The Casual Blog

Tag: bald eagles

Is Trumpist election-denialism really gaslighting?

We’re having a difficult holiday season.  The pandemic is still raging, as is Trump, who seems to be trying to vandalize our democracy on his way out of the White House.  I’ve been trying to stay positive and look forward to better, healthier times, but his antics are raising difficult questions.  

Are there some things that we can take for granted?  That is, are there certain things that we can safely assume we all agree about, where there’s no possibility of any argument — things we can call facts?

For most of my life I’ve assumed that there are a huge number of facts on which we almost all agree, with a much smaller number being things subject to debate.  Even in politics, I understood there was a large foundation of agreed-upon reality, with disagreements confined to relatively small areas.  Of course, I realized that there were people with completely nutty ideas, like the flat earthers and alien invasionists, but they seemed to be a small minority.  

Now I’m not so sure.  As of this writing, a majority of Republicans apparently still hold the view that Trump was the true winner of the last presidential election, and that the election was marred by a diabolically clever voting fraud.  There is overwhelming evidence that none of this is true, and that Biden won in the ordinary way by margins not subject to any reasonable doubt.  

For millions of Republicans to stand by Trump despite this evidence is not normal politics.  Trump has proposed, in broad daylight, to nullify the election and illegally take over the government based on an outrageous lie, and a majority of Republicans see no problem with that.  Their support has shaken my lifelong presumption as to most people’s sanity and rationality.  To put it directly, it seems like a huge number of otherwise normal Republicans either intentionally or unintentionally have taken leave of their senses.   

There is some possibility that this is just the biggest gaslighting of all time.  Under this theory, millions of Republicans are pretending that Trump won, knowing quite well that he didn’t, in order to drive the rest of us out of our minds.  Once we nonbelievers are certified as insane and safely locked in institutions, Republican elites can continue with whatever they’re planning, like eliminating all taxes for the rich, cutting all social programs for the poor, and destroying what remains of the natural world.  

It Trumpist election-denialism were gaslighting, it would be dastardly, but it would make some sort of sense.  But if, instead, the Trump deadenders are sincere and serious, we’ve got a really big problem:  a large fraction of our fellow citizens share a strong commitment to ending democracy as we’ve known it, paired with a determination to withdraw from our previously shared reality.

This is bad.  The Trump deadenders have gone out on a dangerous ledge, and really need our help.  But helping them off the ledge is tricky, because they don’t think they need any help, and they’re inclined to think that anyone who thinks otherwise is a dangerous enemy.

We need experts, including skilled  hostage negotiators.  This problem could use the talents of our most gifted psychologists, philosophers, economists, engineers, and politicians.  When we non experts are confronted with a desperate case, we can try to stay calm and project as much warmth and respectful concern as we can, and avoid making any sudden loud noises or alarming movements.     

I wish I had something more cheerful  to share, and in fact, I do.  As we’ve been holding on through this dreadful pandemic, we’ve been watching some really good TV.  Last night on Netflix we watched a fine documentary, titled Dolly Parton:  Here I Am.  I’ve always liked Dolly’s singing, but I hadn’t realized how hard she worked at songwriting and everything else.  Her persona looks comically simple but it’s not; she makes us laugh, feel, and think.  She’s amazing!    

The end of fall, a photo contest, a piano event, and considering impeachment

 

The fall colors have faded here in recent days, and the trees have dropped most of their leaves.  Most mornings I stood in the cold by Shelley Lake with my camera waiting for the first light and the birds. A few minutes after sunrise, the Canada geese took off with much honking and splashing.  For a few minutes, the calm water reflected the forest colors. Every so often, a bald eagle swept over the water, probably looking for a fish, but not catching one when I was looking. The great blue herons changed fishing spots every ten or fifteen minutes, while flocks of ring billed gulls wheeled about.  I enjoyed watching the birds and got a few shots I liked, which are here.  

I’ve been looking at a lot of nature photography as part of the Carolina Nature Photographers Association annual members’ choice contest, which I entered this year.  I certainly learned something in the process of choosing and polishing a few images, and am learning more from reviewing hundreds of competing landscapes, wildlife shots, and macro subjects.  It would be gratifying to place in this competition, but I’m not counting on it, since there are quite a few excellent images that could arguably be viewed as the best.

 

I also learned some things from my first piano performance at Presto, a group of amateur pianists that regularly play for each other in members’ houses.  While playing the piano has been one of the joys of my life, I’ve had few opportunities to share the music that I’ve loved with people who feel similarly.  I’ve viewed engaging with Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, and others primarily as music therapy, bringing me happiness and sanity.  But music is inherently social, and sharing it is important.

The Presto group in Raleigh includes some nice people who enjoy classical music and play at various levels, including some who are highly accomplished.  I felt some trepidation as I took on a fairly demanding piece, Chopin’s Nocturne in D flat, Op. 27, No. 2. But preparing helped me see some new aspects of it.  The actual performance was not entirely fun. At one point I felt like the hands attached to my arms were not my own, and they were not playing my best. But it wasn’t a disaster, and I appreciated several kind words.    

 

Meanwhile, I’ve been following the Trump impeachment proceedings with a particular question in mind:  what is the deal with Republican leaders? For my friends who are occupied with matters more important than American politics, here’s the nutshell from the new House impeachment report:

The impeachment inquiry has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection.  In furtherance of this scheme, President Trump conditioned official acts on a public announcement by the new Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, of politically-motivated investigations, including one into President Trump’s domestic political opponent.  In pressuring President Zelensky to carry out his demand, President Trump withheld a White House meeting desperately sought by the Ukrainian President, and critical U.S. military assistance to fight Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine. 

As my friend, Michael Gerhardt of UNC Law School, said (roughly), if Trump’s conduct is not impeachable, nothing is.   His written statement is here.   Key comments from the other testifying law professors are here.    On Friday a group of more than 500 law professors issued an open letter supporting impeachment. 

 

And the key facts really aren’t in dispute.  But Republican legislators are, at least publicly, united in support of doing nothing.  Trying to fathom what may be in their heads, I’ve considered various motives, but the most persuasive to me is fear.  Cory Booker mentioned this in a podcast interview with David Remnick a few weeks back.  Asked to explain why his Senate colleagues didn’t speak out, he said they were afraid.

I think what Booker meant was that they feared that their careers would be destroyed by Trump forces if they departed from Trumpism.  But there may be a related and deeper fear:  being separated from the tribe.  

For social animals, including humans, the need to be part of the tribe, herd, or flock is fundamental.  The individual cannot survive except as part of the group. Members of the tribe will tolerate bad leadership, as long as it’s not as bad as the highly risky alternative of isolation.

Of course, people do sometimes leave their tribes, and tribes splinter and re-form.  The really interesting question is how bad does it have to get?  In particular, what would the Trumpians have to do to exceed ordinary Republicans’ boundaries of tolerance?   I would have thought that subverting U.S. foreign policy for personal gain would qualify. But then again, I used to think that obvious fraud (like Trump University and the Trump charity), encouraging racist violence, bragging about sexual assault, and separating immigrant children from parents each would each be more than enough.  And that’s before we get to the attacks on the free press, undermining our traditional alliances like NATO, supporting recognized enemies like Russia, and threatening nuclear annihilation.  The list goes on.  

So it’s really hard to say.  But I’m trying to keep in mind that, even if we go over the constitutional cliff, it’s not because the Trumpian legislators are evil.  They’re just humans. And they might be persuaded to change course. That means it’s worth continuing the conversation.  

The eaglets fell but are OK, as am I, having retired

The eaglet last week at Shelley Lake

Last week one of the two eaglets at Shelley Lake fell from nest and was rescued.  The following morning I got some pictures of the remaining youngster and the storm-damaged nest, and caught up on eagle family news with other eagle fans.  I went up there again yesterday, and learned that the other eaglet had also been found on the ground and also got rescued. I saw one of the eagle parents fly to the nest site and perch briefly, with its back to me, before flying out again.

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Jocelyn and Kyle came down from New York to visit and help with a surprise party dinner for my retirement.  Yes, this week, after 32 years as a licensed attorney and 11 years as vice president and assistant general counsel at Red Hat, Inc., I came to the end of that chapter.  Mainly I felt happiness and excitement, but there were other complicated feelings, including regret that I won’t be as close on a daily basis to my work friends.  

But I’m looking forward to new adventures.  I’ll be the father of the bride in Jocelyn’s and Kyle’s wedding.  I’m planning on learning some new dishes to cook for Sally, and getting some golf coaching from Gabe. Also, in the next several months I expect to be traveling, studying photography, and making photographs of various living things, including flowers, fish, and grizzly bears, and lots of birds (like puffins, cranes, snow geese, and penguins).  

I’ll be exploring new piano repertoire, including more Chopin, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, and Debussy, and also reviving my jazz studies, which have been sitting in storage for quite a few years.  I’ll be sketching with pencil and paper, and also with an iPad. I’m hoping to improve my language skills in French, Spanish, German and Italian. I’ve also got a long English-language reading list — mostly history and various branches of science and philosophy, but also poetry and fiction.

My retirement dinner at Caffe Luna. Left to right: Jocelyn, Kyle, Sally, me, Gabe, and Clark

First off, though, I’m taking a few deep breaths.  When I left Red Hat on Friday, I went up to Raulston Arboretum to check on new flowers.  Then I stopped for coffee at Cup A Joe’s and sat for a while with a new e-book (Machines Like Me, by Ian McEwan).  It was a new thing for me to sit reading well after I finished my beverage, with no urgency to get to the next thing.  The next day, I went to our rooftop pool area with Jocelyn and Kyle to chat and read, and for the first time since we moved here almost 10 years ago, I got in the pool.  For such a hot day, it was surprisingly chilly and refreshing.