Dump Trumpism

Last week the FBI completed a follow-up investigation into Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Senators and certain senior staff were permitted to look at one copy of the FBI report, in shifts, in a secure location in the US Capitol. So, neither the scope of the investigation nor its findings have been disclosed to the American public. What did the FBI look at and what did they see? None of your damn business.

On Saturday the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh and within hours he was sworn in as the 114th justice in the history of the high court.

Republicans have a 51-49 majority in the Senate. One Democrat running for reelection in West Virginia voted with the Republicans. One Republican was absent for a family event, though he said he would have shown up to vote if necessary. And one Republican who said she would have voted against Kavanaugh instead voted “present” for reasons having something to do with the aforementioned absentee, which I don’t pretend to understand.

Did we not want history to reflect a 50-49 vote? Did we not want to push a United States Senator to show up and do the job he was elected to do? Did the one supposed GOP defector not want to go on the record as such?

These are all trivial questions.

What matters is that a majority got whatever they felt they needed to justify putting Donald Trump’s second nominee on the Supreme Court for the rest of his natural life.

Trump, the perpetual sore winner, claimed (falsely) that Kavanaugh had been proven innocent and apologized on behalf of the country for putting him through such an ordeal.

Give me a break. I, for one, am NOT sorry for what Mr. Kavanaugh went through during the past month or so; I am, however, profoundly sorry for what Christine Blasey Ford has been going through for the past 36 years. She didn’t ask for any of this. She didn’t seek publicity, she sought anonymity. She came forward reluctantly and belatedly because she said she felt a duty to do so.

For his part, Kavanaugh says, hey, no hard feelings. Whatever.

Trump is telling his supporters that Democrats are an angry mob. He told a police association that Democrats are anti-police. He said that the Kavanaugh controversy was  a “disgraceful situation, brought about by people that are evil.”

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell is saying that if Republicans hold the Senate and a Supreme Court vacancy occurs in 2020, he’ll push to fill the vacancy with a Trump nominee. In 2016 McConnell refused to consider Barack Obama’s nominee.

Could there possibly be a stronger argument for supporting Democratic candidates for the House and Senate in 2018, and for the presidency in 2020???

Yes, and that argument is this: the world is running out of time to deal with global warming, and the Republican party is going at full speed in the wrong direction. Here is but one article about this week’s dire report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (brace yourself).

An unrepentant frat boy on the Supreme Court will seem like nothing compared to the consequences of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions.

We all know the Republican position on the Keystone XL Pipeline (for transporting Canadian tar sands across the US for processing and shipment), the GOP’s love affair with oil & gas interests, Trump’s promises to coal-producing states and Republican eagerness to “drill, baby, drill” virtually everywhere. We know their disdain for the Endangered Species, Clean Water and Clean Air acts. We know their desire to neuter or abolish the EPA.

Trump now even wants to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline to 15% all year around. A little ethanol in gasoline during cold weather and at higher altitudes helps reduce smog; too much ethanol during warm weather CREATES smog, and it’s very expensive in terms of water, energy and subsidies. It can damage engines and make spills harder to contain. This ethanol ploy is a carrot for big agribusiness in Midwestern states hit hard by his trade war. It would be an economic and ecological boondoggle for everyone else.

In short, the Republican ambition seems to be to exploit every fossil fuel or unsustainable bio fuel to the max as rapidly as possible, before the earth is too hot, dry and polluted for man, beast or corn stalk.

The Kavanaugh vote not only confirmed a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, it confirmed something much more fundamental: the hijacking of the Republican Party. It’s no longer the party of Lincoln, it’s the party of Trump.

Mitch McConnell says that the Senate is not broken. He says the nation is fine. The nation is not fine. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting you have one. The Republican Party line on climate change is that it’s not happening, there’s no agreement, it’s not that serious, it’s not man-made…

Enough of such nonsense.

Donald Jr. is out stumping for Republicans, telling the base that his dad is on the ballot. Well, Trump isn’t on the ballot, but Trumpism is. Republicans have made themselves a party of Trump toadies.

It’s time to put Trumpism in the trash bin of history while there’s still history to be written. Election Day is November 6th.

Fear and Loathing in the Senate Judiciary

KLOBUCHAR: OK. Drinking is one thing, but the concern is about truthfulness, and in your written testimony, you said sometimes you had too many drinks. Was there ever a time when you drank so much that you couldn’t remember what happened, or part of what happened the night before?

KAVANAUGH: No, I — no. I remember what happened, and I think you’ve probably had beers, Senator, and — and so I…

KLOBUCHAR: So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before, or part of what happened.

KAVANAUGH: It’s — you’re asking about, you know, blackout. I don’t know. Have you?

KLOBUCHAR: Could you answer the question, Judge? I just — so you — that’s not happened. Is that your answer?

KAVANAUGH: Yeah, and I’m curious if you have.

— Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Nomination of Brett M. Kavanaugh to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Day 5, September 27, 2018


This is what happens when Democrats act like Republicans and Republicans act like frat boys.

We Democrats nominated a woman for the presidency in 2016 largely because she was next in line (and entirely in spite of the trainload of baggage she dragged behind her). Republicans gave us an overgrown brat of a rich kid who elbowed his way to the front of the line.

President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch only eleven days after taking office in 2017 and got him confirmed by the Senate on April 7th. Gorsuch replaced Antonin Scalia, who died more than eleven months before Mr. Trump took office. The Republican-controlled Senate had refused to hold hearings for Barack Obama’s nominee but confirmed Donald Trump’s nominee in about five weeks.

To get Gorsuch confirmed, Senate Republicans had to invoke the “nuclear option,” a parliamentary maneuver by which a simple majority could effectively end debate and force a vote. So much for the filibuster. Of course, Democrats had paved the way for this eventuality, having themselves invoked the nuclear option to speed the confirmation of lower level Obama nominees in 2013.

They say what goes around comes around, so who could really complain when Republicans used the same tactics as Democrats to get a nominee through the Senate?

All of which brings us to Brett Kavanaugh. Mr. Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to replace Anthony Kennedy, who announced his retirement earlier this year. Kennedy, a Reagan nominee, was the swing vote on many 5-4 Supreme Court decisions. Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace a swing vote with a hard core, right wing ideologue.

Kavanaugh was immediately embraced by his Republican brethren on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the good committeemen and the president did all they could to hustle Kavanaugh through confirmation.

One small problem: a woman in California contacted her congressional representative, sent a message to the Washington Post tip line, and eventually got a letter to the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, claiming that Kavanaugh had sexually assaulted her when they were both high school students in the early 1980’s.  You can read her account here: Ford Opening Statement.

The past few weeks have been a tilt-a-whirl of accusations, denials, counter-accusations and threats. The carnival ride culminated with Dr. Ford (she’s a PhD college professor) and Judge Kavanaugh (he’s a US Circuit Judge for the US Court of Appeals in the DC Circuit) appearing before the Senate Judiciary this past Thursday.

On Friday, the committee voted 11-10 along straight party lines to forward Kavanaugh’s nomination to the full Senate. Before the vote, Senator Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican not seeking reelection (and therefore thought to be moveable against Trump’s nominee) announced that he would support Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Flake argued that the presumption of innocence until proven guilty ought to extend to nominees undergoing Senate confirmation hearings, not just defendants in criminal cases.

After the vote, a few protesters cornered Senator Flake on an elevator and vented their frustration that once again a woman had risked all to come forward and name her assailant only to see it make no difference. Well, apparently THAT encounter actually did move Flake. He joined with Senate Democrats to insist on a reopened FBI investigation before any floor vote on confirmation. Only the White House can order the FBI, and they have (It’s not over yet.)

The Senate and White House are looking for political cover. We don’t really know what the FBI is looking for. The Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, is ever-threatened with firing or impeachment by the president or House Republicans, respectively. The Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is frequently targeted by Trump’s tweets and generally expected to get canned after November midterms. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisted that Republicans would “plow right through” and get Kavanaugh on the Court (he said this to applause from religious conservatives at the Value Voters Summit on September 21st). Senator Lindsey Graham threatened Democrats “If this is the new norm, you better watch out for your nominees.”

All of this seems to me to be missing the point.

If the Senate really wanted to get at the truth, why didn’t they call Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge, who was allegedly present and actively involved in the assault, and put him under oath? If the president wanted to get at the truth, why didn’t he order an investigation weeks ago?

The truth is — and I hate to say this — that we are unlikely ever to know the truth about what happened in 1982. Do I believe Christine Blasey Ford when she says that Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge sexually assaulted her at a house party in the early 80’s? Yes. Do I believe that Judge Kavanaugh might not remember the incident, even if it occurred exactly as Professor Ford alleges? Quite possibly.

As chilling as it is to consider that a nominee to the United States Supreme Court might have committed drunken sexual assault as a teenager, what’s at least as troubling is the way Kavanaugh has reacted to the accusations against him: with denial, counter accusations, and barely contained rage. Partisan, self-entitled rage. Democrats had engaged in “search and destroy”; his family and name had been “totally and permanently destroyed.” He was evasive. He obfuscated, misled or outright lied (hint: “boofing” is not passing gas and “devil’s triangle” is not a drinking game).

The quotation at the beginning of this post is an exchange between Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Judge Kavanaugh, in which the judge dodges a question about whether he’s ever blacked out while drinking and throws the question back at a US Senator who was exercising her constitutional duty to evaluate a presidential nominee. Did Kavanaugh talk to any of the Republican men this way? What would happen in Kavanaugh’s courtroom if anyone addressed him in such a manner?

Would Kavanaugh be fair, unbiased, dispassionate and restrained as a Supreme Court justice? Or would he be carrying a personal grudge to the bench?

Alas, we are back at the central question: Is this man a suitable nominee for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land?

The answer to that, in my mind, is a resounding no, and it doesn’t take another FBI investigation to reach that conclusion.

It Isn’t What It Is

Last Sunday, Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney for President Donald Trump, appeared on Meet The Press and proclaimed to Chuck Todd and the world that “Truth isn’t truth.”

Yes, he actually said that.

Guiliani was bending himself into a pretzel to argue why the president should not agree to be interviewed under oath and thereby fall into a perjury trap. Side note: what is a perjury trap, exactly? Is it asking a question to which the answer is known and about which a witness might be tempted to lie?

Anyway, Giuliani took to Twitter early the following day to explain what he meant. I challenge you to get that image of Rudy Giuliani in his boxers and sock garters out of your mind. Rudy tweeted: “My statement was not meant as a pontification on moral theology but one referring to the situation where two people make precisely contradictory statements, the classic “he said, she said” puzzle. Sometimes further inquiry can reveal the truth other times it doesn’t.”

Well, I think I know what Giuliani was up to, and it wasn’t that.

I’ve never cared very much for the expression “It is what it is.” It seems to have become commonplace in recent years, or perhaps I just became aware of it. Some of my family members are fond of it. As often as not, “it is what it is” is used as a statement of resigned acceptance of a situation that somebody doesn’t like. Yes, obviously, it is what it is, but what is that? Sometimes I find myself longing for the simpler “Whatever.”

My annoyance notwithstanding, “It is what it is” has one very important redeeming quality: it is logically correct. That is, it makes a certain amount of rational sense.

“It is what it is” is, in fact, one of the three fundamental laws of thought. The concept that a thing is equal to itself — whatever it may be — is known as the law of identity. A thing is uniquely itself. It equals itself. A equals A. Always.

Unless you’re Rudy Giuliani.

Of course, Rudy Giuliani is no stranger to logic or rhetoric. Giuliani’s undergraduate minor was philosophy. He considered entering the priesthood. He graduated the NYU School of Law with honors. He’s been a Democrat, then an independent. In December 1980, Giuliani changed his affiliation to Republican and in 1981 he became a US Associate Attorney General in the Reagan Administration. Oh, Giuliani’s undergraduate major was political science. He is also a former mayor of New York City and candidate for president and US Senator.

Did Rudy Giuliani state “Truth isn’t truth” because he misspoke or because he wanted to mislead?

Another of the three fundamental laws of thought is the law of non-contradiction. A thing cannot be both true and not true at the same time. Thus, if there are two differing accounts of the same event, both cannot be true.

Abraham Lincoln expressed this concept eloquently in contemplating the divine will: “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.”

President Donald Trump’s and then-FBI Director James Comey’s accounts of a White House dinner early in 2017 are significantly different. Comey made detailed notes at the time and claimed that Trump sought a pledge of personal loyalty. Trump denies ever seeking such assurances. Both of these accounts cannot be true.

The American legal system is designed to ascertain the truth. The accused enjoys a presumption of innocence while the prosecution bears the burden of proof.

Rudy Giuliani knows all this.

So why is Giuliani saying things like “Truth isn’t truth”? There’s a saying that if a lawyer finds that neither the facts nor the law is on his side, he should pound on the table and yell.

Bingo.

Distraction is one of Donald Trump’s core competencies. Lies, insults, threats, dire predictions, phony definitions and even capitalization for effect are very effective at controlling the conversation.

Rudy Giuliani’s Sunday morning pot shot at truth, logic and the American judicial system marked the beginning of a pretty bad week for the White House. On Tuesday, Paul Manafort was convicted in federal court of 8 counts of tax and bank fraud. He faces other charges. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to tax and bank fraud, as well as a campaign finance violation. Cohen implicated Trump as the candidate who directed the paying of hush money with the intent of influencing the election. Trump has denied knowing about the hush money in advance, but there is audio evidence to the contrary.

What does a narcissist like Donald Trump do when reality doesn’t align with his beloved, distorted image of himself? His orange complexion and elaborately absurd comb-over might suggest an answer. Trump was born into wealth and privilege and has seldom faced real consequences for his actions. Divorces, alimony, bankruptcies, hush money, out-of-court settlements, cushy job offers… these are all examples of throwing money at problems to make them go away.

The problems Donald Trump is now facing are not going to be solved by writing a check. He should be worried, and apparently he is. Trump is threatening dire consequences if he is impeached — the stock market will crash and everyone will be very poor. Trump asserts that his brilliance is what is keeping the US economy out of the toilet.

Is impeachment a real possibility? In a word, yes. Obstruction of justice and perjury are impeachable offenses. Ask Bill Clinton, whose accused offenses arose (ahem) from a sexual harassment lawsuit and testimony about an affair with a White House intern.

Any sworn testimony by Donald Trump opens the possibility of perjuring himself. If Trump has obstructed justice, Robert Mueller III is closing in on that right now. It’s on. This is happening. People close to the president are getting convicted, cutting deals, and facing federal prison.

Stay tuned. As of this writing, the week is not yet over.

Let Them Also Not Eat Cake

Well, that didn’t take long.

Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, is back in the news and headed back to court. Backed once again by the Alliance Defending Freedom, Mr. Phillips is suing the State of Colorado over a ruling of the Civil Rights Commission that he violated the civil rights of a transgender person by refusing to sell her a cake. The Washington Post published a story in its Business section yesterday: Colorado baker: No cake for gender transition celebration.

The Post states that Phillips’ lawsuit cites his belief that “the status of being male or female … is given by God, is biologically determined, is not determined by perceptions or feelings, and cannot be chosen or changed.”

Yes, Mr. Phillips is arguing a religious belief in a human attribute that is God given, scientifically determined, and unalterable. Phillips argues for a black-and-white, male or female world where you’re one or the other at birth, forever, no matter what.

Mr. Phillips may believe all that, but the assertion that sex/gender cannot be chosen or changed and that it is unaffected by perceptions or feelings is demonstrably false. How, after all, would Phillips’ have known the sex (or transgender status) of his customer if she had not revealed it?

Why is any of this a matter of religious freedom?

As sketchy as it was for Phillips to have claimed in his earlier lawsuit that the State of Colorado had infringed on his freedom of religion in the matter of a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding reception, he prevailed — not because his actions were beyond reproach but because the State (according to the Court) had betrayed a bias against him.

The Supreme Court sidestepped the thornier issues of whether a cake shop owner can refuse to accommodate a same-sex couple on religious grounds and chose instead to focus on the words and actions of the Civil Rights Commission. The Court said that the government had acted unfairly against Phillips in attempting to enforce Colorado law.

This time, perhaps, the courts will find it necessary to address larger questions, such as whether a business owner can refuse service to anyone for any reason whatsoever and then claim that doing so is protected as free exercise of religion.

Does a business owner have a right to deny public accommodation based on the customer’s identity or perceived identity?

The answer is, and must be, no.

Businesses cannot arbitrarily serve some customers and refuse others, protected by some all-encompassing cloak of religiosity. Otherwise, “freedom of religion” is, in effect, license to discriminate — an unrestricted right to decide who gets favorable treatment and who doesn’t. It would be a system which favors those who are already privileged and disadvantages all others.

We’ll see if the courts can get it right this time.

Let Them Not Eat Cake

“Cakes have a message and this is one I can’t create.” – Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Today Show, June 5, 2018

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Delta House homecoming parade float, Animal House, 1978

This week, the United States Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of Colorado baker Jack Phillips who, in 2012, refused to make a cake to be served at the wedding reception for a same-sex couple.

The Court got it wrong.

Although Colorado law prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in public accommodation, the Court ruled that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission violated Phillips’ free exercise of religion. The Commission, according to the Court, was biased and demonstrated hostility toward Phillips’ religion. The Court ruled that the Commission had treated Phillips unfairly.

After the ruling, Phillips’ attorney claimed that “Government hostility toward people of faith” was at issue and that “the state of Colorado was openly antagonistic toward Jack’s religious beliefs about marriage.”

Phillips appeared on national television the day after the decision and flatly denied that he discriminates against anybody. He claimed that he serves everybody who comes into his shop, but said there are certain messages he would not create and occasions for which he will not make cakes (Halloween, for example). He went on to assert “This cake is a specific cake. A wedding cake is an inherently religious event and the cake is definitely a specific message.”

Wait, what? A cake for a wedding reception — a cake with no explicitly requested message at all — holds some special religious significance?

When did wedding cakes become holy relics?

The truth is that Mr. Phillips is and was discriminating. And while I absolutely agree that he cannot be required to make any statement in his work which is contrary to his conscience, a blank cake is not a statement. It’s a dessert.

What if the patrons weren’t obviously the same sex? What if they had simply lied? What if they said the cake was for a relative’s graduation?

I’m having a really hard time wrapping my head around the idea that a baker’s free exercise of religion was in any way infringed by expecting him to sell a cake to anyone who offered to buy one. In fact, I don’t think this case has much at all to do with freedom of religion or freedom of speech.

I think it’s about privilege. The Supreme Court ignored the fact that the same-sex couple was denied the opportunity to buy what would have been sold to anyone else and instead focused on whether the merchant was offended by being expected to treat people equally.

The implications of this case are huge. What happens when “free exercise” involves something more important than a wedding cake? What happens when it concerns women exercising authority over men or even their own bodies? What happens when someone’s sincerely held religious beliefs require them to act in ways that are detrimental to other individuals or to the community in general?

Respect whose religious freedom?

We have a neighbor a few blocks away who has signs all over his vehicle and lawn promoting an extreme anti-abortion/pro-religion viewpoint. This is someone who has very definite religious, political and social beliefs. He apparently has little awareness or concern about the effect of all that signage on property values. Should we assume that he knows or cares about what it means to require a woman to have a child against her will? Is there any regard for HER beliefs? HER life?

There is a difference between belief and action. Believe what you will, because that primarily affects you; it’s what you do that matters.

Somehow a huge number of Americans have come to believe that their righteousness or salvation is tied up with what other people do — that the way to heaven is making other people behave.

Jack Phillips is well within his rights to believe that homosexuality is wrong, sinful, icky or you name it. He was not, in my opinion, within his rights to deny a same-sex couple a cake.

The baker’s beliefs weren’t at issue, his actions were. Putting the blame on a state civil rights commission is a dodge, because Phillips was the oppressor in this case, not the oppressed.

The heart of this case was really very simple and the Supreme Court majority missed it by a mile.

Roseanne v “Roseanne”

On March 27th the reboot of “Roseanne” debuted to huge audiences and high praise.  On May 29th the series was cancelled. Nine weeks. Anybody else’s head spinning?

It was only six weeks ago that I blogged about Roseanne the series after having watched the first three episodes (read it here).

I had been reluctant to give the new series a chance, having burned out on the old one long before its eventual demise, but that’s to say nothing about the star of the show.

Roseanne Barr is a controversial figure. Whether or not you find her funny or thought-provoking, as I often do, there is an equally good chance you’ve found her utterly baffling or profoundly offensive. Intentionally or not, Roseanne is sometimes maddening.

Roseanne’s tweetstorm this week isn’t by any means the first time she’s given offense, it’s just the latest. Taking another look at a prior meltdown helps to put the current one into better perspective. I give you 1990.

Most of us who were alive at the time will recall Ms Barr’s infamous rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner at a Major League Baseball game on July 25, 1990. The crowd didn’t get it or didn’t appreciate it and neither did the country at large. The performance created a media firestorm. Barr was rebuked and reviled all the way up to the President of the United States. Some of the criticism was justified, at least as a mistake of judgment on Barr’s part, if not as an act of intentional disrespect to the national anthem, baseball and America. Some of the criticism was threatening, personal and extremely hurtful, as we are about to learn.

In researching this blog I stumbled across a 2015 Washington Post article about Roseanne’s national anthem debacle, Roseanne on the day she shrieked ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ grabbed her crotch and earned a rebuke from President Bush.

Roseanne Barr was threatened, ridiculed, humiliated, and by her telling, abandoned.

This week history repeated itself and Roseanne blew up her career for at least the second time. Roseanne tweeted insulting and inaccurate statements about former President Barack Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, along with Chelsea Clinton and her husband’s family. And when I say insulting and inaccurate, others are saying racist lies. Roseanne characterized Jarrett as the child of Islamic Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes. She attempted to smear Clinton by some fictitious association with George Soros, then by insults and allegations about Clinton’s father-in-law.

Co-stars and colleagues quickly condemned the tweets. Roseanne apologized, said she was leaving Twitter, deleted tweets, returned to Twitter, tweeted some more, apologized some more, deleted some more, took issue with her co-stars and colleagues, took issue with her network… For its part, ABC pulled the trigger quickly. The network condemned the tweets and cancelled Roseanne. Boom, like that, the biggest hit of the Spring 2018 television season was done, only a week after the season finale.

Barr claims that all of it (the Twitter rampage) was a bad joke. She said that she was “Ambien tweeting”. Was Barr being racist when she called Jarrett an ape? Barr says no, that she didn’t even know Jarrett was black. In 2013 Barr referred to Susan Rice, another prominent African-American member of the Obama administration, as “a man with big swinging ape balls.”

I don’t know if Roseanne Barr is prone to labeling white women as male apes. It seems, at the absolute least, that there is some kind of unconscious bias that rears its ugly head from time to time. Nothing I’ve read so far indicates to me that Ms Barr has given serious consideration to that possibility, as she’s now defensive and lashing out in all directions.

A television series that had huge potential to get people talking in constructive ways has crashed and burned while detractors and supporters argue.

This is what happens when high profile people click Send or press Enter on egregiously stupid remarks.

Twitter should probably come with a warning label.

This is also yet another reminder that no matter what you may later delete, the Internet doesn’t come with an Undo button. It doesn’t exist. And the more famous you are, the more you have to lose, and you can lose it all in the blink of an eye.

As for Roseanne the series, we watched all ten episodes this season on Hulu and enjoyed the series a lot. Did I agree with everything? No, but that’s part of the point. It was like being able to have a conversation with your annoying friends and family members without putting actual relationships on the line.

Roseanne the show is now probably doomed everywhere and forever. ABC had no real choice but to condemn the tweets and cancel the series. Lawyers will probably be fighting over who owns what and who wronged whom.

Roseanne the comedian needs to keep her word, get off Twitter, and get some counseling. If the 1990 national anthem debacle didn’t leave her with PTSD, the 2018 Twitter meltdown certainly will.

 

 

The Oracle and the Sausage Factory

It’s said that people who like sausage should avoid seeing how sausage is made. This is sort of a story about the making of sausage, except, instead of talking about a tasty food item, we’re going to talk about a staple of American party politics: the platform.

Have you ever read a party platform? I’m guessing that most people haven’t. I’ve been interested in politics for a very long time and actively engaged for over a decade, but I’ve read very few of them all the way through. Yesterday I attended my party’s congressional district convention as a delegate. In a community college auditorium in a small Midwestern town, a couple hundred delegates convened to listen to countless speeches, elect members of the party’s state central committee, and fight about rules and the party platform.

As so often happens, those fights about rules and platform language consumed much of the day and most of the oxygen in the room.

Why do we punish ourselves and our fellow party activists — almost all of whom are unpaid volunteers — so relentlessly? Why would two hundred adults give up a perfectly delightful Saturday in late April to engage in intramural spitball fights?

I wish I knew, because I’m usually knee deep in the hoopla. I think this is what happens when you get a bunch of true believers together and make them tell you what they believe in. A platform, according to our friends at Merriam-Webster is “a declaration of the principles on which a group of persons stands; especially: a declaration of principles and policies adopted by a political party or a candidate.” Simple, right?

One might think that a party platform would be a relatively easy thing to craft. We all know, more or less, what the major political parties stand for, don’t we? And when was the last time you remember a candidate declaring to run on his/her party’s platform? During presidential years the campaigns get involved in trying to craft or guide the national party platforms, but even then, one is more likely to hear attacks on the other party’s platform than anything about standing on one’s own. Who, if anybody, reads these things?

What we usually read or hear about party platforms, if anything at all, is how obviously, overwhelmingly wrong the other party is about fill-in-the-blank. We scarcely hear a peep about what’s in our own declaration of principles. And there is no mechanism to hold candidates to documents built by committees of volunteers and influenced by (here it comes) fanatics.

There are flashes of inspiration and sanity in this process. At my county convention in March, it became obvious that an outspoken member of our platform committee was both inspired and sane. He had noted that a fairly outrageous “plank” in the platform from a prior election cycle had been used by the opposition to discredit our candidates. It seems that late in the platform creation process a couple years ago, some true believers had managed to insert a plank calling for the legalization of all drugs. Republicans clobbered Democrats with that one.

As a result of that experience, our friend undertook a mission to avoid a similar debacle this time. He endeavored to shorten and simplify the county party platform, making it a statement of general principles and areas of concern rather than a laundry list of policy prescriptions. The platform discussion at the county convention was short and mostly civil. My contribution to the process was serving on the rules committee, asking lots of questions in an effort to clear up confusion in the rules before unleashing them on the unsuspecting larger body. It all worked pretty well. There was reason for hope.

Unfortunately, the district convention was a very different matter. I avoided volunteering for any committees at the district level. Having already annoyed some of my fellow Democrats, I chose to attend the district convention merely as a delegate. Let other people slug out the rules and the platform report.

The results weren’t great. The rules for electing central committee members were at once oddly restrictive and ambiguous, causing a great deal of wasted time and effort  — and multiple ballots and arguments — to elect eight people.

And then there was the platform. Rather than a short, simple document, the convention was given a long, detailed one. The document was over twenty pages of high-minded talk, typos, errors in capitalization and punctuation, acronyms, abbreviations, arcane legislative references, and vague, liberal talking points. Allegedly the platform committee had attempted to remove contentious planks so that no minority report would be needed. Our rules, as misrepresented by the presiding officer, allowed for no amendments, only debate on individual planks, and then only after a motion to strike the plank, seconded by 10% of the delegates. What would happen if the entire platform were voted down? No one knew.

Consideration of the platform degenerated into the all-too-familiar death march of arguing about everything. Think of the US Congress debating, say, the federal budget, with all the ego but lacking most of the expertise and lacking anything in the way of real power.

I hesitate to confess that I got sucked into the discussions more than once. Trying to get a disgruntled group to follow its own mystifying rules was clearly one lost cause. Trying to get the group to reconsider some of the most ill-considered platform planks was another.

At one point, two men were standing in the aisle mere inches apart, red faced, yelling about what ought to be done about a dead microphone. This is where the average person starts to consider how ridiculous it all is, even if they were previously inclined to engage.

Little did I know that the platform we pointlessly debated was derived from the even longer and more detailed 2016 state platform. Gone is the hope that the state convention will produce a better platform than the sausage we manufactured Saturday; our sausage was based on the same general recipe that the state party had followed two years ago. The fact that 2016 was such a disaster for Democrats should give everyone pause. Many people talked about a “blue wave” in November as if it were some kind of mantra. Color me skeptical.

Don’t ask me how the good Democrats of this district have any hope of unseating a pandering wingnut incumbent in a place that has sent him to Congress repeatedly, in spite of being a national embarrassment and having no legislative accomplishments. We embraced every liberal impulse and cliche’ we could think of and tossed them into our platform. This is the sort of thing that might work in a safely Democratic and very liberal district. It won’t work here.

Hoping that no one will read the damn thing won’t work, either, because as painful as that experience may be, we know that the opposition will read it. And we’ve given them a lot of “planks” to swing at our candidates.

We miraculously elected some very good volunteers to the state central committee and we have some truly excellent candidates for office. If the committee people are are half as smart as I think they are, they’ll use their experience yesterday to take a different approach in the future. My guess is that the candidates will be running from any mention of the platform, rather than running on it.

In this story, the problem isn’t just with the making of the sausage. True, seeing what went into the sausage and how it was put together was bad enough, but this sausage would have a “best by” date of never.