Category Archives: Marketplace of ideas

A couple of interesting pieces about cops

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I’ve almost cleared out all that email. I have five items left in my In box, and three of them were notes I sent myself to remind me to write about something. I’m going to go ahead and share two of them now…

In the last week or so, I’ve run across a couple of really interesting pieces about cops in America today.

Both are well-researched, and full of nuances. And you know I like me some nuances. It’s one reason I’m never terribly enthusiastic about protests in the street, even when I agree with the cause — to the extent that the “cause” can be boiled down to a yes-or-no question, which they almost never can, which is why you don’t see me march in the street, generally speaking. Whether you’re a protester or a counter-protester, it’s just not a medium for communicating nuances.

Anyway, the first piece was in The Washington Post last weekend. The headline says “The worst-case scenario,” which is kind of an exaggeration, like a sign at a protest or counter-protest, but the story goes far beyond that. But anyone must admit the scenario is not good, as the subhed elaborates: “Converging in a tense section of Huntsville: A white police officer fresh from de-escalation training, a troubled black woman with a gun, and a crowd with cellphones ready to record.”

Actually, if I remember correctly, a lot of people were recording; it’s just nothing went viral because the thing ended calmly, more or less. I’m not saying it ended great, because the factors contributing to the situation were pretty horrific, but thank God nobody got killed.

I’m debating with myself whether to try to describe the story that was told here in 4,500 words. I think I’ll let you read it if you’re interested, and then we can talk about it. Like a book club. I think it would be a better conversation if everybody knew what happened, and what was going on in everybody’s life. So that everyone can get over any tendency to think in either Donald Trump terms or “defund the police” terms. Because neither of those ways of looking at things come remotely close to describing these people’s lives, and the tragedies that led to this mess.

Anyway, the other story is from The New Yorker, headlined “How Police Unions Fight Reform.” The subhed is “Activists insist that police departments must change. For half a century, New York City’s P.B.A. has successfully resisted such demands.”

This should be the hypothetical place where Black Lives Matter people ought to be able to agree with law-and-order folk: Police unions get in the way of holding police forces accountable — at least in some parts of the country, especially in New York.

But of course the left and right have their own established positions on this. And in the interests of full disclosure, I’ll remind y’all that I don’t even believe public-employee unions should exist — there should not be power structures interfering with public servants’ accountability to the people.

But this piece (about 7,400 words) is another one that reminds us that reality resists fitting neatly into any of our own pat explanations for the world. For instance… police unions, historically, haven’t fit into the same framework as the rest of the American labor movement — for a number of reasons, a big one being that cops have so often been the people who cracked the skulls of union organizers back in the day.

Which means that police unions are… culturally different. They have more of an insular nature, more of an attitude of “Nobody cares but our brothers in blue.”

Anyway, whatever you conclude from it, it’s an interesting piece. I recommend it, and the other one. And if anyone reads them both, I’d be interested in what you think…

cop2

Yeah, this headline and subhed are different from the ones I quoted above. That’s because this image is from my iPad app. If you click on the link above, you get the other versions…

Let’s replace Ben Tillman with a statue of John Laurens

Tillman

I had this idea weeks ago. I doubt it’s original, because it seems too obvious. Surely others have thought of it.

But after finally watching “Hamilton” all the way through for the first time on Disney+ (which I need to do a separate post on), and seeing more about taking down statues in Washington, I wanted to go ahead and get the idea out there, in case other folks haven’t thought of it.

Obviously, Ben Tillman has to come down. Not because of protests across the country at this moment (or at least not solely for that reason), but because he was always a horror, and there was never a time when he should have been up there, by the standards of any time. Of course, I’ll admit I’m prejudiced, from way back. The newspaper to which I devoted 22 years was founded to oppose Tillman; that’s what The State was all about. Our first editor (and in a sense my predecessor) gave his life in the cause of opposing the Tillmans. And while I don’t know all the whys and wherefores, I know my family opposed him at the time (although I can’t explain all the causes). He was my great-grandparents’ neighbor on Capitol Hill, and I hear they were appalled when he would tempt my grandmother, as a tiny girl, to come sit on his lap on his porch by offering her apples from his cellar. (Which may sound sort of innocent, but can chill your blood when you think about him.)

Anyway, that’s settled. He’s got to go. We just need to get the Legislature to act on it.1920px-Lt._Col._John_Laurens_crop

But what do we replace him with? I think my idea offers additional incentive that should make us hasten to remove Pitchfork Ben.

Replace him with John Laurens. A South Carolinian through and through, and a hero who gave his life to help found this country.

And he was a hero in more ways than one, espousing ideas that were far ahead of his time, especially in South Carolina. Does that mean he was “woke” by 2020 standards? Probably not. But wow, it took guts for this son of a slave trader to take the public positions he did back in the 1770s and 80s:

As the British stepped up operations in the South, Laurens promoted the idea of arming slaves and granting them freedom in return for their service. He had written, “We Americans at least in the Southern Colonies, cannot contend with a good Grace, for Liberty, until we shall have enfranchised our Slaves.” Laurens was set apart from other leaders in Revolutionary-era South Carolina by his belief that black and white people shared a similar nature and could aspire to freedom in a republican society.[1]

In early 1778, Laurens proposed to his father, who was then the President of the Continental Congress, to use forty slaves he stood to inherit as part of a brigade. Henry Laurens granted the request, but with reservations that caused postponement of the project.

Congress approved the concept of a regiment of slaves in March 1779, and sent Laurens south to recruit a regiment of 3,000 black soldiers; however, the plan was opposed, and Laurens was ultimately unsuccessful. Having won election to the South Carolina House of Representatives, Laurens introduced his black regiment plan in 1779, again in 1780, and a third time in 1782, meeting overwhelming rejection each time. Governor John Rutledge and General Christopher Gadsden were among the opponents….

In other words, he stood against the overwhelming political sentiment in this state, on the state’s most explosive issue ever.

I also liked this observation from a history professor in Tennessee:

Laurens speaks more clearly to us today than other men of the American Revolution whose names are far more familiar. Unlike all other southern political leaders of the time, he believed that blacks shared a similar nature with whites, which included a natural right to liberty. “We have sunk the Africans & their descendants below the Standard of Humanity,” he wrote, “and almost render’d them incapable of that Blessing which equal Heaven bestow’d upon us all.” Whereas other men considered property the basis of liberty, Laurens believed liberty that rested on the sweat of slaves was not deserving of the name. To that extent, at least, his beliefs make him our contemporary, a man worthy of more attention than the footnote he has been in most accounts of the American Revolution….

So in other words this privileged white man of the South Carolina ruling class was saying, in the 18th century, that black lives matter. Which in his day and place, was an extremely radical position.

Maybe there are other good ideas for replacing Tillman. Truth is, almost anyone or anything would be better than Tillman. I was just trying to think of one who embodied something in our history we should be celebrating, for a change…

I thought Athena was the goddess of wisdom

Athena, right, with Heracles.

Athena, right, with Heracles.

Anyone else getting tired of news out of Portland? I am. I’m also concerned about it, frankly. I think this might be the place where Trump hopes to provoke a confrontation that could help him in promoting division ahead of the election (and hoping this time it works out better than the Lafayette Square fiasco). He keeps sending in federal officers girded for war, and more protesters keep gathering to confront them, and it’s hard to say what’s going to happen.

What better place to awaken paranoia about the left — in Portlandia, in the land of the 9th Circuit, a place that his base doesn’t consider to be “real America?”

So I worry. I don’t want to see Trump get his way by having a greater conflagration develop.

But it’s interesting to see the tactics the protesters adopt. Like the Moms. And, of course, like “Naked Athena,” who seems to have upstaged the Moms with the oldest trick in the book for grabbing attention. Men’s attention, anyway.

Here’s the thing, though: All the news stories I see about her keep referring to Athena as the “goddess of war.”

Well, OK, she wore a helmet and all, and war is listed among the concepts with which she is associated. But I always though of her as primarily representing wisdom. I mean, I thought that was the point of the way she came into being, springing fully-formed from Zeus’s brow. It suggested she was a cerebral being. It associated her more with the intellectual than the physical.

Which, I’ll admit, is not what “Naked Athena” was doing, so maybe that’s why those reporting looked for another way to describe her.

But I’m not wrong about Athena, or about her Roman wannabe, Minerva. Wikipedia plainly states that she was the “goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare.” I had forgotten the handicraft part, but in any case it’s wisdom first, warfare last. Perhaps because the Greeks had Ares and were therefore covered on the belligerence front.

That’s one of many nice things about the Interwebs — I don’t have to remember back to my two years of Latin in high school. I can look it up. So can — ahem — others who write about the ancients.

Anyway, I wonder a bit at this insistence on the war thing. Is seizing upon that third attribute a feminist thing, insisting that women are warriors, too? Or… and this is the thing that worries me… is it more akin to Elizabeth Warren rattling on all the time about “fighting?” In other words, is it about buying into the attitude that the confrontations in Portland (of all places) — or engaging in politics in general — constitute “war?”

I hope not, because that means siding with the guy who’s sending in forces dressed and equipped for war.

Anyway, that’s the kind of stuff I thought about when I read about “Naked Athena.” I probably would have had other thoughts had there been pictures, but fortunately, there were not…

How about if today, we celebrate liberal values?

Mount_Rushmore_National_Memorial

We need to again be a country that can celebrate these guy’s contributions to the American idea, and at the same time be fully outraged at what happened to George Floyd, which grossly violated that idea. In that space where those reactions coexist lies our hope as a nation.

We could celebrate what I have always thought, without question, was the whole idea about America.

It’s not about the majesty of purple mountains or the amber color of grain. And most of all, it’s not about a people — people this color or that color or speaking this or that language.

It’s about the ideas, and their growth toward perfection over time. It’s a majestic story. And it starts not with freedom, not exactly. It starts with liberality. With tolerance, with plurality, with openness to each other, and a fierce sense of fairness toward everyone, particularly those who don’t look or talk or even think the way we do.

And that is in profound trouble in this country.

The most dramatic example of that is embodied by Donald Trump, although he is not the cause of the problem. The problem is that there were enough people who would vote for such a person — a person who deliberately appealed to the very worst, illiberal impulses — for him to win an Electoral College victory.

The problem is, if the left in this country were clearly articulating the liberal alternative, as it has done within living memory, it would have pulled along enough people from the center to utterly repudiate Trumpism in 2016. But that’s not the case. Unfortunately, there is a good deal of illiberality on the left, and that prevents us from having a clear, American liberal alternative.

The news on this front isn’t all bad, of course. The best thing that has happened in our politics in recent years was the Democratic Party’s decision to nominate Joe Biden for president. Joe is the perfect representative — and about the only one who sought the office this year — of the kind of liberal values that have been the glory of this country from the start. If he wins the election — better yet, if he utterly crushes Trumpism in November — it make be the first step in saving this country from recent trends. And that would be wonderful — for America, for the rest of the world, and for the ideas that are the only positive way forward, and the only things worth celebrating on this holiday.

If you read this blog regularly, y’all know that I gravitate toward the opinions of “Never Trump” conservatives. They come closer to expressing what is really wrong with Trumpism, from my point of view. So I was motivated to write this piece when I saw a column today from Bret Stephens at the NYT, headlined “Reading Orwell for the Fourth of July.” After dismissing Trump as an “instinctual fascist” who is fortunately really bad at it, he writes:

The more serious problem today comes from the left: from liberal elites who, when tested, lack the courage of their liberal convictions; from so-called progressives whose core convictions were never liberal to begin with; from administrative types at nonprofits and corporations who, with only vague convictions of their own, don’t want to be on the wrong side of a P.R. headache.

This has been the great cultural story of the last few years. It is typified by incidents such as The New Yorker’s David Remnick thinking it would be a good idea to interview Steve Bannon for the magazine’s annual festival — until a Twitter mob and some members of his own staff decided otherwise. Or by The Washington Post devoting 3,000 words to destroying the life of a private person of no particular note because in 2018 she wore blackface, with ironic intent, at a Halloween party. Or by big corporations pulling ads from Facebook while demanding the company do more to censor forms of speech they deem impermissible.

These stories matter because an idea is at risk. That’s the idea that people who cannot speak freely will not be able to think clearly, and that no society can long flourish when contrarians are treated as heretics.

Frankly, I disagree with Stephens that the illiberal impulse on the left is worse than the one on the right. (Having a wannabe fascist as president of the United States is a national emergency, no matter how incompetent he is.) But I agree that it’s bad, because it distracts the left from the ideas that would save our country.

We are doomed if the largely maskless crowd who applauded Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore last night have their way. We are also doomed if the people who have tried to pull down, damage or deface statues of all four men depicted on the mountain have their way.

Trump, of course, wants people to think that you have to choose one or the other — his way, or that of the statue-destroyers (the less-discriminating sort, that can’t tell the difference between a statue of Washington and one of Nathan Bedford Forrest).

But we don’t have to choose between those extremes. In fact, if America and the hope it offers to the world are to survive, we must not.

We have to be able to applaud people who find what happened to George Floyd an outrage, a violation of all we believe in, while at the same time condemning people who would attack a statue of Abraham Lincoln dedicated with the help of Frederick Douglass.

If we can’t do that, we’re sunk, and the Fourth of July is nothing more but an opportunity to sell hot dogs.

The problem, of course, is greater than overexcited demonstrators who go off-course. When the NYT itself recasts American history itself as being about nothing but slavery and oppression — as being about 1619 rather than 1776 — we’ve got a problem. When a crowd of indignant people from the newsroom — you know, people who are not supposed to have opinions — can topple the paper’s editorial page editor for running a piece with which they (and the editor) disagree, we are losing one of the great institutions that has stood for liberal values.

Another of those anti-Trump conservatives at the NYT (and when the paper stops running such people, the institution really will be dead) had a piece that offered an examination of similar concerns. With reference to the coronavirus, David Brooks wrote:

I had hopes that the crisis would bring us together, but it’s made everything harder and worse. And now I worry less about populism or radical wokeness than about a pervasive loss of national faith.

What’s lurking, I hope, somewhere deep down inside is our shared ferocious love for our common country and a vision for the role America could play as the great pluralist beacon of the 21st century…

I hope so. And that hope is what I’m embracing on this holiday. We’ve got to stop thinking people have to choose between Trumpian populism or popular “wokeness,” and get behind a way of thinking that respects an honest and open interchange of ideas.

Finally, Mattis speaks up — powerfully

mattis atlantic

I made a passing reference to this in the last post, but I’m going to elevate the profile, because since then I’ve actually had the chance to read what the Warrior Monk, James Mattis, had to say today when he broke his long silence about the Trump administration in which he once served.

I urge you to read this piece in The Atlantic, which I think originally broke the story.

And now I’m going to give you the whole statement. Because not a word of what he said should be left out:

I have watched this week’s unfolding events, angry and appalled. The words “Equal Justice Under Law” are carved in the pediment of the United States Supreme Court. This is precisely what protesters are rightly demanding. It is a wholesome and unifying demand—one that all of us should be able to get behind. We must not be distracted by a small number of lawbreakers. The protests are defined by tens of thousands of people of conscience who are insisting that we live up to our values—our values as people and our values as a nation.

When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.

We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict— between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part.

Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.

James Madison wrote in Federalist 14 that “America united with a handful of troops, or without a single soldier, exhibits a more forbidding posture to foreign ambition than America disunited, with a hundred thousand veterans ready for combat.” We do not need to militarize our response to protests. We need to unite around a common purpose. And it starts by guaranteeing that all of us are equal before the law.

Instructions given by the military departments to our troops before the Normandy invasion reminded soldiers that “The Nazi slogan for destroying us…was ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Our American answer is ‘In Union there is Strength.'” We must summon that unity to surmount this crisis—confident that we are better than our politics.

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

We can come through this trying time stronger, and with a renewed sense of purpose and respect for one another. The pandemic has shown us that it is not only our troops who are willing to offer the ultimate sacrifice for the safety of the community. Americans in hospitals, grocery stores, post offices, and elsewhere have put their lives on the line in order to serve their fellow citizens and their country. We know that we are better than the abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square. We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution. At the same time, we must remember Lincoln’s “better angels,” and listen to them, as we work to unite.

Only by adopting a new path—which means, in truth, returning to the original path of our founding ideals—will we again be a country admired and respected at home and abroad.

Amen to all of that. Thank you, general.

Magazine kills two pieces that criticized Dolan for flattering Trump

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We live in a time when major institutions are failing us left and right. And as you know, with my communitarian leanings, that concerns me greatly.

But at the moment, I’m concerned about the Roman Catholic Church in America. I don’t write about that all that much for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to be misunderstood, and so much that I might comment on is apparently very difficult for nonCatholics to fully understand, for a lot of reasons. (And no, I’m not saying nonCatholics are dumb. I’m saying the way these things get framed by nonCatholic media make conversations difficult and often counterproductive.) So my concerns could be seen as meaning something they do not.

Secondly, I just don’t feel educated enough myself to comment coherently and intelligently. I just don’t know enough about the clash of ideas in and around the Church. I lack the expertise — or at least, the confidence — of, say, a Ross Douthat. I think I disagree with Douthat about a lot of things, but I don’t feel equal to contesting him. (His columns about Church matters start in a place where people who have read a lot of books I haven’t read dwell, and take off into real esoterica from that point.)

I think I agree far more often with my friend Steven Millies. I know Steven from having served with him for years on the committee that has run the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lectureship at USC. We got to be friends, serving on some panels together, and usually sat together during the dinners the committee had on lecture nights, so we could catch up. Steven is an academic, and is now the director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Anyway, awhile back Steven started writing regularly for U.S. Catholic. I signed up for the magazine’s regular email alerts, which caused me to read some of their content, although I was mostly looking for stuff by Steven. I never really formed a full impression of the journal itself, and I only learned in the last couple of days that it was published by the Claretians — something that means little to me, but might mean a good deal to Douthat and Steven.

This past week, Steven wrote a piece that National Catholic Reporter has since characterized as “critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.” I didn’t know about Dolan’s comments, so when I saw the link to the piece in an email from U.S. Catholic, and then saw it was by Steven, I read the column with particular interest.

I noticed that the magazine was also promoting a piece by another writer addressing the same comments by Dolan (and others), headlined, “President Trump cannot have the Catholic endorsement,” followed by the blurb, “Politics is the duty of the laity—not the clergy.” I didn’t read that, I now regret — just Steven’s piece, headlined “Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things.” An excerpt:

I wonder whether the U.S. Catholic bishops have crossed a sort of Rubicon recently.

When their Roman predecessor, the general Julius Caesar, brought his army illegally over the Rubicon River, he set in motion the events that ended the Republic and saw him presented with a crown. “The die is cast,” he is reputed to have said as he marched his army toward Rome: there was no going back. What he had done could not be undone and it would change the shape of history.

I do not think that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is in any danger of being crowned emperor (or, anything else). But I do believe that his public flattery of President Donald Trump from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Fox News may prove to be a moment from which American Catholicism cannot turn back….

When I finished, I wrote to Steven to compliment the piece, but also (I confess as an unreconstructed editor) to quibble about something he said in passing about Caesar — something irrelevant to his point. But mostly, I wrote to praise him. As I told him at the time:

I had not heard about what Dolan did until I read this. It is highly disturbing. It really should not be this easy to buy the political influence of our church. Of course, Democrats have done all they can to help this happen. It’s a failure of all sorts of institutions. But of them all, I care about the failure in the Church most…

Steven acknowledged the minor Caesar problem. I looked later (in part checking to see how he had changed it), and… the piece was gone. I clicked on my original link, and all I got was what you see in the image below.

I checked with Steven, and that’s when I learned that his piece had been, as National Catholic Reporter would later say, “unpublished.” So had the other piece by political scientist Stephen Schneck.

At first, Steven asked me to hold off on writing about it, hoping that U.S. Catholic would simply change its mind. That didn’t happen, and when the story broke in National Catholic Reporter, he told me “the lid is off.” An excerpt from NCR:

U.S. Catholic magazine, a storied national outlet published by the Claretian Missionaries, has quietly unpublished from its website two recent articles that were critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.

Users who click the separate links to the articles, originally published around April 29 and April 30, are now greeted with a note that reads “You are not authorized to access this page.”…

Now, I should say this before someone else does: I’ve looked at what Dolan said publicly, and on its own, I don’t find it that shocking. What he said during Mass, with the president watching, was mostly relatively neutral. If you want to give the cardinal a break, you might say it was the usual thing you might offer an elected leader: Hey, we are encouraged to pray for our leaders, and we do, and that includes you, and we thank you for being with us.

You know, the kind of thing a smart religious leader might say when he’d like to see some stimulus money go to Catholic schools.

But it’s more cringe-inducing to see him schmoozing with “Fox and Friends” about his awesome interactions with the president, and to hear him tell them, “I’m in admiration of his leadership.”

It’s bad enough that Trump got as many Catholic votes as he did in 2016. The last thing we need is to see a cardinal even imply that Trump being elected was a good thing. We should expect more from our faith leaders than craftiness with regard to school funding. We have a right to expect something higher than Trumpian transactionalism.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that our leaders will point to the obvious: That nominating certain judges does not make you pro-life — at least, not according to any definition that native Columbian Cardinal Bernardin would have recognized.

As Steven noted:

Dolan forgot other things, too. He forgot children separated from their parents at our border, being kept in cages and sleeping on cold, concrete floors. He forgot the physical and sexual abuse that many of those children have suffered because of the Administration’s disinterest in policing the foster care system they made necessary. He forgot the racist and xenophobic language that Trump deploys routinely to do the other thing that Dolan forgot: Trump’s main preoccupation is not to build up the political community toward the common good, but to divide us so he can conquer.

What’s regrettable is that those of us who attended the same Catholic schools that Dolan may have been trying to save do remember those things. And, we see why it is problematic for a Catholic bishop to forget them. Being formed in our faith, we see the ugly transaction at work here….

Yes, we do. And we have every reason to be disturbed when someone in a lofty position in our church admires that sort of leadership.

And it’s further disturbing to see anyone who points that out silenced — especially in a way that gives us no reasoning. If I had done something like that as editorial page editor, you’d have seen a public airing of all the issues involved. It would have been the subject of, at least, a column in the paper, and plenty of public discussion on my blog.

To see those pieces “disappeared” without explanation is very unsettling.

The good news is that NCR has not only reported on this, but published the two pieces. So everyone can read them and decide what they think about them. Here’s Steven’s, and here is the piece by Schneck.

That much I’m glad to see.

U.S. Catholic

‘That’s it! I vote we continue to be hunter-gatherers…’

That tiny square of ground is what inspired these musings.

That tiny square of ground under the shovel is what inspired these musings.

My wife is the gardener. Always has been. She’s had an organic garden going since the first time we were in a house rather than an apartment. At our current location, which is cursed with hard clay, she grows vegetables in small, raised beds.

Consequently, she just goes out to pick our food daily. Depending on what’s in season — and almost any time of the year, there are various greens going that she can go trim from and make a salad.

Which is nice.

So this year, as I have done in previous years but not followed up on it, I voiced a wish to grow something myself: okra. With me, it’s always okra.

I’ve grown other things in the past during my own brief forays into agriculture. But whenever I think, what vegetable do I want more of?, it’s pretty much always okra. Also, it’s not that hard to grow, and you don’t have insane stuff happening like smut growing on your corn.

Anyway, this year my wife took me up on my idle assertion, and — using the authority vested in her as agriculture commissioner of our household — granted me the use of one of her boxes. But I’d have to dig a new bed for it. That is, before purchasing and filling the box with bagged soil from the store (the only place to get serious dirt when you live on “land” like ours), I would have to use one of our mattocks to bust up a section of lawn.

I, of course, being a thoroughly modern fellow, suggested borrowing our older son’s tiller that he bought last year (he’s a pretty serious gardener himself, blessed with sandy soil — recently, he even started keeping chickens). My wife said all the rocks in our clay would probably break his tiller, and I agreed that she probably had a point.

So I spent a fairly lengthy amount of time Saturday bent over almost completely (the mattock has a short handle), chopping and chopping and chopping up the clay, and then grabbing handfuls of loosening grass and trying to shake the clay loose from it.

And I kept thinking… well, you member recently I told you about reading Guns, Germs and Steel? It deals at great length with what caused different human populations to develop differently, and why when the nations of Europe started spreading around the world in the 16th century, they ran into a lot of cultures that were still hunter-gatherers. The book did a lot of explanation — and speculation — about how and why those cultures developed the way they did when they did.

One of the main themes of author Jared Diamond is refuting the racist assumptions that had such currency in the 19th century about why European cultures “advanced” so far beyond those of more “primitive” people. Basically, he demonstrates that it was mostly a matter of luck of the draw — having the right, domesticable plant and animal species in a given area being one of the greatest determinants. Because everything that came later — writing, technology, complex political structures, etc. — depended on how early and how successfully you adopted agriculture.

I was convinced of the rightness of his propositions, with a caveat: I suspect there are some people who just didn’t want to give up hunter-gathering.

And as my mattock rose and fell, and as I fought off dizziness every time I straightened up for a moment while tilling the soil in a manner not far removed from the techniques of the Stone Age, I kept thinking that were I a member of a pre-agricultural band or tribe or whatever, I would be that guy.

I’d be the guy saying, Yes, you make excellent points about the advantages of settling down and growing our own food and forming more complex social arrangements and initiating a technological process that will ultimately lead to HD televisions. And I particularly like the point made by Ogg over here that if we start growing crops, we can then make beer. A good supply of beer would be nice to have while watching our HD televisions. Especially if we have developed the refrigerator. It’s an appealing vision of the future, I’ll admit.

And as you know — I mention it often enough — I’m a communitarian kind of guy. I like the idea that we would have to work together to build such infrastructure as elaborate irrigation systems for our crops — and that to do that, we’d have to have structures for cooperating such as governments. That’s very much in my wheelhouse.

But think about it: Don’t we have cooperation now, in a truly meaningful way? I mean, come on, guys — we all know that no one of us can bring down a mastodon alone! We have to work together — Ogg in front of the mastodon distracting him, Thrag and his brothers on the flanks to drive their spears into its sides, and me standing on a nearby hill offering helpful suggestions. You know, as Karl over here keeps saying, “from each according to his ability”…

And what about when those yahoos from across the valley attack our camp, trying to take some of our women so they can diversity their feeble, stagnant gene pool? We need all the spears and clubs that can come running. That’s way communal.

But if we settle down and start farming, next thing you know we’ll have villages, then towns, then cities. And we’ll have ever more elaborate institutions to direct and organize our affairs. And you know what that means:

  • First think you know, libertarians will start cropping up, absurdly claiming that they can make it on their own without collective effort.
  • Then before you know it, there’ll be a Tea Party.
  • Then, as sure as can be, Trumpism will arrive, and you’ll know the whole thing has grown decadent, possibly beyond saving.
  • Finally, some jackass like this guy will arise.

None of us wants that. So let’s put down these stone implements before we get a blister, and go out on a hunt, how about it? Who’s with me? (I go running off like Bluto in “Animal House”…)

Anyway, that’s what I was thinking while I was digging out that raised bed. And it was only about four or five feet square. Imagine if it had been an acre. It would have inspired me to write War and Peace, if I survived it…

Finally, Michelle Goldberg gets it! For a moment…

argument

For close to a year, I’ve been listening regularly to the NYT’s podcast “The Argument,” starring three of the paper’s op-ed writers.

There are two people on the left — David Leonhardt and Michelle Goldberg — and one on the right, Ross Douthat.

That may sound a bit lopsided, and for me it is, but not in the way you think. Week after week, I agree to varying degrees with liberal Leonhardt and conservative Douthat, and get really frustrated and turned off by the views of Michelle Goldberg.

One reason for that is that she’s always dissing my man Joe. It started before he got into the race last year, with her strongly expressing her wish that he NOT get in the race. After that, she continued to be a prominent voice among the nattering nabobs of the left competing to see who could be more dismissive of the former VP.

It’s not that she hated him. It’s just that she, you know… dismissed him. She was all like, Oh, good old Uncle Joe; he’s a sweet guy and I can put up with him at the family gatherings, but we all know he’s past it, and he has no business getting back in the game — the poor guy’s going to break a hip or something. And he just doesn’t get the world of today…

And as I walk about downtown listening to these podcasts, I’m like, No, YOU don’t get it…

But today, I finally got around to listening to yesterday’s podcast, which was about Joe’s triumphs of the last few days, and finally, she got it! She was awesome in the degree to which she got it, and how well she expressed it. I had to go back and listen again to write down some of the great things she was saying, starting with…

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg

So much of what we’ve been talking about the last few months, especially in the debates, has been irrelevant.

People… care less about the details of, you know, how we’re going to pay for universal healthcare, or Medicare for all vs. Medicare for all who want it.

There are people who really care about that stuff. But what most people care about is, you know, the house is on fire; how are you going to put it out, not how are you going to rebuild afterwards….

Yes! Absolutely! I’ve been so impatient with all the idiots out there talking about this process in terms of who got off the greatest zingers in last night’s debate, or how Elizabeth “I’ve got a plan for that” Warren was going to pay for those plans, or whatever…

Who cared? I didn’t. Because the house is on fire! Stop talking about rearranging the furniture!

Also, too many people fail to get that the problem isn’t this plan or that plan of Bernie Sanders. The problem is Bernie Sanders, and the way he and too many of his followers conduct themselves. And a moment later, Ms. Goldberg said some awesome things about that:

I don’t think the Sanders movement understands how alienating it is to people who aren’t already on board with it, or maybe to people who are on board with maybe 85 percent or 90 percent of what they believe.

There’s a sort of paranoid style in that movement…

I’ve been around the left long enough to know that the left has always attracted a certain number of people who, um… you know, who are sort of just in it for the reeducation camps, right?…

Left-wing movements kind of succeed or fail to the degree that they can, you know, marginalize or quarantine those figures…

Yes! Absolutely! You get it! Paranoid style!

When she made that crack about the re-education camps, I laughed out loud, right there in the middle of the household goods department in Belk. (On rainy days, I tend to go do my afternoon walk in the nearly empty Richland Mall, rather than walking across the USC campus and around the Statehouse.)

And one of the guys on the show — I think it was Leonhardt — laughed, too. It was so perfect, so dead-on.

You go, Michelle!

But then, later in the show, she said she was going to vote for Bernie instead of Joe.

And suddenly the member of the trio I love to boo was back. I’m just briskly walking into Barnes and Noble shaking my head. I can’t believe it…

It’s alright, I guess. Most of the world came around and backed Joe this past week. Some people just take a little longer. No way to speed it up without, you know, re-education camps…

Friedman idea no. 2: The GOP died last week

Here’s the less pleasant item from that Friedman column I liked this morning.

I mentioned in my last post his idea that the Democrats should band together in a Team of Rivals that would defeat Trump in a landslide, and I think they would — if they could put aside their differences and do it.

Friedman even spelled out who should play what position on that team. When he was done, he set out another idea. He cited something John Boehner said back in 2018: “There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party. The Republican Party is kind of taking a nap somewhere.”

Taking off on that, Friedman wrote:

Friedman

Friedman

It’s actually not napping anymore. It’s dead.

And I will tell you the day it died. It was just last week, when Trump sacked [Acting Director of National Intelligence Joe] Maguire for advancing the truth and replaced him with a loyalist, an incompetent political hack, Richard Grenell. Grenell is the widely disliked U.S. ambassador to Germany, a post for which he is also unfit. Grenell is now purging the intelligence service of Trump critics. How are we going to get unvarnished, nonpolitical intelligence analysis when the message goes out that if your expert conclusions disagree with Trump’s wishes, you’re gone?

I don’t accept, but can vaguely understand, Republicans’ rallying around Trump on impeachment. But when Republicans, the self-proclaimed national security party — folks like Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton — don’t lift a finger to stop Trump’s politicization of our first line of defense — the national intelligence directorate set up after 9/11 — then the Republican Party is not asleep. It’s dead and buried.

He’s right. If the party of principled men from Lincoln to John McCain hadn’t died already — when Trump became its standard-bearer, or when the Republican Senate rolled over for him on impeachment — this latest outraged surely would have marked the end.

As we mourn it, I’d like to raise another alarm: If the Democratic Party allows the same thing to happen to it that happened to the GOP in 2016 — letting an extremist with minority support gain its nomination because the majority couldn’t line up behind a single more moderate candidate — it’s going to be on its last legs, too.

If our nation is faced with the horrific choice “between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath,” as Friedman describes it, both parties will have failed the country.

At that point, instead of having two near-center parties that have the potential to govern with something approaching consensus — or at least acceptance by the people — we’ll have zero.

Friedman idea no. 1: the Team of Rivals

It worked for Lincoln.

It worked for Lincoln.

Earlier today I mentioned that Tom Friedman had a really good column today in The New York Times.

I noted that he said that if we are forced to choose “between a self-proclaimed socialist and an undiagnosed sociopath, we will be in a terrible, terrible place as a country.”

Very true. The nice thing is, he offered a way out of that.

It’s far-fetched — it would require a very diverse groups egos to set aside their personal ambitions for the good of the country — but at least it’s an idea that would work if they did. And I think Friedman’s not exaggerating when he says, “Dems, You Can Defeat Trump in a Landslide.

Basically, it’s this: form a Team of Rivals, as Lincoln did in a previous time of national crisis. Put all those Democratic candidates, those still running and some of those who have dropped out, on the team. Bring all their strengths together and let them compensate for each others’ weaknesses.

It’s a great idea now as it was in Lincoln’s day (although when I read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, I kept wishing for a time machine so I could go back in time and slap Salmon Chase upside the head — that guy was a major pain).

Friedman got one thing wrong: He supposes the head guy would be either Sanders or Bloomberg. I’m still holding out for Joe. But he also assigned Cabinet positions to Sanders and Bloomberg, since he hadn’t made his mind up on which is president.

And he made a call that supports my position: He picked Joe for secretary of state, because “No one in our party knows the world better or has more credibility with our allies than Joe.” Absolutely, which is why he needs to be president — because nothing in the POTUS job description is more important than dealing with the rest of the world.

This is a variation, and elaboration, on an idea I put forward several months ago: I suggested that Joe persuade Barack Obama to be his secretary of state, and tell the country that right away. It would clarify things in Democrats’ minds — and in other people’s as well.

But yeah — if you couldn’t have Joe as president, then secstate would be the job for him.

Anyway, the overall idea is a consummation devoutly to be wished.

That’s one idea from the Friedman column. The other is less uplifting, but must be faced. And it’s important enough that I’m writing a separate post about it.

Worst headline of the day (but not a bad column, actually)

David Brooks almost ruined my day this morning:

But then I read the column, and it was pretty good.

That’s because in setting out why he thinks this is so, he makes it clear why we must do all we can to keep the headline from coming true.

Let me see if I can excerpt enough of the argument without the Fair Use police coming after me (and I urge you to do what I do, and subscribe to the NYT — it’s worth it for the podcasts alone, not to mention the excellent op-ed stuff):

Successful presidential candidates are mythmakers. They don’t just tell a story. They tell a story that helps people make meaning out of the current moment; that divides people into heroes and villains; that names a central challenge and explains why they are the perfect person to meet it.Brooks_New-articleInline_400x400

In 2016 Donald Trump told a successful myth: The coastal elites are greedy, stupid people who have mismanaged the country, undermined our values and changed the face of our society. This was not an original myth; it’s been around since at least the populist revolts of the 1890s. But it’s a powerful us vs. them worldview, which resonates with a lot of people.

Trump’s followers don’t merely believe that myth. They inhabit it. It shapes how they see the world, how they put people into this category or that category. Trump can get his facts wrong as long as he gets his myth right. He can commit a million scandals, but his followers don’t see them as long as they stay embedded within that myth.

Bernie Sanders is also telling a successful myth: The corporate and Wall Street elites are rapacious monsters who hoard the nation’s wealth and oppress working families. This is not an original myth, either. It’s been around since the class-conflict agitators of 1848. It is also a very compelling us vs. them worldview that resonates with a lot of people….

A couple of my interlocutors here tried to say earlier that in my support of Biden makes me the same as a Bernie Bros — other side of the same coin.

Nope. Bad use of a metaphor. The type who dwells in that plane, serving as the other side of the same thing, wears a MAGA hat. Biden is nowhere near that coin. Us-vs.-them is not his way. He doesn’t want to divide us; he wants to pull us all together — or at least give us all a hug. And let me stick up for the rest of the candidates on that score as well. Except for Elizabeth Warren, who essentially is pushing the Bernie myth, sans Bernie.

Why do more moderate, less divisive candidates struggle to get past Bernie? Because they “haven’t organized their worldview into a simple compelling myth.” With the emphasis on “simple.” Joe and Pete and Amy see nuance, and they don’t pretend otherwise. They want to lead us out of this morass of division, not further into it.

Brooks has been spending his time lately away from the rallies, observing actual people where they live, and he has seen people coming together to try to solve the problems they see in their communities. He sees people gathering, or trying to in the face of currents that pull us apart.

Meanwhile:

These gathering efforts are hampered by rippers at the national level who stoke rage and fear and tell friend/enemy stories. These efforts are hampered by men like Sanders and Trump who have never worked within a party or subordinated themselves to a team — men who are one trick ponies. All they do is stand on a podium and bellow….

And that must be defeated, wherever it crops up on the ideological spectrum.

This is yet another column where Brooks proves himself to be our most communitarian prominent public intellectual. And I believe as he does that the way forward involves pulling together around the things that unite us — whether they are our problems or our blessings.

The best political speeches try to do the same thing. See Bill Clinton’s 2012 convention speech, or … well, there was an Obama speech that I thought did many of the same things, and I’m having trouble finding it. But I appreciated that in that campaign, he offered us a clear choice between being pulled apart and coming together.

Those are the drummers we should listen to. And I’m for Joe because he marches to that beat.

 

For what little NH is worth, Bernie got CRUSHED by the moderates

Bern

My NYT app this morning.

One can sometimes see why there are so many people in this country who can’t stand the news media.

I can get pretty peeved with them myself these days.

There are two phenomena that particularly irritating. Or maybe they’re just one:

  1. They have the attention span of goldfish.
  2. They have a mental block that keeps them from seeing the larger picture.

The last two weeks, it has been astounding the degree to which the media — both straight news and opinion — have been trapped in what’s happening right this second. It has always been thus, but the pace of reporting and the orientation toward social media has made the problem far, far worse.

Instead of a considered, consistent narrative over time, the picture we get of what’s happening is so immediate, it has no value beyond a few moments:

  • There are no results from Iowa!
  • There are still no results from Iowa!
  • Iowa is a disaster! This is the death of the Iowa caucuses!
  • No one should ever see results from Iowa as meaning anything again!
  • Wait! There are results from Iowa! Pete won!
  • No! Maybe Bernie won! This is hugely significant!
  • One thing’s for sure: Biden is toast!
  • Iowa didn’t settle anything, but New Hampshire will!
  • Oh, look, Bernie won! Bernie is triumphant! It’s settled! This is over!
  • No, wait! Klobuchar came in third! This is the big news!
  • One thing’s for sure: Since New Hampshire settles everything, Biden is toast!

Meanwhile, Biden was having a very nice rally here in Columbia before an enthusiastic crowd. And as a Biden support, I would prefer that he had done better among those uber-white people in Iowa and New Hampshire, but as far as I’m concerned, the race is just getting started.

Of course, when Joe wins here, we’ll be seeing:

  • A miracle! Biden’s not toast at all! He won one!
  • But he’s still damaged! Some black voters voted for other people!
  • Also, South Carolina means nothing because it’s TOO black!

And so forth.

And then, Super Tuesday will roll around, and South Carolina will be forgotten and it will be all about Bloomberg or something.

That’s the goldfish part.

The other thing is that so many people out there seem incapable of seeing what happens in this brief moments within any sort of larger context.

My favorite example of that today is a headline that trumpets, “Bernie Sanders Has Already Won,” followed by the subhead, “Whether he captures the White House or not, he has transformed the Democratic Party.”

Uh… no, he hasn’t. First, he didn’t do nearly as well as he did four years ago. I think it’s early to completely dismiss him, but if you go by that one bit of info, his time may have passed.

Second, and most importantly, if we’re going to draw conclusions based on something as thin as the New Hampshire vote, consider: The three candidates appealing to the moderates who utterly reject Bernie’s revolution got a total of 52.6 percent of the vote, compared to Bernie’s 25.7 percent.

They crushed him. They demolished him. They utterly rejected him. Even if you give him Elizabeth Warren’s 9 percent on the assumption that her voters might switch to Bernie, he got massacred.

The real story here is that the moderates just can’t make up their minds. If and when they do, we won’t be hearing any more about the triumph of Bernie.

I — and a lot of voters here in South Carolina — still believe that they would be wisest to line up behind Biden because he’s the one most likely to beat Trump. And nothing is more important than that.

They just haven’t wanted to accept that yet. I get it. I like Pete and Amy, too. But I’m going with the guy most likely to win. And I still remain hopeful that other moderates — sensible folk that they are — will reach that conclusion, too.

Not up to Congress to decide Trump’s fate? What utter nonsense

Removing the president is not the job Congress? This guy would beg to differ.

Removing a president is not properly the job of Congress? This guy would beg to differ.

I’ve been meaning to comment on a Frank Bruni column from last week, headlined “Of All Trump’s Defenses, This Is the Lamest,” with the subhed, “Only the voters can send the president packing? That’s a joke.”

Actually, that subhed is probably the best part, but the rest is pretty good, too. An excerpt:

Once the Senate concludes its trial of President Trump, it should go into recess. Until next January. The House, too. Lawmakers shouldn’t pass legislation, consider nominations or make any important decisions whatsoever: This is an election year, and the voters will soon weigh in on the direction of America. The nation’s business should await that judgment, lest members of Congress contradict it.

A ludicrous proposal? Indeed. But it’s in line with — and an extrapolation of — a favorite argument against Trump’s conviction and removal from office. His Republican supporters say that lawmakers shouldn’t speak for voters on such a crucial issue. To pre-empt the verdict at the ballot box, they say, is to subvert the people’s will.

Nice try. Lawmakers are elected specifically to speak for voters on crucial issues. That’s the system. That’s their job….

Absolutely, it’s their job. And it’s no one else’s, including the vaunted electorate’s.

From the start, Republicans have complained that the impeachment process is somehow illegitimate — either because it seeks to undo the 2016 election, or pre-empt the one this year, or both.

But we have this Constitution, you see, and it was written by some very, very smart people (smarter than the average modern voter, dare I say), who wanted the voters to have input into who ran things, but not necessarily the final say. So they created a finely balanced tension between governmental elements that were each chosen by differently formed constituencies that should check each other:

  • The House would be elected the way far too many people today think the rest of the government should be elected — directly by the people, and extremely often. House members would represent equal-sized chunks of the population.
  • The Senate would represent states, and would be chosen by those states’ legislatures. It was an excellent idea, although we threw away half of it with the 17th Amendment. The only part we kept was that they still represent the people of entire states. And… they’re elected for six years to shield them from political passions of the moment.
  • The president would be chosen by the Electoral College, but we’ve pretty much altered that beyond recognition. But we kept enough of its anti-democratic essence to allow Donald Trump to be elected despite Hillary Clinton having the majority of votes. So yay, elitism, right, my Republican friends?
  • The president and the Senate would choose justices together.

But to hear certain people talk, everything should be decided by the people, acting directly through their smartphones.

(Shudder.)

I’ve gotten to where I can’t bear to listen to the Republicans when they speak during the impeachment proceedings, because despite all the pernicious nonsense I’ve been subjected to in covering politics over the last few decades, I’ve never had my intelligence insulted to this degree.

I forced myself to listen to one idiot the other day who was ranting about how the Democrats wanted to tear up every ballot cast in the country in 2016. Really. He said that, despite the fact that MOST ballots were for Hillary Clinton. Presumably, those nasty Dems wouldn’t want to tear those up, if they’re as single-minded in pursuing partisan advantage as he seemed to assume.

Anyway, the Senate needs to go on and conduct a trial and do its job — even if that means acquitting Trump, as it almost certainly will.

And in the meantime, hand me no lies about how this is NOT the job of Congress. It is, precisely. And it’s no one else’s.

There’s plenty of time to hear from the voters between now and November.

Is originality dead? For that matter, did it ever exist?

all the tees

This morning there was this huge Google Adsense ad spread across the top of my blog, right under the header (this one), for something called “Chummy Tees.”

There was no picture, so, wondering what was being promoted on my blog, I Googled the company (I didn’t dare click on the ad, as Google forbids me to do that). And I saw, among the rather plain, gray tee shirts being promoted, one that said “SURELY NOT EVERYONE WAS KUNG FU FIGHTING.”

And that cracked me up. I might be meaningless to people too young to remember the song, but I loved it. A perfect low-key joke for, say, an editor — someone who has spent most of his adult life keeping reporters from making extravagant statements that can’t be backed up. (Which is another way of saying you might not find it funny, but I do.)

I kind of liked this one, too.

I kind of liked this one, too.

I wasn’t going to shell out $23.95 for the shirt, of course. I’m neither crazy nor made of money. But… maybe I’d like to put it on my Amazon list. So I go to Amazon — I didn’t have to hunt for it because I already had a pop-up window from Amazon begging me to go there for such shirts — and it seems that while everyone may not be kung fu fighting, everyone seems to make a sure with that line (although all these used “everybody” instead of “everyone,” which is truer to the song).

And it got me to thinking, and not for the first time, that in the Internet age, we are no longer allowed to delude ourselves into thinking we have had an original thought. You think of something clever — something that in eras past you would have congratulated yourself for coming up with, convinced that you were quite the wag — and then for whatever reason you Google it, and you find out an army of people got there before you.

And this is frustrating. It fosters fatalism — why even TRY to come up with something good?, you ask yourself.

Yesterday on a podcast I was listening to, there was a discussion of the many ways that the internet casts a pall on our lives, bringing ills previously unimagined, and making us dread the future.

Add this to the list. It takes any small attempt to be original, and slams it to the ground.

And it makes you doubt there was ever anything such as originality. We may have thought we were clever, but that’s because we didn’t have the Web to set us straight. Each time you patted yourself on the back for a happy thought back in, say, 1975, there were a million other people out there having the same thought and thinking they were clever, too.

And we were all happier…

chummy

State Chamber takes on Act 388. I wish it luck and success

A chart the Chamber shared in context of the issue. Source: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence 2019

A chart the Chamber shared in context of the issue. Source: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence 2019

I’m kind of busy at the moment, so I’m not going to rehash all the reasons why Act 388 was an execrable piece of legislation that distorted our state’s system of taxation and made it both unfair and ineffective.

You can go back and read where I’ve done it before.

But while I’m thinking about it, I wanted to make sure you read Ted Pitts’ op-ed on the subject in The Post and Courier. Ted — my former House member — is the head of the state Chamber, so naturally he’s against something that shifted so much of our tax burden from owner-occupied homes to businesses.

I particularly appreciate that in this piece, he emphasizes the extreme regressivity of the Act, causing renters to pay as much as three times as much in property taxes as homeowners do.

Anyway, just go read the whole piece. His column refers in the lede to a recent column on the subject by Cindi. Read that, too.

Both of them, being astute and fair-minded observers, see Act 388 as one of the worst things our Legislature has done so far this century.

They’re right. That doesn’t mean anything’s going to happen. It should, and Ted is right to point to the current discussions about how we fund schools as a great opportunity. But it’s a tall order. Act 388 is the kind of dumb, irresponsible legislation that makes lawmakers popular with some of their loudest constituents. The voice of reason seldom shouts that loud.

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

bregman

Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

Is Donald Trump our ‘most honest president?’

"Believe me..."

“Believe me…”

Frank Bruni reminds me of this point I’ve been thinking about making for two or three years now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

We know that no one who has ever held the office of president — in our lifetimes, at the least — utters more falsehoods that this guy. Certainly, no one can boast more “Four Pinocchio” scores (OK, I tried to back that up with a link, and Google failed me. Oh, I saw that the Post had to come up with a new “Bottomless Pinocchio” just for him, and that in 2018 they broke his falsehoods into two categories to keep him from dominating the standings, but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I think what I’m running into is the ancient horror journalists have of saying someone or something is the most anything ever — because someone might always come up with a worse example.).

He seems the personification of the old gag, “How can I tell when he’s lying? His mouth’s moving.”

The thing is, though, what if he’s not lying, technically? What if he actually believes all of these laughably false things that he asserts with such vehemence? The guy’s not terribly bright, and he’s such a narcissist that it’s possible that he convinces himself that any assertion that is helpful, or that he perceives as helpful, to Donald Trump is automatically true.

There’s plenty we can point to that supports this position on the matter. How else do you explain, just to grab a recent example, his repeated assertion that his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect?” Or that the whistleblower (remember the whisteblower, that guy whose role in all this long ago became redundant in light of subsequent revelations, a fact that has not yet penetrated the Donald’s skull?) is peddling untruths. He continues to assert both of these things even though the rough transcript the White House itself released shows him to be obviously wrong on both counts. Not to mention all of the subsequent revelations that show that phone call to be just one piece of a large, consistent pattern.

Maybe you want to say he’s crazy rather than dumb. Either way, you can say his ability to discern the truth is severely limited.

So in that case, is he a liar? Don’t you have to mean to lie for it to count?

Anyway, I’m thinking about this again after reading the recent Frank Bruni column headlined “‘Human Scum,’ ‘Lynching’ and Trump’s Tortured English.” (Subhed: “The president needs a thesaurus and a therapist, though not necessarily in that order.”)

It’s another piece addressing a thing that probably explains as well as anything why people who work with words tend to see Trump as dumb, while it is less obvious to certain other people:

The other day he turned to the bounteous trove of the English language for a pejorative worthy of his critics’ awfulness, at least as he sees it. He decided on “human scum.”

He sought to capture the horror and injustice befalling him. What he came up with was “lynching.”

There’s being crude with language, there’s being loose with it, and then there’s being Trump, who uses words the way a toddler does marbles, grabbing the ones that are most bluntly colorful and tossing them into the air just because he can.

Trump is as inept at English as he is at governing. He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue….

And so on. But the passage that prompts this post is this:

I’ve written before that Trump, “in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself,” may inadvertently be “the most honest president in my lifetime.” His language is obviously central to that. It’s a glimpse into his fury and fears…

Which is slightly different from what I said above. Basically, Bruni is saying that no matter how untrue and badly chosen his words are, the emotion behind them reveals the true Trump.

My point is that maybe we can’t label Trump’s perpetual flow of falsehoods as lies, because he really doesn’t know any better.

Either way, Trump comes across as less dishonest than a mere examination of facts would suggest.

What do y’all think?

 

The greater wonder is that there are people who don’t see it, or don’t care, or both

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Just this morning I got around to reading Frank Bruni’s Sunday column, which begins:

The wonder of the Trump administration — the jaw-dropping, brain-exploding phantasmagoria of it — is that it doesn’t bury its rottenness under layers of counterfeit virtue or use a honeyed voice to mask the vinegar inside. The rottenness is out in the open. The sourness is right there on the surface for all to see.

It’s at the president’s rallies, where he plays a bigot for laughs, a bully for applause.

It’s in the ballrooms and beds at Mar-a-Loco, where he mingles official government business with free marketing for his gilded club.

It’s in the transcript of his phone call with the president of Ukraine, for whom the quid, the pro and the Biden-ravaging quo couldn’t have been clearer.

It’s at the microphone in the White House briefing room, where his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, showed up on Thursday, announced that President Trump would host the next G7 meeting at one of his own golf resorts, and conceded that, yes, aid to Ukraine had been tied to that country’s indulgence of the president’s political obsessions….

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, all right — in that we’ve never in American history seen anything like this.

But you know what is a greater wonder? The fact that there are all these people out there — Republican officeholders, and the “base” that terrifies them — who don’t see it, or claim not to see it, no matter how many times Trump slaps them in the face with it, compelling him to look.

People still defend him, in spite of all.

That’s the wonder of it…

Doesn't it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?...

Doesn’t it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?…

Top Five History-Based Holiday Ideas

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The controversy over Columbus Day got me to thinking of history-based holidays we could have, if only we thought a little harder. They’re not in order of preference, but in calendar order:

  1. Rubicon Day — OK, so this didn’t happen in America. But Julius Caesar’s decision to cross that creek with his troops had a huge effect on something that matters to Americans. It ended the last republic we would see for 1,000 years. But I’m also thinking we could have some fun with it. We could have toga parties each Jan. 10, and go around saying “iacta alea est” to each other. Maybe not your idea of a good time, but maybe we could make a drinking game out of it.
  2. British Invasion Day — No, it’s not about 1814. It’s about 1964, and this holiday would be pure fun. We’d celebrate it on February 9, the day the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We’d all play music by the Beatles, the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and so forth. We’d have theme parties in which we’d all dress like the invaders, and go around saying “gear” and “fab.” And if you said bad things about the holiday, we’d all say you were “dead grotty.”
  3. Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12 — Yes, bring it back, and repeal this “President’s Day” nonsense, in order to drive home the fact that he was our greatest president, and is largely responsible for America being America, having thrown off its original sin via that war that we fight on until the slave states’ unconditional surrender — and making sure it didn’t end until the 13th Amendment was passed, so that all that bloodshed served a purpose. Sorry about the run-on sentence…
  4. Smallpox Day — This is sort of related to the idea of “Indigenous People’s Day,” but I actually have three reasons to mark the day. First, it seems to me that the most horrific public health disaster in human history (way bigger than the Black Death) was back in the 16th century when 95 percent of the native population was wiped out by European diseases for which they had no resistance — usually before the victims had even encountered the Europeans. Something so awful should be remembered. My second reason is celebratory — celebrating the fact that we’ve been so successful at wiping out the disease that a rite of passage of my childhood, the “vaccination” (that’s what we called it; we didn’t know what it was for), is unknown to today’s children. Third, as a warning — that it could come back some day, and we need to fully prepared to wipe it out again if it does. This would be on May 17, the birthday of Edward Jenner.
  5. Independence Day, July 2 — So that we’d be celebrating the actual day that Congress voted to declare independence, not the day that the document’s final edits were approved. This is personal, because John Adams is my fave Founder, and this was day that HE thought should be celebrated, after his weeks of hard work arguing the Congress into taking this momentous step — debate during which Thomas Jefferson, who gets the glory, sat there like a bump on a log. Harrumph…
One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

Temple Ligon still pushing The Bridge

It’s really something when someone has a idea he really believes in, and never, ever gives up.

Remember Temple Ligon’s plan to build a convention center on a bridge across the Congaree? He’ll be talking about The Bridge again tonight, more than 30 years after he first proposed it:

Tomorrow night, Friday, beginning at 6:00 pm at the Columbia Empowerment Center on Lady Street, we’ll have a lecture on The Bridge. What began as a response to the city’s request for proposals in the spring of 1987 is now part of a major real estate development proposal that includes a five-star hotel, a Jasper Johns museum, a performing arts compound inspired by Washington’s Kennedy Center, a suggested home for the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, and other features. Property taxes taken from the private development, mostly condominiums, out of what is now thin air over the Congaree River, can be collected as part of a tax increment bond financing development district to help build the cultural amenities. Low culture, you might say, can be exercised to support high culture. The Koger Center, an awful ballet theater and a terrible opera house – I was on the board of the Palmetto Opera for six years – stays where it is as a perfectly adequate symphony hall with a band shell that works. Still, renovation of the Koger Center is in the budget.Temple Ligon

Back in 1987, while the city was wondering what to do with a homeboy proposal of world’s first triumphal bridge in the modern era, the major hotel developer, Belz Hotels of Memphis, saw Columbia as an opportunity to build a Peabody and parade it’s ducks in the same class as the Peabody in Memphis and the Peabody in Orlando, both high-end properties. Belz committed in writing to Columbia City Council, Richland County Council, Lexington County Council, and West Columbia City Council. Copies of the Belz commitment will be available. Also available will be the blue ribbon committee report from the managing partner of South Carolina’s largest law firm, Nelson Mullins, which essentially said, “Build the Bridge.

In other words, The Bridge was wildly popular and eminently practical and thoroughly doable. It just didn’t have the initial support of the Honorable T. Patton Adams and later the support of the Honorable Robert D. Coble.

Even the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce was firmly on board. The membership was invited to vote their preference, which was reported as 65% for The Bridge, although the chamber director confided in me it was actually 75%.

So we almost had a done deal. As it turned out, we got a satisfactory convention center with good attendance and plans for expansion.

Fine. But who cares?

Now let’s get on with making a city. But who cares?

Everybody cares.