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There was a period of dashed hopes on Saturday morning during the impeachment trial of former president Trump. After securing a last-minute and unexpected motion to call witnesses, based on resurfaced testimony from Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), the House Impeachment Managers in conference with Senate Democrats and negotiation with Senate Republicans ended up deciding to call the vote instead.

They did win a concession to read Herrera Beutler’s statement into the Congressional record, and a historically unprecedented 57-43 impeachment vote to convict with 7 Republican Senators crossing the aisle to vote to convict the president of their own party of inciting sedition. But many Democrats who had gotten our hopes up for the prospect of getting to the bottom of what really happened on January 6 were quite deflated, and there were plenty of folks angry at Democrats for “caving” to Republicans once again.

The Real Reason Democrats didn’t call witnesses

As the Democrats have been making the press conference and media rounds to talk about the impeachment and talk about why they ultimately ended up deciding not to move forward with calling witnesses, some of the anger is subsiding but plenty of people are still miffed.

In my opinion, what is probably the strongest reason of all that Democrats didn’t call witnesses, is the one fact not being widely cited by the Democrats including the House Impeachment Managers. And that argument is: walking and chewing gum at the same time was not going to be possible. Calling witnesses would have meant getting led down the garden path by the Masters of Game Delay.

There was some optimism before the impeachment trial that the Senate would be able to find a way to handle the trial and also juggle legislative business plus confirmation hearings and votes for Biden cabinet members and other high-level executive positions. Unfortunately, the parliamentary rules for impeachment proceedings are both old and strict, and preclude the Senate from taking up other regular legislative or executive business while the trial is in progress from Monday to Saturdays until complete, according to the rules of 1868.

The only way to get around this is to have the chamber meet in a separate session. And the only way to get a separate session is via unanimous consent — which requires a full 100 votes. After the vote on calling witnesses, McConnell indicated he would withhold his party’s support for unanimous consent to do any other business besides the trial. He also reportedly threatened to obstruct and delay the rest of the 2-year legislative agenda, including the confirmation of Merrick Garland as AG. Everyone saw the struggle to get to just 57, so I agree it does not seem credible that enough GOP Senators at that point would have suddenly found an “I am Spartacus!” moment.

It would have sandbagged Biden’s agenda

Not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time would have tanked Biden’s ability to get the help to the American people that they need — full stop. No budget reconciliation and covid relief plan. No cabinet nominations. No other executive branch noms. No economic plan.

It would only play into the hands of Republicans to obstruct Biden’s agenda indefinitely and infinitely. Their base is rewarding them only for loyalty to Trump, and punishing any of the “deviants” who vote to hold him accountable. The GOP would just blame the Democrats for not getting anything done, and for dragging out this “highly political” trial that actually they will be drawing out with procedural nonsense and legal abuse — a Trumpian specialty!

I think it’s arguably just as important that Democrats be able to say that they got swift and solid help to Americans in a time of crisis, otherwise the 2022 midterms are the next jump point for authoritarian takeover. We can still pursue justice via other means that are just as enduring and have the potential to uncover so much more about the events leading up to and surrounding January 6.

The Other Good Reasons

Beyond the parliamentary jiujitsu, there are several other compelling reasons Democrats didn’t call witnesses:

  • Witnesses are not generally called live onto the Senate floor — for impeachment trials, depositions are taken in trial committees, then read into the record. Senators have to submit their questions in writing, and there is no live cross-examination. In other words, the thing most folks would be looking for which is public testimony, would not be forthcoming — the committee work could take weeks or months, and Republicans benefit more from agenda delays because their base no longer even cares about policy anymore.
  • Entering Jaime Herrera Beutler’s statements into the record accomplished the same thing a deposition would have done — it read her testimony into the official legislative annals of history. It gave additional ammunition to any of the potential federal, state, or local investigations that may follow the conclusion of the trial. And it showed indelibly the lengths to which even Republican lawmakers were willing to go to pursue justice against this lawless president.
  • No more Republican votes were going to change anyway — the trial was at “peak persuasion” because the rest of the pack were going to hide behind the procedural issue regardless. In other words, like SCOTUS to Trump’s frivolous election fraud claims, they refused to hear the case “on the merits” even though they were subject to a binding resolution on that very question that their chamber had passed on Tuesday. They chose to ignore their own binding resolution and continued to cite the fact that Trump was no longer in office as the reason the Senate lacked jurisdiction to censure him — despite the fact that it was now minority leader Mitch McConnell who insisted on delaying the start of trial past inauguration day in the first place.
  • They had already effectively made their case — as “beyond a shadow of a doubt” as is ever likely to happen in any impeachment trial ever, yet still falling on deaf ears, there isn’t much doubt that the House Managers overwhelmingly presented a successful case. I’m sympathetic to the argument that it may have proved diminishing returns as pursued through additional Senate trial time, and is undoubtedly better pursued by the justice system and through other committee work in both the Senate and the House.
  • A 9/11-style commission is much more appropriate to actually get to the bottom of the political aspects of the crime — the independent commission created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today is going to have far more time, budget, reach, and depth than a drawn out trial in the Senate, and it won’t cannibalize the agenda of other business. It can go all the way down the rabbit hole and lead us to evidence on other potential co-conspirators, including Cruz, Hawley, Tuberville, Lee, Gomert, Greene, Jordan, Gosar, et al, all the financial ties in and around the Ellipse rally, and perhaps new federal charges for Trump’s pardoned felon buddies Bannon, Stone, and Flynn. Democrats didn’t call witnesses because now, they can call as many witnesses they like without any pressure or obstruction from Senate Republicans.
  • His lawyers are just lying — the defense portion of the witness process would be just as looney toons and Four Seasons Total Lawyering as in the main show. Trump’s lawyers are just distorting, distracting, and debasing the profession of law with their clownish disregard of the augustness of the chamber in which they stood. Giving them more time to muddy the bulk of the trial record, and more time to delay delay delay and inject the Big Lies over and over again into public consciousness, would not have necessarily been worth the tradeoff in what we might learn from additional witnesses ourselves.
  • Other witnesses went cold — Pence’s staff spoke up to refute the claim that Trump evinced concern for him during or soon after the January 6 attack. They said the former president did not contact Pence at all that day, or for 5 days afterward. And yet, when contacted by the House Impeachment Managers, they indicated they would not be willing to go so far as to testify in the trial.
  • Enthusiasm for the trial would wane in the public eye — unfortunately, the general public has a much shorter political attention span than most of us Blue Check intellectuals. While it would be total catnip for us, it would like start to have diminishing returns in the eyes of the voters, especially when they discover that other business is not proceeding. Regardless of the fact that it’s actually the Republicans holding other legislative business hostage for the trial, it will be blamed on Democrats and our entire political system has been primed to blame everything on Democrats and is generally successful — like muscle memory.

I will be looking forward to the results of the independent commission, as well as the continued criminal prosecutions of the insurrectionists and at some point, hopefully, whoever it was on the inside who was helping them.

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GOP angry elephants

Only 7 out of 50 among them are patriots — the rest, cowards and knaves who continue to seek destruction of this republic out of self-interest and an authoritarian’s need to dominate others. Today’s impeachment vote of acquittal for Trump‘s role in the January 6 insurrection was brutal but of course, not surprising. It highlighted once again something that’s been hiding in plain sight for some time — that the Republican Party is a criminal organization that thinks of itself and its members as being above the law.

“Law and Order” is just another Big Lie

It’s used to cover up quite the opposite — criminality, entitlement, sadism, and a zeal for the domination of others. Including both the violent insurrectionist kind and the pasty jowly turtly slow walking kind on the right wing. The GOP is an insult to the rule of law.

https://twitter.com/anders_aslund/status/1360092604919128064?s=20

There is no best time to impeach a president

Unfortunately the spineless toothless Republican Senators defanged the Constitution today, by casting into doubt its power to achieve healthy checks and balances between the branches of government. They gleefully gave up the role of Congress in moderating the chief executive — to the probable detriment of us all.

As usual, they performed a series of timeline hacks, rhetorical games, and parliamentary tricks that resulting in the “logical” impossibility of ever successfully impeaching a US president. They are masters at avoiding responsibility for their actions, and fiercely protect their own, even despite heinous crimes.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his merry band of “institutionalists” and “originalists” have managed to do more damage to our institutions than any other Republican administration, and that’s truly saying something.

In addition to sowing doubt about our elections, throwing SCOTUS and the courts under the bus despite having packed them with conservative judges and loyalists for years, damaging our sovereignty and our national security, and impugning our reputation with nations around the world, they’ve managed to turn the United States into a kleptocracy. It’s official: the Republican Party is a criminal organization.

Let the DOJ do its work

Even Trump’s own lawyer advocated for it, along with McConnell. Though he can’t be trusted and will surely have tricks up his sleeve, it would be cathartic to see Attorney General Merrick Garland and the much-maligned Department of Justice bring down the largest RICO case in the history of history. I hope that karma brings justice to all of them, regardless of the actual outcome here and now.

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The articles of impeachment 2021 are so much clearer and simpler than last year’s impeachment — it’s the Marie Kondo version of indicting the president’s conduct. His coup attempt most certainly did not spark joy!

At least, not to the patriots who defended the United States Capitol from invasion on January 6, several of whom lost their lives including Brian Sicknick who lied in honor last week, as well as 2 Capitol Police officers who took their own lives subsequent to the events of that darkest of days in American history.

That is why it is important to both get the memory of that day seared into the historical record, and continue good faith efforts to seek justice for the trauma inflicted upon the nation by its supposed guardian. The House impeachment managers are doing an incredible job evoking both the clarity of the law pointing to his guilt, and the emotional gravity of what Republican House #3 leader Liz Cheney referred to as the “gravest violation of his oath of office by any president in the history of the country.”

He’s guilty

He said he would do it, and he did it — Trump refused to accept the results of a free and fair election, convinced his supporters it was stolen from him (and them), and that they had to “fight like hell” to “take their country back.” And yet Republicans want to claim that he could have had no idea what they would do, and that the whole thing was “obviously” an innocent misunderstanding and a “boys will be boys” sort of thing.

Nonsense — his droogs Mike Lindell, Mike Flynn, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, and of course his royal brood were involved in planning this, along with multiple sitting members of Congress, some of whom spoke at the “Save America” rally at The Ellipse. Rally organizer Ali Alexander fingerprinted Reps Andy Biggs and Paul Gosar of Arizona and Mo Brooks of Alabama as his co-conspirators in the endeavor.

They made sure security was intentionally lax by decapitating the defense apparatus during the lame duck period, and installing a bunch of loyalist partisan hacks into “acting” positions of power who were pliable or even eager to do the president’s ill bidding.

Free Speech does not protect the abuse of public trust

Trump’s lawyers filed a brief indicating a First Amendment defense for their client, which former acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler ripped to shreds in a scathing essay. Free Speech does not give you a license to be incompetent at your job, and the Trump’s failure to secure the Capitol during a violent insurrection was a dereliction of duty of the highest order — even if he hadn’t been involved in sowing it, planning it, funding it, promoting it, hosting it, and encouraging it.

1A also does not give you the right to use words to plan criminal activities, because that would be absurd. It would essentially render all law meaningless as a deterrent, so long as you only ever give orders to someone else to carry out your dirty work indirectly vs. getting your own hands dirty.

His conduct is not defensible

Republicans are trying to squirm away on procedural grounds so they can remain cowardly supplicants to the tyrant they love or fear, or both. They do not want to have to confront the reality of Trump’s abhorrent and unforgivable behavior on January 6, their role in enabling it, and their continued role in undermining small d democracy in this nation.

There is no defense of Trump’s behavior, but the GOP wants to pretend it has a mere technical disagreement with a document’s language as an excuse to not put themselves on record for the more serious and obvious hypocrisy of giving egregiously anti-American behavior a pass — it’s like a plea bargain of sorts.

He cannot hold public office

Breaching the public’s trust is grounds for disqualification from holding future office. Why should a free people suffer the tyranny of one who abrogates duty and holds in contempt an oath they swore, as if words have no meaning? Which, in essence, is the argument of Mr Textually from day 1 of the Trump impeachment trial.

The idea that a former official cannot be impeached is baseless, because the provision of preventing them from holding future office is enumerated in the Constitution to explicitly explain the rationale. And if ever there were a case of clear unfitness for duty, it is before the Senate right now.

Acquittal nullifies impeachment power altogether

If fomenting an armed insurrection to stay in office when you lose a democratic election is not an abuse of power, I really don’t know what is. If throwing out the will of the people and keeping yourself in power by force is not a violation of the oath of office, then oaths are worthless and there’s no point in speaking them anymore. They will have become dead sea scrolls, in a language dead to us and on a parchment too brittle for continued use.

Let us not throw out the Constitution while professing to save it. Senators know better, and they know that We the People — and not their ever-shrinking base — know they know it as well. The game theory is on our side as the timeline keeps ticking away.

Senators should vote to convict, for what is most certainly the highest presidential crime ever committed in the history of this nation. To preserve this republic, if we can keep it, Congress must hold him accountable for his behavior and apply consequences for defiling the founding principles of America.

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January 6: A Day that will live in ignominy. The day Capitol riots broke out when an angry mob, following instructions from Donald Trump, stormed the halls of Congress and came within minutes of a potential hostage situation or worse: a massacre.

I’m still processing the events of Wednesday, as are many. Even though I fully anticipated something horrifying given the utter obviousness of the confrontation brewing, I did not have a particular picture in mind of what that thing was going to be.

Despite having steeled myself for the past 4+ years, I wept many times at some of the imagery and video footage. The defilement of the people’s halls by a violent armed mob who took selfies with Capitol Police was just not something I could have conceived of.

There must be accountability

This was one of the darkest days of our nation. Even during the Civil War the Confederates never stormed the US Capitol, so to see the Confederate flag waving in Congress was a desecration. It twisted me up to have such a raw display of America’s deepest gash of white supremacist history taken symbolically and literally to the nation’s capital.

This event was broadcast around the world, to our allies and to our enemies. We received rebukes from Moscow, Beijing, and Tehran. We — the supposed bastion of democracy. The country that lectures other nations around the world on how to do democracy better. We have been humiliated for the entire planet to see.

We need answers about what happened here. The people deserve to know who planned this, who helped this along, who looked the other away, and perhaps most importantly: who still agrees with it (Hawley and Cruz, for one — they must go).

We must stop fascism in America

The rot of fascism has been allowed to spread to the point where a violent mob of white supremacists, QAnon conspiracy nuts, MAGA faithful and a demon’s host of all stripes came within minutes of taking hostages inside the chambers of Congress. Five people lost their lives and already are being made into martyrs.

This did not begin with Trump, but he certainly amplified the signal at a much more psychotic rate than under previous administrations, certainly of my lifetime. We are now at a dangerous precipice: in a time of staggering wealth inequality, a once in a century health crisis largely being ignored by the right wing, deeply bitter partisanship played out over decades, the creep of authoritarianism around the world — and now at home.

Wednesday’s Capitol Riots did essentially mark the “crossing of the Rubicon” that the Trump cult begged him to do — it was a coming-out day for fascism. It was the President of the United States instructing an armed mob to walk up to the Capitol where lawmakers were certifying the election for the guy who won it, and telling them to “take our country back” and give it to him — by force if necessary. Which, of course, was necessary.

That is the Rubicon — the Rubicon is the willingness to use political violence when you have exhausted all other legal, shady, illegal, and hideously criminal means. That is the fascist twist. If we do not react now; if we do not censure, remove, and allow justice to hold these individuals accountable — both inside and outside of the government — they will take it as permission to try again and again until we deal with this.

We must hold the insurrectionists accountable — if we are to keep this republic.

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The Trump Tapes make the Watergate Tapes seem like Polyanna. It’s not like a 10x or a 100x — it’s like a 1000x Watergate.

Here is the full audio of the President of the United States essentially verbally abusing GA SecState Brad Raffensperger for over an hour on Saturday, January 2: Trump Tapes: phone call and transcript

There’s the usual chatter in legal, justice, and natsec communities about whether or not this constitutes a crime — the consensus seems to be strong that it does, but then again any smidgeon of wiggle room leaves me feeling a little bit queasy.

If this isn’t a crime; if this isn’t an impeachable offense — then nothing is. If a President can get away with this to keep tyrannical grip on power after losing an election quite resoundingly, then the republic is dead and all its ideals of self-governance with it.

New year, new Lost Cause: The Sedition Caucus

And yet… that’s not all. 11 additional Republican Senators have come forward to follow Josh Hawley’s lead in objecting to one or more states’ count of electors in the ceremonial Jan. 6 readout of the state certifications. The new Sedition Caucus is led by Texas lawyer and newfound facial hair enthusiast Ted Cruz, who is in danger of winning a Daytime Emmy for his crisis acting on the Fox News network.

Along with Senators Ron Johnson (R-WI), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), James Lankford (R-OK), Steve Daines (R-MT), John Kennedy (R-LA), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Senators-Elect Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Mr Cruz presented evidence that the people they told to believe the election was rigged then did in fact believe that the election was rigged, and for this reason required another dangerous — and admittedly symbolic! — delay in securing the sovereignty of the nation.

Essentially they are making an argument to keep this President’s fragrantly, steamingly, scathingly unethical, anti-democratic, and anti-conservative, institution-destroying behavior protected and reinstalled against the will of the people for another 4 years of “deal-making” just like this. They haven’t been silently seething at or embarrassed by Trump’s behavior this whole time. They’ve been licking it up — “finally, a guy who will really keep fighting forever!”

However, now The Sedition Gang have been caught flat-footed by the timing of the Raffensperger call breaking — even Tom Cotton has now changed his tune and come out against the coup (though not without getting a few digs in at the Democrats). That is going to start turning the momentum back the other way, with luck. Even Lindsey Graham is inching back from the ledge a bit. The Jan. 6 reception may be chillier than they think.

Hoping it’s all fuel for the blue trifecta in Georgia.

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The right wing is full of contradictions — a defining trait, almost. Chief among them is this bit of cognitive dissonance:

  • hatred of liberals
  • love of “freedom”

You can’t have this both ways, philosophically speaking. The entire concept of individual liberty (hint: it’s right there in the name!) is a core insight of the Enlightenment.

The Enlightenment Inspired the United States

This 18th century philosophical movement grew large in Europe, predating the French Revolution of 1789 and influencing heavily the American Revolution. Resting on the then recent revolutions in science, math, and philosophy including the works of Descartes, Galileo, Kepler, and Leibniz, The Enlightenment has its roots in 1680s England with the political philosophy of John Locke.

Locke argued that human beings are capable of self-improvement via rational thought and accumulated experience. His philosophy was a break with traditional assumptions that knowledge came only from authorities, and that truth was opaque and unknowable. Working in the same era as Isaac Newton, Locke’s ideas about human nature were highly informed by the Scientific Revolution well underway by this time. The two strains of philosophy have a common commitment to reason and empiricism at their core.

Political ideas of The Enlightenment

You can appreciate why any number of authorities would find the radical ideas of the Enlightenment philosophers potentially threatening — their age-old power structures were in jeopardy. It represented the democratization of knowledge, removing a dependency of the less powerful upon the powerful as a singular source of truth. The church, monarchy, and aristocracy were all on the chopping block — sometimes literally — during this age of philosophical and political revolutions.

The following philosophical and political ideals emerged from The Enlightenment:

  • Reason is the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Phenomena can be examined in the real world to understand more about how things work and what is true. Everything should be subject to critical examination, versus simply being taken on faith.
  • People have natural rights, and prime among them is liberty — or freedom to pursue the kind of life they so choose, without infringing upon the natural rights of others.
  • Equality is the concept that all members of a nation or society are equal members and have equal standing in terms of their political influence and power. These are expressed in the American concept of equality before the law (14th Amendment), free speech, and one person/one vote.
  • Progress as the collective project and meaningful unifying force for a nation or group. The goal is to create better societies and better people by discarding outmoded traditions and embracing rationalism.
  • Religious tolerance as a rational way to prevent civil unrest. Appears in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) and in the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
  • Consent of the governed is one of several foundations of liberal thought from philosopher Thomas Hobbes, who stated that to be legitimate, political power must be representative and agreed to by the people bound by it.
  • The social contract is a foundational concept from both John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, extending the consent of the governed and placing it as the true basis for governmental authority.
  • Constitutional government has its underpinnings in a 1748 work by French judge and political philosopher Montesquieu, titled The Spirit of the Laws. This tome is the principle source for the concept of separation of powers in government as a system of healthy checks and balances to protect political liberty.
  • Fraternity in a philosophical sense is concerned with an ethical relationship between people, based on love and solidarity as the foundation for how individuals in society should treat each other.
  • Separation of church and state is a logical outgrowth of freedom of religion. The idea is older, but its introduction to the United Sates is attributed to Thomas Jefferson who declared the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause to be about building a “wall of separation between church and state.”
  • Property rights as a natural outgrowth of natural rights and labor (Locke).

Freedom is self-determination, but is not unlimited

The history of political philosophy reveals the evolution of Enlightenment thinking over the course of centuries, and how the ideas underpinning our government have deep roots. Freedom isn’t a new idea, and it does come with some caveats.

The first caveat is that freedom cannot be unlimited if we are to have a civil society. As Hobbes put it, if men are left to their natural state our lives will be “nasty, brutish, and short.” Also, we cannot preserve equal rights for all citizens if some members of society are allowed to trample on the rights of others.

That’s why the concept of liberty is so important. It’s important to our democracy, and it’s important to our day to day lives and how we treat each other. Freedom and liberty are similar and we often use these words interchangeably, but there is a very important distinction between them.

Liberty flows from equal rights

Liberty means that I have freedom, but only insofar as I don’t intrude upon your freedom. I must respect your rights and not invade your sovereign boundaries of life and property. For all persons are created equal, and the rights of one another shall not be infringed.

Political liberty has its foundations in Greek philosophy and was closely linked with the concept of democracy. Aristotle and Plato among others planted the seeds that would later be picked up by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and John Stuart Mill — giving us our modern concept of liberty today.

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The state has an interest in educating its citizens. There are a number of reasons a nation could benefit from attending to the education of its citizens, creating a state interest in public education. Many of them are economic, and contribute to the growth of industry and health of communities:

  • More people generating more value increases GDP, compounded over time
  • Increased entrepreneurship
  • Increased innovation, and dynamism in the economy along with it
  • Improved public health and saving cost on health care
  • Longer life spans means more working years at greater seniority levels, contributing a lot of surplus value to the economy
  • Increased incomes provide more free time to contribute to civic life and be informed voters
  • Decreasing the number of “Lost Einsteins” — talented individuals who do not get a chance to shine their lights and contribute their gifts

We all have an interest in investing in the development of our human capital, because it is rational to do so. It will pay many dividends over time, both directly and indirectly.

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Can’t go back — as far as we know. That makes the politics of nostalgia, of the rose-tinted past, of MAGA, to be by definition an exercise in magical thinking.

We can’t go back to the past.

Psychologically speaking though, it is common to harbor this belief. This wishful thinking.

The Politics of Fear

It is the availability of memory stacked against the uncertainty of the future. For those who lack a certain sense of imagination, the road ahead can seem dark and dangerous. They are vulnerable to succor and protection — from enemies they believe to be around every corner.

In exchange for loyalty to the Strongman, they get fake superficial protection while the leader and his cronies raid the community coffers. Meanwhile the autocrat blames the opposition party for all the followers’ ills, despite obviously being in power himself. They hail him as a truthteller.

Magical Thinking

This blindness to the constraints of reality is more common than we might think. And regression is a common defense mechanism which encapsulates in microcosm this macro nostalgia: wherein we fall back to the carefree mentality of childhood. It’s a method of escapism and avoiding responsibility on one hand, and an aspect of the denial of death.

But we must grow up, and bravely face our fate. We must make decisions that shape it, and guide our course through the significant constraints of life and the unexpected obstacles.

Creativity is the Antidote

Ironically, something worthwhile we may have left behind in childhood can help get us out of this mess. Creativity shares the imaginative aspect with magical thinking, but the difference is its recognition of the constraints of reality. Time, resources, skills, prevailing conditions, random chance, and much more all must be favorable for us to achieve our creative goals and solve our problems. It requires effort and incisiveness. It requires an addiction to reality.

Creativity requires humility — something in short supply. We will need to cultivate vulnerability and non-aggression and deliberation. We will need to rediscover community and rededicate ourselves to civics.

I’m ready. Are you?

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What I do when I have compromising files to hide is I distribute them evenly across 3 different laptops and ensure that all 3 highly reliable β€œworks for decades” Apple machines go kaput at the same exact time, at which point I leave my home and fly across the country to a jurisdiction patrolled by Rudy Giuliani to service these machines and perform data recovery because I am looking to add maximum inconvenience to my very busy life β€” a life so busy that I completely forget about my 3 precious laptops which once contained both my livelihood and my most deeply personal and secret materials.

You?

Also, data recovery for 3 laptops is totally $85.

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Cult leader playbook:

1. Position himself (and the group — his extension) as the benevolent safe haven to turn to when afraid

2. Isolate the follower from other sources of safe haven

3. Arouse fear in the follower

Rinse; repeat.

Qualities of a Cult Leader

  • Narcissistic — highly self-absorbed, they demand excessive admiration and slavish devotion to their whims.
  • Charismatic — they have a way of grabbing attention, whether positive or negative.
  • Unpredictable — erratic behavior keeps enemies on their toes and fans “on edge” with desire to please Dear Leader.
  • Insatiable drive — it could be status, money, sex, power, or all of the above, but they feel they deserve it more than anyone else on the planet.
  • Lack of conscience — they have no shame and will demand things a decent human being would not.

Trump has all the cult leader qualities and follows the playbook to a tee — doing little else, in fact. He should be considered highly armed and dangerous. An emotionally unstable individual with access to the United States’ greatest powers and deepest secrets. A threat to American life and liberty. Dictator Don.

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We have a hard time understanding how political polarization has become so extreme in the United States. Forget about right and wrong, and stop being so mystified and affronted that Hillbilly Elegy or Neo Neo-Nazi don’t see things the way you do. “How can they support Trump?!?” many a well-meaning Democrat will plaintively cry.

But these judgments are labels we’ve invented — they’re purely symbolic. It’s the feelings underneath that truly produce motivation — there is a physiological reason that “our camp” and “their camp” seem so drastically different from each other. Almost as if we no longer inhabit the same reality anymore. It used to be that we routinely disagreed (and even fought bitterly) over facts — but now we disagree over whether facts have any value at all, which is a very dangerous place to be.

So we don’t necessarily need right and wrong to understand the Trump cult, and it may even get in the way. A Buddhist would offer a far more neutral perspective on the chasm dividing America today:

DNC
- What the liberal left (and a smattering of defected right) enjoyed tonight at the Democratic National Convention was pleasant to us. It felt good.
- To the Trumpkins, the DNC was unpleasant, and greatly so. 

RNC
- For Trump rallies and presumably the RNC, the feelings swap: his fans pass over mere pleasant into a frenzy of malignant envy and sadism.
- For us Democrats, those events are nightmarishly unpleasant. They give us the heebie jeebies.

Political polarization: Nurture and nature

For some of us, it’s just how we’re wired. Others have the nurture member of the dyad to thank, or blame. The community or communities around us and the context we’re in affect our decision-making as well. As our surroundings become more politically polarized, so do we — having a compounding feedback loop effect.

Some of us will grow and stretch and change over the course of our lives. Others have fixed set points. Maybe we should be asking some additional questions beyond, “But how can they believe…” including, “what is it that some people find unpleasant about compassion and love? Is it that they feel those things to be absent in their own lives, or that they’ve been betrayed by those ideals in some way?”

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The cognitive dissonance of the so-called Republican “agenda” is on acute display, wherein mortal threat to a literally enumerated power of the Constitution given to Congress to establish a federal US postal service seems not to bother the Constitutional originalists one bit. Not to mention said power’s role in facilitating free and fair elections. Curioser and curioser!

Somehow, one of the nation’s oldest institutions — instrumental in both our political and economic history throughout its existence — is suddenly considered yesterday’s fish by the seemingly randomly fiscal conservative. It’s, apropos of nothing (except an upcoming election in a pandemic), nigh time to punish the historic public service for not being more focused on the opposite of its stated mission:

USPS mission

The USPS is synonymous with American independence

Moreover, the origin of the importance of the post to the Founders of the nation lies even deeper within the soul of the formation of American independence: as a backlash to the British Stamp Act of 1765.

The colonies’ budding sense of unity was emboldened by collective action overtaken to dislodge the British Imperial Post (and its taxes with it), and this sentiment continued to grow through related historical affronts including the Townshend Acts of 1767, the Boston Massacre of 1768, and the Tea Party of 1773 into the full-fledged political pursuit of independence waged as the American Revolutionary War.

Foundational Acts: Establishing the post was a first priority

Benjamin Franklin became the first Postmaster General when the Second Continental Congress created the Constitutional Post in 1775. In his first term, the nation’s inaugural President George Washington signed the Post Office Act into law, establishing the USPO in early 1792. By the end of his second term, the number of post offices, miles of post roads, and post revenues had grown by 400%.

Washington spearheaded the creation of the post with help from James Madison. With it the two philosophical fathers of the revolution established both a right to personal privacy and a right to public information for citizens of the new nation. They specifically made it cheaper to send news — believing that an informed population was of utmost importance to a self-governing country.

Alexander Hamilton helped the fledgling post office with legal challenges it faced as it modernized, including a dispute with contracted stagecoach services who refused to adhere to delivery standards. Alexis de Tocqueville was impressed by the postal service on his historic visits to the new nation, convinced that the organizational capability of the early post office was essential to sustaining this fledgling American experiment with democracy.

Without the post, no West

Not to mention that, historically speaking, it’s likely there would have been no westward expansion without the post office. Cameron Blevins’ awesome infovisualisation of post office openings and closings between 1850 and into the 1900s clearly shows the reach of the system and its status as the veins and arteries of a rapidly scaling up nation.

Geography of the Post

Roads in general owe their ubiquity and quality to pressures from the mail service to provide reasonable passage for delivery. The Pony Express provides to this day some of the most iconic imagery and symbolism Americans associate with the Wild West.

The postal service was the largest communications network of the 19th century; it bound the nation back together to some small but not insignificant degree following the Civil War. Later, the Air Mail Service of the Unites States Post Office Department would be inaugurated only shortly after motorized plane flight was in regular usage towards the end of World War I.

Without the West, no America

Anyone care to argue that this country would be the same without the great American West? Surely not you, Texas — nor you, Montana. Not even Wyoming. Our national self-conception as a people of Manifest Destiny — a people whose boundless horizons were thrilling, exciting, and full of possibility. Of social mobility. Of personal responsibility.

The American identity is bound to the West. Our entrepreneurship, our creativity, our explorative and adventurous spirit finds itself embodied in the iconic images of the cowboy, the dusty plain, the purple mountains’ majesties that we all learn in childhood curricula. How would we ever have shared that imagery in the first place, if not for the post?

By the way, did you know that the Postal Service is the United States’s second largest civilian employer? After Walmart.

For all of the above reasons and more: this idea of kneecapping the United States Postal Service to further one’s election ambitions is neither moral, legal, nor historical.

It’s criminal.

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Cruelty is a line for me. It’s a one-strike-you’re out policy. We will not be friends.

Cruelty is a moral stain. Something we need to outgrow from childhood to become a member of society. As a form of sadism, it does basic disrespect to the natural rights of persons and flouts the core ideals of democracy. Cruelty is antisocial behavior, and will not be tolerated.

I will speak up for those being crueled. And speak out against those crueling.

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Sociologist Theodor Adorno created the “F scale” in a 1950 seminal work entitled The Authoritarian Personality, in order to rank the level of predilection to fascism in an individual, which became desirable both during and shortly after World War II. According to Adorno and his cohort, the defining authoritarian personality traits of the Platonic fascist (or the ur-Fascist as Umberto Eco would later call them) include the following:

  • conventionalism — following the rules; “this is how we’ve always done things”; fundamentalist thinking; dogmatic philosophy; intolerance of ambiguity (and intolerance in general)
  • authoritarian submission — follow the Ruler; the Ruler is always right, no matter how obvious the lie or big the myth. only ingroup authority figures matter, though.
  • authoritarian aggression — “send in the troops,” “when the looting starts the shooting starts,” “dominate the streets”
  • anti-intellectualism — distrust of experts; paranoid politics; intellectualism is unmasculine
  • anti-intraception — a dislike of subjectivity and imagination: “the fact is…”; black and white thinking; dislike of flamboyant self-expression; monoculture
  • superstitionconspiracy theory; anti-vaxxers; QAnon
  • stereotypy — racism, sexism, classism, ageism, all the isms; bigotry, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia, all the phobias
  • power and “toughness” — obsessed with dominance and submission; rigidly pro-hierarchy; solves problems with violence; values physical strength
  • destructiveness — dismantle the Federal government; remove environmental regulations; pull out of international alliances; weakening America’s place in the world, abandoning the EU, and kowtowing to dictators around the world
  • cynicism — “both sides do it,” whataboutism, all politicians are bad, conscience (non)voters
  • projectivity — everything is Obama‘s fault, almost literally; claims Biden is corrupt; Hillary’s email server (though they all used and continue to use private email servers, every single one of them); claim that the Clinton campaign started the birther controversy; accuse everyone else of lying
  • exaggerated concerns over sex — anti-abortion; homophobia; pedophilia; excessive taboos; excessive shame

We are seeing all of these traits today. We see the rise of authoritarianism — we see it in our leadership, we see it in our communities, and we see it surging around the world.

We see it in a much larger percentage of our populace than many of us might have imagined. Research by Karen Stenner and others shows that across populations in the developed world, about a third of a given population will be prone to authoritarian tendencies. People of good character far outnumber the Right-Wing Authoritarians, but they can be subjugated, emotionally manipulated, strong-armed, abused, intimidated, made cynical by the RWAs. And the RWA personality is driven to actively hate outgroups in many outrageously twisted and depraved ways, from pettiness to genocide.

Right-Wing Authoritarianism

Refined by professor of psychology Bob Altemeyer (The Authoritarians, et al) in 1981, the Right-Wing Authoritarianism scale (RWA) addresses some of the limitations of the F scale and exhibits more predictive power in identifying individuals exhibiting authoritarian personality.

The RWA personality is associated with all of the following traits, beliefs, actions, patterns, and signs of authoritarianism:

  • extreme obedience
  • unquestioning respect for and submission to a chosen authority
  • repression
  • forceful insistence on hierarchy
  • striving for dominance in social hierarchies
  • supremacy
  • wolves vs. sheep worldview
  • Manichaean struggle
  • punitiveness; vengefulness; malignant envy
  • destructiveness
  • extremism
  • subordination to the collective
  • tribalism
  • cult of personality
  • cults
  • traditionalism
  • conservatism
  • fundamentalism
  • less openness to experience
  • aggression towards minority groups
  • resistance to change
  • justification(s) for social inequality
  • Libertarianism
  • police brutality
  • psychological abuse; emotional predation
  • hypocrisy
  • projection
  • magical thinking
  • disciplinarian
  • control freak
  • mass surveillance
  • repression
  • a primary drive to achieve relief from uncertainty, even at the cost of individual freedom

Democracy vs. Authoritarianism

Maybe we could offer up the RWA test as a “good faith” gesture, if one is interested in participating in civic discourse with credibility and authenticity. It would help us identify those individuals who are going to be unlikely to play by the rules of the game or have no intention of behaving fairly. It would help us draw authoritarianism and totalitarianism out of the proverbial closet and into public discourse so we can refute it vehemently in a proper forum.

Although we have bot tests, we don’t really have great ways of measuring and identifying human beings with deceptive agendas to help us in this battle of democracy vs. autocracy. If we could screen people as authoritarians via “honorable challenge,” we could save so much time by not wasting it on the lost causes whose power trip runs so deep it can never be exposed. It could serve as a way to drag out into the light any number of intolerable, anti-democratic sentiments masquerading as “strict Constitutionalism.” We can pry open the doublespeak and arm ourselves with the secret decoder rings of understanding RWA dogwhistles.

And maybe we can finally change the conversation by more easily identifying friendlies from foes from the start, without having to wade through every minefield.

Just maybe.

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We have so many mental frames related to numbers, that have been handed down culturally for, in some cases, hundreds and even thousands of years. These numerical superstitions come from myths, some from science, some cultural and historic — and many are universal. They remind us that despite our differences across nations and across time, we human beings still have a lot more in common with one another than we have differences.

  • 1 is the loneliest number… but can also be unity, and the origin of all things
  • 2 is duality ☯️
  • 3’s a crowd
  • 4 is a square; representative of justice | Buddhist Four Noble Truths ⬛
  • 5 is alive
  • 6 is the first perfect number
  • 7 notes in the musical scale 🎼
  • 8 is paradise; lucky in Buddhism πŸ€
  • 9 lives 😺
  • 10 is the most perfect number πŸ”Ÿ
  • 11 players in soccer & football ⚽
  • 12 is cosmological: zodiac symbols, stations of the Moon, stations of the Sun | 12 inches in a foot πŸ“
  • 13 lunar months in the year πŸŒ™
  • 20 bucks πŸ’΅
  • 30 pieces of silver πŸ’°
  • 40 days and 40 nights πŸš£β€β™‚οΈ
  • 50 ways to leave your lover | 50 shades of grey
  • 100 year centennial πŸ’―
  • 1000 — millenarianism

I’ll keep adding to the list of numerical superstitions over time…!

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