Who Quoque? Tu Quoque!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2017 by deborah1960

My beloved has suggested on more than one occasion that I should write a Critical Thinking textbook, using examples from Trump’s tweets and other public pronouncements to illustrate logical flaws.  I like this idea, and I just might take it up some time.  Lately, however, Trump has committed so many assaults upon logic, linguistics, and just plain human decency that it has been bloody difficult to keep up with him. Indeed, the onslaught has been so overwhelming that my most recent posts have focused upon the substance of what he has said (or done) rather than on how he has communicated his, for want of a better word, “thoughts.” While I’ve enjoyed writing these little bagatelles, I have felt a little guilty.  The role of a Critical Thinking Teacher, after all, is to teach Critical Thinking, and the first rule of Critical Thinking is “look at the details.”

Consequently, I resolved to redirect my attention in order to focus upon his actual words and phrasing, and to look for particularly choice examples of egregious thinking. It wouldn’t take long, I thought, before he would commit some logical faux pas or other.  And of course, Trump and General Kelly soon accommodated me by providing a magnificent catalog of ad hominem attacks upon Rep. Frederica Wilson (D., Fla. 24th).  It was easy pickings in the grove of Critical Thinking.  Believe me!

Too easy, in fact.  Everyone knows that ad hominem attacks are bad, bad. By attacking the arguer instead of the argument, they distract the listener from the issue at hand, and tend to provoke such an emotional response from all involved that reasoned discourse is impossible.  Up until recently, it would be considered bad form to accuse a female moderator of treating you unfairly because she had “blood coming out of her whatever.” Or to make short jokes about a Senator who happens to think you’re a menace to the nation and perhaps humanity at large.  Or to mock a reporter with a physical disability. Once upon a time, a bag of bile who would spout such things would be ostracized for an apparent inability to engage in civilized discourse.  Now, he’s in the Oval Office.

Do you see my problem?  Using Trump as an example of the evils of an ad hominem attack, while apt, would hardly win me any points for originality. I was about to hang up my towel when I heard something on the radio that pricked my ears.

As you may or may not be aware, President W gave a speech that, without naming 45, was a fairly damning assessment of why Trump, besides being an appalling human being, is also an existential threat to American ideals.  Bush asserted that nativism, bigotry, and protectionism are antithetical to the values we hold as a country.  In other words, Bush was a righteous oratorical antifa.

This might come as a surprise to most observers of presidential rhetoric.  W was never known as a fine spinner of words, and Christ knows I wasn’t a fan when he occupied the seat behind the Resolute Desk, but damn, he did a pretty good job of skewering Trump.  Kudos, George.

However, this is not what got my logical juices running.  I was listening to a phone-in show on NPR, and Bush’s speech was the topic du jour.  Many people were quite complimentary about the speech, and quite a few of them expressed their shock at being in agreement with W.  I certainly knew how they felt.  Anyway, I was nodding my head in agreement when the token Trump apologist opined that it was pretty rich that W, who had started two wars that we’re still fighting and whose own disapproval ratings were shockingly low, had the brass plated cojones to criticize another president.  Or words to that affect.

“That’s a tu quoque flaw,” I smugly said to myself.  “His argument is fatally flawed.”

Now, faithful readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!  Hi, Dad!) will recall that I have extensively discussed tu quoque flaws in a previous article.  However, for those of you who are new to my readership or have short term memory issues, here’s a brief explanation.  “Tu quoque” (pronounced “tu kwo-kway”) is Latin for “you, too.”  It is the “and so are you” or “look who’s talking” retort that we make when we realize that our verbal sparring partner is guilty of exactly the same behavior that he is complaining about.  Basically, the Trump supporter was saying that President Pot has a helluva lot of nerve for calling President Kettle black.  Tu quoque is a form of ad hominem attack because you are focusing the listener’s attention to a personal trait of the speaker (Bush is a flaming hypocrite) rather than the substance of his argument (Trump sucks).

But at almost the same moment that I was mentally patting myself on the back for recognizing the flaw so swiftly, the following thought caught me up short.

What if he’s right?

I asked myself this question because, believe it or not, there are times when an ad hominem attack would not be considered a flaw.  I would hazard a guess that 99.9% of the time that an insult is hurled at an opponent, the hurler’s intent is to distract the listener (and opponent) from the subject at hand.  Thus, Trump’s designation of any unflattering story as “fake news” can pretty much be seen as an ad hominem attack on the outlet that published it. Indeed, so consistent is this rule that you can just about bet your kid’s education fund on the truth of the story and sleep well at night (except the bookies wouldn’t give you decent odds on the bet, so why bother?).

However—and stay with me here, I know it’s a stretch—let’s imagine that there were a network or website somewhere the sole purpose of which was to spread unfounded rumors and outright lies about, oh, let’s say a female presidential candidate. Crazy, huh?  Let’s take that wild hypothetical a bit further, and imagine that the website is headed by a fat, cirrhotic, lying sack of shit who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends.  Let’s call him Steve.  Now, if I were debating Steve and said, “Steve, you are a fat, cirrhotic, lying sack of shit who will stop at nothing to achieve his ends,” I would be guilty of making an ad hominem attack up to the point that I called him “fat” and “cirrhotic.”  The state of his physique and his apparent ill-health have nothing to do with his propensity for publishing fake news.  However, the rest of my statement, from “lying sack of shit” onwards, wouldn’t be an ad hominem flaw.  Steve’s honesty is the heart of the matter being debated and, assuming that I can back my assertion with facts, it is logically connected to my argument.   (Where, oh where would I be able to find back up for such a spurious claim?)  Similarly, my oblique characterization of our current president as a bag of bile, while not nice, also wasn’t an ad hominem flaw because it was linked to the idea that a president should be able to engage in civil discourse.

So, are there times when tu quoque isn’t a flaw?  Am I so blinded by my misotrumpy that I glossed over the importance of Bush’s failings as a president? I’m tempted to say, “Yes.  There are times when the charge of hypocrisy is so damning that the term tu quoque denotes not a flaw, but an appropriate label.” It seems reasonable.  After all, would we sit still for a lecture by Himmler on the evils of anti-Semitism?  How many copies of Harvey Weinstein’s The Importance of Eliminating Sexual Harassment could we reasonably expect to fly off the shelf?

But isn’t anti-Semitism evil? Shouldn’t sexual harassment be eliminated? And does the mere fact that a hypocrite made these statements make them any less valid? Does the degree of hypocrisy in and of itself invalidate the argument?

To me, this conundrum illustrates perfectly why tu quoque is such an insidious flaw.  The charge of hypocrisy is powerful because we have a visceral reaction to people who dare to tell us to act in one way while they blatantly act in the other.  They make us want to puke.

But does that mean they are illogical?  Or can’t their reasoning, no matter how insincerely held, be sound?  Even if the subject of the hypocrite’s argument is “why I hate hypocrisy,” wouldn’t the reasons for hating hypocrisy remain valid? In other words, if their argumentation is valid, why should their lack of moral standing invalidate it?

I’m not sure it should.

Let’s take Bush as an example.  I recall that I spat blood when W stole the election from Al Gore, so I’m willing, for the sake of this thought experiment, to ascribe all sorts of nastiness to him.  Let’s pretend that George Bush is a goose-stepping, tiki-burning, refugee-kicking fascist.  He even likes to dress up in lederhosen embroidered with swastikas. Now, let’s look at what he says.  The entire speech can be found here, but here are three fairly typical statements:

“Our identity as a nation—unlike many other nations—is not determined by geography or ethnicity, by soil or blood.  Being an American involves the embrace of high ideals and civic responsibility.”

“[B]igotry or white supremacy in any form is blasphemy against the American creed.”

“Bullying and prejudice in our public life sets a national tone, provides permission for cruelty and bigotry, and compromises the moral education of children.”

Is there anything wrong with these ideas?  Are they illogical, biased, or flawed? Does the fact that they were uttered by the second-most incompetent president in the history of our fair land destroy their legitimacy? Or do they merely reflect some fairly basic tenets that in ordinary circumstances (remember them?) would not have to be said?

These are not terribly controversial stands for W to be taking, if you think about it.  Our history as a nation of immigrants pretty much makes the notion of an American people pretty absurd; what brings us together isn’t our ethnicity, but our belief in certain ideals and notions embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Marbury vs. Madison.  If we take the 14th Amendment seriously, with its Due Process and Equal Protection clauses, then we really do have to admit that bigotry is a destructive force that needs to eradicated, not propagated. Didn’t we even fight a war or two over those very principles? And kids really do need role models, preferably positive ones. The only reason why these fairly unsophisticated notions have attained the status of soaring oratory is because Trump has set the rhetorical bar so low.  Frankly, it is so refreshing to hear something expressed in such a gentlemanly, multi-syllabic, and (praise be!) grammatical manner, that we swoon to hear it.  In no way does Bush’s hypothetical status as a closet Trumpite make them any less basic or correct.

So, yeah.  Tu quoque is pretty much always a flaw, no matter how hypocritical the speaker might be.

Glad that’s settled.

 

 

©2017 D. R. Miller

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Holy Smoke (And Mirrors)!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 15, 2017 by deborah1960

 

 

“The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”

William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

 

Brothers and Sisters!  It is such an honor for me, The Really Reverend Reynard J. Foxworthy, to take this mighty pulpit!  It is always exciting to attend the Values Voter Summit, but never more so than this year, when, for the first time ever, we have been blessed by the presence of the President. Wasn’t his speech vowing to protect Judeo-Christian values just the most incredible thing you’ve ever heard?  We are truly blessed to have such a powerful advocate who will defend the sanctity of the family, the church, and the proper role of women!

And, speaking of blessings, did you all remember to bring your faith shower caps?  That’s right, that’s right.  Bring them on up here!  Now, all of you remembered to say the special prayer, right?  Excellent.  And the crisp twenty dollar bill, all rolled up nice and tidy and tucked in along with your prayer concerns?  No checks.  The Lord don’t accept checks.  Just cold, hard, cash. Wonderful.  That’s right.  Just bring ‘em on up. Remember what the good book says:  “There will be showers of blessings!”  Ezekiel 34:26.  Good ol’ Ezekiel.  And Acts 20:35!  “It is more blessed to give than to receive!”  Remember!  The more you give, the more blessings you receive!  Thank you, thank you!

Whew!  That sure is a powerful pile of shower caps, folks!  God bless you! I mean that, from the bottom of my heart!  I know that you are a holy people!  I can bank on that!

That sure is a bright spot!  A bright spot in these dark days.  Oh, yes, Lord, these are dark times.  There are dark murmurings.  Portents. Omens.  Unchristian malcontents muttering about our blessed, blessed president. Ho-mo-sex-u-als.  Mus-lims.  Lib-er-als.  Fem-in-ists. Sinners, all of them! But you, my brothers and sisters, you are the bright light in the dark, dark world. The light under the bushel!

Yes!  The Christian Union of Nationalist Trumpites is a veritable house of Lot in the middle of Sodom AND Gomorrah!  A pure white herd of fat, juicy sheep in the midst of wolves and scavengers! Alleluia!

Now, there are some who will tell you that our president is not a good man!  That a twice divorced man who admits on tape to committing sexual assaults, has alleged Mafia ties, bamboozles his students at his “university”, and refuses to pay his subcontractors , to name but a few transgressions, must be one of those wolves!  Well, that might be!

But let me ask you this: Who would be better at protecting a sheep than a wolf?  And not any old wolf, but a wolf who knows every trick in the sheep-fleecing book, yet has mended his ways, has seen the awful wrongness of his sins, and has crept back to the fold? I have laid these hands on Donald Trump, brothers and sisters, and I know just how real his contrition is.  I felt that he was my brother, and that, deep down, he was just like me.   I’m telling you, folks, Donald Trump is part of God’s plan!  It’s right there in the Bible!  “The wolf will live with the lamb”! Isaiah 11:6.  I sure do love that Isaiah!

Of course, there are some who think I shouldn’t be talking about our president up here from my pulpit.  Some, like those pawns of Satan at the IRS, think our blessed Christian Union should lose its tax exempt status just because I am exercising my first amendment rights by using my sermons to persuade you to vote in a certain way so as to benefit our blessed denomination.  But I had a vision, beloved friends!  I saw the very paper on which that rule was first penned eternally burning in the fiery pits of Hell! And do you know who I saw lighting the first match?  That’s right!  Our president, Donald J. Trump, Sr.!

Now, I was out in the concession stand, signing copies of my book, and I heard some of you chewing the fat over what the president did to Obamacare (or, as I like to call it, NO!-bamacare)!  You heard all the fake news about the $200 billion it will add to the federal deficit, and how millions of poor and middle class people, people just like yourselves, won’t be able to afford to pay for health insurance, especially if they have a pre-existing condition.  You might be worried that your kids could pay thousands of dollars into a health insurance plan that seems real cheap but don’t cover squat, or has eye-watering deductibles.

But don’t worry!  Remember what Jesus said about worrying!  “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Matthew 6:26.  Trust me, you are much, much more valuable than a sparrow!   You are precious treasure, believe me!

And even if all this fake news is true, which it isn’t, you need to ask yourself:  how does this fit in with God’s plan?

Now, you know that God’s plan isn’t always the most obvious thing in the world.  Like my old pappy, the Reverend Billy-Todd Foxworthy, used to say to me, “Reynard, God has the damnedest sense of humor sometimes.” Amen!  But if you try real hard, sometimes you can figure it out. And folks, I think I’ve cracked the code!

Remember what Jesus said:  “Blessed are the poor!” Luke 6:20.  My favorite gospel, that Luke!  Well, think about it.  If Trump makes more people poor, isn’t he actually spreading God’s blessing?  After all, if it’s “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God,” then isn’t President Trump opening up heaven’s gates to more people? And isn’t that a miracle?  Glory!

So don’t believe what that lying Whore of Babylon Rachel Maddow says about the President.  And remember: your gifts of time, talent, and especially treasure to the Christian Union of Nationalist Trumpites help us carry out God’s mission.

Now, please turn to page 666 of the hymnal, and join me as we sing the offering hymn “Lord, Thou Lov’st the Cheerful Giver.”

©D. R. Miller 2017

 

 

 

The Bot Who Came In From the Cold

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2017 by deborah1960

It was a dark and stormy night. Schumer’s phone belted out, “I’m not the world’s most passionate guy!”

Damn, he thought.  He declined the call without even looking at the phone.  He didn’t need to.  There was only one Lola, and he knew what it meant.  He pulled out his second phone, the phone to be used only in an emergency, the phone with only one number on it. She answered on the second ring, as arranged.

“You see it?” she asked.

“Yeah. I saw it.  He must be in deep shit, using the fire-the-son-of-a-bitch code.”

“No kidding.  He just flew in from Huntsville. We’re meeting him in twenty minutes.  I’ll pick you up in ten.”

“Where?  The Roosevelt Room?”

“No.  Too public.  We’re going to use Zinke’s Cone of Silence.”

“Right.  See you in ten.”

“And Schumer?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t forget to burn the phone.”

Schumer smiled as he pulled the SIM card out and ignited it with his Zippo.  That Pelosi.  She never misses a trick.

 

Pelosi and Schumer, both wearing duck masks to befuddle Interior’s face recognition security system (he was Hewey, she was Dewey), waited wordlessly while the elevator brought them to the Secretary’s floor.  It was late—a miserable, rainy night in Washington—and Chuck found the silence of the normally busy building unnerving.  But if Pelosi were nervous, she didn’t show it.

Finally the elevator doors slid open and revealed the President pacing up and down the hallway.  He, too, was wearing a mask.  He was Donald.

“Chuck! Nancy!  Thank God you’re here!”

Barely controlling her annoyance, Pelosi motioned for him to shut the hell up.  Abashed, Trump smacked his forehead, nearly knocking his mask off.  Schumer took the President by the elbow and guided him to the Secretary’s office before Pelosi could kick Trump in the shins.

Once inside, all three sat at Zinke’s magnificent mahogany conference table.  Pelosi flicked a switch, and a huge plastic dome, with the name FOXWORTHY ENTERPRISES etched on its side, descended upon them.

“Oh, boy!  Am I glad to see you two!” the President cried as he slipped the mask off.

“We heard you use code red in Alabama.  ‘Fire the son of a bitch.’ What’s the emergency, Donald?”

“I can’t do it any more, Nancy.  I want to come in from the cold.”

Schumer felt his sphincter tighten.  Donald wanted to come in from the cold?  Their best-placed mole?  He glanced sideways at Pelosi.  If she felt any shock, she didn’t show it.  God, she was magnificent.

“Tell me about it, Donald,” was all she said.

“I just can’t handle it any more.  All the hate.  And those god awful hats!  Why do I have to wear those hats?”

“Now, Donald, you know that you have to wear the hats.  Everyone expects you to.”

“But I look like such a dork in it, Nancy.  And it’s not just the hat.  I can’t get a decent burrito any more.  I show up at Taco King and they spit in my carnitas.  And they don’t even bother hiding it!  I’ve been eating at Chipotle, for fuck’s sake.  Chipotle, Chuck!”

Pelosi patted Donald’s tiny hand, looking genuinely concerned.  “Go on, Donald.  That’s right.  Let it all out.”

“And poor Colin Kaepernick.  So brave!  So strong! Taking a stand against white supremacy! And he’s blackballed!  All those wife beaters and drunk drivers in the NFL, and they blackball that brave young man.  And what do I do?  I call him a ‘son of a bitch’! I’m the son of a bitch, Nancy!  I am!”

The President wept into his hands.  “And North Korea!  All those terrible things I said about Kim Jong Un. I know he’s sick, well, crazy really, and I have to go and call him Rocket Man! The next thing I know, he’s talking about dropping an A bomb on Sausalito.  What was I thinking?”

Pelosi nudged Schumer.  This is where you come in, was the silent message. One New York Democrat to another. She was the master strategist, but Schumer was the human touch.  It was why they were such a great team.

“Donald, Donald.  C’mon, buddy!  Pull it together! Be a mensch, for the love of Mike.”

The magic words did their trick.  The President took in a huge, shuddering breath and wiped his nose with the hankie Schumer offered him.

Schumer went on.  “Look, Donald.  I know it’s been tough for you.  It’s a rotten job, but we needed the best, and baby, that’s you.”

Donald nodded.  “I know. I know.”

“Look at all you’ve done. I mean, thanks to you, the whole world knows that a Hell’s Kitchen alley cat has more intellectual honesty and moral fortitude than Paul Ryan. And what you did to Christie!  Jesus H. Christ, that was beautiful, man.”  Schumer leaned back in his chair and chuckled in that way he has.  He had meant every word of it.  Donald was the best.

Donald laughed, too.  “Did you see the look on McConnell’s face when I told him to get back to work?”

Pelosi chimed in with her silvery giggle.  She had the most beautiful laugh.

The three laughed long and hard, then sighed deeply and looked at each other.  Good times.  Then, just as suddenly, Donald’s face darkened.

“I don’t think I can keep it up anymore, guys.  It’s just too hard.  The responsibility is bone-crushing.  Who knew that being president, even the worst-ever president, would be so hard? Everybody hates me.”

“Donald.  Donald! Listen to me.”

They both looked at her, her chin thrust forward in graceful determination.

“Donald, you have done more for the cause than any other Democrat in history.  Thanks to you, Americans are talking about racism and white supremacy more openly than ever. You’ve shown us more clearly than anyone the threat to our country that Russia poses.  And as for opening our eyes about health insurance policy, well, Donald, even Barack admits that you’re second to none.”

Donald visibly preened. But just as suddenly, he looked crestfallen.

“But I just don’t think I can last to 2020.”

Pelosi broke out into a grin that reminded Schumer of a sunny day in May.

“Donald, don’t be so silly!  Of course you don’t have to hold out to 2020.  All you have to do is hold out to the mid-terms.  Once we get the House and Senate back, I swear, we’ll impeach your ass so fast it’ll make your head spin.”  Schumer smiled.  Her mixed metaphors were so adorable.

“I know, but if you impeach me, then that’ll leave Pence in charge.  I’d rather choke on a chicken bone than let that self-righteous, hypocritical homophobe in the Oval Office.”

Schumer stepped in.  “Don’t worry about Pence.  Bobby Mueller found so many links between him and Manafort that little Mikey’s gonna be up shit’s creek—“

“—Without the paddle!” Trump chortled.

They high-fived each other.

“Just one more thing,” Trump said.  “What about the girl?”

Pelosi and Schumer looked at each other, nonplussed.  “What girl?” they asked in unison.

“Melania.  This is killing her, having to dress up all the time and put on that bullshit about cyberbullying.  All she wants to do is stay at home, read the metaphysical poets, and bake potica.”

“Don’t worry about Melania.  Of course you can bring her out with you when you come home.”

“Yeah, Donald,” Schumer added, “I’ll tell you what. Once all this is over, we’ll all meet up at the Breukelen Coffee House, you, me, Melania, and Nancy.  We’ll have a good laugh, and I’ll show you my neck of the woods.”

“Yeah, Chuck.  That’d be great.”  The President smiled, but there was something sad in his smile. Schumer felt a little sorry for the poor schmuck.

 

Pelosi pulled her Aston Martin up alongside Schumer’s townhouse.  Schumer cast around for something to say.  He just wasn’t ready to go up those marble steps alone.

“Well, that was close,” he said.

“Sure was.  But you did a great job.”

“Oh, you too.”

An awkward silence hung in the car.

“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Schumer asked.

“I don’t know.  Sometimes I think Donny should just shut the fuck up.  He’s out of his element.”

Schumer threw his head back and laughed.

“Schumer.”

“Pelosi?”

“I think you’d better go.”

“Yeah.  Me too.”

He unbuckled his belt and turned to open the door.  As he was about to leave, he felt her elegant hand on his shoulder.

“We’re a good team, aren’t we?” she asked, a tremble of vulnerability barely audible in her husky voice.

“You bet we are.”

“Good night, Chuck.”

“Good night, Nancy.”

©2017 D. R. Miller

 

 

 

The Noblest Roman

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2017 by deborah1960

This was the noblest Roman of them all… Say to all the world ‘This was a man!’

Julius Caesar, Act V, scene 5

 

It will perhaps come to no surprise to the readers of this blog that I really, really disagree with Senator John McCain on a whole array of positions he has taken, especially in the last few years.  He seems to believe in trickle down tax cuts, he is no fan of Roe v. Wade, he favors tax credits to fund health care over universal coverage, and he supports mandatory sentencing.  I admire his stand against CIA torture, but I wish he’d lighten up about lighting up the American flag.  His decision to elevate Sarah Palin to the level of Vice Presidential candidate remains mystifyingly bonkers to your humble correspondent.

And yet, despite all this, I have a grudging respect for Senator McCain.  Yes, he’s everyone’s grumpy grandpa, but he’s a grumpy grandpa who has made enormous sacrifices to his country.  He spent five years in the Hanoi Hilton, enduring torture, illness, and serious injuries that resulted in permanent physical disabilities.  What’s even more incredible, he could have been released early, on the “Dad is the Commander of the Pacific Fleet” ticket—but he refused.  A fundamental sense of fairness and (dare I say it in this age of hyper-irony?) innate nobility prevented him from accepting the unexpected offer of immediate release—and he paid for it with five years of misery.

So, yeah.  I have a soft spot for Senator McCain.  Sue me.

But even if he weren’t such a bona fide war hero, I would still muster more than a grudging respect for him because he has a deep and profound love for the Senate, as both an institution and as a bulwark against tyranny.  One of the theories about why the Roman Republic fell is that the Senate’s increasing irrelevancy made it too weak to stand up to the tyrannies of Sulla, Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar.  I have no idea whether this is true (who do I look like? Mary Beard?), but I’m pretty sure that the Founding Fathers thought it was true, which is why they structured the Senate the way that they did.  The Senate is the wise old man of the government (in fact, “Senate” even comes from the Latin “senux”—“old man.”)  It isn’t hasty in its judgments.  It likes to mull things over, chew the fat, think things through.  It gives advice and consent.  It has dignity.  Subsequent rule makers in the Senate took up the cause:  the Senate, unlike the more boisterous House of Representatives, has a body of rules and procedures that are designed to promote deliberation and bipartisan collaboration.  Now, design and reality often do not meet, but until recently, the Senate committee system of hearings, debate, and compromise chuntered along fairly well.

And John McCain loves it.  He gets off on the deliberative nature of the Senate.  And frankly, so do I.  Yes, I’m a wild-eyed liberal, but I’m also a lawyer, and as such, I have a natural predilection towards deliberation and process.  How we arrive at a solution is often just as important as the solution itself. Dialogue and compromise are not dirty words to me.   I like the whole Hegelian system of dialectics:  you know, the clash of thesis and antithesis arriving at a stronger synthesis.   So I get John McCain.  I really do.

In fact, I was totally unsurprised by the literal thumbs-down Senator McCain delivered to TrumpCare on the 28th of July.  McCain might not agree with the Affordable Care Act, but the process through which Mitch McConnell tried to ram its replacement down the Senate’s throat—the result of occult meetings among a few chosen GOP senators, with no meaningful opportunity for debate or amendment—was repugnant to him.  So McCain chose loyalty to the institution over loyalty to party, and killed the bill with a single gesture, both wordless and eloquent.

We thought that the zombie was dead.  The hero had killed it, and we were safe.  But like a particularly dreadful horror film franchise, the sequel was even worse than the original.  Same process, same false urgency, same animus directed against the poor, the ill, and the vulnerable.  This time, however, there was a key difference.  This time, the legislation was co-sponsored by Lindsey Graham, Senator McCain’s closest and dearest friend in the Senate.  Commentators debated whether McCain would side with his friend and forsake the Senate rules and procedures that had animated him for thirty years.

And today, 22 September 2017, Senator McCain delivered his answer:  he chose the Senate.  And again, I am not surprised.

Senator McCain has terminal cancer and he is very likely to die soon. As it happens, I have had more than the average amount of experience with the dying.  I was a hospice volunteer for many years, and I’ve cared for both a dying mother and a dying sister.   As a result, I’ve had lots of opportunity to observe the dying, and the most striking observation I’ve made is that the process of dying rarely causes great changes in character.  Instead, it strengthens and emphasizes who you actually are.  If you are a selfish bastard in life, then you are quite unlikely to become a deathbed philanthropist.  On the other hand, if you are a loving wife and mother, then you will also be a loving hospice patient.  So, if you have spent your life devoted to a particular institution, chances are you’re not going to say, “Oh, to heck with it.”

I’m sure that this was a painful decision for the Senator.  He strikes me as the kind of guy who takes friendships and loyalty seriously.  But he’s also the kind of guy who takes oaths to the Constitution and service to country very, very seriously.  He’s the kind of guy who thinks the ideals of the Founding Fathers are important not because they are empty rhetoric but because they enable sound government.  He’s the kind of guy who cares about how this crazy old country is governed, both now and in the future.  This is perhaps the greatest distinction between Senators McCain and McConnell:  McConnell subverts the Senate and its procedures in order to exercise power, while McCain upholds them in order to govern.

So, in honor of Senator McCain, I offer no sarcasm or irony.  Just respect.  And gratitude.

©2017 D. R. Miller

 

Greetings From Nambia!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 22, 2017 by deborah1960

Dear World Traveler,

We at the Trump Executive Travel Group are delighted to invite you to explore Nambia, the jewel of the African Riviera and the home of the newest and most exclusive Trump Golf Club, Club Oligarch.

Located along the shores of the Bamboozle River in the outskirts of the capital city of Ponziville, Club Oligarch has fully exploited the natural riches of Nambia in order to ensure that you have easy access to the very best presidential golfing experience in the world that money can buy, bar none.  Believe me!

Personally designed by President Trump himself, the golf course is nestled between the legendary Quagmire Morale and the richest covfefe fields in the world!   Imagine teeing off on the first hole, with its splendid vista of the Nambian Alps, the strip mines barely discernable to the human eye.

Trump Executive Travel Group has also arranged special armed guard guided tours through the bustling neighborhoods of Ponziville, where you can explore Nambia’s rich cultural heritage from a safe distance.  While there, be sure to check out the newly unveiled Monument to Benevolent Colonialism, donated by the Trump Foundation.  This impressive twenty foot statue represents President Trump holding out his tiny hands in friendship and congratulations to the plucky Nambian natives, and is an appropriate token of his thanks on behalf of all his friends who made a killing in Africa.

Speaking of which, visiting Club Oligarch would give you an opportunity to investigate the many and varied business opportunities available in Nambia.  European and American investors have already established a very huge and amazing infrastructure to support a beautiful array of industries, including pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, gold mining, blood diamonds, pesticides, and the harvesting of human organs—all with total freedom from pesky health, environmental, and occupational safety rules.  Nice!

Finally, if you are concerned about your personal health while visiting Nambia, have no fear!  The government of Nambia has inaugurated a health care system and insurance program the likes of which has never been seen before.  In case you didn’t know, that’s really saying something.  Do you have any idea how complex health insurance is?

So, we hope you will take advantage of this very fantastic opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a very, very huge deal.  Inquiries may be made by calling 555-COV-FEFE.  Call before midnight tonight, and we’ll throw in a pair of Ivanka’s latest designer sandals from her extremely nice Plagiarista ™ line.

Meet me at the nineteenth hole—you’re gonna love it!

Reynard Foxworthy

Director of Marketing, Nambia Section

Trump Executive Travel Group

Donald in the Classroom: Could Do Better

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on September 21, 2017 by deborah1960

Dear General Kelly,

I understand that you are concerned about your ward Donald’s lack of progress in Rhetoric and Critical Thinking, especially in light of Professor McWhorter’s latest assessment, and you have requested this update as a matter of some urgency.  It distresses me to inform you that I share your concern.  I cannot recall the last time I ran across a student with so little affinity for the subject.  It is not that he lacks ability—Donald certainly exhibits native cunning—but it is almost a badge of honor for him to disregard the most basic tenets of the discipline.

Perhaps the problem has its roots in a common, if inaccurate, belief that “rhetoric” is synonymous with “insincerity.”  However, given Donald’s tendencies, I would have thought that this false equivalency would have been an attraction for him.  But rhetoric, the study and practice of writing as a means of communication and persuasion, is more than glib flourishes. The truly persuasive writer marries eloquence to clear thinking.  Both are necessary:  persuasion without substance descends to demagoguery, while logic without fluency is devoid of humanity.  Perhaps that explains Donald’s lack of interest in the course.

Or perhaps he is just a lazy bugger.  Whatever the root of the problem, it is obvious that Donald’s ability to express himself clearly, persuasively, and logically is strikingly anemic.

While his areas for development are legion, it would be utterly dispiriting (and, I should think, beyond the realm of human possibility) for Donald to attempt to correct all of them.  Therefore, I think that he should take small steps and focus on improving his register and avoiding dangerous hyperbole. His most recent speaking and listening assessment (a speech before the UN entitled “Why America is the Best and the Rest of You Suck (Except You, Vlad)”) provides a dazzlingly apt vehicle for illustrating these deficiencies in his rhetoric.

“Register” refers to the degree of formality adopted by the writer or speaker.  To appropriately gauge register, the writer needs to be aware of his audience.  Here, Donald was supposed to be addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations, for heaven’s sake—not a bunch of bros hanging out in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven.  Referring to a fellow head of state as “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” is simply not the done thing, no matter how crazy you think he is. To call it juvenile would be an insult to adolescents everywhere.  Frankly, it was excruciating just to hear it, and judging from the photo of your reaction  while listening with the other grown-ups in the auditorium, I think you agree.  No wonder the judges gave him such poor marks.

However, such cringe-worthy remarks are indicative of an even greater problem.  Maybe, as has been suggested by some members of the faculty, his audience was NOT the legions of dignitaries and ambassadors seated before him.  Perhaps his actual audience were the very yahoos and locker room fauna that made him the student body president of this erstwhile fine institution of learning in the first place. The jarring informality of his tone certainly indicated that, even though Donald was standing behind the most prestigious podium in the world, his heart was in a half-empty convention hall in Phoenix.  But if that were indeed the case, then it might indicate that Donald’s narcissism is even more full-blown than the school psychologist had previously reported.  It takes a damning degree of self-regard to twist a solemn occasion into a campaign rally—especially when the election is long over.

I also believe that his tone deaf register is inextricably linked to his use of dangerous hyperbole. Instead of using facts, expert opinions, or any of the other tools available for developing reasoned arguments, Donald relentlessly resorts to facile exaggeration to make his points.  It’s always easier to use bombast than to take the time to unravel the threads of a diplomatic tangle, and it’s tempting to lob a grenade when we lack the patience (or wherewithal) to devise new approaches to intractable problems.  But as personally satisfying such tactics can be, they frequently cloud the issue, blind the listener, and needlessly antagonize the opposition.  We need only look at how the delegates’ collective sphincter visibly tightened after Donald threatened to “totally destroy North Korea” to understand how destructive gratuitous and emotional hyperbole can be.

Finally, although you did not request information about Donald’s behavior in school, I would be remiss in my duties as his homeroom teacher if I did not express my concerns about Donald’s continued association with young Stevie Miller.  Frankly, I find Stevie’s mesmeric hold over Donald not only confusing, but pernicious.  Donald exhibits truly nasty tendencies towards Mohamed and Maria whenever he and Stevie spend recess huddled together in a corner of the playground.  I hardly need to remind you of the trauma the class experienced earlier this term when Donald ripped Barack’s prize-winning essay, “My Birth and Childhood in Hawaii,” out of his hands and force fed the pages to the class’s pet lizard, Tucker. Furthermore, I’m aware that Vice Principal Mueller will be sending you a thorough report on Donald’s unhealthy relationship with Vladimir and its possible consequences on the student body president election.  On a more positive note, I would like to point out that Donald has become far less disruptive (although perhaps more disgruntled) since we moved the Bannon lad to a different homeroom.

I hope that this information is of use to you.  If you require any further assistance, please let me know.  God knows you’ll need it.

Best regards,

 

The Critical Thinking (And Homeroom 7B) Teacher

The New York Military Academy for Troubled Scions

 

©2017 D.R. Miller

My Non-Racist Bones Will Not Suffice

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2017 by deborah1960

Dear Fellow White American,

I’m afraid I have a confession, and it is this:  if I hear one more time that you don’t have a racist bone in your body, I think I might have to smack you.  It isn’t that I don’t believe you, even though we both know that this statement or something similar is frequently the preface to an outrageously racist remark.

No.  That’s not it.  I’m willing to assume the truth that your skeleton is, indeed, lacking the racist bone.  I’m even willing to go even farther in my assumptions:  not only are you entirely non-racist, you are also utterly colorblind and totally devoid of implicit biases (you know, those impulses that make you assume that the black woman in your doctor’s office is a nurse’s aide and not the new internist).  Somehow, you’ve managed to escape the pernicious effects of living in a racist society. I know you, and I honestly believe that most of you possess good faith and good will in abundance.  But even under those conditions, I’m afraid that your non-racist bones (and mine, for that matter) do not suffice.

That’s because, as innocent as you individually might be, you (and I) are still the beneficiaries of centuries of racist attitudes, actions, and policies that have placed us at the top of the heap.  The issue is not that things would change if only black people were more like us.  The issue is that things won’t change until we are less like us. And if that surprises you, then I suggest that all of us (myself included) need to stop blathering on about our non-racist bones, and instead shut up and listen.  If we did that, we might understand that nothing is going to change unless we change our attitudes, assumptions, and actions about race.

Here’s an example of what I mean.  A lot of people I know get very riled about the idea of “Black Lives Matter,” not because they are racist, but because in their idealistic, good old fashioned liberal way, they think that all lives matter[1].  People of a certain generation were raised to believe that because race doesn’t matter, we shouldn’t ever make distinctions based on race.  And when applied to things like water fountains, school buses, and public restrooms, that seems about right.  But we need to make distinctions based on race if not to do so would result in the perpetuation of an injustice.

Frankly, the reason why the movement is not called “All Lives Matter” is that our history has shown time and time again that this is simply not the case.  White American hands have torn, broken, and burned black bodies with impunity since the arrival of the first black slaves to Virginia in 1619.  You don’t have to go far back to see the violence wrought upon black bodies.  There is no reason to look at the Civil War photos of Private Gordon’s scourged back or the photos of Emmett Till’s desecrated body in his coffin to see what I mean; you can look at Trayvon Martin’s body, shot down for buying Skittles in the wrong part of town.  Perhaps they should have called the movement “Black Lives Matter, Too.”  Sigh.  For want of an adverb, a cause was lost.  And who says grammar doesn’t matter?

But easy flippancy aside, I doubt that even the inclusion of “too” would make the acceptance of “Black Lives Matter” more likely, because it flies in the face of what we white people believe about our country and ourselves.  We are raised to believe in the fundamental fairness of America, where due process and equal rights exist for all, and the American dream is attainable to anyone willing to put in the hard work necessary to achieve it. But what due process did Trayvon Martin have when George Zimmerman tried and convicted and executed him for being a young black man in a white neighborhood?  What equal protections were afforded to Sandra Bland, who was pulled over for not signaling a lane change, beaten by the cop who arrested her, and then found swinging from a sheet in her cell three days later?  And how attainable is that American Dream to a black child born into a black neighborhood that had been transformed by racist housing policies from a “nice” white neighborhood to a living diorama of urban ills?

And the list goes on:  incarceration rates sky rocket among black men and women; schools are increasingly segregated, while white schools receive more funding than black schools;  and  even though the life expectancy gap has narrowed, black life expectancy is still significantly below whiteeven in the same city.

The easy and, frankly, most popular way to explain these disconnects between white patriotic ideals and grim African American realities is, simply, to blame the victim.  To assert that there must be something wrong with them that creates these difficulties.  A nice idea, except for one tiny flaw:  it ain’t so.  These ills have their roots not in black capacities or inclinations but in the systems that allowed and then justified the subjugation of blacks.  Crap housing and dilapidated neighborhoods?  Thank the block busters who instigated white flight by terrifying white homeowners with the vision of black neighbors, while selling the resulting abandoned houses to black families at inflated prices they couldn’t afford.  Shitty schools in black neighborhoods?  Take a hard, long look at Brown v. Board of Education, which enshrined in educational law the belief that black schools were inherently inferior, thereby holding up the white school as the institution worthy of support and improvement.  Entrenched poverty?  Blame the vast difference in wealth between white families (with a median nest egg of $111,146) and black families ($7,113—not so much a “nest egg” as a “nest crumb”) on, among other factors, the lasting impact of the discriminatory housing policies in the GI Bill.  Most of our wealth takes generations to build, and the houses of our ancestors have contributed much to our present wealth.  But what if your ancestors were precluded from buying houses?  Or if they were forced to buy inferior housing stock?

See?  The typical American narrative—the plucky immigrant who came to America and worked his socks off so his children could have a better life—doesn’t apply to the African American experience.  For one thing, despite the assertions of a Texas history book to the contrary, the African Americans who found themselves on our lovely shores were not “immigrants” or “workers”; they were slaves, property, chattel, whose designation as “souls”  in their owners’ accounting books demonstrates unequivocally their absolute subjugation to the white population who regarded the black people in their midst with little more respect than what they would show a draft horse or mule.  And despite their emancipation, they were subjected to an unrelenting campaign to keep them “in their place.” To white eyes, the Civil Rights movement, Dr. King, and the election of Barack Obama are proof that the campaign is over and the battle against racism won.  However, the hate-filled faces of the white-supremacists in Charlottesville, and the support given to them by our Equivocator-in-Chief, are chilling reminders that the struggle is far from over.

And the fact is, the struggle might never be over if we white people don’t do our part.

So, what is our part?  Well, as I said above, we all need to shut up and listen.  How about inviting a black friend for dinner, and then letting him or her speak without interruption, explanation, or excuse?  Just take it on the chin, no matter how much you want to interject.  And then we need to read histories and analyses to learn what our textbooks have long hidden from us.  A great place to start would be “The First White President” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, recently published in The Atlantic. It is an eye-opening analysis of the role white supremacism played in the 2016 election of that man.  For a magisterial history of how racism and racist policies shaped our country from its foundations, you really need to read Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi.  The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander is another crucial book.  But you should also check out Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, because you can never underestimate the power of metaphor to explain the truth.  And there are lots more out there.

After that?  I don’t know.  Taking a stand?  Calling out bullshit? Writing a blog? Going on a march? Donations to Black Lives Matter or the Southern Poverty Law Center?  Any constructive ideas gratefully received.  It’ll be a start.  But not a finish.  Not by a long shot. But in the words of John Milton, “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light.”

© 2017 D.R. Miller

 

[1] I’m perfectly aware that there are many rabid racists who foam at the mouth at the thought of “Black Lives Matter,” because they really think that black lives don’t matter.  Some of them even hold the highest positions of authority in our government.  But I’m not talking to them. I’m talking to you!