Want Unity? Stop Lying

The violent, bloody siege of the Capital on 1/6/21 was the logical conclusion of the big lie Donald Trump has been telling in one form or another since last summer. The big lie, that the election was stolen from him, has been amplified by Republicans and right-wing media incessantly since Trump first broached the subject. The claim was ramped up following the election, and was bolstered first by frivolous lawsuits, then by calls to ignore or replace certified electors from swing states that voted for Biden, and finally by an attempted takeover of our government by extremists who heard the big lie, believed it, then acted on it.

During yesterday’s House impeachment debate, Republicans, one after the other, stepped up to the microphone and continued lying to the American people. They claimed that Trump didn’t incite the crowd and that it wasn’t Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol. They re-hashed arguments from the first impeachment, saying that the Mueller Report exonerated Trump and that it didn’t find any evidence of collusion.

On the way to his speech in Alamo, TX yesterday, Trump told people on Air Force One that he won the election in a landslide. Then this morning, Trump aid, Peter Navarro, told Fox News morning propogandist, Maria Bartiromo, that Donald Trump won the election, and he excused the insurrectionists who took over the Capitol last week, saying that they were simply standing up for election integrity.

Can we just stop with the lies already? Millions of Trump supporters are all ginned up because they think that their chosen candidate had the election stolen away from him. They believe this despite there being no evidence to back up their belief. They believe it despite more than 60 election-related lawsuits that were dismissed for lack of evidence. They believe it despite the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security conducting investigations and both finding there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

So, why do they believe the big lie? They believe it because Trump says it, Republicans amplify it, and right-wing media repeats it, over and over again.

The facts are not in dispute. All evidence indicates that the election was free and fair. Chris Krebs, former Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security, stated that the 2020 presidential election was the fairest and most transparent in our country’s history. That didn’t square with Trump’s position, so he fired Krebs and doubled down on the big lie.

According to Timothy Snyder, history professor at Yale University and expert on authoritarianism, this is how the big lie works:

“The claim that Trump won the election is a Big Lie.

A Big Lie changes reality. To believe it, people must disbelieve their senses, distrust their fellow citizens, and live in a world of faith.

A Big Lie demands conspiracy thinking, since all who doubt it are seen as traitors.

A Big Lie undoes a society, since it divides citizens into believers and unbelievers.

A Big Lie destroys democracy, since people who are convinced that nothing is true but the utterances of their leader ignore voting and its results.

A Big Lie must bring violence, as it has.

A Big Lie can never be told just by one person. Trump is the originator of this Big Lie, but it could never have flourished without his allies on Capitol Hill.

Political futures now depend on this Big Lie. Senators Hawley and Cruz are running for president on the basis of this Big Lie.

There is a cure for the Big Lie. Our elected representatives should tell the truth, without dissimulation, about the results of the 2020 election.

Politicians who do not tell the simple truth perpetuate the Big Lie, further an alternative reality, support conspiracy theories, weaken democracy, and foment violence far worse than that of January 6, 2021.”

We all want unity and healing. Our nation is hurting, and we need to come together to address the many challenging issues we face. But unity can not happen, and healing can not begin, until the people responsible for the attempted coup on our government are brought to justice. They must be held accountable before we can move forward. That accountability starts by telling the truth.

If Republicans’ calls for unity and healing are to carry any weight, they must first accept that the election was free and fair, and that the results are credible and accurate. They must announce this fact to their followers, and they must do it in a way that their followers can hear and accept.

They must denounce the terrorist attack on the Capitol, and they must announce that it was right-wing Trump supporters, not Antifa, that carried out the attack.

They must accept that Trump and many Republicans in Congress shared the big lie and incited the insurrectionists. The only way to undo the horrible damage done by the big lie and all of the lies that were told to support it is to tell the truth.

Telling the truth is just the first step, but it is necessary for other steps to follow. We cannot have a strong democracy and a thriving nation when half the population lives in a fantasy world devoid of verifiable facts and disconnected from reality. They trusted Trump, they trusted Republicans, they trusted right-wing media, and they were fed one lie after another. It’s understandable why they believe what they believe, and it’s logical (although unforgivable) that some acted on the lies they were fed. The only way to de-escalate the situation, to bring us all together, and to move forward as a unified nation is to provide all citizens with a shared reality. That can only happen when the lying stops, and the truth-telling begins.

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Things Will Never Be The Same

In the hours after terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York, I was sitting at my home in Wisconsin watching it all unfold on TV. At the time, we were hosting a foreign exchange student from Germany. She was a pretty cool customer, but I could tell by her fascination with the images on the television, that she was concerned, maybe even frightened, by what had happened earlier that day.

As we watched the news coverage and listened to journalists and pundits try to dissect the attack, Sophie, our foreign exchange student, asked me the question that was on everyone’s mind.

“What’s going to happen now?”

I was sitting in my favorite chair, holding my young son, and I remember thinking how badly I wanted to tell Sophie that everything was going to be alright. After all, she was just eighteen years old, and in the middle of a heinous, devastating terrorist attack, she was far away from home, far away from her parents, and far away from the things that anchored her in life. I wanted to reassure her, but I wasn’t willing to lie about what had happened that day.

“I don’t know what comes next,” I said. “But things will never be the same.”

That’s how I feel today about the insurrection that took place in Washington, DC this past week. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’m certain that things will never be the same.

Americans have been blessed with a stable, if imperfect, government for nearly 245 years. We’ve weathered depressions, pandemics, and wars, including a Civil War, but our country has survived, and at times, thrived. We can be forgiven if we’ve taken for granted the blessings of our enduring democracy, and the rights and freedoms that come with it. They are our birthright. What we’ve failed to understand is that these rights and freedoms are not automatic. They must be protected. If we don’t remain vigilant, they can be lost.

Because of our good fortune of living in a free, democratic country, we weren’t prepared for the rise of authoritarian sentiment. Many of us thought it couldn’t happen here. We knew the term coup d’état, but we thought it was reserved for other less enlightened countries. The thought of a coup in America never crossed our minds. So, when it walked up in broad daylight in the person of Donald Trump, most of us didn’t recognize it. Even as he violated democratic norms and bent the Constitution to the point of breaking, we still didn’t recognize, or couldn’t admit, that Trump was an existential threat to our country and our way of life.

Even now, after he incited a bloody insurrection that claimed the lives of five people, caused significant damage to the Capitol, and disrupted the workings of the Congress, many people still refuse to admit that what Trump and his supporters did to try to overturn a free and fair election was an attempted coup. These people make excuses, and lies, to deflect the fact that their favored president, on U.S. soil, called for an insurrection and led a bloody coup.

But there’s another aspect to what happened at our Capitol that I’m just now starting to come to grips with. It has taken a few days, but the emotions from the attack on our democracy are now running full speed.

I’m a proud American who loves our country and our democracy. I can be critical of our government, often harshly critical. But that’s only because of their failures to establish a more perfect union. I hate to see potential wasted, and often, our government fails to realize the potential that our American values and institutions promise. Even so, I am a proud American who marvels at our history (as flawed as it is at times) and has great hope for our future.

As a proud American, I was horrified watching our Capitol come under siege. It wasn’t just that insurrectionists had taken over the building. It was what the building represented. The Capitol is a symbol of freedom, a sanctuary of our republic, the cradle of our democracy. It is the People’s House, and represents, in all its monolithic splendor and architectural glory, our American ideals and the hopes of our nation. To see it overrun and desecrated by faux patriots, many of whom were hellbent on killing elected officials, including the Vice-President, was shocking and disheartening. This was not supposed to happen here, yet it was happening.

Since then, I have alternated between feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, and anger. There’s been a lot of anger, enough for everyone involved.

  • I’m angry at President Trump, who has consistently violated his oath of office, has fomented chaos, division, and violence for four years, and who has diminished the presidency and our country in the process;
  • I’m angry at the politicians who coddled the president, who lied (and continue to lie) about voter fraud, who worked to overturn a free and fair election, and who incited violence and insurrection;
  • I’m angry at the traitorous seditionists who defiled our Capitol and threatened (and continue to threaten) our democracy;
  • I’m angry at the law enforcement authorities who botched the job of protecting the Capitol;
  • I’m angry at our government, who still, five days later, has not held a press conference to tell us what’s going on with their investigations and what they’re doing to prevent a similar attack in the future.

My initial thoughts upon seeing the insurrection was about what we should do about it. I became analytical and thought about how we should punish those involved and make sure something like this never happens again. It was only later that the shock of what had happened wore off and I began to allow my emotions to come out. I know that seems backwards, but that’s how I’m built. Once the emotions started to flow, they flowed like a torrent.

I suspect it will be a long time before my emotions subside. As long as politicians keep trying to avoid responsibility for their actions and right-wing extremists continue to threaten our country and our democracy, I will remain angry and persistent in my hostility to their efforts and goals. They are antithetical to the values and ideals that built this country, and it is imperative, if we are to save our democracy, that we remain keenly on-guard to protect it from these anti-American, traitorous hordes.

Just like our nation, I want to know what comes next. Of course, that answer isn’t forthcoming, not anytime soon. But the one thing we can be sure of is, no matter what the future holds, things will never be the same.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

After a day like yesterday, how do we, as a nation, move forward?

This morning, I am struggling to find the words to adequately explain what we saw yesterday in DC. It’s easy to use words like “coup d’état” and “insurrection” to describe what happened in the Capitol, but those words only scratch the surface. To be sure, the words are accurate, but they fail to describe the emotions associated with the acts.

I am on the verge of disbelief. I know what I saw with my own eyes, but even after four years of the worst president in our country’s history, I was still unprepared to process what happened. I’m still trying to come to terms with how and why a putsch like this could happen in the United States. What I feel more confident about is how we must move forward if we are to avoid similar attempts to overthrow our government.

First, every single person who can be identified as involved in yesterday’s takeover of the Capitol must be tried, and if convicted, punished severely for their illegal actions. If anyone in the future thinks about following in the footsteps of these insurrectionists, they should know that they could pay a very high price.

Second, we need to know how security at the Capitol failed so miserably. Not only did Capitol police not prevent insurrectionists from entering the Capitol, in many cases, they assisted them. I’ve seen videos and photos of police taking selfies with the mob, moving barricades to make it easier for the mob to enter the Capitol, and helping people up the Capitol steps. This was a massive failure. Why did it happen? How did it happen? These protests were not a surprise. They had been planned for weeks. We need to know what happened so we can make sure it never happens again.

Third, politicians who shared easily debunked lies with the American people, and encouraged their supporters to rise up and “Stop the Steal” must be held accountable for spreading misinformation.

As an example, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) knew that there was no widespread voter fraud. He knew that courts across the country had already ruled on lawsuits claiming fraud and unconstitutional vote counting methods. He knew that objecting to electors from Pennsylvania would not only cause damage to our democracy, but that such objection would fail. Yet, he moved forward with his objection, even after insurrectionists had taken over the Capitol. His actions accomplished nothing other than ingratiating himself with Trump supporters. It was a cynical ploy that violated his oath, but Hawley moved forward with it anyway, putting his own selfish interests ahead of the needs of the country.

Of course, Josh Hawley wasn’t the only Congressperson spreading misinformation and inciting rioters. There are hundreds of them, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor-Greene (R-GA), Louis Gohmert (R-TX), etc. They must be held to account. It may not be possible to remove them from office until the next election, but in the meantime, they must be marginalized. The actions they took to destroy our democracy is a stain they should never be allowed to wash away.

Finally, Donald Trump must be held to account for his lies and criminal actions. In the short-term, he should be impeached (It’s probably too late) or removed under the 25th Amendment (more likely). After yesterday, we can not have a president who encouraged violence against the Congress and our democracy, and who still refuses to accept the results of the election. He’s only in office for two more weeks, but he can cause considerable chaos and damage to the country in that time. He has to go.

In the long-term, Trump’s time in office must be investigated and he must be held accountable for any illegal activity he participated in. Even if the incoming administration decides not to punish Trump (something I suspect Biden will do), as a nation, we must still have a full accounting of the actions, legal and illegal, that occurred on Trump’s watch.

These are easy and obvious calls to make. What is more difficult to figure out is, how do we as citizens move forward. At the moment, we live in a country where half of the citizens don’t share the same reality as the other half. Democracy cannot survive in a country where the citizens cannot agree on objective facts.

Trump and his supporters in Congress have spread misinformation that has disconnected half the population from reality, and which have radicalized a large group of people who are willing to attack and destroy our democracy. They have done this for selfish political purposes, and as of now, they have not had to answer for it.

Calling out and punishing politicians is the easy part. It should be the job of our elected officials to tell us the truth. Failing to do that should carry a high cost. But what about those of us not in Congress?

It would be easy to say that we need to tone down the rhetoric and accept the opinions of our fellow citizens. It seems nice, but how can those who love democracy co-exist with those hellbent on destroying it?

Our democracy is a fragile thing. We are only one election away from losing it. Those who would prefer an authoritarian government, such as those supporting Trump, can not be allowed to get a foothold in Congress or in the White House.

In other words, we should not endeavor to make a compromise with those that would damage or destroy our democracy. Rather than come together, we must crush the forces that push for authoritarianism, including far right-wing groups, white supremacist groups, neo-nazis, and others, including those who would prefer a kleptocracy, that would benefit the wealthy and burden the rest of us. We can give no quarter to these people. We cannot compromise nor can we attempt to appease. Our democracy cannot survive any accommodation with those that would destroy it.

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What is Socialism?

Leading up to the 2020 Presidential Election, I wrote a Facebook post explaining socialism. I was frustrated that so many people labeled almost every proposal they opposed as socialist. It had gotten so bad that TV news interviewers were beginning to question Democratic politicians as if they were socialists.

After making my first post on socialism, I thought of a different way to address the issue, so I wrote a second post on the definition of socialism. I’ve re-printed those posts below in hopes that it will help anyone who reads them better understand that not everything called socialist is actually socialist.

WHAT IS SOCIALISM (Part 1)

If you Google “What is socialism?” this is the answer you get:

“Socialism is a political, social and economic philosophy encompassing a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management of enterprises. It includes the political theories and movements associated with such systems. Social ownership can be public, collective, cooperative or of equity. While no single definition encapsulates many types of socialism, social ownership is the one common element.”

The reason I ask the question is because it seems a lot of people don’t know the answer. When discussing Medicare for All or extending public education through college or universal basic income (UBI), people opposed to such programs will often voice their opposition by calling the programs “socialist.” But are they really?

Compare the programs listed to the definition of socialism. Do any of the programs involve “social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management of enterprises?” The answer is “No.”

Take Medicare for All as an example. The same businesses that own the hospitals today will continue to own the hospitals, the same doctors will treat the patients, the same companies will produce the medical instruments and medicines. Unlike the Veterans Administration, in which the government owns the facilities and employs the doctors, nurses, and other staff, Medicare for All is simply a way of paying for healthcare. It removes the profit incentive of and government subsidies for private health insurance companies, but it doesn’t take ownership of those companies.

What about extending public education through college. If public K-12 isn’t socialism, how can extending it four additional years be socialism? It doesn’t involve taking over ownership of an industry (public schools exist alongside private schools) or having workers self-management of the enterprise. Again, not socialism.

Does UBI meet the definition of socialism? I’m not sure how it could. There is no social ownership of the means of production, no workers’ self-management of enterprises. Verdict: UBI is not socialist.

Programs many people term “socialist” are really just proposals designed to help citizens, paid for using taxpayer funding. That’s not socialist. Everything our government does, from the military to social security to the courts to the EPA, and everything in between, is paid for with taxpayer funding. It’s virtually the only way the government can pay for anything.

There may be reasons that people—conservatives in particular—can’t support these programs. I think they might be surprised to learn that there are good conservative arguments to support all three. That’s a discussion for another day. For today, I just want to make it clear that the programs that are being labeled as socialist actually aren’t socialist at all.

If you’re opposed to these or any other policy proposals, explain your opposition. But please, don’t label them as socialist. They’re not, and doing so does more to reveal your lack of understanding than it does to describe the proposal.

WHAT IS SOCIALISM (Part 2)

Yesterday, golfing legend Jack Nicklaus endorsed President Trump. This is not surprising. Nicklaus and Trump are friendly, and the golfer endorsed Trump in 2016 as well. In his statement endorsing the President, Nicklaus said that a Trump victory will prevent a “a socialist America and have the government run your life.”

Just a couple of nights earlier, CBS News reporter Norah O’Donnell, while interviewing vice-presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris, asked the Senator if she would bring a “socialist or progressive perspective” to the White House.

If you’ve watched TV at all in the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably seen Trump campaign commercials referring to the Biden/Harris ticket and their “socialist agenda.” Trump further warns during his rallies that Joe Biden is just a trojan horse for Harris and her “socialist allies” in Congress.

All of these instances reveal America’s enduring ignorance of socialism as a political philosophy. In an earlier post, I detailed the necessary elements of socialism, but let me go over that again quickly here:

“Socialism is a political, social and economic philosophy encompassing a range of economic and social systems characterized by social ownership of the means of production and workers’ self-management of enterprises. It includes the political theories and movements associated with such systems. Social ownership can be public, collective, cooperative or of equity. While no single definition encapsulates many types of socialism, social ownership is the one common element.”

For more than a century, Americans have feared the introduction of socialism into our system. The closest we ever came to electing a socialist leader was in the 1912 presidential election, when Eugene V. Dabs, an openly socialist candidate, won 6% of the vote. Not exactly a popular uprising. And to be fair, although Dabs was a self-proclaimed socialist, even he didn’t advocate for the government to take over the means of production in any industry.

Despite their never being a real threat of socialism grabbing a foothold in the United States, Americans have remained obsessed with the idea that socialism hides behind every progressive idea, which has allowed candidates from both parties to weaponize the word “socialism,” swinging it like a sword, while rendering it meaningless.

After the Civil War, in the 1870s, politicians warned that giving the vote to blacks was just a step on the road to socialism. They claimed that blacks, most of whom struggled through poverty, would vote for candidates who promised to give them money from the public coffers. This money could only be raised through property taxes, and property owners were almost exclusively whites. Politicians claimed this was a form of wealth redistribution, and called it socialism. But it wasn’t socialism then, and it isn’t socialism now.

As an aside, throughout American history, this idea that wealth redistribution equals “socialism” oddly only goes in one direction. When the government takes taxpayer money and gives it to corporations, no one yells “socialism.” When the administration in power changes the tax laws to benefit the wealthy, allowing them to pay less than their fair share in taxes, no one makes the charge that it is “creeping socialism.” They only cry “socialism” when the program or proposal benefits ordinary Americans.

Perhaps the most famous charge of “socialism” came after the Great Depression when FDR proposed New Deal legislation. Opponents cried “socialism” for every New Deal program, including Social Security, price supports for farmers, labor rights, public power (like the TVA), and FDIC insurance on bank accounts. In defending these programs, President Truman said “Socialism is their (conservatives) name for almost anything that helps all the people…(it’s) a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years.”

Truman wasn’t wrong. A few years later, when Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, Democrats in Congress proposed a federal program to distribute the vaccine free of charge to American schoolchildren. Conservatives, led by the unfortunately named Oveta Culp Hobby, Eisenhower’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, protested, saying such a scheme was socialized medicine.

Eisenhower himself was charged with the sin of socialism when he proposed the interstate highway system. Critics referred to the proposal as “creeping socialism” and said it was a slippery slope to removing authority and responsibility from the states.

In later years, conservatives railed against the introduction of Medicare, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and LBJ’s Great Society legislation. It’s somewhat ironic that when Trump—who accuses Biden of being a socialist—promises to protect Medicare, Social Security, and the ACA’s mandate to waive pre-existing conditions, he’s promising to protect programs that were once themselves called socialist programs.

The fact is, none of these programs are socialistic, nor is Medicare for All, expanding public education to college, universal basic income, nor the “Green New Deal.” They are progressive to be sure, but progressivism is not the same as socialism. In fact, progressivism is a capitalistic, democratic construct. These type of progressive programs seem far-left in the United States, but in Europe, they would be center-left, barely liberal at all.

We in the United States need to get over this idea that any proposal designed to help middle- and lower-class citizens is socialistic. These proposals are very much in keeping with our democratic ideals and traditions. There is nothing about democracy that says legislation can’t help ordinary citizens. In fact, that’s what democracy is all about.

So, the next time you hear the word “socialism” being lazily throw around to describe a proposal the speaker doesn’t like, just remember that socialism requires social ownership of the means of production. If the proposal doesn’t require that, then it isn’t socialism.

And continue to enjoy the interstate highway system, FDIC insurance on your bank accounts, Medicare, Social Security, and any number of other programs we take for granted in 2020. They didn’t usher in socialism to America once they became law, and neither will new proposals conservatives brand with that scary “S” word.

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My Beef With Breakfast Cereal

A few times in my life, I have converted to a keto diet. If you’re not familiar, a keto diet requires the dieter to eat little or no carbohydrates. This high protein, high fat, low/no carb diet goes by a few different names, but they are all essentially the same.

I like the idea of the keto diet. About 15-20 years ago, I tried a keto diet for the first time and it worked well. I enjoyed most of the foods I was eating, so it wasn’t too hard to stick to the diet. In more recent years, my results haven’t been quite as good, even though I’ve stuck to the diet very closely.

One of my main concerns about a keto diet was not being able to eat pizza or pasta, two of my favorite foods. But surprisingly, that wasn’t the part of the diet I found most difficult. The part of the diet I struggled with most was breakfast. I love bacon and eggs, but I don’t love it every day, and I don’t love cooking every morning. More than any other food, I missed breakfast cereal.

I haven’t been on a keto diet for quite some time, so these days, I’m enjoying eating breakfast cereal again. Earlier in my life, I was a big fan of Lucky Charms (They’re magically delicious) and Fruit Loops. Neither do much for me anymore. At various times I’ve enjoyed Frosted Mini Wheats, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Frosted Flakes. More recently, I’ve tried Reese’s Puffs, Hershey Kisses (the cereal, not the chocolate), and Cookie Crisp. They are all loaded with sugar, and I try my best not to overdo it on any of them.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite cereals was Life (“Hey, Mikey! He likes it!”). But in those halcyon days of my youth, the reason I liked them so much was that I would liberally coat them in refined sugar. The cereal was delicious, as was the sugar-milk that was left in the bowl when the cereal was gone. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

As an adult, I wasn’t going to coat my cereal in sugar, and I was afraid, because of that, I wouldn’t like Life anymore. I was wrong. I love Life cereal, even without the added sugar. It is now my “go to” breakfast food.

But not all is well in the world of breakfast cereals. As an adult, I have gotten into the habit of looking at the side of the cereal box for nutrition information (It’s not as exciting as it sounds). A serving of Life cereal contains 33g of carbohydrates, 8g from sugar. As far as breakfast cereals go, that’s not bad, until you consider how big they say an individual serving is. In an 18 oz box of Life, there are 12 servings. Really? Do you know anyone who only eats 1.5 oz of cereal when they have breakfast? I can get 3.5 (not 12) servings out of an 18 oz box of cereal. Each of my servings come out to about five ounces. Does that seem excessive to you?

Breakfast cereal is not the only food that reduces their serving size to a ridiculous level in order to make their nutrition facts seem more reasonable. Manufacturers do this with several types of food. But for some reason, it bothers me more with breakfast cereal. Most people eat about the same serving size when it comes to cereal. Granted, it may be less than my 5 oz helping, but it’s far more than the manufacturer’s made up 1.5 ounces. As best I can tell, most people eat about 4 oz per serving of cereal. That seems like a reasonable amount, but when you multiply the nutrition info out, the picture becomes pretty bleak.

For instance, a 4 oz serving of Life contains 88g of carbohydrates, 21.34g from sugar. That doesn’t sound so healthy, does it?

I’m not planning on changing my eating habits. Life is better (i.e. healthier) than a lot of cereals. But healthier isn’t the same as healthy. I just wish the cereal manufacturers would be more up front and honest about their product. I’d continue to eat it, and I wouldn’t feel like I’m being lied to. Unhealthy I can deal with, but I will not tolerate being lied to.

Oh, who am I kidding. Lie to me. Just keep the cereal coming.

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Understanding Trump Voters

I have heard that it is a fool’s errand to try to understand Trump voters. Some say that they defy understanding. Others say there’s nothing to understand, that they are just deplorable human beings filled with hate and rage. I can’t accept either of these points of view. I know too many people who support Trump who are decent, well-intentioned human beings, both friends and family members.

For me, there is a disconnect between the people I know and the support they have for Donald Trump, a man who has defiled the office he holds, diminished the reputation of the nation in the eyes of the world, has attacked and degraded anyone who doesn’t agree with him, especially woman and people of color, and has moved our nation rightward toward authoritarianism and fascism. The type of person Trump is seems like everything a decent person should oppose, yet I know many people I consider decent people who support him. I want to understand why.

Understanding Trump voters is especially difficult considering who the alternative was in our recent presidential election. By all accounts, Joe Biden is a profoundly decent man, the opposite of Donald Trump. He has a long history as a moderate Democrat who worked across party lines often. The Democrats couldn’t have run a more inoffensive candidate.

I know some Trump supporters will point to Kamala Harris and accuse her of being too liberal. But is that really a reason to support Trump or is it just a weak justification. I mean, she was candidate for Vice-President. Did 70 million Trump voters really support Trump because of their fear of the opposing vice-presidential candidate? I find that hard to believe. Every study I have ever read on the subject indicates that people don’t choose a presidential candidate based on the candidate for vice-president, let alone 70 million people. So, why did 70 million people support Trump?

By and large, Trump voters are non-college educated whites. Obviously, that is not true of every Trump voter, but it does describe Trump’s largest voting block. Non-college educated whites (men and women) made up 63% of the votes Trump received in the 2020 election, about the same as he received in 2016.

Even among non-college educated whites, they have various reasons for supporting Trump. One person may support Trump because of his tax policies, while another may give him their vote because of his embrace of white supremacists. Every voter is different. Having said that, non-college educated whites have had a similar experience living in the United States over the past 30-40 years.

Pre-1980, if you were a white person living in the United States, there was a good chance that you would make more money than your parents made. Consequently, there was an excellent chance that you would live a better lifestyle than the generations that came before you. That began to change in 1980.

One of the things the Reagan Administration did to change things for non-college educated whites was weaken the influence of unions. As Governor of California, Reagan opposed strikes by the United Farm workers, and later, while president, he busted PATCO, the union that represented air traffic controllers. He also appointed three members to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) who flipped the Board’s traditional support for collective bargaining. Unions began losing a disproportionate share of cases in front of the NLRB, and union busting consultants, firms hired by companies to get rid of unions, began popping up across the country.

These efforts resulted in lower wages for union workers, most of whom were non-college educated whites. In the early 1980s, wages routinely increased 7-9% per year. Those increases slowed beginning in the early days of the Reagan Administration, and today, America’s working class is seeing wage increases of just 2-3%. At a time of very modest wage gains for the working class, executive pay has skyrocketed. Since 1980, executive pay has increased more than 900%, while working class pay has increased about 14%.

At the same time, tax policy has increasingly favored the wealthy. This trend hit its zenith under President Trump, who’s tax policy, for the first time in American history, helped billionaires pay a lower tax rate than the working class. This change, in essence, worked to transfer wealth from the middle- and lower-class to the upper class.

These changes, whether having to do with the government’s stance on unions, tax policy, or the stagnation of worker’s wages, fell particularly hard on non-college educated whites. That doesn’t mean that it didn’t impact other members of the working class, like blacks and Hispanics. Of course, it did. The difference was that non-college educated whites were not used to the pain caused by these changes. For the most part, blacks and Hispanics were. This was a new experience for non-college educated whites, who, since the end of World War II, were used to reaping the benefits of government and economic changes, not paying the price for them.

Going back once again to 1980, most working-class non-college educated whites belonged to the Democratic Party. The Democrats were viewed as the party of the working class, while Republicans were viewed as the party of business and upper management. But in 1992, the Democrats nominated a different kind of Democrat. Bill Clinton was much more closely aligned with big money donors from Wall Street, not the working stiff who paid his union dues and expected Democrats to look out for him. Democrats also began to shift their focus from the white working-class voter to more marginalized and disadvantaged groups, such as minorities, gays, lesbians, and others. They began to support non-traditional family units, like single mothers and gay adoptive parents. The non-college educated white voter felt abandoned.

It was at this point that Republicans did something very smart. They reached out to the non-college educated white voter. They pointed out that illegal immigrants, primarily from Mexico, were coming into the country and stealing their jobs. They said that welfare cheats were stealing their hard-earned tax dollars. They said that Muslims were threatening their safety and security. They convinced the non-college educated white voter that the alienation and injustice they felt was caused by the poor, illegal immigrants, and Muslims. As a result, non-educated whites felt heard, and they began to leave the Democratic Party in favor of a Republican Party that understood them and had their back.

Of course, none of this was true. Illegal immigrants aren’t stealing anyone’s job (unless your job is to pick fruit or clean rooms in one of Trump’s hotels), the poor are not defrauding the government and stealing taxes paid by non-college educated white voters, and Muslims as a group do not pose a risk to the United States. Even so, non-college educated whites became Republicans, initially during the George W. Bush Administration, and then became the driving force behind a Trump presidency.

It’s unlikely that this change from Democrat to Republican would have been nearly as universal and would have stuck so completely without another change that took place beginning in the 1990s. The rise of conservative media, with radio talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy began what would become a conservative media industry. They were staunch conservatives, dedicated Republicans, and they mixed in just enough conspiracy theory to keep things interesting.

Fox News Channel (FNC) began broadcasting in 1996, and from the beginning, had a conservative bias, but was not the committed conservative mouthpiece we see today. In the early days of FNC, they broadcast 20-minute long single-issue news segments during the day, and in the evening presented opinion shows, such as The O’Reilly Report and Hannity & Combes, a political talk show that examined issues from both a conservative and liberal point of view.

As time went on, Fox News morphed into a full-on propaganda platform for Republicans. They were instrumental in getting Trump elected in 2016, and 90% of the time during his presidency, they operated as state TV. For four years, Trump lied, and Fox News amplified the lie. For non-college educated white voters who overwhelmingly got their news from FNC, they believed the lies. Trump created an alternative reality, FNC broadcast that alternative realty, and non-college educated white voters believed that alternative reality.

One example of this is a poll that was conducted of likely Trump voters prior to the 2020 election. The poll found that:

  • 95% of likely Trump voters believed Donald Trump would win the 2020 election;
  • 70% of likely Trump voters believed Donald Trump would win a landslide of Electoral College votes;
  • 48% of likely Trump voters believed Donald Trump would win a popular vote landslide

Objective reality indicated that none of these outcomes was likely. But, FNC was pushing the idea that Trump would win the election, and many of their guests indicated that his win would be an easy one. Non-college educated white voters believed what they were being told. Most either ignored objective reality or chose not to expose themselves to it at all, limiting their consumption of news and information to FNC and similarly biased sources. As a result, they believed a reality that didn’t exist, and were unprepared when actual objective reality intruded with a Biden victory.

What we are seeing now by both Trump and his supporters is the shock they are feeling to learn that their beliefs did not match objective reality. They’re still coming to grips with Trump’s loss, convinced that it had to have been caused by voter fraud, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support such a belief. The Trump camp is going to court claiming one theory of fraud or another, but they have been unable to provide any evidence to back up their claims. So far, as of this writing, the Trump team has filed ten lawsuits and they’ve lost all ten. Trump supporters, including non-college educated whites, have been unable to grasp the disconnect between their reality and objective reality. It is a hard pill to swallow when you learn that everything you’ve believed for four years or more has been wrong.

Of course, FNC and similar TV, radio, print, and digital outlets, are largely a response to conservatives’ belief that mainstream media has a liberal bias. I think it is fair to say that most mainstream media DOES have a liberal bias, but that doesn’t mean that the news they report isn’t truthful. In fact, independent research indicates that most mainstream media outlets provide reliable and factual information, although it may be presented with a liberal bias.

Conservative media is very different. In addition to having a conservative bias, they provide questionable information from unreliable sources. There’s a reason for this difference.

Matthew Sheffield is a former conservative activist and journalist who was co-creator of NewsBusters, an anti-media website, and founding online editor of the Washington Examiner, a conservative website and weekly magazine. He has a long history of complaining about mainstream media being unfair to conservative views. But when he started providing news from a conservative perspective himself, he was surprised to learn that his readers felt he wasn’t being anti-liberal enough. What he learned was that conservative consumers of news, in large part, weren’t interested in journalism. They wanted anti-liberal propaganda. In fact, Sheffield contends that conservatives don’t understand the purpose of journalism.

According to Sheffield, conservative media outlets are much more biased than outlets run by liberals. The reason is that, while liberals view the purpose of their work to be dissemination of truthful, well-sourced information, conservatives view their purpose to be making liberals look bad. In colloquial terms, the purpose of conservative media is to own the libs.

Matthew Sheffield: “While I was enmeshed in the conservative media tradition, I viewed lefty media thinkers like Jay Rosen from NYU as arguing that journalism was supposed to be liberally biased. I was wrong. I realized later that I didn’t understand that journalism is supposed to portray reality.

“This thought was phrased memorably by Stephen Colbert as “reality has a well-known liberal bias” which is an oversimplification but is more accurate than the conservative journalist view which is that media should promote and serve conservative politicians.

“I also discovered as I rose through the right-wing media ranks that most conservative media figures have no journalism training or desire to fact-check their own side. I also saw so many people think that reporting of information negative to GOP politicians was biased, even if it was true.

“I eventually realized that most people who run right-dominated media outlets see it as their DUTY to be unfair and to favor Republicans because doing so would somehow counteract perceived liberal bias.”

Is it any wonder that Trump voters, particularly non-college educated white voters, see the world very differently than the rest of us? I had a friend tell me once that he lives in a “red world,” meaning he restricts himself to a diet of conservative information and doesn’t poison himself with information from sources he views as liberal. He admitted that he got his information from just two sources, one of which was FNC. It should be no surprise then that what he believed was happening in the election was completely wrong. And why those beliefs now lead him to believe that if Trump lost, there had to have been voter fraud. There may not be any proof of voter fraud, but if what he has believed for months is correct (obviously, it isn’t) what other explanation could there be?

So, where does that leave us? I understand that Trump voters have felt forgotten and abandoned for years. I understand the government has shafted them and the Republican Party has lied to them about who they should blame. I also understand that the news sources they have relied on have been lying to them for years, feeding them a steady diet of anti-liberal, anti-Democratic lies that have turned them into conservative zealots. Their misinformed views may have been self-inflicted, yet I empathize with them. It must be difficult to develop beliefs over several years only to find out that they are based on lies and misinformation. For many, it’s easier and less painful to maintain the misinformed beliefs than it is to learn the truth.

And yet, even knowing all of this, I’m still having trouble understanding how anyone can support a man who admits to being a sexual abuser, who uses his power to separate children from their parents and then puts the kids into what amounts to a concentration camp, who cheats on his pregnant wife with a porn star, who says racist things and embraces white supremacists. Shouldn’t some of these things have opened their eyes and driven them away from Trump?

As I said earlier, I know a lot of Trump supporters who I like and respect. Their support for Trump is an outlier in their personality. If not for their support, I would be convinced that they are not racists, not misogynists, and not hateful. And yet, they do support Trump, and I have a hard time reconciling the people I know with their support for a man who possesses most of the personality traits we try to avoid. I want to understand them. I want to understand their support for Trump. But at the moment, I’m afraid I don’t.

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The Little Known History of “America, the Beautiful”

The song we know as “America the Beautiful” began life as a poem, originally entitled “Pikes Peak.” It was written in 1893 by Katherine Lee Bates, a college professor at Wellesley College. When Bates’ poem was first published in 1895 in a special 4th of July periodical, the name was changed to “America.”

Bates was a black woman and a lesbian, two things that were not always tolerated very well as she travelled the country. As she saw more of the United States and occasionally suffered the indignities of prejudice, she updated the poem to reflect her love of country, but also her disappointment in it failing to always live its ideals. The final version of the poem was written in 1911.

Bates’ early version of the poem was put to music, and by 1900, more than 75 versions had been written under various titles. In 1882, Samuel A. Ward wrote the music we are familiar with today, but with completely different lyrics. It wasn’t until after his death in 1903 that Bates’ words were paired with Ward’s music, and re-titled “America, the Beautiful.” The song immediately gained popularity as a church hymn and has remained basically unchanged since.

Most of us learned the lyrics to “America, the Beautiful” when we were kids, but I was interested in the differences between the song lyrics and Bates’ final version of her poem. The poem, while adoring of the country she loved, also voiced Bates’ wish for the United States to live its values, and she asked for God’s help in this endeavor.

This article in National Geographic gives a much more in depth view of Bates’ amazing life. Despite being a black women living in America in the late 1800s, she earned a college degree, travelled the world widely, and became a college professor. Her life is interesting and inspiring.

Here is the final version of Bates’ poem:

America (A Poem for July 4)

(1911 Version)

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

America! America!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Here’s one of the best and most famous versions of Bates’ and Ward’s song:

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The Future of the Supreme Court in the Wake of RBG’s Death

I’d like to add my voice to the chorus of people saying the President should be prohibited from nominating, and the Senate should not be allowed to confirm, a Supreme Court justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I’d like to, but I can’t. Here’s why:

The Constitution gives the president the right to nominate candidates to the Supreme Court. It further gives the Senate the duty to confirm or decline that candidate. That’s our system, and there’s nothing in the Constitution or law that indicates any period (i.e. just before an election) when this process is limited or does not apply.

Now, I can hear you screaming, “But what about Merrick Garland?”

For those not familiar with Merrick Garland, he was nominated for the Supreme Court to replace Justice Antonin Scalia by President Obama in 2016. The Republicans, who controlled the majority in the Senate, decided they were not going to hold confirmation hearings on Garland, claiming that it was too close to an election. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said that the American people should have a say, and with the election just around the corner, the next president should decide who to nominate.

There was no legal reason not to hold confirmation hearings, but it was within the Senate’s rights to withhold their confirmation. Garland’s nomination wasn’t officially declined, but it did eventually expire.

Not holding confirmation hearing caused quite an uproar. Democrats in particular were outraged that McConnell wouldn’t at least hold hearings, but there was little they could do.

When speaking about the Senate’s refusal to take up Garland’s nomination, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

After the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearing, Graham further stated, “I’ll tell you this – this may make you feel better, but I really don’t care – if an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait until the next election.”

Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) said, ““It has been 80 years since a Supreme Court vacancy was nominated and confirmed in an election year. There is a long tradition that you don’t do this in an election year.”

Several other senators, including Cory Gardner (R-CO), John Cornyn (R-TX), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) all went on the record saying the Senate should not hold confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court justice in the lead up to an election.

But within hours of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, McConnell, Graham, Cruz, and several other Senators have chimed in to say that Donald Trump should submit a nominee and the Senate should hold confirmation hearings before the election (or perhaps between the election and the inauguration in January 2021).

So, it’s clear. Republicans are hypocrites. Is that news? Not really. The days of statesmanship and fair dealing have been over for some time with these guys. They are liars and conmen who routinely choose party over country, but they are not abusing their power by holding nomination hearings.

In a more perfect world, Republicans would be true to their word and the commitments they made back in 2016. But that’s not the world we live in.

Will any Republicans show some honor and dignity, and refuse to confirm any nominee until after the election? Maybe. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have both voiced their reluctance to hold confirmation hearings. Susan Collins (R-ME) might join that group. If no more than three Republicans refuse to confirm Trump’s nominee, the Republicans will still have enough votes to seat another Supreme Court justice.

For Democrats, there is some light at the end of this particular tunnel. In the coming days, I expect Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others to announce their intention to take the following actions should the Republicans move forward with the confirmation:

  1. Democrats will move to admit Washington, DC and Puerto Rico as the 51st and 52nd states in the union. This will add four new senators, and with both areas being heavily Democratic, those new senators will also likely be Democratic.
  2. Democrats will vote to end the Senate filibuster, an arcane Senate rule that allows the minority party to hold up legislation not to their liking.
  3. Democrats will vote to enlarge the Supreme Court. There is no law that says the court has to have nine members, so if Democrats increased the court to 13, they could add enough liberal judges to swing the court to a one vote liberal majority.

In order for this to work for the Democrats, two rather big things have to happen in November:

  1. Joe Biden (D) has to win the presidency, and
  2. The Democrats must take back control of the Senate

Both things appear to be doable. Biden is leading in the polls at the moment, and Democrats are likely to pick up several seats in the Senate. Will it be enough to carry out their threat? Only time will tell.

I should point out that Democrats would rather not do any of the three things I listed above. They’d like to add Washington, DC and Puerto Rico as states, but they’d prefer to do it in a slower, more deliberative fashion. Ramming through statehood for Washington, DC and Puerto Rico is not anyone’s preference.

In addition, the filibuster is a long-standing process in the Senate, and members are reluctant to get rid of it. However, Democrats would have to get rid of it in order to prevent Republicans, who in this scenario would be in the minority, from blocking their attempts to enlarge the Supreme Court.

In fact, enlarging the court is something Democrats would rather avoid. Nobody wants to mess with the court for political reasons. That’s just not something either party particularly likes to do. The Supreme Court is supposed to be above politics. But, if the Republicans are willing to play politics with RBGs open seat, then the Democrats would likely be willing to respond in kind.

If Donald Trump is smart (I know this is up for debate), he’ll decide not to submit a nominee. Why would he do that? Think about it. If he wins in November, he’s going to have another four years and will have plenty of time to nominate someone to the Supreme Court after he starts his next term.

On the other hand, if he loses, or if the Senate switches to Democratic control, he’s no worse off than he is now, with a conservative leaning court. Replacing Ginsburg with a liberal justice will only maintain the court’s status quo, not flip it.

Of course, this presupposes that Democrats won’t go forward with their threats if Trump plays nice, but honestly, I think that’s a pretty good bet. The threat the Democrats would be making is distasteful to them. They don’t want to do it, and will likely only follow through with their threat if they are forced to.

I agree with all of those that say the Republicans shouldn’t confirm a candidate this late in Trump’s term, but I understand that they are well within their rights to do so. If Trump nominates a candidate and the Senate holds confirmation hearings, the Democrats will be forced to take aggressive, steps to counter the Republicans, which will be ugly, divisive, and utterly necessary.

There is a way to avoid this possibility, but I honestly don’t think that Trump or the Republicans are capable of doing the smart, right thing when it comes to Supreme Court nominations. They’re like a heroin addict being offered free dope. Even if they can think clearly enough to know taking the dope is a bad idea, they’re craving will override their brain and lead them to take it anyway. And when it comes to the Supreme Court, the Republicans have an insatiable craving.

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The Evolution of My Political Ideology

If you’ve read any of my recent social media posts concerning racial injustice, the upcoming election, and police brutality, it might surprise you to learn that I am a registered Republican. Not only that, the work I have done for political campaigns has been exclusively for Republicans. And yet, friends and acquaintances on social media are convinced that I am a liberal Democrat who hates our country.

I thought it might be interesting to track the progress of my political ideology from a young pup who once joined a political campaign as a way to impress a girl, to today, where my concern is much more for the future of our country than the future of my love life.

My first taste of politics wasn’t much of a taste at all. My father was friendly with Jack Hill, a former Congressman who was running for mayor in my hometown. I didn’t know anything about Hill or his politics, but he had been nice to my father, so when Dad asked me to handout leaflets for Hill, I agreed. That was it. One afternoon of handing out leaflets. I guess it was an introduction to politics, but just barely.

I point to the 1980 presidential election as the time I became politically aware. Until then, politics was something that was happening outside my view. I knew it was out there somewhere. I just never saw it.  In 1980, there was a lot of buzz about Ronald Reagan, who was taking on the incumbent, Jimmy Carter. But it was neither Reagan nor Carter that I went to work for. It was John Anderson, the Illinois Congressman who ran as a Republican in the presidential primary, and when he lost, became the candidate for the National Unity Party.

Truthfully, I didn’t know much about Anderson or his policies. What I did know was that Debbie Marsh (not her real name) was beautiful and she was active in Anderson’s campaign. I was smitten and thought I could get close to her  by joining the campaign as a volunteer. I was wrong. After working a couple of weekends for Anderson, I met Debbie’s older, taller-and-better-looking-than-me boyfriend, and I lost interest in the election. In case you’re not good at history, Anderson didn’t win.

A few years later, a friend recruited me to place yard signs for Tom Corcoran, who was running for Congress from Illinois as a Republican. I was in college at the time and had taken a couple of political science courses. To see the street level version of a political campaign piqued my interest. I went back to college and immediately signed up to work on the Congressional campaign of Kenneth McMillan, a Republican. McMillan ended up losing, but the experience made me want to get more involved in future campaigns.

In college, I started developing a political ideology. In 1980, Jimmy Carter was president, and the nation felt depressed. The economy was doing poorly, we had been humiliated in Iran, and we were suffering through an energy crisis that included rolling brown outs in major cities. It seemed that our best days were behind us.

Then along came Ronald Reagan. Almost immediately, our hostages were returned by Iran, and things started to look up. Reagan had a charisma and a belief in America as “a shining city on a hill” that was contagious. He stood toe-to-toe with Russia during the Cold War, and did it with a confidence I hadn’t noticed in previous presidents. I liked what I saw. And since he was a Republican, I became a Republican.

After college, I went to law school for a year, but wasn’t a very good student, and didn’t like the school I was attending. So, I quit law school and instead went to grad school to get a masters degree in political science. By this time, I had developed a real interest in political systems and campaigns.

A few years later, while living in St. Louis, I worked for Jack Buechner, a Republican, who was running for Congress. I was fortunate to get more involved with Jack’s campaign, participating in fundraising activities, planning campaign events, and distributing signs and leaflets. It was a good experience. Jack won, and at the celebration of his victory on election night, I remember feeling like I had found a home with my Republican colleagues.

At this point in my life, I would have been considered a moderate Republican. Fiscally, I was conservative, but more moderate on social issues. Even then, despite the fact that I believed in small government and balanced budgets, I felt that government should work for the benefit of its citizens, not corporations or special interests.

The 1980s were good years for Republicans. Reagan pulled the country back up from the Carter doldrums and made us feel good about ourselves again. This ability to make people feel good about themselves and their situation is underrated. I understand the importance of a politician’s policies, but as important as they are, policies are often dry and technical. They don’t inspire people to action. They don’t inspire confidence. They don’t inspire pride. Politicians do that. And that was Reagan’s strength.

I admit that I am largely blinded by the politics of the 1980s and early 1990s. I saw the good, but often overlooked the bad. I made excuses for some of the ill-considered policies and excesses of Republicans of that era. I wanted to support winners, so I couldn’t admit that some of the things they were doing were wrong. It’s something that I see so clearly these days with Trump supporters. They can never be critical of the president because it would mean that they were wrong to give him their support. They would rather continue down the wrong path than admit that they made a wrong turn.

In 1993, I became the state legislative coordinator for a large insurance company. It was in this position that my eyes were really opened. My job involved encouraging employees and associates to get involved in the political process, working with lobbyists to push our company’s agenda, and occasionally meeting with legislators and government officials to discuss issues critical to our company.

That job was a great experience, but after doing it for a while, it really soured me on politics. They say that if you love sausage, you should never watch it being made. Same thing with politics. Seeing how things really work, and how important money is to the process, can be really discouraging. I went into the process a wide-eyed noob, and came out a disgruntled, frustrated veteran.

Despite getting burned out, working the legislative job had tremendous value. With everything I saw and experienced, it took me some time to process it all. When I left the job, I avoided politics for several years. I didn’t watch TV news, and rarely read anything about politics in newspapers or magazines. I didn’t really know what was going on politically, and I certainly didn’t have a deep understanding of current events. I’ve never been happier. Some would call it ignorant bliss, but I would point out that ignorant bliss is still bliss.

It was during this period of intentional disconnection that my political ideology began to change. Reflecting on my experience as a legislative coordinator, I began to recognize how much the government tends to work for its own interests, not the citizens. To be sure, like any profession, there are good, altrustic people in politics, and there are bad, self-interested people. And there are a lot that exist in the gray area somewhere in the middle. The thing that they all have in common is that they need money to continue their political careers. Often (but not always), if you are coming to them without money, they are not particularly inclined to listen to you.

This realization really bothered me because I recognized that most people don’t have lobbyists or trade associations to push their issues. They don’t have the disposable income to pay for access. So, even though, theoretically, the government exists to serve and defend them, in practice, most people don’t have the wherewithal or the voice to petition the government.

I also was becoming increasingly disillusioned with the Republican party. My politics were beginning to evolve, but not in the same direction or at the same speed as the Republican Party. I think it was the Tea Party movement that really started pulling Republicans to the right. Not only that, but they influenced Republicans to be uncompromising in their positions. Particularly during the Obama years, Republicans in Congress became the party of obstruction. Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell made it clear that his mission was to obstruct any legislation from passing, with the goal of making Obama a one-term president.

This statement by McConnell made it clear that he viewed his job first as political, and second as legislative. He wasn’t interested in governing. He wanted to thwart the re-election of his “enemy” He had chosen party over country.

For eight years, McConnell and the Republics did everything in their power to prevent legislation from passing. They became more and more intransigent, refusing to work with Obama and the Democrats. There are plenty of reasons to criticize Obama for the things he failed to accomplish during his two-terms in office, but Republicans deserve the lion’s share of the blame for simply refusing to do their jobs, hoping their bad faith efforts would reflect badly on their opponents.

Even now, with the nation suffering through a pandemic, high unemployment, our economy in free fall, and the president actively working to interfere in the upcoming election by, among other things, destroying the post office, McConnell still refuses to consider legislation to address any of these issues. He continues to choose party over country, and his Republican colleagues and supporters love him for it.

My political ideology was already changing before Trump landed on the political scene, but that change significantly accelerated upon his election. Trump is the worst of us. He is narcissistic, greedy, self-interested, dishonest, and untrustworthy. He is unlike any president we have had in my lifetime, and I would argue he is the worst president in history. But he has performed one very important function: He has shown the country how unprepared we are for someone like him.  And he has made it clear that we need laws and processes to make sure it never happens again.

Although I’m still a registered Republican, I no longer consider myself part of the Republican Party. In fact, I would argue that the Republican Party doesn’t exist anymore. They are now the Trump Party. They just haven’t made it official by changing their name.

I don’t particularly like labels. I’m no longer a Republican, and I’m not a Democrat. I’m also neither conservative nor liberal. If I have to have a label, I choose “pragmatic.” I like policies and programs that work, that make sense for the whole country. In fact, I think it’s a little strange that people are so quick to label themselves with one political ideology or the other, as if the same political philosophy is the correct answer to every issue. I reject that way of thinking. I have no allegiance to any political party. My only allegiance is to the country and its citizens. The policies I support are those designed to help citizens and make the country stronger. The policies I oppose are those designed to enrich a few at the expense of the many, ultimately weaking the country

There are three issues in particular I am passionate about at the moment. The first is getting Donald Trump out of office. He is the most serious  threat our democracy has ever faced. In recent months, he has inched us closer to authoritarianism and fascism. And with each move he has made, he has remained unchecked by Republicans in Congress, emboldening him further. If he is elected for a second term, I don’t think our democracy will survive. Our country is truly at a crossroads.

Second, I am passionate about improving race relations in the United States. The first step is to make changes that guarantee black Americans equal rights and justice under the law. We should not have to protest for blacks to have the Constitutional rights and privileges they are already entitled to. The George Floyd murder in Minneapolis was a horrible thing, but I think it opened a window for us to really address the issue of race in America. It’s well past time we made changes.

Third—and related to number two—is the issue of police brutality, especially against black males. This is a difficult issue to address, because the police, as a group, don’t believe they have a problem. It is also difficult because I, like a lot of people, know cops who are good, decent, hard-working, caring folks who want to do a good job for their communities. It’s hard to be critical of people you like and admire. Even so, as if it wasn’t obvious before, the death of George Floyd and the protests against police brutality that have been met with more brutality by law enforcement underscores how crucial this issue is.

There are two other issues that I’m passionae about, but haven’t talked about much yet. That is, universal healthcare and income inequality. There are good, conservative arguments to support both issues. I won’t bore you with those reasons now, but I expect to be talking about both much more in the future.

I have been very vocal on social media about these first three issues, but let me pull back the curtain a little bit to let you in on a little secret. I don’t like writing about politics. I don’t like writing about anything controversial. I used to not bring up political issues on social media at all. But the stakes are too high to remain quiet.

Remember how I said earlier that I was much happier when I didn’t follow the news or stay up on current events? Well, that is still the case. I know I would be much happier if I just sat out this election and didn’t comment on these issues. Truth is, because of my station in life, I have the privilege to ignore the election and remain silent on the issues facing us as a country. I’m a straight white male with a decent income and a safety net should things go wrong. Whatever Trump does to our country, I will probably be okay, or at least won’t be as affected as some. If race relations or police brutality aren’t resolved, its probably not going to impact me. But that wouldn’t be very responsible of me, would it? I have a voice and a platform (as small as it is), so I feel an obligation to speak up.

To quote the Bible, “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). I have been blessed in life. That’s why I feel an obligation to try to make our country and our world a better place, and to advocate for “the least among us,” the sick, the poor, the downtrodden, and anyone else who needs a voice.

Put another way, as Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” I want to be a good man, so I’m obliged to be involved, raise my voice, and take action.

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A Long Overdue Update

It’s been a while since I posted anything on here. It’s been a crazy time. With the pandemic, I’ve spent the vast majority of my time in the house, not venturing out for anything but groceries and an occasional errand. In theory, that should have given me plenty of time to write. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. My head just hasn’t been in the game. But I feel the tide turning. My plan is to write more often here on the blog as a way of rebuilding that writing muscle, and with the intent of using that stronger muscle to get back to my in-progress books.

So, let me tell you a little about those books. The first is tentatively titled Second Chances. It’s about a high school basketball team from the 80s. They go to the state championship, but lose to a team that is discovered to have cheated, having two ineligible older players. The scheme is revealed, but the state athletic association fails to adequately punish the cheaters, leaving the kids from the losing team little salve for their wounds.

Now it’s thirty-seven years later and players from that losing team, all in their mid-50s, have moved on with their lives. Or have they? Each of the members of the team struggles with issues from their state championship loss years after it happened. They’ve tried to move on, built families and careers, but there’s an empty space in each of them that they haven’t been able to fill. That is, until one of them concocts the idea of putting the team back together to compete in the state senior Olympics.

The novel follows each of the players through their lives, looking at how the state championship loss so long ago affected them, and how putting the team back together changes things.

Publication of Second Chances was originally scheduled for 12/1/20, but I have a feeling it may be delayed a bit.

The second book is tentatively titled Paris, but I’m almost certain to change that. The book was inspired by the Jimmy Buffet song “He Went to Paris,” which in turn was inspired by the life of Eddie Balchowsky, a one-armed veteran of the Spanish-American War who went on to become an artist and musician in Chicago. Buffet isn’t the only one to write a song inspired by Eddie. So did Loudon Wainwright, Utah Phillips, and Dion Dimucci (of Dion and The Belmonts fame).

The story follows a starry-eyed dreamer as he graduates from college (a rarity in the 1920s) and travels to Paris to solve some of the mysteries that trouble his mind. There, he meets and befriends Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other members of The Lost Generation, all ex-pat artists who flocked to Paris after the first World War.

He gets a job as a newspaper reporter documenting the burgeoning blues scene, and meets an actress, who eventually becomes his wife. They move to England and he opens one of the first blues clubs in London. For a while, their life is idyllic. Their love deepens, they have a child, and the club prospers. But England is soon drawn into a war with Germany that leaves his life (and much of England) in tatters.

Paris (or whatever I end up calling it) is looking like it could become a novella. It still needs a lot of work, and I’m not sure when it will be published, although I’m leaning toward mid-to-late 2021.

In the coming days and weeks, I plan on writing much more here. In addition to book news, I want to start sharing more everyday things. In the past, I’ve avoided writing much about my life, except as it pertains to my books or short stories. I think I’d like to expand that a little by including my thoughts on other topics as well. Keep an eye out. We’ll see where this goes.

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