ReAction Jackson

15 03 2017

In these dark days of Trumpian travail, I seek bitter humor wherever I can find it.  I hit a vein in an Associated Press story picked up by my StarTribune. Coupled with a widely publicized picture of Trump looking “tough” at his desk, making a “deal” under a portrait of Andrew Jackson, it explains the comparisons being drawn between our post-factual, post-modern president and the seventh leader of the United States. Comparisons drawn by whom? Well, naturally, Trump himself. Just as naturally, the idea does not even originate with the notoriously poorly read chief exec.

If you read the article, you will see the portrait, and find the source of the comparison.  It’s Trump’s own “brain,” that unkempt, untruthful cross between Karl Rove and Rasputin, Steve Bannon. The hate-filled white supremacist lie merchant of Breitbart infame made the connection after Trump’s inaugural address. You remember – the one that was so negative it has acquired the informal title “American Carnage.”


OK, so Trump may resemble Jackson in that both were unconventional outsiders pursuing the presidency.  It also looks from portraits that Number Seven had a pretty impressive shock of hair. But it was gray, and probably natural.  And that’s about as good as the comparison gets.

Jackson was a commoner, and a true populist. Unlike Trump, who can best be described as a faux populist, more a huckster, a snake oil salesman and self-promoter in the P.T. Barnum tradition. And whereas Trump has become notorious for impulsiveness – how did you like those recent Saturday morning Tweets about wire tapps (sic)? – Jackson, before he became president, actually showed remarkable patience when a prior presidential election was stolen from him through unethical horse trading. Can you imagine the Donald standing by while something like this happened? Depriving him of the spotlight? Not gonna happen.

But where the comparison really breaks down is here. Every time Trump wraps an XXXL (estimated size) faux-military jacket around his ample gut and appears before genuine officers and enlisted personnel, talking tough and flashing his best Dirty-Harry squint, those in the know are reminded of just what a charlatan this guy really is.

And of course there is that privilege thing, though Trump would have us believe he is the ultimate self-made mogul. The AP piece tells that story succinctly.

“There are fundamental differences in the paths they took. Trump is a real estate mogul who came from wealth. Jackson was born into poverty and rose to become a wealthy lawyer and national hero after the War of 1812.”

Enough said. Why is this important? That’s easy. Chief strategist Bannon may be evil and devious, but he is no dummy. And after all, he is the thoughtful brain behind Trump’s bumbling id. And we know what Bannon has in store for America. And part of Bannon’s master plan is to continue to pass off Trump as some kind of champion of the little guy. This is easier if enough people are foolish enough to see him as the reincarnation of the tough-guy populist seventh president.  This would be a real hoot if it weren’t so real, and so fraught with real danger.

As Bannon’s agent – because that’s what he is – President Trump threatens, and has already begun, to take the country down a very dangerous path.  He is dismantling most of the federal government, and trying his damnedest to roll back countless regulations that make life safer, protect the public from rapacious behavior by greed-mongers (like the guy in the mirror at Trump Tower), and maintain a clean environment. He and his regime are hell-bent on replacing reality with “alternative facts.”

Unlike Trump, I read books – lots of books. And unlike some of my friends and allies, I think it is important to learn as much as we can about this dangerous self-dealing sociopath. The better to stop him before he achieves his destructive goals.

I recommend two reads.

The first is a book I merely have on order right now. That is David Cay Johnston’s The Making of Donald Trump. This book has new prominence with the revelation that Johnston is the source of the two pages of Trump’s 2005 tax return.  Note – Johnston says it was delivered to him. Speculation is that this little snapshot – which from some perspectives is quite positive for Trump – was leaked by someone very close to Trump.  Perhaps even DT himself.  Unable apparently to avoid every opportunity to display his clueless disingenuousness, Trump called Johnston “some reporter no one knows about.” Right. A consummate narcissist pretends no one knows about the  author of the most critical biography of said narcissist. Right.

The second book is one I’ve read and can strongly recommend.  Timothy O’Brien’s TrumpNation was actually completed in 2005, after the author had spent years closely observing Trump’s wild behavior, shady self-dealings and self-promotion. Trump actually sued O’Brien for libel – 5 billion dollars’ worth of libel – and lost. It has ample doses of wit, and the 2016 paperback edition includes a new introduction by the author.

If you read either of these critical biographies, you will not be able to escape the conclusion that we have been had. Bigly. Yoogely. And he who had us needs to be stopped before he causes more damage than he has already wrought.

But back to the dark humor, and the ludicrous effort to compare this self-aggrandizing, bullying son of privilege, this disingenuous destroyer of all breaks for the little guy, to  Andrew Jackson, a genuine populist and champion of commoners.  A prominent biography of “Old Hickory” is Jon Meacham’s “American Lion.”

A new biography, of the latter days of Donald, including his unlikely climb to the Oval Office, is waiting to be written. Here is the title, free of charge to anyone taking up the challenge:

“American Lyin’: The New Trail of Tears”

Gonna be terrific. Tremendously terrific. Believe me.


22 02 2017

On Feb. 22, a fellow on the radio reads tomorrow’s forecast for the Twin Cities.  “Colder,” he says, “high around 48.” Colder? Huh? Average high for Feb. 23 in the Twin Cities – 30. Colder?!

These globally warmed days, my inner voice responds with a John Lennon lyric almost anytime I hear a forecast.  “Just gimme some truth!”

Here’s the weather forecast I would deliver, given the chance.  “Continued very warm for this time of year tomorrow with a high of 48. That’s only 18 degrees above average, nothing like most of the last week. Especially compared with last Friday, when we broke the long-term record (going back to the late 1800s) for the date by eight freaking degrees! That temperature, if you are keeping score, kids, was 34 degrees above the old average. Hope you had your winter suntan lotion on!”

Who would have ever thought that humanity’s ongoing project, destabilizing the climate with our greenhouse gases, could be so much fun?

And the truth is, the fun is just beginning, folks. I have not yet read through the new EPA wrecker, er, uh, director’s emails – just made public – but the headlines say that Scott Pruitt is bed buddies with the oil industry. Surprised? Me neither.  After all, he has practically had a full-time job for many years, suing the EPA.

Evidence of our warping the climate is all around. A recent study described overall effects of man-made climate change on wildlife.  Not pretty. We are rapidly knocking natural processes way out of sync, and the critters can’t keep up with the pace.  Not that anyone in the oil-drunk Trump administration gives a good goddam.

But you don’t have to look very far to see the evidence.  This morning, I spotted, way up high, a flock of 30-40 geese, migrating northward. On Feb. 22. Over Minnesota.

februaryblossomsAnd back down on earth, this afternoon, I spotted open tree blossoms on the ground in my backyard. I collected a few, then looked up. There they were – many confused blooms in the preternatural February warmth. That’s what you see in the picture.

We can pretend all we want, trusting fairy tales from the likes of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. (Sure, he says, climate change is happening. But it is an engineering problem with an engineering solution. Right.) Or we can believe the happy-talk hogwash from the Heartland Institute (“Climate change is good for us!”), or the lying blowhard Marc Morano – chief data cherry picker if there ever was one.

But these are facts – and not alternative facts either. Global temperatures are steadily rising. Says who? Says NASA. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is rising, at an increasing rate. And the new administration is hell-bent on reversing virtually every environmental protection going back to Nixon and even Johnson.

We can feign pignorance (pretend-ignorance) to eternity, but scientific fact trumps (sorry) corporatist fantasy. We need a carbon fee and dividend system, and now.  We can’t wait four years (or, god forbid!) eight years for an administration that respects science.

As for right now, I gotta go.  Must batten down the hatches for those “colder” conditions tomorrow.  Only 18 degrees above average?  Brrrrrrrrrr!

Pignorance Ascending; Big Brother Not Required

28 01 2017

At a Goodwill store today, I thought I would have a little fun with the 30-something cashier. I told her there was a book published in 1949 which, just a few weeks ago, could no doubt be found in multiples among the store’s stacks of worn paperbacks. But of course currently there were zero copies. And I told her the book had suddenly shot to number one on the Amazon best-seller list. Did she know the book, I asked.

She did not. I strongly recommended she get herself a copy of George Orwell’s 1984 and read it. It would help her understand more clearly some things that are happening in Washington right now.

I plan to re-read my personal copy soon. Meanwhile, this Alternet piece taught me some things about Orwell’s historical context.

trump-teamI am more convinced than ever that we must fight the Trumps, the Conways, the Spicers and maybe especially the Bannons – the liars and bullies and truth-twisters and fact-suppressors.

Damn them all to liars’ hell, along with their smokescreens, diversions and “alternative facts.”

We must fight these democracy-destroying bastards so our outcome does not resemble the fate of 1984‘s protagonist, Winston Smith. His unforgivable crime? To think for himself and respect the truth. But in the end, he was broken by the authoritarian force of pignorance (pretend-ignorance), so that in the end, “He loved Big Brother.” After all, one of the guiding principles of Orwell’s dystopia was this ominous and prescient slogan – “Ignorance is strength.” Indeed.

If you have never done so, do yourself and the country this favor in the Era of Trump. Get your own copy of 1984. Shut off your pocket “telescreen.” Read the book, start to finish. Do so even if, like me, you have already read it more than once.

You will understand more clearly how the bullying bullshit merchants are trying to destroy our faith in the truth, and consolidate their authoritarian power. If they succeed in their obvious strategy to destroy the credibility and the very legitimacy of the media in the eyes of enough of the public, then they will be in control.  People will not know what is true – we are already well down that road – and they will be much more malleable and maybe, compliant. In other words, more inclined to believe the outrageous nonsense the Trumpsters spew, and buy into their destructive schemes.

We can’t let that happen.

Springing into Winter

6 01 2017

I write this post as a public service for anyone trying to survive our radically changed Northland winter, and as a (no doubt unheeded) wake-up call to anyone still inclined to believe the anti-science spewing from the Hired Liars who make up the lion’s share of Congress’s right wing.

On December 26 – nearly two weeks ago – I took my canine buddy, Dooley, on a customary trip to an off-leash dog park. We drove about four miles to Battle Creek, the largest park in our area – large enough that a stroll in normal conditions around its perimeter takes us about a half hour.  I knew the trails would be slippery, owing to the re-freeze of melted snow that followed our dreadful daylong Christmas rainstorm. So I sported my most reliably grabby galoshes.

As soon as we entered the park, I realized things were much worse than even I had expected.  I struggled to keep from slipping and falling on the refrozen slush and glare ice – the trails lacked even crusty snow remains for traction.  And this is no joke – the park’s back reaches are quite remote. A hiker with a broken knee, ankle or worse would be in deep trouble. Dooley, of course, cruised on his four legs. But the only way I avoided a slip and a cracked elbow or skull was to cling to the perimeter fence. And of course I loudly swore for the entire hour at our utterly wrecked winter, and our stubbornly pignorant (pretend-ignorant) corporate lords and politicians who have kept us on this ever-worsening path of destabilized weather and degraded environment. I don’t know if the swearing helped keep me safe, but it felt mighty good.

As I slipped/slid/swore to our start/finish point, a fellow cruised by me.   I stopped my tooth-gnashing to call to him, asking for his traction secret.  He said it was something called “yak tracks.” I asked, “What are those, $300 boots?“ No, he showed me, they are coils, or horizontal springs, that strap onto your boots and dig into the icy surface.  $20 at the hardware store, he explained.

Next day, I headed to my local Ace Hardware, and picked up the pair you see here attached to those galoshes.
Problem pretty much solved – they take away about 80-90 percent of the slippage, even on glare ice. Oh, and they are actually spelled YakTrax. And they are more effective than swearing.

Now why would I share this tale of woe and resolution?  Easy.  First, I am betting that many of my fellow Northland denizens are unfamiliar with these nifty little devices. Second, I have lived in Minnesota for 30 years, and spent a lot of winter time outdoors hiking, skiing and walking with my various dogs.  Somehow, I never needed YakTrax.  Now, I say they are the best $20 investment I have made in some time, and I would not do without them. Just a week after the Christmas storm, followed by re-freeze, we got a New Year’s rainstorm, which refroze with even nastier ice conditions.  And a minor snow event looms in our forecast for early next week, with the possibility of a mix with – you guessed it – more freezing rain.

Why would I be so worked up about this?  A few reasons. First, winter rain events here in the Twin Cities are perilous because winter, even its pathetic, globally-weakened present version, is still capable of temps that are plenty cold. And when the mercury plunges – it’s going to -10F tonight – in the immediate wake of rain, you know what happens. Glare ice, traffic accidents and broken bones. Second, winter rain events used to be rarer than a true statement by Donald Trump. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist. My admiration for him is yuge. Yuge.) Rare?  Don’t believe me.  Look here at the long-term climate records for the Twin Cities and see for yourself.  Random checks of winters long past (say, before 1990) show that rain in the winter hardly ever happened.  And now, winter rains occur every single winter, with most winters featuring multiple such events. I heard a quote on the radio from Mark Seeley, a highly respected  University of Minnesota climatologist, to the effect that wintertime rain events have increased FOURFOLD since 2000.  That’s right, a 400% increase! Anytime now, that would qualify as a trend methinks. Third, we humans just normalize every bloody thing.  Even otherwise observant, intelligent people, say things like, “Oh, this kind of thing is common.” But it’s NOT. Or at least it WAS not until the cumulative effects of our 100 million tons of daily CO2 emissions really started adding up. I grab these people by the lapels and say, “Pay attention, will you?!!!” (Just kidding about the lapels. So far.) And then there are the people who see the ice – itself a climate change symptom, at least in these parts – as evidence DISPROVING human-caused climate disruption.

Sometimes all you can do is slap your forehead and go take a strong drink. The drink eases the forehead pain, I have found.

So what is the point of all this?  For the long term, we really have two major tasks.  The first is adaptation to the changes we have already wrought to the climate system.  My YakTrax are just a minute individual example, but adaptation includes sea walls, storm water management systems, more efficient crop irrigation, etc.  And the second – the task that is in grave danger with Trump’s team of pignorant “dealmakers” and science-deniers about to take over – is to stop causing further damage to the climate by drastically reducing greenhouse emissions.  We have needed a carbon fee and dividend system for many years, but for the next four you can pretty well stick that idea in your exhaust pipe.

I started this post by calling it a public service. It truly is that – I am receiving no compensation, kickbacks or favors from the makers of YakTrax.  That’s more than you can say for the Hired Liars in Congress and the incoming Trump team of climate wreckers and their ties to Big Oil and Big Coal.

There will be lots more of this sort of pignorance, corruption and dirty dealing to write about, sad to say, in future posts. But for now, I have to head off for a strong drink.

Hail Hail the Fossil King

25 12 2016

And so it is Christmas.  A time of celebration and rejoicing.

A big, nasty blob of rain with embedded thunderstorms (!) now approaches my Twin Cities home. I can imagine no better time than right now to celebrate the legacy and future contributions to the destruction of winter as we knew it by a powerful “player”, “dealmaker” and “tough guy”who has done more than most to bring us to where we are right now.

I speak, of course, of our soon-to-be Secretary of State, ExxonMobil’s mogul supreme, Rex Tillerson.

Those descriptions in quotes, naturally, are the accolades that our volatile, petulant and self-dealing president-elect, Donald Trump, routinely heaps on his Cabinet nominees. Those are the essential job qualifications for Cabinet appointees. Those, plus the willingness to bow, scrape and kowtow to the Donald.  And explain away his wildly intemperate tweets. And then there is probably the most critical qualification – hostility to the mission of the department you are called to lead. Whether Tillerson meets that crucial requirement remains to be seen.  And if you think about it, he is probably the rare exception. State in Tillerson’s hands will rather be something valuable – a platform from which to be an even bigger “player” and “dealmaker.” For the United States? Maybe. For ExxonMobil? Hell yes. But I digress.

My beloved Minnesota is but one location on the globe. And what really matters is the overall change to the climate we have been unwittingly “engineering” with our over 100 million tons of CO2 emissions per day. But winter has utterly changed in these parts. Wintertime rain events in the state were formerly rare.  Now, they occur regularly.  Even when I first moved here in the mid-80s, winter was a reliable season. The snows would arrive somewhere between Halloween and Thanksgiving, and, give or take a few thaws, not recede until mid-March.

Now, I characterize our winter differently. It’s five months of March-like freeze and thaw, interrupted by occasional outbreaks of what used to be winter.  (And perhaps a summerlike thunderstorm on Xmas!)

I will save you further details in this post, but will say this – it ain’t just Minnesota, folks. As of this winter, temperatures at the North Pole have been spiking to a freakish 40 to 50 degrees above long-term averages – flirting with the melting temperature of 32 degrees. In winter.  If that’s not man-made climate disruption, nothing is.

But back to Tillerson’s contributions. He has spent his entire career (since 1975) with oil giant ExxonMobil. Starting as an engineer, he steadily climbed the ranks until his appointment as Chairman and CEO in 2006.  This is important information. It was not long after his arrival at the firm that the top execs of that era funded world-class scientific research on the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.  Those scientists told them the inconvenient truth – that man-made greenhouse gases were indeed warming the planet and destabilizing the climate, and the problem would get much worse if business as usual proceeded.  And what did those execs do?  We know now that they not only suppressed the truth, but used those very findings to craft and fund a masterful, devious anti-science propaganda campaign.  And despite a few funding shifts and public denials, that program continues to this day.


Does Tillerson get the blame for the creation of this shameful- planet endangering, 40-year campaign?  Of course not. But note that it has continued, with a few adjustments, on his watch. That’s 10 years if you were counting. And here is what is really interesting. Unlike the corporate lackeys in Congress whom I call Hired Liars – most prominently Senator James Inhofe and Representative Lamar Smith – Tillerson is wily enough to admit that man-made climate change is indeed a problem, and poses risks – though he does cavalierly dismiss them. Even more interesting is that he makes this admission while his massive oil company continues to sponsor lies and disinformation. So you have to ask, “What gives?”

ExxonMobil had a tremendous opportunity around 1980. They held the well-researched truth in hand. They might have announced the truth, and embarked on a strategic initiative to lead the world toward rapid transformation of the energy infrastructure, dramatically increasing the use of renewables – solar, wind, geothermal, wave, etc. They chose a radically different path instead.  And I think we know what Rex Tillerson will continue to do “instead,” despite his acknowledgment of the risks of man-made global warming.

How do we know this?  He is an oil man through and through.  While he admits the reality of man-made climate disruption, he dismissively labels it “an engineering problem, with an engineering solution.” That, my friends, is hubris on a monumental scale.  Clearly, mitigation – higher sea walls for coastal cities, moving key infrastructure to higher ground, building flood handling systems for increased torrential rain events – is part of the solution.  And other “engineering solutions,” of the geoengineering variety, are regularly discussed – but are dangerous soot-in-the-sky ideas at best. (Aside from as-yet undiscovered ways to suck CO2 from the atmosphere, I think they are crazy, and Michael Lemonick agrees.)

Tillerson and his club clearly intend to keep developing and burning fossil fuels at an ever-increasing rate.  And if you analyze his remarks, you see that he even uses a “humanitarian” angle. That is, it would be unfair, even inhumane, to deny developing countries the “low-cost” comforts of a fossil-fuel economy. Such a humanitarian, he is. You can read all about the nuances in his stance in a new article by Elliott Negin.  He suggests that Tillerson’s apparent grudging respect for science might itself be a con, a distraction to divert our attention from the real goal – find ever more fossil fuels, and burn them up, producing massive profits, damn the long-term consequences (and life on the planet for that matter) to hell. And if it is just a public-relations sham, isn’t that all the more reason to include him in the administration of our incoming president, who may prove to be the most consequential con artist of all time?

I believe a titan like Rex Tillerson merits an honorary title – something befitting his impact on the planet, today and far into the future.  I propose this – Petrosaurus Rex. The lord of the fossil-fuel dinosaurs.  And may he, or his work at least, soon suffer the same fate as the giant flesh-eating dinosaur that inspired that name.

Extinction is the well-deserved end of those who refuse to evolve.

Rejection by the Senate would be a mighty good start.

Intelligence? Don’t Pester the Dealmaker

12 12 2016

“I’m, like, a smart person, I don’t have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years.”

A complaint from a precocious six-year-old looking out at eight years of grade school? No. It’s an exact quote from a soon-to-be world leader with an attention span rivaling that six-year-old. Oh, and Donald Trump is explaining why he takes almost no briefings from US intelligence agencies. He has no time for such nonsense, you see. It would cut into his time spent on more important matters. Such as tweeting scorn for Alec Baldwin and Saturday Night Live, or leading “victory rallies,” or bragging about his “mandate” and spreading lies about millions of illegal voters in California robbing him of a popular vote victory. (Did you notice that he said EIGHT years? God save us).

All this is no surprise. He told us exactly what his approach to foreign policy would be, a seeming eternity ago in the endless campaign. Here’s a link describing his primary source of ideas and inspiration for dealing with the world.

So Trump’s dismissive approach to intelligence was already expected by those of us who have been paying attention to his rants these many months.  But what is surprising is how many otherwise intelligent citizens were hoodwinked into voting for this monster. When and how will they wake up to this colossal huckster remains to be seen.

Many are skeptical of America’s security apparatus in general, and the CIA in particular, and with good reason.  But Trump’s already-established practice of ignoring intelligence, and picking fights with the agencies, just can’t be good for the country.  Remember the last obvious time when our nation’s chief executive chose to ignore intelligence briefings? That was the summer of 2001. We all know how well that turned out. I fear we could be headed down a similar, but possibly shockingly more dangerous path right now.

But let’s return to Trump’s self-description. Based on his behavior as a candidate and a president-elect, he is nothing “like” a smart person. And he’s not just “like” a willful, impulsive, petulant, self-dealing, grandstanding narcissist who has no business leading a hotel, let alone a country. He is all that, and more.  And it adds up to this – the most spectacularly unqualified, and unspeakably dangerous person to take the post in the modern era, and maybe ever.

Considering who occupied the White House from 2001-2009, that is saying a LOT.

Bullshit Reigns

9 11 2016

So now we have a decidedly unconventional President-elect. Donald J. Trump, despite having held no public office of any kind, despite being buffeted by one controversy after another concerning his behavior, ethics and civic duties, despite his offering no discernible policy positions except vowing to tear up agreements and regulations, and despite spending a bewildering amount of time before crowds blathering about his poll numbers, has defied the odds and defeated heavily favored Hillary Clinton to become our 45th president. Bravo.

How did this happen?

Of course, in this immediate aftermath, theories abound. Maybe, just maybe, some consensus understanding will emerge down the road. But for now, we have many explanations – the Democrats running an unpopular, dynastic candidate; the smears against that candidate; blatant and latent misogyny; African Americans’ lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic choice; a tainted primary process sidelining the popular and populist Senator Bernie Sanders; “hidden” Trump votes; Russian meddling; the historic challenge candidates face when following a president from their own party; FBI Director James Comey’s ominous insinuations about further email disclosures (which were pulled, after damage was done, shortly before the election).

All of the above theories, and at least as many others, have kernels of truth.  But I am putting my money on two rationales.

First – Trump tapped into the strongest strain of outsider enthusiasm to bubble up in a long time.  By tapping into the justifiable anger of working-class, mostly white voters across the nation’s industrial midsection, and making vague promises about bringing back outsourced jobs, Trump was able to add Rust Belt states –Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania and – who expected this?! – Wisconsin – to the usual collection of reliably red states. These voters have legitimate grievances against modern economic realities of globalization and the failure of this country to properly prepare displaced workers for success in other realms. They wanted to deliver a message, a punch in the nose, to the established system and its keepers, and deliver they did.  Putting aside the fact that trusting in a self-dealing, big-talking charlatan like Trump is a dubious strategy, one thing is clear – they rejected the establishment candidate, Clinton, and here we are.

Second (and more significant in my mind) – Americans have been the subjects of a 35-year experiment in the denigration of expertise and facts.  This is a long-term Republican enterprise – that much is well documented. Despite the fact that so many Republican leaders, appalled by Trump’s bullying, bragging about sexual assault, and racist rhetoric, either pulled their support or went silent on their standard bearer, the party must take credit/blame for this cause of his triumph. How can I say this? Let’s review.

Since the 1980s, the Republican Party, with varying degrees of success, has promoted blatant untruths to such a shocking degree that many of us have an increasing difficulty telling the truth from the spin, lies and bullshit. Here are just a few examples. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Trickle-down economics – big tax cuts for the wealthy – will benefit everyone
  • The government is the problem
  • Al Gore bragged that he invented the Internet
  • The estate tax is really the “death tax” and could strike anyone wishing to bequeath small estates
  • George W. Bush is a genuine, horse-lovin’, brush-cuttin’ rancher – just the kind of down-home cowboy y’all would love to have a beer with
  • John Kerry was not a decorated Vietnam war hero
  • Evolution is “only a theory” and should compete in the classrooms with “intelligent design”
  • Global warming is – you name it – not happening, beneficial, no big deal, caused by nature, a liberal conspiracy, a Chinese hoax
  • Saddam Hussein’s Iraq has weapons of mass destruction
  • Taking out Saddam will be a quick operation, followed by Iraqis embracing our imposed “democracy”
  • Obama is coming for your guns
  • Obama was born in Kenya
  • Obama is Muslim
  • Hillary Clinton is coming for your guns (that’s right, a repeat greatest hit!)

That’s enough of that for now. After we have been fed this kind of nonsense, through loud, corporate-sponsored bullhorns all these many years, is it any wonder that people have a blurred understanding of the difference between facts and spin? After years of mainstream media’s constant use of false equivalence – where facts are often given equal weight with opinion – is it any wonder that some of us grasp an opinion and hold it as fact, contrary evidence be damned?  And is it any wonder that a fact-free candidate like Trump – offering hungry, genuinely disaffected citizens enticing promises and baseless attacks and conspiracy theories – can garner enough support to prevail?

To shed some more light on how we have come to this point, I offer three books.

First is Charles P. Pierce’s Idiot America. Pierce offers three great premises governing our modern, fact-challenged America.

  1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings or otherwise “moves units”
  2. Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough
  3. Fact is that which enough people believe; truth is determined by how fervently they believe it

The second is Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason. Her style is more earnest than Pierce’s, and she emphasizes different causes, but she also decries the steady devaluation of expertise, and the consequences for American society.

The third book’s title speaks for itself – Harry Frankfurt’s On Bullshit. In this short book, the author posits a difference between outright lying and speech that is delivered without regard to whether its content is true or false. Here’s a short interview with the author. I challenge you not to crack a smile at the Monty-Python-esque style of the interview. But had he called his book “The Bullying Bullshitter,” he might have been describing our President-elect, God help us!

The people have spoken. A bullying, misogynistic, self-dealing con man with absolutely no government experience will take over as the chief executive of the most powerful country in the world in January. The implications are enormous, as he will preside over a unified government – a hopelessly gerrymandered House of Representatives and a narrowly Republican Senate. If President Trump follows through on his promise to stock the Supreme Court with Scalia-like justices, the country will be solidly conservative and increasingly theocratic for a generation to come.

In the short run, I must note that Republicans may have finally achieved something in the making since the reign of House Majority Leader Tom Delay.  People may have scoffed when Delay bragged about building a permanent Republican majority, but it sure looks like it may have arrived. The irony is that it has arrived on the back of a faux-populist party wrecker who has repulsed many in the Republican leadership, including the fence-riding Paul Ryan.  The difficulty that Trump’s handlers had keeping him focused during debate season, and preventing him from launching into attacks and nonsensical Twitter wars, will be only a prelude, I fear, to a dangerous, erratic and risk-fraught presidency.

In the long run, I can’t avoid feeling that our great experiment in democracy in this great country may finally have run its course.  From this vantage point, it is hard to see a way back to meaningful two-party, or a path to a more productive and inclusive multi-party system.  The only way to arrive there, it seems to me, is a proper emphasis on education.

Failure to invest sufficiently in public education, and the tendency of theocratic-leaning school boards in certain red states to mingle faith with fact, are making the challenge to rebuild a well-informed, educated public more daunting than ever.

Our nation’s founders knew that you can’t have democracy without education.  Here is a short collection of quotes from Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin supporting that assertion.

With our public so deeply divided, and so willing to accept empty promises and simplistic solutions to complex problems, I wonder how we can rebuild our democracy from its current broken, corporate-ruled state. That challenge grew all the steeper with the election results of November 7, 2016.