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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Ship of Fools

Only a fool tests the depth of the water with both feet
-- African proverb


Trump was going to defeat ISIS in the first 30 days.

He was going to “win” in Afghanistan – after all, he knew more than the generals who had studied war for their entire lives and who had been fighting in Afghanistan for more than a decade. He knew more than the State Department. He knew more than the history professors. He scoffed at the experts, the “elites,” because he knew more than they did. Remember?

He was going to "repeal and replace" Obamacare "on Day One." That’s what he promised. It seemed impossible, such a promise, but it would be easy, he said. He had a great plan. Great, Folks, you’ll see.

He was going to build a wall and make Mexico pay for it. When critics questioned how that would work, how he could possibly make good on such a preposterous promise, they were shouted down.  And the press was vilified and penned into corrals far from the stage.

He was going to throw out all the illegal immigrants.

He was going to make a deal with North Korea and Iran and China and Russia and the world.

He was going to … do something. Yes, something. Something something gazpacho and make America great again.

The ignorant mouth breathers who make up his base ate it up, even though he was always short on details and long on rhetoric.

They actually believed him.

They actually believed Donald Trump – Donald Trump of all people – could somehow bring them some vague undefined victory in the Middle East. That he would somehow secure 10,000 miles of porous American borders and make a profit doing it. That he would give them great high-paying jobs complete with healthcare that didn’t require any effort or education or initiative on their part whatsoever while at the same time sticking it to everybody they considered lazy and unworthy and unfit to be an American. And somehow – somehow – he would cut taxes and reduce the size of government while at the very same time increasing spending by untold billions on some mightily “restored” military and he was going to eliminate the national debt through some magical new trade deal that he would personally work out with the rest of the world.

And he was going to power the whole damned thing with clean coal.

And they actually believed him.

They did.

But then these are the same drooling cross-eyed dipshits who think a billionaire New York real-estate developer who builds tacky casinos and swanky country clubs staffed by foreign workers, a Reality TV host whose shows are an hour-long fuck-fest of tits and ass and self-serving backstabbing narcissism portrayed by the personification of some backwoods West Virginia county fair demolition derby cheered on by drunken rednecks in cow shit spackled overalls, married to a string of vapid trophy wives, buoyed up incestuous nepotism, and surrounded by a scurrying host of toadies, sycophants, ass kissers, discredited fringe political hacks, cashiered generals, Wall Street crooks, war profiteers and foreign interests, a guy who has never shown the least charity or nobility or degree of compassion, a guy who daily craps in a golden toilet, yeah, that guy, is actually going to look out for their interests from his penthouse windows.

These are people who steadfastly refuse to face reality in any fashion while the seas rise and America falls.

These are people who think there are easy, cheap, simple sound-bite answers to the problems of civilization.

These are people who believe that you can end terrorism by bombing nations into rubble -- because for them, every problem can be solved with a punch in the face or a bullet in the guts.

These are people who think poverty, racism, and inequity can be solved by smugly telling poor people, "get a job, loser!"

These are people who actually think human migration can by stopped by a wall despite thousand of years of history that repeatedly and definitively proves exactly the opposite.

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This morning, even the most stalwart Trump supporters are howling in outraged betrayal.

Reality is setting in, both for Trump and for them.

The Great Wall they were promised is just a renovation of what they already had, and they’re going to pay for it, not Mexico. Because building an actual giant wall across 2000 miles of Mexican border is not only impractical, it’s fiscally impossible – and it won’t work anyway.

Trump is now making noises that he’s maybe open to fixing Obamacare, single-payer in the form of Medicare for All is suddenly making progress in Congress, and the diehard Trump supporters are disappointed to the edge of tears.

Trump’s big MOAB of a plan to crush ISIS is a dud, and his plan for Afghanistan is, well, more of the same.

And now?

This morning he’s actually praising the Dreamers and saying he doesn’t want them kicked out of the country.

Former Trump supporters like Anne Coulter…

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… are now shitting their collective colons inside out in white hot fury.

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A year ago, those like Coulter thought Trump was “the only one making sense.”

Except he wasn’t.

He wasn’t making sense.

He never made sense.

At all.  Ever.

He never answered a single question. He never gave any details. There was never any plan of any substance whatsoever.

It was all just bombast and bluster, vague hand waving and impossible promises and I’d like to say than any fool could have seen it coming but that’s obviously not true. More than Sixty millions fools just like Anne Coulter couldn’t seem to see it. 

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The simple truth of the matter is that there are no simple solutions.

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There are no simple solutions and there never have been.


If you believed Trump’s promises, well, you’re a goddamned fool and you have nobody to blame but yourself.


You can't end terrorism.

Not in thirty days. Not in thirty years. Not ever.

War, conflict, terrorism, you can't end war and killing and destruction by more war, more conflict, more terror.

Wars to end all wars don’t. And never have.

You can't drop civilization on people from the belly of a B-52.

What’s that?

World War II?

We ended World War II by bombing the Nazis and the Japs out of existence?

Did we?

Did we really?

Or did the killing actually end when those nations were rebuilt over decades into new, peaceful, productive civilizations? When the things that precipitated that war, food, resources, rights, industrialization, inequality, trade, economy, were addressed and at least to some degree fixed.

I spent my entire adult life bent to the business of war. I’m a professional at it. So don’t roll your eyes and call me some silly liberal peacenik with flowers in my hair. I know all about war and I’m not at all a fool. I’m not saying that the war isn’t sometimes necessary, or that we don’t need rough men ready to do violence in the night on our behalf.

But war is a failure of civilization.

Afghanistan has been bombed to rubble over and over, but there still isn’t any peace there.

Africa has been bombed and blown up and raped and mauled and mangled and shot and pillaged and there still isn’t peace there.

No matter how many bombs, no matter how much death, no matter how many die, the war, conflict, terrorism does not end.

It does not end until there is something better.

It’s not the bombs that end the war and terrorism, it’s civilization.

You can't magically give everybody healthcare. You can't magically feed everybody. You can't magically end poverty, homelessness, racism, hate, disenfranchisement by waving your hand.

You can't do it by telling people to get jobs.

You can't do it by telling people to pull themselves up if there’s nowhere for them to pull themselves up to.

You can't do it by giving people things.

But you also can’t do it by not giving them things.

You can't end illegal immigration by arresting people.

You can't end illegal immigration by deporting people.

You can't end illegal immigration by imprisoning people.

You can't end illegal immigration by building a fucking wall, no matter how long or how high.


You cannot – can not – make America great by engaging in the things terrible countries do.


There are no simple answers.

Civilization is complicated.

Our civilization is the most complex in all of history.

All of these things, war, peace, terrorism, safety, poverty, economic opportunity, law and order, chaos, immigration, jobs, stability, all of these things are facets of the same complex, ever-changing, fluidly dynamic structure – that is: civilization.

There are no simple answers.

There are no permanent answers.

Moreover, there is no single right answer.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Not on the left. Not on the right. It’s more complicated than that. It will always be more complicated than that.

Every single day, you have to push back against the fall of night.

If you really want to end war and terrorism, then you have to work to reduce the fundamental problems that lead to destruction.

People resort to terrorism – and to illegal immigration for that matter – because they don't have anything better.

People turn to crime, to drugs, booze, cults, to myriad destructive actions including violence and terrorism, and to politicians who promise easy solutions and simple fixes, because they're looking for something better. But you don't end war and conflict, terrorism, illegal immigration, crime, chaos, by building walls and blowing up the world.

And you sure as hell don’t end it by pulling the ladder up after yourselves.

“Fuck you, I got mine” is a lousy ideology to build civilization on. 

The rest of the world sees America, the ideal of America, and they want that. That’s why they come here – legally or not.

A moral people would strive to bring the rest of the world up to our level, to ensure all people everywhere have what we have, not slam the door in their faces.

Hunger, poverty, lack of healthcare, lack of opportunity, disenfranchisement, bigotry, inequality, homelessness, hate, fear, uncertainty, all of these things are what lead to war, to conflict, to crime, to illegal immigration, to division, and ultimately to the collapse of civilization.

The only way to ensure a stable and reasonably secure future for you and your descendants, is by building a better world for everybody.

You reduce the likelihood of civilization’s collapse by working to reduce inequality and disenfranchisement, by working to see that everybody has the things they need to live decent lives – for themselves and for their children. Food. Shelter. Healthcare. Jobs. Stability. Order. Education. And so on.

It's ongoing, forever.

There are no simple answers.

There are no easy solutions.

If someone tells you there are, simple answers, that it's easy, that they can fix it all in a few days, well, then they're either a con artist or a damned fool. Maybe both.

Now, to some extent, America can abide foolish leaders – our founders expected such an eventuality and they planned for it.

They built in safeties.

You.

You are that safety.

America can abide a foolish leader, for a while anyway, but it cannot long survive as a nation of fools.

If you want a better nation, a better civilization, then you have to be better citizens.

For starters, that means being smart enough to know when you’re being conned.

And then to face the world as it exists, not as you want it to be.

There are two fools in this world. One is the millionaire who thinks that by hoarding money he can somehow accumulate real power, and the other is the penniless reformer who thinks that if only he can take the money from one class and give it to another, all the world's ills will be cured.
-- Henry Ford

Friday, September 1, 2017

Perspective


I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing.
-- Ronald Reagan, President of the United States, First Inaugural Address, 1981


Are we doomed?

Are we doomed as a country?

Are we doomed as a people, we Americans?

It’s happened elsewhere. Societies too big to manage, nations fractured by conflict and politics and chaos, civil society torn apart by madness and religion, diversity become irreconcilable differences and populations grown more dissimilar than they are alike, national bankruptcy, unquenchable rage, anger, distrust, malfeasance, until it all just … falls apart.

History is littered with the yellowed bones of failed nation states and dead empires.

History is chock-a-block with countries that put a gun to their own head and pulled the trigger.

Is that us?

Is it?

Since November, and particularly since Charlottesville, I've gotten thousands of messages asking the same question: Are we doomed?

Is America done for?

Are we next?

If my email is any indicator, many Americans seem to think so.

A lot of people outside of America believe it.

It certainly seems as if we’re on the cusp and it could go either way.


But then, isn’t that how it always is?


America, we’re always on the brink.

Balanced on one foot, arms wind-milling, teetering over chaos with alligators snapping below. 

We’ve been through this before.

And it’s been far worse.

We …

What?

What’s that?

Oh, you want to know when it’s been worse than it is right now?

When I said that a few days back, it’s been worse, on Facebook, a number of readers called me on it.

When was it worse?

When? Well, I suppose that depends on your point of view.

Better, worse, it’s about perspective. For example: I regularly speak to people of a generation who think the 1950s were just about as damned near perfect as it’s possible for a nation to get.

And they were, perfect.

So long as you were a member of the newly minted, post-war middle class with a well-paying job in one of America’s new industries, and if you weren’t too particular about civil rights or a woman’s place in society or drafted to fight in Korea or suspected of being a godless commie or one of them believers in evolution, well, yeah, things were pretty good. But for people not in that demographic, if, say, you were a black man in The South of that time, well, maybe things weren’t so great, especially when the KKK was putting a noose around your neck. For a lot of older Americans, nothing will ever be as good as the 1950s. But maybe, for some Americans, maybe that time was worse than now.

Maybe that decade was much worse.

It depends on your perspective often enough.

As a nation, as a fractious people, we've been through worse and survived.

Hell, the ink was barely dry on the Constitution when George Washington himself had to send in federal forces to put down armed rebellion. A few years after that, our former masters in London invaded the United States and burned the White House to the ground. The Civil War didn’t just break out suddenly one day without warning, you know. There were decades of tension and acrimony between two utterly incompatible ideologies. If you think Congress is broken now you should study what it was like in the years leading up to that war. And there were decades of tension and acrimony after the Civil War as well. Jim Crow. Separate but not so equal. Lynching. The Ku Klux Klan.

Then there was the Great Depression and then World War II. The Bomb. The Red Scare.

I mentioned those people who grew up in the 50s and how much certain of them idolize that time. Me? I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, the streets were full of riot, drugs, crime, chaos. War in Vietnam and at home. Civil Rights. Woman’s Rights. Equal Rights. George Wallace. Martin Luther King. Malcom X. Bobby Kennedy. Charlie Manson. Love Canal. Segregation. Bussing. The Man. The Establishment. Tune in, turn on, drop acid.  Some days it seemed the whole goddamned world was on fire. Everything just kept getting shittier and shittier. Every day it was some goddamned thing.

Then came the Energy Crisis and the Great Malaise and one recession after another and … well, here we are.

And to me? From my perspective? Things don’t seem nearly as bad now as they could be. Because I’ve seen it worse – or at least it seems that way to me.

History is often damned painful to live through.

And it can always – always – get worse.

Advancement is never without cost, without pain and rage and blood.

But we've been through worse and rebounded better than before. Stronger. Smarter. More compassionate. More equal. Closer to the ideal of a better nation. What came out of the war and riot and chaos of my youth was a better society, a better nation, better for a lot of people in a lot of ways.

But again, “better” is often a matter of perspective.

And it’s always easier to go backwards instead of forward.

It is far easier to destroy than it is to build, to create, to innovate, to dream.

Depression is always easier than optimism. I can think of a hundred ways life is worse now than in my youth. I have to work to think of ways that it is better. But it is better, I believe that.

How and when, if, we emerge from this dark time depends on a lot of things and there are no guarantees.

However, I would point out that while it's easy to focus on the hate and rage and ugliness that fills our feeds every single day of late, what you might be missing is the overwhelming push-back from common Americans.

It’s easy to focus on the terrible, harder to see the good.

But…

But, armed Nazis, Klansmen, Confederates – all the worst, most horrible ideologies humankind has ever come up with, combined together – marched on Charlottesville to defend a monument to racism and sedition. And hundreds of thousands of Americans showed up to tear it down. Pushed the haters back. Faced the Nazis down. The Klan, the Nazis, the Confederates, they came with guns and clubs and they killed one of us. And still they were routed, sent fleeing like the cowards they are. Sent fleeing in defeat, same as they always have been.

Right now they are being found and arrested and they will be held up for the world to see what they are.

Right now, cities across the nation are tearing down these monuments, removing them from town squares and public campuses and banishing them to museums or battlefields or dusty storehouses where they belong.

Forty white supremacists showed up in Boston for a rally. Forty thousand Americans showed up to shout them down.

In San Francisco, the haters were sent packing before they even got started.

That wasn't the government in Boston, in San Francisco, in Charlottesville, that was Americans who did that. That was common Americans, black and white, gay and straight, right and left, who stood up, filled the streets, and pushed back the haters who would burn down civilization.

It’s easy to fall into depression.

And as anyone who suffers from depression can tell you, it’s damned hard – damned hard – to claw your way out.

History is often painful to live through.

As it is right now.

It pains me to say this (you have no idea how much), but the Bern-It-All-Down crowd might very well get their wish.

Perhaps, once again, it has finally become so bad that those of reason and good will on both sides might at last find common ground and get off their asses and do something to make things better.

It has become so bad, as it always does, that those who love America more than they love their ideology and own selfish interests might once again come together to face down a common enemy and stand together against the fall of night.

Civilization advances in fits and starts. Three steps forward, two to the side, two back, and forward again.

History doesn’t flow smoothly forward, it lurches like a drunkard.

History is very often painful to live through.

And this, this right here, is what I warned you about last year. This is what a lot of us warned America about.

If you can't bring yourself to vote because you demand a purity of your principles, because the deck is stacked against you, because the system is corrupt, because the choices are distasteful, because you’re not given the perfect candidate, well, what you get is ... this.

Chaos. Riot. War. Ruin. Rage. Disaster. Two steps sideways and four back.

History doesn’t care about the gains you’ve made. The tide will erase your sandcastle as if it never was and wipe the beach clean to start over.

Unless you take action to protect it.

Unless you care enough, unless you’re pragmatic enough, to do something about it.

Hashtagging your social media posts with #resistance isn't organization. It isn't a plan. It isn't a movement. It's not advancing civilization. Just as slapping a $2 made-in-China magnet on the back of your giant gas-guzzling SUV isn’t actually supporting your troops or doing anything to prevent war in oil rich Middle Eastern countries.

The selfish, self-aggrandizing, self-involved, morally bankrupt conspiracy theory that passes for much of American ideology nowadays should be easy to rally against.

This lunatic in the White House, the barking ninnies who make up congress, the toothless ignorant Nazis, the impotent illiterate beer-bellied Klan, the endlessly defeated inbred Confederates, these people, well, we outnumber them a thousand to one. Ten thousand to one.

They should be easy to beat.

But they never are.

They never are.

Victory is never easy and never permanent.

And it’s three drunken steps forward, two to the side, two back. One painful staggering step at a time. And so, here we are. Life, civilization, adulthood is often a choice between less-than-perfect options. Sometimes you have to choose the best option, even if it's not what you want, even if it's not perfect. Because that's just how life is.

That's how adults have to face the world.

History is very often nothing more than choices between less than perfect options because the universe just doesn’t give a good goddamn what you want.

The streets are today full of liberals and progressives and rational conservatives. But it's going to take more than pink pussy hats and shouting down Nazis on our streets. It’s going to take more than pulling down statues. Those are great starts and well, well worth doing. But Americans of good conscience must get organized. Must rally. Must stand together. Must stop the endless pedantry. Must find common ground.

And more than anything, we must get over this childish demand for perfect leaders and grow the hell up.

Creationists don't build starships.

And modern conservativism has been eaten alive by the Creationists.

But guess what? Liberals don't build starships either.

No, instead they spend all their time and effort arguing about the advisability of sending humans to other worlds when we haven't even fixed (insert endless list of causes) and they never actually get around to building the damned ship.

You know who builds starships? People who believe, that’s who. Those who believe in the future, those who work every damned day to advance civilization, those who stand steadfast against the fall of night. Once upon a time, those people were Americans.

And they can be again.

If we are to build that better future, if we are to claim the stars for our own, instead of falling back into the dustbin of history next to Rome and the Soviet Union, well, then we’re going to have to get organized and do something.

We have to do more than just protest.

We have to do more than pedantically complain and correct each other and engage in endlessly recursive social justice oneupmanship.

We have to organize.

We have to build a coherent vision, one that appeals to all Americans, not just left or right.

Folks, if you can't get it together, if you can’t dream big enough, to beat the sorry shitshow in office right now, well, you'd best just give up. Just give up. Knuckle under. Stand on the side of the street and raise your arm to the fucking Nazis.

It's damned depressing.

It can be damned depressing.

It’s easy to believe we are doomed.

It is. You'd like to think we've advanced beyond this. But civilization is never a steady progression. It's always two steps forward and three back and two sideways and one ahead and stagger to the left and to the right and do it again.

The fight to advance is never over.

The struggle to move civilization forward is never over. Never. That is our biggest failing. Far too often those of conscience achieve some victory, civil rights, economic reform, democracy, social safety systems, something, and then they think it's fixed. They’ve won. So they fire up a fatty and declare victory and go back to watching the game.

But it never ends.

It. NEVER. Ends.

I hear progressives say all of the time, I'm tired of having to keep fighting this battle. We fought this battle for (insert whatever cause is important to you here, civil rights, abortion, gay marriage), we won, now we gotta do it all over again and I’m tired, man, I’m tired.

Well, shit, folks, I'm tired of fighting gravity, but there really isn't an alternative if you want to stay upright.

Are we doomed?

Are we doomed as a country?

Are we doomed as a people, we Americans?

I don’t think so.

Down there in Texas, it’s pretty damned bad right now. But – but – Americans of good conscience, Americans of will, Americans who believe in each other and in a better nation and a better future, have all come together to save each other. Americans have rallied from across the nation to Texas and no one gives a damn who’s left or right, who’s gay or straight, who’s black or white. What matters is each other. What matters is civilization. What matters is pushing back the tide.

That’s America, right there.

That’s why I believe we can change our fate, save our country, build a better future. Because of those Americans.

We’ve been here before. It’s been worse before. And even if we stand together now and once again push back the fall of night, bad news, folks, we’re gonna be right back here again at some date in the future. But we don’t have to join Rome or the Soviet Union, we can push back, we’ve done it before. We can save this nation if we want to. We can emerge from this dark time better, wiser, stronger. We can make this world a better place for all. We can. We will. But sooner or later, we – or our children – will be right back here again.

Because that’s how history works.

And it’s painful.

And it’s hard.

And it’s perilous and uncertain and it just never ends.

It’s about perspective.

It’s about how you face it: on your feet or on your knees.

But if you want a better nation, well, Citizen, you have to keep fighting.

And it's really that simple.

So let's get to it.





Note: A  short version of this essay was originally posted to my Facebook page. // Jim

Saturday, August 19, 2017

No Man’s Land



Remember when hating fascism didn’t make you a liberal? WTF? Over.
-- Shannyn Moore, Alaskan journalist, writer.


Slavery.

Horrible, right?

I mean, right?

Sure, of course. Of course.

Slavery. We can say that’s bad without having to caveat it.

Slavery. You remember how that works, don’t you? Sure you do. Back in the heyday of American slavery, you go to an African nation, grab any random black person, and you’re like, hey, you belong to me now. You’re mine. You’re worth a lot of money. You’re a resource here for the taking, like gold or oil or lumber or land. You’re not people, you’re property. My property. You have no rights, no say in your own life, your own body, your own children.  In fact, your children are mine too, to beat, to rape, to work to death. You’re farm equipment. You’re livestock, no more, no less. Get in the boat. Pick the cotton all the live long day.

That’s some shady shit, right there.

Slavery, that’s evil. Horrible. Immoral. Wrong.

Agreed? I mean, we are all agreed on this, aren’t we?

I honestly thought that would be the one thing we Americans could all agree on.

Black, white, yellow, red, gay, straight, left, right, liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, Biggie, Tupac, whatever we identify as, I thought that would be the one thing we Americans could agree on without caveat.

Slavery sucks.

Slavery is bad.

Slavery is an evil blot on American history.

Slavery will always be our eternal shame as a nation. We can surely all agree on that, can’t we? 

Nobody needs to defend slavery. I mean, we can as a nation acknowledge slavery existed. We can freely (heh) acknowledge slavery is part of our history as a nation. We can acknowledge that it was the economic foundation of part of our country. We can acknowledge that many of our institutions, the very symbols of what we nowadays regard as freedom, were built by people who were property.

It’s a hundred years behind us now, slavery. None of us now were slavers. None of us now alive were slaves. But we can remember. We can say the words without flinching, can’t we? We can acknowledge that terrible history without the need to defend any of it. We can honor the victims of it and denounce the institution and learn from our terrible, complicated heritage. All of it. And we can acknowledge that while slavery might have helped build this nation, slavery as an institution uprooted hundreds of thousands of innocent people, destroyed their lives and families, erased their histories, and the effects of that terrible diaspora are still being felt today.

Certainly we can admit that. Without caveat.

That’s what I thought.

Foolishly, as it turns out.

I said this online after Michelle Obama talked about slavery’s role in building the White House.

I said, hey, at least we can all condemn slavery without caveat. Right? I mean, slavery, right?

That’s when the slavery apologists showed up.

Hold on, they said. Black people started it. Oh yes. Africans had slaves. It’s true! Black people invented slavery, Bro! It’s in the bible! And American slaves, well, see, at least they were enslaved by, like, Christian white people and so our slaves got to learn about Jesus! That’s good, isn’t it? And they didn’t have, like, technology back then so people had to do the work. Somebody had to pick the cotton, right? Without human power, why, America wouldn’t even exist. It’s not racism, man, somebody had to do the work and those people were, you know, convenient. What about that? Plus, slaves were really, like, valuable. White people loved their slaves. Because, they, like, cost a lot. So, you know, white people took care of them, slaves got free food and free clothes and nice little free slave houses to live in and free healthcare, and…


…and I sat there, watching these comments come in with my mouth hanging open.


Yes. I know.

I know. I knew this was out there. I did. But still.

If you’re a person of color, you’re laughing at me right now, aren’t you? I’m a straight white male and that gives me the privilege of being just that goddamned naïve. I know. You’re shaking your head and laughing at me. And I deserve it. 

I know. I do.

Because I really was naïve enough to think this was something we could all agree on. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I get thousands of messages per week. A significant percentage of those are from haters and bigots and conspiracy nuts and the proudly ignorant. I mean, I’m a cynical son of a bitch and I expect the worst from people pretty much all of the time. I’m not stupid. I expected a few of these comments.

But this was hundreds.

White conservatives, of course, most of them. With a few supposed white liberals tossed in for leavening. And it wasn’t just me, those comments were everywhere on social media, under articles in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Slavery apologia is a reflex with these people. 

Slavery was bad, but

But.

But, if this guy, me, this liberal, this progressive, this guy I don’t like, if that guy – let alone Michelle Obama for crying out loud – says slavery was bad, well, I have to reflexively counter. I have to caveat it. Have to. No matter how staggeringly stupid the argument is, I have to use it, have to counter, have to defend the horrible evil institution of slavery, have to justify it in some way, have to rationalize it, have to make it sound … less bad, less evil, somehow.

Now, before we go any further, let me make something clear: No, I don’t think all conservatives are slavery apologists.

No, I don’t think all white Americans are slavery apologists.

But a hell of a lot of them are.

Out of reflex.

Out of political reflex. If the other side is against it, they have to be for it – one way or the other, no matter how noxious, no matter how torturous the logic, no matter how ridiculous.

Slavery is one thing all decent Americans, left or right, republican or democrat, black or white, should be able to agree on without caveat, without a “but” in the middle of the sentence.

Slavery is bad. Period. No buts.

No buts.


But – but – of course that’s not the case.


This morning I listened to a caller on C-Span’s Washington Journal:

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He says he’s going to join in the so-called “Free Speech” rally in Boston today.

He’s going to march with avowed white supremacists, with Nazis.

Not because he is a Nazi, he says, but because he’s a Trump supporter.

He going to join white supremacists “as someone – they’re going to paint us as racists anyway, so there’s nothing that we can say to placate the other side, so, keep going. There’s no other option.”

There’s no other option than to stand with Nazis?

Seriously?

This guy, he would rather stand with Nazis – goddamned Nazis – than his fellow Americans.

He looked out there, he saw the sides, and he chose … white supremacists.

He would rather stand with Nazis, with the Klan, with Confederates, than join his fellow Americans, black, white, left, right, conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, his fellow Americans standing against fascism. 

No other option. Keep going. Join the Nazis.


Well, I say to you there is another option. Stand with us. Join us. Be an American.


As my fellow Alaskan, writer and journalist Shannyn Moore, said, “Remember when hating fascism didn’t make you a liberal?”

When did standing against fascism, against hate, against racism, against Nazis – Nazis – become a liberal thing?

When did defending sedition, treason, fascism, hate, violence, murder, genocide, intolerance, racism, slavery, and Nazis become a conservative thing?

I mean, you would think we could all agree on this – even if it is the only thing we can agree on.

You would think that we, we Americans, we could all agree that standing against fascism, against white supremacists, against the Klan, against Nazis for fucks's sake, wouldn't be a left, right, liberal, conservative, republican, democrat thing.

This is an American thing.

This should be the one thing we all agree on.

This should be the one thing our leaders, no matter their party or ideology, should agree on.

This is the one thing we all must agree on. Without caveat. Without qualification.

If you must qualify your denouncement of fascism, of Nazis, of the Klan, of the Confederacy, of slavery, of evil, with a “but” in the middle of your sentence, you’re the problem.


Standing against Nazis without caveat, without qualification, without equivocation should be an American thing.


Look left.

Look right.

Who are you standing with?

Nazis? The Klan? Confederates? Slavery apologists?

That flag waving over you head? Is it Old Glory? Or the swastika and the Stars & Bars?

In this fight, there is no neutral ground.

In this fight, silence is agreement.

In this fight, if you stand with Confederates, then you’re a traitor. You’re the enemy of America.

If you stand with the Klan, you’re a bigot, a racist, a hater, a villain.

If you stand with fascists, you’re a goddamned fascist.

If you stand with Nazis, then you’re a fucking Nazi.

And it’s really just as simple as that.

You’re not a machine. You’re not an animal. You’re a human being and you don’t have to be a slave to reflex. If you can’t reject this evil without caveat, without a kneejerk “but” in the middle of your response, without attempting to justify evil out of political reflex, then you have lost your mind. You’re the problem. You’re what gives evil a leg up.

Look left.

Look right.

Who are you standing with? Nazis? Or Americans?

If you don’t stand up, if you don’t take a side, if you turn away now, then you are complicit.

If you don’t choose, you’ve chosen evil.

If you can’t forcefully denounce evil without caveat, without condition, without a “but,” then you’ve chosen evil.

This isn’t about the left. This isn’t about right. This isn’t about Republican or Democrat. This isn’t about liberal or conservative.

This is about the world we leave to our children.

This is about the United States of America.

This is about our place in history.

This is about evil and what you intend to do about it.

Pick a side.

Take a stand.

Turn out in the streets. Raise your voice. Fight if you have to. This is the critical moment. This is the critical moment and history will remember what you do next.

And what you do defines all of us as a people, as a nation, as Americans.

There is no gray area here. Either you stand with the Nazis, or you stand with us.

If you want a better nation, you have to be better citizens.

Without caveat.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Latter Days of a Better Nation, Part V

"She had read several nice little histories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked "poison", it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later."
-- Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carrol, 1865

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We’re down the rabbit hole now, aren’t we?

Or perhaps, on second thought, it’s the sequel that is a more apt analogy here.

Through the looking glass into the bizarre incomprehensible cryptic world of the Jabberwock.

 

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Yes, that’s it, the strange back-to-front Looking-Glass Land, a place inhabited by dangerous creatures, where nonsense is spoken as if it was rational conversation and few things make any sense.  Yes, that’s the place where a public fight between a Reality TV star president and a couple of Reality TV journalists belongs. 

We didn’t know.

Oh, woe! Woe! We didn’t know. That guy in the White House, why, he’s not the same guy we knew two years ago.

We didn’t know it would turn out like this!

We didn’t know he’d turn on us when we helped him get elected!

We thought it would be ok! We thought he would straighten out and start acting like a decent human being once he got elected! We didn’t know!

I mean, how could we have known, right? It’s not like anybody warned us. It’s not like there were any alarm bells. It’s not like there was a history of horrible shitty behavior…


Right.


Look here: These people, these Republicans, these Trump apologists, they’re like battered spouses in denial.

All the warning signs were there, the sexist behavior, the tempter tantrums, the bruises and the black eyes, but they thought, you know, once we’re married he’ll come around, he’ll be okay, he’ll stop acting like this.

But Donald Trump is the very same guy today that he was yesterday, that he was two years ago, that he was a decade ago.

Donald Trump is the same horrible person he’s been his entire life.

He’s an obnoxious, ignorant, abusive blowhard enabled by wealth and privilege and if you think for one minute the power of the presidency is going to do anything but exacerbate that, then you are a goddamned fool.

Or a Republican.

But I repeat myself.

Any rational person with an ounce of sense could have seen this coming. And did. Hell, I wrote about it here. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words of warning. And, of course, I wasn’t the only one. Tens of thousands of analysts, writers, politicians, and world leaders warned America. Don’t marry this goddamned guy. Don’t do it.

And yet, here we are, six months later and Republicans like Scarborough are all black-eyed and regretfully sobbing, we didn’t know!

We didn’t know!

Someday, this story, the one where Americans elected Donald J. Trump to the Presidency despite myriad and obvious warning signs, will join Frankenstein and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a classic cautionary tale.  Parents will use it to frighten their children into behaving and teachers will use it to show the folly of willful ignorance and whatever passes for Hollywood in that distant future will play this idiotic social media fight between a sitting president and a couple of pretend journalists for laughs in an otherwise dreary and depressing tale.

If it was just some spat between TV personalities, it would be bad enough, but it’s not.

If it was just a one time thing, a momentary lapse, it would be bad enough. But it’s not.

It’s not.

It’s every damned day. Every. Day.

Worse, it’s the entire Republican Party in denial.

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I hope these tweets cease and we can focus on moving our country forward and what the fuck, Senator?

Sullivan’s ineffectual response is typical of the entire GOP. Sullivan’s belief in magic unicorns is one of the primary reasons his home state of Alaska is in financial collapse and utter disarray. These sons of bitches just can’t seem to face reality.

We didn’t know.

We hoped he would act more presidential.

I mean, we knew Trump was an ignorant self-aggrandizing jackass with no experience in government at all, right. We knew that. We knew he was a liar, a misogynist, a con artist, an abuser, and a bully. We knew he was prone to uncontrolled rage and that there was no filter between his ego and his thumbs. We knew that. We knew all of that. Of course we did. Sure. That part was obvious. But see, we hoped – we hoped – Trump would somehow just magically become a dignified adult, suddenly imbued with reason and self-control and filled with knowledge and wisdom of how to actually run a government.

That is what they told us. That is literally what they told us. He’s just doing this to get elected. Once he’s president, you’ll see. He’ll straighten out, he’ll become…

…a unicorn.

Now, admittedly, we’re not really sure how any of that would happen, but we hoped it would.

We hoped it would.

Magical thinking.

And the worst part? The goddamned worst part is that Republicans just like Dan Sullivan are still in denial. Because after six goddamned months of this insanity, he still thinks, hopes, Trump will become the unicorn. Sure. It could happen, sure it could. Yeah! It’ll be ok. You’ll see. He’s just under a lot of stress. It’s all fine. This is fine. It’s fine. I deserved it.

Dan Sullivan. This guy was a Marine, and a damned good one. He is not in any way stupid. He’s a staunch party line conservative and his political views are not mine, but he’s not a lunatic. And yet there he is, engaged in magical thinking. Hoping for unicorns. That’s what Alaskan Senator Dan Sullivan has. Hope. That’s all he has. He’s a United States Senator, a Marine, and the worst condemnation he can muster is, gee, fellers, I hope we can all get past this and be friends.

It’s the Republican version of hiding his bruises under makeup and rationalizing away the abuse by telling himself that he deserved it.

What kind of candy-ass Marine acts like this?

What kind of Marine would follow a leader like Trump into battle? What kind of Marine, what kind of Marine, would send other Marines into battle under a leader like Trump?  What the hell? Did he take off his balls with his goddamned uniform?

They’re all like this.

All of them.

John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Joni Ernst, Tom Cotton, Jeff Sessions, Mitch McConnell, Jim Inhofe, Don Young, Darrell Issa, Duncan Hunter, Peter King, congress is chock-a-block with Republican veterans who damned well ought to know better. Who ought have the guts to put aside their partisan bullshit and side with their Democrat counterparts against this lunatic for the sake of the nation.

But just like Dan Sullivan, they keep enabling this abuse. Looking for unicorns.


On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the Left.


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Al Gore, I didn’t know.

I thought he’d be OK. 

See, what you have to understand here is, well, unicorns!

Just ignore him, they tell me.

That’s advice I get from the Left every day via Twitter and Facebook and my social media feeds. Jeebers, Jim, why do you keep talking about Trump? Whenever I write about one of Trump’s bizarre statements, that’s what the Left tells me, just ignore him. Don’t quote him, don’t write about him, don’t give him any attention because that’s what he wants. Just ignore him.

Just ignore him.

Just ignore the most powerful man in the world.

Just ignore the guy sitting on a nuclear arsenal large enough to kill every living thing on the planet and render the earth uninhabitable forever.

Just ignore the guy at the head of the largest, most powerful coalition of economic, political, and military power in not only the world, but in the entire history of the human race.

Just ignore the guy who controls nearly all aspects of the world that I’ll be leaving to my son and his new wife. My grandkids. The future. Sure, let’s just ignore that guy.

Trump has direct influence over all aspects of our society, economic, social, education, military, infrastructure, law and order, technology, the environment, labor, business, commerce, poverty, healthcare, growth, war, trade, our basic rights and freedoms, and you want me to just ignore him? 

Just … ignore him?

Because, what? Maybe he’ll go away? Maybe he’ll, I dunno, go away to wherever unicorns go.

The absolutely worst, most useless, advice I ever got as a kid was being told to just ignore the bullies. Ignore them, right? Because that’s what they want, attention. And if you ignore them, they’ll just go away. Puff. Magic.

You know what? That’s wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. No bully has ever just gone away because their victims ignore them.

When the abuser has all the power, you can’t ignore them – especially when they’re smashing your face in.

Ignoring fascism is how you get more fascism.

Ignoring hate is how you get more hate.

Ignoring abuse is how you get abused.

It is time to stop this magical thinking on both sides of the political divide and face reality.

Trump isn’t going to get better.

Trump isn’t going to go away.

Trump isn’t going to just one day wake up and decide to act like a president.

He’s not suddenly going to start acting like a rational adult.

He’s not going to be magically imbued with 70 years of education and knowledge and experience in how to run government.

Your indifferent god isn’t going to reach down and fill Trump’s fluffy head with wisdom and compassion and selflessness.  This isn’t a made for TV movie, Trump isn’t going to have some life-changing moment and realize what an ass he’s been and then devote the rest of his life to making the world a better place. That’s not going to happen.

There are no such things as unicorns.


Trump builds casinos, not nations.


Rational people learn from their mistakes.

Mistakes, no matter how terrible, don’t have to define us so long as we don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over.

The problem is that we, as a nation, keep making the same mistakes over and over.

As the so-called Sage of Baltimore, American satirist and pundit Henry Louis Mencken, once said, “democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

America tends to get the government it deserves, and this time we are indeed getting it good and hard.

But what a lot of people are missing is this: Trump is a symptom, not the disease.


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Trump is the manifestation of all the worst aspects of modern America writ large, loud, florid, and proudly ignorant. A mindset that is shamelessly hypocritical, self-important and self-involved, wrapped in a flag waving a cross and obsessed with money at the expense of everything else, downing handfuls of Viagra not because we need it but rather for instant self gratification without effort, and a sneering dismissal of any debate that can’t be compressed into a Tweet as “Too Long; Didn’t Read.”

I’m not the first to note that Trump is what stupid people think a smart person sounds like and it doesn’t take much digging around on social media to find those who despite all evidence to the contrary still dogmatically believe in they’re going to get a unicorn – including members of Congress like Dan Sullivan.

Somewhere in the last half a century, we Americans traded Apollo moon ships for the Creation Museum and the ugly truth of the matter is that Donald Trump is a reflection of who we’ve become as a nation.

Trump is the utterly predictable result of decades of an increasingly dumber and dumber electorate. A deliberately dumber electorate, Idiocracy in action, a society that dismisses intelligence and education and experience as “elitism” while howling in drunken mirth at Honey Boo Boo and lighting their farts on fire.

Creationists don’t build starships.


They don’t build much of anything else, either.


Trump isn’t playing 4D chess.

He doesn’t have a plan.

There is no unicorn.

This was evident right from the very beginning.

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Or at least it should have been, to anybody who wasn’t a complete idiot.

There has never been any depth to anything Trump has ever said. Not once. His responses to every question – every single question – are nothing but rambling non sequiturs. Trump is not capable of critical thought at any level.  He has neither the education or experience to be president. He lacks the ability to focus for any length of time; he has the attention span of a cocker spaniel and his mind is as jumbled and chaotic as some clanging banging madcap Saturday morning cartoon.

His supporters point to his supposed wealth as evidence of leadership, of vision, of intellect. And that’s nonsense. Trump is, at best, a mediocre businessman. He was born rich and given breaks most people don’t get, those things provide a safety net for mistakes and failures that ruin others less advantaged. Those things gave Trump the ability to take risks others can’t. It wasn’t his smarts or his supposed deal making or some magical unicorn dust, it was privilege. He didn’t create his empire from nothing, he built it on a foundation of wealth and advantage and other people’s money.

Trump’s privilege and wealth are luck of birth, not evidence of superiority.

Trump’s mythical ability to make a deal is exactly that, a myth. Bullshit. Smoke and mirrors. Something he uses to con the rubes. Trump can’t make a deal unless he has everything stacked in his favor and he calls all the shots and nobody else gets to say anything. And while that nonsense might work for you when you’re building a casino in Jersey (or not), it sure as shit doesn’t work out in the real world between nations and any fool could have told you that. And did. Repeatedly.

Bluster and bombast and billions are no substitute for intellect, education, experience, quiet courage, and steady confidence under fire.

Trump skitters from one thing to another like a ADHD squirrel on amphetamines. This week he fired yet another Communications Director, last week it was the horrors of Obamacare and an amateurish attempt to shame China into doing his bidding via Twitter, the day before he was banning transgender people from the military. He can’t stay on topic, not even for a 15 minute speech in front of a bunch of Boy Scouts. And this is indicative of a much, much deeper problem.

Trump has no vision.

Trump has no strategic vision.

His administration has no vision.

His party has no coherent vision.

Trump is what stupid people think a smart guy sounds like.

But these people, this administration, they have no idea what they want to do, let alone what they are doing from one minute to the next. That’s why they can never explain anything, because they don’t really know.

Take the Affordable Healthcare Act, Obamacare. Trump goes on and on and on about Obamacare. Republicans go on and on about Obamacare. It’s terrible. It’s failing. Their plan is great.

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Except they never tell you why.

They never give you any of the details.

In the last month, no Republican including Trump, has given you any insight whatsoever as to the details of their supposed plan. Trump can’t, because he’s completely non-conversant with it. He honestly has no idea. He literally can no more describe in even the simplest of terms the Republican plan for healthcare than he can diagram the basic steam-loop of USS Gerald R. Ford’s nuclear reactor.

Trump has never, ever, described in even the most basic of outlines what “Make America Great Again” means.

Because he doesn’t know.

It’s just words. Just vague promises. Hand waving. A way to sell hats. Some nebulous idea that sounds vaguely good. Trump lives in the moment. His attention is whatever happens to be scrolling past on the Fox News Red Alert ticker at that particular point in time.  The Trump Administration’s strategic vision is the political equivalent of the soundbites and howling lunacy and clanging-banging cartoon logic streaming past in my Twitter feed.

It’s not just that that he doesn’t know enough about his own agenda to describe it in even vague terms, it’s that he’s not even interested in trying. He contradicts himself over and over because he doesn’t remember what he said from one minute to the next. Trump repeatedly shows that he has no concept of how government works, let alone how it might manage the incomprehensively vast, hideously complex, intertwined, interdependent, chaotically evolving systems of military, procurement, investment, economic, industrial, commercial, social, environmental, security, emergency, educational, agricultural, energy, health, legal, crime, law, legislative, research, planning, essential services, international relations, and historical areas of concern for 320,000,000 people in a dynamic ever changing relationship to the rest of the world.

And he’s surrounded himself with fops and toadies and opportunists who have even less vision than he does.

Worse, he’s cheered by drooling idiots who aren’t even smart enough to realize Trump has never explained anything in depth ever, because they have no critical-thinking skills either.  They cheer when Trump pushes their button, just like Pavlov’s dog.

And this is a reflection of the Republican Party itself.

It’s no wonder they hate government, because they have completely forgotten government’s purpose.

Because they have no vision.

Because they live in the moment with no regard to the future. And this is reflected in every single aspect of their political outlook, from education to the environment to healthcare to their horrible apocalyptic religion that says when they’ve used up the earth, their savior will return to spirit them all away leaving the rest of us behind to suffer in torment in the hell they created for all eternity. And they’re fine with that

They’re fine with that.

Think about that mentality.

Think about a belief system that says, “Hey, so long as I’m saved, to hell with everybody else” and you’ll understand their viewpoint on, oh, say healthcare. They don’t care about the future. They don’t care about pollution or climate change or healthcare because in their minds they’re saved and the rest of us are damned to some Bronze Age hell anyway. That is literally their belief system, they’re saved, they get to go to some magical paradise and frolic with the unicorns while the rest of us burn forever in torment. And they’re fine with that. In fact, they think it’s just great.

Now, people who believe that, who believe in that idea, who embrace that religion, well, they sure as hell don’t care if you can’t afford healthcare.

What’s healthcare against an eternity of torture in their god’s dungeon?

Trump is the perfectly predictable end result of this mindset. I’m rich, fuck you.

And Mike Pence is its poster child.

But these are symptoms, not the disease

Now, while it’s true that left untreated, symptoms can kill you just as dead as the actual infection, you have to treat the underlying cause if you ever expect to get any better.

Trump is the result of a nation, of a democracy, where only about 60% of the eligible electorate shows up to vote – in a good year.

Trump is the result of a population that not only tolerates a congress that daily treats them as the enemy, but utterly refuses to hold that congress to account at the ballot box.

Trump is the result of a democracy that daily prides itself on how their ancestors declared independence from a foreign king while at the same time mindlessly reelecting, gerrymandering, or otherwise gaming the system to such a degree that their government might as well be made up of inbred weak-chinned hereditary aristocracy.

Trump is the result of voters who can’t be troubled to learn a goddamned thing about their country, their history, their neighbors, or their world beyond what will fit in a Tweet. Trump is the Too Long: Didn’t Read president.

Trump is the result of a nation that glories in ignorance, manipulated by conspiracy theory and a primal fear of the dark, that embraces monkey violence and cowers from the unknown future with bluster and bared teeth and a gun clenched in one fist, instead of looking forward with quiet courage, head up, feet wide, braced and ready with curiosity and confident they are prepared to handle anything that might come along.

Trump is the result of a nation that traded the moon for the Creation Museum.

Trump is the result of a nation that has lost its vision and has nothing left but howling rage.


But it doesn’t have to be this way.


Countries that arrive here, where we are now, tend to end badly.

They tend to fall into totalitarianism, into war, into chaos and fragmentation. 

Don’t take my word for it. Refer to history. When a society embraces rage instead of reason and prepares for apocalypse instead of actively working to build a better future for all, it tends to fall apart into howling collapse in fairly short order.

Creationists don’t build starships.

They don’t build much of anything else worthwhile either and it’s time to stop chasing after unicorns.

I’m not just talking about Trump. As noted, Trump is the symptom, not the disease. It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal or a conservative. It doesn’t matter if you’re a member of one party or the other. What matters is holding civilization together against the fall of night. What matters is building a better future for all of us, for our descendants, for the world.

What matters is being a citizen of the United States first.

You, you Americans, you don’t get to say, “We didn’t know.”

Don’t let that nonsense go past unchallenged. Don’t fall for it. Don’t enable it. Don’t let Americans get away with that excuse. Don’t let your government get away with that excuse, your Senators, your Representatives, your governors, your political party.

We didn’t know. Bullshit. Yes, you did. You knew. We all knew.

But some of you didn’t care, you were too busy lighting your farts on fire and pretending it would all be okay. It’s not. And it hasn’t been okay for a long time.

We didn’t know, that’s just a way to avoid taking responsibility. They knew. Yes, they did. We all knew. But these sons of bitches, they ignored it. They made excuses for it. They chased after unicorns and they’re still doing it.

Don’t let them.

Don’t do it yourself.

Left, right, we’re all going to go down together unless we turn things around.

If you didn’t know, if you really didn’t know, if you couldn’t see it, if you made excuses and you told yourself it would be okay even though you very well knew it wouldn’t, then you are too goddamned stupid, ignorant, and careless to be a citizen of this country.

It’s your duty as an American, as a citizen, as a voter, as a human being, to know.

You don’t get to make excuses. You don’t get to blame anybody, not the media or political parties or the rich or some horrible god or the fucking Russians or even Trump himself.

It’s on you.

You’re the citizen.

And if you want a better nation, if you want a better future, then you have to be better citizens.

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
-- Winston Churchill (possibly apocryphal)



The Latter Days of a better Nation, Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fox in the Henhouse

There is voter fraud. I know there is voter fraud.
-- Stephen Bannon

Two Million

eight hundred and sixty-eight thousand

six hundred and ninety-one.

I like to think I’m the one, there right at the end.

Two Million eight hundred and sixty-eight thousand six hundred and ninety one.

That's the number of votes Donald Trump lost the popular election by, two million eight hundred and sixty-eight thousand six hundred and ninety-one.

According to the final certification of the election*:

Hillary Clinton received 65,853,516 votes

Donald Trump received 62,984,825 votes

Meaning Clinton won the popular vote by 2,868,691.

For brevity’s sake let’s round that off to 3 million.

Now, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on circumstance and your point of view) the popular vote is not how American democracy selects a president and/or vice president. Rightly or wrongly, that’s how our Founders designed things (whether or not we should change that is a discussion for another time). Thus, Donald Trump won the White House despite the objections of nearly 3 million ... well, I was going to say Americans, but that's actually the issue here, isn't it?

That’s the whole thing, right there.

Those 3 million voters.

The President of the United States says that those people, whoever they are,  they’re not Americans.

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Yes, that’s what he’s saying.

Those people, those 3 million people who didn’t vote for him, they aren’t Americans. That’s exactly what he’s saying.

You see, Donald Trump being the self-involved thin-skinned narcissistic ego-maniac that he is, he just can't accept that he lost the popular vote. He is pathologically incapable of admitting that he was beaten by Hillary Clinton – even though he ended up president anyway. 

He’s not man enough.

He’s not mature enough.

And he just can't accept it.

He can't. Q.E.D.

He's on record, multiple times, claiming that he actually won the popular vote – despite obvious and provable evidence to the contrary.

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And how does he justify this discrepancy?

The same way people like him always do.

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Even before the election Trump was banging the Republican Voter Fraud drum, boom, boom, boom.

Of course there’s large scale voter fraud. Serious voter fraud. Millions of people voted illegally. Voter fraud is her only hope. Voter Fraud! Crooked Hillary!

Just like any news article he doesn’t like must be fake news, anybody who didn’t vote for him must be a fake American.

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These aren’t the baseless accusations of some random madman … well, OK, they are, yes, but they’re also official comments from the President of the United States of America and are now part of the national archive in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.

The President of the United States believes, or officially claims that he believes, that there is widespread voter fraud in America totaling in the millions.

The millions.

If this were true, that millions of people vote illegally in our elections, then the entire foundation for our government, our way of life, would be suspect. It would mean that more than 50 different voting systems and dozens upon dozens of widely separated state and local governments were corrupted to such a degree that millions, millions, of people routinely vote illegally in our elections.

And that would be easily provable.

But, of course, this entire thing is patent nonsense.

The most fervent believer in voter fraud after the most diligent and thorough investigation can’t produce more than one or two fraudulent voters, let alone millions. And they’ve tried. Goddamn have they tried.

This whole thing is nonsense.

Just like nearly every other position the President has staked out.

It’s the same baseless bullshit conservatives in Virginia and North Carolina and Alabama (to name just a few states) have been using as justification to disenfranchise people they don't like.

It’s the same dog whistle.

It’s the same bias and bigotry and racism.

It’s the same political agenda. The same fear. The same hate. The same goal.

Yes it is.

Trump played on this unsupported conspiracy theory of widespread voter fraud before the election as justification for why he was going to lose, and then after the election in order to claim he actually won the popular vote.

And he justifies that position by simply saying that those votes, those 3 million votes, just don’t count. So therefore he won the popular vote.

Republicans might or might not like Donald Trump, but they're plenty eager to go along with this charade. They're perfectly happy to perpetuate the ridiculous myth of widespread voter fraud and to use that fairy tale as an excuse to purge voting registers of Blacks and Muslims and Latinos and Gays and The Poors and any other supposed liberal undesirable under the pretext of weeding out alleged voter fraud.

Republicans sure as hell aren’t going to dissuade Donald Trump of this masturbatory fantasy.

No, they won’t, even though they know it's complete and total bullshit, because it plays directly to their own narrative and agenda of disenfranchisement. They might or might not believe in widespread voter fraud, but if embracing Trump’s conspiracy theory helps them purge their state voting rolls of undesirables, they’re all for it.

So, anyway, what I’m saying here is …

What?

What’s that?

Oh. I see.

You think I’m engaged in a little conspiracy theory of my own, do you?

You say, hey, c’mon, Jim. It’s not like that. And what’s wrong with making sure, damned sure, extra sure, that the foundation of our Republic is intact? What’s wrong with making sure that only Americans, those legally enfranchised, are the ones voting? What’s wrong with ensuring the integrity of our elections?

What’s wrong with ensuring the integrity of our elections?

Nothing.

If you could trust them to do it.

But you can’t.

If that’s what these people were actually up to.

But it’s not.


One of the first things Trump did as president was to set up The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity via executive order.


The problems with this commission begin almost immediately.

For example, who are these people? Who makes up the commission?

The Executive Order which created the commission is listed on the White House website, dated May 11, 2017, but it only says that the commission shall be chaired by the Vice President. The rest of the committee, which may include up to 15 additional members, will be appointed by the President.

Fifteen people and Mike Pence.

But who are those people? Those 15 commission members besides the Vice President?

Well, it’s damned hard to find out.

The membership of the commission isn’t listed in any official government record available to the public.

The official White House website lists 53 official announcements regarding Administration nominations and appointments. I went through all of them (and tedious it was), but no mention of who Donald Trump has so far appointed to this commission.

There’s a link to “Elections & Voting,” but it’s just a generic blurb about the history of voting in the US.

There’s a link to various Administration offices, but the Advisory Commission of Election Integrity isn’t mentioned.

I went through the Annual Report to Congress on White House Office Personnel (all 16 pages of it) looking for any salaried position devoted to election integrity. Nothing. Nobody. (The EO says the Commission members aren’t entitled to any additional compensation, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to check).

I attempted to contact various members of the Administration, including the Office of the Vice President, since he’s the chairman of the commission. I asked for a list of commission appointees. I got form letter responses or no responses at all (so far).

I went to Vice President Pence’s Facebook page and looked for anything on this commission. Nothing. And isn’t that a bit odd, given the supposed importance of alleged voter fraud, the supposed millions of illegal voters, the supposed dire and immediate threat to our very democracy, the concerns of not only the President but his supporters as well? I mean, from the guy who’s supposed to be in charge of the investigation?

Maybe it’s just me.

Going through media reports, I come up with seven names besides the Vice President:

Kris Kobach: Republican. Secretary of State of Kansas. Immigration ultra-hardliner. Wants a national Muslim registry. Repeatedly makes public statements insisting that widespread voter fraud in the US is a significant problem. As Secretary of State of Kansas, he implemented one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country and attempted to remove more the 20,000 registered voters from the state rolls – voters that were proved to be properly registered. Kobach was instrumental in drafting Arizona’s controversial anti illegal immigrant SB 1070 law and similar legislation in Alabama. Kobach is the Deputy Chairman of the Commission.

Hans von Spakovsky: Republican. Hardcore Conservative. Lawyer. Bureaucrat. Heritage Foundation manager for Election Law Initiative. Former “voting expert” for the Justice Department, and former member of the Federal Election Commission under George W. Bush via recess appointment. During confirmation hearings it became apparent that this guy has some serious issues with voter disenfranchisement – as in he’s all for it. Some of his ideas were compared to “Jim Crow era” poll taxes. While at the Justice Department this guy literally argued against reauthorization of the Voting Rights act. Think about that. Literally argued against reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. When it comes to voting rights, this guy is one of the most controversial figures in America. Spakovsky’s was appointed by Trump just this week and his role on the Commission isn’t clear.

Connie Lawson: Republican. Secretary of State of Indiana – under Governor Mike Pence. Nothing particularly remarkable or controversial in her background with regards to voting.

Bill Gardner: Democrat. Secretary of State of New Hampshire. His claim to fame seems to be championing New Hampshire’s “100% paper ballot” elections.

Matthew Dunlap: Democrat. Secretary of State of Maine.  He oversaw implementation of the state’s Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act – an absentee ballot update that allows military personnel and Mainers who are overseas greater access to voting.

Ken Blackwell: Republican. Former Secretary of State of Ohio. Hardline fiscal and social Conservative. Despite being African American (and the only person of color on the commission so far as I can determine), Blackwell was the target of a lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party in 2004 after he established a policy widely seen as aimed at disenfranchising minority voters and in violation of federal voting law. A US District Judge ruled against the policy. Blackwell said that he would go to jail rather than comply and the case was appealed. Eventually, after a long drawn out court battle, part of the policy was upheld and part was struck down. Blackwell also oversaw the office which in 2006 accidentally published the full Social Security Numbers of 1.2 million Ohio citizens along with their business filings, resulting in a Federal class action lawsuit filed against the state. The case was resolved when Blackwell’s office removed the Social Security numbers from their website and promised to make changes to prevent such disclosures in the future. A month later, it happened again, only this time it was the names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of 5.7 million registered Ohio voters (about 80% of the state’s registered voters). And then, there’s the Diebold voting machine controversy. Blackwell oversaw the purchase of Diebold Touchscreen voting machines – after being asked by state authorities to disqualify Diebold as a supplier. Turns out, Blackwell owned stock in Diebold, something he claims he didn’t know. The Diebold machines didn’t provide useable audit records and in 2006 state officials were forced to order the hand-counting of more than 18,000 paper ballots after the Diebold machines produced inconsistent results. It took days and in at least one case caused a race to be reversed. Because Blackwell had been involved in the acquisition of the Diebold machines and because he’d owned stock in the company, and because at the time he was running for governor, Ohio Democrats demanded that Blackwell recuse himself from the resulting investigation. He refused.

Christy McCormick: (Political Affiliation Unknown) Commissioner, Election Assistance Commission (appointed by Barack Obama). Civil Rights attorney, Department of Justice. US government Rule of Law in voting matters expert. U.S. Elections Expert monitoring Iraqi national elections in 2010, providing advice to the Iraq High Electoral Commission.

Eight people (including VP Pence). Four right wing extremists with controversial backgrounds with regards to voting rights, including the Chair and Vice Chair. And four more or less middle of the road moderates.

If you squint your eyes, you could say the Commission was maybe, sort of, after a fashion, possibly bi-partisan – if heavily skewed to the hard right and with its leadership tilted towards belief in conspiracy theory, but then there’s that Executive Order.

Sec. 3.  Mission.  The Commission shall, consistent with applicable law, study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections.  The Commission shall be solely advisory and shall submit a report to the President that identifies the following:

(a)  those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;

(b)  those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and

(c)  those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.

Sec. 4.  Definitions.  For purposes of this order:

(a)  The term "improper voter registration" means any situation where an individual who does not possess the legal right to vote in a jurisdiction is included as an eligible voter on that jurisdiction's voter list, regardless of the state of mind or intent of such individual

(b)  The term "improper voting" means the act of an individual casting a non-provisional ballot in a jurisdiction in which that individual is ineligible to vote, or the act of an individual casting a ballot in multiple jurisdictions, regardless of the state of mind or intent of that individual.

(c)  The term "fraudulent voter registration" means any situation where an individual knowingly and intentionally takes steps to add ineligible individuals to voter lists.

(d)  The term "fraudulent voting" means the act of casting a non-provisional ballot or multiple ballots with knowledge that casting the ballot or ballots is illegal. 

The Commission’s mandate is to identify "laws, rules, policies, strategies, and practices" that both "enhance" and "undermine" the "American people's" confidence in the integrity of the voting process used in federal elections.

Enhance and undermine.

Enhance.

And undermine.

Except…

look at those two sections.

Look at the definitions.

There doesn’t seem to be much emphasis on enhance, but there sure does seem to be a foregone conclusion about undermine, isn’t there? 

Especially when you remember that at least 50% of the commission are hardline fanatical believers in supposed widespread voter fraud, including the Chair and Vice Chair.

And even more especially when you remember that the president who convened this commission in the first place has repeatedly and as recently as today advanced the idea of widespread voter fraud.

But it gets better.

And by better, of course I mean worse.

The Commission requested that each state submit its voter registration databases for examination.

Under the (non-existent) authority of the Vice President, the commission sent a letter to all 50 states and Washington D.C. last week demanding that each state turn over its “publicly available voter roll data.”

“Publicly available” sounds harmless, but there’s more to it than that.

Publicly available doesn’t actually mean the information isn’t controlled and can just be released to the public (see Ken Blackwell and Ohio up above).

The Commission is being deliberately disingenuous.

Look here, in 2016 there were just under 219,000,000 Americans who were eligible to vote.

Out of those 219,000,000 potential voters, only about 146,000,000 were actually registered to vote – and thus could legally vote.

Let’s round that off: 150,000,000 registered voters.

150 million.

Now, the commission wants a list of those names. 150 million names.

And they intend to examine that list, all 150 million names, for evidence of voter fraud.

Eight people.

Eight people are going to go through one hundred and fifty million names.

Now, let’s say that’s actually even possible … oh, hell, let’s not. It’s not possible. They’re going to have to hire somebody to process the data. Obviously. It’s impossible otherwise.

Who?

Who are those people? What’s that agency? Who has the resources to go through that data, 150 million names?

Well, conveniently, one of the Commission members, newly appointed, just happens to be a lawyer for the Heritage Foundation – a ultra-conservative think tank with deep, deep pockets and plenty of resources to crunch those numbers into any shape you like.

Perhaps Hans von Spakovsky’s role on the Commission isn’t so undefined after all.

I digress.

So, 150 million names of registered voters. And you suspect millions of them are frauds.

How do you determine if each person on that list is a legitimate American citizen who meets the criteria for voting in a federal election?

I mean, you’re gonna need more than just the name, right?

You’re going to have to have enough information about each person on that list, in detail, that you can ensure they each meet the legal criteria for voting.

And that’s not nearly as simple as it sounds (assuming it sounded simple to you).

See, voting is not spelled out in the Constitution.

In fact, the Constitution doesn’t mandate voting at the citizen level at all.

Voting is a state’s responsibility, not a a federal one.

As such, voting requirements for registration vary depending on the state. For example some states let convicted criminals vote, some don’t. Some let convicted criminals on parole vote. Some let those on probation vote. Some states don’t allow those who were convicted of a felony to ever vote again. Kentucky is one of those states, but unlike Florida and Virginia, in Kentucky an ex-con can petition the state for restoration of voting rights after completion of certain rehabilitation programs.  Some states have specific restrictions on homeless people and how they can register (establishing residency is problematic when you don’t have a residence), some don’t. People move. People change states (Me for example, I moved from Alaska to Florida during an election year and had to change my voter registration). Each state has different requirements for ID. And so on. Then there’s the Voting Rights Act which contains special provisions which apply only to certain former states of the Confederacy.

And what about the primaries?


image


I mean, if you’re looking at the election process from the standpoint of “enhance” and “undermine,” don’t you have to examine the whole thing? Start to finish? Including the primaries? After all, that’s where the candidates are selected. That’s the the part Trump keeps yelling about, that part where the Democratic National Party supposedly illegally colluded with Hillary Clinton to screw Bernie Sanders – something a significant fraction of liberals believe too.

So, if you’re concerned about the integrity of the election, don’t you have to look at the whole election process? All of it.

And the criteria for who can vote each state’s primary is different from the general election.

What I’m saying here is that it’s not as easy as looking at a name.

Times 50 states.

Times 150 MILLION registered voters.

So, the Commission will have to have enough detailed information about each voter to be certain that they are actually who they say they are and that they are actually qualified to vote in their registered district.

The Commission requested not just a list of registered voters, but "dates of birth, political party, last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information."

And that’s a lot more than just publicly available information.

Right?

You’re with me? You understand what I’m saying here?

Good. Remember this, because we’re going to come back to it.


Now, naturally a number of states have balked at turning over their voter rolls to a presidential commission that has no Constitutional authority and no legal justification for asking in the first place.

Eight states have out and out said they simply will not comply, will not provide any information.

Sixteen states said they will provide some information, but only actual public information, nothing sensitive or controlled.

In Ohio, the Secretary of State, Jon Husted, a Republican, said the state will not provide confidential information to the commission:

"Voter registration information is a public record and is available online. The confidential information, such as the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number or their Ohio driver license number, is not publicly available and will not be provided to the Commission.”

In New York, the Governor, Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said flat out that the state would not provide any information of any kind to the commission. Cuomo went further and tweeted,

“NY refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election."

Responses from other states, some Red, some Blue, were similar.

Naturally President Trump, being Trump, was incensed at this revolt.

image


Leaving aside the part where I don’t think Trump actually understands the phrase “very distinguished,” note where he begs the question:

What are they trying to hide?

Because obviously, any state that moves to protect its own Constitutionally guaranteed rights and the personal information of its citizens must be hiding something. Something criminal. Right? Now, again, I want to you to remember this. Because we’re going to come back to it in just a moment, along with those other troubling points I asked you to remember up above. 

In fact, we’re going to come back to them right now.

Earlier this week, the Commission’s vice chair, Kris Kobach, was interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered by Ari Shapiro.

SHAPIRO: Why are you requesting this information about voters around the country?

KOBACH: Well, this is publicly available information. It's just the voter rolls that any person on the street can walk into a county election office and get. It's not sensitive information at all. And the reason we're requesting it is to understand issues of voter registration fraud and things like that. You actually have to have the voter rolls.

Note Kobach apparently believes any citizen can walk into any county election office and get information on any voter to include birth date, address, phone number, criminal record, places that person has lived and been registered to vote, military status, etc.  Makes me glad he’s not my Secretary of State. Just saying here.

Note Kobach’s implied assumption: so we can understand the [foregone] “issues of voter registration fraud.”

Note Kobach makes no mention here (or anywhere in the interview) of seeking information that might enhance the public’s confidence in the integrity of our election process. Only “issues of voter registration fraud.” And things like that.

Wait. What things like that? 

What things like that?

When a politician talks about “things” and waves his arms around vaguely, you’d better pay attention (put your hand on your wallet). Especially when he’s taking about something as important as voting rights.

So, keep this “and things like that” comment front and center, because it’s important.

Shapiro acknowledged Kobach’s assertion that none of the information requested by the Commission was private in and of itself (a statement that is demonstrably not true, but Shapiro let it go).

Then, given that instead of being sequestered in 50 plus state and regional databases, all of this voter registration data would be compiled into a single federal database in some standardized form,

and given that this database would be a list of every single registered voter in the country, their names, their addresses and phone numbers, their political identities, their employment, their Social Security numbers, their criminal record, their military status, etc,

and given that this information is the highly sought after target of malicious agencies both foreign and domestic (not to mention political parties, commercial marketing firms, research organizations, and … well, you get the idea),

and given that as of this moment there is no line item in the federal budget for funding such a database, populating it (you’re going to have to compile data from at least 50 different database formats comprising at a minimum 150,000,000 records into a single coherent and useable data structure), hosting it on federal servers, managing it, analyzing it, and so on,

Shapiro wanted to know how the data would be protected. 

KOBACH: What people need to be concerned about and rightly concerned about is the security of the actual database itself because the database itself that each state has does have some sensitive information in it that is not publicly available. We're not asking for that. But one of the things the commission will study is how well-protected are the states' voter rolls against someone who's trying to hack and modify those records? And that's something the public desperately needs to know because of course there were allegations that Russia attempted to try to get into the voter rolls, that other private individuals may have tried to get into the states' voter rolls.

Note that Kobach didn’t actually answer the question.

Note that Kobach in point of fact outlined the very threat Shapiro was asking about and by definition admitted that compilation of the data into a single point of failure makes the threat orders of magnitude worse.

Note that one of the members of the Commission is the same guy who was responsible for the “accidental” disclosure of more than 6 million voter registration records including their Social Security numbers – TWICE.

Note again that one of the members of the commission, newly appointed, just happens to work for a think tank that could, conveniently, host that database and has a political agenda that would benefit greatly from such a boon.

Then once again note that Kobach didn’t actually answer the question of how the information would be secured or who would be responsible for it. Or if it would be disposed of when the Commission is disbanded (if it is disbanded).

But I digress. Again.

Shapiro then asked how Kobach would reassure people who are concerned that the federal government would use this information to “restrict, deter or otherwise disenfranchise legitimate voters from accessing the polls?”

Kobach’s reassurance?

“Well, I don't even understand the argument because how is it that taking publicly available information and just analyzing it restricts your access to the polls?”

The very first mission statement of the Executive Order is those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people's confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections.

Enhance the people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting process.

Enhance the people’s confidence.

Enhance.

And the guy charged with that commission doesn’t understand the argument?

Think about that. Take all the time you need. It’ll come to you.

SHAPIRO: If states do not comply with a request, does your commission have any authority to force them?

KOBACH: The commission does not have the authority to force. It's simply an ask. And frankly, if a state like Kentucky or California apparently won't provide publicly available information, one has to ask the question, why not? I mean what are they trying to hide if they don't want a presidential advisory commission to study their state's voter rolls?

And there it is again.

What are they trying to hide?

There it is again, begging the question. I told you we’d come back to it.

What are they trying to hide? And the obvious unspoken implication is that those states are hiding something. And the only thing they could be hiding is 3 million people who voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. Right? I mean, California, right? That’s what we’re talking about here. That’s what Trump is talking about.

Right.

And so, we come down to it.

All those points come together right here. Remember who’s talking, remember how that Executive Order was worded. Remember what Trump has said, what Kobach has said, remember who is on the Commission, remember who they work for, remember “and things like that”:

SHAPIRO: Finally, this commission was created after President Trump claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally thereby depriving him of a popular vote win. Do you believe that that is what happened?

KOBACH: I don't know. The commission's purpose is not to prove or disprove what President Trump said back in January or February. The purpose of the commission...

SHAPIRO: Every objective observer has said there is zero evidence of millions of people voting illegally. It seems striking that as one of the leaders of a commission on voting integrity, you're not willing to say the same.

KOBACH: Well, I guess it all depends on what you define as evidence, right? So you know, you don't have hard data, but it is certainly something that we may be able to see some evidence. I seriously doubt we'll have a definitive answer, but at least - why not collect evidence and just get the facts on the table? That would be a good service to the American public - period.

Do you see it?

Do you see it?

It irritates the hell out of me that Shapiro didn’t pounce, didn’t follow up, didn’t press Kobach to the wall. But such is the state of journalism in this country.

Because that’s it. That’s it right there. That’s the proof. That’s the smoking gun.

Do you see it?

That’s what the sons of bitches are up to, right there, in Kobach’s own words.

There’s no indication of a crime.

There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Hell, there’s not even evidence of voter fraud on a minor scale to any degree that is even vaguely statistically relevant, let alone in the millions – and it would have to be in the millions. 

There is only Donald Trump’s repeatedly debunked and totally unsupported conspiracy theory.

There is only the Conservative Dog Whistle perpetuated by fanatics such as Kris Kobach.

And there it is, right there. Right there:

I guess it all depends on what you define as evidence, right?

So you know, you don't have hard data, but it is certainly something that we may be able to see some evidence.

I seriously doubt we'll have a definitive answer, but at least - why not collect evidence and just get the facts on the table? That would be a good service to the American public - period

It all depends on what you define as evidence. Remember you’re dealing with creationists here, and their understanding of “evidence” isn’t any better than their understanding of science – especially when they use cavalier dismissals such as “I guess it all depends on what you define as evidence” hi ho hi ho. Evidence is whatever they say it is.

Why not collect the information? Why not just let the cops – or better yet, the local random militia – kick in our front doors without a warrant or legal authority and search through our homes? Sooner or later, they’re bound to find some evidence of something, right?  Especially if they think you’re guilty to begin with. Especially if you’re black, or poor, or Muslim.

This commission?

It’s nothing but a goddamned fishing expedition.


In Kobach’s own words, it’s nothing but a goddamned fishing expedition.


Voting is the responsibility of the states, not the federal government. Ironic then that these small federal government and states rights conservatives would attempt to interfere in the rights and responsibilities of those self same states.

Ironic peculiar, I mean.

But irony is lost on fanatics.

Listen to me: This is the United States of America.

Our republic is based on democracy. Our very way of life depends on it.

Those who truly believe in this country, in freedom, in democracy, in justice, in truth, well, those people would be working to increase enfranchisement, not restrict it.

But this president? His political party and their cronies? These small, selfish, petty sons of bitches? They care only for their own power. And they figure if they can just get all the data in one place and if they can go through it, sorting by race and employment and political affiliation, if they can shape the data into some bogeyman of their own fevered creation, then they can find something to further their agenda of stealing this nation away from its people.

And their agenda is clearly spelled out.

In their own words and by their own actions.

They don’t think you’re an American.

They are coming for you.

And you’re looking right at it.




* US Federal Election Commission, Official 2016 Presidential General Election Results (PDF)