Such Reckless Hate

This year—these last four, but especially this one—has felt to me more than once like Sam and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, trudging through Mordor. I’ve always thought this was the longest, most desolate and, frankly, the most boring story line in the trilogy, and 2020 has had that same endless tedium punctuated by horror. In our nightly effort to stay up past 6:30, Geri and I sat down a few weeks ago and watched The Two Towers for maybe the fifteenth time. The middle film because, whatever, there are horses, and it’s not like we’re going to be confused about the plot anymore. Anyway, there’s a place not far from the end of the movie where it looks like the whole nation of Rohan is about to be exterminated by Saruman’s host. And the king turns to Aragorn and says, “So much death. What can men do against such reckless hate?” He asks the question with such forlorn bafflement, it’s always been one of my favorite scenes. He’s an old soldier used to war, no illusions about a world untouched by strife. But suddenly it’s as if a curtain is pulled back to reveal some utter hopelessness to him, some bedrock of fundamental despair: this is the one basic truth of the world. It’s fantasy, of course, so it turns out it’s just before dawn, when Rohan gets saved by a wizard and a couple dozen knights on horseback. I say this smirkingly, but I won’t deny that there are times in my own life I have been too hasty to give up, and the cavalry has arrived just in time.


I wrote that paragraph maybe ten days ago. I couldn’t figure out what more I was going to say, specifically. And then yesterday happened. Between that paragraph and this one, the Capitol was stormed by thousands of men and women in camo and bandoliers, assault rifles and supersized flags—Trump flags, American flags, and of course Confederate flags. The entire Congress was taken to a safe place to shelter in place as a mob ransacked the House floor. Men sacked Nancy Pelosi’s office and posed for pictures, climbed up the walls of the Capitol Building like a scene right out of . . . well, The Two Towers. A woman was shot and killed. There were too many stabbings to count. It took local police and the National Guard four hours, five?, to finally take back the building.

To take back the building.

I’m writing like it was an attempted coup. Which it was. We are suddenly Chile or Cambodia.

Reckless hate.

Who is surprised that this happened? Everyone’s horrified at Trump, who started the whole thing with another nut job rant outside the Capitol to tens of thousands of disciples he invited into town and whose only message to them once the siege began was to say, “I love you,” “This election was stolen,” “I understand your pain,” and “Be peaceful.” Because he is Donald Trump. But I keep saying: Trump isn’t who should horrify us. He’s just the rusty old muscle car with bad brakes and a 450-horsepower engine that Republicans thought they could take on a joy ride. What the hell else was going to happen, making him the 2016 nominee?

It’s us who should horrify us.


So I’m writing this, conservative friend, to get to the bottom of what all your hate is about. Or, if you object to that word, your fear. Your very fundamental concern. (But really your hate.) Beyond the slogans and the righteous wrath. Now let’s agree on this straight off: I know you wouldn’t storm the Capitol. I know you disapprove of what happened. In the strongest possible terms. But I suspect also that this attempt, which has actually happened now, at keeping illegitimate power by a sitting President, has unsettled you; but it has probably not changed your politics in a basic way. It’s certainly shaken you up. But you’ll still be voting Republican in two years. And that’s not necessarily, at least not usually, anything to object to. But this is what I suspect: you are also thinking—I think you are thinking, correct me if I’m wrong—“I do not condone what happened. I have always opposed violent protest. But . . .” (Correct me if I’m off-base here, because I would dearly love to be.) “. . . but given the irregularities . . .” (Seriously, shut me up right now.) “. . . given the all the questions . . .” (And you pause for me to get it, to agree you have a point.) “I can see why this could happen. I mean. Can’t you?”

And by this, you do not mean—as I would, agreeing with you—that you can see how a thug has the power to whip up a mob.

By this, you mean that, much as you are horrified by what has transpired, much as you hope the yahoos who actually did the damage should be punished to the fullest extent of the law . . .

That it was basically a matter of the right cause by the wrong means.

You would not shout, “Stop the Steal.” But you are troubled by the “irregularities” in the 2020 election. It’s very troubling to you. And in your sober reflections, you might be remembering words you heard last summer from a lot of liberals. Because when Portland and Minneapolis burned, weren’t liberals saying, “What did you expect”? Liberals were saying they absolutely didn’t condone the looting and the destruction of property. But they found it perfectly logical that a video of a policeman kneeling on a Black man’s neck and killing him might incite isolated acts of violence. Catharthis.

And you’re wondering how what you’re saying is somehow not allowed when it’s allowed for liberals to say it.


So this, conservative friend, is why you can say it, because you can say anything you want in America, but why you are wrong:

Because what happened yesterday did not stand for anything.

It is why your comparison is absolutely, insidiously wrong. What happened yesterday was just pure, unbridled, reckless hate. Hate was the only thing that united those people. There was nothing else they had in common and no Idea they believed in. They are people whose wives and daughters and mothers have had abortions. They are people with gay brothers and sisters who come home for Thanksgiving. A few have husbands and wives who aren’t White. They have parents and grandparents who weren’t born in this country. They take Social Security checks. There are as many of them as there of the rest of us who are confused about their sexuality, or who have confused their families by it. They have lost as many loved ones to the pandemic as the rest of us, maybe more. They’re as much a motley as the rest of America. So what brought them all together? What was their George Floyd moment?

Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, and his ill treatment.

Black men have been beaten all over America. And now Donald Trump has been beaten. No one ever laid a finger on him, but he’s been beaten. He just lost a fair election by a wide margin. There was no conspiracy. There was no tampering. There is no Deep State. Donald Trump was just beaten in a regular old election.

Another way of saying this is that there is no George Floyd. For these people. There is only hate.

For Democrats. For cities. For problems that can’t be solved by just yelling. For non-Whites. For difference. For being asked to wear a mask in a pandemic. For being told you can’t have your guns. For being asked to live with people who are not like you. Or at least admit they exist. Yesterday was one big, fireball of hate. There was no other fuel in it.

And I agree with you. Given what’s happened in this country, what else would I expect?

What any Republican or conservative has to ask himself or herself today, is what they stand for. Not what they’re against. They have to ask themselves when was the last time they listened to someone they disagreed with. When was the last time they changed their mind. And what the way forward must be for a country that doesn’t look like the country they were born into—not because it’s decaying, or immoral, or less than it once was—but because countries change. Just like people. You know what doesn’t change? A stone. The moon. Death.

This is the dilemma a conservative has today. How do you deal with a living, breathing country, one that will never again be the one you were born into, just as it isn’t the country Abraham Lincoln was born into. It’s better, it’s worse . . . it’s different. And that isn’t a bad thing. Unless you prefer to live on the moon.

Weimar America

The saddest, the most desolate, part is the end of argument. We all stopped really arguing long ago and have been only shouting and exhorting and deriding for years now. Some of us moved to places we thought were more exciting and interesting, found friends who reminded us of ourselves. Some of us discovered social media and got in touch with people we’d forgotten about. We all discovered key fobs, smart phones, online shopping, streaming entertainment, search engines, instant results. There’s less pushback the way we live now. Practically, and also in the things we think. We don’t have to wait for things, and we don’t live around so many people who disagree with us anymore. That’s why we moved to the city or moved to the country or stayed right where we were—to avoid all the aggravation. I mean, there are still aggravating people around, but they’re more likely to be your alcoholic sister-in-law, your racist uncle, the ditsy guy selling crystals and geodes next to the Indian restaurant. They’re people who for one reason or another couldn’t get into their proper circle, they’re the leftovers. And with these people you don’t have conversations so much as you just have encounters. The arguments, when they happen, are stupid. If you start arguing with someone like that, it’s not really arguing, because the person you’re talking to is more or less deranged. If I still lived in rural Michigan (which we moved away from when I was eight), I would be regarded as the pathetic lone liberal . . . who was using politics to make up for some rather obvious personal inadequacy. What I’m saying is, whether we live in Los Angeles or Duluth, a lot of us don’t have a friend or even an acquaintance anymore with whom we disagree who is not also somehow dysfunctional, or whom we at least think of as dysfunctional.

I think that’s how we’ve gotten to the point that we no longer even know what it means to argue. You say something, the other person disagrees, you tell them why it’s so, they tell you what’s wrong with what you’re saying. We don’t argue this way anymore. Now someone says something, you tell them they’re just repeating something they heard on TV. Which isn’t arguing with them, it’s just dealing with them. As the racist or alcoholic or old hippie they are.

This is how societies go to war or become failed states. People wake up one morning and realize there is nothing, absolutely nothing, they have to say to those who disagree with them.

When was the last time you changed your mind? About something, I mean, other than whether to order the fries or the salad? When was the last time you thought something, and decided, after talking about it with a friend and then thinking it over some more, that you might not have been quite right about it? Nobody changes their mind anymore.

You change your mind, you’re a pussy. This is where we are now.

Maybe we never did change our mind much about things that mattered to us, actually. They matter to us, of course, because they matter. Our mind isn’t going to change easily about something that matters to us. But something, something, is different. Because it used to be that if someone voted different from us, we’d think they were wrong, but we wouldn’t think they were the enemy. We’d still have them over for the summer barbecue. If someone didn’t go to the same church, or even if they didn’t go to church, we’d still . . . wave.

We can’t wave to each other because we don’t live next to each other anymore.

Whose fault is this? I don’t know. I moved to San Francisco because I thought it was a cool place, and I don’t plan on moving back to rural Michigan, where I spent my early childhood, any time soon. I’d just be some kind of missionary to conservatives. I’d be the nutcase.

Our lives are so different—so utterly, utterly, utterly different—that there’s hardly a word we can say anymore that the other person will follow. It’s like one of us is speaking Polish and the other’s speaking Urdu. We don’t have the most basic basics on which to agree.

Part of it’s because we’re living in a time where the difference between entertainment and information is hopelessly muddied. It’s always been a problem, of course—I mean, a big part of politics is just the art of confusing those two things—but we’re at a point now where there really appears to be no way out. Here’s a long example . . .

In 1972, Richard Nixon resigned the Presidency in order not to be impeached. He’d been caught lying about a plan to play some dirty tricks on the Democrats. No one had been impeached since 1868. Impeachment was such a big deal, that it was somehow less humiliating to resign than to go to trial.

24 years later, Bill Clinton was impeached. He’d lied about an affair he had with an intern. It was very hard to stomach for Democrats, given the number of affairs people knew were going on in Congress in any given year. In fact, Newt Gingrich, the Speaker of the House who was leading the impeachment, was having an affair. (So was Dennis Hastert, the next Speaker, only with boys). Clinton didn’t resign, though. He decided it would be worth it for the country to judge the Republicans’ hypocrisy, and he turned out to be right. After impeaching him, the Republicans lost control of the House in 1998. People liked Bill Clinton, thought he was running the country just fine. It didn’t matter to them—much—that he wasn’t a model husband. The Republicans were hypocrites.

This is where entertainment comes in. First of all, though I agree the Republicans were calculating hypocrites, I don’t know in hindsight how I feel about Bill Clinton’s refusal to resign. He was right to point out the hypocrisy. But he established a depressing precedent: no longer would a marital affair be a deal breaker for a politician. And that’s kind of depressing. Because there’s a difference between a moral failing being common, and it not being shameful.

I don’t know what was worse—Newt Gingrich playing hardball politics, which politicians have done all the way through this country’s history—or Bill Clinton calling his bluff and taking no political heat for it. They were both master entertainers.

What we have now is closer to what I’d call a monster entertainer. He’s easily the most corrupt President in U.S. history. He tried to get a foreign country to take out his political opponent. And then, after almost a quarter million people had died in a pandemic he seemed to do everything he could to ignore, with the economy predictably in shambles, he was almost re-elected. Almost half the electorate still voted for him! Why did that almost happen?

The pandemic is horrific. But this election is what’s keeping me awake at night. That almost half the nation had had four years of this guy, and then thought . . . yeah, but he’s a Republican.

I have had periods of depression over the years, which I’ve been patiently coaxed out of by the occasional competent therapist. With the help of a little medication, the best of them will convince me that the world is not the bleak place which, in the night’s darkest hours, I’ve imagined it to be. That it’s possible that midnight despair is not some kind of “looking through the veil” at the true nature of the world. But . . .

Almost half the country voted for a fascist. Again.

Does this mean that every other person I meet in America is either stupid or immoral? This is the crap that races through my head at two in the morning. And I ask myself, how did a depressive liberal feel in—don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we’re living in Nazi Germany—but . . . in Nazi Germany? How did Germany become Nazi Germany? Well, I’ll tell you one thing that had to be true: every other person you’d meet on the street those days had no problem with the Nazis. You’d have to be constantly questioning yourself about basic human nature. Midnight would be the worst.

I keep being haunted by this idea that suddenly you can’t prove anything to someone. I know everyone’s saying this, that facts don’t matter anymore, etc., but it’s true . . . you can’t point to the sun and get a Republican to agree that it’s daytime. It’s hilarious or annoying when it’s your drunk uncle. It’s terrifying when it’s half the country. If you’re reading this right now, and you voted for Trump, how do I prove to you that he lost the election fair and square? Is there anything that would prove this? Because even Fox News says he lost. But instead of taking the word of this right wing entertainment news channel that’s been their go-to gospel for 25 years, there are people deciding instead that obviously Fox News has gone soft! Fox News is pointing to the sun, and people are moving to One America.

This isn’t how a party or an ideology behaves. This is how a cult behaves.

Who am I writing this to, anyway? Family? Friends? Is it just a journal entry? Am I trying to change someone’s mind? Ask myself questions? I don’t know. I think I’m in mourning. Because the Biden election notwithstanding, the U.S. is very unwell, and it’s not just COVID.

There are reasons countries elect authoritarians. It isn’t like the guy just waves a magic wand and hypnotizes everybody. Countries get susceptible. Things start changing that people aren’t used to. Lots of people lose their jobs. There’s a big gap between haves and have-nots. Competitive nations start to prosper. There’s always (always always) some influx of foreigners that explains everything. Things start to churn.

Remember “the marketplace of ideas”? This is where everyone says whatever they want, there’s lots of argument, and through all that bickering, the best ideas—i.e., the truth—rises to the top. Lies will always be exposed eventually, and rot away. This is the basic defense of free speech and the First Amendment. I’ve been a big free speech fan my whole life. I’ve always believed that there is no better way to keep the truth in people’s faces.

The last few years have changed my perspective a little. I’m reluctant. I still believe in free speech. But I’m observing the sun. Donald Trump, to begin with, has never heard of a “marketplace of ideas.” He’s never had an idea in his head. To be honest, though, a lot of us—maybe most of us?—don’t have a lot of ideas in our heads. And mostly, the ones we have we don’t examine very closely, because we’re too busy with life, which is nothing to be ashamed of, frankly. We don’t go around with our friends debating the merits of a parliamentary versus a presidential democracy, or a federalist versus a unitary government, or how evil can exist in a world created by a loving God. This is because we, unlike John Stuart Mill, are not geeks. We argue about sports and cars and bread recipes, like all free peoples. The occasional time we wander into the weeds of abstract argument, it’s like that Onionarticle, “Man Who Understands 8% of Obamacare Vigorously Defends It from Man Who Understands 5%.”

This is where I fall on free speech at the moment . . . People should not be condemned for thinking what they think. And they shouldn’t be condemned for saying what they think. But the loudest people—the politicians, the news shows, the columnists and radio hosts—need to be held to account for lying. You spread rumor as fact and you—not the country—ought to suffer the consequences.

I’m not optimistic. I don’t see this happening any time soon. 80% of Republicans saying they believe the vote was illegitimate? No. I still see the country burning down. There’s a great detective show on Netflix called Babylon Berlin. It’s like the movie Cabaret, but on steroids. The last days of the Weimar Republic, and this gumshoe with an opioid habit is tracking down a murder in the movie industry. Amazing series. And depressing as hell. Because you know what’s coming. Hitler is coming.

Countries don’t just whimsically give authoritarians power. They have to need a Savior first. Then, once they’re desperate enough, facts suddenly are not as important as solutions. In Germany, a popular “fact” after World War I was the stab-in-the-back myth. It was Germany’s version of Stop the Steal. The story went that the country wasn’t really losing the war, but a bunch of Jews and Socialists took over and got them to surrender anyway. Gave away the store. It was a myth, and logically disprovable, but for a humiliated people who were in a lot of economic pain, it was a powerful story. The problem with lies is that disproving them isn’t enough. They stick around like a fart in church. You can’t ignore them. And if you live in a small town that’s losing jobs, and you’ve lost yours, and every day you’re seeing people rioting in the big cities, you’re hearing women refer to their “wives,” you’re seeing city councils voting to abolish the police(!), men in dresses being elected to Congress . . . It doesn’t matter why these things are really happening, or whether they’re bad or good, or what other news you are not seeing. What you remember is that Donald Trump, the only politician who ever talked just like you, said they would steal the election, and now Biden is President.

Like a fart in church.

I’m not optimistic, as I said. Because the best solution, people who think differently talking to each other every day, is not going to happen. Not any time soon. I’m not moving back to Michigan, or to Idaho or Alabama. You’re not moving to San Franciso or New York City or Philadelphia. Without me moving there or you moving here, we’re not going to see each other often enough to take each other seriously and to treat each other with respect.

But it’s more complicated. Because that makes it sound like there would be two sides from which people can find some common ground. Which is true and not. If I lived around more Walmart greeters and furloughed factory workers and people who rode ATVs, I’d have their lives in front of me and be more understanding. I’d learn things. That would do me good. I’d probably understand a little better why some new things are hard to get used to; that some ideas that really are good and necessary may still have an immediate downside for a neighbor of mine. I’d probably be a little less quick to judge a person’s not-woke-enough vocabulary.

That’s all stuff a liberal moving to a small town would have to learn. But the small town would still be largely Republican, which is to say, largely people who voted for Trump, and believed the election was stolen. And what do you do about that? Because politically, there’s no longer a way to find common ground between Democrats and Republicans. There really is nothing any legitimate political party can find in common with a cult. Until some rational chunk of Republicans breaks off to form a legimate conservative movement, whatever that would look like, we are dealing right now with this: the Democratic Party, and a personality cult. To the degree there are any principles other than devotion to the Savior, they are 1)White people are persecuted, 2) Christians are persecuted, 3) large numbers of immigrants are dangerous, 4) racial minorities don’t know how good they’ve got it, and 5) power given to the Democratic Party is never legitimate.

This is pretty much exactly where Germany was just before Hitler showed up.

And this, frankly, is why I have so little hope right now.

Miscellaneous reactions to what just happened.

70 million people voted for Donald Trump

Which he keeps tweeting, as if it’s proof that he should get to stay President. Which, somebody pointed out, is like saying the 49ers should have won the Super Bowl because they scored 20 points, even though Kansas City scored 31. The fact that 70 million Americans wanted to give him a second term, though, is not insignificant. In fact, it’s terrifying.

Elections have certainly been rigged in the past

In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by half a million votes. He conceded on December 13, after losing Florida by about a thousand votes, and so giving up the electoral college votes he needed in addition to the simple majority of Americans’ wishes.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by three million. She conceded on election night after losing the electoral college.

Things I can deal with again

The news.

The American flag.

Scary women

As far as I can make out, Kamala Harris is a scary woman because . . .

She is a woman.

She’s black.

Her parents weren’t born in America.

Yes, we get it. Trump isn’t going away.

He could die tonight (biting my tongue here), and he still wouldn’t go away. Because he gaslighted us. From now on, you can’t defend yourself with facts. Only with the right endorsements. From now on, if you say the earth is round, you can’t show a picture from space to prove it. You have to show a picture from space published by Fox News.

I don’t know when people with different opinions will be able to have a discussion again in this country by starting with a few undisputed facts, but I don’t expect it in my lifetime.

This is all thanks to Donald.

Alex Trebec is dead.

So he’s out, as an arbiter. We’re just left with Family Feud, I guess.

I like Joe, even though he was awfully low on my list.

When he announced his candidacy, I said it was like when someone my age bounds up to the volleyball net at the staff picnic and everyone looks around awkwardly trying to decide which team has to take me.

In retrospect, I do wonder if Elizabeth Warren would have won, though. Maybe. But you have to admit. She’s a woman, and that’s pretty scary for a lot of people.

If things are bad enough, a few Republicans might vote for a Democrat. If he’s white, if he isn’t a woman.

Conversely, people are perfectly ok with a woman Supreme Court justice, or a black one. In fact, they’re very proud to be ok with it. It’s just that really volatile mix of gender or race with Democratic politics. Like, whoa . . . yeah, sure she was a DA but . . . black woman Dem? The only way you trust a woman of color is if she’s a Republican. Only way to prove she’s got her head screwed on right. Otherwise . . . scary!

Science, glad to have you back.

Wouldn’t it be great to get Republicans back on board with empirical evidence? Maybe we can shame them into it.

Evangelicals, you’re going to have a President who’s a regular churchgoer!

Catholic, I know. You can’t have everything. But you’re good with the Catholic lady for the Supreme Court, so I figure this could be a win, too.

As William Ader (@JustBill) tweeted the other day, “Lots of evangelicals surprised today to find out what ‘God’s will’ really is.”

Why We Need a Loyal Opposition

(In which I try to convince you Christians that a Democratic Congress would not be the worst thing for America)

Two years ago, conservatives began a grand experiment: electing a morally repugnant man in order to further a moral aim. To save unborn babies, evangelicals and many other conservatives voted for Donald Trump. Donald Trump has now given them their second Supreme Court judge, a man of dubious moral character himself, and the hope is now kindled that someday soon, abortion will be illegal again.

That abortion itself won’t ever become a thing of the past, or even become less common, doesn’t seem to have been factored in much. That more women will just be permanently injured or will die having unsafe abortions is either ignored, or it’s part of some kind of ethical calculus in which the extinction of Planned Parenthood is worth various other less savory results of a strong-man leader with both congress and the courts in his pocket. It’s worth thousands of (already born) children being ripped away from their parents and kept in cages (because their parents were doing more or less the same thing our great great grandparents did). It’s worth reporters being called the enemy of the people, and the assault of journalists being encouraged by the President of the United States. It’s worth the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, being ridiculed by the President days after a hurricane that left thousands homeless and three thousand dead. It is worth women who’ve been sexually assaulted being mocked (by the President, it goes without saying). It’s worth despots being praised, and democratic leaders and 60-year-old alliances abandoned. It’s worth white nationalist rallies, it’s worth Democratic leaders and liberals being mailed pipe bombs, and it’s worth massacres at synagogues. It’s worth a President responding that “there is blame on both sides,” and Anne Coulter and other conservatives theorizing about a liberal hoax.

I guess to make an omelette, you have to break a few eggs. I just didn’t expect conservatives, and Christians especially, to be ok with quite so many eggs. Increasingly, it turns out, traditional conservatives are not ok with it. George Will, a conservative columnist I have rarely agreed with on anything, has called for both houses of congress to be taken over by the Democrats. So has Max Boot, another conservative, who says the Republican party is now “a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe.” Trump has set the tone, the Republican House and Senate have followed along like sheep, and with the darkest demons of our natures loosed, now all over the country conservative newspapers are endorsing Democratic congressional candidates. The Arizona Republic has endorsed Kyrsten Sinema, the Democrat, not because she’s liberal (she isn’t) but because she is the most likely candidate to be bipartisan. The Des Moines Register has backed a Democrat because the only alternative is an eight-term incumbent who’s shown himself to be an unrepentant racist and (luckily) a completely ineffective congressperson. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the Dallas Morning News, and the Houston Chronicle—all conservative papers traditionally backing Republican candidates—have abandoned Ted Cruz and called for the election of Beto O’Rourke as the only politician who “seems interested in making deals or finding middle ground.”

There have been other periods in our history when one party’s had all the power, and it always drives the party out of power crazy, but I don’t know of another time when it was so horrible and hopeless. The Republicans who’d publicly despised Trump when he was a crackpot in the primaries, then who promised once he got the nomination to keep him in check if he became the President, have pretty much all bowed before him since he was elected. The only ones who take him to task are those who are retiring and don’t have to worry about being voted out of their jobs. There has never been a time it was more important to balance a government with a loyal opposition. Trump and the Republicans do not treat Democrats as if we are fellow citizens, but like we’re a foreign enemy. This is why it was so important to them to deny Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee even a hearing, let alone a vote on the Senate floor. It justified gerrymandered voting districts, and in the Democratic districts left over, suppressing the vote altogether. No holds barred, because it’s an existential, good vs. evil battle.

Which is, pardon me, fucked up. Sorry. Effed up.

I first learned the term “loyal opposition” in high school in Canada, with its parliamentary government, and no executive branch. This is the name for the party out of power, and they are so called because it’s important to remember that we may all be of different opinions and have differing ideas on what is best for the country, but we’re all on the same team. We are united in our love for our country and our fellow citizens. As soon as basic loyalty is questioned, we’ve taken a dark turn. The Republican Party and Donald Trump together have taken this turn. That’s why it’s so important that there are people in control of congress who really will keep Trump in some kind of check. Who will, among other things, hold him to account for his lies. Without them, Republicans will continue to only wag their fingers and shrug at his increasingly plutocratic and white nationalist agenda (what else do you call the abolition of birthright citizenship and suppression of the African American vote?) I don’t know how long it will take evangelicals especially to realize that the Republican party is not God’s ordained army. That concern for the health of the planet isn’t a secularist plot and that poverty and illiteracy and a huge gap between rich and poor are the signs not of a great nation but a dying one. There seems to be a remnant. Maybe there’s a little hope. A smidgen.

I’ve gone on long enough. I’d wanted to get this out a week ago. Go vote. Do the right thing. Join the smidgen.

Pedophiles and moral calculus

Last night, Alabama did something I assumed was impossible, and turned their backs on an accused serial child molester. It’s a statement about where our country is at the moment that this was a surprise. There are three lessons I learn from this:

  • Republican cynicism isn’t infinite. While a solid majority of white Alabamians voted for Roy Moore (who in addition to his loathsome treatment of young girls, also said in September that the last time America had been great was “at a time when families were united, even though we had slavery”), just enough of them were sufficiently disgusted that they either stayed home or wrote in an alternate candidate. One or two even voted for the Democrat, Doug Jones.
  • White evangelicals are an aging and dwindling minority. They’re usually more motivated to get to the polls, but in basic numbers, there are more young people and African Americans and other people of color in the country, and once these people are motivated themselves, they will always win in a fair race.
  • Speaking of fair races, we learned last night that even without the safeguards of the Voting Rights Act, there’s only so much work voter suppression can do for Republicans. Whether it’s limiting the number of voting places in Democratic neighborhoods, placing regular voters on “inactive” lists, or any number of other tactics to stack the deck against Democrats, if there’s enough outrage, people will get their votes into the ballot boxes.

That Roy Moore was even on the ballot is a testimony to the terminal rot in the Republican party. I’ve read two prominent conservatives over the last week who have declared themselves politically homeless. (David Brooks, wistful for Reaganomics, says “The rot afflicting the G.O.P. is comprehensive — moral, intellectual, political and reputational.” Peter Wehner, who served under Reagan and both Bushes, just wrote a piece outlining why he could no longer call himself an evangelical Republican.)

It’s important to note that Donald Trump is no longer an aberration within the GOP. When the Republican National Committee decided to get behind Moore after the revelations that he was groping 14-year-old girls, they were basically saying that ethical behavior no longer had anything to do with the party’s ideals and goals. They’ll take all comers in order to hold their majority. Remember . . . this wasn’t the state organization. This was the national organization. No Republican can any longer say their party just has some bad apples. When the party accommodates repulsive characters like this, the party becomes the bad apple.

Evangelicals can no longer afford to think in terms of litmus tests. They have to start using their grown-up brains. If you go into the voting booth thinking abortion is different from every other issue and you must make certain compromises to hold that line, you are being majorly conned. And you’re in danger of betraying everything you think you stand for, including the sanctity of life.

You folks, you white evangelical folks, will not have the power in 30 years that you have today. You won’t have it in three years. You need to decide how you’re going to negotiate that. You need to start preparing your epitaph. Religious movements wax and wane, and whatever God has in store for the world, it’s not going to look like what you’re used to, because it never does. What I’m saying is, if you want the Lord to bless your country and its future, you’re just going to have to do a much better job than you have over the last year of using the plain common sense He gave you.

Sex, Men, Apologies

I told a friend today that it has not been fun being a straight white man this week. She said, “Yeah? Well, it hasn’t been fun being a woman for a lot longer than that.” She had a point.

I don’t know if we’re on the cusp of a big shift in acceptable male behavior as some people are saying. I’d like to think so, but then we all thought Newtown was going to finally make a difference in gun laws, and patriarchy is a lot older than the NRA. One thing I wouldn’t mind happening is sex coming out in the open a little more in the Christian community, since sexual predation and abuse benefit a great deal from prudery. How could Roy Moore have gotten away with his abominable behavior without it? If instead of feeling up 15-year-old girls he were, I don’t know, bilking pensioners out of their savings, do you think the pensioners would have kept quiet about it? He knew exactly how much power he had, and a whole hell of a lot of it depended on sexual shame.

I use Roy Moore as an example because he’s presently the slimiest in this particular basket of deplorables, but of course this current basket contains a pretty even distribution of political loyalties. Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, Al Franken, Bill Clinton—we liberals definitely have our share. The penis knows no politics. Be that as it may, I don’t think politics is off the table in this discussion. As of this moment, the facts are that two of those four have come clean about their culpability, and offered pretty unequivocal apology. Franken, who so far seems to be guilty of not much more than over-the-top boorish comedy, has himself suggested a review by the Senate Ethics Committee. Louis CK’s behavior is far ickier, and a number of people have said his apology didn’t go far enough. It is pertinent, though, that he apologized.

In the meantime, the Alabama Republican Party is circling the wagons around Roy Moore. Trump the Pussy Grabber tweets about Al Franken the Crass Comedian the day after the revelation, but gives Moore the Child Molester a pass for a week and a half. I know there are a lot of conservatives appalled by this. I know there will be a few—not enough—Alabamans who decide this state court judge, who made such a show of his religious convictions, is a Pharisee and an opportunist. But until more conservatives hold their own to account, this issue will be political in addition to being moral. I’m seeing real repentance and soul-searching among liberals. Until conservatives hold Donald Trump himself to account, they will be compromised.

All that said. Sexual harassment, predation, abuse is, as Sarah Silverman says, a tumor. Cutting it out “is messy and it’s complicated and is going to hurt. But it’s necessary and we’ll all be healthier for it.”


I’ve been having a hard time writing here for a while now, mainly because I have little hope of it making a difference. And if it doesn’t make a difference, if it’s just a way to blow off steam, or worse—get pats on the back from liberal friends—I don’t see any reason to keep on. Despite some of the good news for Democrats in last night’s elections, I am not particularly optimistic about the future. I don’t see Congress flipping next year, and even if it does, the huge number of people in this country who loathe Democrats, who distrust foreigners, who are sick of seeing football players taking a knee, who are annoyed by seeing two boys holding hands or girls dressing as boys or Indians protesting pipelines—none of these people are leaving. And I don’t see any minds changing—either side of the aisle—no matter what happens.

What is maddening about this is that often when people of different views sit down together, they have far less dividing them than they have in common. It’s just that we don’t live close to each other anymore, so we don’t talk much, so we forget that’s true. When we do sit down together, though, we are actually kind, for the most part. If someone’s uncle shoots himself, we agree in retrospect that with his depression and his drinking, he probably shouldn’t have had a gun in the house. If someone’s 16-year-old has an abortion, we’re all sorry about it in our various ways. None of us, in any case, thinks she should go to prison. The sanctimony of some vegan relative often annoys all of us. We’re all equally horrified to find someone’s son is living on the streets, and we all agree it isn’t because he’s just shiftless or flaky. We all agree he’s had problems since he was four years old. We agree about how self-involved some gay or environmental activist cousin has always been, even if we disagree about whether that relates to his sexual or political orientation.

One thing about all these made-up examples is this—we agree about the facts, we just sometimes disagree about what to do about them, if anything. On the internet, people don’t even agree about the facts anymore, and this is what has me despondent. Because there is stuff that is true, and there is stuff that is false. And there’s a truckload of stuff, of course,  we don’t know enough about to even have an opinion on. But on the internet, people have an opinion about everything. If there’s a mass shooting . . . you don’t need to know anything more, if you’re a Democrat. There are too many guns. If you’re a Republican, all you need to know is whether the person was a Muslim. If he was a Muslim, he was a terrorist. If he wasn’t, he was crazy. The same kind of instant opinion comes for almost every other bit of news. Listen to yourself the next time you watch or read it.

We are not nearly that stupid and mean in our personal lives. And if we are, if we yell at each other when the subject turns to politics, it’s interesting that that’s about the only thing that makes us stupid and mean. Or that makes us that stupid and mean.

I don’t know if there’s any way out of this. I am frankly not hopeful.

I think one thing to do might be to stop thinking about which party we belong to and see if we can agree on one or two specific problems. Argue about the solutions but at least agree on the problems. I don’t know if even that is possible, though, frankly. One problem I wrote about last summer was unwanted pregnancies. I thought everyone, no matter what stripe, might agree that’s a problem. I had some suggestions to help solve that problem which someone might call liberal but that I prefer to call pragmatic. But I don’t know. Maybe they’re just liberal. Maybe the only solution many people see is what doesn’t seem a solution to me at all, just slowly and steadily making abortion as inaccessible as possible.

I am not hopeful.

For some reason it doesn’t work the way it does at home, among family. We agree that cousin Summerbright (née Marge) is a self-righteous vegan at Thanksgiving. We talk about various solutions. We might have to all just grit our teeth and cook her another damn tofurkey. When she starts comparing the “fumes” of the real bird in the oven to the smoke over Buchenwald, Uncle Kevin will be the one to nicely call her on her shit, talk her down.

It is possible to work together. It is possible to be kind. It’s possible to remain in disagreement and be kind.

I just don’t know if there’s a tofurkey and Uncle Kevin for this country. I really don’t know if it’s possible for the whole country to be kind.

Purple Playlist

I’ve been thinking for a long time about putting together some music that red people and blue people could enjoy together. Because music is often the only thing to get people to stop shouting and just kick back and enjoy themselves. This is all just music, no politics. A couple of love songs, some peppier numbers and others that are slower, along with one or two heartbreakers, maybe.

Remarkably, I found YouTube links for all of them. Which means, as far as I can make out, musicians will soon be extinct as paid professionals. Once you’ve decided which songs you really like, please actually purchase them.

The world’s burning. Here’s some fun and comfort.

Bruce Springsteen, Reason to Believe

Alabama Shakes, Don’t Wanna Fight

Johnny Cash, The Man Comes Around

Detroit Cobra, Shout Bama Lama

Patty Griffin, Up to the Mountain

Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue

Magnetic Fields, Abigail, Belle of Kilronan

Paul Simon, Loves Me Like a Rock (covered by The Dixie Hummingbirds)

Spiritualized, So Long You Pretty Thing

James McMurtry, Walk Between the Raindrops

Tom Waits, Picture in a Frame

Moby, Honey

Janis Joplin, Me and Bobby McGee

Ditty Bops, Sister Kate

Cloud Cult, You’re the Only Thing in Your Way

Joni Mitchell, Case of You

Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Aretha Franklin, Respect

Cat Power, Salty Dog

The Traveling Wilburies, End of the Line

Careful What You Wish For

Magazine covers highlighted in The Guardian, August 18, 2017

Writing about politics at all requires a daily engagement I’m really not cut out for. But in 2017 it pretty much means you can’t even blink. Less than two weeks ago, the President was promising nuclear fire and fury, and early this week—after a bunch of white supremacists marched through Charlottesville with tiki torches, and a young woman was run over by a truck ISIS-style—he was saying there’s plenty of blame to go around, and trying to decide where he stands on the Confederacy. Kate Timpf, on Fox News (yes, that Fox News), reacting to Trump’s words, said, “I’m still in the phase where I’m wondering if it was actually real life. I have too much eye makeup on to start crying right now.” There’s been a lot of tweeting “this is not us,” but this obviously is us. We made this evil man the President. All I want to do is figure out why, and figure out how never to make such a colossal mistake again.

My current amateurish, uninformed working theory is that if it weren’t for fundamentalists’ singular obsession with abortion, Trump wouldn’t have been elected. Almost anyone could refute this pretty easily, I’m sure, but Trump’s victory was so razor thin—won only in the electoral college, not by popular vote—that, given Mitch McConnell’s constitutionally indefensible decision not to allow even a debate on Obama’s Supreme Court nominee through all of 2016, let alone a vote, I’d say abortion had at least an outsized influence. Without a Democratic candidate as personally charming as Barack Obama, enough people felt so strongly about abortion’s evil that they voted for a man they personally loathed simply to keep the Supreme Court conservative.

So I think it’s time to get real about abortion. It has been an undebatable, unexamined issue for evangelicals for far too long. No matter how directly Republican policies contradict Biblical teaching about the poor and dispossessed, how unashamedly the Republican platform worships mammon and how cultishly it protects any damn fool’s possession of as many deadly weapons as he wants, no matter how many millions of refugees are turned back to face death or persecution because of Republican nativist hysteria—basically, no matter how un-Christian the Republican Party is by every other important measure, evangelicals keep voting as Republicans because of that one dog whistle. A politician can do pretty much whatever he wants, including grabbing women’s crotches, as long as he promises he’s going to fight for the babies. This is how we got this archetype of evil for President.

So let’s do some moral algebra. We might start with a few things you may not have been aware of:

  • Abortion first became illegal in the US in 1880. It was not because of religious opposition, but because the medical community felt it was a risky procedure that endangered the mother’s life.
  • Abortion-inducing drugs were widely advertised in 19th-century newspapers, and early, “pre-quickening” abortion was not strenuously opposed by either the Catholic or Protestant leadership. It was only after the mother began to feel movement of the fetus that abortion was morally problematic.
  • Its legal status has not had nearly the effect on the rates of abortion that economic reality’s had. Abortion rates rose substantially during the Great Depression, even though the procedure was illegal, because women would rather lose a pregnancy than lose a child through starvation.
  • Although abortion was illegal in the 1960s, discussion of its morality was much less fraught, and evangelical opposition to it was not a foregone conclusion. In 1968, a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary (of all places), in an issue of Christianity Today(of all magazines), argued that because the destruction of the fetus was not an Old Testament capital offense, it could not be considered murder. “God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed.” Yes. This was an evangelical’s position.
  • According to the National Association of Evangelicals, 80% of young evangelicals have pre-marital sex. Almost a third of evangelicals’ unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. This is higher than the rate within the general population, probably because having any birth control seems to a Christian teen like he or she is planning on having sex, and that, of course, would be terrible.

I found these tidbits with a quick web search, and you could find as many facts to support your own position just as quickly. But my aim with them is not to change your mind about the morality of abortion. It’s to get you to think about the issue as qualified, and at least as complex as the many other things Christians seem to be perfectly willing to think about in shades of gray—feeding the poor, sheltering the persecuted, racism, etc. I bring any of these other subjects up, and a Christian says, “Well, it’s not that simple.” I ask her why she voted for Donald Trump, it’s because he’s going to make abortion illegal. Look, first of all, he won’t, and neither will the Supreme Court—ever. And secondly, if it ever did happen, abortion would not stop. The only thing that would happen is more women would die getting it done illegally.

No matter what you feel about abortion, it is not going away. If you want it to be rare—truly rare, and not just legally unavailable—you have to get real . . .

People have to have access to birth control. Venerate virginity all you want, but when that doesn’t work out for your kids, they can’t be so ashamed of having babies out of wedlock that they 1) don’t have birth control around when they need it, and 2) have an abortion to avoid the shame. Because that is truly bent, and it’s pretty much the same kind of thinking that got this asshat into the White House last fall.

Mothers have to have access to childcare. If a pregnant woman knows she doesn’t have the support she needs, she’s going to be way way way more likely to abort. If she thinks she’s going to have to pass some morality test to get that support, she’s also going to be more likely to abort. Men have to step up, of course they do. But many still don’t. Sometimes the grandparents step up. Super (well, not super, but ok). We should do all we can to encourage the family and the church to help out single moms. But this doesn’t mean publicly available childcare is some socialist plot. It’s one more tool! It’s one more thing to help make abortion rare!

Sex education has to be available in school. You afraid your kids are going to be taught that sex is natural, and that homosexuality is just another natural variation, and that if a boy wants to be a girl, it’s ok? Talk about it over dinner. Tell him what’s wrong with that reasoning, I don’t care. I’d disagree back at you, but that’s at least a discussion. Discussion is a good thing! Here’s what you need to think about: in places that don’t have sex ed in the schools, there are more unplanned pregnancies, and more abortions. So the way I see it, you can either have your child exposed to ideas you don’t agree with, but have fewer abortions, or you can raise her not having to hear any of that perverted stuff, and keep killing babies.

There are more ideas, but I know you have to get to the next Facebook puppy, so for now let me just conclude that if you voted for Donald Trump as the great white hope for all the unborn babies, you now have what you wished for. Nazis in polo shirts screaming, “Jews will not replace us!”

Tell me, what baby would want to be born into this world?