I want to be governed by partisan hacks, said nobody ever

In 2008, after years on the sidelines, I decided that I wanted to be involved in politics beyond just voting. Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses and made a speech that turned my head in my kitchen in Colorado and made me want to be for something again.

So I got involved. I ran a precinct caucus and got elected as a delegate to various conventions. I met people. I learned how things worked. Although I didn’t get elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which Denver hosted in 2008, I used vacation time to volunteer and attended the first and last nights of the convention in person. It was cool. I was witnessing history. I was making history.

On January 20th, I took another day off work and when Aretha Franklin started singing My Country ‘Tis of Thee, I wept.

I stayed involved. In 2009 and following years I got elected to a growing list of committees in increasingly important roles. I served two terms as a congressional district chair and one as vice chair in one of Colorado’s most populous counties. In 2012 I attended the DNC as a member of the rules committee, elected by my state delegation. I paid my way to Charlotte and helped make history again.

Democrats have had some rough times during the past ten years. The 2010 midterms saw the rise of the so-called tea party and Dems lost the House of Representatives. The 2014 midterms saw Republicans retake the Senate. Colorado Democrats passed some gun laws that were not universally popular. There were some recall elections, and losses in the state legislature, statewide offices, county offices, you name it. In 2014, Colorado Democrats lost a US Senate seat. We struggled in vain to flip congressional districts, even in presidential years.

Democrats seemingly have a unique gift for infighting, even when things are going well, but honestly, it’s probably the same on the other side. There are always people on the fringes trying to move a party further left, further right, more this, less that. Identity politics and hot-button issues cause a lot of heartburn for a lot of folks.

And some people, it seems, are just along for the ride.

A lot of people will tell you they’re lifelong Republicans or Democrats, but I can’t make that claim. When I was young, I leaned strongly Democratic. Later, at least for a time, I became more conservative. Somewhere around the time of the 2nd Gulf War, when it became obvious that Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction were a lie, I lost affection for the Republican Party.

I’ve been a partisan, and at times I’ve voted straight tickets. However, there were also times — even when I held party office — when I’ve voted for another party’s candidate.

Being actively involved in party politics means that I’ve met a lot of politicians and gotten to know some of them pretty well. And it turns out that a lot of politicians are actually good people trying to do good work. But sometimes the other party’s candidate is simply the better choice.

In an average year, you win some races and lose some races. In a wave election, like 2018 was, you might win or lose almost all of them.

In 2018, in some places, like Arapahoe County in Colorado, Democrats won almost all of their races. The editors of the Aurora Sentinel think this is a bad thing. I agree with them.

In 2014, three Arapahoe Democrats ran and lost races for the very same positions that they won in 2018. And not to disparage any of the Democrats involved, whom I know to varying degrees, but what was the difference this year? A big part of it is undeniably the fact that Donald Trump is President of the United States, is very unpopular in places like suburban Denver, and is a Republican. As the Sentinel concluded, voters took out “their righteous disdain for politics in Washington and Denver against down-ballot elected officials with the wrong letter at the end of their name on the ballot.”

While there might be some justification for punishing a congressional candidate for supporting a president you don’t like, what’s the justification for throwing out a county sheriff, assessor or clerk over party affiliation? This is partisanship run amok, and I’d argue that it’s not good for anybody.

Political parties exist largely to select and elect candidates who represent common values. Sometimes they get the selection part wrong. Sometimes they give us a Donald Trump. Oftentimes they actually give us great candidates. But not ALWAYS. We can’t assume that someone is necessarily the best choice based solely on party affiliation.

The political parties are not ever going to tell you this. Why? Guess what would happen to a party officer who said “Yeah, I know so-and-so is our candidate for coroner, but the other candidate is a bonafide medical examiner and ours is a hack!” That person would be removed from office, replaced with a hack, and the partisan show would go on.

There are positions that should be decided by nonpartisan elections — you know, like school boards used to be — and some that should not be decided by voters at all. Is there any reason that a board of county commissioners could not hire a sheriff from a group of qualified applicants? Or a clerk and recorder? Do you want the person running elections to be a gung ho partisan? What about the person running the local police force and jail?

Maybe Democrats who rode a blue wave to victory in 2018 will exceed expectations and serve well. I hope they do. But we’ve got to do better than simply hoping when it comes to choosing people to run the government.

Changing One Mind

Yesterday I read an article about a guy in Maine who posts online satire — totally made-up stuff — and then watches it liked and shared far and wide, mostly by people who think it’s true. The article, ‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America, also tells the story of a woman in Nevada who reads, likes and shares such web content. This article has been one of the most-read items on The Washington Post website during the past 24 hours.

The Facebook site “America’s Last Line of Defense” was created in 2016 as a prank, but it has since become a full-time endeavor for Christopher Blair, who is assisted by about a hundred liberals in policing the site. Blair and his crew dream up outrageous disinformation — “The more extreme we become, the more people believe it” — post it online, watch it go viral, and eventually post a truthful explanation. After that, people berate some of the folks who have promoted the bogus story. If you’ve been on social media, you know what this looks like.

Keep in mind that the site tells people point blank that what they’re reading is fiction. The “About” section on ALLOD’s Facebook page states: “Nothing on this page is real. It is a collection of the satirical whimsies of liberal trolls masquerading as conservatives. You have been warned.”

The Washington Post article, well written and informative, tells much about the attitudes of Mr. Blair, and quite a bit about one of the hapless, lonesome people who refuses to accept that what Blair publishes is pure fiction.

This, we might guess, is a cause for much concern, and it should be. If Americans in large numbers can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction even when fiction is clearly labeled as such, then we’re in big trouble. Discerning the truth is an essential skill in dealing with the world. If we cannot figure out what’s real, the only problems we’ll solve will be accomplished accidentally or by divine intervention. Without getting into the theological weeds, I never got the impression that the divine will was for humanity to sit around online and hope for the best.

We already knew that people tend to believe what aligns with their preconceptions. We also knew that people seek out others who share their interests and views. This is nowhere more true than online, where the biggest, most successful companies are doing everything they can to find out what we like so they can deliver more of it.

No surprise, either, to read that a lot of people are reality challenged. We elected a president whose greatest documented accomplishment prior to his election was arguably a stint on a “reality television” program. And if we’re going to call The Apprentice reality television, we might as well put The Flintstones on the History Channel.

Furthermore, even our language is devolving in a way that makes it more difficult to distinguish the truth from wild exaggeration or outright fiction. The first example of this is the word “literally.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “literally” can mean “in a literal manner or sense; exactly” OR it can be a word “used for emphasis while not being literally true.” In other words, literally sometimes means the opposite of literally. “America has literally been torn in half!” It has? “My head literally exploded!” It did?!

Similarly, the word “incredible” has morphed from being “impossible to believe” or “difficult to believe; extraordinary” to “very good; wonderful.” I’ve known a lot of folks in the political realm who use “incredible” to describe people and policies as though the word were an unqualified, unambiguous endorsement. “He’s an incredible candidate!” When party hacks call their own candidates and policies incredible, are they saying they’re unbelievably good, or just unbelievable? Do I have to vote for them to find out?

Think I’m just a pedantic snob? Well, if I were going on about the proper use of apostrophes or homonyms, maybe. Someday perhaps I’ll do that, as there’s plenty of material for an Andy Rooney-styled rant. But here I’m making a point about language, beyond the growing illiteracy of American English speakers: We need a common frame of reference to describe and interpret the world around us. People need to know whether we’re stating facts or telling tales. People need to know whether something is to be believed or not. Words matter.

Some of the words that jumped off the page at me (figuratively) are the following: “What Blair wasn’t sure he had ever done was change a single person’s mind.”

For two years Mr. Blair has been posting absurd fabrications, watching them spread, marveling at the gullible people who are taken in, and holding them up to ridicule. In some cases Blair has used phony profiles to bait people into making inappropriate comments online and getting them in trouble for it.  He’s outed propaganda consumers and distributors alike. Now he wonders, “Where is the edge? Is there ever a point where people realize they’re being fed garbage and decide to return to reality?”  He wonders whether he has changed a single mind.

The question here, for me, is whether the world is better served with more disinformation and incivility online. Are we making the world better or worse? And by lying to people, then calling them names and embarrassing them online, are we winning hearts and minds or creating more entrenched and intractable enemies?

Mitt Romney disparaged “the 47 percent” who allegedly paid no taxes and would naturally vote for his opponent. He wrote off about half of the country and went on to lose the election. Hillary Clinton said “you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables…” and lose the election. Call them what you will; they won’t be calling you “Madam President.”

It doesn’t take Dale Carnegie to figure out that this is NOT How to Win Friends and Influence People. Baiting people with lies in order to shame and humiliate them only drives them into their corners.

One more point: liberals and Democrats in particular should not make too much of the blue wave election of 2018. Yes, Democrats did well, especially in places where Donald Trump did poorly two years ago. And Democrats did very well with some demographics. But they also did badly with some others who are seemingly as unreachable as ever. You know where Democrats did very well in places like Colorado? INDEPENDENTS. The lesson here is don’t mess it up.

Like it or not, the 2020 campaign has begun. We’re going to have to do better than this.

If the past two years of satire and public shaming have left Mr. Blair wondering whether he’s changed anybody’s mind, maybe it’s time for another approach. At the very least he and his supporters have persuaded a bunch of conservatives that liberals are every bit as nasty as they already believed. And if I ever thought that it made sense to fight fire with fire, believe me, one mind has been changed.

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.