Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

Author: Durwood (page 1 of 25)

Where will time take us?

Asheville Daily Planet, February 1 20212

There’s an old saying: “History is written by the winners.”  Nobody knows who said the saying first; I like Winston Churchill’s version:

“For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history myself.” 

The idea behind the saying is true.  The loser, and his cause, are lost in time.

There’s a great old Isaac Watts hymn (1617): 

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, 

Bears all its sons away. 

They fly forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the break of day.”

That ever-rolling stream, the relentless passage of time, is the stuff of history.  When we trace our family histories, we find generations of people who flew forgotten, as the hymn says.  Lives lived, and they’re barely a blip.   

But we’re not living in blip times now. 

I have an unprecedented feeling these days that I’m on an island in that stream.  History is rushing by me.  My dominant feeling is uncertainty, even apprehension.  Events that pass me give encouragement and then pessimism.  I’m encouraged that the Capitol Coup on January 6 failed, and I’m pessimistic because the Capitol Coup happened at all.

I’m apprehensive on my island because I don’t know what’s upstream.  I don’t know, can’t know, what the ever-rolling stream will bring us next.  Or the next next after that.

The United States is split in two, fiercely split — and I don’t know which side will win.

I watched President Biden’s no-frills inaugural address and was moved by it.  I sang “Amazing Grace” with Garth Brooks at the end.  Biden painted a hopeful scene of unity.

But the speech also included this: “I know speaking of unity can sound to some like a foolish fantasy these days. I know that the forces that divide us are deep and they are real.  But I also know they are not new.”

No, the split is not new.  Look back over our history.  People who settled this country, to begin with, were dissatisfied with life where they came from.  They were nonconformists.  Men joined Washington’s army because they wanted to be independent.

But when that war was over, something really amazing happened.  The leaders of the independence movement came together on something untried in their time.  They consciously reached back to ancient Greece and Rome for government by the people, that is, democracy.

But masses of Americans felt excluded.  Power had shifted to a federal government designed by intellectuals in the cities.  Rebellion on the frontier against a whiskey tax came just two years into George Washington’s presidency.

These self-reliant Americans loved their new country.  No doubt about that.  But the sissy-britches new government, with its blah-blah jargons seemed like a game for rich men off yonder somewhere.

These two sentiments, love of country and distrust of distant government, never went away.  Ross Perot’s campaign against “pointy-headed bureaucrats” got him 19 percent of the presidential vote in 1992.

Donald Trump won with a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington.  It was a call to the very old leave-me-alone spirit.  It’s called “individual freedom” a lot nowadays, which I see defined as “freedom from government oppression and regulation.”  And Trump supporters loved how, in office, he diminished the agencies of government and centered power in himself.  They seem to have approved when he ridiculed experts.  Refusing to wear face masks was a statement of “freedom.”

As I stand on my island and look upstream, I’m in doubt.  Which America will finally prevail?  Which will ultimately write America’s history?

Donald Trump has certainly lost — but mostly because he was an incompetent leader.  The history of Trump that’s being written right now is temporary.  Which America will ultimately prevail — the stout, problem-solving model envisioned by our Founding Fathers, the complicated one that guided us for 240 years, or a loosy-goosy model that Trump personified?

I think the answer will come soon, from the Republican Party.  Will they return to representative democracy, where national direction is set by debate and elections…or something else?     

I hope for an outcome in which American history will be a continuous line from the Founding Fathers to my grandchildren and beyond. 

Top value in DC: stayin’ alive

Asheville Daily Planet, January 15, 2021

One hundred twenty-six members of the United States House of Representatives, all belonging to the Republican Party, America’s conservative party, signed on to a lawsuit brought to the Supreme Court.  The suit alleged widespread voter fraud in four states and asked the Court to overturn the outcome. 

The lawsuit was based on debunked conspiracy theories and outright lies — and these 126 Republicans knew it.  The whole world knew it. 

And don’t doubt, President Trump knows it, too.  He’s playing a cynical game with his followers, stringing them along like a yo-yo.  He blusters them along, so they don’t see him as a loser.  It’s cynicism like nothing before in America. 

These Republicans human-trafficked themselves because their Trumped-up constituents insisted on it.  It’s reported that congressional offices were deluged with demands that they “stand with the president,” no matter how freaky his behavior.

I find these guys pathetic — in the basic meaning of the word: “arousing pity, especially through vulnerability.”  But also in our more common meaning, “contemptible.”

They added their names to the lawsuit out of fear.  They’re worried that their constituents might choose somebody else in the next Republican primary, somebody who insists he would have gone all the way with the president.

In normal times, they would be a laughingstock.  Their hometown newspapers would have cartoons above the front-page fold showing them in court jester costumes.  But these are Trump times in their districts, and by signing, they remain hometown heroes.  (Yahoo News did run photos of all 126, in black-and-white, in a “news ticker” format, like a moving rogue’s gallery.) 

They could have said no, right?

Sure.  They could have sat on a park bench, looking at the ducks and children playing and looking deep inside themselves and said, “No, I won’t.  I have values.  I want my grandchildren to be proud of me, proud of my courage.” And then they could have explained their positions with strength of leadership.  And maintained their integrity.

Integrity, yeah.  But they likely would enjoy their integrity back home, not in Washington.  They know that Trump “has got a little list,” and they know they’ll be on it if they stray.  They’d have a primary opponent, and they’d be cut off from national GOP campaign funds.  And then there are the lush perks Congress has given themselves over the years.  And staffs and travel.  Fear of defeat doth make cowards of Congress.

But all that is just one level of their decision-making.  Let’s don’t forget ambition.  Congresspeople aren’t where they are because of sweet fate.  There’s a category of House member professions called “professional politician,” the folks who spend their lives looking around for the crumb jobs that fall from the government table.  But when somebody is elected to Congress, in fact, they all, the doctors, the lawyers, the teachers, all become professional politicians.  Their list of priorities has only two items:  keeping their seats and maybe moving up the electoral ladder.

The 126 go-along Republicans are symbolic of the rot in today’s Republican Party.  If Donald Trump, out of office, tries and succeeds in isolating, for himself and his glory and his financial gain, the millions of Americans who are now unwavering followers, then the Republican Party will melt away, and a new, true conservative party will inevitably come to be.

Two points in closing:

 Members of Congress are certainly correct to represent their constituents’ views when they vote.  But they have a higher responsibility, namely, the wellbeing of the country — and complicity in what’s being called an “autocratic attempt” cannot be in the best interest of the United States.

Term limits have been touted as a remedy to the Congress’ reelection worries, but a Constitutional amendment was actually proposed in the GOP‘s Contract with America in 1995.  It failed to get the required two-thirds vote.  But hey, the term limit proposed in the amendment for the U.S. House was…get this…six terms!

MAGA to Mar-a-Lago?

Asheville Daily Planet, January 1, 2021

Kushner had some reason for optimism [that Trump would promote mask-wearing]. Trump had agreed to wear one not long before for a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center…But Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff — backed up by other aides including Stephen Miller — said the politics for Trump would be devastating.  ’The base will revolt,’ Meadows said.”  — The New York Times

I had to read it twice.  The base will do what?  Revolt?  Was Meadows warning the big dog that his tail might start wagging him? 

Yes, he was.  You see, Trump is just renting the “Trump base.”   It’s much older than Trumpism.

Recent example:  Haywood County Republican women held a “Can’t Coop-up Christmas” event last month.  The event organizer had this comment:

“We have something called freedom,” she said….“As Christians, we have the duty to draw the line in the sand and say this is enough.  Is it public health or tyranny?  These are people that understand that some of the liberal media and people that may not have the best interest of America at heart, they push all these rules and regulations and take away freedoms.”

Sound familiar?  Right: Tea Party.  The in-group code word, “freedom,” is the giveaway.  The Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives, remember, changed its name to Freedom Caucus.  The Haywood event organizer’s words didn’t come from Donald Trump.  She inherited them.

Sure, at this point in time, his core supporters are super-loyal to him.  Didn’t the crowd at Trump’s January 4th rally in Georgia chant, “Fight for Trump!” two months after he lost the election?  He has a grip on them…for now.

When Meadows said the base would revolt, he was recognizing a deep truth:  Trump didn’t start from scratch in building his base.  No, it was a takeover.  He very shrewdly observed that a huge chunk of our population could be won over with the right message and style.  He saw a variety pack of disenchantment — religious people with social agendas, workers displaced by corporate greed, people disturbed by powerful changes in our longtime social fabric, unabashed revolutionaries — all patriotic in their own way.

In common, they distrusted the (fact-based) eliteness and inefficiency of government — to an extent they were open to being ruled by a strongman who would “just do it.”  They were ready for Trump.

Well into this century, Trump was a pro-choice Democrat, but when he started thinking about running for president, he went where his future base was.  They were mostly Republicans, so he planned to run as a Republican.   He was famous as a TV star and a rich man.  He learned the group’s political language and spun it into marvelous oratory. 

And this new Trump base delivered him the presidency.  Now, four years later, they love what he’s delivered for them.

Trump is their leader.  But he doesn’t own them.  They’re committed to their political beliefs a whole lot more than they’re committed to Trump. 

I read that ex-president Trump will maintain control over his millions — like the headline, “MAGA movement will move from the White House to Mar-a-Lago.”

But will he actually keep them?

For a while, yes.  After that, no one can know.  How much will the 1/6 Capitol Riot impact public opinion, including his followers?  And revelations that will inevitably come from criminal prosecutions?  Will the Republican Party realize their cowardice under Trump and begin renewal?  In other words, will his base crumble?    

It also depends on where Trump himself sees his future self-interest.  His antics before the Georgia runoff elections showed without doubt that he has no real loyalty to the Republican Party.  He’s never had high regard for our Constitution or our democracy. 

It’s likely that he will stay engaged only if he stands to gain something personally — financial or setting up Ivanka for 2024.  

A massive political earthquake is rumbling under America.  The structure of our democracy has been weakened by four years of Trump desecration.  Now we look, with some hope, to the policies of President Biden and to a desperately needed reawakening of conservatism in the Republican Party.

The future is a well-kept secret, isn’t it?

Anti-Mask is nutty

Asheville Daily Planet, December 15, 2020

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was born maybe 10 miles from my home in suburban Dallas, so it was natural that Texas would be an early adopter of open-container laws.  At the time, I would buy one beer to sip between work and home.  I remember the evening when MADD called me for a donation.  My response was polite and to the point: “Ma’am, I’m not a prospect for you..”

I didn’t snort that her meddling organization was violating my personal freedom, my real attitude.

This (temporary) feeling of mine, almost 50 years ago, has been reincarnated today.  When state governors order that face masks must be worn in public to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, they hit a nerve.  An anti-mask movement has arisen to protest mask mandates. 

Countries where everybody wears a mask shut down the disease.  Here, 45 percent don’t wear masks — and the virus is killing thousands every day.  

To me, a movement that fights against masks during a pandemic is insane.  No, it’s beyond insane.  It’s nutty.

Of course, states have issued big mandates before: speed limits, seat belts, car seats for children, smokeless restaurants.   We all chafe at one or another of these intrusions, but we go along.  Our national consensus is that safety overrides convenience.

A group called ReOpen NC says on its website: “Roy Cooper is still attempting to force us into submission through unconstitutional executive orders.  Show him that YOU WILL NOT COMPLY.”

When a Staten Island bar declared itself a zone free of pandemic rules, the owner was arrested, and hundreds of protesters jammed inside and outside, chanting, “U-S-A!”  And there were red MAGA caps and Trump flags.

Yes, MAGA.  The anti-mask movement is a spinoff of Donald Trump.  Its spokespeople ramble and lie like their leader.  Its uncaring core attitude is totally Trumpian. 

Wearing masks to prevent the spread of disease would be the first instinct of these good people protesting, if Donald Trump wasn’t their role model.  Social distancing and temperature checks would be an act of patriotism for them.

Their hero refuses to wear a mask himself, and he mocks those who do.   He crushes his followers together at rallies.  And when he had no leadership skills in the Coronavirus crisis, he chose to call it a hoax.

The Trump factor explains why so many white conservative Christians speak, write and protest so vehemently against masks.  Eighty percent of them are Trump loyalists.  A common sign at protests is: “Fear God not COVID.”

The movement’s messaging does not show Trump influence, however.  I read that Donald Trump has never used the words “freedom” or “liberty” in speeches or interviews.  His value system gives high ratings to “strength,” while ideas around “freedom” are near the bottom.  Our European allies love freedom; Trump calls them weak. 

The anti-mask folks, by contrast, are big on freedom.   Loss of freedom is their main message.  One lady at a community meeting said, “You’re removing our freedoms and stomping on our constitutional rights by these communist dictatorship orders or laws you want to mandate.”

ReOpen NC’s website says this: “Freedom fighters ready to march!    In a very short time, tens of thousands of concerned NC citizens have joined our fight to reestablish our way of life and ensure the rights and freedoms granted by our loving Creator and secured by the Constitution of these United States.”

The Guardian newspaper tells how ReOpen NC “started a ‘Burn Your Mask Challenge’ where people post videos on social media of themselves burning their masks and use the hashtag “#IgniteFreedom.”

This messaging is a sign that Donald Trump is not their only influence.  “Freedom” was a Tea Party watchword, and before that, the right-wing Libertarian John Locke Foundation described itself as working “for truth, for freedom, and for the future of North Carolina.”  (They urged our General Assembly to “put environmental policy into the context of “the ideas of liberty, personal responsibility, and economic growth.” The Republican legislature slashed environmental protections. That’s liberty.)

“Freedom” is such a squishy word.  As the anti-mask people use it, there’s a strong, selfish Trump smell about it. 

A protest sign in North Carolina had a caricature of Governor Roy Cooper saying, “I’m King, I’ll Decide When You Are Free.”  A mother stands behind her daughter who’s holding a sign almost her height: “Live free or die.”  Be like mommy, darling.   

Freedom is America’s foundation.  So please, good people, treat the idea of freedom with respect.

The U.S. isn’t united…again

Asheville Daily Planet, November 30, 2020

One morning recently, as I sat with my dog and my coffee, my great-great-grandparents came to mind. 

During the Civil War, Asbury and Ridley Ansley were living in Rising Fawn, Dade County, Georgia.  Their four oldest sons were in the Confederate army, and it’s said the Ansleys could hear the cannons of Chickamauga from their front porch.  Their fifth son, my ancestor, had been taken away by a Yankee patrol, to be killed before he would be fighting age.  He had escaped and was hiding in nearby woods.  On top of all this pain and stress, their six-year-old daughter, Teckie, burned to death when her dress got too close to the fire under the clothes-washing caldron.

They were people of old-time Methodist faith, and sure enough, all four of their sons survived the War and had careers with the railroad.

So why was I thinking about the Ansleys of Rising Fawn that recent morning?  Why was I drawn to people who lived four generations before me? 

Because their time and mine are alike in a most basic way.  Then and now, the United States is far from united.  We’re ferociously divided.  And at war.

It’s likely the Ansleys were always more Southern than American.  The United States was way off yonder and the declared enemy in slave-free political conflict.  The Ansleys were a good fit for the Confederacy.  (They gave my ancestor the middle name, Calhoun!)

The United States today is similarly divided.  Trump is pulling every lever to overturn Joe Biden’s victory, in state election boards, the courts and state legislatures.  The result:  70 percent of Republicans don’t believe the election was free and fair.  And interviews with militia group leaders are clear that  they’re ready to answer the president’s call.

I find it interesting that a local right-wing columnist wrote this: “A united America is a successful America, and a successful America is immune to the left’s socialistic seductions.”  A united America, really?  The end of his sentence belches out the golden oldie that tries to tie “the left” with “socialism.”  it’s low-grade trickery, but heck, why not?  It works with voters who think socialism is the same as Cold War communism. 

The Civil War schism was North and South.  Today, the United States is divided between Constitutionists and Trumpists.  I don’t say it’s between conservatives and liberals or between Democrats and Republicans.  The split today is between those who live their political lives according to the Founding Fathers’ Constitution and those who set aside any provision of the Constitution that’s inconvenient.  The former group is equivalent to Civil War Unionists who believed in the United States; the latter group has pledged allegiance to a man — a demagogue whose four years in office have been spent above all laws, precedents, traditions and principles of democracy.  Trumpists are in fact at war with the United States. 

The Constitution makes demands on those who lead our country, perhaps most notably the separation of powers among the three branches of government.  Donald Trump holds the Legislative Branch in no esteem at all.  Congress has Constitutional power to allocate government funds, regulate trade, undertake acts of war. 

Ho-hum.  Trump moved money around to construct his wall, even though Congress had specifically denied funding.  He instructs people in his government to ignore Congressional subpoenas.  Many cabinet members are “acting” — a Trump ploy to avoid Senate confirmation hearings.

Conservatives, before Trump, were champions of the Constitution.  Some even wanted judges who would follow its “original understanding.”  The document, with all its wisdom and weirdness, was sacred.

They once shared strong beliefs: small government, spending discipline, free trade.  When Trump appeared, their principles were put away, wrapped in the irrelevant Constitution.  Trump demands total obedience, and they give it.  These people don’t have standing anymore to be defenders of anything.  They’re humble Trumpists.

On the other side of our divided United States, opposite the Trumpists, stands the new Democratic government.  It will be guided by Constitutional principles.  These patriots are true Constitutionists.

So, Trumpist Americans, please discontinue this “socialist left” foolishness.  It’s a sham show designed to keep the faithful from heeding Joe Biden’s call for national healing.  Support a united America.

Morning after 2020 election

Asheville Daily Planet, November 5, 2020

I had decided to turn on the TV at 7:30. I didn’t need pundit patter. 

But as I approached my seat on the sofa, suddenly I seemed to be standing on the brink of a vertical precipice.

I looked down on a very realistic diorama.  Fierce winds whipped around and over huge boulders far below.  It wasn’t a scary scene.  I understood it was intended for my education.

A cracked bell clanged intermittently as the wind blew its clapper.  An ancient document was pressed hard to a rock.  A disembodied arm clutching a torch was barely visible.  A few skeletons were sprawled out in their fine shirts with ruffled cuffs and silk stockings.

I understood what my vision meant.  The strewn items symbolized America’s future — its demise.  And I knew the night’s vote count could possibly bring it about.  I was surprised. 

The scenario faded, and I sat down. I had three wishes as I turned on the TV: make it quick, make it decisive, make it Biden.

But in mere minutes, I saw my wish list was trash.

When I turned off the vote count at 10 o’clock, the cavern scene reappeared, now more vivid, and the wind was plainly reciting the Gettysburg Address.  I walked away.  No more education, thank you very much.

I‘m writing this the morning after.  The New York Times headline calls it a nail-biter.  Just what we don’t need.  Bite those nails too deep, and you’re nibbling the quick, the national quick.  We’re emotionally spent, exhausted.  The election can go either way, and it’s not likely to be decided in vote-counting rooms, like we’ve always done, but in the courts.  Just what we don’t need. 

We’re fiercely divided.  We need healing, and for five years, Trump has purposely cultivated in his followers a distrust of institutions and traditions that are the backbone of what has been America, especially news media and the Congress. 

As I sit here this morning, two outcomes stand equal and starkly different.  We’re not at a crossroads.  The crossroads was yesterday.   Now we wait to see which side will prevail.  The long-term future, or non-future, of America is in the balance. 

That long-term future will begin with immediate problems that will be, or won’t, be, solved.

The COVID-19 pandemic can turn into a permanent epidemic in the United States, cycling and recycling in wave after wave for years if it’s not tamed with sound policies and leadership.  Trump has said we won’t hear the word “COVID” after the election.  Biden will try.

The wealth of our country has flowed to those who don’t need it. The 2017 tax cuts are still impacting us.  We have millions of desperate citizens while a relative few Americans are buying Caribbean houses.  Trump and Biden stand at opposite poles.

The world is in disarray, and Trump is the world’s top chaos contributor.  A Chinese comedian said a Trump win will help nation-building — China’s nation-building, that is!  There’s uncertainty and danger everywhere.  Biden would reinstate us as leader.

The most clear-cut difference in outcomes will be democracy.  Biden will take us back to the Founding Fathers’ vision.  Trump, on the other hand, based on his first term, will show no reverence for our government’s being “of the people, by the people and for the people.”  With no curbs on his power, he will be a Fascist dictator.  He openly admires Putin, Orban, Erdogan and Xi.  And of course, he already has the equivalent of Mussolini’s Black Shirts in the militias and thugs he calls “my people.”  My diorama vision will be prophetic.

The American people have cast their votes.  Now it’s a matter of counting them, perhaps with Trump’s government interfering, and waiting to see how partisan federal judges will be.

Finally, I always like to write from my heart.  I try to be totally honest with my readers.  But today, I will not put in writing what’s in my heart.  Just one thought: 

I don’t understand my fellow Americans.    

Trump bullet misses or did it

Asheville Daily Planet, November 18, 2020

It was Saturday after the election when I heard brass band music coming from somewhere deep down inside me.
The faint tune was “Happy Days Are Here Again.” I smiled. My fingers tapped out the rhythm on my knee. What a great song for this occasion! Joe Biden had been declared president-elect!!
The song was a hit from 1929 – before the Depression. It had stirred the country for FDR in 1932 — by then, very much in the grip of the Depression.
The lyrics weren’t true in 1932: “Altogether shout it now / There’s no one who can doubt it now / So let’s tell the world about it now / Happy days are here again” No, in 1932, the skies were overcast and gloomy.
But FDR’s campaign exuberance was real. He gathered great minds and brought the power of the U.S. government to the nation’s big problem, unemployment.
The song’s lyrics aren’t true for us right now, either. We can believe in happy days after COVID, a wobbling economy and an unsure world, but not yet. Like FDR, Joe Biden is already identifying experts and leaders to people his government. Clearly, there will be order and discipline and, hopefully, accomplishment.
As days pass, I still hum “Happy Days,” but the lyrics — “Altogether shout it now” — they don’t fit. Donald Trump has refused to admit he lost, raising anger levels among his supporters. He claims widespread fraud. He continues his strong-man show from the campaign even as he played the victim.
It’s urgent that he maintain the adoration of his base. They must not be seduced by Joe Biden’s call for national unity. He will need their loyalty for whatever he does after the White House.
There’s a metaphor, a cliché actually, that’s perfect for November 2020: We just dodged a bullet.
It was a bullet aimed at the heart of our democracy. Had a majority of us not been determined to stop Donald Trump, our Constitution would have been made irrelevant and replaced with the whims of one-man rule. We would have become a banana republic, a Turkey, a Hungary, a Russia. With unchecked power, do we doubt that Trump would have arrested his enemies and shut down unfavorable media? That’s exactly what would have happened.
I was in the Philippines in 1972 when Ferdinand Marcos took total power. It was efficient and quick, easy. A “New Society” was announced – a flood of “reforms” that changed Philippine life. Congress was replaced by a parliament of cronies. Many businesses of old Spanish and Chinese families were “privatized.” Live television showed citizens turning in their guns.
That was Trump’s ambition. He’s talked all along about a “third term” and being president for life. The election stopped him. The Trump bullet missed its mark.
But wait. The bullet didn’t continue its original trajectory and go on to lodge in a tree. No, look! It’s circling around like a programed missile, seeking a better angle on its target. Its velocity is weakened, but it can still do harm from now to January 20.
His “I was cheated” act is already playing to his 80 million Twitter followers. He knows he lost the election, but he doesn’t want to be seen as a loser — which, of course, he is.
It seems to be working. One man at the MAGA March said, “Why hold an election if they’re going to steal it?” Trump has no stake in democracy, and he wants his people to distrust elections. This is an attitude that could last for years.
And this totally self-centered man doesn’t give a flying flip that he’s chopping at the roots of our democracy.
Self-centered, yes, he is — and unprincipled, predatory, vengeful, morally vile, hot-tempered, disrespectful, envious, unpatriotic and a lying thug. He doesn’t have the botig to accept defeat gracefully — something we all learned growing up as “sportsmanship.”
And yet 73 million Americans voted for him, almost half the voting population.
Yikes. The Trump bullet came close, didn’t it? It might even have nicked the national ear as it passed. But pass it did.

Fill in the swamp!

Asheville Daily Planet, October 26, 2020

My favorite comic strip in the early 1950s was Pogo Possum, who lived with other magical characters in the Okefenokee Swamp.  I can still recite some of the dialogues.

My mother grew up just north of the Okefenokee.

So I have some background on swamps – the real, literal kind, anyway.  When the word is used as a metaphor, then “swamp” gets murky.

Ronald Reagan had a great one-liner: “Sometimes, when you are up to your elbows in alligators, it is hard to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp.”

It’s a good guess that his swamp was bloated government bureaucracy.  Washington alligators defend their homeland.

Ross Perot came along in 1992, railing against “pointy-headed bureaucrats” in Washington and promising to “throw their briefcases in the Potomac River.”  And I don’t doubt he would have shuffled the D.C. deck.  I did a fair bit of business with his buttoned-down, heel-clicking company in the 1980s. 

Donald Trump led his audiences in chants of “Drain the Swamp” in 2016, but I don’t think he thought much about the meaning.  I read that a campaign person suggested it to him.

And you’ve got to wonder what the crowds themselves thought as they chanted.  I think most outside observers heard “swamp” as equal to “corruption.”  He was promising war on lobbying and greed.  But many people supported Trump in 2016 hoping that a businessman would bring discipline to government.  Maybe they heard an echo of Reagan.

But in office, Trump took on neither graft nor runaway bureaucracy.  Size of government, measured by number of employees and by money spent, grew through 2019, before the pandemic. 

And corruption?  We all smelled the rot of Trump’s Cabinet officials as they left.  But they didn’t take the smell of corruption with them.  The stench still hung over the Oval Office.  Forbes Magazine senior editor Dan Alexander wrote a multi-part series this past August and September on the vast flow of donor cash from Trump’s reelection campaign to The Trump Organization – only one of the Trump family’s many, many hustles.    

The swamp stinks on.

But it’s a Trump Swamp now.  The old corruption and swollen bureaucracies are there, yes.  But now the U.S. government is his personal property, with all its resources and personnel, to be used for his own benefit.  Atlantic Magazine’s George Packer wrote how Trump has taken advantage of “the flaw in the brilliant design of the Framers” – that the government is composed of human beings, and human beings can be corrupted, cowed and crushed.

If he is reelected, centuries of American uniqueness will be melted into Trump’s image.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, if elected, will work to rebuild what has been cast down.  Congress will be restored as coequal branch of government.  Interference in matters of Justice will stop.  There will be leadership from the top on COVID-19.  International friends will be embraced and enemies marked.  America will lead in the world.  And oh yes, the president will act presidential.   

If Biden wins, he will have no trouble recruiting a towering Cabinet.  America’s best will leap to his cause, including many
Republicans.  I think of Henry Knox, FDR’s wartime Navy Secretary, who had been GOP nominee for vice-president in 1936.  He explained joining FDR this way: “I am an American first, and a Republican afterward!”  Biden will have close, wise advisers.  That’s what all of us would do in his place, I think.

My father was a civil engineer on the construction of Tampa’s Davis Island in the 1920s.  The project started with three swampy “keys” that were filled in – filled in, not drained.  I like “Fill in the Swamp” as a slogan, better than “Drain the Swamp.”  It’s a positive metaphor.  It says replace muck with merit.  Yes, we can replace!

Including, especially, this crowd:

(hand-made sign) Senators should have to wear uniforms like Nascar drivers so we can tell who their corporate sponsors are

Lead us to happiness!

Asheville Daily Planet, October 15 2020

“The left wants to…take us into socialism.  [They] will…close the Church down in many places.  We see right now because of COVID, the government trying to tell the Church that they cannot meet.”

This was Franklin Graham earlier this year.  Who is the “left” he’s warning about?  Who?  The Democratic Party in the United States, people who share most of his values. 

James Dobson goes farther: “Socialism, at its core, is a secular framework that installs government as ‘god.’  It has no use for faith, freedom, or the will of the people.”

This is all in the context of politics, Trump versus Biden.  Graham said: “I am just asking that God would spare this country, for another four years, to give us a little bit more time to do the work before the storm hits.”

Hold it.  Is there anything in Joe Biden’s past or present that hints he will shut down churches?  Of course not.  He’s a devout Christian.    

So why this fierce attack on him?  Nobody can judge another man’s mind and motives.  But well, it sure looks like a scare tactic to get evangelicals to the polls.  And I also feel a niggle that these men might cherish  being near the president. 

The gloomiest forecast I’ve seen is from Graham: Our country is deteriorating.  We are in a nosedive.  If God doesn’t save us, there is no hope.”

I can understand if he’s thinking politically.  But not spiritually.   American culture is certainly becoming more secular.  It is.  But at the same time, more and more, Americans are incorporating into their lives, from many sources, the powerful ideas that C.S. Lewis called “the sole source of all value judgments.” 

I look around me, at Christians and non-Christians, and I see improvement – my children’s generation over mine.  We’ve learned about good parenting.  It’s not unusual when minorities succeed in every field of endeavor.  We don’t tolerate sexual harassment.  

Columnist David Brooks wrote on this topic: “The decline in family violence is part of a whole web of positive, mutually reinforcing social trends. To put it in old-fashioned terms, America is becoming more virtuous. Americans today hurt each other less….They are more likely to resist selfish and shortsighted impulses….A result is an improvement in social order across a range of behaviors.” 

And socialism?  Socialism is not, as many evangelical leaders teach, the enemy of Christianity.  The Dobsons of America use the word “socialism” as a bin to hold all the frightful things they disapprove of.  It’s their private brand of socialism.    

Honestly or deceptively, they seem to confuse socialism with Twentieth-Century communism, which did persecute Christians.  Socialism is a system of policies – how government taxes (more) and spends (providing support to citizens).

Earlier this year, Forbes Magazine reported a study that ranked 156 countries on their level of “happiness,” based on how their citizens feel.  In top-ranked countries – Finland, Switzerland and Australia, for example – socialism and capitalism coexist and complement each other.  None is communist.    The U.S. is ranked 18th.

Previous studies explained good happiness rankings as “peace of mind that people experience from government support.”  To me, that’s something to be desired.

The study cited in Forbes included pandemic relevance: “A high-trust society quite naturally looks for and finds cooperative ways to work together to repair the damage and rebuild better lives. This has led sometimes to surprising increases in happiness in the wake of what might otherwise seem to be…the face of disasters.  People are pleasantly surprised by the willingness of their neighbors and their institutions to work in harness to help each other.  This delivers a heightened sense of belonging, and pride in what they have been able to achieve.”

A high-trust society.  Let that sink in.  It’s exactly what we don’t have.  And much of our discord comes from our leaders, political and spiritual, who zealously encourage distrust of those with differing views.  It’s clear, I think, that America has performed poorly in the pandemic because we don’t “work in harness” with one another.

The days ahead will test us.  May we perform well.!

Loving our country

News-Record & Sentinel, September 30, 2020

This column won’t be an instant replay of Donald Trump lies.  Those volumes are kept by professionals.  No, this is more of a prophecy – about where Trump’s lies can take us.

I’ve just read a little book, “On Tyranny,” by Tim Snyder, a Yale guy who lived most of his working life in Europe, studying how 20th-Century dictators got power.  It’s a guidebook for people living in free countries whose democracies are at risk.  Like the United States of America in the year 2020. 

One chapter, titled “Believe in truth,” jumps off the page at us.  A tyrant, Snyder says, begins with “open hostility to what can be verified,” presenting his own fabrications as truth.  His charisma draws followers, and his words, mostly untrue, become words with power, like words of an ancient oracle.  His followers are now believers.  The road to tyranny is not a slippery slope; it’s a leap of faith.  Yes, faith.

The world sees Donald Trump simply as a compulsive liar.  And well, it’s hard to argue with them when we see him in Michigan saying, “We built you a lot of car plants, Michigan,” when in fact not one plant has been built during his administration.  That’s compulsive.  Auto workers know what’s built and not built.

From the beginning of his political ambition, if not all his life, Trump has given no value to truth over untruth.  In 2016, nonpartisan PolitiFact found that 60 percent of Trump’s claims in the campaign  were either “False” or “Pants on Fire.”  If they included “Mostly False” claims in the data, it hit 78 percent.  Last month he squeezed four lies into one sentence on Twitter.   

But his words, remember, are held by some as the words of an oracle.  Snyder calls it “abandonment of reason.”  When that happens, he says, “evidence is irrelevant.”   

There’s magical thinking at play here.  In the 2016 campaign, Trump promised a magnificent border wall that Mexico would pay for.  It didn’t happen, of course.  Oops, misstatement.  But he didn’t learn.  This past August in New Hampshire, he said: “We’ve already built 300 miles of border wall, and we’re heading for 10 new miles every single week, and the wall will soon be completed.”

It’s a lie of course, a silly, unprotected lie.  Last December, the acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection stated (Wikipedia) that “by May 2020, only 16 miles out of 194 miles of wall constructed under the Trump administration was new fencing; the remainder was replacement for outdated or dilapidated sections.”

That’s worse than the Michigan auto plants. 

Last October, Trump claimed that China would be buying billions in American farm products.  He said, “I suggest farmers…immediately buy more land” to meet demand.  I hope nobody did. 

And you’d think time would expire on the “terrific” healthcare plan he would roll out “very soon.”

When his followers believe these obvious lies – or don’t care if his claims are truth or nonsense – then they have already submitted to his tyranny.  They’re there.  Political power to make it real is just a formality. 

Will it happen?  Yes…if.  

Here’s my prophecy:  If Donald Trump is reelected, America will be a democracy in name only. 

I’m not saying it might happen.  I’m not saying Trump will try to become a dictator.  I’m saying he will in fact have total power.

He’s filled the government with amateurs who do his will.  The mechanism of the GOP is his.  He has shown no reluctance to use federal troops.  Have no doubt:  he’s poised to really do it.

The courts?  Paper tiger.

Protests?  Yeah, I’ll protest.  They protested in Turkey, too.

The military?  Will they or won’t they…do what?

Us?  What can we do?  Non-reelect him.  After that, at least, his shenanigans will be illegal.  And how we respond will be just.

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