There Are No Words

I’ve read many of the words pouring out from well-intentioned souls in the wake of our latest school massacre, just as I do each time it happens. Like others, I suppose I’m compelled to look—in vain—at what might just be the solution, finally, to America’s unique problem of near-daily mass murder sprees.

Obviously, the words don’t help. Like thoughts, like prayers, words in the newspaper are just that—words. Not action. Not change. Not conviction. Just words.

And words go away, like yesterday’s news, wrapped around today’s catch, ultimately headed to the waste bin. Worse, words today are weaponized, with truth itself under investigation as “alternatives” to evidence-based reality abound. 

And when truth becomes a casualty of politics, as it often does, as it is right now: words become absolutely meaningless. 

Yesterday, I was reading the “news” about the January 6 panel’s far-reaching evidence showing that the president of the United States set in motion a dedicated, coordinated campaign to overturn the 2020 election results. In the middle of that online article was a garish ad for a gold coin engraved with Trump’s profile, as if it were some coin of the realm (which it is—his realm).

Which Trump do you like, the insurrectionist or the hero? Take your pick. Your preferred version places you into one of the two Americas from which we now must choose. Because it’s looking  like no denizen of either country wants to be a citizen of the other’s. 

Of course, both claim to be the “real” America. So like Solomon presented with two women claiming the same infant, we have an apparently insoluble problem. But unlike Solomon, we cannot threaten to cleave the nation in two in a gambit to reveal the liar, because that’s already done and the liar has taken his half. Try as they might to convince “America” that Donald Trump should be held responsible for the insurrection he fomented, the January 6 panel can only hope to bring the evidence to one of the Americas. The other one is tuned in to Fox News (which is, of course, skipping the hearings). 

People who associate unfettered access to firearms with their personal freedom—and defense of that access with heroism—will never support new legal limitations on same. People whose children have been murdered with another child’s rifle, and those who empathize with them, will never stop pushing for those legal limitations. 

People who feel they can no longer tolerate the outcomes of the democratic process will seek to undermine it and ultimately discredit it, just as those who see the danger the first group poses will seek to shore up our democratic institutions, to protect our fragile experiment in self-government. 

If you want the future to go either of these two ways, the same avenue is open to you as has always been open to you: your vote. Unless you are a public figure accountable to the public, that’s all you really have. I agree it’s not much power. 

However, en masse, those who vote for Congressional Republicans are now, whatever they tell themselves about Christian values or whatnot, voting with Trump and with the gun lobby. They are voting for a Big Lie and for more dead children. That’s undeniable, because the vast majority of GOP elected officials support both Trump’s Big Lie and the gun lobby’s forever agenda of “more guns and fewer restrictions on them.” If re-elected in 2022 they can be expected to stay on this course. 

Likewise, all who vote against Republicans are voting for the preservation of democracy, or at least for some hope in that direction, and for a beginning to the end of the gun lobby’s vice grip  on our political culture. They don’t need to be heroes—just public servants who get the “servant” part.

No words that I or anyone else says will change the dynamics of this contest. Only whether—and how—you exercise your power in November matters. It’s in your hands.

(Composed but not submitted for publication)

NATO’s Child

“How smart is that? And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper…We could use that on our southern border…here’s a guy who’s very savvy.”

— Donald Trump’s comments on Vladimir Putin’s military incursion into Ukraine’s Eastern regions, Feb. 22, 2022

I’ll never forget candidate Donald Trump’s first campaign trail attack on NATO in 2016. According to Vanity Fair, the telegraphed threat to our democratic allies came mere hours after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination. When asked how he would deal with a Russian attack on the Baltic nations, Trump said U.S. aid would be dependent upon whether those countries “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

The question to Trump referenced Article 5, which represents the core mission of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance as embodied in the concept of Collective Defense. It “requires that an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies,” according to NATO. Article 5 was first invoked after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when NATO member states came to America’s aid.

To someone who had grown up in the shadow of NATO — to an American whose father proudly contributed to NATO’s mission in Europe — Donald Trump’s words already sounded like treason. 

But it got worse. Throughout his chaotic presidency, Trump regularly threatened NATO allies and repeatedly told aides he wanted the United States to withdraw from NATO, according to the New York Times

The American president wanted to shatter this 70-year-old mutually protective alliance between the great democracies of Europe and America. 

Does anyone still wonder why?


In 1962, my South Omaha-born Polish father, West Point graduate and recently minted Army Lt. George Wees, was stationed in Heidelberg in then-West Germany. His Signal Corps unit was assisting the newly authorized military of the recently admitted NATO member state. I was born at the spartan Army hospital there, just a few months before the October Missile Crisis. 

World War II had ended for our Heidelberg home some 17 years earlier. Evidence of the Cold War now surrounded us, including Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev’s brand-new Berlin Wall. 

A decade later, in 1973, Dad was ordered to the NATO command in southern Italy, so off we went. We lived near Pozzuoli, a small town on the Bay of Naples, in a country house. Dad worked for what was then called the Allied Forces Southern Europe (AFSOUTH) command, located on a bucolic campus in downtown Naples.

I remember when, in 1974, we learned that NATO member state Greece was stepping away from its role in the AFSOUTH military command. This was a result of an attack by Turkish forces on Cyprus. It felt like a shock: The Greek military was leaving us. 

In those days, even such a small ripple in the fabric of our stability was significant. The Cold War was very real to us, though very hushed, like a terrible secret. We kids knew the dangerous business our parents were engaged in, so we listened closely. Hot spots like Cyprus could become another Korea, another Vietnam. Or something much worse. 

NATO’s strength in numbers felt like our strength. Its diminution felt like our weakness.


With the Soviet Union long gone, some now ask, what is America’s interest in NATO? I might respond with the French aphorism: Plus ça change…. Because NATO’s purpose was never to protect Europe from the USSR, as some choose to believe. Its purpose was — and is — to protect all those who value democratic self-determination and the rule of law from those who do not. 

And it’s not just NATO’s job. It’s ours, too. Because as we have been repeatedly reminded lately, some wield power for themselves alone — for their own interests against the interests of peace, against the community of nations and against the rule of law. How well we live up to our ideals is not the question at times such as these. The question is how much we value the preservation of our way of life, the pursuit of our ideals and the legal protections for both traditions afforded by our Constitution. 

A benevolent and peaceful American future is not assured. As we should know by now, the relative peace and economic cooperation that has allowed Europe and America to thrive since the end of World War II is constantly under threat from morally unmoored opportunists like Vladimir Putin — and Donald Trump. 

(The above appeared originally in the online Nebraska Examiner 02/26/2022 under the headline “Ukraine and future of the NATO alliance”)

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.

– 30 –

*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.