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.

Yours Truly Shows Off His Renewed Patriotism and Pride in Having Served

I found it appropriate that our last president (No. 45) was found to be unqualified to serve by a condition that affects heels. I have never made much of my stateside years in the U.S. Army because I actually got more from it than I gave: GI Bill, some great administration experience, and, best of all, a year to live in Colorado. Others gave their lives – whether they believed in the cause or not. Thus I am not inclined to stand and take applause and TYFYSs on Veterans Day. But Donald Trump made me very proud to be a veteran and proud to fly the flag of the United States of America.

One & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 1):

That I was privileged to live in America’s Golden Age.

Yes, 2020 was a challenging, no, a horrible year. The Trump presidency wound down toward an election loss to a demonstrably decent patriot who loves America as much as I do. So there will be some better days ahead. But, with so much to be turned around and salvaged, what will our new President Biden be able to accomplish and sustain?

My fear is that you and I, dear reader, have seen the best of America’s days. We are the country that, in my lifetime, liberated Europe, emptied the concentration camps, welcomed millions of immigrants, advanced space technology, outlasted the Soviets in a Cold War and did all these things and still managed to turn out creditable literature, music, and visual art. Government programs provided assistance so that people could eat, become educated and receive a level of health care that, even at its lowest level, was better than people receive in much of the rest of the world.

Our appraisal of history is limited by our place on the time line and by our position in society. When I say we have lived during the Golden Age, I understand that most of the people who were alive at various times in the past probably believed that they were living in their country’s best years. And, of course, that assessment would vary by each person’s place in society. What may look like a golden age to one person, will look like a lifelong descent into hell by someone born without the privilege of color or inheritance. I am sure that my view turns to a large degree on having been born white and in a family where one or the other of my parents was able to work and secure some income most of the time.

But looking ahead to the future, there are so many problems of truly major proportions that it is hard to be optimistic. The climate is changing rapidly. We know why it is changing. We know how to retard and even stop the process. But we would rather gorge ourselves on material wealth, travel and entertainment. In the process, we have attacked the science capable of providing deliverance. Why? For revealing truths that would demand a level of discipline from us that no government was willing to enforce. The inconvenient truths Vice President Gore warned us about years ago.

We have undermined and exploited public education by privatization and “reforms” designed to reward teachers for teaching their students how to test. We have purposely denied health care to millions of Americans by failing to expand Medicaid to take full advantage of available federal funding. And political leaders have purposely led the public to distrust science, the key to so much of the nation’s progress since our founding.

After decades of progress in expanding the franchise, we are watching Republican majorities shrink the electorate through shameful voter suppression techniques. Technology assisted gerrymandering has made it possible for legislators and parties to perpetuate their majorities in the Congress irrespective of the general will of the voters. As a result, the legislative process is usually in a state of gridlock and unable to legislate for the needs of the citizens.

We have catered to the National Rifle Association as they campaigned to put guns and ammunition into the hands of every right wing voter the industry could reach in order to shake them down for the price of long guns and ammunition. The court has provided them an interpretation of the Second Amendment that arms manufacturers have taken to the bank while consumers take to the streets, armed and dangerous, to make the country safe for the nonsense and lies they have seen and read online.

All of these things taken together make it likely that we have not seen the last of DJT and his “base.” He was not the most competent candidate to lead an authoritarian movement. He may trail off into the sunset but the followers he has stirred will find someone else and, sooner or later, they will find someone with more of the skills and planning abilities to move beyond the entertainer stage of development Trump seemed be stuck in. It’s a job my junior United States senator seems to be auditioning for with great relish.

I look to the future of our country with foreboding. There may be another “Greatest Generation” out there. It seems odd to say it, but it may be us they have to liberate this time.

For the last fifty or so years, I have suppressed my pessimism. But my visions of the bad things that could happen have come true more often than not. I wish I had something more than thoughts and prayers to offer the young ones who have to try and deal with the mess we are leaving them. But I am afraid it has come to that.

Thoughts and prayers – and Joe and Kamala. May God bless them in their work.

Three & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 3):

When a campaign presents you a choice between a career politician and someone whose entire experience has been in private enterprise, always vote for the career politician.

One of the most overused appeals in Republican political campaigns goes something like this: “My opponent is a career politician. Vote for me because I have created jobs and made payrolls. I know how to work within a budget.”

First of all, there are all kinds of businesses. I think we can quickly dismiss the kind of business Donald Trump operated as being in any way relevant to the common defense or general welfare of the republic. Other more ethical business people can claim a little more relevance but when a retailer or manufacturer claims credit for creating jobs, it is well to remember that entrepreneurs without consumers are nothing. There is no payroll for them to meet if there is no one shopping for goods and services. Consumers make jobs.

Besides, government is not a business and trying to operate it like one will have the result of a lot of very bad policy resulting from the misapplication of the common practices of the workplace. You wind up with an education system that is oriented toward production – just like in business. But, production of what? The product turns out to be answers on standardized tests given by a child who has learned, by rote if necessary, how to take tests.

But what about career politicians? Republicans have been putting the smear on people in career public service for many years. Bureaucrats take a pretty good drubbing from the politicians of both parties really. They are safe, apolitical targets since the Hatch Act discourages them from participating in partisan politics. Democrats even jump into the game when they try to compete by moving closer to Republican positions. But Donald Trump essentially went to war with the career civil service or, as he called it, the deep state.

I contend that your best bet in that typical race between the “career politician” and “the businessman,” you are better off casting your lot with the career politician. They are more likely to understand the purposes of government, its mechanics and the importance of its standards and traditions. Donald Trump had no understanding or appreciation of any of these key KSAs and the result has been a near disaster.

So, America, if you wish to staff your government with something besides career politicians, maybe you should look to one of the professions. But don’t trust our fate to “businessmen” with no experience in government at any level.

Suggestion: Go with a school teacher. A teacher creates jobs every day of his/her life. Thinking young people who will be both producers and consumers in a capitalist economy are its most precious capital. And teachers build that base.

Four & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 4):

That reasonable people who love America should never vote for any Republican.

This has always been a personal rule of mine but I never faulted a friend for voting his/her conscience if it led them to the Republican column on the ballot. That was important for me in the town where I live because I am surrounded by some of the kindest most generous and gentle people you would ever meet. And around seventy per cent of them habitually vote for Republicans. And I do treasure their friendship. Well, some of them.

Most people vote for Republicans because they truly believe in limited government, private sector solutions, and any of several elements of conservative religious or social policy.

I hope they are able to resurrect a party that can help them make their vision of America real. My hope is partly grounded in my assessment that a Democratic Party without opposition will not be as wise in its governance as one which is constantly pushed to prove itself to voters in the marketplace of ideas.

But, as far as I am concerned, that marketplace has been so corrupted by dishonest vendors that only one party remains capable of governing in the year 2021.

The Republican Party has slipped slowly, but ever so surely, over the last fifty years into a morass of issues that have yielded us Donald Trump. Personally, I saw this coming in 1980 with the election of an actor of somewhat limited ability to the presidency.

He acted constantly against unions and what has since come to be known as the deep state. He broke the union movement with his mass firing of federal air traffic controllers. Not an activist by nature, my sense of what was happening to our country in the early 1980s led me to join a protest line for the first and only time I ever hit the streets to voice my opinion.

I became a member of CWA and joined other PATCO sympathizers and demonstrated at the fence outside Houston’s Intercontinental Airport (now Bush). I joined the protest because I saw the firing of the air traffic controllers as an assault on the right of workers to organize. It is not a right you find in the constitution. It was won the hard way through the confrontation of employer abuses with the righteous demands of workers. It was no trivial matter.

Reagan’s election also caused me to change my career path. I was planning a career in government public service but by 1982, with the president ridiculing public sector employees whenever he thought he could make the crowd laugh, I resigned my state job and joined the nonprofit sector.

And I never voted for another Republican, not that I had voted for a Republican before. But now it set a course from which I have never strayed. And I would tell any friend and my LJ brothers and sisters: Never vote for any Republican. Their interests eventually yielded Donald Trump’s presidency. The people who call themselves Republicans have a lot of soul-searching to do. I wish them success. We need an effective two-party system. I offer them my thoughts and prayers – but never my votes.

Five & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 5):

Reality television must be even worse than I thought.

DJT comes from reality television. I never touch the stuff. I confess that I did tune in “Dancing with the Stars” once to watch Tom DeLay embarrass himself. That was enough for me in this lifetime.

I will tune it in again if Trump goes on. He should cut a swashbuckling figure in his orange jump suit putting his old salsa moves to work.