Saturday, November 26, 2016

News and Updates

1. Yesterday was officially our 21st anniversary, although we have often counted “the Saturday after Thanksgiving” as the day of observance so today will work just as well.  Our marriage is officially old enough to drink!   If you had to hang around with me for that long, you’d be glad for that too.  Here’s to Kim and all we share, and to many more such anniversaries.

2. We had a pretty low-key day of it, really.  We dug out the Settlers of Catan game that our friends Joshua, Abby and Zach gave us this summer and learned how to play it (finally).  Tabitha won, in the end.  And all four of us went out to dinner at the HuHot Mongolian Grill that opened recently here in Our Little Town.  We like that place because the food is tasty and it’s fun to watch them make it, and they are very conscientious when it comes to food allergies – they have a whole system in place just for that.  So, a good day.

3. We had a lovely and politics-free Thanksgiving over at my brother-in-law’s, where most of Kim’s side of the family (and much of my sister-in-law’s as well) gathered for food and conversation.  I am thankful for many things, and it is good to be reminded of that these days.

4. It is a bit melancholy to eat an animal that you raised yourself, though, even if it was livestock and that’s why you raised it.  Popeye was one of my favorites of the turkeys this year – she was the adventurous one who could be counted on to explore her surroundings when the rest of them were huddled in a corner.  But, as the Native American tradition has it, you need to honor the sacrifice of the animal with gratitude, and so we did.  She was, it must be said, delicious.

5. As was Jamaica, another of my favorites, who had been in our freezer since last year and who we finally got around to cooking in October.  So to all the militant vegetarians out there, yes, I know where my food comes from.

6. You would think with all the money that they had available for the new Harry Potter film they could have sprung for some light bulbs on set, but then you would be wrong.  I’m not sure why everything has to be half-lit and moody these days – perhaps a reflection of the times? – but it does make it harder for us middle-aged folks to follow the action.

7. Ewan, I’m not sure when I will get to revising that list of books for the early American republic that I posted a few years ago (thanks, Lucy, for reminding me of that one).  Here’s the link to the old post, though.  Since then I have read Gordon Wood’s Empire of Liberty and it was every bit as informative and illuminating as I had thought it would be, and I would definitely start there.  The bibliographic essay alone is probably worth the price of the book if you want to follow up on things – it’s a very good survey of the literature worth reading in that field that way.

8. The failed Trump administration is already setting new lows for presidential conduct and he hasn’t even been inaugurated yet.  In the three weeks since the election he’s gotten into a Twitter spat over a Broadway play (sweet dancing monkeys on a stick, won’t some grown-up please take away his Twitter account?), been forced to settle a lawsuit for defrauding thousands of students at his sham university (and bragged about how he got off cheap), named an outright white supremacist as his top advisor, nominated for Attorney General a man the GOP itself said was too racist to be a judge back in 1986, and named a Secretary of Education who is openly hostile to education for anyone other than people as wealthy as herself.  His most avid supporters, meanwhile, have been painting swastikas across the US like the neo-Nazis they are, and demanding that the rest of us fall in line.  Fuck that.  Fuck that sideways.  This nation fought for four years to stuff the Nazis back into Hell where they came from, and to tolerate their re-emergence would be treason to America.  It’s going to be a long four years, but what else can you expect when your nation is in line to be headed by a 70-year-old toddler?

9. I’m not a Mike Pence fan – anyone who seriously argues that American citizens should be treated as second-class creatures because his personal religious beliefs somehow matter more than the Constitution is a danger to the republic, as far as I am concerned – but credit where due.  He was the one in the audience for that Broadway play and his reaction to it (“that’s what freedom sounds like”) was entirely appropriate.  Now if he can only explain this to his boss.

10. All of the appliances in our kitchen have decided to die at once, possibly in response to the political situation, and so it has been an expensive fall.  But now we have a new refrigerator to replace the one we got second-hand when we got married – it will probably pay for itself in reduced electricity costs in about eighteen months, if my calculations for the old one are correct – and we have a new microwave to replace the one that suddenly didn’t have a door one morning.  Fortunately the new microwave fit onto the wall bracket for the old one, so there’s that.  Now everything is sleek and stainless steel and it’s going to take some time before I feel hip enough to go into my own kitchen.

11.  We got our passports renewed this week, because this is not the time to be without a passport.  Apparently we were not the only people who had this notion, as the County Clerk was doing land-office business in that regard.

12. It still amazes me that there are people who have never seen the WKRP in Cincinnati Thanksgiving episode.  Yes, it originally aired in 1978, but still – c’mon, people, it’s a classic of American arts!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Small Mysteries

As part of my ongoing campaign to maintain what little sanity I have left at this point by trying to find ways to escape, however briefly, the headlong rush into actual Fascism that the United States seems to be on these days, I decided to reread Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently series.

It’s a short series, after all – he only wrote two books about that character before he died an early and much lamented death.  And BBC America is running a series that they claim is “based upon” the books, though to be honest as far as I can tell the only things they took from the books are the name of the title character and the phrase “holistic detective.”  It’s not a bad series, don’t get me wrong.  It just has nothing really in common with the alleged source material.  It’s like powdered iced tea that way.

As a historian, I am trained to go to the sources.  Especially if they’re funny.  There are some good jokes hidden away in the Federalist Papers, but you need at least a Master’s degree to understand them, and if you try to explain them to outsiders the historians’ guild will send people to come by your house and discuss post-modernist readings of the Code of Hammurabi until your ears bleed.  We keep those jokes to ourselves.

So to the books I went.

The first Dirk Gently book went by pretty quickly and confirmed my general feeling that the television show was both enjoyably humorous and something else entirely from the television show, so I moved on to the second one.  The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul starts with a disaster at an airport that gets labeled an Act of God, and figuring out which god becomes important as the story progresses.  By the time it wraps up (somewhat hastily, as if Adams had gotten tired of the whole thing) you have also learned a great deal about why you do not want an angry eagle in your living room.  This is good advice, I think.

Tucked into the back of my copy of the book was the receipt from when I bought it, which I no doubt used as a bookmark the first time I read it.  Apparently I purchased my copy at a Barnes & Noble in New York City on May 1, 1990.  Paid cash for it, too.

This, of course, raised the question of just what I was doing in New York on May 1, 1990, other than buying this book.  I had no idea.

I have friends and family in New York these days, but they either didn’t live there at the time or I didn’t know them yet.  I have several other friends who have lived in New York but have moved on to other places, but most of them weren’t there at the time either.  There’s maybe one other friend who might have been there and who I might have visited – I do remember doing that at one point – but I had no idea if that was this trip or not.

I was finishing up my first year of graduate school in Pittsburgh at that point in my life.  Classes probably ended the week before, and I was about a month or so away from my first trip to England (indeed, my first airplane ride of any kind).  How I might have ended up in New York between those two events was unclear.

So it was a quandary.

It is a strange thing to find irrefutable evidence that you were at a given place at a specific time and have no recollection of this at all.

Eventually I worked out that the choir I was in during my time in Pittsburgh went on a tour around then, and we did in fact stop in New York.  I did get to see my one friend then, too.  I even have photos of some of this, though none of them include me (which is not unusual, really).  I will just have to trust that I took them, and that I did not just arbitrarily end up with someone else’s photos.  We even went to Philadelphia on that tour, and my dad came to one of our concerts.  We had a good time.

It was a pleasant mystery while it lasted.

Though it still leaves the mystery of just why I decided to take time out of a choir tour in New York City to buy a book.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Final Thoughts on the Election

I suppose I could spend the rest of the next four years outlining all of the many and varied ways in which the recent election will turn out to be a horrifying prelude to all sorts of trouble, but then the people who read this blog probably already know and the people who don’t know rarely read this blog.  And I need to write about other things, at least for a while.  I’m sure I’ll get back to the subject, as this space is here for me to write about whatever crosses my mind and it will cross my mind fairly often, but there you go.

So, for now, a few more or less final thoughts on the late unpleasantness:

1. There have been four times in American history – 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016 – where the winner of the popular vote lost the electoral vote and still became president.  Every single time it was a Republican snatching the office from a Democrat.  Every single time.  This does not include 1824, where the eventual president lost BOTH the popular vote and the electoral vote but still was declared the winner.  The Republican Party that we have today did not exist in 1824, but it was the Democrat who still lost.  One begins to sense a pattern.

2. As a straight white middle-class man I am well aware that this election will not affect me as much as it will many Americans, but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to stomach or any more acceptable.  It is morally bankrupt that the progress of the last half century in treating American citizens as American citizens is now being threatened by a violent and ignorant minority.  Privilege is knowing that this can pass me by if I let it.  Responsibility is using that privilege as a platform to do whatever is in my power to resist this immoral and un-American slide into monstrosity.  I was raised to be responsible.

3. Rest assured that I will treat the incoming president and his supporters with the same respect, dignity, and civility with which Barack Obama and his supporters were treated when the shoe was on the other foot. 

4. Apparently the incoming Trump Administration is so woefully unprepared that they may have to postpone the apocalypse by as much as a year.  Trump clearly never expected to win, and I rather doubt he wanted to win.  But here he is, dragging the swamp behind him, and utterly bewildered as to what to do now.  It is a sad thing that gross incompetence and dysfunctionality is the best we can hope for.

5. They’re already planning to eliminate Medicare and Social Security.  Do these ignorant buffoons not understand why those programs were put in place to begin with?  Do they not understand the consumer economy and how it functions?  Do they not have any sense of the history of the ancien regime and how it ended?  Apparently not.  For people who insist on being called conservatives they have very little grasp of the past they are claiming to conserve.  Also, given that so many of the people who voted for Trump are the ones most dependent on those programs, I wonder how it will turn out for them. 

6. The fact that Obama has said he would be doing extra tutoring for Trump has been the only silver lining in this dark cloud of post-election crisis.  Obama handled this nation with grace and effectiveness despite mindlessly fanatical opposition that bordered on and occasionally crossed over into subversion, and if there is anybody who might conceivably be able to keep the wheels from falling off the United States entirely at this point it would probably be him. 

7. Joe Biden memes: proof that comedy can survive even in the oncoming darkness.

8. The incoming Trump Administration is Not Normal.  It will never be Normal.  It can never be allowed to be Normal.  It represents a direct threat to the survival of the republic, a repudiation of everything the Founders strove to achieve, and a moral blot on the American character that will take generations to remove if it can be done at all.  Normalizing that is not an option.  It must be treated as the abhorrent aberration that it is, at all times.

9. You are who you associate with.  Enjoy the KKK and the Nazis, Trump supporters.  They speak for you now, whether you want them to or not.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

On the Petitions

Folks, stop.  Just … stop.

The Electoral College is not going to pick Hillary over the Donald.  You signing a petition is going to do exactly nothing of any value to anybody other than perhaps making you feel better for a tiny little space of time until you realize that you’ve been had. 

Plus now you’re on the watchlist of troublemakers when the transition to full-blown right-wing insanity is complete at the federal level in January.  Don’t believe me?  Ask those of us who signed the recall petition against Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) here in Wisconsin.  Once the recall was declared to have failed and the party in question continued in power, that petition was used as a handy checklist of people to strip of appointed positions, refuse to admit to taxpayer-funded functions, and otherwise deny political freedoms to here in the land of the free.  It’s a vengeful and petty lot, over there on the far right wing.

And Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) is a reasonable man compared to what’s coming down the pike.  Bear that in mind as well.  I’m already on enough of those lists, I suppose – that’s why I continue to write here, and will continue to do so until the First Amendment is repealed in practice or in actuality.  I’m not very bright that way.  You may or may not want to join me.

Look, I get it.  Handing over the most powerful office in the world to a man who is grotesquely unqualified, who has promised to destroy the global financial system, who has worked – to the extent he works at all – to weaken our national security and strengthen our enemies, who has never read the Constitution let alone has any intention of following it, who seeks to impose religious tests on both citizen and immigrant alike, who was publicly endorsed by every major neo-Nazi group in America and the KKK, who has already named a flat out white supremacist to lead his transition team, whose followers are even now harassing and bullying anybody who isn’t Just Like Them, is a frightening proposition and you’re grasping at any straw that provides hope.  I feel your pain.  I’ve spent the last week with a hole in my gut the size of the number of ballots that Hillary won the popular vote by.  These are dark times.

But this isn’t helping.

First of all, the whole idea is based on irrational thinking.  There aren’t that many faithless electors in the world.  Electors are chosen by the parties on the basis of party loyalty, and the GOP caved in like a cardboard submarine when it came to supporting a nominee that every living American president and ex-president including two of their own – three if you count their last unsuccessful nominee – publicly declared to be unfit for office.  They’ll line up, bend over, double-check the logo on their party membership cards, and shit out their vote for the guy holding their testicles in hock, and that will be that.

Second, it’s a stupid idea even if it works.

Yes, the Electoral College can vote for anybody they want.  They can vote for Hillary.  They can vote for Bernie.  Hell, they can vote for Cher, Madonna, or any number of people even if they have more than one name.  Having two or more names is not a disqualification under the Constitution!  They can do it!  They have the power!

But can you imagine the result?

There are no possible circumstances under which a president can come to power with less chance of preventing national collapse than those.  If the oil supply ran out on exactly the same day that everything and everyone in the capital were swept out to sea by a freak tsunami leaving only the Junior Undersecretary of Agriculture to lead this once-great nation in its darkest hour, that person would still have a better shot at putting together a functional government than a president chosen at random by the Electoral College.

That president would have no – zero, zip, nada – legitimacy whatsoever.  Nobody believes in neo-Harringtonian republicanism anymore.  Damned few people have ever even heard of it.  To overturn the results of an election that was decided by the rules of the game at the time the game was played and justify it by appealing to an ideology that died out in 1820 would just be inexplicable to most and flat usurpation to some.  The “most” would regard the new president as an interloper to be ignored and that president’s party and agenda would be destroyed by association.  The “some” is the same group of violent small-minded thugs who were already threatening revolution if the Donald lost normally.  This would just send them over the edge.

They’re not that far from the edge at the best of times.

The best a president chosen under those circumstances could hope for is a government meltdown that would make the last eight years of GOP-imposed obstruction, subversion, and stagnation look like the golden age of politics.  The worst would be straight up civil war.

What’s your Plan B for that?  Everyone has Plan B for when Plan A fails, but what about when Plan A succeeds?  What then?

There are people out there who think this is acceptable.  Who look forward to a meltdown, a crisis, a cleansing that would sweep out the old and leave a space for a new and brighter future.  Who want to see it all come crashing down so they can build something else back up that will meet their exacting specifications.

Those people are all over the internet.  And they are idiots.

Once you start a meltdown you have no control over it.  Once the cleansing begins you have no say over where it goes and who it declares to be in need of cleansing.  Once the violence starts you have no idea who will die – and die they will, make no mistake – nor do you have any idea when, if ever, there will be any semblance of stability afterward.  One of the great lessons of history is that things can get very ugly, very quickly and stay that way for a very, very long time.

And when that elusive stability is achieved?  Good luck telling me what it will look like.  Those who live by the crystal ball learn to eat ground glass.  The odds, however, are that it won’t be anything good.  Liberal democracy is a rare and recent idea, and the chances of it emerging spontaneously from a meltdown are slim indeed.

We have forgotten how fragile this all is.  How close it has come to collapse over the course of American history – more times than most people realize.  How easily it can still.  There is nothing inevitable or necessary about the United States.  Nothing at all.

It is easier to tear down than to build.  Never forget that.

I have no solutions to offer at present.  The next four years will be a time of trouble and tribulation for all who value the United States, the world, and the human beings who live there, and there is very little that I can see that brings me any consolation right now.

But frittering around with petitions to the Electoral College is just pointless and distracting.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Fragile Things

The Founding Fathers never thought the American republic would last very long.

They were good historians, the product of an age and culture that valued the lessons of the past – the actual past, rather than the hallucinatory wish-fulfillment fantasies masquerading as the past that are so popular these days – and if there was one undeniable fact about republics it was that they were not known for their longevity.  Indeed, depending on your definition of republic, at the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 the American republic may well have been the only one in the world.  The Founders certainly thought so.  As far as they were concerned, they looked out from their outpost on the western fringe of a broader trans-Atlantic civilization to find themselves alone, all of the previous republics having lived their brief candle-flicker lives and guttered out, leaving only a residue of monarchies, tyrannies, empires, and anarchies.

There are a lot of reasons for this, of course. 

For one thing, republics are complicated things. 

To check power and preserve liberty requires sophisticated political machinery, while most of the other alternatives simply require somebody with the power to order people around.  There will always be people willing to order people around, and there will always be people willing to be so ordered.  “The historian,” said Brian Tierney, “cannot fail to discern that the normal story of human government is indeed one of alternation between different forms of tyranny, with occasional interludes of anarchy.”  Tyranny and anarchy are what we do as human beings, because it’s easier than the alternatives.

For another thing, republics require virtuous leaders. 

“Virtue” didn’t mean then what it means today.  We regard virtue as a private quality, one that more or less equates to “without sin.”  Or at least as close as one can get to that.  Call it “avoiding sin” or “rejecting sin” if you want, which is close enough in this fallen world.  We also regard it overwhelmingly as a female quality for some reason, possibly because the concept was sexualized in the 19th century and became a synonym for virginity.

The Founders would have been greatly puzzled by this definition.  For them, virtue was a masculine characteristic – it comes from the same root stem as “virile,” after all – and it was a public quality or it was nothing.  For them, virtue was the ability of a man (and it was, pretty much by definition, a man) to put aside his petty private interests and work for the public good.  Private virtue was a contradiction in terms.

Few men could handle that kind of moral burden even then, and they were easily identified and eagerly sought.  But eventually a republic would run out of them, or simply not have enough of them at a critical time, and the whole thing would come crashing down.  Leaders would succumb to the temptation of their own private interests, power would run amok, and liberty would die.

We live in an age that worships private interests, one that regards the entire idea of the public good as suspicious and, in some loud and vulgar circles, un-American.  The GOP worships private interest in a frankly idolatrous manner – openly so – and while the Democrats tend to temper it with at least some nods toward the larger community, they don’t really contradict the basic point.  We are Lockean liberals, not republicans, and private interests and private virtues are the cornerstones of our world.

For a third thing, republics depend on well-informed and active citizens.

A republic needed citizens who could understand the issues at hand and act on them in appropriate and timely ways.  This is where the entire notion of a liberal arts education comes from, after all – the arts appropriate for a free citizen rather than a slave, the education of one who has earned and would keep his liberty.  For my dissertation research I read almost every issue of almost every newspaper published in Philadelphia between 1787 and 1801.  It was an era of vitriolic rhetoric and often violent disagreement.  Dueling, remember, was still legal in many places and rarely condemned even where it wasn’t.  And the one issue where the Federalist and Democratic Republican newspapers would reprint each other without snark or disapproval was their calls for public education, to create exactly the citizens necessary for the survival of the republic.

“Let the education of children become a common charge,” wrote Benjamin Franklin Bache – the editor of the Democratic Republican Aurora and General Advertiser and a man named after his grandfather.  “If a man has property and no children, still he should be taxed to pay for the education of other men’s children.  The more knowledge, the safer his property.  It is better protection than armies.”

It took until well into the 19th century for this to become common, but the seeds were there from the get-go.

We have done our best to dismantle this over the last few decades, however.  Public education is being systematically starved of funding, money which is diverted to charter schools which by every statistical method are either worse or at best no better at educating students, and education is once again on its way to becoming the province of a small elite.  Teachers are vilified – we’re the new welfare queens with part-time jobs that pay six figures annually while the good people of the nation go beggared and starving, if half the accusations I have had thrown at me here in Wisconsin by the government supposedly representing me are to be credited.  I live in a state that has taken more than two billion dollars out of k-12 and university education since the Governor Teabagger (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) came to power.  They’ve also taken money from libraries, public radio and television, and pretty much any institution that might create the well-informed and active citizens the Founders understood were critical to the survival of the republic.  One begins to see an agenda, after a while.

The Founders understood this would happen.  They knew that republics were fragile, ephemeral things.  They had hopes that this one would outlast its predecessors, that it would flourish and provide a beacon for liberty in a benighted world at least for a while (and if they did this in a nation economically dependent on race-based chattel slavery, well, irony is a right bitch isn’t it?).  But they knew it couldn’t last.

“Can it be supposed that this vast country, including the western territory, will one hundred fifty years hence remain one nation?” asked Nathanial Gorham, a representative to the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

No, his colleagues would have replied.  Obviously not.  Not united.  And not a republic.

Demogogues – unvirtuous men who flatter the fickle Many into giving them absolute power, pandering to their worst instincts and promising them that only they could magically solve every problem and make things great again – would arise and the republic would fall.  That was how it would be.  The only question was when, and the Constitution was written in an attempt to forestall that eventuality as long as possible.

This week I have thought long and hard about whether our time as a republic will continue.

Thanks to the intricate and unwieldy system of selecting presidents that the Founders put in specifically to ensure the selection of a virtuous leader for that most important office, the United States will soon be in the hands of the most grotesquely unqualified person ever to take the oath of office – a wannabe petit-Fascist with precisely the wrong set of personal attributes and political skills necessary for good governance and continued safety, and by any definition of the term an unvirtuous man.  The fact that he lost the popular vote and still won the election – the second time his party has benefited from this particular quirk in our system in sixteen years – is not relevant.  He’s the next president.

A disturbingly visible percentage of Donald Trump’s supporters have already gone on rampage, emboldened by the hatred he spewed across the American political landscape.  I’m sure they’re not the majority of his supporters, but they are the ones making themselves known the most, and I am inclined to take them at their word.  They have harassed and threatened those who are not straight white men and scrawled Nazi graffiti across the land of the free, seventy-five years after this country fought in the biggest war in human history to eradicate that ideology.  They have promised to undo a century of reforms and lead us back to an age when American citizens were treated as subordinate creatures based on their race or gender or specific religious beliefs.  They have confirmed every stereotype, every accusation, every fear from the campaign, and they seem to be glorying in it.  Like Vandals at the gates of Rome, they slaver in anticipation of the destruction of what they cannot understand or control.

And then they get pissy about why the rest of us aren’t just falling in line and uniting behind their candidate.  Given that a) these are the same folks who spent the last eight years fanatically and often subversively opposing the current president (a man who has twice actually won a majority of the popular vote – the first president to do that since Reagan), b) these are also the same folks who were threatening violence and revolution two weeks ago if their candidate didn’t win, and c) they were the ones promising violence and discrimination against anyone Not Just Like Them and have now demonstrated that they intend to carry out those promises, well, they can just continue to wonder because if they can’t figure it out there is no help for them.

This isn’t about right or left.  Not really.  Not particularly.

Had John Kasich or Marco Rubio or Jeb! Bush or even Rand Paul won the presidency, I’d be unhappy but resigned.  Had Ben Carson or Governor Teabagger of Wisconsin (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries) or that raging narcissistic theocrat Ted Cruz won, I’d be horrified but still not worried about the republic long term.  But neither of those things happened.

Donald Trump and the forces behind him represent an existential threat to the survival of the American republic.  He is a classic demagogue – the precise reason the Founders knew the American republic would not last – and he is shortly to be in power.

The Founders knew this would happen.

It took longer than they thought it would, and for that I suppose we should be grateful.

I am a pessimist by nature.  I’m from Philadelphia – it’s my birthright.  I can always hope I’m wrong here.  I make no claims to infallibility when it comes to forecasting the future.  Trust me – I’m a professional historian.  It’s hard enough to know the past.

I suspect it’s going to be a long four years for the republic, however.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Thoughts for a Dark Time

I voted weeks ago.

There was no way the GOP could say anything that would convince me to vote for its candidate, not after the embarrassment, subversion, and outright criminality that brought that candidate to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness.  Further, given the threats his thuggish supporters were making to intimidate voters so that they could steal the election for themselves, I saw no reason not to vote early.  Why deal with idiots when I don’t have to?

The irony, of course, is that stealing the election is precisely what they accuse my side of doing.  Over the last decade or two, I have found that looking at their accusations provides an uncannily accurate guide to what the GOP itself is actually doing.  Remember when they nominated a draft-dodging chicken-hawk who somehow managed to go AWOL from the Texas National Guard and ran him against a genuine combat veteran by impugning that veteran’s war record?  Remember how much they have whined about this election being rigged while at the same time enacting laws to suppress the vote of minorities, college students, and anyone not statistically likely to vote for the GOP? 

I do.

They’ve even bragged about that last point.  Just today, in fact, the North Carolina GOP put out a press release highlighting the success of what a Federal judge ruled was “insane” Jim-Crow-style racial restrictions on voting.  “This sounds like something that was put together in 1901,” said the judge, and he is absolutely correct.

But that’s what a party does when it understands that it cannot win a free and fair election.  They rig the game.  And then they scream about how it's the other side doing it.  It's tell-tale, for those who care to notice.

Four years ago, in what remains the most popular post ever on this blog, I went into some detail about why I would not be voting for any Republican candidates for the foreseeable future.  I did have some thought about revisiting that post for this election, just in case anything had changed.

But two things kept me from doing so.

First, nothing had changed.

I have a file of several hundred news articles, studies, surveys, and direct quotes – that’s called “evidence,” boys and girls, and even if it is an unpopular thing to bring up in today’s post-factual political environment some of us are just old-fashioned that way – that detail exactly how the GOP remains an existential threat to the survival of the American republic.

It remains a fiscal nightmare, perfectly willing to spend tax money but utterly incapable of overcoming the simple greed that animates their platform to chip in for anything themselves.  Nobody who believes in fiscal responsibility can possibly vote GOP.

It remains the party working hard to weaken the military.  They have rejected every single veterans’ bill offered in the last eight years, because that would make them have to reach into their own pockets to help the people they falsely praise.  They have worked hard to undermine national security, treaties, and allies.  Their conduct has, on occasion, approached uncomfortably close to treason, a word I do not use lightly.  Nobody who supports a strong military or values the security of the United States in a troubled world can possibly vote GOP.

It remains the party of community destruction, diligently working to turn Americans against each other by playing on fear, ignorance, and bigotry.  I will not be afraid.  I’m a goddamned American.  These colors do not run.  Nobody who values communities can possibly vote GOP.

It remains the party committed to the subjugation of women, to the creation of a blasphemous Dominionist theocracy erected on the ruins of American constitutional law, and to the destruction of public education.  It has intensified its attacks on democracy through gerrymandering, vote suppression, intimidation, and outright fraud.  It continues to assault the separation of powers, and it justifies the deliberate sabotage of the American government.  This, for example, is the group that refuses to do anything about the vacancy on the Supreme Court despite clear Constitutional requirements that it do so.  Nobody who values the survival of the republic can possibly vote GOP.

Don’t you hate it when people sucking on the taxpayer’s tit do no work?  Let the Senate know!

So nothing has changed.  Nothing was going to change.  And those who saw nothing wrong with that in 2012 weren’t going to be convinced by anything I wrote in 2016.

Second, they nominated the most grotesquely unqualified candidate for higher office ever put forward by a supposedly major party in American history.  This is a phenomenal achievement, in a way, given the parade of charlatans, boobs, halfwits, and mediocrities that have been foisted off on the American people for their judgment.  It’s not an achievement to be proud of, but it is an achievement nonetheless.

There are simply no words left to describe the Abomination Unto The Founders that is Donald Trump. 

He is a bloviating con artist who has proven utterly incapable of telling the truth about, well, anything – his factual accuracy rating from Politifact (a nonpartisan, Pulitzer-prize-winning source) was 9%, last time I checked.  Hillary came in around 50%, which is about average – that’s where Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders all were.  That’s where Jeb Bush, John Kasich, and Mitt Romney were too.  It’s higher than Ben Carson and Scott Walker, because those two are a drain on humanity, but overall 50% is the bipartisan norm for politicians.  Not the Donald.

He is a sexual predator with a court date in December for raping a child, and a petty racketeer with a November court date for fraud.  He is a serial bankrupt who has managed to take a fortune and make it worth 1/3 of what it would be worth if he had just left it alone in an index fund.  He makes cheating small businesses part of his basic strategy. 

He is so mentally unstable that his handlers finally had to take away his Twitter account.  Seriously – is this guy 12 or something?  As Barack Obama said, “If somebody can’t handle a Twitter account, they can’t handle the nuclear codes.”  Anyone who can be baited with a tweet does not have the maturity to be president.

He has set new standards of bigotry, which is hard to do in a country whose wealth was founded on slavery.  He has mocked the disabled, bragged about sexual assault, and made racism his calling card.  He has been endorsed by the KKK and by every major neo-Nazi organization in America, and one imagines such folk can recognize their own.

The fact that his supporters think this is perfectly fine is just another reason why nobody should ever forgive the Republican Party for bringing this pus-oozing sore on the ass of the American body politic into the mainstream.

He has worked diligently to weaken America’s strategic interests around the globe, praising dictators, alienating allies, and undermining the military.  I doubt he’s actually on Vladimir Putin’s payroll because Putin’s not that stupid, but he certainly is a willing stooge – what the Russians call a “useful idiot.” 

He has refused to release his tax returns, in violation of decades of tradition of American transparency.

He has yet to put forward a coherent idea or platform.  And the one they saddled him with at the Republican convention?  Don't make me laugh.  How can anyone take seriously a party that declares, in its platform, that pornography is a national crisis and then nominates for president a man who has appeared in a porn flick and whose wife has naked pictures all over the internet?  I don't criticize Donald or Melania for that, by the way - they're grown-ass adults and can do what they want with their bodies as long as I don't have to think about it too much - but the sheer blind hypocrisy is gut-wrenching.

And yet with all that, he remains their candidate, and 40% of America will vote for him.  That may even be enough for him to win.  If that doesn’t make you weep for the future of the American republic, you’re not thinking clearly.

Seriously – anyone likely to vote for that level of destruction isn’t going to be convinced by anything I write.

Tomorrow it will all be over.

And then the next crisis will start.  Because if, as every responsible poll and statistician says, Clinton wins, the GOP will go into full toddler-level meltdown and do everything in its power to destroy functional government in the United States.  They may succeed.  They mostly already have.  It's not that big of a step to finish the job, really.

And if the Donald is declared the winner?

All bets are off.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Wait, Who Won? Seriously?

So the Cubs have won the World Series.

Think about that.

I’m not really a Cubs fan, even if I do live in a house full of them.  Whatever attention I care to devote to major league baseball these days goes to the Phillies, my hometown team.  But the Phillies haven’t been relevant since 2011 and were eliminated from contention for this year’s playoffs sometime in August 2015, and I refuse to cheer for the American League on principle, so you make do with what’s in front of you, I say.  Also, Bill Murray is a national treasure and he is a Cubs fan, so there’s that.  Go Cubs.  Why not.

This was a Series guaranteed to produce a strange outcome regardless of who won.  The Indians hadn’t won since 1948, despite going to the Series a couple of times in recent memory.  The Cubs hadn’t appeared in a World Series game since 1945 and hadn’t won since 1908.  A partial list of things that weren’t around the last time the Cubs won the World Series would include pre-sliced bread, World War I, paved interstate highways, the NFL, and the Soviet Union.  There were 46 states, and Teddy Roosevelt was still president then.  It’s been a while.

Statistically, one of those teams would have to win this year.  That’s how the game is played.

Kim is a Cubs fan.  It runs in the family.  Her brother Dave is actually in the Cubs Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, and the Smithsonian Institute for being such a diehard Cubs fan – he was at almost all of the playoff games this year, even the ones in Los Angeles.  Lauren will watch and cheer for the teams we like because she is polite that way, and even Tabitha got into it by the end.  It was nice to share the experience with them – going over the rules of the game (because baseball has some weird ones), answering questions, and enjoying the games together.  Bedtime was suspended for the duration.

We watched most of the Series, and I got to see the final out even if an extra-inning Game 7 rain delay made me question whether the baseball gods really wanted either of these teams to win it.  The fact that two franchises with such a long and rich history of heartbreak and failure were playing for a championship that one of them was guaranteed to win was clearly a violation of natural law and something fundamental in the universe would break if that happened.  This was the universe trying to save itself.  But they were good games, really.  Well played, generally tense and interesting, and entertaining even when the other guys won.

The Cubs have won the World Series.

Think about that.

Whatever they’re paying Theo Epstein it isn’t enough.  This is the guy who turned the Boston Red Sox around and built them to win their first World Series in 86 years, and then jumped ship to the Chicago Cubs and did the same thing for a franchise that hadn’t won in 108 years.  I hope he has business cards printed up that list his title as “Reanimator.”

It’s been a good century for the Losers, actually.  The Red Sox have won it three times since 2004.   The White Sox won in 2005, snapping a drought that was longer than Boston’s. The Phillies won in 2008 for just the second time in their 133-year history.  And now the Cubs.  Surely the Indians will win it all next year.  They must.

Baseball has long since fallen down the list of sports I watch and care about, but it can be a great game and it is nice to be reminded of that now and then.  It has a history unmatched in American sports, and as I get older I appreciate a game where so much of what matters is what isn't happening at any given moment.  One of the many things I don’t like about basketball is that it is essentially Short Attention Span Theater – bounce, bounce, score; bounce, bounce, score; bounce, bounce, score.  You have to watch a baseball game carefully and plan a few moves ahead in your mind.  I can see why Americans don’t like it as much as they used to.  But perhaps we should.

The Cubs – the Cubs, of all people – have won the World Series.

Think about that.

I wonder what John Scalzi is going to do now.  He writes SF/F books that are generally light, enjoyable reads.  His most popular series – the Old Man’s War series – is a thoughtful and not terribly jingoistic military space opera set several hundred years from now, and one of the running jokes in it as that the Cubs have still not won the Series.  And now they have.

There may well be something fundamentally broken about the universe now.  It's possible.  I look forward to earthquakes, plagues of locusts, and the return of Elvis to judge American Idol.  Weirder things have happened.  I saw one live last night.

The Cubs have won the World Series.

That’s a lot to think about.