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Category: Politics

Us vs. Me
I saw a pair of opinion pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle a while back that talked about the national response to the right-wing marchers in Charlottesville. Some of those marchers have been singled out for firing by their corporate employers and many have been banned from social media sites. The issue: were these responses just?

Ted Rall, my political cartooning colleague and a well-known pissant when it comes to the inviolability of the First Amendment, took the side of unfettered free speech. “I wish I had a dollar,” he wrote, “for every time I’ve read some variation of ‘You have the right to be a fascist/racist/sexist/jerk/ communist, but XYZ Corp. has the right to fire you too.’”

I can’t promise Ted a dollar here, but let me suggest that there could be a time when even an otherwise fascistic corporate power structure would be a welcome ally to free expression.

Here is my proposition: while we might think of free speech and the constellation of other freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights as fundamental to our free society, there is a level of rights even more basic than those. Our Constitution and all the laws and court decisions layered on top of it rest on a broad, unwritten social compact. That agreement features one simple component: equality. Under this principle we are all in the same boat, and in a truly free society we must all have free access to every part of the boat. Unless we fail to perform our side of the the compact in some way, we are entitled to stay on the boat and enjoy the full benefits of that access in equal measure to all the other passengers. The Bill of Rights and all our freedoms rest on this unspoken agreement.

But what if some of our fellow passengers seek to undermine the social compact? What if they campaign against a subset of other passengers because of their skin color or ethnicity or religious convictions and seek to limit their access or even evict us from the boat? What if their efforts violate no written laws and there is no codified remedy for this threat to our rights?

Kathy Lipscomb, a San Francisco social activist, wrote the counterpoint to Rall’s piece, emphasizing the need to control hate speech. I see the issue as broader than that. Organized hatred is a potent force, one we should not shrug off so easily — even if the expressions of that hatred are protected speech. Doesn’t the essence of the social compact give a free society the right to use whatever legal means it can find to fight off a threat to its own existence?

The Bill of Rights is a protection of individual rights. We have the use of our system of laws and courts to enforce those rights. Our social compact guarantees something different. It promises our joint right as a people to the benefits of freedom — including all the precious, fragile individual rights that flow from that original, tacit agreement. It is as if our society is a single organism, and as such it is entitled to fight off any affliction that jeopardizes its existence.

Normally, equality and individual rights are not in conflict, but when we see torch-bearing white supremacists, fully armed and duly permitted by the state, marching in the street and chanting hatred, we should be alarmed. History tells us that such demonstrations of strength can presage a menace to free societies. And when our President gives cover and even encouragement to such organized hatred, why shouldn’t society as a whole rise up take action to cancel the threat?

I’ll admit that such judgments can be tricky. Unlike written agreements, the social compact does not provide any clear guidance as to exactly when a violation occurs, no black-and-white test of when a threat is real. Nor does it give us the kinds of remedies for such wrongs that the written law does. We are left to decide these things for ourselves as a society. Corporate firings either will or will not receive public approval. I don’t see Ted’s communists, jerks, and garden variety sexists, racists and fascists as challenging the promise of equality in the same way these emboldened supremacists do. As a people, we have a right to defend ourselves against such movements.

I suppose it’s possible that the organism of our culture might make a mistake. We might succumb to societal paranoia and deprive individuals of their rights without good reason. Still, if it comes to a clear choice between the health of our free society and my own personal freedoms — a conflict between Us and Me — I’d like to think that I would choose the common good. A society truly founded on equality will restore what I may have lost.
GOP or Die
It pains me to say this, but only the Republicans can save us now. If we are to free ourselves from the escalating abomination of Drump and the tyranny of his reality-averse followers, we must rely on the patriotism, courage, and simple human decency of the Grand Old Party.

This is not a happy prospect. It’s as if we are depending on the arsonist to put out the fire. In this case, though, the arsonist actually lives in the building he torched. Worse, his apartment has probably suffered severe damage already. He might just shrug his shoulders and walk away.

Or maybe the Republicans are not so much arsonists as sloppy tenants who let a lot of garbage accumulate. Once the pile got big and compacted enough, it spontaneously combusted and now threatens to consume everything. The Republican pile contains such compost as the “belief” that the answer to gun violence is more guns, or that the way to provide better health care is to take it away, that we can raise more tax revenue through tax cuts, and that the agreement of 97% of the world’s climate scientists is not enough proof to take action on global warming.

It was not always this way. The GOP was once a repository of such virtues saw thrift, honor, and common sense. Their approach to governing may not have appealed to lefties, but at least they could be relied upon to do the right thing in a pinch. Those politicians are all gone — swept out by a tide of stupid both encouraged and co-opted by the Republicans themselves.

These new Republican positions are not actual beliefs, in most cases, but rather convenient positions crafted to maintain power. Not principles, but craven calculations. There may be some members of Congress, I suppose, who sincerely believe in these theories, but that only makes our situation worse. In either case, these are the people we must hope can put principle above politics and save the country.

Complicating the hopes for a GOP rescue is the fact that Drump is happy to sign on to to all these positions. Whatever they want, he’s pretty much down for it as long as they do the work. To put any distance between themselves and their president would mean walking away from all those solemn pledges to do stupid things.

That would be difficult, but it might have to happen. Again, this is their fault…but they’re also the only ones who can fix it because they have all the power now. The rest of us can only hope they find the will to do it. There are actual good people in the Republican Party, but they seem trapped by their own foolishness.

Meanwhile, the building is burning. It might already be too late for the Republican Party. Even if they are lost, though, we still need them summon the guts to face up to Drump. If not, we might all be toast.
Got Guilt?
There was a time when it was considered unwise to call yourself a “Liberal.” It supposedly opened you to charges of being a pinko, a fuzzy-headed do-gooder, and someone who is overly generous with other people’s money.

Well, I am proud to say that I am a liberal, and that I’ve never shrunk from the L-word label. I’ll even cop to those charges, although pink is not really my best color. I’ll also admit that, like any good liberal, I am riddled with guilt.

One thing I don't feel guilty about, however, is feeling guilty. It’s one of the things that motivates me to do good. And it’s good to good, so what’s the problem? There are some side effects, but nothing too serious. Too much of it can tie you up in knots and actually keep you from doing anything, including good. But if you get the proportions just right, a little guilt can keep you humble, which is critical if you want to do right. As long as you’re genuinely trying to be nice, you can safely let the guilt eat at you — as long as it doesn’t rise to the level of shame. Shame is a different strain of internal blight, and I try as hard as I can to avoid getting into that frame of mind. Fortunately, that little bit of guilt can act like an inoculation against the soul-eating cancer of shame. I’m lucky to have kept it to a minimum so far.

No one would ever accuse the Republican leadership in Washington of being liberal. For one thing, there is no evidence that they are even slightly burdened with guilt in the way that I am. Which leaves me to wonder: what motivation do they rely on to do good? Perhaps they are driven by some higher purpose I am too dim to perceive, or maybe they are attuned to the whispering of angels. They could, I suppose, just be naturally wise. I just don’t know.

But somehow they’ve managed to effortlessly arrive at a place it’s taken me a life of anguish and self-doubt to get to: they are almost completely without shame.
Treasonish
“It’s not treason.”

That’s one of the latest rationalizations about Little Donny’s meeting with the Rooskis to land with a thud on the sidewalk below Trump Tower. I think the Drump team was referring there to the very restrictive definition of treason under Article III of the Constitution. Article III seems to be talking very specifically about wartime “enemies.” We are not technically at war right now, so their assertion would likely be true no matter how nefarious the dealings that took place in that room. Even so, the assurance is something of a comfort.

If true. But truth, sadly, seems to be mostly an inconvenience to Donald, Donny Jr., and the rest of the Drumpsters. You’re better off assuming that whatever they say is a lie than wondering if they’re telling the truth. Furthermore, as the Drump Era comes into clearer focus, we are seeing some evidence to justify the assumption that whatever they do is likely to be illegal. That meeting might have violated any number of election laws, some of which are felonies.

Or it might simply have been have been extraordinarily unwise. Or clueless or incompetent or crazy or just plain stupid.

Although not treason. Nor is it money laundering, even though one of the participants was recently busted for that crime. Nor hacking, though another attendee has a record of such activity.

It is possible that the word “treasonous” might apply to this situation. We’d need to know more to be sure. The distinction here is that you can be put to death in this country for treason as it is described in the Constitution, but plain old treasonous activity like betraying your country and all it stands for will not get you the hangman’s noose. Treasonousness, like collusion, is not a crime.

For now let’s agree that “it’s not treason.” Little Donny will not swing for his crimes, whatever they are. In fact, he might even get a show on Fox.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee