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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.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Hillary Clinton lost an election, but we lost a nation.

There is a vast body of analysis on why Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump.  It gives scant comfort to know that Clinton won the popular vote by 2.9 million votes.  She won  48.2 percent of the vote to Trump's 46.1 percent.  However, Trump won the electoral college with 304 votes to Clinton's 227.  The electoral college severely contradicts the popular vote.  But all this analysis does not answer the question of why, after the honesty and decency in the White House of the Obamas, so many people would choose a seething glob of corruption like Donald Trump.

There is also a hefty body of explanations about how Trump won.  Most of it examines what the candidates did, but it tends to assume that candidates are the sole determiners of election outcomes.  We talk much about holding candidates accountable, but shy away from holding voters accountable for their decisions.  Those who believe that America strives for freedom, equality, and justice for all must face the fact that 42 percent of their fellow Americans do not share those values.  Studies, in fact, shows that the most important factor behind Trump's election to the presidency is his appeal to prejudice.  Those people who voted for Trump because he affirms their prejudice and bigotry are often demeaned by him.  Talk show host Howard Stern notes "The people Trump despises most love him the most."

America is not the nation that is characterized by the Greatest Generation.  Trump represents a nation that values his constant lying, his financial deceptions, his false slanders and libels against political opponents, and his vile personal behavior because he endorses their anti-American hatred and bigotry.  The America Trump represents is not the America that once was a powerful voice for the democratic values of freedom for all, for equality, and for justice for all.  And the differing attitude for those values is what defines the political divide in the nation.  A significant portion of the American people denies the values that once defined the aspirations of American democracy.  It denies science and clings to its hatreds.   

This election is not merely choosing between Trump and Biden. It is a choice between Oceania, the oppressive nation described by George Orwell in 1984, and the United States we once dreamed about.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Can you say Antifaschistischer Schutzwall? Translation: Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart

                                                                       Antifaschistischer Schutzwall

This past weekend Germans noted the 30th anniversary of the events that led to the reunification of their country.  That celebration notes the end of the Berlin Wall,  the Antifaschistischer Schutzwall.  The literal translation of that German name is the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.  That name has relevance in our current American time because of Antifa, the leftist movement that has taken up the matter of systemized racism in our country.  Antifa is an acronym for anti-fascism.  Its adherents have given up on the idea that racism can be dealt with through policy changes.

Naziism is having a resurgence in Germany, as it is in the U.S.  While the Soviet Union had control of East Germany, the Nazis were banned and suppressed.  They went underground.  Factions that went clandestine in communist East Germany are now supplying the leadership in the resurgence of Naziism in Germany.  

Democracy has always had to work against, and sometimes with, contending totalitarian political forces:  fascism on the right and communist authoritarianism on the left. The U.S. allied itself  with communist Russia in the war against the Nazis, but then heated up the Cold War in opposition to the Soviet Union.  Dealing with multiple and sometimes opposing viewpoints makes international relations a harrowing business at times.  As America emerged as the world leader after World War II, it developed a policy of being very clear about where our democratic policies stood in relationship to the policies of other countries, but at the same time to extend our friendship to the rest of the world.  But under Trump, even Americans are not sure what the American stance is.  Trump is building a wall along the Mexican border.  He wants to build a rampart to ward off Mexicans.  If Trump expresses what  America is, a lot of people are not sure they want to be Americans anymore.

However, Nazi groups and QAnon nutcases see Trump as a way to advance their causes.  As dictators often do, Trump wants his attorney general to arrest and prosecute his political opponents. He has made up charges which are remarkable for the lack of any evidence for which he wants them locked up.  As news reporters have been forced to point out, the charges are purely products of Trump's malice, as is his wall.  By the end of 1991, the Germans had totally dismantled the Berlin Wall.  Trump's wall is still under construction,  and the pandemic has largely eliminated the opportunities that people crossed the border to take advantage of.  Covid-19 has brought immigration across the southern border to a standstill.  

It is helpful to those of us who realize that America has spent four years going backward to examine Robert Frost's words that

 Something there is that doesn'love a wall...
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.' 


Friday, October 2, 2020

Here comes the violence

Trump's election to president produced some of the biggest protest demonstrations in U.S. history.  Protests at his inauguration were held in every population center in the country.  But they were largely subdued with women wearing pink pussy hats and  being gentle in demeanor.  Protests and armed counter-protests have recently involved some shootings and destructive acts that have become almost routine in the reporting of daily news.  

A friend who is a dedicated pacifist once told me that he would never abandon his belief and practice of non-violence, but admitted that society seldom changes its bad ways without the force of violence to drive the changes.  He, a historian,  can rattle off a long list of examples.   He says that as much as people may advocate for non violence, the fact is that society seems largely impervious to mere words.  People seem not able to take constructive action until outbreaks of violence threaten them.  Despite the massive opposition demonstrated against Donald Trump, it has been largely dismissed and forgotten.

America has sometimes had leaders who could acknowledge opposition and engage opponents in a dialogu leading to workable compromises.  At other times, such as the present, it has leaders who ignore and dismiss the opposition, and some opponents become convinced that the only way to assert themselves is through violence.  And the leader urges people to take hostile sides rather than work to reconcile or accommodate differences.

We tend to prattle about the divided nation, but at the same time harden down into our opposing attitudes in the belief that the only thing that registers on the brains of our opponents is a good whack on the head.

Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States