Skepticism Vs Cynicism Vs Joe Manchin

In theory, a journalist is supposed to bring a healthy dose of skepticism to everything they report. The questioning doubt nagging at them, the junkyard dog reluctance to trust anything until it proves itself worthy – that would be their skepticism at work if they had skepticism and if it was at work. Alas, in practice, the overwhelming majority of American journalists drive to work each day in a cynicism-mobile. They punch the clock having already delineated the game and all its players. They see everyone in terms of their labeling, but, ironically, they don’t actually differentiate between labels. A Republican spouting anti-democratic, authoritarian tripe is the same as a Democrat defending democracy. To the cynical journalist, both sides have their opinions. Both opinions carry equal weight, their opinions being based on equal things (even if those things are facts and feelings, two very unequal things). Cynicism tells a journalist that it doesn’t really matter what any politician says because “they’re just a politician” even if one is advocating for democracy and the other is advocating for democracy’s violent overthrow.

Cynicism lies at the broken heart of “Both Sides Do It” brand journalism. It takes an entirely corporate view of both its audience and the American public. The corporate view doesn’t really care about democracy, it cares about its bottom line. If some system other than democracy could guarantee it more profits? The corporate view would immediately think “Screw democracy! Profits ho!” That would be short-sighted of course but then, greed is always short sighted. Greed deals in headlines and never the deep dive because deep dives cost money and reduce profits – the only thing that matters to greed.

Cynicism assumes the worst of everyone. All motives are ulterior. All acts are political and self-serving. The commonweal is a myth or, worse, a collecting pool for suckers.

Democracy can’t live in such an environment where people who believe in democracy are considered suckers because they believe in democracy. Similarly, democracy can’t endure where one of the two parties charged with managing the democracy has decided to forcefully end that democracy. A cynical journalist looks at the GOP and thinks “Republicans behaving like authoritarians is normal; authoritarianism is their “opinion du jour”. They could just as easily change back to being “democratic” tomorrow. It doesn’t matter what their point is, it only matters that they have one; that fact alone validates their point.

A skeptical journalist on the other hand would look a little closer at those Republicans, curious about how they went from being democratic to being authoritarian. Skeptical journalists have one question that drives them eternally: WHY? Why do people REALLY do what they do or say what they say? Sure, sure – everyone has an explanation at the ready but those explanations aren’t always true. Take, say, a Republican restricting voting rights in the face of the most secure election in American history. The Republican will say with a straight face that they’re worried about “election security”. While a cynical journalist would nod along with this bullshit assertion – hey, that’s his opinion! – the skeptical journalist would bore in. “What do you mean you’re worried about election security? The last election WAS secure; the issue seems to be that YOU LOST THE ELECTION and THAT’S what all your actions clearly are meant to “fix”. When the Republican spewed their nonsensical answer, the skeptical journalist would refuse to accept it. And bore in even further, like a shark with the smell of blood in its nostrils.

Imagine for a second if our news media had refused to accept “Mexicans are rapists” and “pussy grabbing” as readily as they accepted “But her emails!” Imagine if our press had refused to move on from Trump announcing his presidential candidacy in such a racist way. But then, cynical journalists think racism is an opinion one can have or not have. That’s why they think you can ask a Donald Trump “are you a racist?” and then have faith that the answer – “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met” – is true. See how that works? Our news media won’t violate their neutrality on the subject of “is Trump a racist” because HE (a racist) says he isn’t one.

A skeptical journalist would never ask a racist that question to begin with because they’d know before asking the question what the answer would be. Skeptical journalists understand that “who’s a racist?” is a question for the racist’s victims and no one else. Only a racist’s victim knows whether or not a racist is being racist. No one else has the proper perspective.

This is precisely why Joe Manchin presents a particular problem for American journalists.

Let’s add one more ingredient to the mix. Our news media reports the American political playing field as if it’s level. It’s not and never has been. It’s already tilted far to the right – not by the electorate but by the rule makers – most of whom have been white, Christian men up till now. Hey, the whole reason we’re facing this existential crisis is because those white, Christian men refuse to share political power with the rest of us. They even co-conspired with RUSSIA ffs in order to avoid sharing power with Black, brown, Asian, LGBTQ or female Americans.

Cynical journalism accepts corruption as a given. Skeptical journalism sees corruption as the problem that journalism itself is charged with revealing and eliminating. More importantly, skeptical journalism sees itself as a crusader against corruption. Whereas cynical journalists accept Joe Manchin’s corruption (his relationship with the coal business and Koch industries, his daughter’s relationship with the outrageous price of insulin in America), skeptical journalists would want to know more.

The cynical approach to telling the Joe Manchin story – the one we’re getting – has the press grilling Democrats about their Manchin (and Sinema) problems. Cynical journalists see that “D” next to Manchin’s name and that’s as far as their journalistic instincts go. Sure, Manchin’s a Democrat in a Trump-loving state, but Manchin has zero challengers. Go on – name a West Virginian who could run against Joe and win. Joe doesn’t exist in West Virginia the way normal Democrats do. And as much as Mitch McConnell would love to have Joe become a Republican, there is no reason for Joe to do such a thing. He’d go from being a powerful hold out to one of fifty-one intransigent assholes. He’d lose in the deal; he ain’t doing it.

Joe Manchin has power in this situation because he’s a Democrat. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand any of the realpolitik at play here. Joe Manchin has made himself the power broker of American democracy. If you want to understand why that is, you’d have to ask Joe Manchin – and not any of the Democrats. You’d have to ask Joe himself who he’s “representing” when he stands in the way of things his actual constituents want: pretty much the entire BBB. Clearly it ain’t anyone who lives in West Virginia, one of the poorest places in America. When the entire Republican Party makes RESTRICTING THE VOTE its goal – and the intention of that goal is so crystal clear: permanent white political hegemony – then a rational person – a skeptical journalist – would have to ask “Why on earth would Joe Manchin stand with these people over his own constituents?”

Let’s reframe this slightly – away from the cynical lens. This crisis is not Democrats v Republicans. It’s democrats v authoritarians. Any other framing is dishonest. It’s corrupt and we have to ask WHY? At a moment like this, indifference equals complicity with evil. As blissful as ignorance is, it too is evil. The lights are on now. We can all see what’s what on the table. We can see the Republican Party for the fascist death cult it allowed itself to become. FFS, these idiots are now drinking urine just make some idiotic political point in their heads. Feelings are what lead lemmings over the fact of a cliff.

But, there’s cause for hope! There are journalistic voices in the mix that see – have seen from the get-go. For all the rabidly mediocre, journalistically-corrupt-to-their-mitochondria Chuck Todds and John Kings there’s a Niccole Wallace and a Rachel Maddow and a JoyAnn Reid and a Mehdi Hasan and an Ali Velshi bringing SKEPTICISM to a CYNICAL landscape. They all had to play the rich, white man’s game to get where they got, but they know in their bones it isn’t supposed to BE a “rich, white man’s game”. It’s supposed to be everyone’s game.

As in E Pluribus Unum.

So long as the majority of American journalists practice cynical journalism instead of skeptical journalism, American journalism will fail America – exactly as they’re doing right now.

Republicans Have Achieved “Peak Magical Thinking”

The Republican Party could run a master class on magical thinking. That’s a measure of their absolute expertise on the subject – from imagining it to propagating it to accepting it. In essence and in fact, magical thinking is a safe space for tender, snowflakey feelings. Facts are anathema. They simply don’t get along with the magic. Facts keep trying to burst magic’s gossamer bubble. At its core, magical thinking rests upon a wide beam of fear. Fear of death. Fear of Black people. Fear of Jews. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. The need for magical thinking makes sense on a certain level. It provides the perception of security. Sheer faith in a story being true is all one needs to “make it” true. When that story answers the question “What happens after I die?” in a way that satisfies (regardless of its veracity), magical thinking has just claimed another adherent. And reality just got a little harder to sustain.

Magical thinking has turned the GOP into a perverse joke. They’re like characters in a Monty Python sketch racing for the ledge just to prove they’ll do anything if “an authority” tells them to. That authority can be a politician or a businessman. But the “real” magical thinking authority flows from religion, the Mother of Magical Thinking.

It’s no coincidence that Trump looked for and found fellow travelers in the evangelicals. Evangelicals are magical thinking on steroids. Virtually everything they think begins as magical thinking – whether it’s stuff they believe or only pretend to. It takes zero magical thinking to “Do unto others” or “Turn the other cheek”. It takes being in touch with your humanity. It takes having real courage and the courage of your convictions. Jesus didn’t invent Christianity. Paul did. Jesus was born, lived his whole life and died a Jew preaching Jewish messages to other Jews. While Jews do have their mythologies and magical thinking, the magical thinking doesn’t wag the dog the way it does in the other Abrahamic religions. Any Jew’s goal – per her religion’s admonitions – is to make the world a better place just for having been in it. Christianity on the other hand is built upon a complex bargain. If you believe in Jesus the exact way the church tells you to, like Jesus, you too can defeat death and live forever in a beautiful place called “Heaven” with everyone you love.

The blood libel that’s haunted Jews for almost two thousand years? Pure magical thinking. Even as a story it doesn’t make sense. If God knows all from the start (how magical!) then he knew before magically impregnating Mary with Jesus what Jesus’s fate would be. If, per the church, Jesus’s entire reason to exist is to die for humanity’s sins (caused by Eve in the Garden of Eden), then it’s not a tragedy that Jesus dies, it’s the whole trigger for salvation. And, since Jesus is spiritual rather than flesh, he can never really “die” anyway – so what’s death to Jesus? If Jesus doesn’t get betrayed by Judas (as the story says), and never gets crucified and lives to a ripe, old age and dies in his bed surrounded by loved ones, then no one gets saved. Or, if that’s how it works, it’s kinda lame having an old guy rise from his comfy death bed instead of from a cold, dark cave.

Paul, of course, was trying to align real Jesus (who he never met in person!) with the invented Jesus he needed to make his new religion work. Everyone who actually knew Jesus or heard him preach rejected Paul’s version of Jesus. That’s why Paul took his version of Jesus – and his growing bubble of magical thinking – to the Gentiles. Having lived their whole lives in a polytheistic world where the gods didn’t care about them one way or the other, Romans and Greeks were intrigued by monotheism and its “loving God” who wanted to grant humans eternal life – provided they did things his way. All they had to do? Buy, believe and proselytize what this God character was selling. Oh – and don’t forget to kick the living crap out of anyone who doesn’t buy it.

Once you’ve framed your entire worldview from magical thinking’s perspective? All magical thinking is possible including the magical thinking you think is stupid. Imagine though how you look from the non-magical thinking point of view. The irony? Magical thinkers, as a rule, never step outside their magical thinking perspective because that would suggest that theirs isn’t the only way to think. And that would burst the whole gossamer bubble.

What is The Big Lie but “magical thinking on steroids” on steroids? What is the story of Donald Trump – a man genetically predisposed to greed, corruption, incompetence, bigotry, racism, misogyny and lack of character – if not a terrifying tale of magical thinking’s potency? Trump a great businessman and master negotiator? Magical thinking. Trump a patriot? Magical thinking. Trump anything but a criminal? Say it with me: “magical thinking”.

You can’t honestly blame a rat for being a rat. You can’t blame a thief for stealing you blind if you knew he was a thief and opened your pockets to him. You can’t blame a traitor for continuing to betray the nation when all ever gets for doing it is richer. Letting this happen without actively doing something to stop it (because we think good people with power will fix it for us)? Magical thinking, I’m afraid.

Democracy is a contact sport. Self-government is entirely DIY. It’s messy by nature but better for human beings (if our goal for humans is for them to live together peacefully). Though America has yet to live up to its full promise, the more E Pluribus Unum we become, the more we prosper – there’s data that proves it. Take it from a professional writer – there’s nothing wrong with re-writes. Re-writes are where we get the message more right than the first draft got it. “All men are created equal” was good – but it wasn’t exactly perfect. Especially not in the context in which those words were written.

Marx only got it half right. Religion may be the opiate of the people, but magical thinking is its meth amphetamine. People who believe in people want to empower people and make them the future. People who believe in magic want to preserve the magic – even if that means destroying people. There is no future for magical thinking because it’s committed itself to living entirely in the past. As the white, racist Republican Party keeps demonstrating, the belief that a white, racist past trumps a diverse, open-minded, open-hearted future? Pure magical thinking.

Republicans And Mediocrity: It’s A Love Thing

The words “greatness” and “Republicans” only go together so long as one is being sarcastic. If the GOP had in word and deed remained “The Party of Lincoln”, it would have been entirely impossible for them to ever have become the Party Of Trump. The Republicans are not now the Republican Party that Lincoln joined and led. Ironically, the Republicans are now the very people who most opposed Lincoln. Don’t believe me? Ask historian Heather Cox Richardson. Ask for someone who actually believes that democracy demands government of the people, by the people, for the people and I’ll show you a Democrat. But then, Democrats see America’s diversity as a plus. That’s who “the people” are in that equation. Republicans want to limit who those people are to people who look and act exactly like them. Even if Republicans were, to a person, remarkable, after a while, they’d stop being remarkable because “remarkable” itself would stop meaning anything. Not that we have to worry. The last thing on earth Republicans are is “remarkable”. Unless by that we mean “remarkably corrupt”.

Being corrupt is always a kajillion times easier than maintaining one’s integrity because surrendering to greed is so easy in moments of weakness. Americans who continue to identify as “Republicans” have no use for American representative democracy. They have no use for America’s remarkable diversity – the very thing that actually makes America exceptional. Their bottom line is they have no use for a future where they have to share power with all those diverse Americans. Hell, the GOP has no interest in democracy itself because it’s just too unpredictable. Unreliable. If keeping political power at all costs is your end game? Democracy is a loser of a proposition. That’s probably why Republicans work so hard and so relentlessly to destroy it.

The thing we always have to remember about conservatives is that their core impulse is to CONSERVE. To hold onto something that was and may not continue to be for much longer unless they actively do something to keep it alive. It’s not a bizarre way to think. It’s entirely understandable. But, that doesn’t mean it’s the right way to think especially when you live in a diverse world and country like ours.

I take conservatives at their word: they want to conserve. But, if the thing they want to conserve is political power so that the country stays as it was when white, Christian, land-owning men had all the rights, privileges and power, the rest of us simply aren’t going to go along. Not any more. What’s a conservative to do when the marketplace of ideas soundly rejects virtually all the wares they sloppily laid out on their little folding table at the idea marketplace? Conservatives, if they weren’t so defensive, might think about innovating their way out of the problem. But innovation by its very nature threatens conservatives because the very first thing innovation will do is initiate change and, if change threatens you…

Conservatives have a very real problem. How does one make holding onto the past relevant to the present and future? Harder problem: how does one make holding onto the past – when your group held all the power – relevant to the present when all the other groups demand power, too?

Conservatives and conservatism don’t have any ideas to offer. That’s why they gerrymander voter suppress instead. But it’s also why they ran for school boards and other local leadership posts. That was smart of them. They took advantage of democracy’s power while the majority weren’t paying attention to what can happen when a willful minority does such a thing. It still doesn’t make it right. Or genuinely democratic.

When Mitch McConnell announced that, as Trump did in 2020, the GOP would approach 2022 with no agenda to speak of, he was giving himself away. Not hard when you have so few cards in your hand and most of them are severely tainted. What do Republicans believe in other than power for power’s sake? Oh, right – money for money’s sake. That, right there, is the recipe for mediocrity. Belief in nothing. It’s also a recipe for authoritarianism. Authoritarians want everyone to believe that they are the only cure for the very chaos they created. If they hadn’t created the chaos themselves, they wouldn’t have the example of chaos to point at as the reason why they have to “do something” to stop it (aside from just stopping). It’s all kabuki, of course. Performance art performed by artless people.

Grab a handful of Democrats and you’re likely to come away with a super talented hand of people. Val Demmings, Stacy Abrams, AOC, Katie Porter and Elizabeth Warren (just a taste of what the Democrats have on their side) are all dynamic, effective political leaders. They’re smart, well-informed and willing to think outside the box to serve America’s needs and solve its problems. By comparison, the GOP has sexual assault enabler Jim Jordan, statutory rape suspect Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar (a man so bonkers literally everyone else in his family feels compelled to warn the world about him), racist harpies Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and a Senate caucus literally over-brimming with pasty, old white men and their pasty, old corruption.

As those pasty, old white men will tell you, nothing scares or threatens them more than a new idea or a better way of doing things. The Republican love for mediocrity isn’t just laziness at work, it’s necessity. The last thing they ever want is for more and more of the American electorate to realize how dangerous and deluded they are. That’s not going to change no matter what we do – though prosecuting them and putting them behind bars will slow what they’re doing to America.

In a way, Republicans are like a QWERTY keyboard. Designed to be inefficient back when typing machines couldn’t handle an overly efficient typist. The whole point of the QWERTY layout was to force typists to slow down. Not for the typist’s benefit, for the machine’s. Republicans can’t help being equally ass backwards. Inefficiency, greed and corruption are entirely organic to them. So is mediocrity. It fits them like a second skin.

Some Americans (White Ones) Think They’re The “Most Equal” Americans Of All

The white, Christian, land-owning authors of America’s Constitution set us up for failure the moment they penned “All men are created equal” without actually meaning “all men”. They screwed the pooch just as badly (if not worse) by meaning JUST men. So, the fix was in from the start.

America was doomed because while aspiring to government of the people, by the people and for the people, we settled for a government of, by and for only some of the people. Let’s be kind and call it a rookie mistake. The men who wrote up our founding documents had never founded a country before. They were forward-thinking but only up to a point. Still, some did grasp America’s true potential – as when James Madison insisted we put “E Pluribus Unum” on our Great Seal. “Out of many, one” is precisely what makes America exceptional! That’s the thing that had never happened before in the whole history of humans. We created a new country borne of all the old ones, that aspired to give every citizen an equal shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Originalism (conservatism’s wettest wet dream) asserts that whatever those wealthy, white, Christian, land-owning men wrote down? That’s it. That’s the country America must always and can only ever be. Yeah, sure – the Constitution’s framers built in an amendment process (and even tossed in the first ten amendments, calling them “The Bill of Rights”) – but they didn’t foresee how “crazy” some of those amendments would be (like giving the vote to women and Black people). In the Originalist’s mind, America is a long-dead butterfly trapped in amber. Problem is, it isn’t a butterfly; it’s a moth aspiring to butterfly-hood. Nonetheless, originalists want that low-achieving moth revived and celebrated.

Want to stymie any conservative? Ask them directly: “what exactly is it that you want to conserve?” They’ll “hummina-hummina” about freedom and liberty and rugged individualism and how socialism is evil because even they can’t articulate what they want. But, it’s this: conservatives want to conserve the past – or as much of the past that’s still left in the present. Conservatives resist change. Many outright detest change. They want the world to remain as it is right now. If they could have made that happen yesterday – or the day (or century) before? They absolutely would have. American conservatives idealize an America that’s majority white and understands that their whiteness is what binds them together. Diversity – AKA “E Pluribus Unum” – terrifies them because all those “Pluribus” believe they’re equal to white people, a thing a full one third of America cannot tolerate.

In their defense, the white people now insisting on the Big Lie have all lived in the shadow of another “big lie” – the one where America t said “All men are created equal” while knowingly not meaning it. That “big lie” hung over America like a secret we were keeping from ourselves. Slavery, first and foremost, is stolen labor. The slave master gets the slave’s work product for nothing (minus the cost of feeding, clothing and housing the slave). Stolen labor was the basis for almost the entire Confederate economy. If the cotton, tobacco and sugar cane businesses had all had to pay fair wages for the labor they needed to get their product from field to factory? For one thing, there never would have been an American Civil War.

Alas, things didn’t go down that way. Instead, white people dug in their heels. They resisted sharing power with Black people by repeatedly either denying them the vote outright or by making it almost impossible to vote. Denying citizens the right to vote in a democracy is how you destroy the democracy. That assumes, of course, that you want to preserve our democracy.

The simple fact is, the GOP doesn’t want to preserve our democracy because democracy’s just not working out for them. Wanna win in “the marketplace of ideas”? Start by having a few ideas other than “let’s go live in the past”. But then, the past is where conservatives and white people (apparently) lived their best lives ever. Probably because, back then, they were all created equal while the rest of us weren’t.

This ‘Democracy Thing’ Is Waaaaaaay Harder Than It Looks

We Americans have it in our heads that we are what “democracy” looks like. Democracy has news for us: no, we’re not.

If the bottommost line there is in what sets democracies apart from other forms of government is voting — by the total number of citizens legally qualified to vote — then, historically, America has shown poorly. According to Pew Research, as of 2016, Americans were toward the bottom of the list where participation in elections is concerned. Americans used to vote in very high numbers (as a percentage). Eighty percent of eligible voters voted in the 1836 election (the first post-Andrew Jackson one where his hand-picked successor and veep Martin Van Buren pulled out a victory over the (at that point) nascent Whig Party. Until 1900, at least 70% of eligible Americans voted in every presidential election and at least 60% of us voted in off year elections. And then, a great slide begins.

I’m making a guess here. A drop off in American interest in our democracy happening right as America becomes a world power (heading into World War I) occurs at the exact same time as the Ku Klux Klan is growing in popularity? It sure sounds like a big piece of the American electorate is staying home instead of voting. We know exactly “why” those newly empowered Americans chose not to use their new power as citizens. Racism has always been at the heart of voter suppression and Republican gerrymandering. One doesn’t have to say “Democratic voter suppression” to differentiate it from Republican voter suppression because (while Democrats have been guilty of gerrymandering to gain an advantage), Democrats have never tried to suppress Republican voters. It’s simply not how any (contemporary) Democratic voter thinks; in fact, it’s entirely antithetical to what makes a Democrat a Democrat. Democrats are entirely confident in the superiority of their ideas over anything any Republican is selling. This is why modern Democrats believe in elections.

On the chart below, that’s evidenced by the presidential elections of 1932 and 1936. Franklin Roosevelt first won election as POTUS in ’32 — as the Great Depression was settling in. In ’36, FDR holds steady as the intensely progressive New Deal produces results that put Americans back to work. Then the war happens and the Greatest Generation pulls together — as the data points show. Voting lulls as the war drags on, falls off considerably after the war ends but then bounces back in 1952 because who doesn’t “like Ike”? Actually, Adlai Stevenson (the Democrat who Eisenhower defeated twice) would have been an amazing president; America has issues with smart people however. America boomed in the 1950’s. We became the engine for the world’s economy (with a tax rate that had the richest paying considerably more than they pay now (even if no one ever actually paid 91% of their earnings above $200,000).

See that sudden uptick at the end of the data set? That’s 2016. The upward trend continued. over 168 million Americans voted in election 2020. Sure, more Trump voters voted, but way, waaaaaay more Democratic voters voted, too. That trend started (to our news media’s surprise) in election 2018 when the Democratically inclined began to realize the very real existential threat Trump posed to America.

Turns out Joni Mitchell was right in her song Big Yellow Taxi: “Oh, it always seems to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, they paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. America’s voters saw the Republican Party actively trying to take away their rights (to vote, to have an abortion, to breathe clean air) and responded in the only way they could: by showing up to vote the Republican bastards out. Ah, but Republicans don’t play by rules.

While America’s founders did fear someone power mad like Donald Trump would run for office, it didn’t occur to them that such a candidate’s power madness would be stroked by his political party. Then again, America’s founders didn’t count on there being political parties in America. Shit happens, ya know?

Organized human civilization began roughly eight thousand years ago — when we transitioned from being nomadic hunter-gatherers into farmers. Agriculture demands staying in one place in order to benefit from it. But, because this stationary place with its organized food production can feed more people than wandering in search of food can, villages and then towns and cities eventually grew nearby. And, once those human collectives became bigger than an extended tribe, as historian Yuval Harari points out in his brilliant book Sapiens, humans had no choice but to invent “governing”. At its core, government is simply an organizing principle by which large groups of humans can live together without killing each other. Who governs and who’s governed. That’s the bottommost line there is.

From eight thousand years ago until 1776, with a few exceptions, humans relied on the “divine right of kings” to govern how we governed. We got it into our heads that some of us were really and truly chosen by the divine to lead (and have most of the money). This is pure bamboozlement. No one’s blood is any better than anyone else’s. No tribe’s blood is superior. The only thing about which some humans can claim any sort of superiority is the pathogens lurking inside them. White Europeans were vectors for some extremely lethal pathogens — smallpox, bubonic plaguechickenpoxcholerathe common colddiphtheriainfluenzamalariameaslesscarlet feversexually transmitted diseases (with the possible exception of syphilis), typhoidtyphustuberculosis (although a form of this infection existed in South America prior to contact), and pertussis. Syphilis was the one pathogen Native Americans sent over to Europe. Europeans were especially driven by the divine right of kings because they tied their kings to their Christian faith.

But, the American experiment intrigued the Europeans. After all, we were simply the lab for an idea that the French Enlightenment had been kicking around. The idea of human beings governing themselves instead of being governed by “superiors” was radical. The big mistake the European men who founded America’s democratic government was in writing “All men are created equal” while meaning 1) only WHITE, Christian, land-owning men and 2) by meaning ONLY men. America is a fantastic idea as yet unrealized.

And that is because democracy is hard. Or, as Winston Churchill put it, “the worst form of government except for all the others”. It’s just how it is; democracy is the best of a really bad lot.

That’s WHY actually pulling off democracy is so challenging. Living in an authoritarian shithole, you can take life for granted: it’s going to suck and there’s nothing you can do about it except follow the rules, keep your nose clean and pray they never come for you. Democracy, by contrast, is a contact sport. It demands active engagement with it if it’s to work as designed. I like Australia’s approach (Australia’s participation rate is 91.89%!). Come election day in Australia, no one has to actually vote, but everyone must show up at their polling location. By law they have to show willingness to participate even if none of the candidates meet their needs.

Americans used to understand that freedom wasn’t “free”. Every one of its awesome benefits comes with a challenging obligation: you have to show up. For some people, apparently, even just that is a bridge too far.

Look At It From The GOP’s Point Of View — You’d Cheat Too If All You Had To Sell In The Marketplace Of Ideas Was A Turd

To compete in a democracy, you have to sell your idea of how we should self-govern better than the other guy is. It helps a lot if your ideas are empirically better, too. That’s the case with the Democrats. Their ideas indicate that, unlike Republicans, Democrats still care about democracy. They still care about governing the best way they can so that more Americans can benefit from being American and living in America. Republicans do not want to live in a representative democracy any more. A lot of them never did care for this form of government, being royalists and authoritarians at heart. In theory anyway, Democracy is easy: each person above the age of 18 (though perhaps we should make it 16 for a thousand good reasons) get one vote. Come election day, they show up at the polls and cast their vote however they like. Period. End of story. No one’s vote is better than anyone else’s vote. They all carry equal weight. At least, that’s how it should be. But, from a Republican’s point of view, that means that a Black person’s vote has equal weight to their vote which means all hell has broken loose because, to a Republican, a Black person shouldn’t be voting in the first place.

Donald Trump keeps saying the quiet stuff out loud. For instance: “If everybody voted, Republicans would never win another election!” Want to know why Republicans will never enthuse over expanded voting rights? To them, that’d be like enthusing over your own extinction. The Republican voting base is not going to grow beyond angry white men and the women who cling to them. If Republicans really wanted to talk to people outside their base, they’d have to change their act completely. Just as well they don’t.

Republicans and republicanism favor profits over people. Progressives, by contrast, favor people over profits. We’ll leave money on the table and not beat ourselves up over it. Republicans, by contrast, can’t help being pigs at a trough, snarfing down everything they can get into their mouths. From a Republican perspective, actual human beings are the cash out in a business proposition. Every penny spent on a human or some human benefit is a penny less profit. And, if profit’s the name of the game…

What do conservatives really want to conserve? I know what Progressives want to progress toward — the future. I know Progressives want the best possible opportunities for the most possible people because that will renew and re-energize our politics and our culture. Conservatives don’t want to conserve the future, of course, because it doesn’t exist yet; in fact, conservatives want to avoid the future if at all possible. Instead, conservatives want to conserve all of the past that’s still locked into the present. If they could have their way, they’d take America back to the past — back to, what’s to them, a “Golden Age For White People”. Well, for white, Christian men and the women they’ve bamboozled into servicing them.

The reason conservatives don’t want to raise the federal minimum wage above $7.25? Frankly, if there was a way to bring back slavery, they’d do it. Slavery, after all, is stolen labor. Slaves don’t get paid for their work. The cost to house, clothe and feed them is the cost of a slave. So long as the slave’s work product is worth more than what it costs to keep them? Slavery’s profitable from the slaver’s point of view. Paying people the federal minimum wage keeps them permanently poor. No one can afford to pay any sort of decent rent if they work one minimum wage job for eight hours a day. They can barely afford to feed, clothe and transport themselves from wherever they’re bedding down to the minimum wage hell hole where they work.

As with 2020, the Republican Party has given up on selling ideas or policies. They simply sell hatred of the other now. Vote for the GOP because you hate people who don’t look like you.

As political advertising goes, that might get your base all fired up, but there aren’t enough boys in the bund to make this brand of Republicans anything other than a fringe regional party catering to the fringiest elements of Red America. After Merrick Garland gets through trying all the insurrectionists and then gets through with pulling threads on the corrupt Republican sweater, Republicans will pose even less of a threat because so many will have had to step down from their offices to deal with the very real legal peril facing them. Let’s remember — the Republican leadership KNEW a month before the made Donald Trump their presidential nominee in 2016 that he was corrupt and compromised by Russia.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays,” said current GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy as he walked into a meeting of the Republican leadership a month before their convention in 2016, “Rohrbacher and Trump — swear to God!” Then Leader Of The House Paul Ryan cautioned Kevin not to get too crazy about it. Paul wasn’t saying, “No, no, Kevin — you must be wrong! A man as honorable as Donald Trump would never let himself be compromised in such a way!” On the contrary, Paul was saying (literally) “Let’s keep this in the family!” Keep the fact that the man they were about to nominate for President of the United States was COMPROMISED by a hostile foreign power who’ve expressed the desire previously to wage cyber war against us. A roomful of Republican leaders agreed with Paul Ryan — and kept the secret a secret that they knew/suspected that their soon-to-be presidential nominee was likely OWNED OUTRIGHT by a hostile foreign government.

Republicans know they can’t sell what they’re pitching to American voters unless those voters are already hard core racists. That’s why they’ve resorted to gerrymandering, voter suppression and treason. That’s why they’ve resorted to cheating in every way they can think of. How else is any Republican going to get elected?

White People Are Making A Hash Of Democracy — Just Like They Did To Christianity

In a sense, white people are like George W. Bush — born on third base but thinking they hit a triple to get there. The playing field in America has never been level for anyone except white people. That’s because they can only see themselves. Where the rest of America sees privilege, white America sees entitlement. Brilliant idea that “All men are created equal” is, it gets kneecapped immediately if “All men” actually means “all WHITE men”. And by “white men”, they mean THEMSELVES. Democracy’s the hardest form of government to pull off because it’s self-government. It requires every citizen get involved at least by voting if not by running for office; America’s founders never imagined a “professional class” of politicians would end up running America. But then, white people, it turns out, don’t get everything right contrary to how they think of themselves. There’s something in the northern European makeup — as exercised here in America — that despises democracy. At least, that’s how they behave toward it. Or is their problem actually democracy when it’s practiced by everyone not them?

That sounds remarkably undemocratic. But then, is there anything less Christian then your basic, white supremacist? Don’t tell them that however. In their minds? They could teach the world what it means to be a “real” Christian.

Jesus himself would probably disagree with them. In response, your basic white supremacist Christian would probably crucify Jesus all over again, happily nailing him to a cross all by themselves. Isn’t that what dirty Jews deserve anyway?

Personally, I blame monotheism. It concentrates every bit of divine power into one set of very mercurial, highly emotional, at times downright cruel hands. Yahweh is a deity only humans could create — he’s that riddled with human frailty. When a monotheist claims to understand what Yahweh wants, what are they really claiming? How about if they hear Yahweh’s voice in their heads? I promise you it’s not the same voice that the monotheist standing next to them hears. That’s not Yahweh magically making himself over inside each different human’s head, that’s each human inventing Yahweh in his or her own image. The Yahweh they hear is them.

The crusades claimed to speak for Jesus. So did the Spanish Inquisition and every pogrom. To plenty of Germans, the Holocaust was divine justice. When you get down to it, you can make the voice in your head say anything you want. And, since you’ve given that voice divine authority, what it wants can’t be denied since “God” wants it.

The institutional church uses “Do unto others” as a kind of marketing pitch and a guide for the faithful. While the flock happily “does unto each other”, the institutional church to preaches “Do what we say — or else”. Do it our way. The problem — as the church keeps learning — the more the flock learns about how life really is the less inclined the flock is to do it the church’s way — and the smaller the flock gets. If the institutional churches had really and truly preached and lived by “Do unto others”, their fortunes might be very different today. But then, they wouldn’t be institutional churches anymore. They’d have nothing to do. Just like Jesus said…

The Europeans who embraced Jesus in the abstract would have hated him in person. For starters, he was a Jew. Born, lived and died one. Europeans hated Jews. Still do. So, the Christianity they practice is Jesus-free but institution-rich, completely missing the point. Throw in the fact that most of them (even if they can’t see it) see themselves as deities. Poor Jesus — he never stood a chance.

Once you see yourself as “graced by God”, everything you do becomes “divinely inspired” even if it’s killing people. Even if it’s enslaving people. Or taking their land because your deity tells you it’s okay with him. “All men are created equal” is the Christianity analog. All actual human beings — that’s Jesus. White people think democracy applies to them. Others, not so much. The idea of “others” controlling what white people do via the political process horrifies white people because white people know how THEY act when all the political power is concentrated in their hands.

White people know how they “do unto others” and the last thing on earth they want is anyone else doing that unto them. That’s why Republicanism in America is so anti-democratic. It’s the white guy’s version of a really good idea that plays as a bad idea to everyone else. But that’s only because white people aren’t trying to be democratic.

They’re trying to undermine democracy just like they undermined Christianity. Their track record should scare the hell out of everyone not them.

The Truth Is, America’s Never Actually Been Very Good At “Democracy”

As shocking as it is that we’ve come to this, it’s even more shocking that, to a third of the country, “this” makes them happy. They’re glad America has come to this.

Racists are never going to like Democracy because every election is a gamble — that is, if you let everybody vote. The whole point of voter suppression and gerrymandering is make the gamble almost negligible as a gamble. If less Democratic voters turn out because they 1) couldn’t register or 2) registered but couldn’t spend ten hours in line to vote, that’s as good as a vote against whatever the Democrats wanted. This is not a new game. And though it’s wrong to shame the victim — and the Democrats have always been the Republicans’ victim — the Democrats have known since Nixon (and before) how Republicans ticked. After a while, one has to stand up for oneself because no one else is going to.

On the day he resigned from office because of Watergate, Nixon’s approval rating sat around 29%. His guilt was so undeniable that a delegation of Republicans (including Barry Goldwater — the conservative’s conservative) went to Nixon to tell him he had to resign. That’s how bad it was then. The 30% is still there. They’ve filled out a bit but they’re still very much there.

So, a third of the country couldn’t care less if America sinks into authoritarianism. In fact, they’d celebrate if it happened. With a (theoretical) 70% majority, you’d think the rest of us would have long ago figured out how to keep the crazies in check. But half that 70% doesn’t care about politics (or didn’t). In America, we think 50% – 60% of the voters showing up at election time is success. Hopefully the days of disengagement are over. But, for now, all we can point at is our history.

Come election time, too many of us stay home. In 2016, 138 million of us voted. Unfortunately that was only 56% of eligible voters. That’s over 40% of American voters never showing up to meet their most basic, most important, most innately democratic responsibility as American citizens.

Source: Pew Research Center

Ben Franklin saw us coming. As he observed 240 years ago — Republic’s are wonderful things — if you can keep them. They don’t get kept by accident.

Keeping a republic alive and well is damned hard work. Of all Americans, the people who’ve worked hardest to keep our republic alive are African Americans. They should have bailed on us eons ago. But they understood how important liberty was because they didn’t have it. It wasn’t just a word to them or an abstraction. It was something they wanted above all else. Nothing fancy — just the equal treatment before the law that the Constitution theoretically guarantees.

We kinda screwed the pooch right at the beginning. “All men are created equal” and slavery are mutually exclusive propositions. You can’t hold those two ideas in your head and not lose your mind. And look how hard we made it for women to vote. Where’s the “democratic” in that?

The truth is, we’ve always talked a better game about democracy than we’ve ever delivered. Good thing that’s fixable. First thing we need to do is shut up. That is, white men need to shut up. We need to step back from the controls and let others have a go at it. After they finish fixing the mess we made of it, who knows? America might finally live up to its own ideals.

If we followed the lead of African American women especially — they will have been the true saviors of American democracy — we might even get good at democracy eventually. That’s not guaranteed. But, if white men listen — if we let the genius of E Pluribus Unum (that’s what makes America exceptional — diversity, not white guys and their money) wash over us — we might could learn how to be better.

The Majority Of Us Did Not Vote For Trump Or What He’s Doing. So, How Come He’s Doing It Anyway?

It’s strange to live in a democracy (well, a democratic republic) where the majority does not get its way. Apparently by design.

It’s kind of hard for a democracy to continue being a democracy when too few of its citizens take part in the very process that makes a democracy work: voting. The whole point is “self-government”. We do the work.

As I’ve argued here before, too many Americans (on the right) have a 5 year old’s notion of freedom. They think freedom means “You’re not the boss of me”. Everyone can do what they like. Since freedom comes with zero responsibilities or obligations, it doesn’t matter if your “freedom” infringes or obliterates somebody else’s. So long as your freedom “wins”? Who cares?

For starters, those whose freedoms are being infringed upon or ignored. They care.

But then, right-wing people only ever think of their own freedom when they think of that word. Everyone else’s freedom is secondary at best.

That includes their freedom to vote.

At its core, this election, this fight — it is about freedom: the group’s freedom over the individual’s freedom (to undermine the group’s freedom).

That’s what racism is — it’s the racist asserting that their rights supersede their victims’ rights. If their victims’ rights were automatically respected, the racist would lose instantly — because we’d “baked in” our intolerance of racism. But we’ve done the opposite — and baked in our tolerance of racism.

Racism exists because we let it exist — no other reason.

That changed. Americans are taking to the streets every single day to protest racism and all the terrible thing it’s done to specific people. But, also we’re protesting the fact that We The People tolerated it for so long. We allowed statues of racists and traitors to go up. We allowed them to remain in place. We accepted their “messaging” — that some peoples rights are better than other peoples’.

The times in my life when I’ve been proud to be an American had everything to do with accomplishments (the moon landing) and nothing to do with our “system”. I’ve been taught that our system is superior — with the words “freedom” and “liberty” being liberally tossed in — but never specifically “why” we were better.

I don’t know when Americans lost interest in our process or if we ever had any interest in it. Maybe the problem is democracy’s damned hard to pull off. You can’t ever take it for granted. You can’t just throw money at it.

Hmmmmm… maybe that’s another of our problems. We’ve confused money with democracy. The more money you have, the more “democracy” you have. That is, the more your vote counts.

The RW money — the Kochs, the Mercers — had a huge advantage going in to this. They had money of course. But they also had “passion”. They cared enough about what they wanted to do something. The Kochs have been behind gerrymandering and the hijacking of the judiciary. When people vote repeatedly but never get their way — or feel the ominous pressure of judges who disapprove of who they are (so, it doesn’t really matter what they’ve done) — they get cynical. They stop taking part in the process because what’s the point?

They stop voting.

They begin to act like victims expecting their victimization to go on forever.

Rapists rape because they don’t care about the word “no”. It means nothing to them. It’s not a coincidence that every sexual deviant in office (that we know of — to be fair) has an “R” next to their name. That’s why child molesters like Roy Moore can run as Republicans. They’re the “Rights Of The Rapist Over The Rights Of The Rapist’s Victim” party.

That’s the answer to “how come Trump’s doing it anyway?” He’s a rapist. Rapists do what they want. He’s gotten away with it because his party is complicit. And they are — for the moment — getting away with it because WE were complicit for so long — tolerating more and more of our rights being trampled (with the caveat that they were always being trampled).

Progressives want as many people as possible to thrive and flourish. E Pluribus Unum — out of many, one. The more there are in the “many”, the better the “one” will be. That is American Exceptionalism — our diversity. That is the majority that voted against Trump in 2016 and 2018 and who will again vote against Trump this year.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by around 3,000,000 votes. That were counted. I bet someone could do some research and come up with a more accurate number that included all those votes that DIDN’T get counted. Or got flipped by electronic voting machines. Or were denied at their polling place. Or were dissuaded from even showing up by propaganda that filled their Facebook pages (propaganda send specifically to them from Russia via Konstantin Kilimnik and Paul Manafort). Or were “taught” from early on that there was no point in their voting to begin with.

I bet a more accurate assessment of 2016 would have Hillary Clinton and We The People decimating Donald Trump. Take Russia out of the picture and Trump certainly does not win Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin — and therefore the Electoral College (a whole “institution” meant to limit the freedom of the voters to have their say and way).

What scares Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Bill Barr, Mikes Pompeo, Flynn & Pence more than anything? Aside from how guilty they are, it’s how small a minority of Americans they represent. Seeing the majority suddenly rise up — taking to the streets every day — terrifies them.

I wonder if Donald Trump realized last night — as he gazed at all those empty blue seats in Tulsa — if the end was near. He’s gotten away with murder. Literally.

And that’s about to stop.

The majority has had enough.

Do Americans Love False Narratives More Than They Love Democracy?

We’ve all had a friend — maybe it’s been us — who loved the wrong person too much. Everyone else but that friend could see from every angle how disastrous their love was and was going to be. But that friend persisted. They had created a false narrative inside their heads that love — theirs in particular — would overcome all obstacles and solve all problems.

They were wrong, weren’t they? That’s how false narratives work. You buy, they fail to deliver. But you keep buying regardless…

Elizabeth Warren — it’s pretty much agreed upon — was the best Democratic candidate still running when she dropped out of the race this week. She was the most complete. That’s after running alongside a host of strong women candidates (that does not include Tulsi Gabbard). But, we’re telling ourselves, voters were afraid of Warren’s “electability”. They feared that a woman couldn’t stand up to mean old Donald Trump.

There’s a shit-ton wrong with that. And every last bit of it flows from the fact that it’s a completely false narrative.

FALSE NARRATIVE #1: A WOMAN CANNOT BEAT DONALD TRUMP

Hillary Clinton got – at a minimum – 3 million more popular votes than Donald Trump got. That doesn’t include all the Democratic votes Republican efforts successfully suppressed. It doesn’t include all the Democratic voters (many African American) whose Facebook pages were barraged with weaponized ads created by Russia’s GRU (its Defense Intelligence Agency) based on proprietary polling data Paul Manafort gave Oleg Deripaska. It doesn’t include any possible corruption of voting machines and altered results.

As we’re learning the hard way, connecting a voting machine to the internet is an invitation to that machine getting hacked. And hacking them is simple. The companies who make voting machines are almost entirely “Republican” owned. They have resisted hand-marked paper ballots in favor of electronic voting systems with no possible way to check them for accuracy — while being entirely open to hacking.

A woman has already beaten Donald Trump at the polls. Hillary Clinton, I betcha we realize, was literally ROBBED of her presidency. We The People were robbed of it too. It’s an entirely false narrative to say election 2016 was “free & fair”. It’s an entirely false narrative to say Russia didn’t impact the election’s result.

It’s an entirely false narrative to say Donald Trump is a “legitimate potus”…

FALSE NARRATIVE #2: DONALD TRUMP IS THE LEGITIMATE POTUS

If the Rule Of Law had been fully functional in 2016, Donald Trump would not be president today. The Rule Of Law says pretty explicitly: you are not allowed to ask a foreign power to help you win the presidency. You aren’t allowed to accept help if they offer it. You aren’t allowed to accept foreign money into your campaign coffers.

And you aren’t allowed to conspire wtih a hostile foreign country who’s declared a cyber war on us.

Do any of those things — so says the Rule Of Law — and you cannot be president. Donald Trump & the Republican Party did ALL OF THOSE THINGS to help Trump become POTUS. Recognizing the demographic dead end staring them in the face, the Republican money cynically threw their lot in with Trump & Russia. They saw a direct route to permanent minority rule and they took it.

The Republican money has always known what it was doing — and why. Mitch McConnell knows better than anyone how illegitimate Trump’s presidency is.

Being illegitimate means Trump has never had the actual authority to do anything legitimate POTUSes do — suggest legislation, hire a cabinet, nominate lifetime judges to lifetime seats. Being illegitimate means Trump’s agenda is equally illegitimate — We The People did not vote for it; in fact, we voted for the exact opposite.

Let’s be real — what the Republicans pulled off in 2016 (with Russia’s direct assistance) was a soft coup d’etat. They deliberately conspired to change the outcome of the election for their own political benefit — never mind that their benefit and agenda were the diametric opposite of what The American Electorate actually voted for.

The Republican Party has busted a cap in the Rule Of Law’s head. They aren’t just ignoring it, they’re pissing on the corpse just to be assholes.

FALSE NARRATIVE #3: THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO TO STOP WHAT THE REPUBLICANS ARE DOING

This is the craziest part of the false narrative — the normalization of illegal, immoral behavior to such an extent that we believe it IS the new normal. For starters, regular Americans would have a better shot at standing up to the Trumpian false narrative if the damned news media would stand up to it.

Ordinary people like us don’t have any sort of megaphone beyond social media and blogs like this. We don’t invent the narrative and we certainly don’t broadcast it. If the news media had added information about Donald Trump instead of returning every day to a kind of “square one” where they shrug off the latest Trumpian outrages as a new “new normal”. We should have been at “hair on fire” status on the day Trump both took his oath of office and blatantly violated it at the very same instant.

That wasn’t a good sign.

But our press sold us a false narrative: this is normal now. This is how it is. Get used to it…

America’s always had a thing for false narratives. Think of all the wacky, new-fangled religions that have been invented in America, by Americans. Mormonism & Scientology both demand that their believers buy into some pretty ridiculous stuff. That’s how all religion works. Want to be in the club? Here’s the list of false narratives you need to accept first.

Americans are perfectly happy to vote for a woman as POTUS. We’ve already done it. It’s a false narrative to say that we haven’t.