Thursday, September 22, 2016

Standing Resolute Against the Atonal Banshee of Emerging Egomania

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By Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

It's not completely accurate to say that authors write the articles or essays that bear their bylines. In a very real way, I've discovered that stories tend to write themselves. Oh, it's all very well and good to have a plan or a set of intentions, but much of this goes out the window as soon as pencil hits paper and you have to start bumping up against the fuzzy terrain of Polanyi's paradox. Instead, that which is written tends to take on a life of its own, pouring out from a part of the brain that is instantaneous and foreign and not particularly keen to obey the parameters of logic or good sense. In the process, you come to realize quite often that you don't nearly understand the topic you are writing about, and that in discovering this, the subject starts to actually write on you. It happens more often than I would like to admit that I will pause halfway through a page, look up over what I have just written, and realize with a start that I don't actually agree with a word of it. Sometimes I will just sit there scratching my head, going: well I'll be damned, would you look at that rot.... Of all of the essays I have on my to-do list, the article I thought would be the easiest to pen, the one that wouldn't take me more than a few hours on a quiet night, was the one on the upcoming election. I sat down to write that essay four hours ago and have been staring balefully at a malignantly growing pile of crap ever since. I think my brain just doesn't want to admit that we've actually gotten to this point. So much for American exceptionalism.

This shouldn't be so difficult. I'm a deeply political person, and I know pretty much what I think about this train wreck and why. I have the material, too, as I've been taking notes since January. Every time one of our political stars went supernova or got sucked into a black hole of imbecility, I would write a little something down, a sort of journal of my rapidly growing discontent. I think that is part of the problem. I'm flipping through a nice stack of notes, looking for some common thread or leitmotif that I can use to weave everything into a nice, tidy, coherent essay, and the only thing I'm finding is how disgusted I am. I'm having some motivational problems as well, to be honest with you. I'm feeling oddly enervated about all of this. I try to avoid being cliche, and I think it's just a bit too easy to complain about our current situation; I'm pretty sure that all of that has already been picked over by thousands of hacks with better chops than mine. I don't really know what new perspective I could offer. Does the punditocracy even matter in this era of such radical hyperpartisan division?

Not writing, however, seems impossible, a travesty of sorts. If Trump wins and rules the way most of us suspect he will, I do not want to be remembered as having been silent. I will not be the postmodern equivalent of the millions of Germans who uncomfortably witnessed the rise of the Third Reich and didn't emit a single peep until the bombs started falling on their heads. Sometimes a decision on whether or not to scream is the only choice we have within our grasps; if so, you'd better blow your lungs out, or you will regret it later. I guess this is my scream. Sorry it's not more impressive sounding, but I've got all of this ennui stuck in the back of my throat. In any case, who could even hear me over Trump's tantrums?

Throughout this odd political season I have progressed - like many of you, I suspect - through various stages, ranging from depression to frustration to confusion. Mostly what I feel is despair. I have written this before, but I will say it again for posterity: democracy only works if the demos is well informed. The people capable of calmly making rational judgments based off of a decent store of mostly accurate data have to outnumber the ignorant fools who pull the lever based on the emotional appeal of whatever crackpot ideology is in ascendancy at the moment, or else the whole experiment fails. History is replete with examples of this, and they never turn out well. I never expected to see the Republican party drift so far into the realms of fantasy, but here we are, very nearly tipping the whole thing over. That's the thing that really blows my mind. You people have an almost unlimited amount of data at your fingertips, but many of you aren't even beginning to take advantage of it. Do you know what I have to do just to get a single book? Every day that I am allowed to go to the day room, I go there to run my hustles. One minute I'm moving this, another that. Every transaction risks a trip to Level 3. Sometimes I'm angling for a little something to eat, trying to store up for the days when the food they serve us on the trays is spoiled. On other days, I'm looking for colored pencils that I can turn into paint. Most of the time, though, I'm gunning for stamps or books. You wouldn't believe the scams within scams within scams that I have to perpetrate on the guards just to get something to read. You think I like doing this? I like being ignorant even less. I'll gladly take a 90-day trip to the dungeon for some genuine knowledge. And then I turn on the news and hear some buffoon pontificating mindlessly on trade deals or immigration or tax policy, and they aren't just incorrect on their basic facts, they are erring in the most spectacularly moronic manner imaginable. Seriously, in my wildest flights of imaginative fancy, I couldn't invent characters this lost in the wastelands of nonsense. I keep thinking, oh come on, this guy has to be running a scam on NPR; he's being ironic. Oh, how my horror grows as I realize - once again - that this person is totally serious. It's an insult to billions of people who have lived and died and played a part in building the world to where it is today. And yes, I know that I've been an insult, too, but at least I found my way out of the hinterlands. The trajectory of my humanity is a sharp upward angle. What's their excuse?

At the same time, I don't know exactly what to do with this despair. It doesn't seem particularly constructive. For the past year or so, I've really been attempting to meditate more on our common humanity as a gateway to compassion for the Other. Sometimes I will come across a photograph somewhere and the sheer gravity of the pain trapped in the image will pull me in and shatter my heart on the way down. I cut these out and use them as focus objects whenever I feel myself getting aggravated or self-righteous. Here's one I came across a few months ago in the newspaper.

What happened to this man? Why is he homeless? Who would harm him like this? There's a world of hurt and loneliness in his one visible eye, a story that scuttles all of my pretensions about being a reformed man. I caused pain like this. I am responsible for this. Not directly, but I once lived and worked in a city with countless men like this, and I drove past them in my nice car and my nice suit and didn't give a damn about any of them. None of us can be truly "good" in a world where men and women and children live on the streets, where we prey upon each other like rabid dogs, not really, not when we aren't all doing something daily to make images like this a thing of the past. It's a balance I war with - compassion and despair, compassion within despair. I probably shouldn't think so much about politics, because it tilts the scales so completely toward outrage, toward wanting to "fix" everything. I feel it happening even now, the idea that anger and disgust can act as the fuels needed to change the world for the better. I know it's a lie. Only love does that, but I'm not nearly decent enough to stay convinced of this when I look around at our society. I fret over the state of our state. It would be easy of me to sit here in my condemned-man's cell and laugh at the world that is killing me, but I can't seem to find the anger needed. It's impossible to avoid the ignorance, though, the feeling that we no longer collectively understand enough of even basic matters to justify having this much power. Trump is the perfect exemplar of this cluelessness, and it doesn't surprise me that he should have gathered a flock of people behind him that are more susceptible to the macropolitics of spectacle than the actual possession of knowledge. It occurs to me that perhaps a little test might be in order at this point. I know, I know, who do I think I am, demanding knowledge in Trump's world? Bear with me.

Several months back, Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post interviewed Trump, focusing on what he would do during the first 100 days of his reign. He initially spoke about trade deals, his bête noire. When Costa asked him about economic legislation, Trump responded: "Before I talk about legislation, because I think frankly this is more important - number one, it's going to be a very big tax cut." So, here's my question for any Trump supporters that might be reading this: can you detect the error in his statement? Think about it for a moment. Read it again if you have to.

When I talk about ignorance, I want to be clear that I'm not demanding anyone go out and earn a graduate degree. Who has the time for that? I might be moderately elitist when it comes to education, but nowhere to that degree. I'm not requiring you to delve into macroeconomics in order to answer my question, though someone who did study that subject could certainly point out that virtually everyone of either party not currently sitting in front of an interviewer's microphone understands that in order to reduce the national debt, we are eventually going to have to raise tax revenue, not cut it, or that the Holy Laffer Curve has been a debunked economic model for several decades. Neither am I asking you to do a stylistic analysis of Trump's speech patterns, such as his tendency to use words like "frankly" or phrases like "to be perfectly honest with you" when he tries to glide over an issue he clearly doesn't understand. (Seriously: listen to his speeches. When he says "frankly," go fact check the sentence in which this was embedded. You will always - always - find factual errors. This might be my only original contribution to the coverage of Trump, So put it to the test during the Convention next week - or whenever this gets posted.) These are fair criticisms, and I can't help but wonder how it is that so many of us have so poor an understanding of rhetoric or the structure of our economy that his hucksterism isn't obvious to everyone. That wasn't what I was asking, though. I was simply wondering if you understood that tax policy is a product of legislation, and that there is no way for the president to hand down "a very big tax cut" by executive fiat. This is very simple, basic stuff, things that one learns in high school government classes. It's the sort of thing you would pick up by listening to NPR a few minutes each day or by reading the New York Times, instead of chasing after Pokemon. (Seriously, people. Good grief.) I think this is a very bad sign for our democracy that many voters do not understand so basic a question, but it is absolutely disastrous that he apparently didn't. If you parse the full extent of his claims, you will begin to discover that many of his speaking points aren't even structurally possible, regardless of how bad you may want them to be put into effect.

For instance, Trump promises "tremendous" economic growth of 6% each year he is in the White House, but presidents have very little control over things like oil-price spikes that crimp consumer spending, productivity growth, or a rosy international picture. Much of what goes on in the economy is quite simply out of the president's hands, though of course we blame them otherwise. And when it comes to the things Trump actually could do to impact the economy, the very pro-Republican US Chamber of Commerce calls his tax plans disastrous, likely to add 10 trillion dollars to the national debt. I won't even mention what the liberal experts are saying - it's a lot worse, obviously. The data is all out there for everyone to parse on their own, though most of the passengers on the Trump Train seem to think such calculations unnecessary. Who needs proof when you have Trump? There's a word for believing in something just because you want it to be true, you know. It's called faith. I do not think it is a coincidence that the Republicans are the party of the deeply religious, while the Democrats are becoming increasingly secular.

I often find it necessary to criticize religion. I don't like the way I come off when I do this sometimes. I'm more accepting of religious faith on a personal level than I would appear in these pages, though admittedly less so when I'm trying to write about culture or politics. In this latter register, you lose track of individuals and focus on groups.  When I do this, I'm mostly speaking to future generations of humans (or cyborgs, or AIs, or whatever insect-descended species evolves to take over this rock once we have annihilated ourselves in the Trumpocalypse) in more secular, enlightened times, to let them know that there were people able to see through the fog of all of this superstition and myth. One of my major issues with the concept of faith is that it promotes a model for verifying truth-claims that is fundamentally flawed. This format creates a structure upon which we build many other beliefs, meaning that these people literally do not understand what the word "fact" means in the same way as a scientist or the non-religious. This Trump thing is a perfect example. Hippocrates once wrote that "there are, in effect, two things: to know and to believe one knows. To know is science. To believe one knows is ignorance." We live in an era where people say - without any hesitation - that they "know" that Noah built himself a massive ark and loaded it up with two of every living thing (including, presumably, about a gazillion species of beetles, since evolution is a liberal lie), or that Daniel and his homeboys hung out in a furnace for awhile. The religious cannot know these things, because there is no direct evidence for them, only a series of stories written centuries after the events they purport to describe by people who are unknown to historical record. (It's no use arguing that these are allegories; of course they are, but that's not the point: people today in conservative circles take these books literally, and no amount of disputation is going to sway them.) These stories must be believed in, instead. What bolsters these myths is not evidence, but authority. A priest, imam, or rabbi told their congregations that they were true, and the flock took it on faith, minus any connection to evidence. Science doesn't work that way. Certain scientists are understood to be very important or respected, but this reputation is only as good as their data continues to be. I'm not certain that the average person understands what a peer reviewed journal is, so pardon this brief digression. When a scientist or team of scientists completes an experiment, they gather all of their data and construct some notes on methodology. They submit this to a journal. The journal will then pass the draft of the article to a series of experts in the relevant fields to see if they feel the experiment has merit. This can be a fairly brutal process, but if the study appears to advance or challenge the field, it gets published. Once it hits the journal, scientists all over the world attempt to replicate the experiment. That's the key thing here: it doesn't matter what anyone in particular says about X or Y: the data is all there, waiting to be tested. If the original team screwed up somehow, this will come out quickly. If they attempted to doctor their data, they will be found out; a phenomena that is rare but that takes place enough to know that the system works. Absolutely nothing is taken on faith, ever. To do so would render the entire method pointless.

You see the problem. When someone grows up in an environment where they are taught that the "truth" comes not from evidence but from authority, they do not understand that for something to be true there must be a process involved for verification. Claims without this process must be doubted as an a priori position pending evidence to the contrary. Without the implementation of such a system, you get a group of people tending towards credulity who are susceptible to authority in other areas of their lives besides religion; this includes politics. It makes it difficult to discuss evidence or proof with such people, because in their world "evidence" is no better (and maybe worse) than the word of the local minister or strongman. Experts are deemed to be "arrogant." Track things like the understanding of climate change or the dangers of smoking (which Mike Pence denied as recently as 1998; seriously, after government regulators confirmed the lethal consequences of cigarettes, Pence mocked this as hysteria: "Time for a quick reality check," he wrote, "Smoking doesn't kill"), and you will always find an inverse relationship to the level of each respondent's religiosity. Proof matters less, because they get their "facts" from other sources. Thus the Trump phenomenon: the ability to believe the claims of a man whose connection to facts left the terrain of the tenuous months ago. If you are a Trump fan, ask yourself this: does it not bother you that he never explains how he intends to achieve his goals? How would you respond if your financial advisor asked you to invest your life savings without explaining what he intended to do with them? You'd want proof, no? Maybe a list of the funds he was going to buy, and their recent performance? Of course you would. Why are you treating the fate of your nation differently?

Everyone keeps repeating that the electorate is "angry," as if this explains everything. Okay, fair enough - but angry about what? Angry how? Are we actually talking about what really bothers us, or merely substituting some hot topic for something more systemic? And since when did outward displays of petulance suddenly become a virtue? Who sent out the memo that we are all of a sudden supposed to actually respect those with a sneering disregard for the basic civility that binds a society? It is particularly perplexing to hear about the rage of the evangelicals. I've long thought this was one of the most hypocritical segments of our populace, and their rapid coalescing around a man they detested as recently as the Indiana primary proves this point nicely. Suddenly - and what a transformation! - they decide that, what do you know, he's a "baby Christian" after all. I will leave Tony Perkins and the other doltish supporters of "muscular Christianity" (Boom! goes the irony grenade) to perform the doctrinal contortionism needed to support such a colossally vain man, one who admitted he had never felt he needed to ask Jesus forgiveness for anything - as if that weren't the practical definition of a Christian in the first place. I feel sort of weird quoting the Bible, but, well, when in the Bible Belt, etc,etc. (And in any case, heretic though I may now be, I've never really forgotten the lessons of my youth. As Omar Khayyam wrote in his Rubaiyat: "The Koran! well, come put me to the test / Lovely old book in hideous error drest / Believe me, I can quote the Koran, too, / the unbeliever knows his Koran the best".) How does the evangelical not see Trump being described in Psalm 73? "Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. . . . they scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance." And yet, as with all of Trump's antecedents (Hitler, Mussolini, George Wallace, and my personal favorite, Huey Long), their success is temporary. "Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are ruined." The psalmist was clearly telling us to flee from demagogy, to make an extra effort to be decent and calm and patient, not to blame some people with browner skin for systemic problems in our economy.

Isn't anger generally taught to be a sin?  Dante certainly argued for this interpretation, placing the angry dead in Dis, the fifth circle of hell. When I posed this question to a few of the Christians here, they claimed (wrongly in my view, but whatever) that the Bible speaks of two types of anger. The first type is centered on the ego, dealing with what we want or fear and which tends towards irresponsibility. The second is righteous, and focuses on injustice. I thought about this for a while, and it came to me that if you accept this view, what Trump attempts to do in almost every speech is to make the first sort of anger look like the second - though I'm at a loss as to why anyone would fall for this. Can you not see that he acts like a child when someone criticizes him? That his is the fury of the egotist, not of Christ trashing the money stalls at Temple Mount? In any case, why is even the "better" type of anger superior to calmly explaining one's position to the Other? Barring that, whatever happened to the idea of a civil debate? I get that some of you are angry. Now stop acting like a two-year-old. This thing is not going to be fixed by breaking it. State your position, argue your points, and after the voting is done, get down to writing the best compromise possible, the one we all should have known was inevitable from the beginning. If you want to scream or pout, the sandbox is outside. Or, I guess, the RNC is in Cleveland. If there is one optimistic, policy oriented speech during the entire thing, I'll eat this typewriter. 

We never should have thought for one second that anger was a viable format for running a political party. If you wouldn't treat your co-workers or customers the way Trump denigrates his enemies (or even his allies sometimes), then you understand this implicitly. He clearly gets the most aggravated when challenged on his understanding of things. Aside from wanting to be the boss of the country, I don't think he really knows exactly what he wants to do in office. His plans are all over the map, contradicting at times Republican orthodoxy. I'm not convinced that his followers know exactly what they want, either, based on the comments I hear talked about on right-wing AM shows. I've no doubt that when the convention takes place they will be told what they want, but I think their anger has deeper roots than making America Great Again. What does that even mean, in practical terms? Which America is he referring to? Because there are clearly many Americas. Overwhelmingly his supporters respond to polls by saying that life has gotten worse over the past 70 years, and identify the 1950s as the best decade in our recent history. (38% of his voters in South Carolina say they wish the South had won the Civil War, too, according to Public Policy Polling. . . .) This astonishes me. Do we have, collectively, such an awful understanding of history that we are blind to the fact that unless you were white, male, and at least comfortably middle class, the 1950s kind of sucked? Or worse: do we understand this and just not care? I hope it's the first option, because all that will mean is that we are idiots. If it's the latter... then I really hope we are actually in decline, because such a people would be far too evil to have this many nukes.

Think for a moment about what made the 1950s so "great." What made the economy so super-charged? It was because of a raft of New Deal-era programs like the GI Bill, new rules demarcating maximum work hours and minimum wages, unemployment insurance, and Social Security. (All Democrat-inspired programs, by the way, but if you point this fact out to a Republican, their heads would probably explode.) These programs literally built our middle class, but they all intentionally left out minorities and women. Take Social Security, for instance. SS is basically old-age insurance, but it had to be implemented in a really foul way so as to gain the votes of southern Democrats who wanted to protect Jim Crow. Since a huge majority of the black Labor force in the south was involved in agriculture and domestic work, these occupations were cut out of Social Security. These exclusions lasted until the late 1950s, if I remember correctly. "Casual" or temporary workers were also left out of SS, which basically meant women. These are almost inexplicable omissions from a purely policy perspective, as these are precisely the sorts of occupations that most needed a way to save for retirement.

The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 was supposed to create a floor under wages and a ceiling over hours, yet it also excluded domestic workers and farm workers. Unions didn't help as much as you would expect, because the National Labor Relations Act excluded exactly the same sorts of occupations traditionally held by women and minorities. Even the implementation of the GI Bill was marred by racism and sexism, because the federal government handed responsibility for this to the states, meaning that many of the 900,000 African-Americans that served were routinely denied applications for business assistance. Those attempting to attend college were crowded into limited slots in segregated universities. Is this what we are trying to return to, I ask? How was any of this "great"? I guess I do not understand the appeal of nostalgia. It seems synonymous with having a poor memory. Perhaps it is my deeply ingrained pessimism that is at fault here: I can always remember that which was broken, rusted, smeared with refuse or blood, while sometimes completely omitting the flowers blooming next to the wreckage. This is a flaw in me. But so is the converse, to remember –or, to be more accurate, to misremember - only the positive. Memory isn't static. It shifts and morphs to fit current beliefs. Yesterday wasn't that great. If you think I'm wrong, look deeper.

Neither do I understand why conservatives think something as massively complex as a culture could be put in reverse. It took an uncountable number of different cultural streams, all mixing and twisting in immensely complicated ways, to create our modern social imaginary, or our sense of the normal expectations that we have of each other, the kind of common understanding that enables us to carry out the collective practices that make up our social life. This incorporates some sense of how we all fit together in carrying out the common practice. This understanding is both factual and "normative," that is, we have a sense of how things usually go, but this is interwoven with an idea of how they ought to go, what mis-steps would invalidate the process. You couldn't possibly reverse even a tiny percentage of the influences on our social imaginary. It doesn't work like that. We are dragged along the arrow of time, fated to witness the deaths of friends, family, ideas, institutions, political parties, religions; to see the glory days of our youths morph into knees that always ache and brains that stutter and stumble where they once waltzed. This is awful, I know. But raging against the inevitable isn't a sign of wisdom or valor, it's fantasy. Ideas die. The political wars that raged in the Victorian era aren't even bad jokes by this point; so, too, will be the conservative preoccupation with what two other adults are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms. Do these people even understand that they are already anachronisms? Is this what they are really mad about, perhaps? We have to be better than this. We have to see that all life and everything in it is impermanent, to see that this is all there is and then do the best we can to live in the presence of this truth. There is no going backward, only forward. To think otherwise is perhaps the root for much of the evil in the world today.

None of the above necessarily makes Hillary Clinton look any better, I realize. I felt the Bern, so I'm not terribly pleased with all of this mess. We've simply come to a place where you are going to have to vote for a liar - but let's not pretend that Hillary lying about her email server is in any way equivalent to the mountain of bullshit that Trump or his surrogates expel over the airwaves on a regular basis. We have a weird sort of false equivalence sickness rampaging across the nation right now, where both "sides" are blamed for every problem. Nobody is perfect, to be sure, and I have plenty of nits to pick with the Democratic Party. But it's not the Dems that have become so ideologically extreme that they scorn all compromise - it's the Republicans. It's not the Dems that are completely unmoved by a conventional understanding of facts, reason, science, open-mindedness, tolerance, secularity, or modernity - it's the Republicans. It wasn't the Dems that eliminated funding for the Office of Technology Assessment, Congress's highly respected, nonpartisan scientific research arm - it was Newt Gingrich, friend of Trump. Hillary may have lied a few times, but when Politico reporters Daniel Lippman, Darren Samuelsohn, and Isaac Arnsdorf fact-checked random 4.6 hour snippets of Trump speeches, they found more than five dozen untrue statements - an average of one every five minutes. Equivalence my ass. This is a guy that regularly brags about having written The Art of the Deal, despite the fact that the actual ghost writer's name is right there on the cover (to see more about Tony Schwartz and what he has to say about Trump after following him around for 18 months, see here). 

I find Trump's lies particularly galling on the subject of climate change, which he calls "a total hoax," "a canard," and "a total con job." Despite this public stance, he acknowledged the reality of climate change in a public filing in Ireland, where he was seeking permission to build a giant sea wall to protect his golf course against global warming and its ill effects. He certainly has a thing for walls, no? Climate change has become one of those all-or-nothing issues for me. Were I ever to be allowed to vote again, I could never vote Republican on this basis alone. Once again, ignorance of our past is becoming problematic. If you remember the battles scientists had against big business when attempting to prove to the public the dangers of leaded gasoline or cigarettes, you will find the following oddly familiar. Last year, journalists revealed the extent to which Exxon has misled shareholders and the public about what its product was doing to the world. It turns out - just as in the cases of leaded gasoline and cigarette smoke - the company had conducted massive levels of research on climate change, and knew very well that fossil fuel use was causing global temperatures to rise. For years, they funded organizations that attempted to muddy the waters on thousands of scientific studies that were published on the subject of a warming world. The Attorneys General of New York and the Virgin Islands subpoenaed Exxon in November, and Exxon ended up giving thousands of files to New York. It refused to comply with the requests to the Virgin Islands, perhaps because the territory, being an island, would have had an easier time than the state of New York on the issue of proving harm. Instead, the company countersued to block the subpoena.

They were not alone, as it turns out. Enter Ken Paxton, Republican Attorney General of Texas, stage far-right. Despite being under indictment himself for securities fraud, Paxton - using taxpayer money - filed a legal brief siding with Exxon, asking the court to put an end to "ridiculous" legal filings that "punish Exxon for holding an opinion on climate change that differed from theirs." That's right, folks. There's no such a thing as scientific proof, only "opinions," so they tried to make this into a First Amendment issue. Texas (Republican) congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (and a climate skeptic) is using his office to probe into a huge array of attorneys general, activist groups, and environmental sciences labs, because, again, they are infringing upon Exxon's First Amendment rights to free speech. This is exactly what the tobacco companies attempted to do a generation ago, after getting slammed with a 17.3 billion dollar settlement (weirdly, they are even using the exact same law firm: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison). Former Attorney General (and now number two Republican in the US Senate) John Cornyn spent the first two years of his time in office attempting to overturn this verdict. I literally couldn't invent a story this corrupt, and despite having their own share of stupid moments, you won't find the Dems doing anything even remotely this foul.

All of Exxon's and Paxton's tactics carefully sidestep the well-established fact that the First Amendment is not a shield for fraud, exactly what Exxon perpetrated on its shareholders when it knew its product was damaging the planet and told them otherwise. I find it bizarre that we are still having to fight this battle. I do see some Repubs crumbling, but not nearly enough. Now the mainstreamers aren't so much denying climate change outright, but attempt to dodge the issue by saying that they "aren't scientists." I want to scream at them sometimes: okay, you stupid bastards, if you aren't scientists, why aren't you listening to the actual scientists when they speak on this issue? Because they've all been saying pretty much the same thing for a long time. Morons.

You think all of that intransigence is bad, try talking to them about criminal justice reform. This is my second all-or-nothing issue. Neither party is perfect on this subject, and the sheer amount of work that needs to be undertaken is daunting. But don't pretend that any Republican is going to add anything constructive to this debate. I presume some of you care about this subject - otherwise, why would you be reading this site? Maybe you can't quite decide which is the lesser of the evils, or maybe you are simply not motivated to vote at all. If either of those is the case, consider voting for Clinton for me. It could literally save my life, and the lives of some of the other contributors to this site.

I told my friend Arnold a few months before he was killed that we were one new Supreme Court Justice away from abolition of the death penalty. I said that I thought the four Liberals were nearly ready to take on the issue as an 8th Amendment violation. Seven months after he was killed, the Glossip decision came down, showing us the path and proving that I was right on where some of the justices were. Two things needed to happen, I told him: for the Dems to continue holding the White House, and for Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, Thomas, or Roberts to retire or die. I honestly didn't expect the second part of that to happen for years. I don't hold any malice in my heart for Scalia. His clerks controlled the cases coming out of the 5th Circuit, and one of the reasons that Texas has killed so many more inmates than anyone else was that his clerks were writing really terrible summaries of the cases, meaning the SCOTUS rarely took one of them. For all that, I'm glad he's off the court, though I take no pleasure in his death. Unlike a lot of the pundits, it didn't surprise me at all that the Republican Senate refused to deal with Garland's nomination, as this is pretty much how they've been acting for years when something happened that they didn't like. But if Hillary wins in November, she will be able to nominate a Justice and have him or her confirmed by the spring of 2017 - just as I should be entering that court. I tend to think that abolition will come too late to help me, but you never really know. It's possible. I'm not attaching too much to this, but if you care in the slightest way about ending the death penalty in America, you better not even think about voting for that soft core Putin the Repubs nominated. If he gets to replace Scalia with one of the ultra-conservative blowhards the Heritage Foundation recommended to him, this thing will last easily another generation. If Hillary wins, it will be gone in five years, max. Put that in the bank.

This may be the most consequential election in my lifetime. I think scholars will look back on this past decade as a pivot point in US history - towards a more genuine pluralism, a sense of equality that is based in practice and on best intentions, a true shifting towards secularity and the immanent frame and away from a retrograde obsession for traditional power structures. It sounds grandiose, but history really is watching. You seldom have such a distinct set of options. Listen to the conventions. I'm going out on a limb here, but I feel pretty confident that the RNC is going to be dominated by nearly apocalyptically dark themes, of division and intolerance and fear. The DNC will be about hope and nuance and details on how to irenically solve the complex problems we face. It's easy to be fearful, to be angry. I know it's hard not to feel despair, but I also know that despair is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you feel it, you will find it wherever you look. And that is no way to run a nation.

Thomas Whitaker 999522
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Bridge said...

I wouldn't despair just yet Thomas. Hillary is going to win because she is the lesser evil to most people. She's also an unscrupulous liar who couldn't say she was against the death penalty to Ricky Jackson, an exoneree who spent almost four decades on death row when he questioned her on it.

Still I hope for everyone's sake she gets to be the next President. The tide is turning for Trump.

Joe said...

Always great to see a post from Thomas. It doesn't happen often enough of late. I am eagerly awaiting more "No Mercy For Dogs" installments also.

As for Trump, I think his success so far in this ejection is based on three factors:

1) A piss poor collection of other GOP candidates.
2) The unpopularity of Hilary Clinton.
3) Frustration with GOP voters with "the traditional GOP", which is perceived as ineffective in dealing with issues that are of great concern to them, such as illegal immigration.

I think his outrageous comments about Mexican illegal immigrants is probably what appeals to a lot of his supporters.

I think Trump supporters interpret phrases like "take our country back" and "make America great again" as "make America overwhelmingly white again". They appear to think that a Trump administration would somehow quickly put an end to illegal immigration and send all those presently here illegally back. And end political correctness. Or something.

A Trump presidency would be an unprecedented disaster. I think the Hitler comparisons are a tad overblown. Trump isn't a budding Hitler; he's just a crude buffoon who is immensely unqualified for the office of president.

Though to paraphrase an old Steve Martin joke, I do believe Trump can make this country what it once was; an arctic wasteland.

[Steve Martin made that quip about Reagan on SNL back when he's as running for president.]

In any event, I'm somewhat more than cautiously optimistic that Hillary will win, and probably win big.

In recent elections, winning a substantial if small portion of the Hispanic vote has been a critical element of the formula for GOP electoral success, and Trump has utterly burned that bridge.

Thank you for your post Thomas; always great to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

Mixed feelings about both of the major candidates myself.
One as bad as the other in my opinion. Hillary and Donald -
not much to chòose from between those two. Power hungry,
both of them..

How about the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson?
Libertarians are clear about their opposition to
the death penalty. I believe the only party that is clear, in fact.

Thank you, Thomas for sharing your always interesting thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I just recently stumbled upon your work and it has been a great read. Thank you so much for posting your thoughts. I haven't had time to explore all of your works, but so far it has been extremely interesting. I don't have much to comment on just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to write and publish.

Anonymous said...

I echo your frustrations with how people seem to lack even the ability to comprehend logic or common sense - because it isn't common sense to them is it? This rising opposition towards anything considered remotely 'academic' or 'intellectual' is depressing, yet not surprising. Funnily enough, one of your articles that lead me to this blog was full of comments calling it 'pseudo-intellectual' bullshit, 'someone trying to sound smarter than they actually are', a 'self-absorbed, narcissistic douche'.

It's really sad...this hatred and rejection of the things we can't understand, the things we can't comprehend. People like to paint things black and white, simplify the complex stuff down into a single sentence (make America great again? Whoever thought slogans and catch-phrases for political campaigns was a good idea should be shot honestly...when did politics become a consumerist shitstorm). Personally, I think this sort of reductionist way of thinking is worrying and downright dangerous.

Anyway, I could rant more but you do it so much more eloquently than I can! Please do keep writing, it's a pleasure to read.

Anonymous said...

yes are always a pleasure to read and this one.....I think is your best..... at least best written truth on a very sad subject.