South Dakota Top Blogs

News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Monday, December 28, 2020

Does Jesus drive an SUV?

 An image from my childhood is a strange man sitting on the steps of our back porch eating from a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon.  In those lingering years of the Great Depression, our house became known as a place where the indigent could get something to eat.  My mother always had a large supply of eggs from my uncles' farms, and she was generous about fixing eggs, bacon, and  toast for anyone who came to the door and asked for food.  It was a practice she inherited from my grandmother, who contended that someone who came to the door asking for food might be Jesus Christ stopping by to check if we were abiding by the Christian command to feed the hungry.  I also recall during the winter months when my mother would take me along one afternoon a week to deliver food baskets to the needy through a program her church was involved with.

I was raised during a time and in a place which operated under the principle that hunger was a shame to those able to feed the needy.  As a young man, I was a trainee for an advertising agency in Chicago whose task it was to hustle around town delivering copy and art work for clients' approval.  While doing so, I was constantly accosted by people asking for handouts.  I sometimes gave them some change when I had some to spare. When one of the agency executives learned of this, he gave all of us who trudged the streets for the agency books of tickets which we could give those who asked for handouts.  The tickets could be redeemed at a number of food kitchens that served the needy.  An organization which sponsored the tickets would then reimburse the kitchens for every ticket redeemed.  The system was a way to see that the hungry were fed snd that any money donated was not spent on alcohol.  Sometimes. the recipient of a ticket would crumple it or tear it up in indignation, but I felt at least that the person would not have to go hungry unless he chose to. 

During the time I was a newspaper farm editor, I was also on the board of deacons for a church, which was situated in an older part of town which was becoming populated by minority people who came to the town to find work in the factories.  The church took on the task of helping to distribute food to the needy in the neighborhood and see that elderly church members were getting healthy meals.  It became a  congregate meals site that served hot lunches to the elderly, a distribution point for meals on wheels, and provided a service that would do the grocery shopping for the elderly, particularly in the winter during hazardous weather.   At that time there was a food stamp program, but better known then was a commodity distribution program through which surplus food items were available.  The church arranged to participate in the distribution and provided cooking instruction sessions on making tasty and nutritious meals from the items.  As a farm editor, I was in constant contact with Department of Agriculture personnel who advised and assisted the church with its programs.  

Production at the factories at that time was seasonal, so there were times when workers were laid off and needed help in feeding their families.  Some congregation members  complained about the people who were constantly coming and going at the church, but a couple of stern sermons quieted them down.  However, the complainers formed a faction which started talk of firing the pastor because of his "extremely liberal" political views.  He soon resigned and was recruited by a church near Chicago that wanted him to organize a food program for their congregation.  The pastor who replaced him was enthusiastic about the church's involvement in feeding people and helped administer the program.  One of the board members complained that the church needed to hire a pastor, not a cafeteria manager.  But most of the deacons not only supported the food program, but actively participated in it.  I was among those who took grocery lists to the elderly, who would check off what they needed, and we would fill and deliver their orders to them.  A woman in the congregation who was a nutritionist reviewed the orders to insure that the people had healthy diets.  

  A food distribution site serving those who have lost jobs because of the pandemic.
The coronavirus pandemic has made food programs essential to keeping the U.S, going.  Some of the distribution programs are massive with cars lining up for miles at distribution sites.  

My grandmother would be pleased to see this.  She would probably insist that Jesus drives an SUV.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

When politics had some brain power


My congressman when I left Illinois was in his eighth term.  He was a Republican.  I supported him and was a registered Republican, although I sometimes voted for more Democrats than Republicans.  He had been a neighborhood playmate and a schoolmate of mine, so I knew him personally. We served in the Army at the same time, but never encountered each other then.  Although I had jobs in which I could not make open displays of partisan support--newspaper editor and professor--I  supported his positions on many issues and on occasion provided his office and his campaigns information.

I was raised in a household of what were known as Lincoln Republicans in Illinois.  What defined them was not so much their place on the spectrum of left to right politics, but their emphasis on competence, integrity, and forthrightness.  My district in Illinois was a combination of some of the richest farmland in the U.S., which tended Republican, and industrial cities, which tended Democratic.  The congressman took positions on agricultural, labor, and civil rights issues which served his constituents well, and he met the standards of character and competence that people trusted. 

After a redistricting which rather drastically changed the boundaries, the congressman lost a primary to an extreme conservative.  However, the conservative candidate then lost to the Democrat.  Except for one term held by a Tea Party Republican, the district has been held by Democrats since 1983.  

The congressman lost the primary when his opponent emphasized the role he had played in the Watergate hearings.  He voted to impeach Richard Nixon.  He had even worked on the articles of impeachment.  Conservatives resent having their favored officials held accountable for wrong doing, even by members of their own party.  They expect loyal party members to engage in cover ups.

This attitude is one which carried Trump to  the presidency. He claimed Obama was born in Kenya. He constantly calls Hillary Clinton a crook, which elicits the chant of "Lock her up."  Trump leads his rallies, as in Orwell's 1984, in two minutes of hate with Hillary as the focal point. While people may be opposed to Clinton's politics and dislike her personally, no one has specified an  offense she has committed  which could result in a jail sentence.  The Trump followers are quick to  charge others with all manner of wrong doing and are avid about inflicting harsh punishments on them, but they cannot see the crookedness and malice of Donald Trump or the violations of decency committed in his name.  They accuse their opposition of trying to overthrow the government while they are the ones who engage in seditious conduct.  

The difference between the politics of decades ago from today's is in the number of people whose minds have been taken over by a cult, in this case, the Trump cult. Again, as in Orwell's 1984, "The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command."   The incoherence of Trump's is remarkable, and his supporters repeat the lies he makes up and the insults he lavishes in complete disregard of the facts which surround them.  What they actually communicate is deficiencies of mind.  With them, a coherent political dialogue is not a possibility.  It seems that Trump's own incoherence as president is taken as permission for those so inclined to follow his example.  His base lives a fact-free existence.  Even his supporter evangelist Pat Robertson said, "With all his talent, and the ability to raise money and draw large crowds, the President still lives in an alternate reality."    That is a way of saying he has a mental disorder.  He chooses to ignore the factual reality and imposes his whims on the nation.,  His base tries to join the image of the world he projects.  That image is divorced from any reality and is viciously anti-democratic.  In years past, people who were anti-democratic did not try to pass their fascism off as American patriotism.  For Trump's so called base, the purpose of democracy and how it operates is beyond their grasp.

As we approach a new year and the coming of a new president, it is important not to ignore that there are 74 million voters who chose malice and mendacity over peace on earth and good will toward all people.  Our nation has struggled for 244 years to make manifest the objectives set in its founding documents.  The presidency of Donald Trump is the first to stridently deny democratic principles and processes and to deliberately reverse what progress the nation has made.  Our hope is in the 81 million people who support the quest for liberty, equality, justice, and, above all, honesty in our government.  They need to gear up for a huge effort to deal with those who oppose the promise of democracy.  It will be an arduous time for democracy. 

Let's start over.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

About Joe Biden's stutter and horrendous journalism.

 Many years ago when computer networks were connected by telephone lines, I joined what was then called the Northwest Database. It included a journalism review generated by a bunch of professors and journalists in the Dakotas and Minnesota with contributions from surrounding states.  The review analyzed the performance of the news media in the region and periodically polled its subscribers to rank the media.  In a couple of those rankings, my local newspaper was ranked as the worst daily newspaper in South Dakota.   There were many reasons for the low repute, but the two main ones were for the newspaper failing to fact check quotations it published and its deferential coverage of some politicians.  The newspaper's readers were not being provided reliable information, and it showed more interest in ingratiating itself with powerful people than in actually covering the news.  Some of those old problems seem to linger on at times.

A few days ago, the Aberdeen American News published a letter to the editor with the headline "Muttering Joe would funny if he weren't sad [sic]."  It is a partisan letter, as many are, but it is also a letter that is totally malevolent with the writer obviously of the opinion that he is more intelligent than he in fact is. Newpapers build their reputations on the accuracy of their reporting and the cogency of their writing.  Letters to the editor present problems because their writers are often neither accurate reporters or competent writers.The letters need special editorial treatment when they fall below standards of accuracy, literacy, and style.  At a newspaper I worked for the editors would work with substandard writers to try to bring their letters up to par, because they reflect on the newspaper that publishes them.  The letter about Joe Biden needed much editorial attention.

The letter lists things that Biden has said or done that are not true or are presented in a false light, and does not indicate where those things are alleged to have happened.   One of the accusations is:  "Millions of voters never heard Joe Biden mock a stuttering child..."   

Joe Biden is a stutterer.  He has been very open about that fact and has talked about it to help other people who stutter deal with the problem.  He devoted a portion of a town hall to explaining the problem and he learned to overcome it.  Over the years, I have had numerous students who stuttered and know how hard they work on their speech in order to  participate in society.  Joe Biden has moments when his speech is halting, but I have never seen him or heard about him mocking a child.

The letter in question is malicious.   The Aberdeen American News needs to be more concerned about truth and accuracy in what it chooses to print.  Too much of what people, like the letter writer, are agitating about is simply not true.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

The truth could set a whole damned society free.

 A local newspaper columnist has joined many other commentators in bemoaning the angry state of division that possesses our nation (We’re messing up our world, all of us).  He recalls a time when people with differing political preferences did not live in a state of hostility.  He notes:

There was a time in America when our disagreements were a part of our strength. We could disagree, respect each other and be united in that we each want what’s best for the greater good.

I, too, recall  a time when it was accepted as condition of life that people would have differing preferences and those differences were accepted as a fact of democratic life.  The writer, John Papendick, says, "I don’t know where we went wrong, but somewhere along the line, we messed up."  Scholars of language and communication, however, have known for some decades that good will was being supplanted by ill will in our society, and have noted some sources of the ill will.

In my own experience as a professor of English, I was certainly aware that an element of malice had taken possession of the minds of a few students.  The malice was expressed in a few student papers.  Those papers contained elements of bigoted intensity that had no place in the quest for knowledge and had to be dealt with.  At that time, I was involved in a research program on the holistic evaluation of papers.  Three professors would read each paper  and each would assign it a rating from a rubric with a quick explanation of each rating.  This was a technique to enable professors to evaluate student work with consistent criteria and provide students with full responses to their work.  

A professor who was reading a paper from my class looked up from the paper and said that it came straight from Rush Limbaugh.  I do not listen to talk broadcasts such as the Limbaugh shows, so I would not recognize where the ideas and words came from.  However, the professors discussed how to deal with such materials.  They  quickly pointed out that if the student did not attribute the words and ideas to their source, they were a matter of plagiarism, and they violated a basic rule of academic honesty.  

That was a time when students wrote argumentative papers, it became apparent much they were influenced by what they encountered in the mass media, and needed to be taught critical thinking skills in evaluating their sources of information.  In the case of Rush Limbaugh, there were a number of books published which documented many of the falsehoods stated by Limbaugh.  Students who quoted words and ideas from Limbaugh were dismayed to find matters that they cited  in their papers were disputed by fact checkers.  In the academic world, checking out the veracity of factual statements is a routine of scholarship.  But that is not true for the general population.

At this time, there is an abundance of false information and ridiculous conspiracy theories in circulation.  When decisions that affect our lives are made on the basis of falsehoods, our nation is in peril.  Stupidity can destroy us.  But malignant falsehoods are put in circulation by Rush Limbaugh and others of his ilk, and they are operating in the lives of the gullible and misinformed.  

Donald Trump awarded Limbaugh, the preeminent malicious liar, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  When an agitator of malice is given a national honor, it is a signal of a nation in deep trouble.  But it also defines the issues that divide the nation:  people of good will versus people of ill will, as typified by Trump and Limbaugh.

The division in the country is not political;  it is moral.  It is between those who believe in decency, honesty, and respect for differences and those who are willing to sacrifice moral attributes for the exercise of power over others.  Rather than wonder about the causes of the division, examine how that division is expressed.  It is usually conveyed in a statement of ill will, and often take great liberties with  the truth, if not be a total violation of it.  

If we really want to confront the division in our society, we can begin by checking the things we read and hear and pass along for factual accuracy.  The truth may be hard to handle at times, but it is a lot easier than handling lies.  And freedom from lies is the most constructive kind of freedom.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

These officials are openly working to abolish democracy

 The suit by the Texas attorney general tried to make it possible for Trump to remain in office by disenfranchising 20 million voters from four swing states.  When the news media asked law professors about the chances of the suit succeeding, they were told that it violated almost every canon of law.

A writer for The Guardian asked the pertinent question regarding the suit:  How does a two-party democracy continue to function when one side simply won’t play by the rules – and doesn’t seem to believe in the democratic project?

She summarized the background of the suit:

Republicans, still loyal to a president with waning power, are asking the supreme court to disenfranchise millions of Americans.

It turns out that Trump wasn’t an aberration. He was the result of long-building extremism and reality-denialism on the right. And when he came to power, far too many in the Republican party didn’t see a cruel, incurious, dictatorial madman, but a kindred spirit – and the kind of leader who would happily override inconvenient democratic norms, basic standards of human decency, and even the rule of law. 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, one of the states named in the suit, termed the it "seditious abuse of the judicial process."

The Supreme Court rejected the suit:  "Texas has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections."

The suit was an attack on the basic premise of democracy.  Although Trump and his followers  claimed there was fraud and cheating in the election,  investigations have found no evidence. Even Trump's main toady, Attorney General William Barr, announced that no evidence has been found.

The suit did reveal that American democracy is under serious attack, not from foreign enemies, but from officials in government here at home

Here is a list of those who attacked the country.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton;

and these state attorneys general 

Eric Schmitt, Missouri (he goes first because Missouri filed the brief);

 Steve Marshall, Alabama;

 Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas;

 Ashley Moody, Florida;

 Curtis Hill, Indiana; 

Derek Schmidt, Kansas; 

Jeff Landry, Louisiana; 

Lynn Fitch, Mississippi; 

Tim Fox, Montana; 

Doug Peterson, Nebraska; 

Wayne Stenehjem, North Dakota; 

Mike Hunter, Oklahoma; 

Alan Wilson, South Carolina; 

Jason Ravnsborg, South Dakota; 

Herbert H. Slatery III, Tennessee; 

Sean Reyes, Utah; 

Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia.

The following U.S. House of Represwntative members: 

Kevin McCarthy, Republican House leader (Ca.)

Steve Scalise, whip (La.); 

Jim Jordan (Ohio), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee; 

Kevin Brady (Tex.), ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee;

 Rep. Gary Palmer (Ala.), head of the Republican Policy Committee; 

 Mike Johnson (La.), who organized this opposition to the Constitution.

Other House members listed by state:

 Alabama (Robert B. Aderholt, Mo Brooks, Bradley Byrne), Arizona (Andy Biggs, Debbie Lesko), 

Arkansas (Eric A. “Rick” Crawford, Bruce Westerman), California (Ken Calvert, Doug LaMalfa, Tom McClintock), Colorado (Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn), 

Florida (Gus M. Bilirakis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Ross Spano, Michael Waltz, Daniel Webster, Ted Yoho), 

Georgia (Rick Allen, Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, Douglas A. Collins, Drew Ferguson, Jody Hice, Barry Loudermilk, Austin Scott), Idaho (Russ Fulcher, Mike Simpson), 

Illinois (Mike Bost, Darin LaHood), 

Indiana (Jim Baird, Jim Banks, Trey Hollingsworth, Greg Pence, Jackie Walorski), 

Iowa (Steve King), 

Kansas (Ron Estes, Roger Marshall), Louisiana (Ralph Abraham, Clay Higgins).

Maryland (Andy Harris), 

Michigan (Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar, Tim Walberg), 

Minnesota (Tom Emmer, Jim Hagedorn, Pete Stauber), Mississippi (Michael Guest, Trent Kelly, Steven M. Palazzo), Missouri (Sam Graves, Billy Long, Vicky Hartzler, Blaine Luetkemeyer, Jason T. Smith, Ann Wagner), 

Montana (Greg Gianforte), 

Nebraska (Jeff Fortenberry, Adrian Smith), 

New Jersey (Gregory Steube, Jeff Van Drew), 

New York (Elise Stefanik, Lee Zeldin), 

North Carolina (Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, Greg Murphy, David Rouzer, Mark Walker), Ohio (Bob Gibbs, Bill Johnson, Robert E. Latta, Brad Wenstrup), Oklahoma (Kevin Hern, Markwayne Mullin).

Pennsylvania (John Joyce, Frederick B. Keller, Mike Kelly, Dan Meuser, Scott Perry, Guy Reschenthaler, Glenn Thompson), South Carolina (Jeff Duncan, Ralph Norman, Tom Rice, William Timmons, Joe Wilson), 

Tennessee (Tim Burchett, Scott DesJarlais, Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann, Mark Green, David Kustoff, John Rose), 

Texas (Jodey Arrington, Brian Babin, Michael C. Burgess, Michael Cloud, K. Michael Conaway, Dan Crenshaw, Bill Flores, Louie Gohmert, Lance Gooden, Kenny Marchant, Randy Weber, Roger Williams, Ron Wright), 

Virginia (Ben Cline, H. Morgan Griffith, Rob Wittman, Ron Wright), 

Washington (Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dan Newhouse), 

West Virginia (Carol Miller, Alex Mooney),

 Wisconsin (Tom Tiffany).

Monday, December 7, 2020

" the gods of absurdity overachieved"

And he passes gas at hearings
 Rudy Giuliani has not had a good week.In fact, he has been in a downward spiral since he joined forces with Donald Trump.  But the past week has been intensely cruel.

It began when he held a press conference notable for its frantic incoherence and streaks of brown liquid running down his face. Some people contended that he was sweating so much that it dissolved his hair dye.  Some said it was something else.  Whatever it was, the brown trickle was gross and made Rudy an object of ridicule and scorn as a fitting accompaniment to a press conference that was an insult to intelligence.

Then he appeared before a hearing by the Michigan legislature to testify on the Trump campaign accusations of voter fraud.  Again, the testimony from him and the people he brought with him was ridiculously incoherent, and the microphones picked up punctuation by farts.  People present at the hearing said, yes, the noise came from Rudy's asshole.  Farts are now part of the official record.

These events all occurred after Rudy appeared at a press conference in a parking lot outside a place called  Four Season's Landscaping Co.  It was supposed to be scheduled for a Four Seasons Hotel.  No one ever involved i a campaign or making any kind of public relations arrangement can explain how such a ridiculous error could be carried out, but so goes the campaign and Rudy's role in it.

The last thing to befall Giuliani is that he has tested positive for covid-19 and will not participate in the effort to overturn the election of Joe Biden for a while--an effort that is inflicting possibly fatal damage to American democracy.

While the election of Joe Biden offers some hope of restoring the nation to a state of sanity, a good portion of the population is in a deranged fury.  Either because of gullible stupidity or intensely malicious purpose, it believes and is acting on the perfidious mendacity of the Trump campaign.  Everything Trump has ever touched turns into a demonstration of malignant, destructive idiocy.  Giuliani, once regarded as a competent mayor of New York City, has turned into a vessel of flailing idiocy.

The only explanation is that he has been touched by Donald Trump.  The gods of absurdity, worshipped by many in the nation, have overachieved.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The reign of incompetence gives double dose in South Dakota

Partisan politics may produce the ultimate end of the United States. Lincoln noted that "A house divided against itself cannot stand."  He was referring specifically to a division between slave-holding and free states, but was confident that division would be resolved.  Of course, the division was ultimately resolved by the elimination of slavery.  The division that divides the nation today is as elemental, but much less subject to resolution.   It is a division between people of good will and those who harbor malice as a value.  Reconciliation between good will and ill will is a near impossibility:  the good cannot condone malice in any way.  

Malice has found a loud voice in Donald Trump, and he has defined those who support him.  If there is any redeeming quality of character in Trump, no one I know of has managed to name it.  Trump has uncovered a streak of malice in America that a change in presidents will not dispel.  It is a trait that has great appeal to some people who want it in their leaders.  They equate obstinate malice with strength.   They are people who assent to democracy as a means to provide opportunity to impose anti-democratic rule on the nation.  As a consequence, we have a president who utters unhinged and incoherent statements about fraud and deception that have no basis other than his unfit condition.  He lies constantly.  Trump appeals to those with severe defects of mind and character and gives them encouragement to cling to proven falsehoods as a basic freedom.   He has proven himself unfit to do anything rational and constructive.  He has six weeks left to scorch the nation's earth, after which we citizens can only hope that Joe Biden can reconstruct the nation.

As for South Dakota, Gov. vacuous floundering with her Trumpist cow girl act leaves the state competing for the most deaths per capita from covid-19 with her leave-the people-free-for-disease-and-death rant and nothing else.  She has no mind to be out of.

2020 has been a year of trial and tribulation, and the likes of Trump and Noem are what has made it so.  One can only wonder if this what their supporters actually wanted.  The evidence is that it is.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Donny Detestable is contagious

Everything associated with Donald Trump  seems in a process of deterioration.  His record as a businessman is one of stiffing contractors, fleecing investors, and unleashing lies as fast as his mouth can move, and he has governed with those principles.  The most fitting image of his administration is brown-stained sweat streaming down Rudy Giuliani's face as he frenetically tries to recite Trump lies and conspiracy theories at a press conference

A number of reporters who were present characterized the whole thing as insane, putting it in the context of a mentally impaired president in frantic denial that he lost an election.  It was a grotesque moment, but Trump's entire term has been a grotesque display of  failure of intellect and character.  The time should come to an end in two months, but there  is a serious question about whether the nation has been seriously damaged.  The forces that put Trump into office will still be with us.  

Recently fired chief of election security Chris Krebs tweeted  "That press conference was the most dangerous 1hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest."

The country has fallen into a state of disarray in which absurd falsehoods and malicious contentions have become a large part of the reports on the state of its governance.  People who voted for Joe Biden obviously did so to return some semblance of sanity to federal government, but the party of Trump will still be present to agitate for misrule.  

Some diseases leave permanent after effects. 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

The shattered states of Trumpistan

I am not one of those who invests great trust in what Americans will do.  I am too old, have covered too much as a journalist, and have studied too much as a professor who taught American literature (the country's history is recorded in its writing) to have faith that Americans will always choose the highest intellectual and moral pathways.  We have had slavery.  We have had segregation.  We have had Watergate.  We have had Vietnam. We have had unarmed black people shot dead in the streets and in their beds. Those are matters that some people wanted, and many still do.  And now we have had Donald Trump.

America is not the land of the free, equal, and just.  It is the land where people who believe in liberty, equality, and justice have to engage in a constant struggle to attain those conditions, and when they are attained, to maintain them.  There are a lot of Americans who don't really care about them, some who find them out of their reach, and and others who oppose them.  Over a few centuries, America has established them as the goals of our democracy, and for the privileged they may be the conditions of their lives.  But there are masses of people for whom they are not.  

As a journalist, I engaged in the study of American literature in order to maintain the context of what I was writing about on a daily basis.  I was always aware of literature, particularly by Native Americans and African Americans, that recorded a different America than the one traditionally portrayed.  But those divergent portrayals were also present in the work of what we considered as mainstream authors.  Most of America is ignorant of its letters.  The few who do read tend to do so to affirm their personal bias, prejudice, and hatred, not to gain an understanding of the complex diversity of the country.

I have been proud and optimistic about the United States' progress toward achieving their goals, but there were always obstacles and opposition.  America is always in a state of becoming, and sometimes it has setbacks.  It is in a serious one right now.  A measure of it is the number of people who think the request to wear protective masks is an assault on their freedom, not a measure to keep them healthy and alive.  American people cannot be trusted to have the most rudimentary intelligence.

We are in a state of siege by what can only be termed obscene stupidity.  Some of our fellow Americans just can't think. Nor do they want to.  That's why they can't be trusted with matters of thought and consideration.  As far as the country's response to the coronavirus is concerned, Dr. Sanjay Gupta put it well:  the best we could do is the worst in the world.  That's how far the repute of the U.S. has plummeted. Trump is a symptom of the decline, but those benighted souls who support him and adopt his ways are the cause.  They have earned the full blame.

It is wrong to think that the divide in America is between conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, or authoritarians and freedom lovers.  It is between those cling to the right to be stupidly malicious and those committed "to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."  We have diverged far from the course tried to set us on with those words.

We have instead fulfilled the skeptical words of H. L.  Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."  

"As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day, the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron."

Joe Biden has to restore a nation which includes a huge loony ward.


Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The empty-headed destruction of democracy

 I have never understood why anyone who believes in democracy and liberty, equality, and justice could vote for Donald Trump.  He is the antithesis of everything our country claims to stand for and has fought wars to preserve.  During the 2016 campaign, his behavior was widely broadcast from debates and campaign events.  His business practices were documented:  he stiffed contractors, he amassed huge debts that he didn't pay;  he lied about everything so that none of his business deals could be trusted; he slandered, insulted, and abused competitors; his businesses discriminated on the basis of race.  It is impossible to ignore Trump's record.  So, if one votes for Trump, we must assume that the vote is for the country to descend to the level of malice, stupidity, and criminality that Trump exhibits. 

The local newspaper published some letters-to-the editor which reveal the kind of mentality that votes for Trump.  They raise the question of what will become of democracy if the attitudes they express prevail.  They recall what skeptic-of-democracy Thomas Carlyle once said:  "Democracy will prevail when men believe the vote of Judas as good as that of Jesus Christ."   Those letters reveal mental processes so defective that they pose great peril for the nation.  

We tend to forget that there are people who attach themselves to authoritarian figures--sort of mental tape worms--and everything they say or do is in emulation of their host figure. If the figure says the grass is purple with orange stripes, to them it is purple with orange stripes.  They have no observations or ideas of their own.

One of the letters begins:

Pelosi and Schumer led their Mean Machine and slandered Trump every step; their charges were proven false every time.

The Democratic leaders have cited Trump's falsehoods and errors, and reported on factual matters Trump has done and said, but they have not said anything that can be defined as slander, unless revealing a person's offenses is considered slander.  And no one has "proven" their reports to be false. 

 Biden is vague, has no agenda and should be running for dog catcher.

In his campaign appearances and campaign advertisements, Bide announced a very specific agenda, including steps to control the coronavirus.  One might disagree with his agenda, but it is a total falsehood to say he doesn't have one.  Then, we have this model of coherent expression:

With regard to the Chinese plague, Biden wanted to open borders. Trump and Pence consult with the finest scientists who discovered Regeneron — the drug used on Trump.

Biden's response to the  coronavirus threat has been to “re-embrace international engagement,” leadership, and cooperation.  He has said nothing about opening the borders.  When Trump contracted a mild case of Covid-19, the Regeneron company obtained an emergency use authorization to try on Trump.  What the borders and Trump's supposed consultation with the Regeneron scientists have to do with each other is, well, you know, lost in a Trump kind of sentence.

If elected, Hidin’ Biden will leave major decisions to Harris, who represents the radical left. During the riots, Kamala said, “It’s about time they stood up for Black Lives Matter...” What the rioters need is to be in jail. One that has a woodshed out back. Martin Luther King, Jr. protested in a civil fashion. Let me be clear, Black lives matter. We all matter! Especially the lives of the unborn, who don’t stand a chance at the hands of an abortionist.

The idea that  Biden would leave the hard work of the presidency to Kamala Harris has no  basis other than the malevolent minds of his detractors.  But what Kamala actually did was to make a distinction between protests and rioters.  She rebuked the rioters, but encouraged  "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."  The reference to taking rioters to the woodshed  and MLK and BLM is a muddle of inanity and incoherence.  It appears to be the product of mental incompetence, but reveals a perennial hazard within our democracy.  

Our founders addressed the matter of people of limited intellect casting votes.  Jefferson insisted that a democracy can survive only with an educated citizenry, and his influence was a force in the development of public education.  Education has the purpose of giving people the skill of apprehending facts and reasoning with them.   John Adams concurred:

“The Whole People must take upon themselvs the Education of the Whole People and must be willing to bear the expences of it. There should not be a district of one Mile Square without a school in it, not founded by a Charitable individual but maintained at the expence of the People themselvs they must be taught to reverence themselvs instead of adoreing their servants their Generals Admirals Bishops and Statesmen.”

Ben Franklin thought so, too: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

Those letters-to-the-editor force us to confront the matter broached by Andy Borowitz:  How did people with such little knowledge or respect for facts get processed through our education system?   Educators accept that education does not have a lasting effect on everybody.  However, in an educated society, the ignorant and those with defective thinking skills are put in a context.   The uninformed and incapable have the right tp speak their minds, but the informed have the right and the responsibility to point out misinformation and defects of thought.  The accession of Trump to the presidency has given the deficient mentalities the temerity to put their thoughts on display.

The local newspaper in printing letters-to-the-editor that stated factual falsehoods breached a journalistic principle.  Newspapers I worked for and with abided by the rule to never publish as fact something we knew to be untrue.  If in a quotation a falsehood was stated, the principle of balance was applied through which correct information and its sources was presented.  As editors, we also were careful not to expose the ignorant and illiterate letter-writers to ridicule.  

Unfortunately, when members of the public have inanities published, our education system receives the blame.  In some school systems, that blame is deserved, as the development of competent language skills has been sacrificed to programing students into being obedient, unquestioning employees.  The corrective is to restore curricula which gives the prospective voters skills in information gathering and critical thinking.  

The alternative is to dismiss the concerns of our founders for what sustains a democracy and to surrender to ignorance and foolery.  Trump has given us a preview of what that will be like.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Getting rid of Trump is the removal of a malignancy

But that doesn't necessarily mean a full return to health.

The public sensed something that polls did not detect.  Although pre-election polls predicted that Joe Biden was favored over Trump by many points, there was a great reluctance on the part of many people to trust those numbers.  Part of their wariness was because of how wrong the polls were about the outcome of the Clinton-Trump contest.  The wary people were right.  Although Joe Biden came out on top, his win was not anywhere near the magnitude suggested by the polls.  People are again asking what is wrong with the polls.  The insidious reason is that some people who are polled lie. 

Some years ago I was the poll coordinator for a newspaper.  As polls are very expensive, the newspaper joined with other news media in the region to sponsor polls and find out what the public thought on crucial issues.  My task was to work  with representatives from other media to determine just what information we wanted to obtain from the polls.  We used a polling organization that was a direct descendant of the original Gallup polls, and that organization did the actual surveying.  A fact not  well understood is that for a survey to be accurate, the sample from which respondents are drawn must reflect the proportion of characteristics of the population of people represented.  That is a complicated and tricky business.  It is not a matter of randomly choosing names out of the telephone book.  If the sample does not reflect the population in terms of gender, age, education, and other significant factors, the poll will not produce very accurate information.  

But, we found that  even if the sample is an accurate portrait of the population, the resulting information might be inaccurate because some people lie.  

Why would people lie in an anonymous poll?  Because they do not want to admit  (to themselves and others) that they are malefactors--people who are willing to break the law and commit offenses against their fellow citizens.  The age of Trump has produced many of these people.  They are people who know full well that Trump is a corrupt, lying, malicious, low-life conniver.  But while they wish to be seen as righteous, upstanding citizens, they will indulge themselves in all manner of evil behavior if it benefits them.  The Guardian explains why such people gave such avid support to Trump:

So what can we say about the voters who stuck with Trump? First of all, this was no reluctant nose-holding: it no longer makes sense to say people voted for Trump “in spite of” his worst qualities, those are clearly a major part of the appeal.

Removing Trump from the White House will, in effect, remove a burgeoning, malignant tumor, but the infected tissue in the body politic which produced him will remain.  Trump as president gave people some comfort in indulging their iniquities in a country which professes decency as a national characteristic.  Many  prefer a leader who gives them license to indulge themselves.  They will be there to frustrate Joe Biden in any efforts to restore humane decency as a standard of conduct.  Their standard of American greatness as presented to them by Trump was unbridled avarice and mendacity.  And they will long for those good old days, as they seek a leader who embodies those qualities again.

The usual procedure when a cancerous growth is removed is to undergo chemo or radiation therapy to clear retaining infection from the body.  In socio-political terms,  the factors of such therapy are the scorn and contempt of people who see honesty and decency as the essential premises on which democracy operates.  But the avoidance of such therapy is why people lie to poll-takers, their fellow citizens, and themselves.


Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Every violation of truth is not only a sort of suicide in the liar, but is a stab at the health of human society.*

 Those words from *Ralph Waldo Emerson diagnose the cause of a failing democracy.  We are experiencing it now.  He was one of the first American scholars to study language and how it works in the human experience and what role it has in how humanity organizes itself.  Language is the bloodstream of the mind.  It nourishes and provides the oxygen of consciousness and thought.  When language is polluted, it poisons the personal and social thought processes.  Individual and social thought then malfunctions.  The most deadly pollutant is lies.

Most people of any intelligence almost instinctively understand lies are cancers that decay and kill life.  If you can't trust language, you can't believe or trust anything.  Therefore, people who have any knowledge and respect for the requisites of a decent life avoid liars.

However, there is a distinction between types of lies.  There are malicious lies which are intended to gain some kind of advantage for oneself over others or to deceive others for some purpose.  They are the ones that damage people, their relationships, and the world we live in.  Then there are the white lies, the false compliments or the making-nice deceptions we make in deference to the feelings of others.  When, for example, a couple shows us a new born who has a nose like a rutabaga and ears like an elephant,  we don't say, "Jesus Christ!  That's one ugly baby!"  We comment on how cute, precious, and adorable it is, because we understand that the baby is precious to someone.  And to those who adhere to  the better parts of human culture, all life that is not malevolent is valuable and worthy of respect.  Lies told to maintain good will and respect are forgiveable and often necessary.  They are the opposite in purpose of lies of malevolence.  

Humans are social creatures that create relationships and complicated infrastructures to live satisfactory lives.  Our social relationships recognize interdependencies and the destructive effects of lies.  For Christians, the Bible condemns lies and warns people about their effects throughout.  Paul writes to the Ephesians (4:25):  "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."  He stresses the damage lies do to the human community.  

So, here we are with a president whose words cannot be believed or trusted.  His lies are a constant stabbing at society.  And our democratic society does not seem to realize that it is being stabbed to death from a multitude of wounds.  

Lying has been recognized as a peril to life from the earliest records of civilization.  When the leader of a country is a prodigious liar, the country cannot be trusted to fulfill its announced purpose.  Trump is avidly stabbing away at democracy, and his supporters cheer him on.  

We seem to have learned nothing from World War II when we battled against the malicious lies of the Nazis.  We are living in violation of truth.  While the toll of Covid-19 consumes the country, the liar-in-chief tells us we are turning the corner. 

 Lies kill.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Why the idea of uniting the country is ridiculous

Joe Biden includes uniting the people instead of dividing them among his intentions, should he be elected president.  He will no doubt make that effort. As a senator, Biden's congenial and straight-forward personality earned him a reputation as someone who could engage with the opposition party in productive work.  On crucial issues, he often assumed the role of conciliator.  The New Yorker notes that "Joe Biden has long valorized comity and respect in the political arena, but the country’s deepest cleavages are now imprinted on Americans’ party affiliations."

Even the most optimistic patriots recognize that the presidency of Donald Trump may well have solidified a moral animosity that cannot be bridged.  He is  a vile, thoroughly depraved person.  Even if he is removed from the presidency, those who support him and subscribe to his ways will remain to be dealt with.  His presidency has revealed that a significant population of the American people is committed to malevolence.  Their politics is designed to serve their favorite hatreds through which they wish to impose cruelty, degradation, and oppression on others,

The divide is not merely political about how the country should be run.  The divide is a very fundamental one between decency and indecency.  The issue is if decent people would be so gullible as to make an alliance with the indecent whose words and actions cannot be trusted. 

The Supreme Court nominations have starkly defined underlying moral differences that have emerged within the Democratic and Republican parties.  In the nomination  process, the Republicans have put on a demonstration of dishonesty, betrayal, and chicanery that is now indelibly engraved into our history.  This demonstration cannot be ignored.   It is part of the definition of what the United States has become.

When Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, it was eight months before the next election.  The Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, insisted that the nomination was too close to the next election and refused to give Garland a hearing before the Senate.  Amy Coney Barrett was nominated by Trump two months before the next election.  The Republicans have ignored all the rules, which they formulated, and have expedited Barrett's nomination so that she will be voted onto the court before the election. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee also had a rule that at least two members of the opposition party must be in attendance to conduct official business.  The Democrats protested the contrived nomination process by boycotting the committee vote on Barrett.  The Republicans chose to blithely ignore that rule, too.  So, they have established that procedural rules don't mean a thing.  What the Republicans have so dramatically demonstrated is not merely hypocrisy; it's treachery.  And that demonstration is changing the way citizens will think about and respond to their government.  The Republicans have disproved that we are a nation of laws. They have  long given up any claim to being the party of Lincoln.  We are, in fact, a nation of political whims about what is regarded as rules and precedents.  It is hard to take laws and rules made under such capricious circumstances seriously.  It is humiliating and demoralizing to live in a sham democracy.

If Joe Biden is elected president, he can probably get some people to work together.  But he cannot change what the people who strive for decency have learned about fellow Americans who practice the Trump cult.  He cannot change people from teaching their children and grandchildren to avoid the kind of people who wear MAGA hats and fly Trump flags for the same reason that we teach them to avoid people who fly Nazi flags or worship Stalin. They are intellectually and morally pernicious.

Some people claim they voted for Trump because they thought he was a successful businessman who would bring organizational skills and resources to government.  But they had to ignore the way he behaved.  And they had to ignore the press, including the conservative press, that gave full accounts of Trump's nefarious ways in business and society.  However, most people who voted for and supported Trump did so because he is precisely what they want for themselves and the country.  That is a fact of what the United States has become.  They will be there to obstruct and demolish anything Joe Biden tries to do, no matter what deranged and degrading tactics will achieve their purpose.  

Our ancestors left the Old World and came to America to escape the kind of world Trump represents and to be part pf a New World of democratic decency and integrity.  But those qualities of life have been displaced by malice, which dwells under MAGA hats and Trump flags.  

Joe Biden might be able to get a majority of Americans to work together and even inspire a democratic reformation  But we have seen Trump and his minions.  And no decent person would be so gullible or insane as to reconcile with their values.  It would be like  deliberately contracting Covid-19.  Making nice to the cult of indecency would divert any attempt to put America back on the course of decency.

If Joe Biden wins the election, the American ethic may be kept alive to reform the country back into a benevolent democracy.  If he doesn't, it would be insane for the decent to submit to the indecent.  It would time to lower the flag and play Taps one last time.  

And let the people who want genuine liberty, equality, and justice do what is necessary to find America again.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Big Brother isn't all there

No, it's not out of George Orwell's imagining of life in a totalitarian dystopia.  It was on CNN Friday from  Fort Myers, FL, where Trump was addressing the elderly about healthcare.  He was rattling off about how well he had handled the coronavirus and how we had turned the corner and would soon be free of the pandemic.  Every claim he made was false, and I was wondering how anyone would dare stand in front of the entire country and try to pass off lies when the facts which refuted everything he said were broadcast or published in every medium.   But then the TV host, Brianna Keilar, cut in and said,
Quite frankly there are so many falsehoods, we just need to interject and fact-check some of this."

Big Brother is not all there
Big Brother is not all there
Of course, such actions will trigger Trump's charges of the media  being the purveyor of fake news and the enemy of the people.  Such charges will be given extra voltage by disinformation campaigns which erode away the United State's credibility at home and abroad.  But the Trumpies will swoon in praise and adulation as Trump feeds them the gibberish that nourishes their malignant brains.  To them, facts are the bias of their chosen enemies.

In its fact check of things Trump said at his recent campaign events, the Associated Press notes, "Regard for the facts is not a hallmark of Trump's campaign for the Nov. 3 election or of his presidency."  You can read their fact check here --if you care to read the ravings of someone who lives in a universe created totally by his malfunctioning mind.  And you can read about that here: 

350 health professionals sign letter to Congress claiming Trump's mental health is deteriorating dangerously

Read more here:

Friday, October 16, 2020

A congeries of rinktums*

*a black colloquialism  for rectums recorded in William Faulkner's work

When I was released from active duty in the Army after being drafted, I found a job within a week at the East Moline Works of International Harvester Company, popularly known as IH or IHC.  That factory made harvester threshers, corn pickers, mowers, and other harvesting machines.  If you drove west out of the plant along River Drive all the way through Moline, Ill., to  its western border, you'd end up at the Farmall tractor plant in Rock Island, Ill., where the red Farmall tractors were designed and made.  At peak production times, each plant employed almost 5,000 workers.

During the time I worked for IHC, its sales were booming.  But it had problems with profits.  Much has been written about why one of America's biggest corporations eventually failed.  It had much competition.  John Deere & Co. was headquartered in  Moline and maintained a number of factories there. J. I. Case also manufactured farm equipment in the community.  The fact is that IH produced some very good farm machinery, but John Deere had embarked on an effort to produce more competitive and productive equipment and to work harder on its labor relations.

For a brief period of time, IHC intensified its competitive efforts by sending a team from the plant out to investigate customer and dealer complaints.  The team consisted of a district sales manager, a test engineer, a service parts specialist, and a correspondent from the materials control department, which was me at times.  We evaluated problems that were raised by company products and services and made recommendations about resolving them.  At times, we ran into representatives from our competing companies in the field.  Team members noted that local people often gave  the Deere and Company representatives preferential treatment.  The Deere people were under special orders about what they should do when out in the field.  For example, they were not to engage in carousing after hours and were always to be polite and respectful.  They also had a special program to help farmers who had breakdowns, no matter what brand of machinery they were using, to enable them to get back to work.  The Deere people were trained to establish a special rapport with rural communities, and from what we witnessed, they were successful.

When we submitted our reports, the executives in the local plant would get to work and resolve problems as much as they had the authority to do.  But our reports were not even acknowledged by the corporate office on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  And when executives from Chicago visited the local plant, the reports and the issues they dealt with were never brought up.   The sales manager, who headed the team, at one time suggested we put a slogan in the report:  "Our machinery works in the field, but our executives don't."  That was never put in a report, but it was an apt summary of a problem we saw.

We received our paychecks every Friday afternoon.  Some nearby watering holes cashed paychecks and IH employees would gather at them, cash their checks, and have a drink or two to start the weekend.  Lower level supervisors often joined in, and there were discussions about what the company was doing wrong.  These were not just gripe sessions.  They were observations of experienced, knowledgeable employees who were frustrated by executives who seemed oblivious to their customers, their employees, and what constituted good business for the company.  The eventual demise of the company was predicted at those Friday sessions.

There was a time when the two factories in the community shut down and put the entire workforce on layoff for a time to stop a drain on the company's finances.  The test engineer on the customer service team explained the problem.  The axles that drove the tractors and combines started to fail in the field and pushed the company into a financial crises.  As the machines increased in size and power, they were putting more strain on the drive components.  The engineers recognized this and were specifying transmission and axle parts that went through a complicated process of heat treating and hardening that could withstand the increased workload demanded of them.  Some executives thought the extra processing unnecessary and that they could save money by eliminating what they thought were unnecessary steps.  They overruled the engineers and eliminated some steps from the manufacturing process on the grounds that they had never been used before and the company had never had problems with them.  But one year farmers had tractors break down during plowing and planting and combines broke down during harvest, and the company's treasury and reputation took a terrible beating.  Some of the executives suggested that the breakdowns were caused by farmers abusing the machines by doing things like driving them through rocks.

That was one example of a decision made under an order to look for cost savings that could bolster the profit margin.  In this case, the company had a massive recall program that replaced the failing parts with ones that were given the complicated more costly heat treatment and hardening process.  The designers and engineers had made the case for the upgraded drive components but their specifications were dismissed because the executives "knew better" and had the authority to order otherwise.  

This failure had a demoralizing effect on the people who designed and built the farm equipment.  They said the designs and manufacturing specifications they sent up were carefully thought out, but did not make it through the "asshole department" intact.  The executives had to exercise their power and  authority, rather than act as problem solvers and builders.  It was more about asserting executive power and showing who is boss, rather than building good equipment and finding ways to make a good business.

When problems arose within the company, these executives would insist everything was fine because they were exercising their power and authority, and they knew what--was-what better than anyone else.  And they were dismissive of their employees and customers.  The business was all about them.

Those dire Friday night predictions all came true.  The company eventually failed and was bought out by a competitor.  It did not survive the asshole department, a congeries of rinktums.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States