Democrat for a Day

Photo by Martin Castro on Unsplash

It was strange standing in line for the Democratic Primary.  I felt like a stranger looking into brown and black faces, trying to manage the paper ballot, and pretending I knew what I was doing, like I was not seeing the names on the ballot for the first time in my life.  I skipped most of the offices, wishing I was more prepared. Wishing I hadn’t spent so much time and effort following the one race I had the least impact in; the Presidential election.

I’ve spent all morning wondering what it would be like to vote as a Democrat.  I don’t belong. I know that. But I also know that most people probably feel like they don’t belong.  The Democratic Party is for those who don’t belong, isn’t it? It is the party of minorities. The party of second chances.  The party of those who feel left out. In that way, I guess I do belong, as much as anyone else does.

What would it be like to try to belong to the Democratic Party?  They are so diverse! How do they even have a party at all? One thought kept coming back to my mind. To belong to the Democratic Party, I would have to do a lot of listening.  On my blog, I do a lot of talking. Talking is good, especially when you’re in pain.  But I don’t think that talking is what our country really needs right now. We need really, really good listeners.

I hope I can do better to develop that neglected virtue of listening.  Empathizing, understanding, and withholding judgment are essential for creating unity.  Most people and most problems are a lot more complex than I want to think they are. Whether I am a Republican, Democrat, or Independent, isn’t as important as whether I have prepared myself for an election.  My heart vibrates with the truth of this statement: A nation is only as strong the hope that lives within the diverse factions in it; and the charity that is shown by each faction for the others. If the hope and charity are there, the engagement is there. An engaged society is a healthy society.

Hope is voting, speaking out, engaging in the process, and allowing others to do the same, even if it doesn’t sound good.  If someone is protesting, or posting, or voting, they haven’t completely lost hope. That’s good! I saw hope today in each person who was volunteering at the polls today.  Black and brown and white they believed that they were making a difference. They chose to be a part of the process.  

My goal between now and November is to be better prepared for the election.  My goal is to focus more on the local and state contests than I have on the national ones.  I want to contribute what I can to make my society better. All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men and women to do nothing.  To withdraw. To wait for the Savior to come and fix it. To isolate ourselves from uncomfortable realities about ourselves, our families, and our communities.

I’m not ready to join the Democratic Party today, but I hope my vote and my small effort mattered.  I hope that the party of minorities can take me in, if only for a day; to make a spot for a former Republican who was left behind.  I promise to listen better. I promise to withhold judgement and make room for understanding. I promise to take some steps to engage with the people around me to make this world a better place.

Impeachment and the Siren Song of Authoritarianism

I watched this morning as Nancy Pelosi called for the crafting of impeachment articles in the House of Representatives. As I dressed Austin for preschool I thought about how heavy my heart was. There is no joy in this day although I have been calling for Trump’s impeachment for two years now. There is nothing good about being right about something like this. There is no jubilation as I watch my country be ripped apart by a conman and the people I love abused by their leader. There is a small glimmer of hope that perhaps truth and justice will win out. There is the quiet confidence that in troubled and confusing times that I see the truth as clearly as anyone does. But there is no giddy anticipation, no savoring of sweet revenge, no cackling of hateful and maniacal laughter. Only a very empty sadness as I think back to 2015 and a stage full of competent and qualified candidates for the Republican primary and the illusions I still had back then about a prosperous and peaceful decade under capable Republican leadership. The disastrous Trump train has left the wreckage of those hopes in its wake.

“This is the happiest day of your life!!!” she spat at me with her face contorted in rage.  Pondering on my feelings about impeachment, my mind returned to the year 2000. My sister had finally decided to leave her abusive husband and I had come to help her move out of her house.  Her fury hit me like a slap in the face. I thought of how inaccurate her assessment was. The emotions I felt were complex and hardly happy. I was relieved that perhaps the abusive man my sister chose to marry might be out of my life; that maybe the nightmare of his abuse of me and the people I love might be over; but this was far from the fulfillment of my highest dreams of happiness.  If I remember right, after she said those words, she would go back to him. It is common for abused spouses to return several times before finally getting away. I have turned over my sister’s angry words in my mind many times in the years since she said them.

I’ve thought many times about what I really wanted for me and my sister; what would really make me happy.  I thought of her happily married with children, enjoying close and intimate relationships with me and our parents, having her physical, spiritual, and emotional needs met.  Seeing that for my sister would make for the happiest day of my life. Unfortunately, life has not turned out so well for her. The hopes and dreams of a life full of the blessings of all good things seem like a knife to the heart when compared with the broken reality.  They were illusions, just like Trump’s Republican primary challengers, they lie diminished in the shadows of the sad reality.

And now our President has abused his office.  He has targeted Americans he has sworn an oath to protect.  He has used his powerful office entrusted to him under sacred oath in an attempted smear campaign of his political opponent using a foreign government as a tool.  The facts are clear although Trump’s political allies seem determined to muddy the water. They know that neither incompetence nor lack of good judgement can excuse this.  If allowed to stand this behavior will be repeated by future elected officials of both parties. The abuse of power to interfere in an election is impossible to defend in good faith.  It strikes at the heart of our system. Trump must be removed if the Republic is to be saved.

And yet, as I listened to Nancy Pelosi speak of “our founders” and the “commitment to the constitution” I’m sure I’m not the only one to find some dissonance in the notes of her speech within the larger composition of her life.  She and others of her political persuasion have been more apt to criticise the founders, imply that they were limited in their vision, and condemn them as racists. Is it any wonder that many view her words through a lens of cynicism?  Can people of good faith look at these words as anything more than political rhetoric, useful for the moment, but meaningless and empty? Perhaps I’m a fool, but I dare to hope that they are heartfelt words. I’m not so cynical and tribal that I can’t look into the face of a Democratic politician and see a patriot looking back at me whether or not the image is reality or wishful thinking.

Whether the Democrats and whatever Republicans in the Senate that still retain scraps of their conscience can manage to remove this President remains to be seen.  If not, his impeachment may do more harm than good. Beyond this President’s fate lies the larger problems that gave birth to his presidency. Problems like cynicism, lack of trust, disinformation, weakened democratic alliances, and a poor national identity.  America is a nation of ideas. We are bound together by the strength of our vision and hope, not through blood and soil. Disinformation dissolves the glue that holds our nation together. We must do better at instilling within our electorate, a firm commitment to the constitution and those who founded our nation.  At moments like these when the siren song of authoritarian power calls, it may be the only thing that can save us from ourselves.

It is not too late for Democrats and Republicans to return to the principles of freedom that function as the foundation of every good thing we enjoy in this country.  Those principles are not unique to this country, but this country has managed to bring them into practice more perfectly than any other. That makes us exceptional. Being exceptional means that we have an obligation to lead the world and help those less fortunate nations and people to have the same blessings and privileges that we enjoy within the own context of their unique cultures and traditions.  We must respect and honor other nations while also understanding that we are uniquely privileged and blessed.

We must not lead with arrogance and abusive language and behavior.  We never praise cruel dictators nor lust after their untethered power as Trump has done.  We know that such unrestrained concentration of power leads only to despotism. We lead with firm resolve and clear vision.  We seek to form mutually beneficial alliances with other countries in which all parties benefit. We look at the mistakes and shortcomings of our nation’s past not with shame, but with hope that with historical perspective and self-reflection, that we can better realize the values we have always held sacred in this remarkable country.

America, that beautiful shining city on a hill; a republic, if we can keep it.  I have never seen you in such danger. I have never feared so much for your future.  Even if you fall, you will never really die. As long as I live, I will keep you alive in my heart.  Perhaps if God is willing, I will see the rise of freedom again in my lifetime. Perhaps the dark tide of authoritarianism will abate.  Until then, my prayers ascend constantly to my God and my Savior to have mercy on us and bring us to our senses. May Him who is mighty to save bring us back from certain destruction.

He Won’t Go Quietly

I actually made it to the gym today!!  That always makes it a better day, especially when I find a good podcast to listen to.  I found Lawfare on Twitter about a year ago and it has been a wonderful resource during the Mueller investigation and the Ukraine affair.  They often tweet about the most recent news along with podcasts of panel discussions, op-eds, analysis threads or whatever. Benjamin Wittes is part of the Brookings Institute and is the founder of Lawfare.  Quinta Jurecic is one of the managing editors of Lawfare and she conducted the interview on this particular podcast. I follow both Wittes and Jurecic on Twitter.

The podcast is part of a series called, Arbiters of Truth, which is four The Lawfare Podcast: Ben Nimmo on the Whack-a-Mole Game of DisinformationFor a while now, I have been thinking about disinformation, propaganda campaigns, and the reasons we lie to ourselves and allow ourselves to be lied to.  This podcast was extremely insightful on the ways in which modern communication systems have allowed and fostered disinformation and new ways we are learning to fight it.

It was extremely cognitively dissonant for me, but yesterday I actually forced myself to listen to both the opening and the closing statements of Devin Nunes in the house impeachment hearings.  I also listened to many other jarring things Republicans said like Brad Wenstrup when he tried to blame the impeachment proceedings on a Democratic attempt at a coup motivated by a desire for revenge and unreasonable hatred born of an inability to cope with an election outcome that was disappointing.  His expressions of patronizing sympathy and lamentations about partisanship were nauseating. His complete denial of any responsibility to Trump for creating this impeachment inquiry is stunning, if not unexpected. Devin Nunes’s crafting of a creative fictional alternative reality that sows discord and confusion among the electorate while accusing his opponents of that very act, was disturbingly fascinating.  Kind of like watching a Tarantula hawk larvae consume the brain of a living tarantula; it’s so horrible you’re hypnotized by the morbid spectacle. Then there was the incredibly disappointing minimization of Will Hurd who at least tried to engage with the reality of the situation. He said the call was wrong, but not impeachable. If that’s the best the Republican Party can do against their rogue president, it is unlikely that Trump will face any meaningful consequences for his daily assault on our democratic institutions and processes.

How did we get to this lamentable place?  How can all these incredibly brave and patriotic Americans who have testified this week in the hearings make so little difference in the hearts and minds of the Republican members of our House of Representatives and their constituents?  Why do facts and truth seem to matter so little to them? It is because they are in an abusive relationship with Trump. Like an abused spouse and his or her system of victims and enablers, they must minimize, deny, and defend their abusers.  It is built into the abusive system. Unfortunately, the entire world is being victimized by Trump. The only people who can do anything about it are under a campaign of disinformation that clouds their view of what is really happening.

Denial is a powerful drug.  It is so incredibly sad to me to see half of my country deceived by a charlatan.  At a time when we should be supporting the Kurds, the Ukrainians, and the Hong Kong protestors as they fight for freedom and the rights of their people around the world, we are paralysed by disinformation, cowardice, and partisan selfishness.  We are no longer one nation under God. We are divided and weak. As long as America is hobbled like this, the despots of the world breathe a sigh of relief and those who fight against them are discouraged.  

Anyone who contents themselves with the idea that Trump might be beaten in the next election, don’t count on it.  With his son being investigated, Biden is already dropping in the primary polls. Biden is the best candidate to challenge Trump and the constant barrage of bad press will be almost impossible to overcome in a crowded primary.  Trump is successfully crippling his best opponent. If he doesn’t face consequences for his cheating, he will be emboldened and his aggression will escalate. He will use his formidable power to launch smear campaigns against all of his opponents.  This will make his reelection almost inevitable. His supporters rabidly consume disinformation and conspiracy theories. They double and triple down in the face of overwhelming abuses of power. We are a full year away from the next election. If this impeachment and removal doesn’t happen, it is very unlikely that we will have anything like a fair election.  If we still manage against all odds to vote him out in 2020, he will claim that it wasn’t fair and then refuse to leave office. At some point we have to face the reality that we have a big problem. We have elected a dictator and he will not leave quietly.

Standing by Their Man; Republicans Under Trump

I had an interesting conversation with a Trump supporter the other day.  As I listened to her try to articulate her views, I noticed a few things.  First, there was a lot of fear under the surface. Second, she doesn’t really like or trust the President.  Third, there is a lot of unresolved hostility toward the Clintons and Barack Obama. Fourth, there is a fundamental lack of trust toward government institutions.  Fifth, there is a fatalist/apoplectic view of our system as being in decline and that Trump is the last hope there is for the country. I have no idea if these things are typical of Trump’s supporters, but I suspect they are.

There are books that could and I’m sure will be written about the psychology of Trump’s supporters.  I have been listening to podcasts that explore the possibility of the Republican right as a kind of political cult.  The argument is that people who are born into and raised in authoritarian homes are susceptible to cults and other forms of authoritarian exploitation.  It is hypothesized that the rise of Trumpism is the creation of the largest cult the world has ever seen and that the damage this man has done and will do to the country is without precedent.  All the while, these victims/enablers/cult members eat up the lies and faux confidence of their abuser in a frenzy of patriotic zeal. It is an extraordinary thing to watch people cheering and talking about patriotism and hope for the future as the country’s institutions are weakened and our allies look on in horror as our reputation and resolve crumbles on the world stage.  Desperate to see Trump as a kind of gladiator of epic proportions, cloaked in an American flag and triumphing over “the swamp” of D.C. elites; they fail to see the dangers that will bring down our Republic if we don’t do something soon.

I suspect Donald Trump to be a narcissist, although some of the podcasts I have listened to suggested sociopathy or psychopathy.  They gave compelling reasons for their assessments, but as I am most familiar with narcissism, it is easier for me to see him from that lens.  I don’t make the claim lightly. I don’t wish to attack the man, only to understand and protect myself and others against him. Narcissists are cunning creatures.  They appear to be what you want them to be. They cast themselves in the drama of your life as the person you have always wanted to meet. My ex brother-in-law was a narcissist.  He swept my sister off her feet in a whirlwind courtship full of sexual attraction and blind trust. It was only two and half years later when his lies were revealed. Nothing he had pretended to be was true.  The man she had married had skillfully crafted himself as a noble victim while blaming others for his misfortune. He was a gigantic diamond in the rough that had a glorious future ahead once he was rescued from the heartless people around him.  Even his parents warned my sister not to marry him. She took that as proof of what horrible parents they were. “Who would do that to their son?!?” It made his sorrowful story seem even more plausible to her.

By about two years into their marriage, David had successfully isolated her from everyone who had any interest in her welfare.  His lies became her mantra. Her decision to choose him over everyone else in her life gave him tremendous power over her. Then the abuse ramped up.  Fortunately, she was able to escape, but the memory of David and his deceptions are triggered by Trump. It is very hard for me to dispassionately watch the party I once considered myself a part of fall under the spell of this con man.  

He has isolated his followers much like David isolated my sister.  He discredits anyone who tries to expose the truth of what is happening.  First it was Democrats and “establishment Republicans” but now it includes career law enforcement professionals like Andrew McCabe, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and the whistleblower.  It also includes all “Never Trumpers” like myself. Sadly, as we’ve seen from the increasingly abysmal hearings, it now includes career nonpartisan professional diplomats like Bill Taylor, George Kent, Marie Yovanovich, and anyone else with the courage to shine a light on the corruption spreading like an inky dark stain.  There is no person so noble or credible that the Trumpers will not throw under the Trump Train. Why?

Why was my sister so desperate to believe the lies she was told even when everyone around her who had ever cared for her was telling her differently?  The answer is, it’s very complicated. Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party and his ability to bend it to his will is frightening to behold. Abuse always is.  I’ve never seen it on this massive scale before. Millions of people support this President and believe his lies. Credible professionals, politicians, and other leaders are doing his bidding.  Most troubling to me is that we have now fallen out of the category of “full Democracy” on the Democratic Index. We are now categorized as a “flawed Democracy” on the scale which you can access here.  Eighty-nine other countries declined on the scale in 2017 and forty-two declined last year.  There is some evidence that the trend is ending, but worldwide, we are less free than we were five years ago around the globe.  The authoritarian trends we are seeing are largely responsible for this decline. What is authoritarianism?

I just took a quiz and it ranked me as a 28.41% on the authoritarian scale.  If I had taken the test twenty years ago, I probably would be above 50%. Many of the people in my church and community would likewise have much higher scores.  There are both right wing and left wing authoritarians, but the right wing variety seems to get the most attention. Right wing authoritarians tend to be very religious and hold to dogmatic traditions.  They believe that things were better, “in the good old days.” They like to see the world simplistically and resist nuance. They are more likely to use a lot of physical punishment in their parenting. Left wing authoritarians want to silence opposing political views on campuses.  They wish to restrict free speech with political correctness codes. They insist that the only way to achieve social justice is by taking resources by force and redistributing them. When I was in college, I saw examples of left wing authoritarianism that mirrored the right wing variety I was more used to.  All authoritarians are very moralistic in their views believing there to be clear lines between right and wrong and that those who violate those standards should be punished. There is a clear, “us verses them” and a need to force people to conform in order to belong.  

Authoritarian parenting conditions people to accept abuse and expect it to be used to control and subject people both within and outside the family.  The hierarchy of such a family mirrors an authoritarian state. People who are raised in this kind of environment are vulnerable to abuse like what we are seeing in Trump’s America.  My sister and I were raised in a strictly authoritarian home. Looking back, it is not surprising that my sister became a victim of spousal abuse.

When my sister finally cut contact with me, I constantly worried about her.  I feverishly researched David’s legal records to find the smoking gun that would at last wake Tiffany up to the horror of the situation.  Looking back I know that nothing I said or did would have made a difference. In order for abuse to end, the victim has to decide it isn’t worth it anymore; that the cost they are paying to keep the illusion alive is not worth the benefits of living in the lie.  The victim wakes themselves up. If anyone else does it for them, it won’t last.  

And so the rest of the world waits for the Republican Party to decide it is done with the abuse of Donald Trump.  I thought surely when Trump requested China to open an investigation of Hunter Biden that it would be over. Nope.  I thought that his craven betrayal of the Kurds would turn the tide against him. Nope. It will only end when the Republicans decide they have had enough, and for now, they are standing by their man.

Circling back to the conversation I mentioned at the beginning of the post.  The current lie Trump is telling his victims is that he is a warrior against corruption and that he is making enemies of those who want to continue to profit from a corrupt system.  He feeds on the cynicism and distrust of government that is fundamental to conservative belief systems. The problem is, our system is not very corrupt and it isn’t that hard to see why.  We have a robust free press that is regularly bringing down powerful men and organizations or at the very least tarnishing their reputations. Our system is not perfect; Donald Trump’s success is evidence of that.  Still, compared with a nation like Ukraine under Yanocovitch, we have a stellar reputation on corruption. We have, at least until very recently, had a remarkable tradition of an apolitical justice department. The most significant departure from this tradition would be the Nixon Presidency.  The Washington Post and deep throat saved us from the Nixon Presidential crime syndicate.  

What is corruption?  I remember researching corruption when I was in college.  I found a website that gave politicians grades on corruption and I was surprised to see that Republicans were overall much more corrupt than Democrats by the site’s grading system.  I looked closer at the evidence that the score was based on. I found things like, “Politician was instrumental in giving a government contract to a company affiliated with his brother.”  Things like that are not technically illegal, but look fishy. Was the contract awarded to that company strictly on merit, or was there some nepotism there? To protect our system from even the appearance of corruption, there have been government ethics watchdogs and standards and norms.  Donald Trump’s Presidency has violated so many of them, it would take me hours and hours to enumerate them.  

So the question is, if he is supposed to be the warrior against corruption, why doesn’t he actually follow the rules and ethical guidelines himself?  Instead he tramples ethical norms while pointing the finger at past administrations and officials claiming to be a victim of unreasonably hostile and corrupt people.  This is not fighting corruption. Fighting corruption would be championing campaign finance reform, advocating for ranked choice voting, securing our elections, and ensuring that his own administration is free of self-dealing.  If he were fighting corruption, why would he speak favorably of Victor Shokin and smear Maria Yovanovich in his call with Zelensky? Shokin was terribly corrupt and Yovanovich had been making wonderful progress helping Ukraine to do better.  He claims to fight corruption while supporting the corrupt and smearing those who are fighting it. That is not fighting corruption. 

There is much blustering about the corruption of former administrations and officials by Republicans.  This is a bad faith argument. The corruption and scandals of past administrations pale in comparison to what we are facing with this one.  Deflecting to past corruption either in Ukraine or in the United States while ignoring blatant violations by Trump and his administration happening in real time is nothing more than whataboutism.

So Trump sells the lie that he is fighting corruption at home and abroad while leading the most corrupt administration in modern American history.  In my opinion his behavior, is more dangerous and damaging than Nixon’s was because his abuses of power are flagrantly in clear public view. He is the living embodiment of the worst interpretation the Clintons ever had in the fetid conspiracy theories of the conservative fever swamp.  

The big question is, when will Trump supporters choose to wake from the illusion Trump has made for them?  When will the snake oil be seen for the sugar water it is? When will the charlatan be exposed? No sooner than the victims decide to end the abuse.  In the meantime, they will stand by their man.