The Other Coronavirus

So what are we witnessing? A period of unusual turmoil and hatred, which will eventually—but not too eventually—re-balance into some semblance of normalcy? Or are we seeing a true American decline, a crumbling modern Roman empire, a retreat from democracy, headed for the exit as the world’s brightest beacon of light? For the first time in my life I am truly fearful for my country. The Republicans see themselves as uber-patriots, some even donning the mantle of 1776, and fair as I might try to be to them, the only conclusion possible is that with too few exceptions Republicans in Washington and state capitals see power as the only virtue. Anyone with a D after their name is not only suspicious but dangerous and thus must be contained, the threat eliminated. As their own numbers are threatened, they seek to diminish the numbers of their opposition through voter suppression and gerrymandering. Not one, not one, not one—much less ten—will vote for any kind of voter reform bill. After all, a national voter reform bill would be the very thing to nullify those nearly 400 proposed voter suppression laws their confederates in state capitals are trying with considerable success to pass.

Manchin’s “compromise”? Dead on arrival, according to Mitch McConnell. Not one Republican will support it. End the filibuster so congress can actually accomplish something with a simple majority vote? Again, not one.  For McConnell—evil in a blue suit—power is all that matters, and obstructing and nullifying democracy are the means to that one end. For him, voter suppression laws are good; gerrymandering is good; taxing Washington D.C. citizens but denying them senate voting representation is good; an Electoral College which benefits small, rural and typically Republican states (and five times has given the presidency to the person with fewer votes) is good. Moreover, he’s said if a Supreme Court vacancy came up in Biden’s last year, he would hold up Biden’s nomination just as he did Obama’s if the GOP takes back the senate, and just as he infamously did not do when Trump got a third crack at the SC in his last year. Apparently some in the GOP are, as a natural reflex, saying Biden crumbled against Putin (though that may be harder in view of Putin’s own remarks about Biden after the summit), while not a peep was heard from them during and after four years of Trump licking Putin’s boots. For the modern Republican party, hypocrisy—never mind what we said or did yesterday—and lies—enormous, democracy-destroying lies—are out of the shadows now; they are no longer badges of shame.

Obviously the country and world are magnitudes better off under Biden than they would have been with four more years of Trump’s corruption and embrace of autocrats and autocracy. But the country, fed by the GOP’s proto-fascist wing, Fox News, the internet, QAnon, et al., still reels from a Trumpist plague, worse than the coronavirus. And there is no effective vaccine for this plague. January 6 was not, we are told, an insurrection or riot. One Arizona congressman informs us that police officers, “lying in wait,” “execute[d]” a citizen making her patriotic sentiments known. A Georgia congressman says if it had not been known as the January 6 insurrection, we would have thought that instead of a frenzied mob who violently overwhelmed police, broke windows to enter the Capitol, and attempted to break down doors as they searched for Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi with righteous murder on their minds, we were actually witnessing not terrorists or insurrectionists or rioters but merely tourists peacefully wandering the halls, marveling in wonder at the glory of constitutional government. He is telling us not to believe our own eyes. There is a picture of this very same elected leader helping hold up a piece of furniture to block those gentle tourists from battering down the door and possibly putting his miserable life in danger.

And now we are told that the whole insurrection was instigated by the FBI. Meanwhile another member of congress tells us that the fires out west were caused by Jewish space lasers, and that the requirement of wearing masks is the equivalent of Jews having to wear the Star of David on their outer clothes in Nazi Germany. Along with the over 60% of Republicans in the country who still believe the 2020 election was “stolen,” how many Americans actually believe the mind-exploding claim that powerful Democrats run an underground child sex-trafficking ring and literally drink their blood? Are their paranoia and gullibility that profound?

Even the bubonic plague of the 14th century, which killed between a fourth and a third of Europe, eventually, after a dozen or so years, receded. This Trump Plague—we must hope—will as well. But how much damage will it do to democracy in the meantime?

We Too Are Guardians of Truth

In his successful courtroom defense of the British soldiers who killed five American colonists in what was soon called the Boston Massacre, John Adams observed: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence” (p. 337). The Adams rule seems even more acute today as social media, slanted news organizations, and traffickers in “alternative facts” clamor for adherents, often with prevarication, mendacity, and credulity as their primary modus operandi. Dark corners of the internet, both foreign and domestic, spread lies and bizarre and cultish QAnon conspiracy fantasies on a scale unavailable to the dissemblers of Adams’ day.

As of this writing, one-third of Americans believe that the current president was not legitimately elected, and nearly three-quarters of those claim that their belief is based on “solid evidence” rather than suspicion (CNN/SRSS poll, 2021). For that huge swath of Americans, the stubborn fact that over 60 court cases found no evidence of widespread voter fraud is not stubborn enough. For those Americans, their wishes, inclinations, and the dictates of their passions rule. “I wish it so; it must be so; therefore it is so” can never serve as our standard of truth. Social justice is built upon the twin bedrock principles of fairness and truth. Though they are intertwined, and both must constantly be defended, my focus here, prompted by recent events, is on truth. Truth is under assault, initiated or abetted by people in elected positions of power, and adult educators have a role to play in its defense.

Now would not be the first time that leaders in adult education saw a significant component of their role to be advocates of adult education as a bulwark against autocracy and the disinformation and “alternative facts” which give it traction. If disinformation and “alternative facts” are the fuel of autocracy, the obverse is that truth is the fuel of democracy. “The undereducated,” as Rachal (2015) notes in his discussion of Eduard Lindeman’s views,  “could too easily be swayed by demagogues, but a society that valued adult education was less likely to succumb to the hate-mongering and fear-mongering that were, and always have been, demagogues’ stock-in-trade” (p. 2). Democratic themes abound in Lindeman’s work, and he feared the potential threat of Italian fascism to the United States (1927). The word democracy also found voice in others, reverberating through articles and speeches of the fledgling American Association for Adult Education (AAAE). Some of these themes are possibly descended from John Dewey’s iconic Democracy and Education (1916), published when he was at Columbia (1905-1930) and only eight years before Lindeman began teaching at the New York School of Social Work in 1924.

 Aside from Lindeman, other early though lesser-known advocates of the interrelationship of adult education and democracy include Alexander Meiklejohn, who addressed the 1924 American Library Association (ALA), just as it was forming an alliance with what would become the AAAE in 1926 with the financial support of the Carnegie Foundation. In stark terms, he declared: “Democracy is education. . . . In so far as we can educate the people, in so far as we can bring people to an understanding of themselves and of their world, we can have a democracy. In so far as we cannot do that we have got to have control by the few” (p. 183). J. T. Jennings, speaking on “Adult Education” at the 1925 ALA Conference, noted that “the success of a democracy depends upon an educated and intelligent citizenship.” John Finley, co-editor of The New York Times, opined in the two-year old Journal of Adult Education (forerunner to Adult Education Quarterly) that “adult education today—insurance through life against intellectual unemployment—is the hope of a continuing democracy” (1931).  AAAE President James Russell (1931) observed that “Democracy can last on just one condition: getting everybody educated” (quoted by Cartwright, 1931, p. 363). The very first issue of the Journal of Adult Education (1929) contained articles on the education-democracy theme by Everett Dean Martin (“Liberating Liberty”) and Glenn Frank (“On the Firing Line of Democracy”). As adult education began to coordinate and centralize in the 1920s, Lindeman, Martin, and others saw it as integral to a defense of democracy.

So where do contemporary adult educators fit in this tradition? We have now been given an object lesson, one insisting that truth and democracy are sometimes fragile. That fragility has been on display for several years, reaching its apogee on January 6th. We have politicians, beginning with the former president, who peddle lies as if they were facts, and in doing so, they corrupt truth and rend democracy.  Facts are foundational to truth, and truth is foundational to democracy (there may be other, more transcendental, more revelatory avenues to truth, but I leave them to theologians and metaphysicians). Writing in 1926 about “crowd thinking” and conspiracy-mongering in a fine chapter on “the educational value of doubt,” Everett Dean Martin decries the contemporary yet ageless problem that “acquaintance with facts does not seem to be necessary for the formation of opinion. I can easily assert alleged facts on my own authority; it hurts my pride when I am asked for evidence” (p. 98). Almost a century later, Martin’s concern rings even more true. After January 6th no imagination is required to see where such alleged facts and reality-free opinion can lead.

If facts are foundational to truth, let us start with facts, those stubborn things that, at their most elemental, constitute data bits of reality derived from our own or from others’ sensory experience. Mary arose at six a.m., Bill was born in the United States, a new president won by a specific margin in the state of Georgia; these are all facts, each one derived from observed data. We can interpret them differently (Lincoln was the best president; no, FDR was), we can be misinformed about them (pine is harder than oak), and most dangerously, we can invent them so that others will believe them, as in the oxymoron “alternative facts.” Alternative facts, i.e., false facts—better termed lies—are the nurseries of autocracies. We as educators have a responsibility to combat them.

When I taught freshman English long ago, I was expected to expose my charges to the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation so that they might avoid technical problems as they sought to narrate, explicate, compare, or persuade, not only in the weekly short essays they submitted to me, but also in the prose of their later lives. But I was also, I believed, obligated to help make their writing more convincing, more explicit, and—hope springs eternal—even more interesting. Many times a forlorn student, dissatisfied with a grade, would acknowledge the technical errors, but would offer the defense that more credit should be given to the content of her essay because it was her opinion, on the apparent assumption that one’s opinion lies beyond the pale of criticism, since any critique is itself mere opinion. I don’t believe that I ever actually made the insufferable observation that informed opinion is better and more credible than uninformed opinion. But I did insist that opinion, to be based in reality and to be persuasive, needs facts, examples, and specifics. These are the elements, the atomic particles, of truth. As I came to teach graduate adult education students, aside from technical suggestions about their writing, the most common observation that I made concerned the need for those same three things—facts, examples, and specifics. Evidence mattered. In the over 30 years I have reviewed manuscripts for three journals, the same rule applies: No evidence? Case dismissed. Probably every educator of adults seeks this emphasis on supportive fact and detail in her students’ writing and speech. But in an age of pandemic levels of untruth, that emphasis should be intentional and central in our teaching.

John Kozy, chair of the Philosophy Department at my undergraduate alma mater, was the best professor I ever had. His classes were pure Socratic method, alive with his probing questions about, for example, The Republic, followed by our callow yet earnest answers. Particularly memorable was his desire that in writing multiple papers over the term, we should never go to the library in search of secondary sources. Unthinkable as that might seem for graduate students, learner interaction with the primary sources, unfiltered by others, was far more important to him. He wanted us to critically think through the subject matter for ourselves, responding one-on-one to the primary sources, rather than become youthful scholars who could recite Smith and Jones’s gloss on The Republic, only to forget it shortly after the course. While knowing Smith and Jones might be useful, he preferred that we arrived at our own conclusions unencumbered and uninfluenced by secondary sources. He meant for us to think. Possibly some variant of that, for certain assignments, might be possible for graduate students, but equally so for adult educators working with other clienteles, whether in HRD or adult basic and secondary education. Where discussion, dialogue, and debate are appropriate, clarity of thesis supported by factual evidence in search of truth should be our north star.

It is this kind of individual critical thinking, as opposed to the “herd opinion” (Martin, 1926, pp. 175, 196) that is so pernicious in our current tribalized culture, that I believe is at the heart of a liberal education. Surely a liberal education is not a collection of memorized quotations or a listing of books read or the number of certifications and degrees acquired, valuable as those things might be. Rather it is a critical habit of mind, imbibed perhaps through a curiosity about perennial ideas, human achievement, and scientific inquiry—not merely a mental cataloguing of those ideas, achievements, and inquiries. It is a modest skepticism about the information we encounter, and a willingness to question not only the thinking of others, but, far more challenging, our own. To be clear, no branch of learning has a monopoly on a liberal education. Any field, from art to mathematics to zoology, participates in liberal education to the extent that critical thinking, rather than rote learning, is central to its pedagogy. Possibly this critical habit of mind is best taught through modeling it, as Professor Kozy did. But we can also ask our learners, “Is it rational?” “What are the supporting facts?” “What are the contradicting facts?” “Do you believe this because you want it to be true?” Or, alternatively, do you disbelieve it because you don’t want it to be true?” “Are you viewing it through the filter of an ideology?” “What is the source?” “Does that source seem credible?” “Are you willing to entertain the possibility that both the asserted perspective, and thus you, could be wrong?” These questions are embedded in a liberal education, but they have even more salience in the tumult of our present politics.

For some who are way too deep in an ideological rabbit hole, those questions will swirl overhead and never be considered at all; or if they are considered, they will be answered to satisfy their owners’ wishes, inclinations, and passions. Sometimes the truth is too complex and a preferred simplistic and mistaken explanation or agenda is offered in its place. Other times the truth is so simple that some conspiracy fantasy is conjured, stoking anger and providing the solidarity of special or secret knowledge among the believers. For the overly credulous, “truth” must align with their belief system; there is little room for nuance or outliers. Those “stubborn things”—facts—will not be faced. This is challenging for educators, especially, perhaps, for adult educators. Yet an underlying assumption of teaching, so obvious that we don’t even recognize it, is that what we teach, the knowledge we value, is accurate, is true. So inherently we value truth. Only one step remains, though a long one: to acknowledge that teaching something about discerning truth from falsehood is also part of our charge. Perhaps some not distant adult education conference might have a roundtable to explore other means of promoting a critical habit of mind in our learners, or it could be a theme issue of one of our journals.

None of this is an argument for politicizing our courses or classes. It is not a polemic about Left vs. Right. My theme, my purpose, argues for inculcating in our learners a natural skepticism and an instinctive resistance to the sly beckoning of herd opinion so as to distinguish truth from misinformation and disinformation. It is an argument for fostering truth-seeking in our learners, with the political and sociological chips falling where they may. Education has often been portrayed—as in some of the quotes above—as the best inoculation against both misinformation and its far more destructive cousin disinformation, and thus as a champion of democracy. So we have a role in this, especially now. It is not just the rational politicians, the Cronkite-esque journalists, the fact-checkers, the scientists, and our own adult education ancestors who advocate for reality. We too are guardians of truth.


Adams, J. 1992/1770. Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. J. Kaplan, general editor, sixteenth ed. Boston, New York, London: Little, Brown and Co.

CNN/SSRS Poll. January 9-14, 2021. Cited in Applebaum, A. January 20, 2021. Coexistence is the only option.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education, an introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: Macmillan.

Finley, J. H. (1931). The Clearing House. Journal of Adult Education, 3, 334.

Jennings, J. T. (1925). Third general session: Adult Education. Bulletin of the American Library Association, 19, 121-123.

Lindeman, E. C. 1956/1927. Selected writings. In R. Gessner (Ed.), The democratic man: Selected writings of Eduard C. Lindeman. Boston: Beacon Press.

Martin, E. D. (1926). The meaning of a liberal education. New York: Norton.

Meiklejohn, A. (1924). The teaching of reading as a part of education. Bulletin of the American Library Association, 18, 182-184.

Rachal, J. R. (2015). Reflections on the Lindeman legacy. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 24, 1-6. First appeared in Italian, trans. E. Marescotti, as Foreword to E. Marescotti, Il significato dell’educazione degli adulti di Eduard C. Lindeman [The meaning of adult education by Eduard C. Lindeman], 2013. Rome: ANICIA.

Russell, J. (1931). Cited in M. Cartwright, American Association for Adult Education annual report of the director. Journal of Adult Education, 3, 362-385.

1776 This Was Not

His presidency began with Trump’s claims of “American carnage,” and it ends with Trump’s incitement of American carnage. His people—at least those who stormed the Capitol and their sympathizers—are cultists, idol worshippers, idolaters of their chosen Messiah, with Him as the closest thing they will have to a religion. They are slaves to their cult leader and slaves to an ideology, incapable of critical thought, dupes for fairy tales and fantasy. As cultists, they are only drawn to a man who is fundamentally aberrant. It is impossible to imagine their being drawn to a Bush or a Romney or a McCain; they may vote for such men if they vote at all, but only because of their hatred for the mainstream media, those they see as the undeserving elite, and the Other. Their interest in actual politics is negligible. Bush, Romney, and McCain are not aberrant; they fit within political norms and thus have none of the appeal necessary for a true worshipper. The stormers’ interest in politics is limited to their grievance, their fear of marginality, and their sense of loss, and thus they are easy targets for a demagogue who can stoke those grievances and fears with lies, norm-breaking, and self-proclaimed deification. Trumpism is, for them, long-awaited, and he their savior. They are called to a Great Awakening, making them hallowed participants in a quasi-religious movement, where violence, as with ISIS, is within the pale. They flatter themselves as 1776-style patriots, but they are its enemies, and their waving of American flags an abomination. There is no truth, however obvious, that they are capable of accepting if it conflicts with their ideology; and no fantasy, however absurd, that they are capable of rejecting if it fits that ideology. Trump’s appeal is to the long-languishing demons hidden in the dark recesses of the American soul. With him, they crawled and slithered to the surface, and January 6th was their greatest coming-out party to date. He called them forth, and they came.

It is worth noting that Roman Emperor Caligula, whom historian Mike Duncan called both psychotic and the worst of the Roman emperors, declared himself to be a god, not to mention committing many, many acts of murderous depravity. He also lasted only four years. Even if some might quibble about the worst Roman emperor, given the many candidates, it is difficult to imagine any present or future academic historians having any trouble at all coming to a quick consensus as to who the worst American president was—at least as of 2021. The Republican party has gone from the acknowledged best president—Lincoln—to the soon-to-be, indeed already, acknowledged worst president—Donald Trump.

One other historical parallel. Now, two days afterward, we are hearing preposterous claims by those on the neo-Nazi right that the rioters were really antifa dressed up as Trump supporters. How they say that with a straight face is almost amusing. In 1939, Germans dressed as Polish soldiers “attacked” border positions in Germany, and left numerous dead bodies of concentration camp inmates dressed as Polish soldiers, all to give a justification for the German invasion of Poland. So the world was supposed to believe that those actual Germans were “really” Polish invaders, just like those actual neo-Nazi Trumpers were “really” antifa.

Of the six senators voting even after the riot for the objections to the vote in Arizona, only one (Marshall of Kansas) was outside the South. Those infamous five include, unsurprisingly, Mississippi’s Cindi Hyde-Smith, an epic non-entity. So here are six senators, and a majority of House Republicans, quite content to publicly take a stand that opposes democracy. They want the will of the majority of voters in Arizona and five other states simply thrown out in favor of the guy they wish had won. Conservative George Will has it right: Senators Cruz and Hawley, both hoping to be Trump 2.0 in 2024, should be ostracized and ignored, permanently, and should have a scarlet S emblazoned on their coats: Seditionist. 

“That Way Madness Lies”

“O, that way madness lies; let me shun that; / No more of that.” King Lear

One-hundred-forty House Republicans, thirteen Senate Republicans, and roughly one-third of American voters have declared that their loyalty to Donald Trump and his assault on American democracy exceeds their loyalty to the country they claim to defend. There have been some sixty lawsuits challenging the election results, all of which have been frivolous, lacking a scintilla of evidence, and thus dismissed. What those court challenges have succeeded in, however, is ramping up the outrage and paranoia of the Gullibles and the radical far right. These lawmakers are set to challenge the electoral votes as they are counted on January 6, claiming that as many as six states that Trump lost have participated in or succumbed to electoral fraud by declaring, truthfully, that their voters elected Joe Biden. The objectors’ claims of voter fraud are evidence-free; they want Trump to have won, so therefore he did win. Never mind that some down-ballot Republicans did win in those states; were those wins also thus fraudulent? Never mind that not one single case of alleged fraud was brought before the judiciary in states Trump actually won. Fraud only could have occurred in states he lost.

If these 140 House Republicans, thirteen Senate Republicans, and Trump himself were to have their way, we as a nation would be a banana republic where elections are a charade for totalitarian rulers, a proto-fascist country where democracy is the fig leaf we use to cover our despotism. Mimicking other countries pretending to democracy and submission to majority will, we could call ourselves The Democratic Republic of the United States of America or The People’s Republic of the USA. The mantra of the GOP would be—indeed, may already be—“Power is all that matters; if it can be achieved by honest democratic means, wonderful. If it must be achieved by corrupt and unscrupulous means, then corrupt and unscrupulous means will be used—but always under the cover of ‘democracy.’” 

But those 140, and those 13, the so-called “sedition caucus,” should consider the consequences of their sedition. Will they slink to their dens, or will they be honored among the Trump adorers? What they prove by their very existence is how fragile our democracy is at this moment (even aside from its structural flaws, like the Electoral College, for starters), and possibly for an indeterminate future. At the very best, what can be said of them is that they have a high degree of moral flexibility. At worst, they are fascistic conspiracy fantasy-mongers. Ted Cruz should win two Academy Awards, one for hypocrisy and one for sycophancy. What happened to the Cruz who called Trump a “pathological liar” then, but leads the charge for overturning an American democratic and fair election now? Could even one of these people (who all, no doubt, purport to be good Christians) put a hand on the Bible in the privacy of their own home and say, “I truly believe Trump won”? Is it just their cowardly fear of balking Trump and alienating the trumpaholics, or is it that they’re hoping to emerge as Trump 2.0 themselves? Which ones aspire in 2024 to a strongman grab for power built on national resentment and chaos that they themselves, along with Trump, have inflicted on us? Given these options, let’s hope for mere cowardice.

In the fevered minds of Trump and the forever-Trumpers, his instantly infamous phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger is conceived as an Alamo-like stand for electoral integrity and justice. Rational people, however, saw immediately that that way madness lies. The call was the perfect analogue and the domestic equivalent of the Ukraine call—a mobster intimidating someone he regards as an underling. My question, aside from the call’s legal implications, is whether Trump actually now believes his claims of fraud, and thus proves himself beyond any sliver of doubt to be a deluded psychopath who, if we were not days away from the end of his presidency, should be removed under the 25th amendment; or is he simply practicing his lifelong skills of lying and bullying, and thus, if time allowed, should be removed through an impeachment conviction? Or is it both? We know he’s always been a liar and a bully, but neither of those precludes the possibility that he is quite mad. I’ve listened to enough of the tape to conclude that he could actually believe his assertions of fraud. His grandiose claims that he couldn’t possibly have lost Georgia have a ring of delusional self-deception. His unquestionable hubris—or in today’s lingo, his psychopathology—and his possible madness are of such an enormous scale that maybe he believes his own fantasies, and is better suited to join the frantic screamers in yesteryear’s asylum at Bedlam than the convicted inmates of Attica.

Accomplices and Gullibles

The following was written before the election.

The fellow whom we hired to cut some trees for us  generously dropped by a second time since we changed our minds about what needed to come down. Mr. Michaels is probably my age, good ol’ boy, wearing bib overalls, had the gentlest voice, and for all the world could have been your decent country boy grandpa. Deep in the Mississippi Bible Belt, he is, no doubt, a good churchgoer, possibly a deacon, and a fine family man, beloved by his daughters. He’s also wearing the same Trump 2020 hat he was wearing a few weeks ago. I ignored it then and hoped to ignore it today. But somehow the driveway conversation drifted to Montana, and he mentioned going there earlier this year and he and his family walk right into a restaurant not wearing masks. Here we go. Implying that the restaurant staff realize the silliness of masks, he makes clear that nobody says a word. Masks don’t work at all, he informs my wife and me, stuff is just too small to be blocked by a mask, and people pushing masks are just trying to take down our president. My wife and I are both trying to just get him on his way, but like a moth to the flame, I say, “Well, we’re on the other side of that”; he shrugs. Then, apropos of the political divide, he says, “I just hate all the lies.” Val said my mouth opened, presumably aghast, but just in case I was about to rebut, she said, sotto voce, “let it go.” I said, trying to shuffle him off as quickly as possible, “OK, we’ll see you next week.”

He hates all the lies? It was a revelation, though not without its humor. Can there be any more titanic irony than those words spilling from a Trump man? Those like me who see Donald Trump as the most consummate liar—indeed, gifted liar, if judged by the number of his marks—ever to even run for the presidency are blown back on their heels to discover that those on the right wing consider them to be the ones spewing daily mendacities. Trump, Fox News, social media, anti-deep state warriors, and conspiracy fantasists nationwide have turned truth on its head, turned the world upside down. The true believers, rejecting reality as too mundane and simplistic, knowingly and unknowingly spin fantasies and magical thinking, speak of “alternate facts,” and assault truth as fake news. According to The Washington Post, Trump has made over 20,000 false and misleading statements since taking office. His demagoguery as president is unparalleled, and even his demonstrable lies fall on the true believers like refreshing summer rain on the fertile soil of their grievance and discontent. I told Val that Mr. Michaels probably went home and said, “Martha, I had these two customers today that were damned Democrats, and they were white too! I betcha they thought our president was a liar!” And just today Trump was re-spewing the lie about the Democrats dropping “under God” from the pledge at their convention. At least until this president, you at least had to tell plausible lies. Now you can say that the Democrats have been negotiating with the Martians and the Venusians to take over the world so that they can fully establish their Satan-worshiping, pedophiliac, child-eating caliphate. Through the megaphone of Fox News, Facebook, and creepy social media sites and shares, the Mr. Michaels of the world lap it up and conclude, “Well damn! So they are doing it! I was wondering if they were doing that!” 

I know I’ve been polarized. I know the Mr. Michaels of the country believe their narratives as strongly as I do mine. So could we both be equally wrong, or worse, could they be right and I be wrong? I take some solace—in fact, a lot of solace—in the fact that I have a pretty good education; I read things other than Facebook memes and shares; intelligent people, including a few in the GOP or with conservative points of view, agree with me on Trump and his enablers; I have some capacity for critical thinking; indeed, I entertain the possibility that I could be wrong, or at least partly wrong. So, even recognizing this clash between the ideologies of Trump et al. and everyone else from Lincoln Project conservatives to Sanders left-enders, I wonder how far off base I am to see parallels between Germany of the 30s and Trump’s America, and specifically the mind of Trump himself and the despotism of Putin of Russia and Xi of China, obviously; but also Orban of Hungary, Bolsonaro of Brazil, Duterte of the Philippines, Lukasovic of Belarus, and a few dozen or more autocrats scattered over the planet.

You can tell most of what you need to know about a person by whom he admires. I don’t mean lip-service admiration like Trump pretends to have for Lincoln, or some Christians for Jesus, but who that person actually admires in wishing and trying to emulate. And if that little aphorism is right, then the gang of people Trump admires and truckles to bodes terribly for his continuing leadership of the country in a qualitatively different way from that of Romney, McCain, Reagan, or either of the Bushes. Those Republicans’ differences from me and others like me were essentially policy differences, which can of course be profound and have moral implications. But their views were still within the elastic bounds of American political discourse. Trump’s vision of America is categorically different; he admires and wants to be like those other guys, the ones who have or want lifetime presidencies, earned through the charade of “democratic elections,” and whose hands rest on all the levers of their nations’ power. Trump neither respects democracy (it’s “rigged”–but only if he loses), nor separation of powers (like an independent judiciary), nor American institutions, from a free press (“enemy of the people”) to inspectors general. Those institutions are there to serve him, to be loyal to him. This is new in our country; there is no previous president who has so boldly taken steps toward totalitarianism and about whom such things are so widely said and thought. Yet almost half of America thinks he is not only within those elastic bounds, but if he exceeds them it is only because he indeed is the chosen one, he is the representative and implementer of American greatness. Simultaneously they think that the collective rest of the country is, at best, hopelessly naive and deluded; or, at worst, the dark knight of moral degeneracy, the perpetrator of squalid lies, the anti-Christ mocking American greatness. Whether Trump himself actually sees us in that way or not is almost beside the point. For him the critical point is simply that we are the hated enemy, standing in the way of his idealized self-image, self-aggrandizement, power, and Messiah-ship.

If it were just him it would be bad enough, but it is also all the GOP supporters who think this is just politics as usual, not a dangerously deviant breakaway from our traditional Democrat and Republican norms and values, both constitutional and moral. The Gullibles like Mr. Michaels and 60% of the voters of Mississippi have simply joined a cult, with outstretched raised arms in a sieg heil salute; the Accomplices like Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, Senator Lindsey Graham, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have simply collaborated and sacrificed their integrity and pretend he’s not really all that bad—either succumbing to an ends-justify-the-means rationalization like many evangelicals have or selling their souls for some kind of personal advantage like Vice-President Mike Pence or some of the ultra wealthy. Is it a bridge too far to say that this election is the greatest test of our democracy since the Civil War? No. Not at all.

Some Election Results You Might Have Missed

At 3 a.m. on several mornings Secret Service agents have heard the President moaning and screaming “What did I do wrong?” at the Vladimir Putin portrait hanging above the fireplace in the family quarters

There has been a mass retirement of Secret Service agents fearful of getting assigned to the Trump detail at the whites-only Home for the Mentally Disturbed in upstate New York

Melania has filed for divorce on the grounds that her husband “is a blathering, whining, blubbering, constantly crying, moaning, certifiable idiot”

Jared Kushner has scoured the entire White House looking for all the gold-plaited .357 magnums out of concern that the President might take the Hitler exit

Kushner has applied for a job at Harvard’s Admissions Office for Very Wealthy Donors’ Sons as administrative assistant and advisor

The President has demanded that Justices Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett be brought before the Supreme Court on charges of failing to give him the election and “general ingratitude”

Sean Hannity sent a congratulatory note to President-elect Biden and said “Joe, just want you to know that I was just kidding the last four years. You need a press secretary?”

Laura Ingraham was found by police in her Washington apartment with four empty bottles of Jack Daniels screaming “Coup! Coup!”

Vice-President Pence told his minister that he agreed that he would spend the next 25 years in a monastery cell begging for absolution for galactic-scale hypocrisy

The White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and three militia organizations pooled their resources and purchased a boxcar load of new and used Trump flags for $7.98 total, plus tax, to be used for recruitment purposes

Attorney General William Barr sent Russian President Vladimir Putin an eighteen page letter asking if Russia needed a new Justice Czar

President Trump’s former and current White House press secretaries Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, and Kayleigh McEnany have proposed establishing a Presidential Press Office Integrity Institute to any university interested in hiring them at appropriate salaries and tenured, full professor rank

President Trump stated in the press briefing room that the Founding Fathers made it quite clear in the Constitution that vote counters were required to wear Go-Pro video cameras as they counted votes

At the Lincoln Memorial, several visitors claimed to have seen a smile on Abe’s face

Who Would Jesus Vote For?

The Sunday-morning Christians—as opposed to those Christians who live Jesus’s values, or at least attempt to, day by day, hour by hour—seem to have found their paladin, if not their savior, in the form of Donald Trump. It is a mystery to me, unless the explanation is as simple as the sordid possibility that their values are one-inch deep, wearable only on Sunday morning, and wholly divorced from the man on the shores of Galilee whom they say is the model for their lives and whom they worship. It is, for me as an observer, the profoundest disconnect in modern political life, with the possible exception of the former anti-Soviet GOP slithering into a kumbaya embrace with a Russia headed by former KGB chief Putin. Most of us have a gap and sometimes a chasm between what we say and what we do, as well as what we say and what we think. But here is a chasm between what the Trump Gullibles think they think and what they actually think: Thinking they adore and emulate the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount but actually adoring the man who preaches hatred and division.

So who would Jesus vote for? Having himself healed demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, would he vote for the fellow who mocked them? Having blessed the poor in spirit, those who mourned, the meek, those who hungered for righteousness, the pure in heart, the merciful, would he then vote for the guy obsessed with his own grandiosity, self-aggrandizement, fire and fury, and vengeance for all his detractors? Having blessed the peacemakers, would he vote for the man who sows division and hatred? Would he vote for the man who bears false witness as freely as he breathes? Would he vote for the man whose pride was so titanic that he proclaimed that only he could fix it, that he was the chosen one? Whose wrath was such that he called one political enemy a monster, and said that others should be indicted and sent to jail? Whose avarice is so embedded in his withered and twisted character that gaudy, ostentatious wealth is his paramount measure of success? Would Jesus vote for someone who could not even imagine that his indefatigable pursuit of wealth would, like the camel not going through the needle’s eye, prevent his salvation? Whose lust and self-veneration are such that he felt entitled to manhandle women? Whose envy of far better men, like John McCain or Barack Obama, lays bare his own rotted core? Whose gluttony for power and wealth blind him to any vision of kindness, generosity, empathy, humility, sacrifice, duty, honor, stoicism, or character? Would Jesus, thinking of the good Samaritan, vote for a bully? Would he vote for a man whose entire adult life has been devoted to dishonesty, manipulation, acquisition, conquest, and cheating, all to lay up his treasures here on earth? Would he support the person who, in his dealings with others, does not do justice but perverts it? Who scorns mercy? Who most certainly does not walk humbly with his God? Who decries the mote in his brother’s eye, but refuses to see the beam in his own? Who never stoops to do for others what he demands others do for him?

Or would Jesus vote for the other guy, flawed to be sure, but standing on higher ground, seeking more the common good rather than singly his personal good?

Admiration for the Nazarene is not the sole province of the religious. In that light, I, who am not religious, ask not just What Would Jesus Do, but whom would he vote for?

Choices Have Consequences

The broadcast journalists are making an extra effort to show how objective they are by wishing the president a speedy recovery and using words like sad and concern. I certainly respect the impetus for them to do so, whether from a personal ethical stance or from a journalistic need to seem even-handed and to show that their professionalism is such that they can rise above their personal feelings of dislike for his policies, corruption, and temperament. And they certainly know that any snarky comment like what I am about to say would cast them in a bad light and lend credence to right-wing charges of bias. I just wish they could not say such things at all and just report the situation as developments occur. It’s hard to imagine Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity wishing Joe Biden a speedy recovery if the shoe were on the other foot. Nor do I remember a lot of conservative condolences and well wishes when Hillary had a week-long stretch of pneumonia in the 2016 race, despite the fact that to hear the right-wing journalists spin it, her survival was sufficiently in doubt that she needed to get out of the race. Where were Tucker’s and Sean’s sweet words of well-wishing then?

Here’s my take. Choices have consequences. If you choose to jump out of a plane without a parachute, Mother Nature will insure that certain consequences result. If you choose to jump out of a plane with a parachute, you are a lot more likely to avoid those consequences. Mr. President, you chose not to wear a mask and never practiced social distancing. You downplayed those behaviors and even mocked Biden for practicing them. By ignoring and even disparaging those practices, you politicized them and contributed—not solely caused but definitely contributed—to the deaths of thousands of others. These are Mother Nature’s consequences for that. As for yourself, you made your bed, now you must lie in it (the double entendre not exactly intended, but if the shoe fits…). You are trying to kill Obamacare, with not even a hint of a replacement plan. That will mean that millions of Americans will lose health insurance, and some will die unnecessarily because of that. So if I am to choose between your good health and the thousands who have already gotten sick or died partly because of your covid response, well I’ve got to go with the greatest good for the greatest number. And if I have to choose between your good health and the thousands who may unnecessarily die because you and your Supreme Court will kill The Affordable Care Act, same call. Maybe not all political choices have consequences. Maybe not all moral choices do either. You’ve certainly managed to get away with a lot. But when you make bad decisions about Mother Nature, there’s a high probability that those choices will have consequences.

“Don’t Let Democracy Interfere With an Election”

The title quote is from Mike Duncan, historian of Rome, in a droll reference to Julius Caesar

Having railed against the electoral college for about twenty-five years—the rough equivalent of my screaming some private grievance across the solar system to the good citizens of Neptune—I spent an afternoon calculating what would be the theoretical lowest percentage of the popular vote necessary to win a presidential election. Armed with the eligible voter population of each state, the electoral votes of each state, the minimum number of electoral votes needed to win the election (270), and a calculator, I selected a collection of less populated states and the District of Columbia whose electoral votes would add up to 270, divided the eligible voter population of each of those states in half, and added one single vote for each state, which would tip all of that state’s electoral votes to a single candidate (Maine and Nebraska, which both divide their electoral votes, being exceptions—a solution to the electoral college problem that I proposed in an earlier blog, presuming all states did so). I then added those states’ eligible half populations plus those critical single extra votes, that is, 50% plus one vote for each state, to get the lowest eligible total population necessary to yield 270 electoral votes. Then I took that number and divided it by the total eligible voting population of the United States and thus arrived at the minimum number of voters necessary to elect a president. Never mind that a friend I consulted to confirm the legitimacy of my method looked it up on the internet and immediately found that some other fellow had done almost the same thing, using instead the number of actual voters from each state in the last election, and came up with about the same number as I did within a percent or so. So much for my afternoon of superfluous labor.

The percentage of the popular vote necessary to win an American presidential election was astonishingly and alarmingly low: 22%. It varied somewhat by which states you chose; at first, I used random states, and got 27%, but then I restricted the calculation to lower population states and got the 22%. I don’t pretend to explain that difference, but there you go. So even in a two-candidate race, a person could win the presidency with less than a quarter of the popular vote. An acquaintance dismissively told me that that would never happen, given the near impossibility of the 50% plus one vote requirement. My response to her was that of course that would never happen. But if the presidency could technically be won with 22% of the popular vote to an opponent’s 78%, just consider how much more likely it would be to win it with 49% to an opponent’s 51%. Indeed Trump won with 46.1% to Clinton’s 48.2%.

Five times in our history the presidency has gone to the person with fewer popular votes, defying the very definition of democracy. One out of nine presidents received less votes than his opponent. That certainly is the most egregious, indeed outrageous, reason to change the way the Electoral College works: majority rule is the sine qua non of democracy. But there are other reasons. The current Electoral College means that Democrats’ votes in solidly Republican states and Republicans’ votes in solidly Democratic states do not count for anything in the actual outcome, since that outcome is determined by the electoral votes rather than the popular vote. It means that people’s votes in “battleground” states, and even in individual precincts within those states, are dramatically more important than other people’s votes. Instead of looking at the totality of the popular vote, we must look at sometimes minuscule and potentially litigable margins in a few selected states. For example Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2,864,974 votes, but lost three battleground states—and thus the Electoral College and the presidency—by a collective 77,744 votes in those three states. Those folks’ near 78 thousand votes were worth more than those other folks’ 2.86 million votes. Put another way, each of those 78 thousand voters was worth thirty-seven of those 2.86 million voters; or yet another way, the former’s votes were thirty-seven times as important as the latter’s.

It also means that candidates largely ignore states they know they will win or lose in order to concentrate on the battleground states, where they know those 78 thousand votes could make all the difference. Vladimir Putin knows this also, so rather than waste his cyber resources on all fifty states to influence the election, he conveniently can sow his seed mostly in the fertile fields of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and eight or nine other purple states.

The organization Common Cause has entered the lists against the Electoral College. Their solution is to require that once the popular vote is known, all electors must cast their votes for the winner, effectively keeping the Electoral College and avoiding a constitutional amendment to eliminate it, and giving all electoral votes to the popular vote winner. Rather than being determinative, the Electoral College would merely rubber stamp the popular vote. This is more elegant than my original solution—splitting the electoral vote for each state—by essentially slicing the Gordian knot in half rather than trying and failing to untangle it. Republicans will oppose any change, since the status quo somehow leans Republican, and that for them is more important than majority rule. In fact, in view of voter suppression efforts, majority rule is the enemy to them, except when they are in the majority. But even with a Democratic Senate, House, and presidency, I wonder if there is the will to make “American democracy” a valid term.

“Have You No Sense of Decency Sir?”

The following post originally appeared on my Facebook page and is slightly amended here. The title quote is the question lawyer Joseph Welch asked Senator Joseph McCarthy during the House Unamerican Activities Committee hearings in June of 1954.

I have tried over the last few years to keep my FB page a politics-free zone concerning my own political commentary, preferring to relegate it to an unvisited blog. However, in the Oscar Wilde tradition of being able to resist anything except temptation, I confess to occasionally commenting on others’ political posts, but I well know that the earth will continue to turn without panting to hear my political bon mots. Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s attack on military personnel as “losers” and “suckers” is so profoundly offensive and so self-evidently disqualifying for a pretender to commander-in-chief that my personal disgust at this despicable man is no longer containable, and so I will speak here for my father, a career U.S. Marine serving in the Pacific in World War II, dying at 36 of cancer when I was three.

In Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in, he relies on six separate anonymous sources (presumably some sources for some statements and other sources for other statements) who confirmed that Trump used those words in describing military personnel, especially ones who were wounded, died, or were captured. Naturally Trump has denied it, mendacity being his first line of both offense and defense. If an article appeared saying that Ronald Reagan had said it, or that WW II veteran George H. W. Bush (whom Trump called a “loser” for allowing his plane to be shot down) had said it, or that his son George W. Bush had said it, we could all easily dismiss it as the ranting of a left-wing blogger, or maybe even a far right-wing blogger pining for a Trump. It would be better, of course, if Goldberg’s sources had spoken on the record. But for this president, it absolutely rings true. We know that he got a doctor to keep him from military service saying that he had bone spurs in his feet. We know from an interview with smut-meister Howard Stern in the late 1990s that he joked that vaginas were “potential landmines” and thus avoiding venereal diseases was “my personal Vietnam.” We know he had an Iago-like envy of John McCain and disparaged him publicly by saying “I like people who didn’t get captured.” Now, thanks to Goldberg’s article and his sources, we know that Trump was outraged that flags were being flown at half-mast for McCain’s funeral: “What the fuck are we doing that for? Guy was a fucking loser,” he complained to aides.

On Memorial Day in 2017, Trump visited Arlington National Cemetery with Marine four star General John Kelly, whose son died in Afghanistan at age 29 and is buried at Arlington. According to Goldberg’s sources knowledgeable about the visit, Trump and Kelly were standing beside the grave, and with astonishing lack of sensitivity or empathy, Trump said to Kelly, “I don’t get it. What was in it for them?” We also know that when Trump was in France in 2018, he cancelled a scheduled visit to the World War I Aisne-Marne American Cemetery at Belleau Wood—sacred ground to marines—and asked, according to Goldberg’s multiple sources with firsthand knowledge, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” The private reasons not to go were the “losers” buried there and his unwillingness to get his hair wet. The publicly stated reason was that since it was raining the helicopter couldn’t fly and the Secret Service wouldn’t take him—two more lies. Also on the same trip, in a different conversation, he referred to the 1800 marines who died at Belleau Wood and are buried at the cemetery as “suckers” for getting killed. And finally, if one other Trumpian quote disdaining service to country and valorizing the unfettered pursuit of wealth is needed, there is this: After then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford gave a White House briefing, Trump told aides, “That guy is smart. Why did he join the military?” The idea of service to country is alien to Trump. He seems to be constitutionally incapable of moral reflection, asking only what’s in it for him, meanwhile taking pride in being neither a sucker nor a loser by finding, all those years ago and with Daddy’s help, a way to evade the military service that would possibly have gotten him killed and would definitely have detoured him from his profits in commercial real estate.

My dad, United States Marine Corps master sergeant and another Arlington Cemetery resident, would quite possibly, perhaps probably, have been a good lifelong Republican, and we would likely have had a round or two of political arguments. But he was not a sucker, and he was not a loser, and the man who as Commander-in-Chief apparently thinks he was is not fit to spit-shine his boots or to clean a Nazi latrine. Semper Fi, Dad–a concept totally beyond the moral grasp of Donald Trump.

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