Snippets

Polls divide the public in many ways by separating us by liberal or conservative; political party; age; income; gender; gun ownership; religion; geography; favorite sport; education; race and ethnic group; and much more. However, I haven’t seen the breakdown by other factors that I think might be illuminating. Such as: Do you live in a gated community? Do you read books?

“It cannot possibly be true, can it, the story about Toscanini losing patience during a rehearsal with a soprano, grabbing her large breasts and crying, ‘If only these were brains!’” Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through (Thanks SN.)

The battling bishops. That sounds as if it is an informal name for the American Roman Catholic hierarchy who want to deny some politicians communion. (Do those bishops seek to deny communion to those who support the death penalty? If so, it doesn’t seem to get reported in the press.) The “Battling Bishops,” however, is the nickname of the sports teams for North Carolina Wesleyan College. I thought that this was an amusing, slightly sacrilegious, unique name for a Methodist institution, but then I learned that Ohio Wesleyan teams are also the Battling Bishops.

The present version of the Roman Catholic battling bishops makes me think back to when John Kennedy was running for president. Many prominent Protestants opposed his candidacy. They said that the Catholic hierarchy would dictate policies of a Catholic president, and this would violate our country’s bedrock principle of separation of church and state. Now it seems as if the Catholic bishops are doing something very much like what was feared when Kennedy ran, but I have seen no Protestant outrage at the assault on a fundamental building block of this country. I cannot be surprised. Death and hypocrisy are inevitable.

“Only the little people pay taxes.” Leona Hemsley. (And perhaps another hotelier.)

Sign held by a spectator at the New York City Marathon: Jack, run fast. My water broke.

Former President Obama spoke eloquently at the Glasgow climate summit in favor of combating global warming. Was former president Trump given the opportunity to address the leaders to tell them global warming is only a Chinese hoax?

Got any Aaron Rodgers jokes for this boyhood Green Bay Packer fan?

Big Bird announces an upcoming vaccination. Ted Cruz leaps into a decisive action and denounces the puppet’s words as government propaganda. Perhaps it is beyond Cruz to recognize that Big Bird has always been a propagandist—of innocence, curiosity, and niceness, but perhaps these are qualities that Cruz does not care about. And then an even less likeable politician than Cruz (I know, I know, that is hard to believe) from the Arizona legislature labels Big Bird a communist. I wish I were making this up.

Three Musings

Three Musings

1)Whither Alabama and Mississippi?

Although I am sure that there are many reasons that Georgia voted for Biden and then elected two Democrats as Senators, the mobilization of Black voters is seen as a cause, and surely Stacey Abrams must be given considerable credit. The voting in Georgia might herald an important path for Democrats: Set a ten-year goal to make Mississippi and Alabama politically competitive. Of course, even though Democrats can now compete effectively in Georgia, it does not mean that Alabama and Mississippi can ever lose their deep red status. All three have large Black populations—Georgia at about 30% Black is in between Alabama at 26% and Mississippi at 38%–and that is a reason to believe that Democrats could compete better in Alabama and Mississippi. However, Georgia’s political shift may not be a roadmap for Alabama and Mississippi. Even though all three have large Black populations, Georgia is more dynamic than the other two. Georgia’s population grew about ten percent in the last decade with both Blacks and whites attracted there from the north. That shift has not been true for Alabama which grew only about three percent and Mississippi whose growth has been stagnant. There is little to attract people to these states. Mississippi ranks 50th among the states in household income and Alabama 46th. On most measures of health, the two states have dismal rankings. For example, only West Virginia has a lower life expectancy than Mississippi with Alabama only two states above Mississippi’s ranking. (Both Blacks and whites in Mississippi and Alabama have life spans shorter than the national average.) Similarly, most measures of education place those two states right at the bottom of the country.

Georgia does not have particularly impressive rankings on such metrics either—33rd in household income and 39th in life expectancy—but it is significantly better than Mississippi and Alabama on such measures. Georgia is admittedly ahead of the other states, but even if Georgia has become politically competitive, it does not necessarily indicate that those other states can become so, too. Nevertheless, because of their low rankings and meager population growth, these states ought to become targets of Democrats. Alabamans and Mississippians might be made to realize that a political change would be good for them. And, of course, Democrats should want to make lives better, and here are two states where living conditions have no where to go but up.

2) Sue the Hell Out of Him

As I have said on this blog recently (see post of January 13, 2021), I have mixed feelings about trying Trump for criminal charges after he has left office. I also have mixed feelings about an impeachment trial. But I am hoping for all sorts of civil trials against him, both because he has regularly used litigation as a bullying tactic and because some suits might make him accountable for words and actions for which he has taken no responsibility. For example, I hope Ruby Freeman sues him. Freeman was just an ordinary worker in the Georgia election process, but Trump named her as the person who put 18,000 “fake” ballots through a scanner producing 54,000 bogus votes for Biden. Even though this was conclusively proved false, our then-president said about her, “She’s a vote scammer, a professional vote scammer and hustler.” This slander no doubt produced death threats against her and required her to go into seclusion. Normal life may never return to her. I hope that she can get enough money from Trump at least to receive a fraction of the security that Trump expects Americans to pay for him.

3) A Republican Conundrum

Here’s an interesting dilemma for some: The Republican Party might be helped if Trump is convicted in the Senate of the impeachment charges and barred from future public office. If he remains free to run for president again, he will probably act as he did in the ten years before he ran for the presidency and make frequent noises as if he will run in 2024. Instead of Republican officeholders dominating Republican politics and policies, Trump will. This can make it an interesting wire-walking adventure for some who want to be president. Let’s just say this includes Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. Cruz and Hawley will want the backing of the Trumpistas, but as long as there is a chance Trump himself will run, the first question those two Senators will be asked is, “Do you back Trump for president?” It will be interesting to hear their replies. In fact, Cruz and Hawley will be better off if Trump is barred from taking office again. Then they can pledge allegiance to the Trump flag, tell us the election was stolen, and how they should be elected to continue on with the Trump legacy. But, of course, they can’t do that if they vote to convict on the impeachment charges. Instead, they have to hope that enough other Senators will vote for conviction so that Republican paths to the Presidency don’t have to step over a possible Trump candidacy.

Words to remember on Inauguration Day. “Visits always give pleasure—if not the arrival, the departure.” Portuguese Proverb.

We Have Audited

            During the riots on Wednesday, I watched right-wing media to get their “take” on the events. Some of the commentators were continuing to assert, often in vague terms, that the election was fraudulent and stolen. Many others, however, while not overtly claiming fraud, maintained that a sizeable percentage of the population does not trust the outcome of the election and that those feelings must be addressed. Many who want to appease the angry hordes suggested an audit of the election. How or why this would mollify those who must be mollified was never explained.

            The appeasers ignore the fact that we already have had audits of this past election. Wisconsin investigated its voting machines. They worked just fine. Pennsylvania always does an audit after the election. There was no fraud. And, of course, Georgia did an audit. Even so, the claims of fraud and massive irregularities continued. Facts have not mattered. And reason seems to be in short supply.

            Consider Georgia again. A claim was made and stated again and again by Trump that ballots for Biden were erroneously scanned three times. You don’t have to be a forensic accountant, Hieronymus Bosch, or Sherlock Homes to deduce that if such a claim were true, the votes totaled by the machines would have been greater than the number of paper ballots. (A thinking person might also ask how Trump would know who the ballots were for.) Georgia, in its audit, did a hand recount of the paper ballots, and those totals were in sync with the machine tallies. The claim of multiple scanning was conclusively disproved. Of course, even so, Trump continued to make the claim.

While it is clear that Trump’s goal was to spread widespread distrust of the election outcome, others now say that they are not claiming massive fraud. No. Instead, their goal is to combat the distrust that so many cling to. If that were really so, Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Laura Ingraham, and all those Republic representatives would have been responding every time the president made the thrice-scanned claim about Georgia, “It is not so,” they would have said. “American public, the president has been proved wrong. He is not credible when he says ballots were scanned more than once in Georgia.” And they would have gone on to explain the irrefutable evidence. Did any of them do that? If they didn’t, I can’t take them seriously now that they claim that their goal is to lessen distrust of the election outcome.

I do not know why Trump refuses to face logic or accept the evidence. It might be because of willful blindness or because he is a pathological liar or because he is delusional or because he is trying to emulate Putin. But what is to be made of these conservative leaders who have not addressed the proof? What is their goal? What is their excuse? Trump will be out of office; they will still be with us.

            It is assuredly a problem that there is widespread distrust of the election, but there is an even bigger concern. Too many of us have forgotten the definition of a “fact”…not an alternative fact, a fact. Too many of us rely on and accept unsubstantiated assertions and allegations. We need to be able to seek out evidence and proof. I don’t know how we as a society can get better at fact-finding. Perhaps things might change if our elected and media leaders took the care to examine evidence and to denounce what is palpably not true. That has not been happening. Instead, too many of our leaders carelessly repeat falsehoods and baseless claims, do not correct them, and pass them on. That happened even during the insurrection. On conservative media, speaker after speaker said that “reports” stated that the Trump people had been infiltrated by left-wing agitators. No one identified the source of these “reports.” Was it the police; a demonstrator; an official in the White House; a reporter? And no doubt, some, perhaps many, in this country will now believe that antifa is the cause of the desecration without any evidence having been presented. Is this what we allow to pass for journalism or leadership?

            Some Republicans and traditional conservatives have pulled away from Trump (Lindsay Graham angrily—or so he seemed to be — said, “Enough is enough.” And I thought, “After three years and fifty weeks, you have finally come to that conclusion? Are you an imbecile? A know-nothing? A weasel?”), but our problems seem only to be intensifying. People are not entitled to their own facts, but a lot of people seem to believe that they do have that right.

Today is the Sixth of January

I had been thinking of various essays to commemorate today, January 6, often known as the Epiphany or Three Kings Day. Several topics came to mind.

First, I thought I might write about the bizarre time the spouse and I were ordered by a man to hide behind some columns in a dark crypt inside an Mayan pyramid in Yucatan, and then we think we were invited by this man (we think it only because we had such trouble understanding his English) to a neighborhood Three Kings party. P.S. We didn’t go.

            Then I thought I might write about how some traditions call the Magi Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar even though these names are not in the Bible. I would continue by noting that not all Christian faiths limit the Magi to three or agree that the wise men visited shortly after Jesus was born. Thus, s0me denominations have as many as twelve Magi and some have the adoration by them occurring up to two years after the birth. I might include that we refer to them as “kings” even though that designation does not appear in the Bible.

            And then I thought I might explore different gift-giving traditions observing that various cultures share presents on St. Nicholas Day, December 5, or 6,  some on Christmas Eve, some on Christmas Day, some on Boxing Day, and others on January 6.

            I have several times been in New Orleans on January 6 and have always been served Three Kings cake then.  I planned to write amusingly about that tiny plastic baby Jesus hidden inside the cake, which I think is tacky. The essay would have continued with a discussion of Mardi Gras.

            However, I have been distracted today from thinking about the religious, social, and cultural aspects of January 6. All such thoughts have recently been replaced by a new epiphany that January 6 is another important day in the selection of our president. For most of my life, I considered there to be only two crucial dates for our presidential picking: Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November) and Inauguration Day, some day in January when, according to the Constitution, a new presidential term starts at noon. I was aware that we had an Electoral College, but I never knew the date that it “met” because it never seemed crucial, and it never garnered more than a paragraph in the news. (Of course, the EC does not really meet – at least not in Washington. Instead, electors in each state separately convene and cast their votes.) If I had thought about it, I might have realized that there had to be some sort of state certification process of the vote after Election Day, but until this year I had not thought about that process. Moreover, I learned that the date of certification varies from state to state.

            And then there is the day that Congress counts the electoral vote — once again a date I have paid little attention to because for a century-and-a-half it has been an insignificant day of routine bookkeeping. I could not have told you that it fell on January 6, but now I know that it does. It is still expected to have no practical significance. The electoral count will be the same number that has been in effect since a few days after the election. However, this January 6 will garner more attention than any congressional elector count since 1876, a shameful time in our history. We can hope that today’s count will not reveal a shameful time in our current history.  

            The day will get attention because several members of Congress will object to the electoral count, and that will lead to “debate” in each House. Other than reaping attention for themselves, the naysayers are not expected to affect the election results. At least some of the constitutional subverters say their goal is not to keep Trump in office, but to address the distrust that has built in the public. F0r example, Ted (Look! I can grow a Covid beard) Cruz, a leader in attacking the election, said, “We’ve seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud. And that’s produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that.” (Hmmm. And what’s he going to do? Tell us that the fraud is real and the election results are invalid? Yeah, that’ll help.)

            So, while he is hardly the appropriate person to address this problem, he has a point. Even I have become distrustful of our “democratic” processes, not because I buy into the baseless claims of electoral fraud, but because so many of our political “leaders” are fanning the fraud flames and are advocating extraordinary, sometimes bizarre, and often illegal and unconstitutional measures that would sabotage the democratic process. While we can be cautiously optimistic that today will end as it should with Biden’s being declared President, the bombastic stupidity that will be on display is disheartening to say the least.

            The Trumpistas are winning. They have made me distrustful and fearful. May our country and our democracy and our republican form of government survive today intact.

Let’s Divide Up America

 We are now a highly divided country, but we have had divisions that have affected politics, government, and our society since the inception of the nation. For over seventy years, we had slave states versus free states, which morphed into South versus North. We have had free trade versus protectionism; the gold standard versus silver; imbibers versus teetotalers; labor versus management; men versus women; everyone versus plutocrats; Protestants versus Catholics; everyone versus Jews; blacks versus whites; Italians versus the Irish; suburbs versus cities; urban versus rural; war proponents versus war opponents (and on a different front, everyone versus the New York Yankees; everyone versus Tom Brady fans; everyone versus Ted Cruz; and almost everyone versus that My Pillow guy).

 We tend to believe that our politics reflects our divisions, but it does more than that. Our politics helps to create the divisions and does less than ever before to bridge them.

The two major parties are increasingly ideological or, perhaps more accurately, partisan. When was the last time that there was a conservative Democrat or a liberal Republican? There are many reasons for this. The successful Republican “southern strategy” killed the old Southern Democratic party and thereby most conservative Democrats. Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay made Republicans, in effect, swear loyalty oaths to one brand of Republicanism that excluded liberal Republicans. Gerrymandering has produced more safe seats in both state and national legislatures creating ing districts where officeholders and seekers do not have to appeal across divides for votes. Robert G. Kaiser in Act of Congress: How America’s Essential Institution Works, and How It Doesn’t points out that as cooperation between the parties has declined, the demonization of opponents has become more common which further increases divisions. (Kaiser says this trend has been aided because members of Congress no longer spend uninterrupted weeks and months in Washington getting to know each other. Instead, with modern transportation, they have three or four-day Washington work weeks and then go back to their home districts.) Trump is not the creator of this path of demonization and divisiveness; he is merely an extreme example of its danger. He and other politicians seek to divide with the hope that their cries of the devil will energize their supporters who will turn out to vote more than their opponents.

Besides the major chasms that the parties have fostered, however, politics today creates many mini-fractures in the societal landscape that have been deepened by modern media. Jill Lepore suggests in These Truths: A History of the United States that this started with the 1960 presidential election when the Democrats turned to “data science” and hired the Simulmatics Corporation. (Jill Lepore, who seems to publish something interesting at least once a month, has a new 432-page book out about Simulmatics, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future. I have not [yet?] read it.) That company got punch cards from pollsters of recent elections, fed them into an early computer, and “sorted voters into 480 possible types.” One category, for example, was “Eastern, metropolitan, lower-income white, Catholic, female Democrats.” Another was “Border state, rural, upper-income, white, Protestant, male, Independents.” Such data dredging revealed shifts in voting patterns not apparent before. So, for example, the Democrats discovered that between 1954 and 1956 a small but significant shift by northern Blacks to the Republicans had occurred in eight key states. This helped to propel the Democrats to put a civil rights plank into their 1960 platform and encouraged John F. Kennedy, who had showed little interest as a Senator about the issue, into supporting civil rights.

We continue to see similar data today. Politicians seem to assume that on many major issues—abortion and gun control, for example—minds are made up, and voters and can’t be persuaded away from the candidate they already support. Accordingly, elections are seldom analyzed along ideological lines. Instead, analysts and strategists turn to the 1960 approach but with increasingly sophisticated demographics. “Male whites without college degrees and over fifty living in a rural area;” “white suburban women with children who work outside the home with family income above $75,000 per year” are now categories that are refined and then refined some more.

Of course, this in some way is just an extension of what has been going on since the Kennedy-Nixon election, but now there is a difference. However it was that JFK decided to be a civil rights candidate, this stance was apparent to all Americans. He was basically the same candidate in every region and with every demographic group.

JFK, however, did not have the tools available today. Through social media, the internet and search-engine advertising, increasingly smaller demographic groups can be targeted, and a distinct message can be tailored for each groiup without that campaign reaching all Americans. The candidate I may think I know might appear to be different from the same candidate that you think you know. We may vote for the same person, but we may be voting in essence for different candidates, and a little wedge is driven between us as a result. Instead of broad expanses of shared perspectives, we have a many-fissured landscape that looks different from every perspective.

Our current political process does not just exploit the divisions among us; it helps to create them.