We Are Ukraine

Support for Ukraine in its just war with Russia is the twenty-first century’s moral imperative just as abolitionism was the moral imperative of the nineteenth century. If you would have been opposed to slavery then, you must be supportive of Ukraine now. That is, you must be willing to provide Ukraine with the weaponry it needs to defend itself and not be grudging and tightfisted about it. Had you been a Southerner in 1850, a word or act against slavery would have been courageous because it could be dangerous. Today, the only danger Americans face in giving Ukraine weapons is a small dent in the nation’s bank account. (By contrast to the less than $100 billion we have given Ukraine, an estimated $600 billion is lost to that bank account each year due to uncollected but legally due federal taxes.) But there are other dangers if we and other democracies don’t help Ukraine. I have always hated a bully (see “Was the Third Kid Wrong?”), and Putin’s bullying is a huge part of this war. But there are other bullies and authoritarians and totalitarians looking on, and so the stakes are truly higher. Not being able to improve on Tom Nichols’ wise assessment, I quote him:

If Russia finally captures Ukraine by mass murder, torture, and nuclear threats, then everything the world has gained since the defeat of the Axis in 1945 and the end of the Cold War in 1991 will be in mortal peril. Putin will prove to himself and to every dictator on the planet that nothing has changed since Hitler, that lawless nations can achieve their aims by using force at will, by killing and raping innocent people and then literally grinding their ashes into the dirt. This is no longer about Russia’s neo-imperial dreams or Ukraine’s borders: This is a fight for the future of the international system and the safety of us all.

Like Nichols, I normally consider South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham to be little more than a Trumpian lickspittle. Well, Nichols didn’t call him that, but he was being nice. But Nichols notes approvingly that Graham stood with two Democrats to complain about American and German reluctance to send Abrams and Leopard tanks, respectively, to Ukraine. Many months ago, I saw that Graham said the same thing that was on my mind then and now: Russia needs a successful Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the German patriot who attempted but failed to assassinate Hitler in 1944. No other politician was, or is, saying that. By contrast, Speaker of the House McCarthy, likely to be the weakest Speaker in memory after caving to far-right demands from fellow House Republicans, has already said that Ukraine should not get a “blank check,” and a recent poll showed that almost half of Republicans say we are already giving too much to Ukraine. This is the same amoral stand—indifference—taken by too many pre-Civil War Northerners toward slavery. Lincoln could not even use slavery as the moral impetus for the North going to war, knowing how unpersuasive it would be to so many. He had to argue that the casus belli was to preserve the Union.

It was not too many decades ago that the GOP considered Democrats soft on communism—primarily the USSR. Those tables have now turned. Trump practically embraced Putin, and Trump still has influence. We cannot return to the isolationism of 1914 or 1940. For those getting wobbly on support for Ukraine for fiscal reasons, and for others unmoved by Russia’s scorched-earth policy and the grim deaths of old women and children due to Putin’s indisputable war crimes, they should consider that if Putin wins, we and other democratic nations lose, and we might even find ourselves in a wider war. Robust, full-throated military and humanitarian support for Ukraine is the first international moral test of this century.

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Waldo Emerson’s Literary Offenses

I am re-reading Emerson’s essay “Nature” and finding myself mostly annoyed by it. I have long admired Emerson, the writer once referred to as the “indispensable man” in American letters, having studied him a little in both undergrad and grad school, visited his house in Concord back in the 70s and again in 2018 with Russ, and admired and partaken of his Unitarianism as a teenager. I came to love the gestalt of Concord, inhabited by Emerson, Thoreau, Bronson Alcott, Louisa Mae Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. It became a town of my imagination, its winters, springs, summers, and falls all easily summonable. For me, Walden Pond was the hub of this “hub of the universe,” Thoreau being, for me, the true central figure whose present and continuing fame seems to have slightly eclipsed the seventeen-years-older Emerson. Emerson was an essayist and poet, but no single work of his quite captures the enduring impact of Walden, and I wonder if any of his essays—as famous as “Nature,” “The Divinity School Address,” “Self-Reliance,” “The American Scholar,” and others are—has had the continuing appeal of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.”

So, despite my greater affinity for Henry, why does this other man I admire annoy me with his “Nature”? It is true that I have drifted a bit toward Mencken’s opinion of meta-physics, in which the meta is that vast unseen world and universe which provide much room for philosophical speculation and for mischief. Being good Transcendentalists, both Thoreau and Emerson enjoy the interplay of the objective, concrete world and what they see as the meta-physical world. But where Thoreau, in the introductory “Economy” chapter of Walden, anchors his grand Transcendentalist vision of living an “economical” life unencumbered by a thousand superfluous objects and (for him) frivolous diversions in the prosaic business of buying a few nails and boards to build his cabin, Emerson flies higher, and thus is less appealing and more obscure. I get lost in the empyrean sublimity of his prose. One might think of Aristophanes’ portrait of Socrates, hovering over the earth in The Clouds, holding forth with his speculations and queries, a slightly fatuous old man whose un-sandaled feet don’t touch the ground.  Magically teleported forward twenty-two centuries to Emerson’s day, would Aristophanes put the Concord sage on an even higher plane, looking down and jousting with Socrates?

Emerson is capable of concision, but his attraction to spirit and God and soul call him to Olympus. His prose teeter-totters between rapturous metaphor and an anthropomorphic nature-spirit bordering on the incomprehensible. Take this barbarous sentence suggesting the latter:

“We learn that the highest [truth] is present to the soul of man; that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or through ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old.”

This, for a fellow like me chained to the soil, is flying high indeed. We do have a nice simile at the end, but it is swimming against a fierce meta-physical current to get there. I love a comma as much as anyone, but dear Waldo, the period is not the harbinger of the bubonic plague. True, some of Jeremy Bentham’s sentences crush your mere 120 word-storm for sheer volubility, but his is a dubious prize. Yes, a contemporary critic must avoid the fallacy of presentism and not scorn the author for a style no longer in vogue—in this case sometimes  horizonless sentences floating in the stratosphere. The same may be said for his use of whence, whereto, whilst, even saith. But I don’t recall those words in Thoreau (I could be wrong here), even though the last sentence of Walden does aspire to that empyrean sublimity Emerson both achieves and is guilty of.

As the uber Transcendentalist, as well as Platonist, theist, and mystic, Emerson has no particular objection to the senses except when they blind us to what is beyond or behind them, namely, God, spirit, Ideas, and the all-encompassing Over-soul (a term not mentioned in “Nature”). Which apparently is often. He approvingly quotes an unnamed poet: “The foundations of man are not in matter, but in spirit.” He refers to “this despotism of the senses”—a Platonic idea for certain—and wishes to “build science on ideas,” presumably rather than building it on observed facts. “Empirical science is apt to cloud the sight, and by the very knowledge of functions and processes to bereave the student of the manly contemplation of the whole.” Such a fate “leaves me in the splendid labyrinth of my perceptions, to wander without end”—a gorgeous metaphor, meant to warn. I wish that he could acknowledge that in climbing out of the labyrinth he might also see chimeras, intuiting things that might not exist. Of course finding the supernatural behind the natural and the sublime in the minuscule is the Transcendentalist’s stock-in-trade, and the minister’s too. It is what they do. We can appreciate his search for the divine in the material, the meta beyond the physics; but both Emerson and his admirers (of whom I am one) should take care not to let the fruits of that search devolve into dogmatism or self-delusion.

Friends, Relatives, Countrymen

I once before noted on Facebook that I reserve my political commentary for an unvisited blog, being unwilling to annoy any of my Facebook friends with my ruminations in the form of original posts mired in politics. Facebook should be for fun, right? I do, I confess, sometimes reply to others’ political posts. On that one occasion when I broke my rule with an original post, I excoriated then-President Trump for his appalling comments and views of the American military. Anyone who supports American military veterans and active-duty personnel and still votes for this person for Commander-in-Chief—well, I’ll simply say that that is very, very hard to understand. (If you wish to see what he said and did or did not do, see “’Have You No Sense of Decency Sir?’” on my blog at https://johnrachalblog.wordpress.com/ Just put the title in the search box. Same for titles below in parentheses.)

But the upcoming election is so important that I feel obligated to break my rule once again. I really had hoped that the Republican Party would not have nominated this man or one of his clones. Had they done so, you would not be reading this. Though a Democrat myself, I was hoping the GOP would nominate someone who fell somewhere within the broad middle of the American political scene—right of center, naturally, but a person who was not a narcissist, not someone who was “utterly amoral” and a “pathological liar” (as Ted Cruz once said), not an authoritarian, not a friend to other authoritarians, not a person devoid of moral or spiritual values (see “Who Would Jesus Vote For?” on my blog), not a person far too incompetent and too ignorant to hold the office once held by Lincoln.

This election is ultimately about three central themes: character, truth, and democracy—not individual policies. Except for those who are irreparably fervid in their devotion to Mr. Trump, few arguments are needed to illustrate the “character” or the “truth” problems. He lied for years about then-President Obama’s citizenship, finally acknowledging that Obama was an American citizen, but notably never apologizing for the lie. After avoiding the draft during the Vietnam War by having a doctor report that he had bone spurs in his feet, he attacked American military hero John McCain out of sheer Iago-like jealousy of the high regard in which most Americans held him for his refusal to take early release from the North Vietnamese when they discovered who he was (see “When Amorality Meets Character”). In a late 1990s interview with Howard Stern, he said that during that war fear of venereal disease was his “personal Vietnam” and vaginas were “potential landmines.” He has used the Bible as a political prop in front of a church. When asked what his favorite Bible verse was, he claimed, since he didn’t know one, that he “wouldn’t want to get into it because to me that’s very personal,” and he was too slow to even think of The Lord’s Prayer. Mr. Trump appears to be so insecure that he lied about things as silly as the crowd size at his inauguration compared to Obama’s (photos clearly revealing the lie). He lied about his affairs and groping women, even though the latter is on audio tape. Most dangerously, he has continued to lie about the 2020 election.

Most of this you probably know, but please stick with me a little longer.

There is a Mafia-like quality to him, as I am not the first to note. He is certainly a bully, and like a lot of bullies, he is a sycophant in dealing with other bullies. He bullied Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, all but demanding that he “find another 11,000 votes” (see “’That Way Madness Lies’”). He admires, among a few other authoritarians, Vladimir Putin, taking Putin’s word in Helsinki that he had not interfered in our 2016 election despite our intelligence community’s conclusion that he had (see “Vlad’s New Puppy”). The Russians have a name for someone who can easily be manipulated to serve the purposes of others: a useful fool. Putin worked for Trump’s election because he knew that in Trump he had a useful fool. Even Trump’s infamous call to President Zelenskyy served Putin’s purposes: After congress had authorized military aid to Ukraine in the election season of 2020, the then-president tried to extort Zelenskyy into announcing an investigation into Hunter Biden by suggesting—“I would like you to do us a favor though”—that the aid was contingent on Zelenskyy’s announcement. No need to even carry an investigation out, just announce one. Zelenskyy didn’t. (See “Two Mobsters Walk into a Bar….”)

That didn’t go so well, and led to Mr. Trump’s first impeachment. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Trump called Putin “savvy,” and he has said nothing negative about Russia or supportive of Ukraine. Anyone supporting Ukraine’s struggle and opposed to Russia’s invasion, as I certainly am, would necessarily be appalled at the re-election of this man. Imagining anyone as reckless and undisciplined as Mr. Trump being in charge if Putin decides to use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine is extremely disturbing:  Trump’s bromance with Putin could lead him to call Putin’s choice of a tactical nuclear strike “savvy” and do nothing, or he could go to the other extreme, lashing out wildly and embroiling us in a world war.

My suspicion, however, is that Trump would do little for Ukraine, strengthening Putin’s hand. That too would be a tragedy for our country and for the world—not to mention gutsy Ukraine. It would be a tragedy for democracy globally. Not only would that failed phone call to Zelenskyy stick in Trump’s craw, but his submissiveness to Putin would disincline him from supporting Ukraine through weapons shipments and providing intelligence. Since the end of World War II the United States—and especially the GOP—has regarded the Soviet Union and then Russia as an adversary (despite a brief intermission in the Gorbachev years). Now, Russia is, in fact if not in official stated policy, the enemy. And now, more than at any previous time since the Cuban missile crisis, is hardly the time for America, under a re-elected President Trump, to roll over and hand Putin and Russia an unparalleled victory signaling American submission and an ignominious tolerance of Russian war crimes and expansionism. Indeed, it is never the right time to do the wrong thing.

Truth is critical to democracy. Where it thrives, democracy flourishes. Where it is suppressed or attacked, democracy fades—or dies.  Authoritarians and dictators the world over inevitably need to suppress truth, both burying their own misdeeds and substituting not only individual lies but an entire alternative “truth” since the road to autocracy is by definition a matter of controlling the narrative in favor of the would-be autocrat. This was nowhere more evident—and nowhere a more serious threat to American democracy—than on January 6th, 2021, when Mr. Trump said to his rapt, even adoring listeners, “if you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country anymore” (see “1776 This Was Not”). He has repeatedly used the term “enemies of the people” in reference to a free press, echoing Stalin. Dictators and would-be dictators abhor a free press, and always, always move to supplant it with their own propaganda. The United States now has two competing truths, one which is real and where serious journalism and many of Mr. Trump’s former staff continue to reveal his moral, psychological, and legal unfitness for office; and one which is not real and where Fox News, Newsmax, 4chan, and Q-Anon flood the airwaves and internet with creepy fantasy and conspiracy on the other.

I know that, if anyone has read this far, some might say, “Well, OK, he lies sometimes and behaves like a child sometimes, but he’s still better than the Democrats and their dangerous agenda.” No. He is not. He is a false Messiah. I use this phrase quite intentionally, hoping that my Christian friends and relatives will recall the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus warns of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” Liz Chaney, as principled a conservative as they come, knows a ravening wolf when she sees one. So do many who worked for the former president. Mr. Trump has promoted himself from prophet to, in his own mind, the Messiah, having said “Only I can fix it” and referring to himself as “the chosen one.” For those who even one decade ago saw and still see themselves as pro-business, family values, law and order, anti-Russian, conservative Republicans, they are entitled to wonder what has happened to their now-cultish party.

Yet too many have drifted away from that long-gone GOP to the current radical, extreme right-wing, cult-like GOP where Mr. Trump and the poison he inspires in others threaten our democracy. Those “others” include far too many GOP politicians who once spoke harshly of Trump (I’m looking at you McConnell, McCarthy, Graham, Cruz, Rubio, DeSantis) and who know he is potentially a mortal danger to our country, but now fear saying so and ride the wave of his demagoguery. Even stealing classified documents gets a pass from Fox and its elected collaborators. Marco Rubio wriggled like a worm on a hook and called it a “storage problem”; one wonders what he and Fox and company might have said had Obama carted top secret documents off to Chicago. Storage problem. Sure.

So I am not talking about mere policies; conservatives and liberals will always debate policy. I am talking about character, truth, and democracy. We have a choice: in favor of those three themes, or opposition to them. The choice really is that stark.

“ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK”: Well, They Did, in the Form of a Subpoena You Ignored

After the former president of the United States ignored a subpoena, a few days ago the FBI obtained a warrant to search Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home for more classified documents and other materials he illegally removed from the White House at the end of his disastrous presidency. Predictably, all the right-wing talking heads, politicians, and their credulous followers are apoplectic, accusing the Justice Department and the FBI of having been “weaponized” against Trump and all his forces of good, and threatening biblical retribution on the Democratic forces of evil trying to shatter American democracy. As Adam Serwer of The Atlantic quotes various Republicans, they are all about law and order when Black Lives Matter protesters are in the streets or Democratic office-holders need investigating, but if law and order is applied to them, the FBI becomes “the gestapo.”

It used to be that bald-faced hypocrisy was disqualifying for government service; now, along with undermining democracy, it is one of the two defining characteristics of the GOP, even at its highest levels: witness Trump continuously claiming the Fifth at his recent deposition in Manhattan, after years of deriding anyone claiming the Fifth as obviously guilty; or former and possible future House Speaker Kevin McCarthy blaming Trump for January 6th immediately after the insurrection but a mere eight days later groveling at Mar-a-Lago and kissing the ring of the former president; or former and possibly future Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also angrily blaming Trump for the assault on the Capitol and the Constitution that day and not long after stating that he would “absolutely” vote for Trump if he is the 2024 nominee.

Or there’s the amazing gymnast cum contortionist Lindsey Graham, calling Trump (1) an “idiot” and “unfit for office” in 2016 (cited by Mark Leibovich in a brilliant takedown of Graham and McCarthy), then (2) squeezing himself back into the Dear Leader’s oozy embrace during Trump’s presidency, then (3) flipping again by declaiming to loud huzzahs on the senate floor the night of January 6th that “Today all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough,” and shortly after (4) flipping back to MAGA orthodoxy, having tested the wind yet again. In the wide, wide world of political gymnastics, Graham smiles in the warm glow of the spectators’ applause. He has just scored a perfect 10 on the (Senate) Floor Exercise event, performing what may be called a Lindsey Quadruple, or a Lindsey Quad as his friends might say. Apparently, in the Republican party of Trump, McCarthy, McConnell, and Graham, there is no longer any shame to be attached to hypocrisy—staying true to some moral standard, or even just to what you said last week, is a game for fools.

Have I mentioned that the country is in decline, albeit, one can only hope, not a permanent and irreversible one? While hypocrisy and authoritarianism define Trump’s party, truth is now its official enemy. There are a few honest (and brave) elected conservative Republicans—Liz Cheney foremost among them—but the party is still Trump’s, and is likely to continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Truth, like the truth about the 2020 election for starters, is anathema to the Trumpanistas. If truth wins, they lose—and they know it. Some, like Greene, Gosar, Boebert, Jordan, and their ilk are so rabid, so intellectually impoverished, that one is tempted to think that they truly believe their idiocies. Jewish space-lasers changing Trump votes to Biden? Secretive Italian operators doing the same? Well, if nothing else, we have established beyond question that jaw-dropping ignorance, head-spinning fantasies, and totalitarian instincts are no bars to being elected to congress—or to the presidency.

During the era of the Vietnam War, there was a saying among conservatives: “My country, right or wrong” (the original 1872 quote from Carl Schurz was “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; if wrong, to be set right”). Now, that dubious half-quote is long gone. Now the unstated standard in the GOP is: My party, my clan, right or wrong—to hell with the country. And we can even see the next and final step: Me, my position, my power; all else—country, honor, courage, truth—is just the posturing I do to get elected and stay in office.

Decline

Ronald Reagan had a wonderful line with a hopeful and optimistic image: “Morning in America.” It was an image of freshness, possibilities, and great expectations—a GOP vision that even skeptical Democrats could like. But that GOP is now in the morgue, displaced by a new generation of the GOP, one disdainful of that optimism and driven more by “American carnage” and violence as “legitimate public discourse.” With some two-thirds of Republicans still believing that the 2020 election was stolen from them, the party has degenerated into grievance, fear, and willing marks for disinformation. It is increasingly clear that one of the two major political parties in the United States has disqualified itself from leading a country purporting to be a democracy. The question is whether or not America’s current decline—despite a two-year window of Democratic control of the presidency, the House, and, ever so barely, the Senate—is permanent or just a massive wave in the ebb and flow of our history.

(It is worth noting that the Senate is virtually in Republican hands since Joe Manchin is a DINO, a Democrat in name only. He was the only Democrat to vote against the Democratic effort to legalize abortion after the Supreme Court has made clear, as everyone knew, that it would revoke the past fifty years of nationwide legal abortion—this after he earlier this year torpedoed Biden’s Build Back Better bill. Meanwhile Republicans Murkowski and Collins also voted against the abortion bill, despite having pointedly accused Trump’s last two Supreme Court nominees of about-faces from their support of “established law” during their interviews preceding their hearings, to their almost certain support of revoking Roe v. Wade this coming fall. So Murkowski and Collins had effectively hinted they would support the Democrats on this but then voted their party line.)

But back to the issue of decline. Democrats are poised to lose the House and Senate this fall, and I would put $1000 on their losing the presidency in 2024, quite possibly to Donald Trump. Fox News and conspiracy-oriented social media are both the harbingers and the cause, along with Trump and the politics of fear and grievance he embodies, of American decline. A woman who refuses to get a covid vaccine despite the covid deaths of family members makes all kinds of claims about the vaccine’s dangers and “government control,” then says that she’s done her “research” and with palpable contempt insists that “I’m NOT an idiot.” By this she means falling for government disinformation when the truth is available to her with some digging on 4chan and other forums for the credulous, now even including some churches. Any honest American history written in, say, 2150 will inevitably dissect the current dumbing down of America instigated by the revenue-generating, fear-driven politics of Fox News, along with the viral capabilities of Facebook, Twitter, and the darker corners of the internet. These forums, that future historian will tell our descendants, were pivotal in stoking Trumpist outrage among uncritical believers where people like Ms. “I’m NOT an idiot” spend hours per day doing their “research” and sharing that so-called research with other gulled inhabitants of Plato’s cave.

Between gerrymandering and the Electoral College—both fixable—American democracy’s structural flaws will continue to make their own contributions to American decline. Gerrymandering allows even a purple state, one with rough parity between the parties that can go either way in a presidential election, to end up with a grossly disproportionate number of its House seats going to one party, typically Republican, due to politically motivated drawing of the districts. As for the Electoral College, as I am informed that I never tire of saying, twice now in just five elections it has given us a president who lost the election based on the number of votes received (2000, 2016), with the consequence that we had the most ignorant and authoritarian man ever to hold the White House damaging the country and accelerating and feeding the decline. Exhibit One, of course, was January 6, with the Republican National Committee actually defending it by calling it “legitimate political discourse.” Nor do I need add that the Electoral College gave us at least three and possibly five conservative Supreme Court Justices who would have been instead Democratic-appointed moderate to liberal justices had the candidate whom most Americans voted for in those two elections become president. I read yesterday that by some mathematical calculation—presumably a few large blue states electing or re-electing their Democratic senators by wide margins and several small red states electing or re-electing Republicans—it would be possible for senate Democrats to win 51% of the total Senate votes cast in 2022 and still lose eight seats.

There is still a range of Republicanism, from the few remaining moderates and strong conservatives who nevertheless despise Trumpism, to the expanding, increasingly Trumpist neo-fascism of the far-right fringe—a fringe metastasizing throughout the body politic of the GOP. But the day of Reaganism and small-government, business-oriented, conventional-moral-precepts-Republicanism is over. Today’s Republicans are all about big government, but a certain kind of big government—the kind that seeks to airbrush our racial history, peek into bedrooms and medical exam rooms, embrace creeping autocracy, substitute their members’ “research” for reality, demonize liberal democracy, call treason patriotism, invert lies as truth, reject inconvenient election outcomes, and generally re-make society in ways to make authoritarians the world over happy.

Democracy Fading

I wish I could feel more optimistic about 21st century America. It is generally conceded among those who do not have to cheerlead for Democrats that the Republicans will take over both the House and Senate in the 2022 elections, and anything approaching a Biden agenda will ground to an unceremonious, broken-down halt. Indeed, American factionalism is so profound that only three Republican senators could see their way to support the eminently qualified Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Breyer. Almost everything else is strict party-line, except for Democrats Manchin and Sinema who sabotaged Biden’s already much-compromised Build Back Better program. Republicans do seem willing to join Democrats in supporting Ukraine with weapons, but for about everything else, Republicans especially seem willing to put party (and thus power) above country, morality, fairness, and personal integrity. Romney and perhaps Collins and Murkowski in the Senate and Cheney and Kinzinger in the House seem to be the only exceptions.

The party-and-power-over-all-else doctrine seemed perfectly illustrated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who after January 6 did the right thing by blaming Trump for the insurrection, and who now says that if Trump is the nominee in 2024, he will “absolutely” support him. So he is saying that the man that he himself said is responsible for the storming of the Capitol and the intended violent overturning of a fair election will be his man if Trump succeeds in winning the nomination two years from now. That turnabout is worthy of our sober reflection. McConnell, who said the right things in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection—including the fact that Joe Biden actually won—is willing to allow his integrity only to go so far. The president who was impeached twice, who lies from the minuscule (his inauguration crowds) to the epic (saying he won in 2020), who publicly admires Vladimir Putin, who more than any other single human being is responsible for turning normal conservatives—your uncle or mine—into deluded right-wing extremists, and who is and for the last five years has been the single most dangerous internal enemy of American democracy is now the man McConnell is “absolutely” willing to return to the White House.

Perhaps McConnell has been sobered by the fact that Trump still commands the collective adoration of the Republican party, given that 71% still believe, amazingly, that Biden is not the legitimate U. S. president. Thus, unwilling to buck that near consensus, McConnell trades his integrity for expediency. He is too smart, unlike some of the lesser fry of the GOP like Gaetz, Jordan, Cawthorn, Greene, et al., to be unaware that Trump is unequivocally the most demagogic, autocratic president in our history. He absolutely knows this, as do those marvelous contortionists Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham. Even if McConnell couldn’t see it for himself, his wife could tell him, having served in Trump’s cabinet. And yet, rather than say that he could not and would not support a second Trump term, he is willing to embrace a proven would-be despot, to put democracy at extreme risk, to invite the return of a sewer of presidential corruption, to subject the country to another corrosive four years of the degrading of truth as a critical democratic value, and to ignore the probability of future catastrophes Trump could beget during another term in the Oval Office.

This symbiosis of congressional cowardice and collusion, fed by half the populace who cannot see or choose not to see the poison Trump has injected into the body politic, depletes the strength of American democracy. As fantasy substitutes for reality and grievance displaces truth, democracy fades. The toxic mix of cowardice and collusion, fantasy and grievance, is enormously abetted by so-called news channels and a social media which daily, hourly, heaves gobbets of lies and disinformation at an addicted public craving new alleged outrages upon which to gorge. This public expects its Republican leaders to slay their imagined dragons. So McConnell and Trumpism Inc. choose to pretend the dragons are real rather than suffer the fates of apostates like Cheney, Romney, or, worst of all, Mike Pence, who would be dead today had he fallen into the hands of the January 6th mob—the mob engaged in “legitimate political discourse,” says the Republican National Committee. When Trump told his already stoked partisans that day “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore. . . . So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue,” he aimed at the very heart of American democracy, while he himself scooted back to the White House.* Democrats, already reviled by the crazy right as child sex-traffickers, and scorned by the merely deluded right as anti-American, have no standing to convince half our population that Trumpism corrodes democracy. Only Republicans can do that.

*June 28, 2022 testimony by Cassidy Hutchinson, aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, to the January 6 House Committee revealed that Trump did indeed want to lead the mob at the Capitol in person, even wanting to go into the House chamber. He even grabbed the steering wheel of the presidential limousine, saying “I’m the fucking president,” when the Secret Service agent driving the car would not take him there and returned him to the White House.

Churchills, Not Chamberlains

There is no off ramp for Putin. None. He is far too committed to what he has already done, killing thousands of Ukrainians (2,100 so far in Mariupol alone), targeting residential areas and hospitals in a war of terror. He has turned several Ukrainian cities into wastelands. He knows there is no turning back. He must win, and he must intimidate the West and NATO into a willingness to allow Ukraine to go under. He threatens the use of tactical nuclear weapons, of which he has thousands and the United States has some 230. Lenin had a motto: “You probe with bayonets; if you find mush, you push. If you find steel, you withdraw.” So far, the bayonet has not hit much NATO steel.

I am still hopeful that—short of Western military intervention—once he has destroyed the country and killed tens of thousands, he will be unable to occupy the country for the long term and that a Ukrainian Resistance and sanctions will somehow bring him down. But hope is not a dependable strategy. He has terrified us into thinking that World War III will ensue if NATO takes any military action. Putin has already said that we have committed an act of war merely by supplying Ukraine with weaponry. I am off the fence now: Enact a no-fly-zone as a start. Eliot Cohen, noting both Putin’s military weakness (despite his one advantage in tactical nuclear weapons) and NATO’s strength, has pointed out that American aircraft have fought the Russians in third countries, including Syria, Korea, and probably Vietnam. A NATO military presence over Ukraine is not the same as attacking Russia on its own soil. If Putin thinks he has a right to be on his enemy’s soil wreaking desolation, we have a right to be on our friend’s soil stopping him. We should at least bring a knife to the knife fight—and probably a gun. Our unwillingness to even support Poland’s offer to supply its own Migs to the Ukrainians and “backfill” the Poles’ reduction with our F-16s suggests that we are too afraid to even come to the fight, and are willing to watch the Russian Bear gobble up a country and murder its people, and not just its soldiers. We should be Churchills, not Chamberlains.

Short of that, we have the Hope Strategy—an unsustainable Russian occupation of Ukraine, a strong Ukrainian Resistance, Russian war fatigue, China choosing not to throw Putin a lifeline, and eventually Putin’s fall. And maybe the Hope Strategy will eventually be enough. But there is an alternative possible scenario: The West will tire of their own sacrifices in imposing sanctions, and rather than rising up against Putin, Russians may be duped by Putin’s propaganda and stand with him, while dissidents disappear. Ukraine will be in his pocket, and more countries may be on offer. He will smile at the political and moral weakness—the mush—of the much-vaunted NATO, America in particular. And what is left of Ukraine will stare at America and agree with Putin at least on that.

Was the Third Kid Wrong?

As of yesterday, Putin’s war had moved into western Ukraine, increasingly beginning to threaten the capital. Putin’s military has proved to be less capable than expected, and Ukraine’s more so. But size and weaponry matter, and artillery is now targeting civilian targets—against all conventions and making the Russian decision-makers war criminals. Several hospitals have been attacked, and Putin is attempting to strangle all the larger cities and to block western aid from getting in. Mariupol has no electricity, and food and water are at a point of dire scarcity.

It is clear that NATO will neither put boots on Ukrainian ground or planes in its sky or strike Russian targets inside Ukraine from bases within NATO countries. I understand it—World War III we are told—but I hate it. So many people will have to die because of this man. He will ravage the cities, decimate the infrastructure, and kill tens of thousands, including so many in his own army. Zelenskyy will neither leave nor yield, and I fear he will die in a bunker under artillery fire, or be arrested and sent to the Gulag. But the Ukrainian Resistance will fight on, and Russia’s installation of a puppet regime in Ukraine will not be stable, especially as an extended occupation by Russia increasingly becomes too costly and Russian support for the war ebbs. As the sanctions take hold, as western businesses abandon Russia, as modern conveniences Russians have accustomed themselves to crumble, as the last vestiges of a free press are extinguished, as unemployment and costs for everything rise, as Russian boys come home in body bags, as Russians realize the propaganda they hear is all a lie, as they weary of a war most of them probably never supported in the first place, my hope is that Biden will say, Do you want this to end? Do you want sanctions lifted and your boys brought home? Then let us examine, at a site of our choosing, the body of Vladimir Putin; or, if you prefer, send him to The Hague to stand trial for war crimes. We prefer the latter—but will accept the former.

When I was in the sixth grade, there was an undersized, poorly dressed, somewhat unkempt kid named Robert Alexander. I remember that he looked vaguely Hispanic, with dark eyes and unruly dark hair. He had very large, protruding front teeth; he had not one friend that I knew of. He slept a lot on his crossed arms at his end-of-the-row desk, which, to my surprise, the teacher let him do. It’s possible that Miss Burks, probably in her fifties, had given up on him. Alternatively, her knowledge of him may have been much deeper than ours and she may have felt that decency entitled him to sleep. He was clearly from the other side of the tracks.

One day another kid in the class, Craig Burton—the biggest kid, and a bit of bully—said something mean to Robert, but Robert did not respond. My memory may be faulty here; it may have been that the big kid generally treated Robert with contempt. But in any event, a third kid in the class took Robert’s side, and the third kid and the big kid determined to settle things at recess. I remember that part well: right around the pitcher’s mound (which really was not a mound), the third kid landed a fist to the jaw of the big kid, which sent him crying from the field and ultimately to the principal’s office. For some reason the teacher did not send the third kid to the principal, but made him sit by her on the low wall overlooking the playground in the shade of a large oak.

Nuclear weapons were not even a threat, of course. But was the third kid wrong?

Hypocrisy on Parade

Yet another Joe Biden crime in the long rap sheet compiled by Republican hypocrites: Pledging to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court if he gets a pick. Now he has one, after Justice Breyer announced his retirement. We currently have a 6-3 conservative-to-liberal Court, and with Breyer being on the liberal wing, the political alignment of the Court will not change with Biden’s choice. If it were not for the Electoral College, which gave us Presidents Bush Jr. and Trump instead of actual vote winners Gore and H. Clinton, the Court would have a radically different Court, with six-to-three moderate-to-liberal justices and three conservatives, or even eight-to-one if President Gore had won a second term (Alito and Roberts were appointed in late 2005, in Bush’s second term). If the person with the most votes had won—in other words if democracy had prevailed in those elections—there would quite possibly be no Roberts or Alito, and definitely no Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, or Barrett on the Court. Three of those five, and possibly all five, would be Gore and Clinton appointees, coupled with Kagan, Sotomayor, and Breyer, also Democrat-appointed justices. Thus six-to-three or even eight-to-one moderate or liberal, not six-to-three conservative. Maybe one of them might even have received hizzerher law degree from somewhere other than Harvard or Yale.

 There has never been a black woman even nominated to the Supreme Court. So in the primaries, Biden pledged in the racially diverse state of South Carolina to appoint a black woman. There are 21.7 million black women in America. Yes, it was pandering, of course, but it was also principle: Isn’t it time to have just one black woman among the other 115 justices in the Court’s history? But Biden’s “crime” was making a pledge to do it. USA Today quotes four gravely offended Republicans (two of whom will be running for president in 2024 if Trump passes): Republican Nikki Haley said that Biden should choose someone “without a race/gender litmus test.” Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker lamented the pledge as “affirmative racial discrimination” and “sort of a quota.” Senator Ted Cruz of Texas called the pledge “offensive,” while Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey moralized that “the president should pick the person most qualified for the job, irrelevant of race or gender.”

How noble. How principled. How convenient. Now, when someone other than a white male is eligible, let us be color blind and gender blind. Of those 115 justices the Court has had, 108, or 94%, have been white men. Were we color blind and gender blind for any of those until Thurgood Marshall and Sandra Day O’Connor? For the great majority of those 115, was a stated pledge even necessary, even considered? Would McKinley or Taft or Wilson have needed to say “I pledge to you that if elected, I will appoint a white male to the Supreme Court”? Of course not. That pledge was assumed: “I, as president, will nominate a white male”—obviously. The racial discrimination Wicker bemoans now was a self-evident and necessary virtue when white males were the only choice. Our racial divide was so wide that, at least until Thurgood Marshall, no president would even consider someone other than a white male. Would Haley, Wicker, Cruz, Toomey and their Republican confederates have protested that? No, they would have been fine with the assumed, unstated pledge then since of course it would be a white male. That pledge was acceptable because it did not need to be stated; Biden’s was “offensive” because he made clear that his choice would be someone whose identity would not match the previous 108—or even the other seven. 

Gods and Dogs

I’m pretty sure that Leo is a theist and Lucy an atheist. I arrive at this conclusion based on Leo’s literally trembling fear during a thunderstorm and Lucy’s ability to wholly ignore it. Leo, like so many of the quivering bipeds in the mists of pre-history, quakes and shivers because he fears the terrorizing gods who thunder at him, demanding submission and obeisance in exchange for his continued meager existence and the possibility of finding a few bones and roots to gnaw on. He is in the early stages of forming some primitive canine religion, acknowledging the vast potency of the beings who control and threaten his pitiable life, and propitiating them with sacrifices of one or two of the rodents whose calories he can barely afford to forgo. Their anger subsides; they let him live. For this generosity, he establishes holy days, erects crude wooden effigies and stone idols, and spreads the word among his species of the means by which his terrifying, thunderous masters may be appeased. His fellow canines, having heard the thunder and as fearful as he, need little persuasion. He becomes what his descendants will call a priest. He is rewarded by finding a deer, dead only a week. He rises to leadership in the community, promulgating a rudimentary creed, and accepting tribute from his flock. He sits by warm fires, built by others. He has first crack at the scorched rabbit. Except when the gods get angry again, and he again cowers all a-tremble, life is pretty good.

Lucy, on the other hand, is not among the persuaded; no proselyte she. No thunder gods for her. Atheist all the way. Her eyes roll at her brother’s quaking. If she grudgingly acknowledges any masters at all, they are her parents; and her mind is clear that in truth they are, unknown to them, her subjects. She sleeps on a grand bed surrounded by them for her protection, lording that status over her lowly, credulous brother. Still, she is not without dignity-robbing, bone-deep fear, however fully divested of religiosity: If there is packing and car-loading, her advanced intellect warns her of abandonment and the inevitable shifting for herself thereby necessary. What new subjects—indeed, vassals—among the unwashed masses will be found to provide, provide? And going to the groomer for nail-cutting? I blush. She moans, cries, excretes, as if she is on the rack. But once back home, she resumes her regal status and lordly manner, pretending her sniveling never happened.

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