guy made him more menacing — the bare feet, or the pink shirt. He was really ready to do battle, wasn’t he?

Henry’s knee jerks in response to being outstupided by Texas

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I’m not going to say a lot about this, because it’s just more of the same. And as you know, I gave all I had trying to get South Carolina to elect the other guy a couple of years back.

But it’s indeed pathetic, and appalling, and will likely lead to a few more of my fellow South Carolinians dying. Beyond that, I’ll post this so y’all can elaborate if you’d like.

So we had what the governor of Texas did the other day. I have trouble remembering his name, but I remember the fact that whenever I read or hear it, it’s in connection with him doing or saying something phenomenally stupid. This time, it was him saying, “It is now time to open Texas 100 percent.

Well, Henry McMaster wasn’t going to stand still for being outstupided by Texas. So we got this:

South Carolinians will no longer be required to wear face masks inside state-owned buildings or inside restaurants when not eating or drinking under Gov. Henry McMaster’s latest COVID-19 order Friday.

The governor’s latest announcement follows the steady decline of new virus cases and mass vaccination efforts. But it also comes after other states, including Texas, have lifted their own mask mandates over criticism from public health leaders.

In the same order, McMaster also asked state agency directors to pull together and submit plans to bring employees back to the office full time….

Oh, by the way — I’m not sure “outstupided” is a word. But it should be. No, wait! Here it is. Good. I think we’re going to be needing it going forward. Too bad we didn’t have it in wide circulation over the last four years.

Oh, by the way, in related news:

Notice how he didn’t say, “former President?”…

More on the stuff driving us crazy

Click on the image to listen to the podcast.

Click on the image to listen to the podcast.

More in my quest to increase awareness of, and prompt discussion about, the ways that social media and other apps that are desperate for our attention are driving America mad — and leading to such unprecedented dysfunction as the presidential election of 2016, and the recent attack on the U.S. Capitol…

Any of y’all listen to Kara Swisher’s podcast, Sway? She had a good one last week with Sasha Baron Cohen. Yeah, it had some fun Borat stuff in it, but the main focus (for me, anyway) was on his ongoing crusade against Facebook. I recommend listening to it. To give you some of the flavor, here’s an excerpt from a speech he gave on the subject more than a year ago:

A sewer of bigotry and vile conspiracy theories that threatens democracy and our planet – this cannot possibly be what the creators of the internet had in mind.

I believe it’s time for a fundamental rethink of social media and how it spreads hate, conspiracies and lies. Last month, however, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook delivered a major speech that, not surprisingly, warned against new laws and regulations on companies like his. Well, some of these arguments are simply absurd. Let’s count the ways….

You can read the whole speech here. And I recommend listening to the podcast — at the very least, you get to here Cohen speaking, for once, with his own North West London accent.

Cohen hasn’t cooled off on Zuckerberg since then. To quote a headline in The Hill right after the election, “Sacha Baron Cohen celebrates Trump loss, calls for Zuckerberg to go next: ‘One down, one to go’.”

That’s one thing. Here’s another…

Ross Douthat dug into the problem a bit in his column today:

No problem concerns journalists and press-watchers so much these days as the proliferation of conspiracy theories and misinformation on the internet. “We never confronted this level of conspiracy thinking in the U.S. previously,” Marty Baron, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, told Der Spiegel in a recent interview. His assumption, widely shared in our profession, is that the internet has forged an age of false belief, encouraged by social media companies and exploited by Donald Trump, that requires new thinking about how to win the battle for the truth.

Some of that new thinking leads to surprising places. For instance, my colleague Kevin Roose recently reported that some experts wish that the Biden administration would appoint a “reality czar” — a dystopian-sounding title, he acknowledged, for an official charged with coordinating anti-disinformation efforts — as “the tip of the spear for the federal government’s response to the reality crisis.”

Meanwhile, my fellow Opinion writer Charlie Warzel recently explored the work of the digital literacy expert Michael Caulfield, who argues that the usually laudable impulse toward critical thinking and investigation is actually the thing that most often leads online information-seekers astray. Instead of always going deeper, following arguments wherever they seem to lead, he suggests that internet users be taught to simplify: to check arguments quickly against mainstream sources, determine whether a given arguer is a plausible authority, and then move on if the person isn’t….

He went on to say he has his doubts about the “reality czar” thing. I’m with him there. Later in the piece he made some points some of us may also find dubious, but it’s an interesting piece, and I’m glad to see him address the problem…

The Republican Party condemns itself completely

I guess not. Because in that system, we don't say, "He's clearly guilty, so let's let him go."

I guess not. Because in that system, we don’t say, “He’s clearly guilty, so let’s let him go.”

Well, the thing that we knew would happen happened Saturday.

I guess those in charge of the proceedings figured there was no point in dragging it out. Trump’s guilt of an unforgivable act was completely and unquestionably proved. But they knew the Republicans — most of them — were determined to endorse his evil, and would do so no matter how much evidence was presented. For that matter, why was evidence necessary at all? All of them had been there when it happened. And of course, some of them were accomplices.

So that’s that.

A few things to point out, and I’ll leave it with y’all:

  • There’s no question what should happen now: Every one of these people who voted to acquit should resign immediately, admitting their betrayal of the country, and not one of them should ever be allowed to hold an office of public trust in the future. Of course, they won’t resign, and most will run again in the future, and considering the extent of the sickness in the places where they come from, many will be re-elected. So we’ll just have to deal with the insanity, for many years to come. So, for the rest of my life, this country won’t be the one I lived in before 2016. That’s just the way things are.
  • This was it, you see, the big moment for the GOP to redeem itself by putting Trumpism behind it. But instead, 86 percent of Republican senators decided, Hey, let’s do this some more! They have condemned themselves completely, and unforgivably.
  • Oh, wait, do you doubt Trump’s guilt? Then you’re nuts. Listen to the chief of the acquittal crowd, Mitch McConnell: He said the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 “because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth, because he was angry he lost an election.” He said, “There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day… No question about it.” And he voted to acquit anyway. Why? I’d tell you, if I heard anything that remotely sounds like a reason.
  • OK, let’s quote something he did say: “This body is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal.” No, that is exactly what you were “invited” to do. In fact, it’s the least you could have done. It is exactly what duty required of you, when asked whether to condemn the actions of “the most powerful man on Earth,” who was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” Let’s quote what another idiot, Marjorie Taylor Greene, said: “The Trump loyal 75 million are watching.” Absolutely. They were watching as you gave your stamp of approval for all that they have wrought. It was clearly, unquestionably your duty to give them the opposite message.
  • Trump lost the vote by 57 to 43. That means he lost by an even larger percentage than he lost the popular vote. But it was almost a perfect match for the proportion by which he lost the electoral vote. And contrary to what he and his mindless followers believe, he was soundly beaten in the election. Unfortunately, 57 percent is not enough for conviction for impeachment. We could argue about whether it should be or not. But the rules are the rules — although you’ll never persuade the Trump crowd of that.
  • Nancy Pelosi called McConnell et al. “cowards” for not joining the 57 who did what was clearly the right thing. She’s right about some of them. Others are worse than cowards: They’re actually on Trump’s side. If you wanted to know what percentage were cowards, and what percentage were evil, stupid or insane (whichever you think applies best to Trumpism), we’d have to get everyone to forget this vote for a moment, and have an anonymous one — then compare the numbers.
  • What happens now? Well, the good man who is now our president will continue trying to lead the country the best he can — and he’s been doing really well up to now. He’ll have to do it even though millions of Americans are lunatics, and that 43 percent of what was once the “world’s greatest deliberative body” just loudly endorsed their lunacy.

Anyway, that should be enough to get everybody started…

 

Thoughts on the impeachment trial?

storm

I find it hard to watch video shot by people who don’t have the sense to turn the phone sideways. You?

Honestly, I haven’t been following it that closely, because I know that no evidence offered, no matter how compelling, is likely to induce enough Republicans to do the right thing.

If they do, I’ll applaud. We’ll finally be fully waked up from the nightmare. Not holding my breath, though. Maybe I should…

But while this process is necessary — Congress has to go through this, in light of the circumstances — I find it depressing to reflect what a firm grip stupidity and shameless evil still have on half the Senate. So I keep it in the background.

That said, what little I’ve read indicates that the Democrats are going about it intelligently, and if the Senate consistently entirely of fair-minded people, conviction would be inevitable. So that’s something.

Beyond that… I just thought I’d put this up for any of y’all who want to comment. Now I’m going to go get some dinner. I’ll check back later…

pence

Mr. President, here’s what makes the ‘uncivil war’ so vicious

Guillaume

I wish my headline said, “Here’s how to end the uncivil war, Mr. President.” But I can’t say that, because I don’t know how to undo the damage.

But finally, after more than four years of bewilderment, I finally feel like I have a grip on what has caused the problem, and I’m not letting go. If I keep saying “Here it is!” enough, maybe someone else will see what to do about it, even if I don’t.

I’ve written about this in two posts now, here and here. In the second one, I mentioned having watched part of the documentary “The Social Dilemma,” and indicated I might say more about it when I’d seen it all. I finished watching it about a week ago, and yes, it certainly reinforced the epiphany I’ve been writing about. But I got distracted doing other things, and didn’t get to it.

Today (yesterday now, since I didn’t finish the post until Saturday), I’m reminded of the urgency by a several things I’ve read — items that point to the continued rapid descent of most of the country’s Republicans into madness. There’s the case of that deranged woman from Georgia, and the House GOP’s deep reluctance to deal with her. (The Republican leader is too busy running down to Florida to beg forgiveness of his master.) There are stories about polls, showing how most of that party’s adherents are still shockingly lost in their delusions. There was a Frank Bruni piece about how Marco Rubio — and anyone else with designs on the GOP nomination in 2024 — has utterly degraded himself in the pursuit of the support of his party’s conspiracy wing. And more.

How did close to half the country lose its grip on reality? Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about in those previous posts, and return to today.

There’s a great moment near the start of “The Social Dilemma” when several tech industry veterans who are deeply concerned about what’s going on are asked to answer the question, “What’s the problem?”… and each of these otherwise articulate people stops, and stares vacantly, and for a long moment, fails to come up with an answer.

It made me feel better, because these were expert people who were here to talk about it, and had trouble explaining what the problem was.

As I said in my first post on this subject, I’ve been familiar with the problems for years, and felt stupid speaking of an “epiphany” when the basic facts were so obvious:

I’ve commented on this before. Everyone has. And I was conscious of the cause of the problem. But recently, I came to realize it, to understand it, to grok it, more fully. And it was as though I hadn’t thought about these things before.

It happened first when I listened to a podcast series from several months ago, called “Rabbit Hole.” If you haven’t listened to it, I wish you would…

That podcast helped the points sink in, to where it suddenly hit me that this was the explanation of Trumpism, specifically the explanation of how such a large portion of the country — close to half — had completely lost connection with reality, becoming immune to evidence to an extent far beyond old cliches about “confirmation bias” and such.

It was happening because they inhabited separate realities, which seemed as real to them as any other. And they were prepared to go to pretty much any lengths to defend their delusions, as we saw demonstrated so dramatically on Jan. 6, and in the willingness of so many to ignore the implications of those events. (By the way, these processes don’t just distort the perceptions of Trump supporters. It’s just that with Trump, you had a figure emerge who reinforced the tendencies of Qanon believers, white supremacists, and other whackos by repeatedly telling them it was all true, and that it was not only OK, but virtuous to embraces such insanity. This unprecedented situation caused that particular, easily deluded, segment of the population to go completely off the rails.)

Those experts momentarily lost the ability to address the Problem because it has so many aspects, all interacting with each other. But to simplify, these two factors are generally at the core:

  1. First, the fact that so many people now get all of their information that explains politics and the world to them from, shall we say, “nontraditional sources.” At the same time, part of what those sources have brainwashed them to believe is that the “traditional sources” — ones that operate according to procedures and ethics that require that facts actually check out before being reported — are “fake news,” and not to be trusted. Yes, this is very obvious, and doesn’t really explain things until you get to the second point…
  2. The way the Web works when it is successful. Success depends on keeping your attention, so that attention can be sold to advertisers. Which is the way newspapers, television, radio and other media monetized themselves — except that the Web is astonishingly better at it. And there’s one aspect of the algorithms that make them succeed more than anything: The simple matter of showing you what you like (or tell you what you want to hear), and then showing you more of it, to the point that you never get to anything else.

Ultimately, you end up living in a completely different reality from others whose predilections, in concert with the algorithms, have herded them into their own, distinct — and often diametrically opposed — universes. (Again, this works on MSNBC watchers as well as on the Fox people. But Rachel Maddow isn’t working in tandem with a POTUS who does not give a damn what the truth is. So things don’t get nearly as crazy. But it does mean that as Trump’s base gets crazier, people on the left move farther and farther away from them, and the Trump base sees that disdain, and gets crazier.)

Eventually, the deliberative processes that are essential to our system of representative democracy break down. Representatives who know their constituencies have no points of agreement on facts with people who live in other constituencies cast aside evidence and make themselves immune to persuasion, lest they lose their seats. Debate in legislative bodies is pointless, because it’s not about trying to achieve productive synthesis with the views of members on the other side of the aisle; it’s simply about proving one’s purity in adhering to the “reality” in which most of one’s constituents live.

Back to the movie…

“The Social Dilemma” has a lot of flaws, the most obvious of them being dramatization. When it sticks to tech gurus talking about the problem, it’s great. When it uses actors to act out the problems, it gets kind of cheesy. Perhaps that keeps more people watching (hey, just like YouTube!) but it almost made me turn it off a number of times.

The dramatizations try to capitalize on parents’ concerns about their children’s Web addiction — a very serious problem that all parents should worry about, but not the reason I’m watching. There’s this fictional family of actors, and you watch one teenaged boy who starts out fairly rational gradually get seduced into extreme views, to the exclusion of everything else in his life.

Perhaps the cheesiest thing — but I understand that someone thought this would help us understand better the way the algorithms work — are these fantasy sequences in which you see the algorithms personified. This one actor appears as three different parts of the online code, and his three “characters” have conversations with each other about how they are manipulating the teenager, as they gradually assemble a more and more complete model of the kid as he spends more time online. These scenes are exceedingly creepy — and meant to be — and I finally figured out one reason why. The actor personifying the algorithm is the one who played “Pete” on “Mad Men.” Creepy is what this guy does. (You kind of wonder what happened to him along the way to give him a face like that.)

But eventually the film confronts the issues that interest me, the ones I’ve written about in those preceding posts. This initially happens when, out of the blue, the person being interviewed is Guillaume Chaslot (pictured above), the Frenchman who helped develop YouTube’s “recommendation” software — before he realized with horror what it was doing.

I recognized him when he used the phrase “rabbit hole” — because his was one of the more important voices heard in the podcast series of that name. In the podcast, it was described how two developments on YouTube led to the creation of conditions that lead people to become committed conspiracy adherents — first, the moment when YouTube started allowing long videos, entire talk shows and such, to be posted. Then, the development of the current “recommendation” system, which essentially says, “You liked that? You’ll love this,” which so easily pulls people deeper into the hole as they watch one whack job’s video, then another more extreme one, then one more extreme than that, and on and on…

Mind you, the experts — the elements of the film I prefer — all insist that there are no bad guys (although the environment thus created is a welcome mat to bad guys, such as Vladimir Putin, to step in and use it). The aims of the people making these separate realities possible are fairly innocuous. As one of the main talking heads explains, as we’re watching the creepy Petes manipulate the kid:

At a lot of these technology companies, there’s three main goals.

There’s the engagement goal: to drive up your usage, to keep you scrolling.

There’s the growth goal: to keep you coming back and inviting as many friends and getting them to invite more friends.

And then there’s the advertising goal: to make sure that, as all that’s happening, we’re making as much money as possible from advertising….

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, I can tell you as an old newspaperman (at least, that’s what the people on the business side kept telling me — and of course I noticed that when they stopped making money, everything that was important to me disappeared. Which was bad…). But when Web-based businesses do the same thing, we start seeing processes that humanity has never seen before, and which evolution has not equipped us to handle.

Anyway, I urge you to watch this film as well. Because I think it’s important in the extreme for all of us to understand how people come to accept the most unlikely-seeming propositions, and cling to them with religious fervor — fiercely resisting any attempt to argue them back to reason.

Because it’s tearing us apart.

There are plenty of other ways in which these problems — or at least bits and pieces of them — are being examined. I was listening to a podcast yesterday in which a New York Times reporter who watched Qanon chats happening during the Inauguration on Jan. 20, with the true believers assuring each other that at any second, Trump would declare martial law and stop the “steal.” Did they wake up when it didn’t happen? Some did. Others told themselves they had simply misinterpreted Q’s prophesies. It’s an interesting examination of effects, if not causes.

Or the piece I read in the NYT this morning headlined “The Coup We Are Not Talking About.” The writer approaches the same problems from a different direction, that of the development of “surveillance capitalism.” I think it’s the wrong direction, but perhaps it’s because some of the connections he makes are unconvincing. But maybe he made a better case in his book on the same subject. Anyway, he touches on the problems I’m on about, although in the service of his thesis:

The third stage, which we are living through now, introduces epistemic chaos caused by the profit-driven algorithmic amplification, dissemination and microtargeting of corrupt information, much of it produced by coordinated schemes of disinformation. Its effects are felt in the real world, where they splinter shared reality, poison social discourse, paralyze democratic politics and sometimes instigate violence and death.

Yeah, he uses the word “epistemic” a lot. And in other ways, he fails to express himself with simple clarity. Kind of made me more sympathetic to the cheesy dramatizations of “The Social Dilemma.” At least they were trying to reach people outside of academia.

But hey, if it leads you to understand it better, try that approach. Because we all need to come to understand it.

And do something about it. Again, I don’t know what to do, what with the toothpaste being fully out of the tube and everyone slathering themselves with it (kind of overdid that metaphor, didn’t I?). But I figure we need a diagnosis before someone comes up with the cure.

By the way, to head off certain obvious objections… before someone cries, “you’re acting like things were fine before this,” allow me to point out the obvious fact that I am not. As I have documented over and over in recent decades, things have been getting nasty in our politics for some time. There have been a number of milestones of our division into tribes that despise each other, and won’t listen to each other, thereby making the function of a deliberative form of government increasingly impossible. You could point to the emergence of negative campaigning in 1982 (which helped to produce the likes of Lee Atwater and his acolyte Karl Rove), or the moment in late 1992 when I first saw a new “Don’t Blame Me; I Voted Republican” sticker on a car before Bill Clinton was even inaugurated. Or Democratic lunacy over Clinton’s impeachment, leading them to defend the indefensible — or, two years later, their claims (very civil, nonviolent and short-lived claims, as opposed to what we’ve seen in recent days) in 2000 that the election was “stolen.” Or for that matter, BDS. Or the rise of the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus, and the maniacal determination to stop anything Barack Obama tried to do — or, failing that, to undo it. (Remember the bizarre spectacle of all those utterly vain votes to “repeal Obamacare?”)

All before Trump. But not all before this phenomenon that I’m talking about, which certainly played a role in the things we saw in the earlier part of this past decade. In any case, this new problem, or set of problems, landed in a nasty partisan environment, and then exponentially accelerated the sickness, with a twist.

I could say a lot more, but at well over 2,000 words, I’d better stop….

creepy Pete

Creepy Pete in triplicate, manipulating the kid.

 

Why do we keep talking about January 6th?

Just don't forget for a moment how he created this situation.

Just don’t forget for a moment how he CREATED this situation….

Yes, I know that sounds like a stupid question, but hear me out.

I keep hearing people talk about Donald John Trump’s culpability — which no rational person can challenge — for what happened that day. I hear clips of what he said. Got it. No question that he incited them to act, on that day.

But what happened that day — his actual appearance before them at that rally — was just the cherry on top.

Why don’t people talk more (and they do some, but not enough) about what he’d been doing every day for more than two months before that? The crime for which he should be convicted by the Senate should be spending all those weeks creating the mob that he was speaking to on Jan. 6 — assembling it, bringing it into being.

If not for that, those people would not have been in Washington on Jan. 6, filled with insane and treasonous delusions, to begin with.

And I’m not hearing enough about that.

If the President of the United States — and that’s what he was at the time, to our nation’s everlasting shame — had not claimed, day after day, that the election had been stolen from him, a complete and obvious lie which he was unable to support with any evidence, that “Stop the Steal” movement would not have existed. Those astoundingly gullible people would all have been far away, in their homes. There would have been no one to stir up and egg on to attack the Capitol.

Of course, in a way, I’m doing what those who make the mistake of concentrating on Jan. 6 do — I’m leaving out a huge chunk of the evidence. I’m not even getting into those months before the election when he was preparing the way for his treasonous lie — telling all those people, over and over, that the vote could not be trusted.

Leave out what happened on Jan. 6, and there is already no question that he is guilty of what the House has impeached him for doing. No honest senator could possibly do anything but vote to convict.

Of course, you can say the same about what he did on the 6th alone. But don’t leave the rest of it out. Consider all the evil he has done — not only grabbing control of the situation for his nefarious ends in the moment, but having created the situation to begin with…

The pope needs to have a chat with some of his clergy

America

Rereading (as I do, obsessively) one of my Patrick O’Brian books the other day, I ran across a passage in which Diana Villiers expresses surprise at Stephen Maturin’s lack of enthusiasm over the fact that a certain French cardinal is to appear at an event. She says, “I thought you would be pleased. Surely a cardinal is next door to the pope; and you are a Catholic, my dear.”

Stephen responds, “There are cardinals and cardinals; and even some Popes have not always been exactly what one might wish…”

Indeed, if one has a sense of history. But that got me to thinking, as I too seldom do, about how blessed I am to be living at this particular moment: I’m very pleased with the current pope, as I am often reminded. And not only that, but Joe Biden is about to be my president. The rest of the world might be going mad, but at least these good men will be in charge of my church and my country. And Joe being a devout Catholic, the two things are tied together

But that hardly means everything is wonderful. After all, as my fellow (but fictional, alas) Papist Stephen would say, there are cardinals and cardinals.

This was documented with stark clarity by this piece a few days ago in the Jesuit magazine, America. The piece was headlined, “How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol.” It spelled out how, among other things, “an alarming number of Catholic clergy contributed to an environment that led to the fatal riots at the U.S. Capitol.”

Which these “leaders” unquestionably did. And have been doing for some time. I had seen plenty of things to worry about over the past year (which was why I wrote this), but I was startled by how extreme their rhetoric was — how anti-Christian it was, not to mention anti-intellectual. Because God had been merciful to me, and had not exposed me to these specific examples. As the piece leads off:

At the end of last August, the Rev. James Altman, the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, Wis., uploaded a video to YouTube that has been viewed over 1.2 million times. The video’s title voiced what an increasing number of Catholic bishops and priests were saying in the run-up to the presidential election: “You Cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat.”

“Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches,” said Father Altman, as music from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 swelled in the background. “So just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”…

There’s more — quite a lot more. Another example:

A few weeks later, the Rev. Ed Meeks, the pastor of Christ the King Church in Towson, Md., preached a homily, also uploaded to YouTube, under the title “Staring into the Abyss,” in which he declared the Democratic Party the “party of death.”

Father Meeks’s video, which has received over two million views, was warmly commended by Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Tex., who tweeted it out to his 40,000 followers with the message “Every Catholic should listen to this wise and faithful priest.” Earlier, Bishop Strickland had endorsed Father Altman’s video as well, tweeting, “As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases [sic] HEED THIS MESSAGE.” Father Altman later appeared as a guest on the premiere episode of “The Bishop Strickland Show” on LifeSite News….

The things they say, and the language they use, is amazingly startling — again, both on the grounds of being unChristian, and that of being amazingly stupid-sounding. You might imagine something like this coming from one of the very least educated of the “poorly educated” Trump so loves — assuming he’d had a few too many beers sitting on that stool at the end of the bar:

“Why is it that the supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God-hating Democrat party can’t say a goddamn thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump? What the hell do you have to say for yourselves losers?” the Rev. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted….

But it’s impossible to imagine it coming from someone who has graduated from a seminary, even if you can somehow explain the irrational hatred.

Especially telling, as much as the profanity, is that “Democrat party” bit. That sort of disregard for the difference between adjectives and nouns is typical among the less-thoughtful staffers at your state Republican Party (somehow, they all forgot the name of the opposition party back in the ’70s, and haven’t had it come back to them yet), but it’s extremely jarring coming from a man of the cloth. It’s an unmistakable sign of someone who is incapable of thinking outside the framework of Republican jargon.

Anyway, all this extreme stuff was news to me. I had been responding to more subtle stuff when I wrote the “Let’s talk about ‘real Catholics” piece back in October. I was concerned about the voting pattern in 2016 — which showed almost half of Catholic voters voting for Trump — and the possibility of its repetition.

I was also motivated by nods and winks I was seeing from some Catholics — including some clergy — here in South Carolina. What I was hearing personally was of course far more subtle and polite than the fulminations Father James Martin writes about in America  — this is, after all, South Carolina. But I had been disturbed by it nonetheless. And I felt it was important for me to say, as a Catholic, that real Catholics would never vote for Trump, and should certainly vote for fellow Catholic Joe Biden. Maybe in writing her brilliant piece — which helped inspire my own, more pedestrian one — Jeannie Gaffigan was motivated by some of the horrible stuff in the America piece. But I think it was mostly milder stuff than that, as I recall.

Back to what I had been hearing here at home… First, I’m not going to share it with you. Why? Because it’s close to home and personal, and I’m going to speak personally to the people responsible before I share it with the world. And I haven’t seen those people in awhile — I haven’t been physically to my church since March; we’ve been streaming Mass every week.

Also, since a lot of it was indirect and polite, I’m not always entirely sure of what I’m hearing. I have reached out (via email) a couple of times to fellow parishioners (also Biden supporters) to see if they were hearing it the way I was. And they generally were, more or less. But before I put my objections in writing, I want the parties involved to have a chance to explain their views — in person, not via email.

But to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a video of our bishop, posted on YouTube before the election:

As you can see, what the bishop says — to a less critical person than myself — is kindly, shepherdly, and very carefully non-partisan. And of course, you know me. I wholeheartedly applaud when he says:

What is important for all of us is to recognize we’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrats. We’re Catholics.

From that alone, you see that there’s a wide ocean of difference between him and the hateful people the piece in America deals with. They are ardent, committed (and sometimes profane) partisans, twisted by their fury at the “other side.”

I don’t know the bishop well. I’ve only met him a time or two, and my view of him is positive and respectful — which is the way you want to feel about a shepherd placed over you. And I think the video bears this out.

Which is not to say I didn’t have problems with it — rather obvious problems, if you know me.

But thank the Lord that here in South Carolina, I haven’t been directly exposed to the kind of overt, hostile stuff Fr. Martin writes about in America.

Back to that stuff…

Let’s look again at this part of the first passage I quote above, speaking of the Democratic Party: “Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches.”

Of course, that is utterly absurd and utterly false, and the words “absolutely” and “everything” would render it laughable — if it weren’t so tragic.

Compare the Trump position on a host of issues to that embraced by Joe Biden. Trump is the guy who got elected telling us that people coming into this country illegally was a national emergency — nay, the national emergency — and he planned to build a “beautiful wall” to keep them out, and make Mexico pay for it. He’s the guy who failed to do that, but did succeed in separating children from their parents and putting them in cages. He’s the one who described countries other than white ones like Norway as “shithole countries.” He incited a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, and has not once spoken a word of remorse for his own actions. (A Catholic like Joe Biden is accustomed to doing penance for his sins. You won’t ever see Donald Trump do that, because he’ll never get as far as the “heartily sorry” part.)

He is a man who considers his every action (and everything else) — in office and out of office — in terms of how it benefits or fails to benefit Donald J. Trump. If you think he is a person who puts others first, or even on the same level as himself, as a Christian should do, I’d love to hear your arguments on that point, and be persuaded.

I could go on all night, listing the ways in which Trump grossly violates Catholic teaching, and Biden would not. But let’s just cite one more issue, one that bears on the Church’s pro-life teachings: “Trump administration carries out 13th and final execution.

Before last year, the U.S. Justice Department hadn’t executed anyone in 17 years. Trump put three to death in the last week at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Under Trump, there have been more federal executions in the past year than in the previous 56 years combined. More to consider:

Not since the waning days of Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the late 1800s has the U.S. government executed federal inmates during a presidential transition, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Cleveland’s was also the last presidency during which the number of civilians executed federally was in the double digits in one year, 1896….

Trump was in a hurry, you see, with Joe Biden about to take over. Joe, the story tells us, is “an opponent of the federal death penalty,” and may actual bring it to an end.

Joe Biden, you see, is a Catholic.

But some Catholics have gotten twisted around. They’re just talking about abortion, you see. When they say “pro-life,” they’re not talking about Cardinal Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life. Nor are they including the rest of the many, many Catholic teachings beyond cherishing life when they refer to “everything the Catholic Church teaches.”

Abortion is a profoundly important moral issue, but it is one important part of a range of important issues that fall under the description “pro-life.” And then of course, there are all the other things that would fall under Catholic social teaching. Take “solidarity,” for instance, which means “We are one  human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological  differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.” Can you picture Donald “America First” Trump agreeing with that? Maybe, but only if you add, “except those from shithole countries.”

Folks, I don’t think I know anyone who is more opposed to abortion than I am. And if you asked me to cite the one thing Joe Biden did during the campaign that most disappointed me, it would be his abandonment of support for the Hyde Amendment. I know why he did it. This was at a time when he was one of a crowd of 20 or so vying for the nomination, and the vast number of Democrats who wanted to find a way, any way, to dismiss him completely (thereby insuring the re-election of Donald Trump) saw Hyde as a great gift. I can’t tell myself with any certainty that he’d be the president-elect if he hadn’t done it. But I still believe it was wrong.

But talking about that reminds me of something remarkable: That is the only thing I can think of that he has done wrong over the last two years, in terms that might violate Catholic teaching or offend my own standards. Whereas Donald Trump can hardly get through a day without doing that. Joe is so dramatically more in keeping with advocating the moral, Catholic position on issue after issue that it’s absurd even to make a comparison.

Also, as fervently as I oppose abortion — which we’ve argued about many times here — I differ from these angry priests on a couple of points: First, I don’t believe jamming through justices who agree with me on the issue is the way to solve the abortion problem. (And I find it profoundly wrong for either side to do it — which both do.) I’d like to see Roe v. Wade disappear, but aside from the fact that I don’t think it will, there’s the problem that if it did, it would simply kick the issue to the place where it should be — state legislatures. Those legislatures would be at war over the issue for the rest of my life, and probably my grandchildren’s lives, and I believe legal abortion would still be widely available across much of the country. It’s not a prospect that fills me with optimism.

Secondly, to get to that point requires something that I believe to be immoral in another way, although a secular one: I believe it is critically important for the United States to have an independent judiciary. Therefore it is wrong for me to demand that judicial candidates agree with me on any issue, even one as morally compelling as abortion. Otherwise we can’t have the blessing of living in a country of laws and not of men. And that is crucial to our freedom of religion and everything else that matters. Start applying an issue litmus test on judges, and you will get a country in which law is whatever is embraced by the majority — 50 percent plus one — voting in the last election. We must somehow get past this business of trying to elect presidents who agree with us on abortion, and expecting those presidents to nominate justices who agree with both, and stacking the Senate to confirm them — until the majority shifts again.

I could go on and on on both those points (arguments on the last two points could fill books), but since I’m nearing 2,500 words (not counting the thousand or so I cut out), you’ve probably stopped reading already.

But to go back to where we started: There is something horrific going on among some priests, and even some bishops, in the Church. And I think the pope, who knows better, should have a chat with some of them. Because things have gotten out of hand, and these words (and sometimes actions) have been a great disservice to the country, and to the Church.

A continuation of the pattern

social madness

Here’s a follow-up to my previous post, “Millions of separate realities, destroying our common world.

I’m reading more and more of this stuff about how the way TOO many people consume the internet, and get consumed by it. Specifically, how they get their minds hopelessly warped by a couple of the standard features of social media and other web sites and services — the way these media keep showing you more stuff like what you seem to like, and — in this piece — the way the reinforcement of others (likes, retweets, shares, etc.) seduces people into insane new “realities.”

Here’s another item: A piece from the NYT headlined, “They Used to Post Selfies. Now They’re Trying to Reverse the Election.” The subhed says, “Right-wing influencers embraced extremist views, and Facebook rewarded them.”

This piece doesn’t make many broad observations about these phenomena; it mostly simply tells the story of how several individuals got sucked in. You’ll note the commonalities. The one place where the item touches upon the consistent themes is here:

He’s not alone. Facebook’s algorithms have coaxed many people into sharing more extreme views on the platform — rewarding them with likes and shares for posts on subjects like election fraud conspiracies, Covid-19 denialism and anti-vaccination rhetoric. We reviewed the public post histories for dozens of active Facebook users in these spaces. Many, like Mr. McGee, transformed seemingly overnight. A decade ago, their online personas looked nothing like their presences today.

A journey through their feeds offers a glimpse of how Facebook rewards exaggerations and lies.

But the rewards are trivial compared with the costs: The influencers amass followers, enhance their reputations, solicit occasional donations and maybe sell a few T-shirts. The rest of us are left with democracy buckling under the weight of citizens living an alternate reality….

Yeah, as I said the other day, I know this stuff isn’t new. We knew how the Web worked. You knew it; I knew it. But as I also said before, something just finally clicked recently when I was listening to “Rabbit Hole,” and for the first time in these last few years, I got Trumpism. I finally really saw how these people had become so warped, and so immune to facts and reason. What we’re seeing couldn’t have happened this way in any other time.

And frankly, I don’t know how we’re going to reverse this problem — a problem affecting people’s perception across the political spectrum (as I say, I know I’m vulnerable to it, too), but manifesting itself most threateningly among Trump followers. They’re the big problem now. (As I type this, I keep getting indications that there are people walking about downtown Columbia with semiautomatic weapons. There have been arrests. I might be writing more about it later, but I hope not. I hope the problem fades away…)

I don’t see how the toothpaste gets back in the tube, and people get sane again.

But I’m going to keep pointing out these glimpses of the problem as I encounter them. As I think I mentioned, I watched part of “The Social Dilemma” the other night. When I finish it, I’ll probably post about that, too. It starts from a perspective different from mine (such as worrying about addiction to social media, particularly among kids), but also gets into the problems I’m talking about…

Unprecedented, again: The second impeachment

again

It’s after 10 and I haven’t stopped to rest a moment today. But I can’t go sit, watch a bit of telly and hit the sack without saying something about the fact that Trump was impeached today, for the second time.

Which, of course, is as we know the first time that has happened. Yet another way in which Donald J. Trump is unique in our history.

Strange, isn’t it? That someone so dumb, so incapable, so sub-par, so contemptible should be, in so many ways, so extraordinary. Of course, the only reason he is “extraordinary” is that before 2016, not only had no one so very dumb, incapable, sub-par, and contemptible ever come close to being president of the United States, but it had been unthinkable — something we didn’t even have to bother worrying about. It’s not that he’s extraordinary, but that the situation of someone so lamentably low being in such a high office is extraordinary.

Of course, extraordinary sounds vaguely laudatory, so we usually say “unprecedented.” It’s a somewhat more neutral, even soporific, word, compared to “extraordinary.”

Obviously, I’m tired. Why am I sitting here? Oh, yes — because I have to say something about the unprecedented second impeachment.

Or do I? I mean, we knew it was going to happen. The House had to do something. You don’t just sit there passively and wait for his term to end, when the president of the United States has incited a mob and sent it to physically attack a coequal branch in the very seat of our government. Just saying “Oh, he’ll be gone in a few days” seems too much like a dereliction of duty.

And that’s what they did: something. It wasn’t much, in light of the treasonous (and, here it comes again, unprecedented) course of action taken by the POTUS, on that day, and ever since Election Day. If it hadn’t been his constant lies about the election, his actions in court, his bullying of state officials, all that insanity… there would have been no mob to incite that day.

Seldom in human history has anyone taken such a desperate gamble and, having failed, lived to tell the tale. So impeachment — especially to a guy who’s been there and done that and shrugged it off before, because he has zero respect for the principles involved — is only slightly more than water off a particularly greasy duck’s back.

But it was the arrow in the House’s quiver — the only one, really — so they loosed it.

And we know the Senate won’t take it up any time soon. So what’s my hurry? Why do I have to write about it tonight?

I dunno. Maybe I don’t. But I thought I’d give y’all a place to comment on it. If you have things to say.

That’s it. I’m worn out. Good night…

Millions of separate realities, destroying our common world

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for weeks, but haven’t had the time, because it would be so involved. But I think I’ll throw out a few thoughts about it, and see if y’all take it up, and then add to the conversation as we go.

I’m prompted to go ahead and do so by a piece Jennifer Rubin had in The Washington Post today. It’s headlined, “We must end the post-truth society.” That’s fairly self-explanatory. It deals with a problem we all know exists. And in this case, she’s dealing not only with the grossly destructive tendency of Trump supporters to believe his lies, but other aspects we see in our culture today, such as all the nonsense about the “war on Christmas.”

All fairly obvious, as I said. We now live in a time in which people utterly reject Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” (He wrote it in a column in 1983, although it is apparently based on something James R. Schlesinger had said previously.) When he said it, people across the political spectrum would have nodded, because it’s so obviously true.

But not now. And the word “entitled” is particularly significant here. People out there really, truly think they are entitled to their own facts. After all, they dwell in a universe in which their belief in such “facts” is fully supported and reinforced.A_separate_reality

I’ve commented on this before. Everyone has. And I was conscious of the cause of the problem. But recently, I came to realize it, to understand it, to grok it, more fully. And it was as though I hadn’t thought about these things before.

It happened first when I listened to a podcast series from several months ago, called “Rabbit Hole.” If you haven’t listened to it, I wish you would — assuming The New York Times allows you to do so. (Since I’m a subscriber, I’m never sure what is available to non-subscribers.) It’s in eight parts. The most compelling are the first few, which deal in great detail with what happened to a young man named Caleb.

Caleb is a guy who initially perceived reality in a fairly “normal” way (judged from the perspective of my own reality), even though he was having a bit of trouble finding his way in the world I know. Then he got addicted to YouTube. He started watching it most of his waking hours. After he got a job that allowed him to listen to earbuds while working, he did it (or at least listened to it) ALL of his waking hours.

Meanwhile, YouTube was growing and refining its product. They were making the artificial intelligence that underlies its operation smarter and smarter, and better at constantly showing you more of what interests you. We’re all familiar with this, and I suppose that mostly, we appreciate it. It’s nice when I go to listen, say, to the Turtles play “Happy Together,” and YouTube suggests a video I had never seen of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” (Which it may or may not do for you in your reality.) I end up wasting time, but it’s enjoyable.

One day in late 2014, YouTube recommended  to Caleb a self-help video by Stefan Molyneux, a self-styled “anarcho-capitalist” who also had a political agenda. He liked what he heard; it seemed to speak particularly relevantly to a confused young man. So YouTube showed him similar things. And more similar things. And it got more and more out there, more and more into the terrain of, as the NYT put it, “conspiracy theories, misogyny and racism.” It essentially said to him, over and over, “Oh, you liked that? Then you’ll love this…”

It became his reality. His only reality, since he had no other sources of information about the world. (He didn’t make time for any other sources.) And he got in deeper and deeper. How this happened is charted quite precisely, because Caleb gave the Times access to his video-watching history. They could trace his descent into his own tailor-made madness clip by clip, hour by hour, day after day. For years.

It’s really something to listen to.

Of course, this was just Caleb’s reality — his, and that of others who were absorbed by the increasingly weird things that he listened to and was shaped by. Each individual, of course, would have a slightly different experience, while at the same time becoming members of new, bogus “communities” of people with similar beliefs in this or that area.

I mentioned this podcast, and recommended it, to friends, who recommended in turn that I go watch “The Great Hack” on Netflix. It examined the same phenomenon from a different angle, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, “in which the personal data of millions of Facebook users were acquired without their consent… predominantly to be used for political advertising.” Data that reflected you through your online habits, using an app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” I recommend that, too. Even if you don’t find it enlightening, at least the graphic effects are cool (such as a person walking down a crowded city street, while bits of data are shown flowing up from every smartphone he passes). Or I thought so.

I’d always been concerned about the thing that was working on Caleb. Back in the 90s, when I was first exploring the Web, I saw that a lot of sites — including newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal — would invite you to create your own, personalized interface. “Mywsj.com,” or whatever. I found this disturbing, especially when newspapers did it. But I confess I didn’t see how bad things would get. My objection was simply that the point of a newspaper is to provide a community, or a state or a nation with a common set of information about what’s going on — something that in a free country will inevitably lead to fierce debates about what to do in light of the facts, but at least everyone was starting from a common set of facts, a common perception of reality, which at least provided some hope of an arrival at a rational course of action. Facts collected and passed on by professionals with a quasi-religious ethic of accuracy and impartiality, let me add, and curated by editors who had over the years demonstrated skill and insight into current events. (Now watch all the self-appointed media critics go ballistic on that one. Hey, it wasn’t perfect, but man was it superior to what we have now.)

To be a fully prepared citizen, capable of contributing constructively to the public conversation, you needed to see ALL the news, not just the bits that tickled your personal fancy. You needed a sense of the fullness of what was going on.

Now, we have separate realities, millions of them, curated by algorithms to tell us what we want to hear (as opposed to editors, who tended to irritate all of us with the unwelcome information they shared). Everyone on the planet is now an editor and publisher, with power the old-school professionals couldn’t dream of: Each person is able to cast out his or her versions of reality to the entire world, instantaneously. No matter how well- or ill-considered their perceptions are. And each person is informed by sources such as these — the particular ones that each person chooses, or has chosen for him or her by the algorithms.

More than 40 years ago, I enjoyed Carlos Castaneda’s series of books about his apprenticeship under the Yaqui Indian shaman called Don Juan, including a volume titled A Separate Reality. It was fascinating to read of his adventures in that separate universe, and enjoyable (rather than threatening) because I lived in the safe, mundane reality with most people. Castaneda’s universe was shaped by not just Don Juan’s tutelage, but a variety of hallucinogenic drugs. Which I avoided, satisfied simply to read about it. It was a nice escape.

But that was amateur hour compared to what surrounds us today. There are millions of separate realities — one shaped separately for each of us. And some of them are truly wild. Worse, they have rendered any sort of consensus-forming through our system of representative democracy practically impossible.

And that’s how you get things like the mob attacking the Capitol last week. A mob of people absolutely convinced that they were “patriots” saving the republic from something that threatened it. Because that’s the way it is in their respective separate realities.

It’s the Trump brand of reality that’s currently wreaking havoc on our country, appealing to each adherent in a different, personalized way. But of course there are billions of others around the globe.

I’m sort of wary of my own, and perhaps I should be even warier. Just the other day, after the failed revolution, I was noticing how everyone seemed to agree with me about what had happened, more or less, on Twitter. (Which, if you’ve spent decades as an editor fielding reader complaints, causes you to get suspicious.) This happens because they are brought together in a reality shaped by the people and institutional sources I have chosen to follow, and those who have chosen to follow me.

But I’m simultaneously aware that, despite the shocking violence last week, which led even Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell to go ahead and certify Joe’s election (something that would have been utterly unremarkable — would in fact not even have been prominently covered — in the world in which these separate realities did not yet exist), these views are not universally shared. It’s not just the abomination of Joe Wilson and the other members who voted against confirming the election. The almost half of the country that voted for Trump seems to be spread along a vast spectrum, from your Mitt Romney types to your Ted Cruzes. And they have all sorts of verdicts on events, shaped by their distinct online interactions.

Each and every one in his own, separate universe, shaped by its own separate facts. To which he is quite certain he is entitled….