The Casual Blog

Tag: QAnon

Sleeping trouble, adieu to RBG, and picking the lesser of evils in Trumpworld

 

Canada geese at Shelley Lake

I heard on the news last week that a lot of people are having trouble sleeping these days, and thought, me too!  My insomnia seems to be getting worse, though it’s nothing new, and over the years I’ve learned to make the best of it.  Lately when I wake up at 2:00 a.m., I’ve been watching YouTube videos of gifted pianists playing Chopin and Liszt, which are stimulating, but in a soothing way.  

There are so many things to feel anxious about that just listing them makes me anxious, so I won’t.  I can scratch from the list the worry that Justice Ginsburg might not survive until 2021, since yesterday she died.  I met her when I clerked at the D.C. Circuit, where she was then an appeals court judge, and found her pleasant, though quiet and in no way charismatic.  Only more recently, from the documentary RBG, did I realize that in her quiet way, she was an extraordinary person, who devoted her life to justice and did a lot of good for our country.  

Great egret at Shelley Lake

What will the Republicans do now?  The thought of a Justice Bill Barr, Justice Stephen Miller, or Justice Roger Stone is more horrifying than another Justice Federalist Society Ideologue, but they’re all horrifying.  Is there some chance that a few Republican senators will feel enough civic responsibility and/or shame to put off confirmation until after the election?   We can only hope.

Even if we didn’t face the strong possibility of an even more politicized, reactionary Supreme Court, we’d still have big problems.  We’re at a crossroads of American history, and I’m seriously worried that democracy as we know it is at risk.

Although I have nothing good to say about Donald Trump, I’m not profoundly worried about him in particular.  In the last two centuries, we’ve had leaders almost as corrupt and unqualified as Trump, and survived.  My sense of dread is more about the new way of engaging with politics that he reflects and inspires.

This came into focus for me last week with an odd op ed in the Washington Post arguing that although Trump had a lot of negatives, he was still the lesser of evils.  The criticisms of Biden were vague, but after a couple of re-readings, I think I got the gist:  Biden’s policies would destroy the republic, because they were liberal ones supported by Democrats.

This was difficult for me to process, because I’ve always thought that liberalism was not a monolith, but rather just one collection of views among many on the American political landscape.  In the 20th century, there were all kinds of political positions in America, from far left to far right, and it seemed normal for people to have different ideas on what were the best policy solutions.  To resolve our political differences, we had institutions, like legislatures, where we tried to persuade others and find compromises.  We agreed to have regular fair elections, where we could get rid of bad players, and the winners could carry on with the democratic experiment.

For me, there was never a time when the Democratic Party seemed particularly wise or enlightened.  Indeed, for more than half a century I’ve watched Democrats participate in a long series of what I thought were terrible choices on business regulation, criminal justice, healthcare, social services, foreign policy, and other areas.  In all of those, it arrived at compromises with Republicans.  Neither party had a monopoly on bad ideas, or good ones.  

I thought there was general agreement on this:  that political parties could fumble and sometimes fail, but politics would continue, with the possibility that future compromises would be better.  It never occurred to me to view American politics as a winner-take-all game, in which political opponents were viewed as by definition illegitimate.  

So it took me a while to grasp that Trumpism involved a different kind of thinking, with little in common with traditional Republicanism other than the name. But I think I’ve finally got it:  Trumpism at its core is defined not by any policy objective, but by fear and dread of enemies.  And in the political arena, the primary enemy, as they conceive it, is all those to the left of far right — that is, Democrats, and people like me. 

Of course, not everyone who supports Trump thinks the same way, and there are surely some who will vote for Trump without intending the destruction of all Democrats.  Still, the thing that drives the Trump movement is not a set of policies or even a value system.  Rather, it’s a strong conviction that Democrats aren’t just ordinary people who happen to have different ideas as to policies.  They are evil.  And very frightening.  

Once I understood this, some things I’d thought were plain lunacy started to make a kind of sense.  It seems crazy to deny the reality and effectiveness of science — unless science is consistently supporting Dark Forces that want Us to change Our Way of Life.  Increasingly popular nutty conspiracy theories like QAnon have at their base a belief that politics is not just politics, but a battle between good and evil.  And as everyone knows, there can be no compromise with evil — that is, according to this way of thinking, with Democrats.

If you’re persuaded that Democrats are not just a political party, but rather agents of Satan, it probably seems reasonable to buy more guns and ammunition to defend yourself against them.  It also would seem right and proper to use force against them when they assemble to protest something.  

On the other hand, under the Democrats-are-evil assumption, it makes no sense to have free and fair elections.  If you did that, there’s a possibility Democrats might win.  And then we’d be in big trouble!  No, in this new, Trumpist view, to save our democracy and our traditional way of life, we need to have a different kind of election, in which those who disagree with us cannot win.  If they insist on winning, a reasonable response is violence.    

For a full on Trumpist, encountering opposition to Trumpism is different from an ordinary political disagreement.  It is treason, or worse than treason — blasphemy!   In this strange worldview, those who attempt to argue that Trump has minor or major shortcomings like, say, lack of intelligence or lack of character, simply prove that they themselves lack intelligence or character.  Those who oppose Trump (that is, Democrats and others),show, by their opposition, that they are wrong and evil.

This is not to say all Trumpists like everything about Trump.  Some do, but some have various criticisms of his manners or certain policies.  But Trumpists believe he is the lesser of evils, because his opponents are really and truly evil.    

Obviously I’m putting things a bit strongly, and not trying to address every individual variation.  Again, I don’t think every Trump supporter is this extreme.  I realize that there are a minority of them who are willing to have a sincere, good faith political discussion, and who are willing to allow that political opposition can be legitimate.  I’m always on the lookout for those, and happy to have more discussions with them.  

But there’s really no point in attempting to have a discussion with an extreme Trumpist.  They are not willing to listen to anti-Trumpist ideas, and may react violently.  If they’re carrying weapons, I advise keeping at a safe distance.  If we’re going to continue the American political experiment, we’ll need to get back to basics.  First of all, Democrats and others who still believe American democracy is worth preserving need to vote.

  

 

 

A little prayer for RBG, and notes on Portland, Hiroshima, and QAnon

 

We’ve had some interesting clouds lately

I have a lot of things to be grateful for, but even so, there’s a lot to be anxious about.  I try not to worry too much about those things that are well beyond my control, but it’s hard.  For one thing, you can’t always tell what’s completely beyond your influence.  You might be wasting your time, but then again, with a little more effort and a little help from friends, you might accomplish something.

The health of Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg is almost certainly beyond my influence.  She’s done a lot of good in this world, and now she’s old and very sick.  I assume she’s trying to do her job and stay alive until we have a new president.  Although I am not a praying man, and consider the likelihood that praying would do me or anyone else any good at close to zero, I’m making an exception for her.

The Black Lives Matter protesters are still in Portland and other cities.  Whatever the Trumpist plan was in having federal agents attacking peaceful protesters (like making a frightening vote getting spectacle for Fox News or provoking a race war), it didn’t work out, and the troops left.  In that battle at least, the protesters won!  It doesn’t look like Portland will be our Reichstag fire.  

The protesters across the country have already accomplished some of their political objectives, like more oversight of police in some cities.  It’s hard to tell how much progress they’re marking toward the larger objectives of ending police discrimination and violence and building a more just society.  Our society still needs a lot of work.

Police unions are a significant impediment in many cities.  There’s a very good piece in The New Yorker by William Finnegan that explains that those unions have strongly resisted attempts to reign in police violence and get the worst cops off the streets.   The unions are a lot more powerful than I previously understood, and state and local politicians have been unable to control them.  Another serious problem that needs protesting.

Rita, thinking

The pandemic is still raging, the average global temperature is rising, and the risk of nuclear war is increasing.  Sorry, I know it’s a lot, and I’ll stop soon.  But I’m hoping a few more people, and then a few more, will realize we’re on the edge of a nuclear precipice, and we need to carefully work our way off it.  To put it another way, because of nuclear weaponry, what we think of as normal life is extremely perilous, and what we think of as necessary and unavoidable nuclear policy desperately needs changing.

This week was the 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, the first use of a nuclear weapon.  There were a few editorials along the lines of it was too bad that we had to kill so many civilians, with vague hope it wouldn’t happen again.   I read one op ed that took the strange position that nuclear weapons had made us safer.  In the publications I follow, there was no great show of remorse or sense of urgency about preventing the sudden end of life as we know it.

Hiroshima is, in addition to being a Japanese city, also a famous book by John Hersey.  As a young reporter, Hersey went there a few weeks after the bombing and wrote about the horrors he saw.   The U.S. government concealed and played down the terrible human cost of the Hiroshima bomb explosion and its deadly radiation, and so Hersey’s book came as a big revelation to many.  See Washington Post piece.

It’s possible that Hersey’s writing on the subject, which made more real the brute horrific reality of nuclear war, inspired world leaders to give that reality an extra moment’s thought at some critical junctures and prevented more mushroom clouds.  He may have saved the world, at least for the time being.  As I mentioned, you can’t always tell what you might change.

But we’re still susceptible to enormous errors of judgment, such as the idea that nuclear weapons, which today are inconceivably more powerful and dangerous than the one at Hiroshima, are keeping us safe.  It’s all too possible that a technical glitch in missile detection or control, of which there have been several, could set off World War III.  It isn’t hard to imagine leaders with control of nuclear weapons making a mistake or having an emotional outburst.   We have a president who shows no sign of understanding the tremendous risks, and no interest in reducing it.  

And, at least in theory, whether to launch U.S. nuclear weapons that could destroy the world is entirely up to Trump!  This is not a good system!  Having withdrawn from treaties that provided a measure of safety, he now hopes to continue that project and resume nuclear testing.  As he probably doesn’t know (and I didn’t until recently), radiation from nuclear tests killed many thousands of Americans in the mid-twentieth century.

Speaking of delusional thinking, the Washington Post had an interesting piece this week about QAnon and Trump.  The QAnon ideas are vague and bizarre, but to believers, powerful.  They somehow manage to view Trump as a messianic figure fighting against a shadowy deep state and liberal Democrat criminals, and oppose science that conflicts with their opinions. 

For some, it’s a kind of game, involving hours of dredging the internet for clues.  A subgroup of them believe strongly in the need for guns to protect themselves from people of color and the government, or to fight for Q and Trump.  No one knows who Q is, but surprisingly or unsurprisingly, Trump and his circle have been supportive of him, her, or them.    

With a bit of luck, this nuttiness will be gone, along with Trump, in a few months.  But it’s worth thinking about how some people’s thought processes could end up trapped in such a place, and how to help them escape.  Pondering this, I composed the following, which I meant to be in good fun, though it may not succeed.

FEW ARE THOSE WHO KNOW THE TRUTH

My Facebook page has many friends
Though most I don’t quite know
They tell me some alarming things
It’s quite a horror show.

The secret plans of government
To take away our guns
And plans to let the deviants
Sodomize our young.

They’re letting foreign immigrants
Come take away our jobs
The dark invaders with long knives
Advance in violent mobs.

We know there is an ancient tribe
That sits on massive wealth
They secretly control the world
And operate with stealth.

They want to take our liberty
To make us take vaccines
To celebrate satanic rites
Blood sacrificial scenes.

Few are those who shall be strong
To fight with all their might
To master those who hate the truth
To stand up for the right.

Few are those who know the truth
Of the chaos that shall be
And the great man who shall save us all
From sea to shining sea.

Visiting Oberlin Cemetery, and five lessons from Hurricane Trump

Oberlin Cemetery in Raleigh

This week I went over to the Oberlin Cemetery, off of Oberlin Road in Raleigh, and learned a little history.  The cemetery served the Village of Oberlin, which was founded in 1865 by just freed formerly enslaved people.  It was named after Oberlin, Ohio, an abolitionist stronghold on the underground railroad, and site of Oberlin College, my alma mater.  

For a time, even as Reconstruction ended and the racist Jim Crow system started in the late 1870s, the little Village of Oberlin did just fine, gradually adding black owned businesses, schools, and churches.  The Depression of the 30s dealt it a harsh blow as local jobs disappeared, and many young people went north in the Great Migration.  In the 1950s, it was cut in two by an extension of Wade Avenue, and further disassembled by so-called urban renewal in the 1960s.  How much of the destruction of the community was driven by racism and how much was due to ordinary merciless capitalism?  Further study is needed.  

Today Oberlin Avenue is largely a commercial strip, and hardly anything remains of the 19th century village.  But there is an old cemetery that was started in the 1870s, which is worth visiting.  As these pictures show, it has large oaks, pines, and magnolias, and some attractive monuments.  Much of it isn’t carefully tended, but the fact that it is still there is a testimony to the strength of the black community there and its descendants.  

Last week we celebrated the Fourth of July more quietly than usual, or at least, most of us did.  President Trump had military jets fly over Mt. Rushmore, and before the fireworks, gave a speech in which he went all in on his trademarked fear mongering.  He targeted “angry mobs” tearing down our statues, and “bad, evil people” intent on intimidating “[us].”  You understand who he means by “us,” right?     

At this point, it looks like more and more people are noticing that Trump is totally incompetent and corrupt, a person who manages to be at once ridiculous and alarmingly vicious, who’s putting our lives and our democratic institutions at risk.  From recent polling, it looks reasonably likely that he’ll be defeated and gone in a few months.  Then we’ll be faced with the large task of the post storm clean up and rebuilding.  But in a way, I feel grateful that we’ve learned some things from Hurricane Trump.  

For example, here are five lessons learned:

1. Old-style racism is far from dead in America.  I’m talking about the people who still want to fly the Confederate flag and use the N word.  They’re a minority, but Trump turned them from a barely visible minority to one that feels proud and empowered, marching in the streets with guns and shouting excitedly.  The good thing is, we now understand that they are there and that we have to calm them down and address them.

2.  Xenophobia, the close relative of racism, is far from dead in America.  Lots of people who are uncomfortable with the N word are fearful of immigrants who look different and speak different languages.  “Build the Wall” makes no sense as geopolitics, but it makes perfect sense as political theatre.  Scapegoating foreigners has a long and ugly history in our country, and it has had another nasty revival as part of Trumpism.  But as with the previous item, at least now we know, and can start to address it. 

3. The American racial caste system is alive and well.  I’m distinguishing here between the racist ideals of avowed white supremacists and the more widespread sentiment that it’s natural and normal that white people have better schools, better houses, more money, and so forth, because that’s just how things happened to work out. 

The caste system ensures that we avoid inquiries that would undermine the system, like looking at our long and bloody history of oppression of minorities and the structural inequalities in jobs, housing, education, banking, and health care.  The caste system is harder to grasp than full on racism, but probably more corrosive.  Trump has done us the great service of bringing it more into view, and here again, he’s made it more possible to address. 

4.  We are sufficiently powerful to endanger a lot of the natural world, but not so powerful as to stop it from destroying us.  Over the last few decades, the science of climate change has become harder and harder to deny, but the President is still a die hard denialist.  Far from countering the looming catastrophe of climate change, he is working hard to bring it upon us as quickly as possible, through more fossil fuel mining and burning, less efficient cars, and opposition to every mitigation effort, including international climate cooperation and scientific research.  He even has new regulations to encourage more killing of wild animals!   

But we can be certain that Trump will not stop nature.  It’s very strong.  If we don’t change course, the atmosphere will continue to warm, with still more of our weather disasters like extreme hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, floods, and rising sea levels.  We can look forward to more deadly pandemics related to climate change and expanding human populations.  Here again, Trump has made our problems more visible and urgent.

5.  People are more prone to manipulation and delusion than we thought.  It’s easy to make fun of proponents of Pizzagate and QAnon, which are self-evident lunacy.  And we might have thought that having a president that lies constantly and shamelessly would eventually cause some distress and consternation even among his strong supporters.  But strangely, at least for many, it doesn’t.  

It turns out that constant lies tend to make us exhausted, cynical and indifferent, not much interested in truth, or prone to exotic conspiracy delusions like the Deep State.  With an efficient propaganda machine led by Fox News, facts are gradually replaced by alternative facts, and actual facts come to be viewed as fake news.  Even Orwell never imagined a manipulation and delusion system as disturbing, and as effective, as the one created by Trumpism.  

I could go on, but you get the idea.  Thanks to Trump, we can now see that elements of our system that we took for granted as sound and workable were badly deteriorated and close to catastrophic failure.  We thought we were living in a well constructed, comfortable house, and it turns out the foundations are rotten and the roof also needs to be replaced.  

The repairs are going to be time consuming and expensive.  It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is.  We need to focus hard on getting him safely out of the house, and then we can get started on the crucial repairs.  

On a cheerier note, I recommend Becoming, a documentary about Michelle Obama  which we just saw on Netflix.  I knew she was a gifted person, but I hadn’t known much about her story, or her remarkable ability to connect with people.