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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

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.


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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States