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.”
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.
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.
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…
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…
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…
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.
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:
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…
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….
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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…
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.
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.
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….
Well, I have some good news. I went for a midday walk today, and didn’t see any Trump campaign signs in the neighborhood.
You may find that unremarkable. But you don’t know the whole story.
After I came back from Memphis — we’re talking the day or so after the election — I saw them for the first time: Two Trump/Pence signs, both in the same yard but spaced as far apart as possible, perhaps to give the impression that they were in more than one yard. I had seen this before — someone a couple of blocks away had resorted to the same approach, perhaps in an effort to compensate for the fact that there were so very many more Biden signs in Quail Hollow.
No biggie. I had taken down my signs the minute I got home, but not everyone had done so yet. One neighbor with signs for Biden/Harris, Jaime Harrison and Adair Boroughs left them up for another week.
But here’s the thing: I had not seen those two Trump signs before the election. That’s OK, I said. My last walk that way had been two or even three days before the election. Maybe this neighbor had put them up on the very last day, while we were driving to Memphis. It was possible. And then, I thought, making excuses, he had decided to keep them up for a bit, having just erected them.
But then they were there the next day, and the next, and the next. The three signs for Democrats in that other neighbor’s yard came down about a week ago, but these stayed.
Perhaps, I thought with dismay (after all, this is someone in my neighborhood, not some famous loony way off in D.C.), this was in support of the incumbent’s — sorry, but I’m going to have to use that word — unprecedented refusal to concede the election he has so clearly lost.
And they stayed up. They were still there yesterday, Nov. 19.
But today they were gone. Thank Goodness.
Now, no doubt, it’s only a matter of minutes before Trump himself does the grownup thing, right? I said, right?…
Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III in “The Hollow Crown: The Wars of The Roses.” We don’t need this…
This is a very dangerous time, a time no Americans have faced before.
A rough beast squats in the White House, refusing to move, even though it’s his time to slouch off (is it OK to mix references to Shakespeare and Yeats, or is that kind of like confusing metaphors?).
Almost half of the country (thank God less than half) voted for him, and has been brainwashed by him into utterly rejecting reality. And now he is rejecting his own rejection. We have never seen this before, ever. And we have never had so many people seemingly ready to accept something so profoundly, shockingly unAmerican. Now is the winter of their discontent, and they are acting as though they wish to bring the cold dark upon the whole country.
I referred to this in a tweet last night:
Up to 2016 I had the privilege and blessing of living in the United States of America. Now Donald Trump, who got the votes of almost half the country, is doing everything possible to transform us into the England of the Wars of the Roses. Not a promising prospect…
Four years ago, I flirted with the idea that maybe — in a vain attempt to embrace their duty as Alexander Hamilton conceived it — presidential electors should refuse to vote for Trump.
I realized I was wrong — partly in response to comments some of you, such as Phillip Bush and Dave Crockett, posted to correct me — and did something you seldom see me do: I wrote and published a separate post saying I was wrong, and why. In other words, I did what we’re all waiting for Trump’s supporters (not so much the man himself; let’s not expect too much) to do — I came to my senses.
Aside from the guidance from some of you, I was influenced by the fact that I had been watching the second half of “The Hollow Crown,” a brilliant compilation of eight of Shakespeare’s history plays — from Richard II to Richard III — telling the horrible story of the Wars of the Roses.
I highly recommend the two series. After watching that second one (the three Henry VI plays and Richard III) I put the first series (Richard II through Henry V) on my Amazon gift list, and someone in my family was was kind enough to get it for me. You really should try watching them, particularly the bloody second batch.
That, and my more personal wanderings through history compiling my family tree, impressed me more than ever how fortunate we were to be living in the world’s oldest and most stable liberal democracy. As I wrote at the time:
For so much of human history, no one had much of a sense of loyalty to a country, much less to a system of laws. They couldn’t even be relied on to be loyal to a certain lord for long. Everybody was always looking for the main chance, ready to kill to gain advantage even temporarily.
Our 240-year history, our country of laws and not of men, is a blessed hiatus from all that. We may descend into barbarism yet — and yes, the election of a man who shows little respect for the rule of law is not a good omen — but so far the Constitution has held….
At least, it had held up to that point. But it hadn’t been tested yet the way it’s about to be tested…
“Plucking the Red and White Roses in the Old Temple Gardens,” by Henry Albert Payne
Well, this is a particularly awesome ad on any level. I especially like it because when it comes to voting, or endorsements, I’ve always thought in these terms — I’m hiring someone for a job. It’s one reason I make such a fuss about people’s resumes — and also about their characters.
The thing about Trump is, I’ve always found it unimaginable that anyone would consider hiring him for anything, anything at all — much less the highest office in our land (in the world).
Oh, by the way — if you have hearing trouble the way I do, you might like this version with subtitles:
I don’t when this has happened before. Or if it’s happened.
I know it didn’t happen during my years as a guy who made endorsements and shared them with the world (or in the years since). I know that because I kept records. And with one or two exceptions, I pretty much voted a straight editorial-board ticket. If we endorsed them, I almost always voted for them. So, I know that at no time between 1994 and 2008 was there a year when I couldn’t support anybody of one party. Or the other.
Oh, there were those awkward years at the paper in which we supported — for that one year — mostly Democrats or mostly Republicans. For instance, in 2006 we endorsed 12 Democrats and only 5 Republicans. That was the most lopsided ever, exceeding even 2000, when we backed 10 Republicans and only 7 Democrats.
But I didn’t really worry about those lopsided years, because I knew — and reminded everybody — of what the mix had been the time before. And that it would likely be balanced to some extent in the next election. For instance, the election year after the one when we went with 12 Democrats was 2008, when we supported eight Republicans and only five Democrats.
It worked out. And anyone with a halfway fair mind could see that what we said was true — that we didn’t consider party. Not even to make it work out evenly in a given year — which we could have done, had we chosen to stack things. We just made determinations as to who was the better candidate in each contest, and let the chips fall.
Of course, the partisans on both sides accused us of being partisans for the others’ side — because like Donald Trump, they didn’t let facts get in their way.
But now, I’m out here alone, and people are going, “Let’s see what Brad really is, when he’s not speaking for an institution.”
I haven’t really kept track of every vote since 2008, the way I did at the paper. But I know I’ve voted for Republicans as well as Democrats, mainly because I usually have voted in Republican primaries. (If you live in Lexington County and don’t vote in the GOP primary, you don’t get any choices.)
Since leaving the paper, of course, I actually worked in a campaign — for a Democrat. Which didn’t mean I was a Democrat. The Democrats understood that. Some of them are still ticked at James for hiring me when I obviously wasn’t a member of the tribe. I don’t know if he still hears about it — probably not — but I do. It was my fault he lost, you see. That’s what I occasionally hear, anyway. Because I wasn’t the real deal.
Of course, I’m just talking about serious Democrats. And just some of them. Republicans, and other people who are not partisan Democrats, think, “You worked for a Democrat, so you’re a Democrat. You ever work for a Republican? No? OK, then you’re a Democrat.” Because, you see, we (including the media, or course) have trained people to think you can only be one of two things. So if you’re not one, you’re the other. Even when you’re not.
So anyway, it would have been great — now that I’m a guy who puts signs in his yard — if I could have put a Republican or two out there this year, the way I did the first time I had signs, in 2018. It might not persuade anybody, but to quote Tippi Turtle, it would “bother those hammerheads.” Anything I can do to get partisans to scratch their heads is in theory good, because the stimulation might lead to thought.
But Donald Trump made that impossible. I cannot possibly support someone who actively and regularly supports him, so there go all the Republicans I used to support in the past on the national level. My hero John McCain stood up to him, but he’s gone. And I wouldn’t have had a chance to vote for McCain again anyway, after I did in 2008 (and back in the 2000 primary — which is one of those times I didn’t vote a straight editorial-board ticket, since I lost that endorsement debate).
Let’s look at the Republicans on my ballot.
Did Joe Wilson vote to impeach Trump? No, he did not. There are plenty of other problems with Joe, but that would be enough. He’s my representative, and I couldn’t trust him to do something that really shouldn’t have taken any thought, for anyone who believed there should be standards for the office of president. I have no problem applying that as the bare minimum for my vote. We didn’t even need an impeachment investigation, after Trump put out the official White House summary of that phone call. That, without anything else, would have caused you to vote for impeachment if you were someone I would have represent me in Congress.
Is that an unfair standard to apply to a poor ol’ Republican? No, it is not. Yes, it sounds absurd for me to expect that of a South Carolina Republican. Of course it does. And that fully explains why I can’t vote for any Republicans now. None of them will consider for even a second doing the right thing.
So I’m voting for Adair. I’m not crazy about everything she runs on — too populist for me — but I think she’ll do a better job than Joe, if we give her a chance. If she’d say, “I would have voted to impeach Trump,” I’d put up a sign for her in a second.
Then, of course, there’s Lindsey Graham. I don’t think I’ve ever been let down to this extent by anyone, especially someone I used to respect as much as I did him — as a stand-up guy, a guy who actually took political risks to try to address the worst excesses of partisanship (such as the insanity over confirming judges), and even the worst impulses within his own party (think “immigration”). We could respect and admire Lindsey as recently as 2016, when he was such a no-holds-barred critic of Trump that he was fun to have around. No more. That’s all gone, and he’s the guy who threw it all away — with extreme prejudice.
And we know, because we knew him in 2016 and all those years before, that he knows better.
He’s got to go. He’s disgraced himself, and the rest of us, enough. And fortunately, his opponent is someone I’ve liked for years. And he actually seems to have a chance. Which is something of a miracle, and if that miracle happens, I’m going to be part of it. You go, Jaime.
And of course, of course, I’ll be voting for my senator, Nikki Setzler. I even have a sign for him in the yard, too.
So that just left my own incumbent state House representative, Micah Caskey, as the one Republican I’d be happy to vote for. I had a sign for him in my yard in 2018, along with the one for James. Ditto with bumper stickers. So imagine my dismay when I realized, just before the primary, that Micah had no opposition. Meaning he wasn’t going to be spending money on yard signs and bumper stickers this year.
So I’m still going to be voting for just Democrats on the 3rd. Which is weird, and uncomfortable, if you’re me.
Why do I care? Why does it matter whether people think I’m a Democrat, or a Republican, or whatever?
Because, on one level, I absolutely cannot stand to be misunderstood. I want people to place some value in the precise reasons I give for voting the way I do in a given race. Otherwise, I wouldn’t offer them. And frankly, if I always vote for the Democrat, or always vote for a Republican, my reasons don’t matter. They only matter if I go into it fairly, and judge based on the relative merits of each candidate in the race. At least, that’s the way it was before now, before the Republicans I had supported for years suddenly make it impossible to keep doing so.
That’s the selfish reason.
But it’s not just an ego thing. What I’m trying to say, in this instance, matters. It actually matters that a guy like me is telling you this: That we have reached a moment in which there is not a single Republican out there in a contested race that a guy like me, with my track record, can vote for. So you should pay attention. This is serious.
But if I’m not what I say I am, then never mind. Just ignore the partisan. (That’s what I do with partisans.)
Also, there are so many Democrats out there I would never vote for — and I don’t want anyone thinking I would. (The clash between those Democrats and the ones like Joe and Jaime is probably going to be a huge issue after the election. But we can’t worry about that now. The house is on fire, and we have to put it out. We can worry about how it’s decorated later.)
That’s why I care. But I can’t help it. The Republicans in contested races on my ballot have made it impossible even to consider voting for them.
Yesterday morning I screenshot an interesting graphic from the NYT. It showed people in the White House who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, and on the bottom line showed some people in the drama who, thankfully, were still officially OK — such as Joe Biden, Mike Pence, and so forth.
You can see that Monday-morning chart below.
Anyway, they’re still running the chart, but now it doesn’t have any room for well people. As you can see above. The new one has newer cases of infection, such as Stephen Miller and Adm. Charles W. Ray. I’m not sure why it says “And at least 8 others” when there was still room for three of them on the chart. Maybe the guy in chart with the graphic was having trouble keeping up.
To me, it’s sometimes helpful to see a chart. This is sort of one of those time. If you want to dig further, click on the chart above and go to the page where the movements — together, off and on — of these people are tracked over a number of days…
But of course, a lot more will be said. And we’ll have a lot to think about. Some of the things I’ve thought include:
I really hope he doesn’t die. I hope that about anyone, of course, but such a private tragedy would in this case lead to a chaotic situation at a particularly chaotic moment for the country. I could probably write a couple of thousand words about the political possibilities, but I won’t. I’ll just hope and pray he gets better, and we can go ahead and have this election, and get a rational, sensible, decent person into the Oval Office.
At the same time, imagine what happens if he has one of those super-light “mild-cold” cases (as people around him, so far, are suggesting). This would confirm him in his “it’s no worse than the flu” carelessness, which would be bad for us all, and likely lead to a lot more people dying. As awful as it is to hope someone feels bad (and it is), other people’s lives depend on him realizing, for the first time, that this is a serious illness. So… I don’t know what to think or say along these lines. As for his wife, I hope she suffers as little as possible.
Of course, if Joe did get it, we’d know how it happened. It happened from you-know-who shouting at him across a stage for an hour and a half. Sure, they were technically “safe-distanced,” but since Joe is careful, when else has he been exposed like that?
Anyway, I’ll just stop now, and let y’all share your thoughts…
Major national newspapers — I’m thinking here of The Washington Post and The New York Times, since I subscribe to them and read them every day — have to go way out of their way to find opinion writers who will defend Donald Trump. No established, accomplished writer with a reputation — whether on the left or right — will do that, so they’ve had to dig.
For instance, the Post enlisted this guy who made news in 2016 when his little paper actually endorsed the guy. So they’ve been running columns by him ever since. And we’ve also gotten used to the Trumpist stylings of former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen. We sort of knew who he was before, but he’s gotten a lot more play since the disaster that befell our nation four years ago. The State, which is also desperate to find people who will say such things, has run him a good bit.
I had not heard of the Chris Buskirk guy who was the only person the NYT could find who might applaud Trump’s behavior last night — behavior that would cause a 4-year-old to be sent to stand in the corner in preschool. He is described as “the editor and publisher of the journal American Greatness and a contributing opinion writer.” That’s from the NYT; he doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or anything. Anyway, mission accomplished! They got somebody to occupy the right-hand side of that chart.
You’ll note that the only one of the NYT’s most prominent conservatives who participated — Ross Douthat — is over in the middle of the “Biden won” crowd. No actual thinking conservative can stand up for Trump’s increasingly more outrageous boorishness. You have to go hunting for relative unknowns. Preferably ones who are hungry, I would guess.
Anyway, I have nothing to add about that ludicrous display last night, except to thank Joe Biden for standing there for all that time rather than walking out — which is probably what I would have done, and which would not have helped my electoral chances.
I cannot believe there will be two more of these. There must be a way that our country can be spared that. As I’ve said so many times before, if only we could just vote today and have an end to all this!
I think he was serious. I think maybe this guy actually thinks a “fantasy baseball” list of candidates for nonexistent SCOTUS vacancies is more interesting and newsworthy than the bizarre things POTUS said on the record about REAL policy actions in a series of 18 extraordinary interviews with one of the two journalists most credited with bringing down Richard Nixon.
Really. I think he means it.
I mean… why didn’t Trump release a list of candidates for openings on the Court a century from now? He won’t get to nominate those, either.
You want something else to worry about? That guy has 279,300 followers, all of whom presumably live on the same planet as you.
Two days after forcibly clearing Lafayette Square so he could wave a Bible around (but not open it, of course), Trump called Woodward to boast about it. When Woodward suggested maybe white men such as themselves should try to better understand “the anger and pain” of black Americans, Trump said, “You really drank the Kool-Aid, didn’t you? Just listen to you. Wow. No, I don’t feel that at all.”
The Hill pulled this from the book: “Trump lashed out at generals, called them ‘a bunch of pussies'”… So… do you think that meant he wanted to grab them or something?
Oh, regarding that last item about disrespect toward the military… for those of you sufficiently detached from reality to dismiss the report the other day in The Atlantic about the gross things Trump has said about dead American heroes (ones other than John McCain) because the sources declined to be named, well… there are some unnamed sources in this one, too — I guess because Woodward wanted to get some perspective from people with normal, functioning brains. But a great deal of the book comes from 18 on-the-record interviews with Donald John Trump. As noted above, sometimes, Trump called Woodward to say these things.