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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

Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Reign of the Stupid

 A fact that gets lost in the angry rage of partisan politics is that Donald Trump is an astoundingly stupid man.  The press focuses on his malevolence and his lies, but tends to ignore that a person must be supremely stupid to do and say the things he does.  The most disturbing aspect of Trump's lack of probity and intelligence is that it appeals to at least 73 million voters.  The United States has abandoned its claim to be the world model for the decencies that comprise a functioning democracy.  While the  political parties wrangle over migrants trying to get into the United States, there is a group of the more astute who are seriously discussing that it has become a nation to consider leaving.  The press has run many articles recently about indications in America that democracy is trending toward failure.  

Maggie Haberman of The New York Times has covered Trump since he became a presidential candidate.   She just published a book on him:   Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breakings of America.  As the title indicates, her book sees the United  States as a severely wounded nation.  As with other books by reporters about Trump, it is filled with accounts of Trump saying and doing things that are stupidly foolish.

In an interview in The Guardian, Haberman was asked if there were any incidents in Trump's behavior that stood out or surprised her.  She said such an occasion  was at a news conference on Covid-19 in which disinfecting surfaces with laundry bleach to kill the virus was brought up,  Trump asked his pandemic advisor at the conference if anyone had thought of injecting bleach into patients to control the virus. Clearly stunned at the stupidity of the question, she muttered "not as a treatment."  That was a moment in which Trump revealed on camera to the world that he is mentally incompetent, and that in electing him president, America revealed that it is in a state of intellectual destitution.  

While some people are not quick-witted or in command of much knowledge, few people are inherently stupid.  They understand that a successful society is one based on sound thinking and relevant information and they a try to make their essential choices on that basis.  Stupidity is a matter of choice.  And that is the regrettable aspect.  Many Americans have chosen stupidity and its associated feeble-minded malice as the goals of their lives.  They see freedom as their right to live mean and hate-filled lives that permits them to castigate people for the color of their skins and possess a content of character teeming with malice.  They elected a president who could lead them in displays of  petty malevolence and pride in stupidity.  

Trump cannot be blamed for the demise of democracy, however.  His malice and incompetence fulfill the aspirations of about half of America.  For a time after World War II, the people in charge of things called that the era of America's greatest generation.  But whatever greatness the American people can claim is being smothered in the fog of conspiracy theories, a nice name for outright malicious lies, generated by people who take great pride in being deplorable.   

The most lethal enemy of America is not communism or totalitarianism, or any form of government that fosters  oppression and injustice.  It is the stupidity, a virulent mental disease which reduces those infected into a violent, rabid lunacy.  As the late comedian Ron White observed, you can't fix stupid.  It is a state in which communication and cognition are not possible.  Although the founders of America conceived of a public education system that might prevent utter stupidity, some people regard it as a human right to be protected.  Schools, in what minds they have left, are a threat to it.

On January 6, 2021, we saw the power of the stupid demonstrated.  Yesterday when Nancy Pelosi's 82-year-old husband had his skull fractured with a hammer by a devotee of  stupid, we were presented with an insight into what the stupid can do.

And if you resent hearing that America may be coming to an end, that's one of the symptoms.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

With malice toward all.

 It takes some massive deformities of mind and character to make a person as despicable as Alex Jones.  It is a serious mistake to attribute his malevolent dementia to a  matter of political choice.  There is a deeper, fundamental moral defect that drives him to do what he does.  As a nation, we mount extensive responses when the nation is physically threatened, as we are doing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  More than a million Americans have died from the disease and the fatalities are down to about 375 per day.  We haven't conquered the disease, but have adjusted to living with it, and progress is  being made in prevention and treatment.   We have still to confront the pathology that possesses people like Alex Jones.

We have laws that make the intentional spread of germs a crime:

SDCL 34-16-2Release of disease germs as felony. Any person who releases or spreads any disease germs intending thereby to accomplish the infection of one or more persons or domestic animals is guilty of a Class 2 felony.

We do not have laws regarding the spread of mental pathogens that make minds unsound.  And the intentional contagion of mental malignancies among the public is what Jones and his ilk do.

People like Alex Jones cite the First Amendment when what they say and do is challenged.  They insist that the right to free speech gives them the freedom to say anything they want.  There was once (and still is in some states) laws against criminal libel.  They largely have been suppressed because aspects of them seem in violation of the First Amendment.  Some legal scholars hold that the civil libel laws are sufficient to deal with destructive acts of libel, although that is demonstrably not true.  Among people like Jones, malicious libel flows like beer at a college fraternity kegger.  

When people tell malicious lies about people and events in our country, we have applied the misleading term "conspiracy theory" to what they are saying, putting them in the category of a superstition.  Denying that the Sandy Hook massacre of children and teachers did not happen, but was a stunt , is easy to refute from the testimony of those who experienced it.  The damage done by the deniers of the mass shooting is a crime as lethal as the shooting itself.  While Jones has been successfully sued for almost a billion dollars for the damage he has done to the lives of affected people, he still is free to spread malice and hatred.

The First Amendment permits freedom of speech, but people still are accountable for what they say.  Jones' spreading of lies should be seen as a crime, just as the intentional spreading of disease germs is.  And people who commit felonies have their freedom and rights suspended so that they cannot commit crimes on the public.  While juries have awarded a billion dollars to those affected by Jones' pathogens, those awards are more symbolic than real.  It is unlikely that anywhere near that amount of money will reach Jones' victims.  And Jones is still free to criminally assault innocent people with his verbal pathogens.

We live in a time when the country is bitterly divided.  Malice-inspired lies play a major role in that division.  Those lies are not  harmless.  They cripple and kill.  And we tolerate them as "conspiracy theories."  

A country that that can't tell the difference between inane babble and lethal crimes against humanity doesn't have much of a future.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States