Advice for My Lake Jackson Republican Friends

My Republican friends don’t often look to me for advice. But under the circumstances they need to begin talking to someone besides the Trumpischer Beobachter crowd on social media. The conventional wisdom in the party is that if you cross Trump, then you will be “primaried” with an opponent from the right (far right) who will snag an endorsement from the 45th POTUS. And that is apparently enough to hold the incumbents in line and keep them defending and repeating the Big Lie.

But there is a way out for those Republicans whose minds still live in a land of patriotic conservatism and who view bipartisanship as something that is not only acceptable, but actually a desirable strategy for governing.

I suggest that they use the time-honored strategy used in Major League Baseball. Tank the team and rebuild from bottom up.

The major problem with this strategy is that in politics there is no reward for coming in last. In Major League Baseball, you get the pick of the college and high school players if you can lose enough games in the regular season. Of course this makes it hard to sell tickets but if you are patient and manage the cash flow carefully, you can soon find yourself in the World Series. The Astros did after multiple 100 loss seasons.

In baseball, no one admits that they tank on purpose. But in politics, it really doesn’t come up since there is no direct reward for losing.

The trick for local Republicans (real Republicans) is to find a way to punish those who would primary you for crossing the Former Guy.

So, here is my suggestion. Vote Democratic. Leave them to their games in the Republican primary and, instead, vote in the Democratic Primary. Think about it. You not only leave their sorry lot to compete in a shrinking electorate, but you get the added satisfaction of being able to primary one of my Democratic friends.

I know a few things about Democrats. And if there are conservatives voting in their primaries, the most liberal of them become moderates. In fact, they begin to behave a lot like the Republicans I remember from the olden Days of Eisenhower and the Bushes.

Would it destroy the Republican Party? So what? There can’t be much reason for real Republicans to try to save a party that has begun to behave more like the party of the Beerhouse Putsch than the one that helped liberate Europe and expand democracy throughout the world. In fact, it would be a service to all mankind if they would tank this Republican Party.

Then, Republican friends, you can go back and begin to rebuild America’s conservative party – one that would compete with the liberal ideas of Democrats. Only this time, a new Republican Party would stand on a foundation of truth and devotion to the Constitution and the principles of democracy.

And, just think. In the process of tanking the Trump party, you would get to have even more fun by moving the Democratic Party a little more toward the middle.

To be sure, I’m not altogether certain that I will enjoy that part. But I think it’s only fair that my party gives a little, too. Together, we might even come up with a revolutionary new idea in politics – compromise.

Rage and Rampage: Is It Really About Mental Health?

Friday night, Brazosport Center Stages opened its production of “An Iliad,” a play by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare. The play is an examination of the hold of rage over humankind and its expression throughout history as lust for war and blood. The opening night performance was provided with eerily apt real-life bookends by mass murderers in Atlanta and Boulder, one three days before our play opened and the next three days after.

Not the same, you say. One person with an automatic weapon is not the same as a war that pits populations against one another with all the force of their intelligence, technology, industry and wealth. I grant you that, in its scale, it is not the same. But the fundamental driving power of rage is the same.

In the case of the single shooter with the automatic weapon, he feels empowered to do what only armies could do in the past. And his weapon is the product of his society’s technology and wealth. (I considered the pronoun and I’m sorry to say for mass killings the masculine seldom fails.)

The New York Times offers a study that shows an undeniable connection between the availability of guns and mass killing. And the phenomenon is global. Societies with more guns produce more mass shootings.

After mass killings there is inevitably discussion of mental health as a possible factor. Of course, sick people sometimes do evil things. But it is our collective mental health that seems to be the problem. If there can be such a thing as societal or national mental health, perhaps the mental health argument makes sense.

In that case, we might say that a nation is insane when it produces large quantities of weapons of war and makes them easily available and, in fact, guarantees them as a right. Will the Second Amendment be read by our now right-wing court to guarantee the right to own and drive around in a military tank?  

Imagine if the nut groups that invaded the Capitol on January 6 had crowd funded the purchase of a few tanks? How better to express one’s rage than with a few old German battle tanks? That, of course, would require a more expansive reading of the constitution but our court as it now stands seems up to the job.

Meanwhile, we go about our days. I have grandchildren who live less than a mile from the King Soopers store where ten people died this Monday (March 22). It has been their family’s regular shopping spot for ten years.

Now their parents have the job of trying to explain what has happened, to make them feel safe, to inspire in them the courage to live their lives, and to help them understand what must be done to reclaim their country as a desirable place to live and raise their children someday. I do not envy them the task.

Happy Valentine’s Day: Eleven Months in Isolation and Reading Your Way into Depression

You would think that eleven months in coronavirus isolation would give you time to read some of the fun things you have been putting off. Maybe some good humor, or even some poetry, although most of it seems to have been written by people in depressed states.

But, speaking of poetry, a friend gave me Mary Oliver’s Devotions for Christmas. She celebrated the beauty of the natural world. That would be uplifting if we weren’t rushing toward the total destruction of nature.

Well, that stretches it a little. We are only destroying the elements of nature that support the kind of life we humans are accustomed to. It is only a bit comforting that no matter how much we abuse it, the rock we call home will continue spinning its annual trips around our supporting star.

If we snuff out human life, evolution will kick in again and we can pick up where we left off in a few million years – if we can somehow remember where we left off.

No, it is just as well we begin anew. We will need a new Bible, of course, with revealed word that can be dug up from the past. I would suggest Mary Oliver’s book for a book in the new bible on our revived planet Earth. Devotions could well be called the Book of Psalms in the New Good Book if her poetry somehow survives. Ms. Oliver was, herself, too modest to name her collection Psalms.

Some of my other choices seem to reveal a masochistic need to deepen the suffering of living in lockdown for what has been almost a full year. One of my first choices was The Plague by Albert Camus. It gave me a pretty nice introduction to the psychology of living in the lockdown world of pestilence and death. It’s not a pretty picture. But it has a happy ending when the rats return to the streets. Normalcy.

Then, Donald Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, emptied Donald’s family laundry basket so we could all pick through all his dirty cotton boxers and sweaty undershirts. (Mary L. Trump, Ph.D, Too Much and Never Enough) In it, Ms. Trump reveals that DJT is a narcissistic sociopath. I’m not certain that I am correctly citing her professional diagnosis but it will do as confirmation of what most of us have been able to conclude by watching the evening news. If anyone thought Ms. Trump exaggerated his sorry condition, the events of January 6, 2021 confirmed that, if anything, she underreported the depth of his dysfunction and the danger he poses to those around him.

Of course it has been the daily newspapers that absorbed most of my reading time. When DJT was elected I added online subscriptions to the Washington Post and New York Times to my daily encounter with the news. No one can read all of either one of those papers every day. But it gave me a good way to ease into the day’s new developments by reading yesterday’s with horror and a cup of coffee. Although I am never able to read everything in these two papers, I manage to read a lot and I also get to feel good about supporting serious national journalism. Oh, and Jeff Bezos.

Then I made the mistake of beginning to plow through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. I really thought it would have a calming effect by reinforcing the idea that as bad as Trump is, it could always be worse. I am still reading, just beginning actually. I have read 22 per cent of the book. (Thanks to Kindle, I can give you a precise report of my progress.)

But, already, I have been repeatedly chilled by the similarity of the track Trump is on to that of Adolf Hitler’s steady ascent to despotic power in the Thirties. Trump’s impeachment and pending legal actions by state and federal prosecuting authorities provide no exception. After all, Hitler spent nine months in jail after his Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, He used the time to write Mein Kampf, ghosted by his prison companion and lifetime follower-to-be, Rudolf Hess. If Trump should be jailed on tax evasion, he would no doubt compose his own manifesto with the help of some more literate inmate with ten-finger typing skills.

They say that as a discussion grows longer on the internet, the more likely that someone will throw out a Hitler analogy or some other Nazi comparison. (See “Godwin’s Law“.) And, there, the discussion generally ends. There is nowhere else to go as the discussion has degenerated into absurdity.

But don’t be too quick too quick to dismiss this one. Reading about the rise of Hitler after WWI, the similarities are downright uncanny. One begins to wonder if Trump has read the Shirer book. That’s not likely since he is a notorious aliterate. Nor has he likely read Mein Kampf, although his ex-wife Ivana claimed he kept a copy of Hitler’s speeches on his night shelf. Godwin’s Law would say that’s enough already. Out of bounds. End of discussion.

But, take a look, friends. The Big Lie. Check. The doubling down on claims shown clearly to be false. Check. The cultivated cravenness of partisans. Check. The promotion of violence among supporters. Check.

But to be fair Trump is missing a few important characteristics.

  • He seems not to like the sight of blood. He is happy for others to bathe in it but he doesn’t seem likely to be putting contracts out on people’s lives. As mob bosses go, he seems like a pretty lily-livered one. But he would undoubtedly develop the skills with time, need, and toothless legal and legislative oversight.
  • He is cagey smart and plenty manipulative but he lacks strategic thinking skills. He has people for that but neither are they exactly world class. (Think Stephen Miller, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon.)
  • He espouses no particular ideology of relevance for American voters beyond a nihilistic attitude toward science, government, American culture and rule of law. There is, of course, a unifying principle of opposition to anything vaguely inclusive of people of color, any color but pink-orangey-white. His son-in-law and daughter are Jewish so he differs with Hitler there, but only because they are snow-white and Jared is from a proper criminal family and had, from Donald’s perspective, the good sense to marry gentile.
  • Nor does he have Hitler’s oratory skills. He does standup comedy for the amoral semi-literate, racist groups but he doesn’t have the ability to excite millions of Americans with exciting crescendos of inspirational illiberalism. He can barely read aloud from a TelePrompter. Although sometimes I suspect he reads as he does to communicate to his followers that he doesn’t really mean what he is saying; he is required to say some things to stay barely inside the bounds of decency so that they may all survive another day as a movement.

So, where does that leave us? All I would say is that comparing Trump and Hitler does not extend to my good Lake Jackson Republican friends. They have simply had no choice (so they thought) but to follow along with the nominee of the party they have belonged to for years.

I would suggest to them that they take a look at our party system and the ease with which an extremist or demagogue can take over a party through our system of primaries, gerrymandering and campaign financing. So long as things move along as usual with ho-hum races between ho-hum candidates, there will continue to be folks sent off to legislative bodies to do their bidding and vote against taxes and regulation, except for being “pro-life” when it comes to regulating women and pro-death when it comes to reading the Second and Eighth Amendments. I think most of my long time Republican friends in Lake Jackson are repelled by Trump. The ones who continue to worship him after the Capitol riot are either folks who never participated much in politics or they were conservative Democrats of the early Strom Thurmond, Huey Long, Lester Maddox variety.

But keep and eye on DJT. I think he will keep holding rallies and egging on his followers. If he climbs back into office in 2024, America is in grave danger. You may say that his age is on our side but there are more youthful pretenders out there: Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Ted Cruz to name a few. Graham and Cruz are prime examples of the power of power to turn old opponents into remorseless lackeys.

So ignore my reading list if you are looking for uplifting ways to pass your days in coronavirus solitude. Get a copy of Love Story from an old paperback bookstore in the neighborhood and have a happy Valentine’s Day.

Day 319 in Coronavirus House Arrest – Watching the Big Kids Play Fortnite

There has been much to see during our 319 days of self-imposed coronavirus confinement. Many were things we thought we would never see:

  • a president attempting to sustain himself in office in spite of a clear electoral loss (there is even a word for it most of us had never heard – autogolpe),
  • his feckless efforts to use the judicial branch first by packing it and then by flooding it with sterile lawsuits hoping he would find appointees willing to advance his case,
  • a significant portion of the population consumed with bizarre conspiracy thinking,
  • and finally, a mob assaulting and desecrating the seat of our national government.

Sitting around in lockdown with not much to do but watch news and drink coffee gives me plenty of time to lie in bed awake at night trying to figure out what has gone wrong in the country of my birth and what we can do to repair it.

The violent invasion of the Capitol by our own citizens just over a fortnight ago was the most jarring emotional upset I have experienced since September 11, 2001. You may say “but it did not result in as many lost lives.” But I would say that the aims of the invaders, if accomplished would have resulted in many more. Extending Donald Trump’s stay in the White House would have extended his mismanagement of a public health emergency that has already, since January a year ago, resulted in over 400,000 deaths. And, even worse, it would have caused the death of a government and way of life many have fought and died to defend and protect.

I used the fusty old word “fortnight” in the previous paragraph purposely because in my late-night musings about the Capitol mob, it occurred to me that the attitudes they betrayed were like those of teenagers who were magically taken inside their simplistic Fortnite gamer world. No longer were they limited by their controllers and broadband speed. They got real world response to their guns and clubs. They roamed the halls and shouted threats seemingly with little understanding of what they were doing.

Of course, some of them knew very well what they were doing. They were the violent thugs from the more organized racist e-gangs who had mobilized followers to do things that were outside the bounds of their usual behavior. It is a well-known phenomenon of adolescents in groups.

My thought was not to condemn videogames. But maybe we should look at the ease with which grown men and women moved from victimless on-line killing of an undefined “other” into one of the most sacred temples of our democracy looking for the very real Vice President and Speaker.

In the games they play night after night, they routinely take out humanoid characters with guns, bombs, and clubs. I have watched groups of teenagers play Fortnite and it was an unsettling experience for me. These were good kids, and they were having no problem moving into this violent world. On January 6, we saw the grownups showing similar ease in moving the opposite direction, from their online dystopia into the real world. Was it every gamer’s dream? The game becomes reality and you get a taste of the power that can come with violence.