Turn Off Your TV and Tune In To Yourself

Within the constant flak of the media and culture wars, it is hard to imagine that random acts of kindness still exists. Yet, it does. I experience it every day from strangers: the person who lets me go before them in the supermarket line because I have fewer items. People who are quick to wish me a good day while holding the door for me. And even people who allow me space to merge into their traffic lane.

The experience of kindness pierces the veil of our projections that often dichotomizes our thinking into “us vs them:” it has the authenticity of being one-to-one, calling upon our basic human instincts to bond and to trust.

Our antagonistic projections are created when we retreat to our TV or internet screens where our emotional reactions become malignant. We perceive our world -— in fact, our own society — as threatening and we seek to retreat into a tribalistic mindset.

The communications theorist Marshall McCluhan said in 1964 “the medium is the message.” He had no idea how prescient he was. In movies and in the news of that era, information and stories were conveyed in a linear experience. We digested the news or storyline within the context of our daily routines. Contrast that to the vortex of today’s 24/7 media onslaught. On a website, information is rarely passed to the user as a linear experience, real-time responses and links are added to keep us hooked into the endless flow of information usually biased to our point-of-view. Everything we read is algorithmically programmed to appeal to our proclivities and prejudices. Media is designed for our personal consumption, like designer jeans or personalized vodka. And like vodka we get drunk on it and act irrationally.

Within this rabbit hole of information, our fears are often stirred up internally by our own heuristics and externally by media marketers and pundits, who, not for any other reason, make gobs of money separating us into our tribal camps while raging at the other.

Most humans are reactionary. In the absence of Stoicism or the practice of authentic Christianity, most take offense easily. The formula is this : Render us fearful and separate us into our tribes, then have an “expert” reinforce and justify our feelings to create a self satisfying loop. Fear and anger produces stress and in that state, we look for people to side with us. There is safety in numbers. Most controversy is contrived and a way to get keep us pissed off at the other. The media in all its forms — Facebook, Twitter, Radio and TV — stoke our fears and emotions while they capitalize prodigiously.

Within this “take no prisoner” prism, the art of the compromise has become anathema. They would have you think there is no common ground between the left and the right, which means common sense and truth are the first casualties of this political war. If King Solomon were alive today, his sword would be dull from dividing so many babies.

Sure there are legitimate issues on we are dealing with — immigration, what should our children be learning, abortion. But on either side of these issues is not the enemy: they are you and me. Politicians and pundits would like you to believe the culture wars are worth fighting, because it empowers and enriches them. But we are the foot soldiers in these battles.

We are divided as a nation, but not as a people. People want to connect and not alienate. We do it every day in the streets, stores and sidewalks. That’s where real life is. Not on the screens.

We have the capacity for love and kindness. Politics has become an artificial and arbitrary wall between you and me to keep us angry and fearful and looking for cover. Don’t buy into it any longer.

Turn off Hannity, Acosta, Carlson, Maddow and others of their ilk. Tune in to the people around you. Your friends and and your apolitical community. You’ll be surprised just how decent many people are.


The Duping of America

For years, conservative American politicians pushed for harsh drug laws that made it too convenient to incarcerate minorities, despite the fact that corporate America was getting high on the two-martini lunch.

All the while, another anesthetizing force took shape emanating from America’s radio and TVs. Originally called propaganda, media moguls determined misinformation and could also print lots of money. Play to people’s biases instead of challenging their corrosive beliefs proved powerfully profitable. Rush Limbaugh made nearly $80 million a year “duping” his viewers with a steady diet of false parallels, heuristic thinking, and outright prevarications. The integrity of news reporting proved less important than the imperative of profit as delivered by pundits such as Limbaugh, who has been followed by a host of others, including Sean Hanniity ($45 million), Tucker Carlson ($35 million), and Laura Ingraham ($20 million). Each of these polarized pundits realize there is big bucks in duping America. Like a drug, their followers get hooked on the high of the empowerment and anger gained by being told they are in a battle for America’s soul with the liberals, the greatest scapegoat since Hitler’s jews.

Most viewers of these Fox personalities are 60 and over and believe in an anachronistic America that once boasted nationalist and cultural hegemony. Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson won’t let that belief die. And, of course, with Donald Trump carrying the right-wing banner, it is not going away soon. Sadly, theses political puppets, who have become fantastically wealthy selling their souls supporting Trump, veer precarious close to running America aground on the perilous shores of authoritarianism.

But remember this my trifling triumvirate: For the first time in six years, the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner (WHCD) was held with the president of the United States in attendance on April 30 in Washington, D.C. The WHCD has been a tradition in Washington for more than a century and for the past several decades it has taken the form of a comedic roast of both the president, government, and the press. Thin-skinned Trump discontinued the tradition during his time in office.

Hosted this year by Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show,“ he reminded the journalists in attendance the importance of their profession. “If you ever begin to doubt your responsibilities, if you ever begin to doubt how meaningful it is, look no further than what’s happening in Ukraine,” Noah said. “Look at what’s happening there. Journalists are risking and even losing their lives to show the world what is happening. You realize how amazing that is?”

He continued: “In America, you have the right to seek the truth and speak the truth, even if it makes people in power uncomfortable. Even if it makes your viewers or readers uncomfortable. You understand how amazing that is?”

Noah pointed out that he had just stood there and made fun of the president of the United States and he was going to be fine. Then he contrasted that with the reality Russian journalists are living under Putin. 

Hannity, Ingraham and Carlson, have the same right to criticize government and the president, and even serve as an apologist for Putin as Tucker has recently, all the while putting millions in their pockets. But the same hand you slap is the same hand the feeds you, and in this case, your largesse of millions.

Rolling the Dice with Democracy

Democracy is a noble idea. But in the epoch of Trump, it is but an obstacle to an authoritarian world view.

Republicans have become captive to their populist standard-bearer, Donald Trump, who promotes a homogeneous United States, where “patriots” must stand brave against the onslaught liberal policies that seek to create diversity and political “wokeness” to insure equality for its members. Tapping into racial and economic fears as well as effeteness of his mostly white followers, Trump’s populism goads them to believe that instead of being victims, they are stronger, smarter, and have a deeper love of America in their hearts — and who must defeat the corrupt elite.

A master stroke of rhetorical manipulation from a man who sees himself as victim, a role that has rendered him immoral if not manic in his attempt to seek absolute power. The American populism he promotes is a projection of his wounds and sense of victimization that began with the humiliation he suffered at the hands of his father.

The disenfranchised of this country are the perfect target for the pied piper’s call to identify with his persecution complex at the hands of lawmakers and media.

Trump’s greed is unparalleled, and his need for power nothing more than a means to that end.

He used his 2020 presidential camping to bilk millions from unsuspected donors through deceptive campaign money-raising tactics, of which he was forced to refund.

Current email solicitations for donations to his PAC promise 10x matches, resembling ads from casinos promoting their craps tables.

To outsiders, it is a staggering but sad joke he plays upon his followers. True Christian believers stay clear of the man fearing that if the wrath of God were to be unleashed on the unrighteous and moneychangers, Trump would be the first to be smited.

He fabricates crisis at every turn, a necessary tactic in his playbook to keep the public on guard against the “enemies of this country,” who, of course, are the media and its Democratic protectorates who seek to keep public servants accountable.

And once again playing to fears of the collective consciousness of his followers — drawn from the shadows of his own childhood — Trump presents a binary view of strength vs. weakness, one that plays to a conservative and traditional gendered narrative that appeals to evangelicals, and every boy called “sissy” by his father. He contrasts his hypermasculinity to the Democrat’s enlightened masculinity, which he portrays as weak ands feminine. Is it any wonder the neo-fascist Proud Boys rank among his supporters?

A democratic vision for the U.S. may be messy but it is not endorsed by Methuselah and is the best protection against madman subverting the will of its people.

The Political Vaudeville of Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene

Occasionally, an irony too good to be true is dropped in my lap. Such irony, I believe, cannot happen by chance but can only be caused by an under-functioning cerebral cortex.

Marjorie Taylor Greene, the U.S. Representative from Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, who does everything she possibly can to prove that lack of intelligence and serving in Congress are not mutually exclusive, objected to Katanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination by accusing her of going easy in her sentencing of pedophiles when she served as a federal judge. Although fact checkers and conservative legal experts showed that Jackson’s sentencing practices for child abuse image offenders were in the mainstream for federal judges, Taylor continued to rant her objections, because she lives in an echo chamber whose walls are impenetrable to facts.

What makes this an even more likely script for the theater of the absurd, is that Ms Greene has been appearing at rallies (think give-me-something-to-bitch-about HOA meetings) around the country with her congressional colleague, blues brother look-a-like, Matt Gaetz. Appearing in such thriving Florida I-10 rest-stop communities as Crestview and Milton where every TV in local Waffle Houses and barbershops are tuned to Fox News, the barnstorming pair (sans top hat and cane) propose to expose all the RINOs in the Republican Party who oppose the “America First” movement. Appearing in such small towns under the imprimatur of “America First,” they represent a mini-me version of former president Trump’s on-going populist rallies where he has reportedly raised a war chest of $100 million since leaving office. Green and Gaetz can hardly hope to dent such largess as they grift the salaries of Wal-Mart employees and low-income retirees.

If they were comedians they would be playing on the penurious Holiday Inn comedy circuit, and, maybe, they are playing for laughs. Last month, Ms Greene referred to the Gestapo as the Gazpacho police, so who knows.

But back to the irony that has been dropped in our lap. In light of Ms. Greene’s tirade over Ms. Jackson’s nomination due to her “protecting pedophiles,” has she forgotten that the U.S. Justice Department is investigating her sidekick for alledgedly having sex with a minor and sex trafficking? Or as a bona-fide supporter of Q-Anon, whose major conspiracy theory is that liberals are running a vast pedophile ring, has she given her partner-in-grift, a pass?

Is the irony lost on her? Or can it be she has no grasp of such intellectual concepts as her brain is locked in a binary world of black and white from where irony, paradox, and nuance are exiled.

Nonetheless, I hope the Gaetz/Greene act appears soon in my town. I can use a good laugh, and when they pass the hat to help “Make America Great,” I will put in a lump of coal and say, “There, I have.”

The Real Cancel Culture

Former president Donald Trump took his “Pity Me” Tour to Sarasota, Florida this weekend to rant about his “stolen” election, a theme as stale as week-old French bread, but as vital as red meat to his pack of bellyaching wolves. Attending such appearances and supporting the former president may infuse his supporters with a shot of pissed-off bravura but it may also prove bad for their health.

A recent study by Seth Masket of the Center on American Politics at the University of Denver show that the correlation between how states voted in the last election and the percentage of their citizens who are vaccinated is nearly exact. So strong is the correlation that Masket says, “Vaccinations are a better predictor of state voting patterns in 2020 than education, racial composition, or almost any other demographic factor.” With the highly contagious and deadly Delta variant spreading across the country, an unvaxed red-state America may be protesting at their own peril. This disconnect is no longer an example of America’s increasingly fractured politics, but its deadly malignancy as well. If you have an “R” next to your name, there is a good chance your insurance premiums will be as high as an admitted smoker.

Decades earlier, American states saw unilateral improvements in life expectancy. MSNBC reported that residents of northeastern and western states (which generally vote Democratic) are living longer and healthier lives while in the GOP-voting South and Appalachia life expectancies have stagnated. In 2017, the gap between Hawaii, the state with the highest life expectancy and Mississippi (which has the lowest) was a whopping seven years. White men in large metropolitan areas have seen some of the biggest gains in life expectancy, while white men in non-metro areas have had far smaller gains. These disparate results are directly correlated to the attention and resources that red and blue states devote to the health of their citizens. Blue state Americans have far greater access to health care. Their political leaders invest more in education, day care, and other safety net programs. They strictly regulate handguns, which means fewer of their residents die from gun violence. Medicaid benefits are generous and are not tied to punitive regulations like work requirements.

Dragging out these facts don’t seem to have much of an impact on voters on the “right” who have already proven their willingness to sacrifice their health to make a political stand. No ones gonna tell me to wear a mask! This political protest should be classified in the same category as the mantra gun advocates often proclaim, I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.”  One would think there is a better option than one’s defiance leading to death.

An example of this collective effort in self sabotage is found in Missouri, where in 2020 voters tried pass a ballot initiative requiring the state to expand Medicaid. But the Republican-dominated state legislature balked at allocating any money for the plan, in effect killing it, in essence, flipping the middle finger to the “left” and aggrandizing over “owning the libs.” Will any one see the cruelty of contributing to the early deaths of your state’s citizens? But in Missouri and 11 other states, it’s a reality — and one that Republican voters continue to endorse at the ballot box, election after election as they march towards collective suicide.

Perhaps we are seeing the ardent right give new meaning to the term “Cancel Culture,” but do they know it is their own they are cancelling.

Matt Gaetz: Paranoia Made Fun

“Throw out what you know is right and give in to your paranoia.” That is the tortured defense/PR strategy third-term congressman, Matt Gaetz, (R-Fl) is employing in response to allegations of sex trafficking and having sex with a minor. The fact that his buddy, former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg, is facing 33 federal indictments for the same charges and others has agreed to a plea deal, has Gaetz wiggling on the hook. Gaetz knows that the Justice Department playbook is to squeeze lesser players to give up the goods on bigger fish. Leaked reports say Greenberg’s testimony is “explosive.”

“They are coming to get you and I just am in the way,” Gaetz said recently during a rally at Trump’s Doral Hotel in Miami. Blaming the “lying media” and the “deep state” is his “Trump” card as he and other politicians, mainly Republicans, have learned from the “disrupter-in-chief” when confronted with criticism or a criminal investigation. “They” is growing more inclusive as the the House Ethics Committee has opened an investigation as well. Gaetz, like Trump, is allergic to responsibility as my toddler is to picking up his clothes.

Of course, reviewing the political career of Gaetz, who has an uncanny resemblance to Beavis of “Beavis and Butthead, indicates that his alleged sexual escapades involving prostitutes and minors reveal a narcissistic personality similar to his political hero. (Exhibit 1: A self-styled lady’s man, he caused a stir at a 2018 Republican Party of Florida Lincoln Day dinner in Orlando, by appearing with two dates). Such personality disorders are usually a result of stunted character development in which blaming others is paramount. Anyone who doubts his narcissistic bent has not been watching “The Gaetz Show” unfolding in Congress for the past four years, where the 37-year old has redefined “grandstanding” in a town that gave birth to it. Gaetz chose to shortcut the long and arduous road to political power earned through seniority by blowing enough smoke up Trump’s ass to set off all the fire alarms in neighboring Virginia and Maryland. In line with Political Grifting 101, he has been fundraising off the controversy, in a similar style to Trump and the other purveyor of paranoia, Marjorie Taylor Greene have done when besieged with criticism. People like Trump, Greene, and Gaetz are turning politics into the theater of the absurd.

As an instiitution, Congress has always had its outliers — racists, sexual predators, and larcenist, but always when these perpetrators were exposed they apologized and often resigned. But Gaetz and Trump are a new breed of unrepentants, trading in conspiracy and paranoia to turn reality upside down in order to project liberals as incarnate evil and profit from it politically and financially. The dystopian politics will continue to spread unless the character of more respectable politicians like Senator Mitt Romney and his values are able to triumph. After the January 6 insurrection, Romney denounced on the Senate floor false claims of election fraud and said it was time to tell voters the truth, instead of echoing their innuendo and misinformation, being fed to them by Trump, Gaetz, and the conspiracy contingent. That takes courage and character, qualities Congress needs more than ever.

During the Cold War, Russia was the boogeyman, and in the 1950’s paranoia raced through the U.S. body politic leading to the persecution of anyone even thought to be communist — lives were ruined and careers lost. The same ginned up fear and paranoia manifested itself in the Salem Witch Trials, which led to the burning at the stake of women.

What we fear the most, we project onto others. There will always be those who fear looking underneath their beds and those who are happy to tell them what is there.

Goodbye and Good riddance

Dear Donald,

You almost pulled it off: subverting American democracy and the destruction of its institutions. But for a little luck, another fateful term was in reach of your stubby little digits and with it the certain demise of the American republic. 

All along, you were a conjurer of the first-degree with a deft political sleight-of-hand to make people doubt the truth. You led them into your fun house of lies because you understood that to many people in this country, the truth was irrelevant and what mattered most was preserving their Rockwellian vision of the nation regardless of the facts. Reason and rational thinking are not the primary weapons of your followers’ cognitive arsenal; emotions and anger are.

An opportunist you were, too. In 2016, you looked around and saw an America fraying at the edges and splitting apart at the middle. You said, “This is good.” With the help of advisors who understood that America was ripe for a demagogue, you sold a glorified return to American 1950’s social and political hegemony. Those on the right who felt politically disenfranchised and abandoned by the American dream, drank the cool-aid, after all, entitlement is an equal-opportunity resentment. Empowered by the internet, everyone now had a voice in the cultural free-for-all in which America tumbled downhill. As the nation’s leading troll, you looked around at your burgeoning troop of internet-armed acolytes, and said, “This is good.”

You quickly created an administration built on a foundation of lies, meant to divide the nation, and your followers gladly consumed them like an addict does his/her drug of choice. The result was a country more polarized than a new battery. And to the bitter end you continued to deceive, fleecing them of their money as you raised millions in the name of your spurious law suits contesting the 2020 presidential election, much of which went directly into your pockets. And the disgraceful events of January 6 proved what we knew along, you will destroy that which you cannot control. 

A bit of advice in your new life: may you never be poor. If you were to become an inner-city indigent and display such delusional thinking, you would be placed under heavy medication. But as president with enormous power, you collected sycophants and followers in increasing numbers creating a “Trumpist” movement who proselytized your lies till they became gospel. If enough people believe something, however outrageous, it becomes religion. Your cult proved that.

As the captain of chaos, another four-year term would have cemented you as arsonist and fire department; burglar and police; the denominator of a country ripe for cleaving in order to advance your stranglehold on the constitution and our institutions.

I will give you this, you were a fighter. You never missed an opportunity to go for the knock-out punch with an opponent (subtlety and nuance of verbal sparring were as foreign to you as humility and self-deprecation). No amount of honor, prestige, and reputation were too high for your low blows, even if it was someone who served his or her country admirably and with courage as Senator John McCain and Ambassador Marie Yavanovich. 

Leading up to the January 20 inauguration of president-elect Joseph Biden, many Republicans quoted Abraham Lincoln in a disingenuous appeal for unity (I’m sure they forgot there can be no unity without justice).

But I will bid you good riddance with a more appropriate and enduring bit of wisdom from the 16th President of the United States. “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time.” 

May your stain be quickly erased from the moral fabric of this good nation.


Revolution in Reverse

Watching events in Washington last week was like witnessing a revolution in reverse. Right-wing mobs descended on the Capitol in an attempt to stop the transition of power in the world’s most democratic nation. Motives for their actions lie in the belief that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from President Trump, despite not a shred of evidence yielded from state investigations and court suits.

The political and social upheaval is not led by the enlightened, but rather the disenfranchised and uninformed, who echo the baseless charges of Trump. In his fascist style, he has sought to discredit facts, experts, and institutional wisdom. Reason and rational thinking are not weapons of Trump nor his followers’ cognitive arsenal. Seeking to subvert the will of the people, they pursue a revolution that undermines the democratic ideals of liberty, egality, and fraternity, the principles of the French Revolution from which democratic societies evolved. At the heart of this unrest are lies propagated by President Trump, who claims the November 4, 2021 election had been stolen from him through fraud perpetrated by the Democratic Party, accusations that appear delusional in the face of all objective examination. Threats of violence from his Far-Right supporters seek to prevent president-elect Joe Biden from taking office on January 21.

In this revolution of regression, football teams that lose the Super Bowl would refuse to leave the field for the trophy presentation and ask that fans come down and assault the officials that oversaw a “rigged” contest; Fired CEOs would remain in there corner suites requiring board of directors to summon the police to evict them. Students would perpetually question the reasoning of their teachers. Tyrants flourish when trust is government is broken and Trump nearly succeeded in destroying that bond between citizens and government. He did it for no other reason that to position himself as dictator and authoritarian gladly encouraging his followers to violently serve as his accomplices. A revolution in reverse.

Fortunately, America has held and repelled its brush with fascism, for now. Its institutions remain intact, its diversity vibrant, and the moral compass of the majority of its people true. But there are more than a few Trump acolytes lying in wait — Ted Cruz, John Hawley, and Jim Jorden all seek to gain his followers. Hopefully, we are little more hip to their tricks and the American democratic experience will continue forward.

Quote of the week: When asked why the president should impeached, Jamie Raskin, (D) from Maryland, answered with this: “The president gave all kinds of aid, comfort and exhortation to the mob. That is intolerable. It takes us in a profoundly dangerous direction as a society. America is a country built on common sense. And we have to use our common sense now to recognize a lethal danger to our people, our Congress, our leaders and the whole nation. This president is a clear and present danger to our country.”

The Art of the Fleece

Society has traditionally set up safeguards to protect the intellectually deficient among its ranks. The main reason is that people with insufficient intellect can be duped easily and become marks for con artists and scammers seeking to rip them off.

The same can be said for a certain population of the Republican Party who believe, despite not one shred of evidence, that President Trump lost reelection because the process was rigged. As President Trump continues to whine that Democrats stole the election, his loyal followers stand in lockstep to echo his sentiments. It is impossible to follow the logic for such a complaint because there is none. Trump has vilified Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and his Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, both Republicans, who stand mortified against charges by Trump that have somehow allowed the vote in their state to be manipulated to favor President-elect, Joe Biden. Let me repeat both Georgia officials are Republican, who to their credit honor the United States voting process.

It’s more than sad that Trump, for whatever his emotional deficiencies, cannot accept defeat — it’s dangerous and reckless. Gabriel Sterling, an official with the Georgia Secretary of State said that during his office’s certification of the election, a number of officials overseeing the state’s recount were harassed and received death threats.

He had strong words for President Trump and other top Republican leaders who continues to attack Georgia’s election system.

“Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” he said. “It’s not right.”

Back to the those being duped: As the putative leader of his country, the president has a responsibility to guide his people with sound judgment and temperament. Among his moral obligations is to make sure that he protects the best interest of those who have difficulty connecting the dots and not rile them up with baseless conspiracy theories. And if you don’t think these same folks are not being fleeced, then look no further than President Trump’s fundraising to finance his failed legal efforts to overturn the November 3, election in states that he lost. He has raised over $250 million as of December 1, from his constituency but many do not know that only 40 percent goes to pay for his court battles, the rest goes to his political PAC, which he can use without discretion including paying legal fees for the many lawsuits that await him after he leaves office.

Trump’s tactic’s are not much different than being pickpocketed which requires a distraction to be successful. Trump knows he has only a small window to use his protestations over the election to con his followers. You would think that after four years they would now know how the flim-flam works.

But some people cannot connect the dots no matter how obvious.