When Mr. Ted Chews screams “FREEDOM!!” In his attempt to sound ferocious and therefore uses his most big-boy voice he can muster, be assured, he is not talking about your freedom. He is not talking about freedom at all. He is talking about power and license. For him.
The thing Chews finds attractive about his idol is not the Golden Calf’s competence and certainly not his (non-existent) compassion, nor fair-mindedness. Mr. Chews has no illusions about that. He knows Trump’s a monster. But he’s a monster that promises that old white dudes like Ted himself will be able to have it all and take it all if he becomes dictator.
The fact that Trump seemingly never has to suffer any consequences for his many serious and petty crimes is a proof point! Ted figures: “If someone as stupid and inept and uneducated as Trump can get away with anything, then, I sure as hell can! I’m twice as smart and four times as educated. And younger! And, speaking of younger, if I play my cards right, and support T-Rump, either I’ll get picked when he drops dead right before the convention or — I’ll get picked as his VP and he’ll die soon after he takes office. And hell, he’d only have at most, five years as dictator. I will have decades and decades to suck every ounce of wealth, and enjoyment out of America and funnel it to myself! Why the hell not!! Rules don’t mean anything! Laws don’t mean anything! All that matters is power for power’s sake! And I will have it all.”
Rest assured, when Mr. Chews screamed “FREEDOM!!” he was screaming about his own license to do whatever the hell he wanted to whomever the hell he wanted to do it to.
Teddy Boy, of course, is not the first person to have come up with this idea. Nor was Donald Drumpf. It’s a compelling idea partly because there is a part of nearly everyone that can relate. You want things for yourself! You do. I do. Nearly everyone does. But there’s another part of nearly everyone that has to do with caring, with love, with empathy. And, if we are adults, we also realize that if we act like a$$holes all the time, it encourages others to do the same and we will all end up in a much worse place. And, even if you can’t see that, you can at least hopefully see that there will be real consequences if you act like a selfish a$$hole all your life.
That is true for nearly everyone in the society. However, if you happen to be an absolute dictator, two of these constraints on your behavior are lessened. First, since you control the laws and the press, you will suffer no consequences from the law. While it is true that your actions will make the entire society crappy, that crappiness will fall hardest on those with the least power. So, although everyone will be worse off (except the dictator) in a dictatorship, those with some power will enjoy mistreating those “beneath” them and that gives them some sort of sick pleasure. Meanwhile, of course, they’ll be getting mistreated themselves by those with more power. Everyone is held rigidly in place and does not want to take a risk, reveal bad news, speak truth to power, try anything creative. It is quite literally making a prison of the entire nation. You think not? Why do countries prevent their own law-abiding citizens from leaving? (Putting aside PANDEMIC-related reasons; barriers to emigration predate that).
The only thing that would keep a dictator from doing incomparable horrors is empathy. But if you were strong on empathy, you wouldn’t even be interested in being a dictator.
People have debated what, precisely, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution means. But no-one to my knowledge has argued that the “right to bear arms” means that you can therefore shoot dead whomever you want. That is not a “freedom” under any reasonable definition.
What would be the consequence of simply saying that under our Constitution, you can kill whomever you want? Anarchy. Chaos. Such a state of affairs would certainly not be conducive to an economic recovery, controlling the pandemic, or “domestic tranquility.” The Second Amendment also doesn’t mean that you can go kill people provided you think you are justified. The fact that you believe you are right does not mean you are right. If you do own a gun, you have a responsibility to use it wisely. You can own a car. But that doesn’t give you the right to drive however you damned well feel like. It doesn’t give you the right to go as fast as you want and it certainly doesn’t give you the right to kill people with your car. Similarly, you can own a home. But owning your own home doesn’t mean you can set up an opium den or a crack house there. With rights come responsibilities.
So it is as well with the “Freedom of Speech.” You have the right to make arguments for your point of view, even if that view is not popular. But, as nearly everyone realizes, that does not mean you have the freedom to stand up in a crowded theater (should they ever exist again) and scream “FIRE!” at the top of your lungs. If you did, and people were trampled to death in the panicked rush to get out, you would rightly be held liable for their deaths.
That is not the only restriction on your “Freedom of Speech.” You cannot visit someone, sneak a bottle of vodka out of their liquor cabinet while they aren’t looking, pour the Absolute down the drain, and replace the contents with wood alcohol, and then sneak it back into the liquor cabinet. You cannot knowing sell horse meat as venison. You cannot lie about your age in order to register to vote or buy alcohol or firearms.
You cannot convince your neighbor that wood alcohol will prevent COVID (it won’t and it’s poison) and then let them act accordingly. It is certainly not ethical, if someone has the symptoms of an appendicitis, to tell them not to worry because doctors just perform operations to make money and that instead, they should simply take a laxative (this can easily result in a burst appendix followed by sepsis and death). It is also probably illegal to do so, even if you sincerely, but wrongly believe that taking a laxative will cure an appendicitis.
Suppose your friend has a two year old with a nasty looking wart on their hand. Suppose you convince your friend, that you can simply cut off the child’s hand with a meat cleaver and that the next day, a new hand will grow back and it will be perfect — no wart. Your friend is rather stupid to believe you, but that doesn’t mean you have no responsibility in the matter. You cannot successfully argue in court that you were “merely executing your right to free speech.”
It is not okay to simply spread lies because there are other people spreading the same lies. With Freedom of Speech comes the responsibility to check up on the veracity of what you say, write, or tweet. If your intention is to mislead people into harming or killing someone, you will be held liable.
Sometimes, deciding what is true is difficult. In the case of my convincing you that your child’s hand will grow back, you could use logic, or experience, or seek out the expertise of medical doctors. Some people have not been educated to take these steps. That is sad, but if someone is misled into committing a crime, a mentally competent adult doing the misleading and the mentally competent adult who has been misled are both liable, even if both of them have been misled by misinformation on the Internet. That is why it is so important not to spread misinformation.
Sometimes such misinformation is spread with the best of intentions. People may actually believe that people with red hair are devils in disguise and that they are all hell-bent on destroying the earth. That still doesn’t make it all right for you to kill red-haired people nor to spread lies about them that results in someone else killing red-haired people. If you spread your belief and that action harms other people, you are not somehow exonerated because you believed the lie that you spread.
There is, however, a category of misinformation still worse than spreading deadly lies without checking up on them.
That happens when people who know better, such as Ted Cruz, spread lies that they know are lies in order to gain political power. He was valedictorian in his high school class and has degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law School. He has both the knowledge and the intelligence to know that he was lying about election results. Unless someone was drugging him without his knowledge or he has a brain tumor, he knowingly and cravenly tried to overthrow the most recent Presidential election. And he did so in the most cravenly and cowardly way possible: by intentionally and cynically rousing others to violence. Everyone who died in DC as a result of the Sedition Riot has their blood on his hands.
What he did, and others of his ilk, is not the exercise of free speech any more than screaming “FIRE!!” In a crowded theater is exercising free speech. Cruz’s rabble rousing is no more free speech than my robbing a bank at gunpoint is a “free speech” demonstration of my objection to wealth inequality. Cruz knows full well that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and by quite a bit. Cruz knows that there was no wide-spread election fraud. Cruz knew full well that the President’s lies on the subject had predisposed an angry mob to believe his lies and act on them.
This was not the first time that Ted Cruz had egregiously lied in public life. Before the Senate impeachment trial of Donald J. Trump, he swore an oath for a fair trial. Then, he joined other GOP Senators to refuse to hold a fair trail; refusing to call witnesses and refusing to subpoena documents. Leaving Trump in office has led to hundreds of thousands of needlessly dead Americans. Those deaths are on the heads of Donald J. Trump, but also on the heads of Senators who swore to hold a fair trial and then made no attempt to do so.
There are many lies that have emanated from Ted Cruz — a man who is a United States Senator. His lies meant to incite a riotous attack on our democracy were not the first of his lies. But they should be the last.
He should be ejected from the Senate and criminally prosecuted for inciting to riot and for treason.
Our founders knew that a would-be dictator, such as Donald J. Trump, would be a danger to our democracy. They provided for that eventuality. Sadly, they failed to anticipate the astounding level of cowardice that could be displayed by people such as Ted Cruz. I suppose it’s understandable. After all, these founders had just engaged in a war against the much more powerful and better trained British. And, they had won. They didn’t all agree with each other, but they were not a bunch of craven cowards who would sell their family for a moldy table scrap of a would-be dictator’s affection.
Cowardly sycophants of that ilk belong in prison; not in the United States Senate.
“…and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” US Constitution, Article 2, Section 2.
One reading of this statement is simply this: If a President has been impeached, he will cede the power to grant reprieves and pardons. “He shall have power…except in cases of impeachment.” An impeached President — one completely without a shred of decency or ethics — could use the power of the pardon to shroud his own perfidy and prevent himself from being convicted of the high crimes and misdemeanors that he has been charged with in his impeachment. Then, it would make sense to put in a limitation to Presidential pardons in cases where the President has been impeached.
In a more narrow interpretation, he is only limited in that he is not to give pardons to people who are impeached. That would have been easy to clarify if that’s what was meant.
In either case, the provision does not say that the power is “unlimited.” It does not give explicit and specific limits (except in case of impeachment). That doesn’t mean that the power is unlimited. Those are two different concepts.
I have bought many tools in my life. For instance, one of those tools is a hammer. Nowhere in the instructions for the hammer does it say I can’t use the hammer to bash people’s brains in. Similarly, I own a saw. Nowhere in the instructions for the saw does it say that I can’t use it to dismember people and store their limbs in the freezer. I own a screwdriver. Nowhere in the instructions for the screwdriver does it say I can’t use to stab folks in the heart. I also own a car. Neither my registration nor my driver’s license says that I am not allowed to mow down pedestrians.
Yes, there are other laws that make it clear that I’m not allowed to murder people.
Pardons are meant to be tools. The framers of the Constitution did not bother to say, “The Pardon is a tool that should be used to right wrongs and dispense mercy — not to be used to destroy the rule of law or help the President destroy the nation he is supposed to protect.”
Why would they put that? A political entity clearly, by its very nature, must admit of a variety of opinions, approaches, and policies. They didn’t bother to put in the Constitution that the President, whatever his political leanings, must actually take his oath of office seriously. Clearly, #45 is working for Putin’s benefit & doing what he can, in a thousand ways, large and small, to destroy America. It makes zero sense, to use the Constitution as the excuse for him to destroy the Constitution.
If the rule of law is subverted, the entire rest of the Constitution is useless. That’s why he’s pardoning war criminals. He’s not pardoning anyone out of a sense of “loyalty” either. That’s absurd. He feels no loyalty for what people have done. He’s using pardons as a weapon for the destruction of the Constitution.
Imagine you hired a contractor to fix your deck. You provide him with all the materials and tools he needs to do the job. You both sign a contract and you agree that he should be allowed to fix your deck without your standing there the whole time telling him how to do his job. After all, he’s the professional.
Now, day one on the job, he begins to dismantle the deck. And the the supports. And your roof. He uses the hammer to smash your windows. He says, “Look! Look here! It says I can fix the deck any way I want. You are not to interfere.”
You fire him. In no uncertain terms. But he comes back the next day and continues to destroy your house. Again he points to the contract and he points out that there is nothing in the contract that explicitly says he can’t destroy your house, just so long as he fixes the deck. Meanwhile, he’s hired a gang of thugs to keep you from physically kicking him off your property. He still claims to be fixing your deck, even though every piece of decking has been put through a chipper. You discover that someone wants to put up a shopping mall where your house is and he is paying your “contractor” to destroy your house so you’ll have to move.
What comes next?
I’m not sure, but I am sure it was never intended by the framers of the Constitution that a sitting President should be allowed to use any single provision or any combination of provisions in the Constitution as a way to destroy the very Constitution he swore to uphold.
You own a dog. You love your dog. And you know your dog loves you.
Your neighbor, on the other hand, you do not love.
But you tolerate the guy despite his odd habits.
Then, one day, your neighbor comes over and shoots your dog dead.
In court, he explains that bullets only kill evil dogs. Bullets will pass through good dogs without harm. In fact, he claims he was doing you a favor, because an evil dog can appear like a good dog and then kill you in your sleep. And, as it turns out, he knows this is true because he found this out on the Internet. Then he heard it on Sketchy News Channel. He joined a group called “Bullets are Truth” on a social media site called “Parlez Vous Tromperie” which has cool pictures of scantily clothed acrobats all around the edges.
Your friend is an adult. He went to high school. He came from a reasonable home. He was not on drugs when he murdered your dog. He is not certifiably insane. He insists he was doing you a favor. He was operating, of course, on the basis of misinformation.
It doesn’t matter.
He killed your dog.
The fact that he did it based on false information makes no difference in how you feel nor does it make a difference in the eyes of the law. The false information he believed in makes no sense and is easily disproven. It doesn’t matter that thousands of people were duped into believing the same nonsense.
You own a dog. You love your dog.
Same neighbor. Same result. He shot and killed your dog.
When the truth at last comes out, it turns out that your spouse called him up and through sobs and hysterical screams, managed to squeak out that the dog had been bitten by a bat and though they had thought little of it at the time, the dog was now rabid and about to attack the children where they were all playing in the yard. She said she knew you had a gun and could you please save her children before it was too late!
Turns out your spouse always hated the dog and the neighbor. After the call, she smiled a very self-satisfied smile at her acting performance. Then, she let your dog out to play, but not before squirting whipped cream all over his muzzle.
When your neighbor came into the yard he saw your dog charging toward the kids and apparently foaming at the mouth.
He killed your dog. He did it on the basis of misinformation.
After all the facts come out, you’ll probably still be pretty PO’d at your neighbor, but you’d be a lot more PO’d at your spouse!
One crucial difference between Case 1 and Case 2 is that in Case 1, your neighbor had plenty of time to verify the veracity of the claim that bullets would pass “harmlessly” through the body of a “Good Dog.” In Case 2, your neighbor could have reasonably thought that he had zero time to do anything but save your children. In Case 1, your neighbor’s belief was absurd. In Case 2, your neighbor believed something unlikely to be true, but it wasn’t physically impossible. Dogs can catch rabies. And if a rabid dog bites a child, that’s really bad for the child.
What do you think are appropriate punishments in these two cases?
Case 3 is just like Case 1 except that your neighbor comes and shoots your kids. He has all the same excuses. He has all the same misinformation as in Case1.
What do you think would be an appropriate punishment for your neighbor? How about the people who put the information on the Internet?
Or, perhaps you think all should be forgiven because he was misinformed?
Your neighbor relies on misinformation on TV and internet sites to engage in treasonous behavior toward America.
The minimum sentence for treason is five years in a Federal Penitentiary.
The maximum penalty is death.
What do you think is an appropriate price for committing treason when the traitor does it based on an absurd conspiracy theory — one that he sincerely believes?
I love to play tennis. Before I learned tennis or even knew it existed, I learned badminton. I love badminton as well as table tennis and racquetball. Now, living in San Diego, the weather gods are kind enough to shine sun and blue and warm so that tennis is often possible seven days a week. Unfortunately, my 75 year old body has issues with playing every day.
Before COVID, I went to the gym every other day and lifted. I still exercise my muscles but I can’t quite make it as effective as using real weights. Lack of strength and having flat feet combine to put a lot of stress on my feet and knees. Before COVID (will we call this “BC” at some point?) my strength was good. I was nearly as strong as when I was 16.
As it turns out though, lifting strength is not the only factor that determines how well you can run and jump. The body has, in effect, a number of “springs.” When someone runs (at least when a young person runs), fully half of the power for a running stride comes from the rebound of internal springs which provide power from the previous stride. Our human running springs are primarily the arch, the Achilles tendon and the quad muscles.
My own arches, sadly, have never worked properly. When I step down forcefully, rather than compressing and expanding, my foot slips inward and does not rebound. But the muscles and tendons have also become less resilient with time. Wearing orthotics helps align my body and lessens pain in the arches. But orthotics do not provide the “bounce” of the natural bone arch as it rebounds from the previous step. Nonetheless, I enjoy playing tennis. It’s good for the body, the soul, and the mind.
I enjoy playing singles but I mainly play doubles. And doubles also provides a variety of lessons (and challenges) in teamwork.
Consider that you are positioned near the baseline of the court (far away from the net) and someone hits a ball right at you. As it turns out, it is much much easier for your partner to tell whether this shot is going to be long or not than it is for you yourself to tell. Just today, for instance, I was standing just inside the baseline when a deep shot was hit right at me, about waist high. My partner yelled, “BOUNCE!” I let it go. I might mention that my partner’s eyesight is not so good as mine is. I’m not putting him down. That’s just a fact. Nonetheless, I prepared to hit the ball out of the air until I heard my partner yell “BOUNCE!” When that happened I pivoted and let it fly by me, turning so I’d have a good at where it landed. Two inches out.
It turns out that a similar kind of teamwork is important in the outfield of a baseball game. If you are playing in the outfield and a long fly ball is hit toward you, it is devilishly difficult to tell whether the ball is going to land near you, in front of you, or behind you. When a well-coached team plays, the outfielders will call out to one another and give guidance about whether a ball hit directly to another outfielder is going to land in front of them, roughly where they are or far behind them. In a poorly coached team, they do not help each other in this way.
In a well-coached team, the fielder who is not going to catch a high fly ball does not simply “zone out” and think, “not my play.” Instead, they are still cognizant of their ability and responsibility to help out their teammate who is going to catch the ball, even though they are nowhere near that teammate. Competition for fame, fortune, recruiting, salary, etc. all push toward not helping each other out. But normal people on normal teams actually have a normal reaction to want to help the others on their team. Good coaching enhances a feeling of teamwork. It also involves explaining, at least to the younger players, the ways in which they can help each other. Calling “Forward” or “Back” to a fellow fielder is only one of the many ways teammates in baseball can help each other.
The man behind the mask (the Catcher) and the outfielder trying to throw a player out who is trying to score — that is a delicate sort of dance so that the outfielder throws the ball the spot where the Catcher can most likely tag the runner (advancing player) out.
For a team to function at the highest level, there has to be both the skill to know how to coordinate and mutual trust. Mutual trust means everyone looks out for each other and wants everyone to succeed. Some teams lack one or both of these qualities. If they lack both, it will be nothing more than a set of individuals doing assigned tasks. That is both less effective and a whole lot less joyous way to play Baseball or Tennis. (Or, Life, for that matter).
Perhaps you’re not a fan of tennis or baseball but you like golf. Watch one of the most prestigious tournaments of all, the Masters, played at the remarkably beautiful Augusta National. The winners of the Green Jacket show their excitement with a riotous palette of smiles, tears, cheers, and beaming. Regardless of how the excitement is exhibited, the winner shows a lot of excitement. That level of excitement does not, however, even begin to compare to the degree of excitement that the victors exhibit in the Solheim Cup competition nor the Ryder Cup where teams are competing against each other.
There’s no comparison, to my eyes; or, in my own experience. Don’t get me wrong. I love to win an individual match. I am very competitive, likely too competitive. But I still experience a team victory as — not only more joyous. It’s a different level of joy. A private victory is much like a bite of my favorite food; perhaps a handful of cashews. I love cashews.
But a team victory? That is more like going out to dinner (if you can still remember BC times) at a wonderful and unique restaurant. I think this feeling is nearly universal. The intensity and even quality of that feeling depends on the quality of the teamwork. If the team really knows how to work together and has the empathy and motivation to do so, and if that teamwork is largely the source of the victory, it is all the sweeter.
The best teams have the skill and the motivation to cooperate well. Mediocre teams will lack one or the other of those qualities. Poor teams will have neither the desire to cooperate nor the skill to do so. But there is a fifth type of “team”: one composed of people who are actively working against each other. This is like a cancer in an organization.
If Susan sees Charlie fail to help Barbara as promised, Barbara will be less likely to help Charlie. She may even help him fail. But Susan does not remain unaffected either. She may also try to avenge Barbara. Or, she may say to herself, “Well, hell, if Charlie can get away with blaming someone else for his mistakes, why can’t I?” Mistrust, disloyalty, inefficiency, high turnover rates, actual violence in the workplace, absenteeism, theft — just as you would expect, higher costs are associated with all of these things and all of these things are more common in a toxic environment — one where people cannot trust each other.
In tennis, the on-court team is only two players. You might think the cooperation is simple. It’s more complicated than that. Believe me — or don’t — but it would be another whole essay to explain. One factor that’s important in all types of teamwork is mutual trust. If my partner says “BOUNCE!” and I let it go repeatedly only to watch it drop well in bounds, I’m eventually not going to trust those judgements of my partner any more.
Notice that trust broken is difficult to bounce back from. And, like arches, muscles, and tendons, when a society gets older, it may well have less “bounce” when it comes to forgiving betrayals. Perhaps the same is true for individuals.
I don’t know. But it seems to me (as a liberal) as though Trumpists believe liberals are betraying Trump. But why should a liberal have any loyalty whatsoever to Trump. Initially, I felt some loyalty to the Office of the Presidency, and was willing to watch him with an open mind, but he has shredded trust like a pet hamster named Liberty that fell in the document shredder. Only, in the case of Trump, the pet hamster didn’t just fall in the shredder. Poor Liberty was thrown into the shredder. And, when the legless and hapless hamster tried to squirm its way out, he grabbed a handy Barr to push it back in.
There’s something even worse, from my perspective. My “teammates” on the “other side of the aisle” are being conned. From my perspective, over here, on the side, it is painfully obvious. To them, it is not obvious. The cons are coming right at them like a high line drive and they cannot see how deep these shots are or how close they take us to the brink of a fascist dictatorship or utter anarchy.
I try to tell them, “BACK! BACK!” But instead of going back, or asking someone else, they continually insist they are not being conned. And then, they ask me why I hate America and hate Baseball. (Neither of those are true, by the way).
The ball falls over their head; the other team is scoring runs; and they deny that anything ever happened! They don’t only deny they were not back far enough. They deny there was a ball even hit to them. Or, they insist that they are free and as such, they don’t have to back up just because I say so.
They don’t even run back and get the ball that landed behind them! Someone else has to do that. I look at the scoreboard, and what I see is this:
COVID19 — 300,000 dead America – 12,000,000 unemployed
They apparently look at the scoreboard and see:
Liberal Hoax — 300,000 supposedly dead
Donald Trump worked from day one of his Presidency to put our American “team” in the fifth and last category: a divided team without mutual trust.
We have the skills of teamwork. We have the motivation to act as a team. What is missing is trust. Americans do have the skills to cooperate across every kind of divide. Most Americans do have the desire to work together on some serious problems such as immigration reform, sensible gun control, addressing climate change, increasing employment, decreasing crime, improving our standing in the world, stopping systemic racism. I don’t say all Americans share these goals, but most do. At a more fundamental level, we all want a shot at a decent life and a chance that our kids will do even better. That’s what most people want. We can get all of that and more with teamwork.
The hardest part of that will be recovering and rebuilding mutual trust. There has been colossal betrayal that goes way beyond policy differences between liberals and conservatives or between Democrats and Republicans. Until the Trump administration, there was an expectation of truth; there was an expectation of hiring excellence for the government; there was an expectation that we would face a common enemy like Russia together; there was an expectation that we would all take an oath of office seriously; there was an expectation that people in high places would not, with absolute impunity, line their own pockets from the public treasury. There was an expectation that a President of the United States of America would tell the truth about a deadly pandemic and not spread lies about it and model lethal behavior. There was an expectation that both Republicans and Democrats would put our Democracy and the legitimacy of our elections ahead of conning followers out of millions of dollars just to line the pockets of Donald J. Trump.
All those expectations were broken. Trust was broken. Now, we have to try to see that we’re on the same team and work together.
We can do it. But it won’t be easy.
The most important thing that liberals, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, and independents can focus on is that our election worked. I don’t just mean that the technology worked or the process worked. What’s most important is that the vast majority of both Republicans and Democrats worked together to make that election happen and be counted and be reported. Yes, there were some high-ranking high-profile Republicans who seemed to be joining the Trump “Let’s Destroy America!” Train; the Trump “If you don’t want me, fine! I’ll burn your silly little democracy down on the way out!” Train. But thousands and thousands of people of all political stripes and all across this country came together to make it work. People in the Great Plains worked together; people in small towns worked together; people in large cities worked together — Republicans and Democrats.
Those who supported Trump need to understand that we were not trying to rain on their parade or hate on them. We were trying to tell them that the damned ball was going over their head! They were being conned! (And many still are). Being conned can happen to anyone. And it’s pretty much always the case that it’s easier to see from the side as shown in the following dialogue.
Grandpa: “Oh, Grandson! You’ll never guess what happened today. I got a letter in the mail from this really nice man in Kremblinia and he’s giving me…us, really… a million dollars! Isn’t that amazing!”
Grandson: “Grandpa. No-one gives away a million dollars!”
Grandpa: “No, no. You don’t understand. It’s not exactly a give away. He can’t get to his money because of political problems in Kremblinia. You know. It’s in Africa. I guess they have corruption there.”
Grandson: “It’s still a scam.”
Grandpa: “No, it’s real. He just needs my bank routing number so he can wire me the money into my account.”
Grandson: “You didn’t give it to him, did you?”
Grandpa: “Of course I did! You think I’ll turn down the opportunity of a lifetime? Why are you being so negative?”
Grandson: “Call the bank. Quick. He’s going to rob your account!”
Grandpa: “Let me just show you the letter. You can just tell he’s sincere. He’s very religious actually. He was taken from his mother when he just a little kid. Horrible. They do that there. Anyway, he became a Prince in this whole region, but then the Muslims came in. I forget all the details. I’ll show you next time you come over. You’ll see.”
Today when we were playing tennis the ball flew out of the court and rolled between the wall and the fence. No-one could get it out. Notice: I said “No-one” — but when I worked together with someone on the other team, he lifted up the fence an inch and I pushed it out with my racquet.
Prior to Trump, I thought that’s what politics was like in America. Different teams working within a common framework. My opponents are not my “enemy” — and if the rules of the game are put aside and truth does not matter and whoever has the most power gets to demand victory no matter what the score is…? What’s the point of playing?
Self-quarantining in a fashion, I suppose.
Despite their fights, their fondness grows.
Don’t you wish that I could teach what each of us already knows?
How to hold a grudge forever and forever and forever and a day.
One of the sadder misconceptions about a fascist dictatorship is that life will at least be clear and predictable. There will be clear rules, laid out in black and white, and if you keep your nose clean and do as you’re told, you’ll be safe and your family will be safe. Only trouble-makers will get in trouble. In this view, Democracy seems like a cool idea, but in reality, there is endless discord and disagreement. Some begin to think that we’ll all be so much better off if we just have one source of information that we all agree on, regardless of how bogus that source is.
What will actually happen under a dictatorship is the opposite of this promise.
There will be more chaos, not less.
Think about it. In our current society, truth ultimately rules over power. Yes, of course, there are people who are afraid to speak truth to power. And most of us have had that boss who is simply inept or opinionated and doesn’t care much about reality. But they are the exception. Most people in a corporation can be brought round if you have truth on your side. For some decision makers, convincing them of what is best for the organization as a whole is enough. But sometimes, you also have to find a way to explain that it’s also in their personal interest to do what’s best for the company. But most bosses and managers don’t act like complete jerks. And part of the reason is that they know they will be held accountable in some way if they behave too far outside the norm.
In a culture where power trumps truth, however, the only thing that matters is power, not truth. Some people will nonetheless have a tendency to be regular in their behavior. So, you can count on that, at least. Except, of course, that you cannot count on that. Because at any time, and for any unforeseen reason, that person who follows some principles or values or code or flow-chart or best practices — they can be over-ridden by someone higher up. If they don’t toe the line, they will be fired and someone else will replace them who will do as they’re told.
You might be doing a great job when all at once you’re fired — not for anything at all related to your performance — no, you could be fired for telling the truth. And, you could even be fired for your brother telling the truth.
There is no predictability. There is only chaos. Chaos is what a dictator thrives on. By continual change, dictated from the top in completely unpredictable ways, the dictator gains more and more control. For instance, let’s imagine that the dictator (or even a would-be dictator with inside knowledge) brokers a wonderful trade deal with China in which both parties benefit; a real win/win situation. If this happens in real life, word will leak out and eventually there will be confirmation and the stock market will tend to go up. But it’s a lot of work to make such a deal.
Imagine instead that you decided to grant some monetary favors to some of your largest donors. You tell them that you’re about to make a big announcement of a wonderful trade deal with China. They buy stocks low. You make your announcement. The stock market goes up. They sell stocks high. Everyone discovers there’s no “there” there and the stock market goes back down. Meanwhile, your friends made millions.
For everyone else though, it’s simply chaos. It makes financial planning hard; it makes career planning difficult; it makes all planning difficult. Remember: at any time and for any reason, an “order from headquarters” could render all your previous planning useless. The person you have teamed with for years could be hauled off suddenly for a political crime. Of course, at first you’ll find it hard to believe. After all, you’ve known Frank for years. He never seemed like the type to step out of line. But there is no-one to plead the other side in a dictatorship — not honestly. All trials become sham trials. The outcome is known in advance. If the powerful like you, you go free, no matter how heinous your crime and how strong the evidence. If the powerful don’t like you, you’ll be jailed, or executed, or (most fun of all) tortured until you give the names of five or six of your friends as also being enemies of the state. Truth doesn’t matter any more. The rule of law doesn’t matter any more.
More and more wealth will be funneled to the already very rich. That will make everyone else more desperate and crime will increase. More and more people will be incarcerated essentially being a slave work force. They will literally be working and surviving and nothing more. No more attempts at rehabilitation. Who wants them rehabilitated? They are cheap labor. And, what’s equally important, they serve as a great reminder to everyone not in prison that prison is theirs for the asking. All they have to do is utter the truth or fail to shout “Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler!” loudly enough and they too can have a one way ticket to hell.
What happened when Mao became dictator of China? Educated people were sent out into the fields. Many were executed. Society was turned completely on its head. Russian Revolution: Same. Hitler’s Germany — much of it was bombed, millions killed, turned ordinary people into monsters. It’s always the same. The founding fathers had seen it over and over in country after country in age after age. Absolute power cannot be safely bestowed on anyone — not even a person of great character and wisdom.
George Washington faced danger, exhibited leadership and helped our young nation survive.
Yet, he did not want to be king.
Donald Trump ran from danger, exhibited no leadership and will have needlessly killed a quarter million Americans. He’s isolated us from our allies. He’s divided the country against itself. He’s railed against the free press since day one. He’s replaced non-partisan experts throughout government with inept lackeys. He is preparing for a fascist state. He’s a willing accomplice in the destruction of American.
Yet he does want to be King.
And if he does? Life will be less regular and less predictable and less organized. It will be more chaotic as well as more sadistic. Is that really the world you want your kids and grandkids to grow up in?
Dmitry paced the fifteen feet of his fifth floor studio apartment, sat down, immediately got up and began pacing again. “Damn!”he muttered under his breath. “I should have never gotten involved in this to start with.”
Natasha knew better than to follow her instincts and try to comfort him. She knew from their decade together that Dmitry never liked to be comforted when he paced. Instead, she tried to reason with him. “Why are you so sure you’re in trouble? Maybe … “
“Because I know, dammit. How many times has Vlad called someone in for a “special meeting” and that person simply disappeared?”
Natasha nodded. “OK,” she admitted, “but this time may be different. Do you have any idea what it’s about?”
“Oh, hell yes. I know exactly what it’s about! The GRU took up my idea to morph the American political party known as GOP into a death cult. They double checked my computer modeling and eventually most everyone agreed it was worth a try, however absurd it seemed on the face of it. But in six months of work, we have yet to find anyone depraved enough to come on board. We’ve compromised quite a few GOP Senators, but none of them will go along with actually killing tens of thousands of their countrymen.”
Natasha frowned and said gently, “Should you be telling me this?”
“No, but what the hell. I’m going down anyway. We couldn’t find anyone that crooked. No-one.”
Natasha realized that if Dmitry really did get disappeared, she was in mortal danger as well. After all, her job was to ensure his success. And, if he really did fail big time, the axe would fall even harder on his handler. He knew damned well that he shouldn’t be saying anything about this to his ‘girlfriend’. Maybe she would report him. Maybe not. First things first. “Hey, what about a prominent actor or businessman? It doesn’t have to be a politician does it? Didn’t they have a popular President who was only a second rate actor?”
“You don’t think we thought of that? We tried … we got close with a few. They’re okay with stealing money, but actually killing people — so many wimpy Americans. For some weird reason, they draw the line at murder. We need someone who has no grasp of reality. On the edge of insanity. Most business successes — unless they just inherited all their wealth — and even then, they’ll just lose their inherited wealth if they can’t face reality so … and actors? Sure there are a lot on the edge. But not over the edge…well, none that would be popular enough. We’ve tried successful people in religion, business, show business…but no luck. There has to be something. But we haven’t found it. What are we missing?”
Natasha spoke quietly. “What about unsuccessful people, Dmitry?”
“What? What are you talking about? Why would we want someone unsuccessful?”
“OK, Dmitry, just hear me out. Someone who is actually successful has some sense of accomplishment. They are not going to be that easy to puppetize. On the other hand…if you could find someone who is actually a failure as a politician, or a failure as a businessperson or a failure as an actor….”
Dmitry stopped pacing and looked at Natasha. “Wait a moment! You might be onto something, Natasha! We have been baying at the moon all this time when we really should be baying at the streetlight!”
Natasha smiled, “Or, even a porch light. Or a picture of the moon.”
Dmitry frowned. “A porch light? What are you talking about? What picture?”
Natasha tilted her head and clucked her tongue. “He — or she — but probably he — he could be a complete failure. But someone who wants to be seen as successful. Someone who has lied about his success would be perfect.”
Dmitry began pacing again. “I see what you mean, but there’s one problem. Someone that inept would be too inept to carry out the assignment even though — I agree that they might be willing — how can they be inept and competent at the same time?”
Natasha thought for a moment. “Their ineptitude could actually be an asset, Dmitry. They could be saying and doing all sorts of random and idiotic things. But that would distract the American people from the real action. See what I mean? The more inept and stupid he is publicly, the more people will discount the effectiveness of our puppet — to the point where they won’t see our operations and plans at all.”
Dmitry walked over to the window and stared out at the harsh sodium lit streets of Moscow. He wondered why he hadn’t thought of this himself. Someone who was actually an abject failure but who liked to project the image of a success. Someone who was a complete sociopath, obviously, and so hungry for success, they would betray their country, their party, everything. But does such a person even exist, he wondered. He turned back toward Natasha.
“It might just work. If I could go in tomorrow with a few likely names, I might just turn this thing around. Can you start searching? I’m not sure how to find such a person, but it’s worth a try. I’m going to call — it’s late — but not too late. I’ll get a research team on it too. I can’t tell them why. I just need the names of some complete frauds, maybe even someone in legal trouble but not in jail. There has to be someone in a country of 370 million people.” For the first time in many days, Dmitry laughed. “Maybe we can put an ad in FORBES or FORTUNE. Wanted: Complete business failure. Must be vainglorious and divorced from reality. If only we could be that open about it!” He laughed again.
Natasha smiled. She wondered whether Dmitry would ever discover her own assignment. She liked Dmitry. She really did. She enjoyed their love-making sessions. How would he react to discover that their falling in love had been orchestrated by the GRU. All their so-called geniuses had to be overseen. After all, how else could the Kremlin ensure that people such as Dmitry didn’t become jaded, compromised, or even double agents? Maybe she could make him see that. But maybe not. When it came to mathematical modeling, not to mention chess, Dmitry really was a genius. But when it came to people, his career would have been minor indeed without Natasha taking care of the people side of things.
She had grown genuinely fond of him. It was sad to think that if she succeeded in helping Dmitry carry out his audacious plot, she herself would probably have to be the one to poison him. Maybe she could talk her superiors into making it a quick-acting one or even a fall from the balcony? She had to be careful though. Too much push in that direction would bring suspicion on her. Her handlers might think that she had “gone soft” — really fallen in love. She couldn’t let that happen. No, she’d carry out whatever plans they had. There was always an outside chance that the powers that be would not want to “tie up the loose ends.” After all, he did do excellent modeling. And, teamed up with her, they might even be rewarded with a bigger apartment and a higher salary. Natasha doubted it, but — one never knew.
First things first, she thought. She sat down at the keyboard. How the hell to find someone who is both a gigantic failure but also a con man who has always portrayed himself as a success? Rich. That’s where to start. Someone who inherited a lot of money but never actually accomplished much on their own. As for Dmitry…she really hoped the GRU decided to keep him on. It would be a pain to be assigned to someone else. Ah, well, she thought, such is life.
She typed: fraud loser business failure con man
She smiled and thought to herself: This may be easier than I thought.
Democrat still clinging to the Rule of Law: “Are you against the Affordable Care Act? Do you realize destroying it would put the health of millions of Americans at risk and that we are in the middle of a pandemic?”
AB: “I don’t comment on things in the abstract so I can’t say.”
Democrat believing in the Rule of Law: “But you did write opinions that it should be trashed.”
AB: “Oh, that!. Oh, sure. But I was just writing as an academic. Just expressing my opinion as an academic. It has nothing whatever necessarily to do with what I would do in a specific case. I’d have to read the law, listen to the arguments, pray for guidance, confer with my colleagues, understand the facts of the case and then rule however the President told me to.”
Democrat: “And you do realize that the President read your opinion…well, no, didn’t read it I’m sure, but he was no doubt assured by the Federalist society that you could be counted on to do whatever he says. Right?”
AB: “Oh, I’d be so flattered if he read it, but I didn’t know that. I’m sure it’s just my sheer brilliance that made him pick me.”
Democrat: “You realize that he has said publicly that he would pick a judge who would tear down the Affordable Care Act, right? So, he at least thinks he knows how you would vote. Correct?”
AB: “Oh, my. I have no idea what such a stable genius as the President might think. Who knows? But I can assure you and everyone listening that I would look to the law and the facts and make a fair and informed decision. You know, justices have to swear to be impartial.”
Democrat: “Yes, I’m familiar with the concept of ‘Oath of Office.’ After all, Trump swore an ‘Oath of Office’ to defend our country. But what he’s actually done is sell it out to Putin and the Russian oligarchs to whom he owes half a billion dollars. And, the GOP Senators swore a solemn oath to run a fair trial after Trump’s impeachment. And, all the while Mitch McConman laughed, smiled, and said he could guarantee that Trump would walk free and that he would “coordinate” the trial with Trump’s legal team. And, the GOP Senators refused to call witnesses or subpoena documents, so, again, I’m pretty clear how much an oath is worth when it’s made by the Gang Of Putin. But let’s examine another issue. Trump has also said he wants to be lifetime dictator. If he claims he wants to be dictator and the case comes to the Supreme Court and you are confirmed, can you assure the American people that you will not take his side? Is it ever okay for the President to become a dictator?”
AB: “Well, as I have said so many times in the last few days, I’m a strict constitutionalist. I don’t believe it’s up to us to re-interpret the Constitution but to hang instead on its every word. That said, I can’t comment on hypotheticals. So, who knows? But I can assure you that I would read the applicable law and the facts of the case and make a decision based on the constitution.”
Dem: “So you cannot — right here — today, assure the American people that you will not approve Trump’s bid to become dictator?”
AB: “It would depend on the specifics. I can tell you this though. The word ‘dictator’ does not appear in the Constitution. So, apparently, the Founding Fathers must have thought it would be just fine. Otherwise they would have put a clause in specifically forbidding it. And they didn’t. So…but I am in no way promising that I would approve his dictatorship. It would depend on the arguments and so on and so forth ad nauseam.”
Dem: “Putin’s Puppet seems to think that it is vital to get you on the court right now so that you can rule on his bogus claims of voter fraud. He has publicly said that’s why he needs you on the court.”
AB: “I’m flattered, of course, that he needs me. I had no idea he said that. How sweet. But I would have to look at the arguments on both sides, and the applicable law, and the facts of the case. Then, I would make a determination.”
Dem: “You realize that study after study has found that voter fraud is a nearly non-existent problem?”
AB: “Since the President has already said he’s going to put this case before the Supreme Court, I can’t really comment on a case which I may have to rule on.”
Dem: “Since the President has said that he is putting you on the court now because he will need you to make sure he wins regardless of the vote totals, don’t you feel you should recuse yourself from such a case if it does come to the Court? Otherwise, even if you were trying to be fair, don’t you think a reasonable person would infer that there is a conflict of interest?”
AB: “Well, my mentor Judge Scalia did not recuse himself from a case where Dick Cheney and he had an extended hunting trip together right before the case. Cheney had a material interest and I want to be more right wing than Attila the Hun. But I can’t actually say. You know? I’d have to see exactly what the case was and then decide not to recuse myself. I mean, why would I? I’m always fair in my own mind, so why recuse?”
Dem: “Do you think black people should be allowed to vote in this country? Are you aware that we are in the middle of an election right now and that the Republicans are suppressing the vote in a whole host of ways? In rich white neighborhoods, people might wait five minutes, but in many areas where there are a preponderance of people of color, there are lines that are up to eleven hours long. Is this equal protection under the law?”
AB: “Well, you know, I don’t want to give opinions on things unless I actually know the facts of the case. You say there are long lines and that the black vote is being suppressed but who knows? What does reporting prove? What does eyewitness prove? Unless it is brought to court and we have a chance to review the law, check with the President and see what he wants to do, who knows?”
Dem: “Did you say you would have to check with the President?”
AB: “Absolutely. Oh, wait. Did you think I said President? I said precedent. Maybe if you’d take the damned mask off, I could understand you better. The pandemic’s over anyway. Our fearless leader already said that. But whatever. I don’t see what my religion has to do with it.”
Trumputinist Senator: “Exactly. The Constitution guarantees religious freedom and yet the Democrats here today have repeatedly said you shouldn’t serve because of your religion! It’s preposterous!”
AB: “I know! I have a right to believe the earth is the center of the universe and that it’s 6000 years old and that women should be utter slaves to their husbands and that birth control, abortion, and in vitro fertilization are all tools of the devil if I want! And, yet the Dems keep saying I can’t serve because of my religion! I don’t see why a Catholic can’t be on the Supreme Court. It’s not like I’m Muslim or something weird like that.”
Dem: “What Senator has said that you could not serve because of your religion?”
AB: “I forget. Lots of them. All of them. None of them. But they intimated it.”
Dem: “Which Senator intimated that you are unworthy to serve because of your religious beliefs?”
AB: “Somebody. I don’t know. Maybe they were wearing a mask. Which is silly. Because the pandemic’s over. It’s over. Our Fearless Leader said so! You were asking me about voting rights. That’s one example. The Bible says only white people should vote — people like Jesus.”
Dem: “You think Jesus was white?”
AB: “Well, sure. That’s what the picture looks like in my church. Blond hair like me and blue eyes like me. See, there you are again, questioning my religion.”
Dem: “No, I’m not. I’m questioning your history. Jesus was almost certainly dark-skinned and dark haired and brown eyed.”
AB: “Where does it say that in the Constitution?”
Dem: “Constitution? What are you talking about?”
AB: “You know, the law of the land, the … oh, I mean … I mean, the Bible. Where does it say in the Bible that Jesus wasn’t Aryan? And, anyway, did you know I adopted colored children?”
Dem: “That’s very nice. I firmly believe that you, like other Americans, can believe as you wish. But it concerns me that you may sometimes confuse what the Constitution says with what the Bible says. Does that ever happen?”
AB: “Absolutely not! But if it did, let’s not forget that the country was founded by Evangelical Christians!”
Dem: “Partly, perhaps. Thomas Pain was an atheist. Thomas Jefferson was a deist. As was Benjamin Franklin. As was Alexander Hamilton in his later years. Anyway, would you support the idea that America should be a religious theocracy?”
AB: “I wouldn’t care to speculate about hypocrites or hypocrisy. They have a long and stories history in American politics. It would depend on the specifics of the case.”
Dem: “Hypocrisy? Do you mean hypotheticals?”
AB: “Yes, that’s what I said — hypotheticals. I don’t do hypotheticals.”
Dem: “So, if the President intentionally killed a quarter million Americans, and a class action lawsuit were brought by the families of those intentionally killed, you could not say whether that was okay or not?”
AB: “Of course not. That’s a perfect example. The President is so gentle, I’m sure he wouldn’t hurt a fly intentionally. Well, not unless it were stealing the show from Pence. But you know. I would need to know specifically which quarter million Americans were killed and many of them were probably nobodies or old, sick people anyway. And many of them just didn’t take care of themselves. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes…aren’t these really just the products of bad decisions?”
Dem: “Sometimes. Often people are born with pre-existing conditions. And sometimes, people get those diseases from bad luck although certainly lack of financial resources can play a part as well.”
AB: “Well there you go! If you’re not born rich, whose fault is that? But as I say, it would depend. I can’t say anything. I was told not to say anything and I’m pretty sure I succeeded.”
Dem: “So, just to recap, if the President breaks the law and then argues that he should have absolute power and be able to break any law he wants, you would say — what?”
AB: “I can’t say. I really can’t say. I’m under orders not to say anything about anything. And — we’re done! We’re done! I’m in! I’m in! No-one has a conscience and no-one will vote against me! I avoided saying all those bad things you were trying to get me to say and I win! I win!”