The Private Life

I remember when I was a teenager, I loved to read William Safire in the Washington Post. As an out-of-sorts adolescent recently transplanted from Europe to Fairfax County, I was, to put it mildly, a bit isolated. For conversation of sorts, I read the editorials. Safire wrote eloquently on subjects that got right to my heart: self-reliance, self-improvement, the inviolate quality of one’s natural sovereignty. And therefore, one’s natural right to privacy.

Safire would be aghast at the world in 2021. The best joke that describes our transformed society for me is that the government did not need to hide secret mechanisms of Big Brother behind a patriarchal facade and spy on us. We the people invited Big Brother into our lives, all on our own, as the Guest of Honor, aka Alexa. The great intellectual, like many others of his kind, bristled at any intrusion into his life brought by “officialdom.” To witness the masses willingly revealing their most private lives to the amoral, greed-based institution of Capitalism—an even less trustworthy master than fickle government—might have been too much for him to bear. To Safire, the slow and steady chipping away of privacy rights by an expanding government “hive mind” mentality was a grave harbinger, so it seems safe to say that witnessing Americans en masse grabbing a hammer and chisel to join in would possibly overwhelm the man.

For this passionate defense of personal privacy and individuality, he was sometimes lumped in with your garden-variety anti-government (wink) Reaganites. But he was too fiercely independent to be a Republican operative after what Nixon did to him, and too smart to believe that the people who were blowing up the deficit (which more than doubled between 1981 and 1983) were interested in small government. He was conservative—that was his nature—but he was not longer knee-jerk loyal to the party or even its insulated institutions after feeling the deep burn of political betrayal.* I found that stance—that of the observer, never the participant, in the 1980s Washington political flying circus (and by extension the national and global circuses)—to be very refreshing, and enticing. I remember recalling it when I read James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Joyce describes the artist as “the observer,” not participating in what they observe but standing apart, disinterested, impartial, “paring [their] nails,” as Joyce put it. Safire was that way. He skewered them all for their mistakes, their petty weaknesses, their pointless political squabbles. From a resolute distance.

And on the last he had a secret weapon: he was a philologist. His love of words and their correct usage was the subject of a non-political column he wrote for a while, called “On Language”. I read that column even more religiously than his political pieces as I got older and less interested in the predictable noise of politics. Safire helped me realize the importance of words, that they mean what they mean or they are useless, and how some ill-defined words are “wielded” as weapons either righteously or factionally. (They are dull weapons, as opposed to sharp ones, but they do the job of triggering a belligerent response in the pliant mind.) He and his successors at the university taught me to examine closely words like “liberal,” “conservative,” “socialist,” “patriot” and more lately, “Islamofascist” or “Christian” or “terrorist” (or just plain “good,” or just plain “evil”).

On this subject, too, Safire would lament the rise of social media and its “democratization” [sic] of language. Orwell – again – and even Lewis Caroll have schooled us on that (along with countless others who’ve heeded them). So when Humpty Dumpty (or a humpty dumpty president) announces that “When I use a word,’ it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less,’ unless we challenge that notion we have all lost the war without engaging in battle. All the weapons – all the words – then belong to the loudest voice.

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*Safire learned he had been the target of “national security” wiretaps authorized by Nixon while working for the New York Times as a columnist, and wrote with what he characterized as “restrained fury” that he had not worked for Nixon through a difficult decade “to have him—or some lizard-lidded paranoid acting without his approval—eavesdropping on my conversations”. (Safire worked on both Nixon campaigns and wrote speeches for both Nixon and Spiro Agnew.)

The Treason Party

What will come of these Capitol Police telling their stories ?

Like my late father the army officer, their intentions are beyond reproach: they are patriots who have devoted their careers to protecting the country and us, their families. Heck, they are a lot like most workers within the horrific  ‘deep state’ — Americans with families and mortgages and unruly kids, just like you and me, people who just happen to work for the government. People who work for us every day. Everyday people.

Unless you’re mentally ill or a GOP member of congress (or both). Then you believe they are ‘dupes’ working for George Soros and the elite pedophile ring of industrialists and world leaders responsible for Pizza-gate, and Obama tapping phones, and Hillary eating babies. I believe this is why the Trumpers attacking the officers were heard to say “kill him with his own gun.” 

Oh wait, that’s only the mentally ill ones. Other GOP members of congress are simply using these unfortunate insane people (i.e. their conspiracy-addled insurrectionists, would-be bombers, gun-toting fanatics and kidnap planners) to advance their political power agenda and, once and for all, make sure that only the ‘right’ people get to choose the government, judge court cases, pass laws, and be the president. Because as we’ve been witnessing since last November, the ‘new’ GOP under Trump does not believe in the two-party system. According to them, Democrats are unfit to govern (see “Pizza-gate” above), so they must bypass democracy for now and set things right by ‘whatever means necessary’. 

Yes, a healthy majority of Republicans recently told pollsters they agreed that it’s likely violence will be “necessary” to correct the course of the country. 

So how do these members of congress and their Fox News constituents feel about these officers telling their harrowing stories? After all, THEY are the ones who either beat these officers nearly to death or (if they’re in congress) egged on the criminals who did. Will they feel chastened? Will they break down and admit they were fostering a pack of lies  – a tale told by an idiot, as the rational among us already know – out of fear for their political lives, and that they are sorry they helped incite a violent, treasonous mob to go ahead with their pathetic attempt to take the capitol in the name of a sore  loser, a walking icon of failure who has never once admitted he failed? 

No. Like my father, poisoned by Agent Orange for years in Vietnam and then put on a shelf, these officers will learn that their lives, their safety and indeed the safety of all of us is a secondary concern to some in power – or really no concern at all. It’s plain these agitators are tired of the electoral process. They see the pluralistic future that it will bring, and they want revolution instead. They want violence, they and their Proud Boys and their Boogaloo Boys and their whatever boys, their idiot brigade, their stupidity regiment, their Trump treason express – they all want it. They know they came close to stripping away the thin veneer we call society during the Floyd riots. For a few hours in the dead of night, CNN banner headlines declared “CHAOS IN THE STREETS’, and it was true – not because of the protesters but because of the violent PB/Boogaloo infiltrators and the response from both official and “unofficial” Trump world. (I refer to the bloated, militarized federal police forces like ATF, abuse of the National Guard, and those everyday psychos like the young murderous GOP hero now awaiting his murder trial. For local flavor, think of Jake Gardner.)  It is All or Nothing now for the ‘new’ GOP, the desperate minority White Supremacist party, the diseased shell of what was once a conservative political party but is now a political pariah, a bag of dicks, an asshole club, a virus itself called ‘Q’ —and finally an insurrectionist stain on this well-stained nation, brothers to their treasonous ancestors who had their own disgraceful four-year meltdown in defense of dominating (and in that case enslaving)  people different than — and more intelligent than — themselves. 

It’s important we understand this now. It’s important to remember that — as Jesus discovered — the state decides who is a criminal. History can go any way, it’s not a movie with a focus-grouped happy ending. It’s chaos, and decent people trying to impose a little order on the chaos while indecent people try to turn up the chaos to the point of no return, when indeed violence WILL seem like the only recourse. That’s when they’ve won – they will have finally destroyed the rule-based, deliberative, authoritative (as opposed to authoritarian), relatively honest and relatively civil attempts to govern a massive pluralistic nation via the law and democratic consensus that we have seen attempted off and on for the last sixty years or so (since the end of state-sanctioned Jim Crow). They want to replace this grand effort of decades with an instant authoritarian theocracy, an American Taliban composed of insane ‘Christians’ [sic] who defile everything Christ was about and who believe (apparently) that Christ was made in their image, and is ready to take up his sword along with them. 

It’s time to stop them! And all we have to do is make sure we vote. That’s it. They are a minority, like the National Socialist party was in 1933. Still, that party found a way to power. It was, of course, the way of propaganda, intimidation, violence and finally mass murder.

So unless people like us finally learn to distinguish distasteful ‘politics’ from necessary ‘survival’ tactics —unless we learn to vote for freedom with the same fervor as the insane zealots who will vote for chaos until it comes — I am afraid history may repeat itself right here and now.

Is Democracy a Fading Hope?

While we were all being mesmerized by the Clown Circus version of an insurrection, and years before that as we stood rigidly by, hypnotized by the seemingly talentless and ignorant man as he bullied and intimidated his way into controlling the fate of nearly every member of the Republican Party—while we were distracted by all that, we may have overlooked the slipping away of our democracy. 

We now have—officially—one party that believes in (or at least attempts to abide by) the Constitution, the rule of law, and all the responsibilities that go with it. We have another party, formerly made up of conservatives and the wealthy and now composed of conspiracy-dealing whack jobs (and the wealthy), that has no use for the rule of law, or the Constitution, or even for truth itself. 

These people see the writing on the wall, that under a true democracy, with arguments and policy constrained by what we are now forced to refer to as “objective reality” (i.e., the opposite of “alternative facts”), there is no cogent way to argue for white minority rule among a pluralist society of informed voters. Especially given how it has been so-far pursued by the party of white supremacy: voter suppression, voter intimidation, gerrymandering, throwing out ballots from counties they don’t like, lawsuits when they can’t do that, and more voter suppression. 

They understand the ‘theoretical’ votes are not there for white rule via apartheid-like policies, thus the ‘actual’ vote must be managed into a different result. It was made abundantly clear in 2008 and again in 2012. Only the electoral college’s “slavery days” quirks, the bored cynicism of coddled white voters, and the fierce misogyny of those same coddled white voters saved Republicans in 2016. And even for their one bedraggled ‘victory’, look at the price they have paid.

2020 restored the pattern despite every effort Republicans could make to undermine and sully the results of the best-managed election in modern history. But try as they might they could not erase the 7,000,000 voters who put Joe Biden in the White House. That’s a problem.

Democracy threatens to solidify this trend away from Republican presidents winning the popular vote—and even the electoral college vote! So now the Trump party has rejected democracy. It really is as simple as that.

To replace it, they have the Golden Calf himself, Donald Trump, the would-be Putin, the king of lies. Yes, when they paraded that gold-plated Donald Trump idol through the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting this year—a commission I have no doubt was financed by the Trump campaign—you could feel the reverence, the deeply religious and fact-free belief system that underlies the widespread worship of the former TV reality show huckster and all-around swindler. 

His fears are their fears. His deep-seated insecurity and the hatred it breeds for those who can actually do things, create things or manage things successfully—it’s their insecurity too. You can feel the animosity for “elites” in every word they speak, where “elite”is a catch-all term like “vermin” or “subhuman” or “mongrel”. We might think “liberal” is the word they want, that reliable pejorative, but recall these are not Republicans, nor conservatives. These are the people who bragged, at the first CPAC gathering after Trump’s unlikely electoral college victory, that “we killed Ronald Reagan.” In fact it seems these would-be revolutionaries care less for their party’s former leadership and luminaries than they do for just about anyone else. Karl Rove? Loser. G.W. Bush? Loser. His dad? Loser. 

It makes sense. If you want to reform a major political party in your idol’s image, the first thing you have to do is take down the old idols. Or at least those you perceive (in your mercenary, transaction-based world) as idols, since you cannot perceive of a public servant who just wants to do a good job for the people. That last notion, to a Trump party member, can only be believed by an ignorant fool. You don’t compromise, you don’t cooperate, and who’s gonna tell you you didn’t do a good job? Some elitist loser with a $400 haircut?

You dominate

Most interesting to me are those in that other branch, the one that used to wield at least some power over the presidency. They could, as lawmakers at least in name, reserve some power to themselves. But Trump party members in Congress are more than happy to toss whatever may count as their dignity overboard (some would be “air bailing” their dignity, but still, I’m sure they believe they have some). They want to be sycophants, they want to be toadies, they want to place their fate in the hands of someone just as likely to ruin their lives as grant them access to the “inner sanctum” (i.e., the front 9 at Trump’s Doral). 

It really does puzzle me, and the only explanation I can manage is that they were never leaders in the first place. They are, by definition, followers. They were voted in on a racist Tea Party wave and its aftermath for “saying the things” white supremacists were waiting to hear. Then it got easier, with loudmouth Trump up there from 2015 on, always out front saying all the nasty, racist things they would have shied away from saying (not because they didn’t believe it). They are exactly like the snot-nose kids who stand behind the playground bully and savor his amoral cruelty vicariously, too timid and frightened to say and do the same things. And sure, the bully may turn his hateful gaze on a toadie one day—but for now standing behind him is the safest place to be. And maybe a place to get noticed.

It’s just hard to come to terms with the fact that people like Lyndsay Graham are so spineless and lacking in basic dignity, because until recently many of us regular people would have at least respected “the office” of Republican members of the Senate. We respected their office simply because of the fact that they were among the few who are honored with such an office, and were entrusted by the people to work in their best interest. They were “leaders.” You had to give them a shot.

No longer. The pact is now much less nuanced than party politics or party goals ever were. We see, with a new Senator who (for example) doesn’t understand the three branches of government, and with local party officials “censuring” those few remaining Republican members of Congress and the Senate who “defied” Trump (i.e., voted for the truth about his Elmer Fudd style insurrection). We see clearly that for some regions—some voters—the only qualification for office is to be all-in with Trump. How hard is that? 

And when this ongoing purge is complete, when there is not a single person in the Republican Party who does not support every single thing that Donald Trump does or says, it will be even easier. 

They got rid of the Republican Party platform for 2020, saying the party was basically behind Trump and everything Trump might do. The name change will come shortly. When he runs in 2024, it will be under the Trump Party banner. The name will say it all—unless you want to say something different and throw away your future. Or maybe get punched in the mouth.

Will there be a party for conservatives in 2024? Will there be an election—or will it just be a more properly planned coup? It remains to be seen, which itself says a lot about how much has changed while we slept. I can safely predict, however, that once again it won’t be any fun for the regular folks. Just another pointless headache to endure as we try to live our basic little lives, where there’s really no time or desire to play at dice for the raiments of old would-be saviors.

To Serve and Protect (the Status Quo)

Why are cops – federal and otherwise – showing such contempt for people demonstrating for their rights? Why are they acting like a military force ‘containing’ the people like some caged enemy rather than “protecting and serving” them as their mission statement used to proclaim?

I think the best answer is that today, what ‘the people’ are protesting is — cops. Out of control cops. And the response from the cops, who are the ‘enforcement’ arm of the US hierarchy from the corporations controlling Congress on down to the DA and mayor of wherever you are, is, “who are you to say what we can or can’t do?” They are saying this to anyone in the hierarchy — like Bill de Blasio or even a president (Obama) who questions their impunity – because they know that they are the only line of defense between a very angry populace and so-called ‘leaders’ the people now recognize as their socio-political enemies. 

The police and Donald Trump are on the same page — the majority of you may not like us, but you damn well better do what we say, or we will hurt you. We will disappear you. The law will not constrain us. We are the law.

So if you wonder why the “higher authorities” (judges, politicians, etc.) aren’t doing anything about cops rioting in the streets, I’d say look at the power structure. Cops protect the interests of those farther up the chain, and all parties are aware. This is why DAs are so reluctant to charge cops with crimes – they depend on police to risk their lives bagging  criminals and then cooperate with the judicial process up to conviction. Every link in the chain must hold. If City Hall doesn’t recognize their power, the cops can stop cooperating. If the cops stop cooperating, no arrests, no convictions. 

Those farther up the chain are beholden to police in their own way – they can’t ‘reign them in’ because they don’t really have the power to do so. Their power is counterbalanced by the power of the police to render them impotent, their courtrooms and jails empty. And when some political neophyte tries to exercise power over the police, watch what happens – police unions and their hard-right defenders will take them down, not physically but professionally. “Leftist.” “Anarchist.” “Soft on crime.” “Hostile to law and order.” In the case of the current president, he will simply fire whoever waves the Constitution in his face. A more ‘cooperative’ public servant—one who wants to get ahead—will then take their place. Balance of power restored.

The war is on, and it has been for some time. But there’s really only one side waging it, so it’s more like a never-ending series of drive-by executions. You play or you pay, so Pollyanna liberals peddling “equal justice under the law” need not apply—or they too will be tear-gassed. As Trump and his criminal ilk (like Roger Stone or Michael Flynn or Mitch McConnell) understand, it is about power. Not laws. 

The Counterfeit Surgeon

Once there was a man so confident in his opinions he decided to become  a surgeon. He felt medical school was unnecessary and a waste of time, because he believed he had a great native intelligence and ‘feel’ for surgery already. In fact, as he saw it, he had a kind of instinctive genius on every subject that crossed his mind.

Using fake credentials, he managed to talk his way into a senior-level job at a teaching hospital. He was assigned nine medical students, who would accompany him on his rounds and in the operating room.

As the man proceeded to attempt various surgeries based on diagnoses provided by attending physicians, it became clear to his students that he was not a very good surgeon. But they kept quiet, or phrased their comments carefully so as not to insult someone who could decide their fates. “This is an appendectomy,” one might say during an operation, “perhaps we should remove the appendix instead of the gall bladder? I mean if you agree.”

Knowing these students had the edge on him in terms of knowledge and expertise, the phony surgeon would comply. But his considerable ego was bruised, and his ire increased, a little more with each comment. He developed an innate hostility toward those students who kept correcting him. He wondered about their priorities – about their loyalty. To him, it seemed some of them were just trying to make him look bad, or worse—to expose him.

One day he had had enough. During a fairly routine operation, the patient went into cardiac arrest. The phony surgeon continued on as if nothing was wrong, removing a healthy section of bowel rather than the cancerous part indicated by the x-rays. “I think we need to attend to this infarction, sir,” one brave student offered.

“Yes, well I’m in charge and I say we continue the operation. I’m almost done.”

Eventually the patient was stabilized and in the recovery room. But his cancer remained and he had serious heart damage. He suffered another heart attack and died.

The medical students knew this surgeon was incompetent, but what could they do? “Well,” said one to the others, “I’m not just going to stand by and let this fool continue to kill his patients.” The student reported the surgeon to the hospital director, and the medical board convened a hearing. 

At the board hearing, the clever impersonator defended himself vehemently, expressing indignation at the gall of some inexperienced nobody of a student second-guessing his professional judgment. “It’s a complete hoax,” he said. “No one told me about the heart attack, and in fact I’m not so sure there was one. Lots of alarms were beeping, who could know what it was, and how could I do anything different anyway? I was concentrating on the surgery. In fact it was a perfect operation, it was beautiful, you can ask anyone who was there. And anyway, people are telling me the patient had a history of bad behaviors — smoking, drinking, no exercise, drugs maybe — who knows? I really I inherited a mess there. And that student who reported me—she’s always had it in for me for some reason. She’s not even from this country, maybe she hates people from this country, I don’t know. She lies all the time and has a very low IQ from what I’ve heard. Believe me, she’s a nasty person, a real dog. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but many people are saying it.” 

After some debate, the phony surgeon was narrowly cleared of all charges. While a sizable minority wanted further investigation, the majority and the chairman made it clear they weren’t going to continue to jeopardize the career of a valued teaching surgeon based on the accusations of a single student, whose own allegiances and motivations were now questionable. And after all, there’s the reputation of the hospital and medical school as a whole to consider. 

The medical student who reported the phony surgeon was reprimanded for insubordination. She eventually dropped out of the program under pressure from the junior teaching staff and some of her fellow students, who privately referred to her as “the rat.” Finally, after a new investigation involving the local FBI, she was deported based on some problem they found with her initial visa application.

The hospital was glad to have things back to normal. A disturbing trend of negative patient outcomes had recently been identified, and the counterfeit surgeon had hinted to the board chairman that he knew of a few students who seemed to him to be, in his words, “real losers.” The board and the staff needed to focus on that inquiry.

You could hear many of the staff, during informal hallway conversations, remarking on the ex-student, wondering why she was so full of hate, why she wanted to disrupt everything and distract the hospital as a whole from its important work just because of her personal feelings toward her mentor. Sure, he was brash and arrogant, and he rubbed many the wrong way. But he wasn’t hired to be liked, he was hired to get important work done. Why couldn’t she just let him alone to do his job? Why had she become so obsessed with bringing him down?