Sunday, December 1, 2019

Impeachment Makes Democracy Possible

It's being said again again that "impeachment is political" as if this somehow diminishes what is being done that must be done to be a democracy. Impeachment does not substitute for politics; it makes politics possible. Without the rule of law, we are nothing but capricious dictatorship. Like all autocrats, this is precisely what Trump wants: power without accountability. If we cannot impeach in an election year or even after a re-election then we stand for nothing. The king is not the law; the law must be king. It's a simple binary, no matter how complex the issues. Either we survive with the principle of law or we succumb to arbitrary power. You choose.

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Storm is Here, the Winter of Our Discontent is Upon Us

Impeachment is Imminent and Its Conclusion is Foregone

Matters are moving closer by the day to Senate where we can expect no fair or serious assessment of the facts and as much to the Court, which Marbury vs. Madison made the final arbiter of the law. The law will be whatever the majority---Kavanaugh and crew---will do to repay their masters. What we know now as impeachment proceeds is that Republicans have made their choice.

Whether Trump is a conscious tool or merely a useful idiot, the matter is further reduced because a democracy cannot function in a world in which competing sides will not agree on the facts. And that is where we are. 

The Trump Cult in form of Republican senators and representatives could do something. Theirs is not a failure of epistemology. Some of them do know that he is not merely a deeply flawed man but a sickness. They persist because power means more to them than country. They _could_ do something better. But I feel certain that they won't. And so rather than defend their country, they have chosen to become no less damaged and defective than the aggrieved and dangerous narcissist they will claim fit to remain president. We must be seriously concerned if the 2020 election will be fair and honest since they have also decided to become complicit in its subversion. What benefits them creates their only moral compass. 

So what do we do up against this kind of evil, and evil it is. How does one have a sane and serious argument with people who prefer conspiracy and delusion? It may seem quaint but we must decide for character, no matter how we dispute policy amongst ourselves. If character is to be destiny then we must demonstrate it everyday in our voices, in our actions, in our protests, and choices. While they debauch themselves we must take our cues from Elijah who claimed "we are better than that." 

Any one of the Democratic candidates who will become the nominee are, in fact, better than this. Whether _we_ are or not, we must not forsake the future by acquiescing to the failures of the present. There must be an America that demands the ideals it has never realized and perhaps someday even to face the shadows it has never truly confronted. But that can only happen if we understand the choices others, particularly the Trump Cult, is making and try not to be naive about its potential or its determination.

We are in a fight for the country's soul---even if it is afragmented, incoherent, and deeply unhealthy soul. But without that, without that feeling, that idea of soul, we got nuthin', we got no recourse but to be like them. And that just won't do. No. It won't.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Lawlessness is the Oldest Story of Power in America

Let us recount what happened on October 23rd, 2019, in the basement of the Capital Building, Washington, D.C. How could they get away with that? What just happened?

What we saw yesterday and what we are seeing from Trump is as old as America. The Republicans storming the SCIF and Trump's lawyers arguing that the President can commit murder without consequences. How much lawlessness will Republicans assert to be their exclusive right? Why do they think they are above the law? Because in America such people have always been above the law.

I'm going to repeat here what I wrote elsewhere, if I may? There is something far more nefarious at work here but it is nothing new. That's kind of their point even if they aren't full conscious of it---they know nothing will happen to them, that there are no consequences. Why?

This sort of "stunt" holds together an underlying narrative of white male supremacy. These clowns believe they will get away with it because of who and what they are. Just like Trump believes he can get away with murder if he wants. White Americans love their outlaws. Jesse James was a Confederate, let us not forget that. It won't matter how he died or what he really did---it's the outlaw that embodies the insouciant indifference to the law and the lawlessness itself is deemed not the privilege that it is but the entitlement it claims. Thus the Republicans exploit privilege and claim entitlement, all in the name of their grievance and victimhood. This is textbook white male supremacy.

Now make the contrast. Obama wears a tan suit and the world is deemed lost. The horror! The violation! The abuse of power! I use that particular contrast to further the point that it's the white clown car's desire to seize on the meaningless and the trivial to take us away from their agendas and, at the same time, assert their "power." In this case, power means doing whatever they want because they can. It's a further legerdemain too, a distraction not merely for the sake of noise and fog but because they don't have the facts, the evidence, or the argument on their side. And when you got nuthin', you pound your fist and stamp your feet. Cue the escalator of aggrieved white guys.

There's a deeper evil that uses such superficiality to keep their rubes cheering. They want to be lawless because laws are for other people. They assert their power and remain unscathed because they can mock a serious situation and use impunity to make their dangerous point look comic. It's in fact nothing like President Obama's tan suit but rather a real affront to national security and then...nothing happens to them.

Male whiteness wins again. It's Rambo, Frank and Jesse, it's fact-free, it's assertion and right without evidence or reason. It's the ability to reject the system and claim the mantle of power again and again because they believe it is theirs to own. And no sharing. No one else can dispute their privilege or question their behaviors. If others did this? Think about it.. If this had been "the Squad" or a minority caucus, imagine the clamor. Imagine what Fox and Breitbart would be saying.

But I think those good folks would not have acted out with such puerile and callow disregard for truth or shared values. Their opponents actually mean to respect the institutions they represent. If you doubt that claim ask your self: Would Elijah Cummings have done such a thing?

These white privileged men are in truth incorrigible, childish nihilists who will do anything to remain in power. They think they are the institutions, that they answer to no law, no norm of decency, no matter of character, and that no one else deserves such privilege. That's an important part of the history of America. There are others, like Elijah Cummings.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Outrage Fatigue and the Edification of Self, What Are We to Do in Such a World?

One of the effects of outrage fatigue is our frustration with wanting to know, to keep up, to stay involved with the facts.  We have a need to find some relief and engage the joy that we know is ours too. The assaults on decency, the vulgarity, the sheer venality cuts across every feature of their pathology---from civil rights to the planet's fate, from corruption and inequality, it seems to infect every corner of the equation.

An important feature of our fatigue is our sense of futility and helplessness exacerbated by frustrations with opposition leadership. We can rail at those who represent our rage for their own ineptitudes but we might pause for a moment too in order to assess their own limitations inside a world driven by deeply opposing forces.

It's never comforting to be reminded how the demons fight back---there seem to be no rules, no boundaries, nothing they won't do. Since we are accused of as much we register outrage by their hypocrisy and projections. Everything he says with such imbecilic, churlish invective about his opponents we find invariably refers to himself and his lackeys. It's so reliable, so obvious that what is said about others projects his own guilt, dereliction, and criminality that we want to scream. But for the most part we don't, not just from the outrage fatigue but because we're looking for an alternative world, a world where there _is_ reason and dignity, facts and a process that procures something better, something more closely aligned with justice.

We don't want to sacrifice our own dignity even as we repulsed by the constant barrage of obscene malevolence. And there is too the acceptance required that some significant percentage of our citizenry, many of whom are our blood relatives and friends, seem impervious and incorrigible, committed to the discreditable fantasies, frauds, and conspiracy claims.

As if we need more? It is disconcerting when people refuse to engage at all, asserting their privilege not to have to be bothered with matters of political and social import. There is any manner of excuse, from false equivalence to indifference or self-proclaimed ignorance, the willful disregard of a democratic responsibility in a complex world.

What is not right before the eyes can be even more easily discharged. When Trump abandoned the welfare of some 2.5 million Kurds in Syria the consequences are not our immediate experience---even as we consider how America is responsible now for even more untethered chaos and innocent death. It is another aspect of Trump's cynical manipulation even as decent people wretch. His impulse for cruelty extends in both directions: our outrage brings him and his dupes pleasure, it is a feature not merely a consequence of the pathology.

I think we have covered enough of the cause and we're all too attuned to the diagnosis. So what can we do?

First you have to take care of yourself in ways that restore you, bring you back and keep you in the fight. Life isn't going to get easier by walking away. Abdication is for kings, not for citizens of a democratic republic. You can take a break. You can't decide for indifference or worse, helplessness. It's surely okay to let someone take your place on the front but cowering in privilege or impassivity won't do. Do what _you_ can do. You have a great heart. That heart is literally made of courage. Courage isn't a virtue, it's what you need to have virtue. Goodness must be created because it's not going to appear without you and however it manifests in you as an individual, it must be made to contribute to something greater, larger than yourself.

This is not some call to heroism. It is what it will take just to live with yourself. So rest and care for the things that make 330 million small differences in an everyday life. But rise to the occasion. Everything really is at stake.

Like it or not we must turn to leadership and that leadership has all sorts of pratfalls that can disappoint and deflate. But if we trust in their basic morality then we can live with their frailties and ordinary incompetences. These folks can be influenced and moved by _your_ voice and by _our voices_. No matter how bought and sold or corrupted by power, they are still exposed even if they seem unresponsive or unpersuadable. They need you and _we_ must act.
Power lies in collecting voices and votes, in delivering an unrelenting message. This may require interrupting your busy day.

Last, remember that fatigue is as normal as outrage. Crisis is an ordinary state of affairs too. But because these are normal---and by that we mean natural, acknowledged, and common---it's important not to normalize with apathy or mere disdain. That outrage you feel? It's not just depleting or undermining your happiness. Actually it is part of what grounds your character and shores up your other feelings.

Such an outrage must keep the company of its own light and shadow: outrage needs composure, it needs to make a compact with reason and bring heart and mind together. Like it or not, we are not simple beings so we must learn to live in a sustaining complexity. If you love, you will grieve. If you want peace, you will need the shadows of anger and frustration to derive the equations.

We need to keep greater company, not allow feelings to exist in isolation or thoughts to take too much comfort in certainty _or_ doubt. We need to participate in a greater sense of self, as individuals and in communities, with patience and compassion a part of the alchemy of our inner fury. How to accomplish any of that? We are going to need _more_ selves to live with our self and a deep desire that informs our better angels.

We are going to need stories worth telling and tell our stories. Those angels aren't all tranquil, much less sedate or soporific. The come armed and ready with all they need to face a world that will not fight fair. Our task is not to sully ourselves, not to demean the possibilities of human goodness but instead to _make more_ of what we know we can do. There may be neither savior nor absolutions but there is our human capacity to make more and better when we commit to the real and difficult tasks of being alive.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Trump Cult and the Ship of Rats

Let's talk about cults just enough to see how they connect so clearly to Trumpism.

Let's start with the assumption that the word "cult" is used pejoratively. We don't think of a cult as a good thing but we need to understand too that it's a term used for otherness when in fact it applies to all of us.

All groups, formally organized or not, are in some respects "cultish" insofar as they form around common interests, shared aspirations, stuff like that. Think: League of Women's Voters as an example of not using "cult" pejoratively but as a group that has a long-standing institutional self-formulation. Things can go sideways, wrong, and unhealthy in any group because of things that make people predictably neurotic: money, power, sex, fear, you name it, people can do really bad and stupid things.

But we humans are social beings no matter how much we guard our autonomy or proclaim our individuality overwrites all. Did you build the road in front of your house? Do you really want everyone to have to build their own road without your neighbors? Think Plato, Aristotle, Yajnavalkya, Manu, Hobbes, Machiavelli, Kautilya, Locke, Rousseau, on and on it goes because people have to create polity and civilization in collectives.

Are all examples corrupt? Well insofar as ideals may not always (or ever) wholly achieved, sure. But that's not corruption that's just the ordinary incongruity between the world you wish you lived in and the one you really do, between what you want and what's on offer. It's all about that space in between, the place that we call "sammelana," a word that few outside our group would know or recognize. All inside language is "cultish" the same way doctors, lawyers, musicians, mathematicians, and Sanskritists, etc. all need their expert vocabulary to move things forward.

So all a cult _really_ is an inside game and if you play well in that game, you're in. If you don't or don't want to or don't care, you don't. Yoga is a very very big cult as professionals would acknowledge but you particular community's yoga has its own tribe, its own sorta' features of the cult: insularity, familiarity, leadership, fidelity, conflicts, challenges, specialized or local language. Think of "cult" a word describing socialization forming concentric circles---things are smaller when you get to the core. Form _enough_ circles of de-localization and you have legitimizing organizational theory in practice. I won't write a book here about cults but to say that you are likely a member of many and that if you are not you are one lonely mofo. Carry on and try to be healthy about it. That's relatively easy, btw. Just make sure to listen to your own heart, don't compromise your character (too much, too often) to get along, and know the difference between right and wrong as best you can---they ask help, don't be too damn sure of yourself, and make confidence and humility best of friends. Here's the rest of the bit about the very sick Republican cult:

The Fate of the Cult

The Republican Cult is not an exception to how cults act, both in terms of success and failure. What can happen when a cult is in the midst of failing is that it can reimagine itself and end its sickness, its relationship to its leader, or it can go further to the margins, where it dithers in a newfound irrelevance. I'm going to take---you're not going to believe it---the most optimistic route in an effort to offer an opinion about why Republicans will fail even if the don't convict in the Senate. This should not sound completely unfamiliar to people who have had some cult life. Ahhh, hem. (Add requisite throat clearing noises.)

Part of what the cult---in this case the Republicans---fears most is that they were all be left alone, each in their own individual wilderness. This is part of the reason they have stuck with the cult, not out of fealty to its principles as such or the leader but for each other. The cult leader punishes infidelity and rewards silence as loyalty. It will take a genuine leadership that stands for values and shared interests that brought them together in the first place to reformulate.

Such a decentralizing, more principled leadership could lead most of the rank and file with them but the Republican cult doesn't know how to do this---and their once leadership is utterly corrupt and debased morally, money being the core of their principles. They all will do whatever they think brings them individual profit: that is their ideology and the source of their potential failure. Ironically, the cult doesn't know it's a cult.

To overcome their utterly corrupt cult leader the majority in leadership would have to act as a collective (not as merely as individuals), banding together denounce him and proclaim a new day. The rank and file of the cult will largely follow if the vast majority of leadership takes this path together. They lose some but regroup to have a future. Otherwise they all have to fight for the leftover scraps---or turn to a new cult leader. This is their most likely move. Someone like Haley is next.

Now the good news is that Republicans don't understand this which means they are on the swift path to self-destruction and a marginalized minority. The Cult will schism and if things go really well (not for them) then "conservatism" along with Trumpism will fail to bring the end of the republic as we know it. If the Democrats don't blow it (yeah, yeah, we know...) Trumpism will consign America's fascist cult of the wealthy to the dust heap of history where it belongs. A burning planet and the last, best hope for humankind may be at stake but why get dramatic?

Saturday, September 28, 2019

How to Rebuild America's Foundations

First, a few paragraphs of hard to accept truths.  I'll let you know when we're closer to a prognosis for better.

One of the hardest lessons of our nation that elected this shameless anarchist racist imbecile is that his slogan really does tell it all. They want to go back.
Of course they do. Back to when and what exactly? It's perfectly clear.

We as a nation are not better than this and that is another meme that may be politically necessary to have any chance but in fact contributes to the delusion. When folks say 'we're better than this' they postpone the more serious conversation, the one that we need to have if we are _ever_ going to be better than this. And that's the problem. It's a problem that I submit we are not prepared to solve. Even if the planet burns.

America has not only always been this failure of ideals, it was built on its own hypocrisy and denial. It isn't going to evolve to its ideals with any alacrity unless it goes to these very uncomfortable places. And it won't. Some of us are willing to have those conversations. But few of those willing have any strategy for reaching those who do not share our understandings of America's original sins. I can assure you that counting on the fact that the average age of the Fox News viewer is 65 years old won't help. The forces of stagnation, regression, and repression are not going to be persuaded by an intelligentsia speaking the truth and waiting for the light to go on or the old white order to die off. Instead, let us begin with the observation that Trump is not an aberration. He isn't a mutation of the "real" American values. That's why so many of us have "friends," blood relatives, and dozens of people we know who are his supporters.

We all want to be charitable, especially to those we know and love. But the verdict is in and it will become plainer still as the impeachment goes forward and he becomes more panicked, angry, and unhinged. Today he called elected representatives---women of color, people of Jewish heritage---"savages." As so many of his supporters say they like him because he is unfiltered and tells it like it is. Trump is the face _and the brains_ of an America that his critics do talk about but one that we can't wholly reject because they are _in fact_ in our families, our neighbors, and there are a _lot_ of them. They are our fellow Americans and what we know now is that this mean, nasty, racist, bullying America occupies every town, city, county, and state.

If we look in the mirror and admit that the devil is us, what _can_ we do next? Trump's America may not be the majority and they may not be the future but neither are they simply going to have a change of heart or be persuaded by some factual argument, some appeal to religion or commonsense. What makes it incorrigible is what has _always_ made it incorrigible: this kind of small-mindedness, fear of the other, brutality, and ignorance is endemic, it is built into the core of American religion and forms an armature of our history. Those who would reject this structural observation always have a stake in the power that they refuse to share. 

Now, the way to rebuild the foundation. 

So what _is_ the solution if there is no serious chance to remake the country building towards its ideals? I think the Right has already understood this: they _know_ they have lost the culture wars---guns, god, brown, women. But what they have had is a plan that works _everyday_, little by little, relentlessly to insure that _their_ agenda rules. Given demographics and the anachronistic operation of our government's organization (a Senate the represents real estate, not people; an electoral college that privileges a system meant deliberately to deny one person-one vote, etc.), the Republicans know how to _use_ that structure to their advantage. And do. Everyday. Relentlessly. So what can be done if these forces and structures of regression cannot be seriously addressed? Because they won't; because we _refuse_ as a nation to have the honest conversations we would have to have with Uncle Bob or Mary from high school. The answer is right before our eyes. The Republicans have given us the structure of the plan, all we need do is pay attention.

Everyday, little by little, with as little compromise as is necessary but with just enough not to lose the day, Democrats and progresses must do two things.

First, they must act as if everything they seek _is_ the case, will _be_ the case, and cannot be taken back or taken away. Next, they must formulate a plan from the ground up to _show up_. They must vote for compromise candidates when they have to that can be turned or can hold the space from a right-winger until the next more progressive candidate can take that seat. They must extract every bit of victory---again little by little---until things have changed and can't go back. The reason that "big structural change" (yes, that's Warren) won't succeed, even if it manages to win the presidency, is that you can't move a structure from its foundations if those foundations are corrupt.

Americans refuse to admit that our ideals have never really been the truths we now mean them to be. Americans are too lazy, desperate, busy, pre-occupied, illiterate, and incapable of doing the very hard work of citizenship that would remake our values to meet our ideals. But that doesn't mean things can't change or get better. 

So second: it means that we need to do the work _everyday_, often in small ways and in compromises we hate, but that add up and add up. Don't relent. Don't lose the plot. Have a plan that will work even when you must adapt and adjust. And most of all have the courage and the wear withal to _lead_ the way. Impeachment is coming. Americans need a simple story, leadership, and a clear destination---albeit for now. Real change won't happen if you ask for what is not yet on offer. If this argument sounds like the deeply flawed Lincoln or Obama that's because they saw greatness in the long view and success as merely temporal. Carry on.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

On the Pathology of Toadies and Dupes

One of the more fascinating features of the Trump Age involves the difference between toadies and dupes. How did they get this way? WTF is wrong with these people? I put it this way because many of them we never thought were this damaged, and we never really quite believed they were this sick. But truth to tell, they are.

What we see as inexplicable behavior, failures of character, and incorrigible stupidity is a sickness of soul. It can happen to anyone who doesn't do the work to unveil the edges and corners of a more soulful life. It can look like people have done the work, some work, any work but I suggest this is exactly what's lacking.

Let us return to the Trump pathology of toadies before we get back to dupes.

Toadies include Graham, McConnell on the A-list because they like _real power_ more than anything. Barr is the new poster child of this kind of sickness. Power corrupts. it's easy. It's fun. It's free of conscience and full of itself.

And on the A-minus list is pretty much all the rest of the elected Republicans who in some way _know_ that this is all a con job, a train wreck, a criminal enterprise and _they don't care_ because they hate us, the liberals, more than they love their country. They give no care for Trump though they say they do. Rather what they love is power and what they hate is us. And that is all they need to know. Toadies want power, money, fame, and when they can get it disdain, revenge, and vindictive self-serving cruelty. Some just like the work. The cost to their soul is never considered.

Dupes are true believers and the question is why? Why have Uncle Bob or Mary from high school, or someone we never really thought was a complete hopeless jackass now proven themselves utterly contemptible? We have lost "friends," relatives, all sorts of acquaintances who we _now know_ live in the moral turpitude, intellectual vacuity, and egregious failure of character that is Trump. How did this happen? Were they always like this?

The answer to that is actually yes but it took a trip wire, what we might call a permission trigger, and some shepherding that authorizes their failure. To put the matter in another way, it is the result of _the unexamined life_. People voted without care and reflection, without the intellectual and moral clarity that is required of citizenship; they voted in anger, desperation, not in bad faith as such but in _very poor judgment_.

How does one arrive at such poor judgment? It usually takes most of a lifetime of _not_ acquiring the emotional depth and intellectual tools that lead us _away_ from our indulgent ID and our inadequate super-ego. People don't have the personal tools to be serious citizens or more sophisticated human beings and they don't think they need them. Or even know they need them. But it's all actually worse than that.

They are actually closer to Trump in fundamental pathology than we ever thought. How do we know that?

We observe a kind of Trump trigger. He has given permission to reach into the unexamined shadow and this has sent people over their edge. This edge was a lot closer than we ever thought. Life is hard, it's not been bad nor great, but has been fed resentment, anxiety, violence, fear, and lots of failures of success. The middle class Trumpsters have met success and found out without much recognition that "success" sorta' sucks, that it's somehow not all that satisfying to have bourgeois comforts. It is not just failure---jobs that fail, marriages, opioids, etc. It's that success is not all that it's cracked up to be and yet their deeper dissatisfactions, all of which are perfectly ordinary, have been wholly unexamined.

Deep down where the Balrog lurks in the hiding places of the mountains of Moria, as Tolkien would have it, there is a shadow lingering over the false contentment that we have reduced in America to economic prosperity. America is too private to talk about its emotional relationship to success, too religiously dysfunctional to know what to do with the ordinary discontent that follows from a life in which required traumas have not been addressed.

We all come to realize that we cannot continue to act as toddlers and we rein ourselves in---at the cost of primal want that comes with our embodied form and inner, unconfined voice. Trump the Toddler is a relief valve. We have to know that we've told ourselves all sorts of stories just to survive, and when we have done that _successfully_ we have created all sorts of demons just to get there. That is just to get some success that isn't all we thought it would be. And then the world happens with love and failure and stress and illness and death. Now all the demons have come out.

So somewhere deep down inside a damaged soul, like a Trump dupe, there is a need for feeling and expressing cruelty, a vulgar self-assertion, a kind of bluster of self-superiority. This compensation and false consolation of its own sort. In short, Trump's pathology lurks in the hearts of a lotta people who are so insecure that it shatters whatever character they once used to temper their failures. What Trump has done by being elected to this pedestal of achievement and leadership is give permission and emboldened the damaged ID that has never been examined or addressed.

By virtue of such "leadership" and authority such damaged people now act out their sick souls. They have no idea how to save themselves because they have never done any of the work to examine what lies beneath their surfaces. In the deep shadows of Moria they keep the company of their own darkness and that is now "telling it like it is." Much of this is _laziness_, turpitude, a failure of character, family, and education. They have done none of the work and this, this is your Uncle Bob. He's otherwise sorta'kinsda' a nice guy. Truth is, he's deeply damaged and irreparable because he's got no interest, no tools, nothing to tell him just how the damage is doing _its_ job.