Lies in civilization are much like ground glass in an otherwise nutritious, delicious buffet. They are dangerous. They are potentially deadly if undetected. Quantity matters. One piece of undetected ground glass is serious. One hundred pieces means that some people will die. Twenty thousand means everyone who partakes of the buffet will likely die.
If one side lies constantly and one of the things they lie about is saying the other side lies, then, of course, your “loyalty” to your own side may get you to thinking: “Both sides lie equally.” Or, even more sadly, “The other side lies!”
Imagine Rembrandt’s Mona Lisa: a beautiful painting. Now, imagine painting a red stripe one inch wide diagonally through the painting. It’s only a small part of the painting, after all. Maybe 10%. But is the value decreased by only 10%? Of course not.
Ever use a dictionary? How much would you pay for a really good dictionary? How about a dictionary with 1% errors? How about one with 10% errors? How about one with 50% errors? How about one with 100% errors?
Imagine you finally manage to save up enough money to buy your dream house. Location: near highways, shopping, & parks. Style: perfect. Condition: perfect. Except for one small thing.
Living in a society that is perfused with lies is like living in a house situated right next to a sewage plant.
The *only* advantage humans have in their struggle to survive is their ability to cooperate and communicate. A lie diminishes that ability to coordinate. The impact is not just that one lie. It’s the spread of skepticism. It’s the felt need to double and triple check everything.
In a complex society, even a tiny bit of deception can multiply far beyond the immediate effects. That is particularly true if a deception passes through a number of weak points in what could be and should be the world-wide web of wisdom.
For example, an employee at a drug company might be pressured to downplay side effects in a report. He does so. But in a corporate culture of honestly, someone will catch the lie and patiently explain that this is not the way things are done around here. The error will be corrected.
And no-one will die from that lie.
On the other hand, the same employee doing the same act in a company with a sociopathic corporate culture might well have that lie not only propagated but further elaborated. As a result, the drug is over-prescribed and over-used. Millions of dollars, and then, that money is like seed money to buy layers and layers of political protection and press protection. At last billions of dollars flow from the pockets of customers into the pockets of the drug company. And, when I say “the drug company” of course, ultimately it ends up in someone’s pocket. Whose? A little of it goes to workers within the company. A huge amount goes to the top executives. But a huge amount also goes to the major stockholders — people who did nothing to discover or promote the drug, but in some sense provided money to support the company.
Guess what? It might even turn out that the drug’s drawbacks outweigh the benefits. In the short run, that might not diminish profits at all.
Again though, we need to realize that the damage to society is not limited to the effects of this particular drug (though those can in and of themselves be devastating effects). It is experiences like this, for instance, that play into vaccine reluctance. Because some drug companies have done some unethical things, people naturally have some degree of mistrust for *all* drug companies for *all* drugs. Nor is the mistrust that such a scheme produces limited to the drug industry. If people believe corruption is widespread, they may themselves become more tempted to engage in it. Even if they don’t themselves engage in lies, deception, bribery, etc., they will certainly be on the lookout for such schemes. It will be harder to take people at their word.
Putting crushed glass in a buffet injures people and ruins the buffet. And, if it happens often enough, it can turn you off from going to any buffets or any restaurants.
Lying can seem attractive in the short term. But in the long run, it will be found out. It will ruin your individual reputation, but it will also tarnish the reputation of your organization and even, to some extent, your entire industry. Beyond that, lies work to spoil society as a whole.
Imagine that a well-functioning society is something like a well-oiled machine. One part connects to another and things function smoothly. Lies are like pouring sand in the gears. Things will move more slowly. Parts will also wear out more quickly. Add enough sand and the motor will burn out or the machinery may catch fire. Would you put sand in your gas tank? Would you add sand to the oil in your auto? Of course not! Why would you support lies in your company or in your society?
Apart from the societal disintegration that lies promote, if you actively pursue a policy of lies to benefit yourself, you are basically taking a kind of informational poison into your own psyche and eventually it will poison your mind. You’ll become more and more addicted to a strategy of relying on lies rather than relying on doing a good job or learning from your mistakes. When someone asks a perpetual liar a question, they will not be able to simply answer. They will have to calculate who knows what and how easily the lie will be found out and try to recall what lies that they have already told to whom.
Just as more and more of an addictive painkiller must be used to achieve the same level of pain relief, so too, an addicted liar will find that they have to tell more and more lies. The lies may at first be “reasonable” lies. That is, at first, a liar may tell lies that are plausible. Over time, they will have to tell more and more absurd lies. If the liar is a popular figure, his or her fans may echo the lies despite not having any relevant direct knowledge. As the lies become more absurd, the fans echo not only plausible, lies but also echo absurd lies. To those who are not addicted to the lies, fan behavior becomes more and more ridiculous and pathetic.
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.
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.”
They are also a rather amazing family of creatures. Much like humans, they have managed to reach most of the lands on our planet. Spiders produce silk which, by weight, is five times as strong as steel.
Some make beautiful webs. And some are themselves beautiful. In any case, like every other advanced life form, their internal structure is an incredible design fitted to their environment.
Their behavior is part of that beauty as well. I had an opportunity to observe a fairly large one for a few days. She had built a web, larger than a bicycle tire, all across the entry way of our back deck. My wife and I liked to go out on the back deck, but both of us were reluctant to destroy the beautiful symmetry of the web. I spent some time watching and she always returned to the center of his web after every “search and destroy” mission that she carried out. As soon as something hit the web, she rushed out unerringly to the spot where the unlucky mosquito, fly, or small moth struggled to set itself free. I only saw one insect succeed before the spider wrapped his prey and bit it to immobilize it. After wrapping up the unlucky prey, the spider would go back to the center. The center is a wise place for her to hang out. It gives the minimum maximum distance to “get to” the prey. And, it allows maximum discrimination for which direction to go. It also allows the spider to “run” the same “algorithm” to get to her prey.
Once, it happened by chance, that two little flying insects hit the web simultaneously and quite far apart. The spider rushed off to one of the two and wrapped it immediately in its silky tomb. Then she returned to the center. She seemed to recall that somewhere out there was another meal, but she didn’t know where. And the insect caught was no longer struggling. So — the spider began systematically “plucking” the radial strings of her web one by one. At last she came to the strand which led to the position of the fly who was attempting to play possum. But once that strand vibrated, the fly, out of what might be something like fear, began to struggle again. That was a fatal mistake. In a flash, the spider’s hypothesis confirmed, she ran up that strand and wrapped up that prey as well.
In The Hobbit, as well as The Lord of the Rings, large spiders are willful villains. It’s much the same in Harry Potter. It’s rare for a spider to be one of the “good guys” but it does happen; e.g., in Charlotte’s Web. Spiders can hurt and even kill people. But it is very rare in the United States; on average about 6 per year. About 30 are killed from stinging insects; about the same number as dogs. About 130 are killed from collisions with deer. The biggest killer worldwide, in terms of complex animals is the mosquito. Those critters have partners of course. They transmit malaria, dengue fever, Zika, encephalitis and other diseases. Spiders trap and kill a lot of mosquitos. Does that make them our friends? Is the enemy of my enemy necessarily my friend?
The truth is that the web of life has many players and is a constant dance. We try to make sense of it, but we are not really in a position to really understand how the estimated 8 million species interact. In a few cases, like the novel coronavirus, it seems pretty clear that the virus is not friendly to humans. In this case, the “vector” that transmits the virus is not a mosquito. It’s other human beings — especially those who don’t wear masks or socially distance — who are acting as vectors, spreading disease, and killing their fellow Americans. Is the friend of my enemy my enemy?
A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Which is exactly why Putin is working so hard to divide Americans against each other and to break up the EU and NATO.
Have you heard the story about the tailor who killed giants by hiding in a tree and throwing stones at the giants? Each giant assumed another giant had thrown the stone and they ended up killing each other while the tailor sat hidden in the tree. Except in our case, we know there’s a tailor in the tree throwing stones and it makes no difference. Weird.
Meanwhile, the spider spins a web. Watch her grace. Watch her unity. It isn’t simply the left hand knowing what the right is doing. It’s every one of her eight hands knowing what each of the other seven is doing. When they don’t fight with each other, much can be accomplished.
Ted sighed and shivered slightly. It was one of those windy fall days when the clouds would scuttle around to play their little game of roulette with the temperature. Direct sunshine made him sweat for a time tempting him to loosen his tie and remove his black suit coat. Not the right move. Not the right time. Anyway, sure enough a moment later, the clouds were back and the sweat made the late October wind feel even colder. He looked around. It was a nice location. Lots of tall trees. A margin of rhododendrons. A winding path led down to little duck pond.
He glanced over at Darla but he couldn’t see her eyes beneath the black veil. He inched a little closer. As he did so, everyone else moved further away from him. She had not been shy about telling everyone that her sister Anne’s death had been his fault.
That was hardly fair, Ted thought to himself. He hadn’t even wanted to go the rally. He just went to — it was complicated. Ted didn’t support Heel Spurs, but his folks did. And they had teased him, and badgered him, and told him that he couldn’t really argue against him if he had never even been to one of his rallies. Ted had refused immediately two weeks ago when they had announced that they were going and insisted he come along. “Mom, geez. All he does is lie the whole time! He never says anything insightful or … he’s not very educated.”
“We’re not educated enough! Isn’t that what you’re really saying, Ted? We’re not good enough for the College Boy! Your Dad and I both worked so we could put you through college and this is how you repay us? By being too snooty to attend a rally with your uneducated parents?”
“Oh, geez. Mom, that is not what I said. I just don’t see the point. And I wish you wouldn’t go either! It’s not safe!”
Then, his Dad had weighed in as well. “Ted, you can’t just live in fear your whole life. How about some courage? Stop wearing that stupid mask everywhere.” He had shaken her head and added, “You act like there’s still a pandemic.”
Ted had sighed and tried to explain that there was still a pandemic, that wearing a mask wasn’t “stupid” and that Heel Spurs was a liar.
The quarrel had escalated, as quarrels often seemed to these days, and ended with an ultimatum. Ted would either join them at the rally or he could pay his own tuition for his senior year.
Ted had at last agreed. He knew he would regret it. But he had no idea just how much.
At the rally itself, he had been mortified on behalf of his parents. They had cheered on cue. They had chanted on cue. They had laughed on cue. They had booed on cue. He supposed they would have quite happily farted on cue if told to. And, he could see the excitement in their eyes. In fact, they had seemed to adore the Mango Mussolini. They hung on his every word. Ted recalled having wondered at the time whether #45 talked nonsense and non-sequitur all the time as an intentional technique for getting his “supporters” to hang on his every word.
After the event ended, his parents had still been excited. They had introduced themselves to another couple from a nearby suburb. As it turned out, they also had a boy in college and he also had not yet realized that only Trump told the truth about the world and that every other news organization, TV channel, and the “Deep State” were brain-washing Americans not to trust the President.
Ted watched as the couple exchanged phone numbers and business cards. He had decided that it was rather useless to “take the bait” on politics and instead got revenge in his own small way by steering the conversation toward economics. He was now in the middle of his sixth economic course. “Hey, I’m loving college. I just found out something cool last week in my on-line ‘Economic Incentives’ class. I was really shocked. I had always thought it was good to pay CEO’s lots and lots of money so that a company would have better leadership. And it turns out, that’s not true! They’ve actually studied it. It sounds kind of logical, but it doesn’t turn out that way empirically.”
At last, Ted’s Dad said, “When are those busses going to appear? I don’t know about you guys, but I’m getting cold. It was warm on the bus, but man. It’s cold out here.”
“Well,” drawled the other man, “They did say they’d be here soon. I’m sure they’ll show up in the next ten minutes.”
Only they didn’t show up in the next ten minutes. Nor the next sixty minutes.
Ted had finally insisted. “Look, I run every day. Enough of this nonsense. I’m going to run back and get our car. I’ll be back in half an hour. Meanwhile, here. Take this coat. I’ll be more comfortable running like this.”
Mom had said, “Okay, but what about our new friends here?”
“Well, they will catch the bus,” Ted had reasoned. I can’t drive both cars back. And, none of you are running with me. If the bus comes five minutes after I leave, they’re better off. And, if not, they’re no worse off. Right?”
He had agreed that if the bus came right away, his parents could call him and he could get back in time to board with them. If it were a longer time, he would call them when he got to the car. If they were on the bus, he wait for them at the car. If the bus still hadn’t come, they’d decide what to do then.
In the end, Ted had run to the car, started it up, and driven back to the rally site before the bus showed up. Ted’s parents had insisted that they drive their new friends to their car.
Ted had been the only one wearing a mask.
He overheard her mother’s part of the conversation when the apology came a few days later.
Ted had said, “Mom, who was that? You sounded upset.”
His mom bit her lip and frowned. “Ted, that was — you remember that couple we went to the Rally with?”
Ted nodded. “Sure.”
“Well, honey. She and her husband both tested positive for COVID. Can you believe that?”
Ted’s eyes widened. “Yes, of course, I believe it. I told you it wasn’t a hoax.”
Ted’s mom kept acting as though she couldn’t decide what to do next. She confided to Ted, “Let’s not tell your father. No need to worry him.”
“WHAT!? Mom, surely you jest! Of course we have to tell him! He needs to tell the people he’s been with too!”
“Well,” said his mother, “I just don’t understand it. Didn’t the President himself say we had turned the corner and it was nothing to worry about? Well, anyway, at least it isn’t serious. And soon, we’ll have a vaccine. And treatments that cure it, just like for him!”
“Mom, mom, mom. No. He’s lying. We don’t have a vaccine. No-one knows exactly when you’ll get access to it, but it definitely won’t be in time to prevent an infection from those friends in the car. And treatments? You won’t get the treatment he got. You would have to sell the house and car and we probably still couldn’t afford it. If — if he was even sick at all. He might have faked the whole thing.”
“Now, why would he do that honey? He’s Making America Great Again!”
Ted could see that her spirits actually lifted as she parroted that last phrase.
“Indeed he is,” added Ted’s dad. “Now, what’s for dinner?”
Ted and his mother exchanged looks. She bit her lip and shook her head, looked down at the floor. Ted thought his mom should be the one to explain the situation.
“Say, Dad. You know that nice couple that we met at the rally? Well, right before you walked in, Mom was having a conversation with that lady. And she was just about to tell me what they talked about. Why not tell us both at the same time, Mom. Kill two birds with one stone, as it were.”
As it turned out, there were more than two birds killed.
The first bird was the woman of the couple they had met at the rally. The husband had a bad case but survived. But without his wife of 47 years, and debilitated, he wasn’t sure why he had bothered.
The second bird was Ted’s own mother. She was perhaps “lucky” in that she died over the course of a few days.
The third bird, Ted’s Dad, never did get COVID. He got pneumonia waiting for a bus and died from that.
And now, here we are at the funeral of the fourth bird, Anne. Anne had been a wonderful kid. Ted had never viewed her as some kind of “necessary evil” to put up with in order to get himself in the — let us say — “good graces” of his girlfriend Darla. No, Ted had genuinely liked Anne. She was intelligent, knowledgeable, and beautiful. And, she was really genuinely nice. She was what you might call perfect.
Except she wasn’t. She had been born with a compromised immune system. So, while Ted and Darla had never felt the least bit sick and Ted had gotten tested, he never received his test results.
Darla never did forgive Ted. Nor did Ted forgive himself. Not smart, but perfectly understandable, having just lost his parents and ruined his love life, that Ted would take up hard drugs and alcohol. I suppose it’s no surprise Ted himself soon became bird number five.
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?
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!”
Like all writers, I’ve had my share of rejection letters. I happened to run across this (fictional) rejection of a proposal for a TV sit-com based on Presidential politics and set early 21st century America.
“Dear Dr. Thomas,
Thank you for sending your intriguing outline for your proposed TV sit-com, “The Mango Mussolini.” While there are some clever lines, the entire concept is way too fantastical for modern audiences. We don’t have the time or frankly, the motivation, to point out all the times you’ve broken all bounds of credibility, but here are a few.
1. The idea that an American President would openly ask for help from the Russian government is completely unbelievable. None would be that stupid, but if they were, he or she would soon be impeached and out of office — no more episodes!
2. Why would the Republican Party choose one of the most failure-prone businessmen in US history as their leader? The Republicans are well known for supporting business. They might nominate a successful businessperson, but not one with a long string of failures. Yes, of course, it is ironic and, to an extent, funny. But at some point, it becomes too unbelievable for the audience. And, then, as though the joke was not unbelievable enough, you doubled down and had your main character also be sued for a fake university and a fake charity. Come on. Seriously.
3. Imagining the Mango Mussolini as a sexual predator and pervert despite (or perhaps because of his obesity and repulsiveness) seems like a cheap trick to get more obese old guys to tune in. That aspect, as well as the fear, hate, and lies that spew out of his mouth make it unsuitable for prime time network fare. “Grab them by the pu$$y”? No-one even talks that way. Even if we could overcome the other issues, we would have to rate this R.
4. We did find the notion of a pandemic intriguing, but why on earth would a President near the end of his first term lie about it when simply telling the truth, showing empathy, and putting experts in charge of the manufacture and distribution of PPE, masks, testing, and contact tracing would have guaranteed an easy win?
In summary, some nice contrivances, but no-one will believe characters could be so evil, inept, and without redeeming qualities. And, even if they were that evil, why wouldn’t they simply be deposed by their own party?