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Category: Politics

Toke Up, Woke Up
Yes, it is true that we live in troubled, dangerous times. Chaos, mendacity, and willful ignorance are ascendant. Community has given way to individual aggrievement. The specter of oppression looms like a many-headed Hydra over our liberal democracy.

It is also true that we all know these things, so what is the sense in dwelling on them? We have to fight the darkness at every turn, yes, but if we become obsessed with this ugliness, then it will drag us down with it. We will need to be there, whole and ready, when the tsunami of stupid blows over and reason returns at last. So look on the bright side, I say. Light up that big Pollyanna doobie and take a nice, long hit. That’s it…now kick back…let go of the dread…cast your mind forward to a better time and a better world. It looks pretty good to me — in large part because of Donald J. Trump and his enablers.

Hear me out. Who is to say that reliable print media could have survived without the rise of fake news and strategic lying? Subscriptions to the New York Times and the Washington Post have soared during this period because, all of a sudden, the value of truth has become so obvious. Newspapers were at the brink of death until the rising tide of bullshit made them indispensible. And that tide flows right out of the President’s mouth.

Similarly, the latest step forward in gender equality would not have happened so soon were it not for the harasser-in-chief. Millions of women were so outraged by his election that they came together in the #metoo movement and demanded that things must change. And they have changed — years before they might have. I’m not ready to thank His Repellency for that, but his rise to power has certainly clarified our thinking and galvanized us into action.

Activism itself, such a vital force within any free society, has been energized. People with strong opinions on every subject are stepping up to be heard, and violence does not seem to be a part of this trend. These movements — like the Parkland student uprising and the teacher strikes — are about righteousness, not partisan advantage. We need them. In fact, I predict that there is a healing coming for all of us. There’d better be, or none of us will survive on this shrinking, increasingly afflicted planet. Trumpsters, no matter how exasperated you may be with them, had to be brought inside the circle. They have been marginalized or ignored for too long, and we can’t afford to leave anybody behind. None of this could have happened so quickly if the last election had gone as expected. It’s the Trump Effect, and it came just in time.

Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s the doobie talking. And maybe you’re right, but we’ll never get anywhere by mainlining the opioid of despair. And so, I call your attention the bright side: our society was due for an upgrade anyway. If we keep our heads straight and seize the opportunity provided by this near-death experience, the Age of Aquarius is just around the corner.

Care for another toke?
Do They Still Hang People for Treason?
Well, do they? We may need to answer that question soon. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution defines treason as “levying war” against the U.S. or “adhering to” or giving “Aid and Comfort” to our “Enemies.” Up until recently I would have said that only Isis or its like would qualify as enemies of the United States. The Russians, by contrast, have seemed more like adversaries or competitors.

Recent indictments from the Mueller investigation, however, have detailed a large-scale, comprehensive attack on our system of government (us, in other words) by the Russians. It is not hard to argue that only an enemy would launch such an attack. There have been no official declarations of war, but the Constitution doesn’t mention such formalities in its discussion of treason. I am beginning to think we might be there after all.

Death has always been the go-to punishment for treason, of course. Fines and imprisonment are also options, but execution (if it is ever appropriate) seems a good match to this particular crime. Oddly, however, no one has ever been executed under U.S. law for treason. Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were put to death for “conspiracy to commit espionage,” not treason. That case, it should be noted, was decided in 1953. America was in full paranoia mode over The Red Menace at the time, and most agree that our legal system was not at its best at the time of the Rosenberg trial.

The last American sentenced to death for treason was Tomoya Kawakita, whose conviction rested on his activities as a guard in a Japanese concentration camp. His sentence was later commuted by President Eisenhower. No one from the Confederacy paid the ultimate price for their offenses against our country. There were executions for war crimes and murder, but not for treason. Benedict Arnold never faced the consequences for his treachery, either, and died a quiet death in rural England. From complications of dropsy, if you must know.

So there is no real precedent here. If Donald Trump (to pick a name out of the air) were to be convicted of treason and sentenced to death, wouldn’t hanging be the first option that enters your mind? It seems like a means of execution especially made for traitors.

But let’s not be hasty. Drawing and quartering is is also on the menu, but I am not prepared to argue for its return to fashion. There’s no need to be cruel here. Justice should be our main concern — along with establishing a deterrent to the willful destruction of our society. If our state is going to kill someone, our method of choice should reflect our highest values as a people.

I’m not sure where the Mueller investigation will go, but we can certainly imagine ending up with a long list of traitors to deal with. The President, Don Jr., Jared, half the Cabinet, Mike Pence — they could all be implicated. That’s a lot of rope. The Rosenbergs died in the electric chair, so there’s is some precedent for that method. It’s not old school, though, and it doesn’t seem to match the unique nature of the crime. The same goes for any of those drug “cocktails” they’re experimenting with in the modern dens of horror we call prisons.

We’ll need something quick, humane, cost-effective, and earth-friendly for this job, but the method also must speak to the long tradition of punishment for betrayal of one’s country. Allow me to humbly suggest, then, this modest proposal: let’s dust off the guillotine — just in case. It has a history rich with symbolism, and it seems particularly fitting under the current set of facts. That’s if there are convictions, of course. We must all have a due respect for the rule of law and allow for it to take its course. After that, off with their heads!

Besides, there’s no harm in being prepared. We might be called upon to dispense large amounts of speedy justice in the near future, especially with all the traitors running around Capitol Hill these days (hi there, Devin Nunes). The guillotine would certainly qualify as a candidate for that job. It would spare us a lot of the waste associated with electrocutions or firing squads or gas chambers.

Besides being environmentally sound, multiple guillotine executions would surely serve as a deterrent as well. I do not, however, subscribe to the idea of placing all those severed heads on pikes along the National Mall. That is not who we are or who we want to become (though it would be a very efficient use of resources).

Still, I can understand why you might want to hang people for treason. It’s quick, it’s clean, and it just seems right. Unless hangin’s too good for ‘em, that is.
Too Much Gun
I have friends who are members of the NRA. We don’t talk about guns very much because our views on the subject are strong and diametric. The specter of the latest slaughter of schoolchildren demands, however, that I address this essay to these good, law-abiding gun owners.

Let me start by saying that there is nothing inherently wrong with guns. The same goes for drugs or poison or TNT or transfats. There is also nothing inherently good about any of these things. We have to be careful with them, is all. Common sense should tell us, however, that the more catastrophic the misuse of these things can be, the more careful we have to be. I don’t think we need to outlaw unhealthy food, for instance, but I think it makes sense to say no to private ownership of, say, H-bombs. It’s a question of degree.

I’m okay with the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. It’s right there the Constitution, after all. I do not, however, put that right on the same level with the rights to free speech, free press, or the freedom of religion. I think that these aspects of our humanity are inherently good. The history of human expression and personal conscience has been around for as long as we have. Firearms, on the other hand, are not fundamental to the human equation. They are simply one of many technologies our species has developed in the last few hundred years. The protection of one relatively new technology just doesn’t deserve the importance we give to rights that are innate to our nature as human beings.

That said, I am content with protecting your right to hunt. I’m okay with you arming yourselves as a defense against harm. These school shootings, however, are not acts of self-defense. They are large-scale attacks on children using weapons of war. That is wrong on its face. I don’t want to hear how much fun it is to shoot an AR-15 at a firing range. If we can trade that little bit of pleasure for a child’s life, we should take the deal.

I don’t want to take away guns, I want to take away the ability of moody loners to conduct large-scale slaughters at schools and other public places. The NRA, it seems to me, does not care about these shootings. Its believes that the Second Amendment represents a nearly absolute right — an honor that no other Constitutional right enjoys. True to its doctrine, the NRA has encouraged the proliferation of these weapons of war among ordinary citizens — with awful consequences.

If you are a member of the NRA and disagree with its position on this question, I am asking you to resign your membership in that organization. Now. Keep your guns, but please don’t fund a group that elevates them to a place of honor above the lives of children. Whatever the NRA may do to protect the right to bear arms under the Constitution, it also supports efforts that undermine our right to enjoy lives safe from this kind of atrocity. It is not a question of degree to them, but an obsession with firearms. That is not healthy for anyone.

So defund the warmongers. Abandon the NRA. I’ve got your back, I promise.
A Roll of the Dice
We have never witnessed anything quite like the spectacle now unfolding in our nation’s capital. The drama is not limited to the White House, though the president does impart an orange stain to everything he touches. Perhaps the most riveting act in this three-ring circus is the show being staged in Congress.

There have been comparisons of the Trump-Russia story to Watergate and to the Clinton impeachment saga, but this one is different. Neither of those crises involved our national security or struck at the heart of our democratic system. There was wrongdoing, but a third-rate burglary and lying under oath are just not in the same category as Trump’s quasi-treason or the massive corruption of our right to vote. What’s more, in those cases the wrongdoing was over and done with by the time Congress stepped in. The Russian attack on our rights and sovereignty continues to grow even now. And our Republican Congress has done nothing to stop it.

It is hard to explain exactly why that is. You don’t have to be a cynic to know that politicians will abandon their principles to hang onto power, but most people would predict that even the most shameless pol would balk at foreign powers taking control our government. Lindsey Graham, for instance, is not likely to land a job in a Putin administration. Why, then, are he and his GOP colleagues treating this dire situation with such casual partisanship?

None of us really knows the answer to that, but I have a theory. There are some crazies in Congress, especially in the Freedom Caucus of the House of Representatives, but I don’t think Lindsey and his co-conspirators are among them. I don’t even think he has abandoned his long-held suspicion and dislike of the Evil Empire. He has served the interests of Vladimir Putin by trying to discredit any investigation of the Trump-Russia entanglements, but I sense a larger plan at work here.

It all comes back to that orange stain. I believe that the Republicans (the craven-but-not-crazy ones) are almost as anxious to expunge it as most Americans. But that’s not so easy for them. His base, after all, is their base. That group includes the nationalists, racists, alt-righters, conspiracists, and a lot of other nutcases that they have cynically nurtured over the last few decades. If Lindsey and company were to try to dump the Orange One without a solid reason, the base would surely dump them.

So what to do? To me, their despicable tactics are part of a big, dangerous gamble. They are daring to defend the indefensible now, protecting Trump on every front, but they are looking for the perfect time to pivot and help drive him out of the White House. That moment, according to their plan, will be provided by the Mueller investigation. They will undermine his credibility, but they are betting that it won’t stick. Mueller and his band of cold-eyed prosecutors will find plenty — plenty — of impeachable offenses. When that day comes, Republicans will solemnly, and with the deepest sadness, give in to the mountain of indisputable proof. They will choose country over party and join the Democrats in the impeachment and conviction of Donald J. Trump.

It is a gamble, though. For one thing, the base might desert them anyway. Even if Trump goes, the orange stain will still be there, and some of it will be on them. Whatever honor they can claim now will surely be compromised. Lindsey Graham will be stuck with a record that not only includes comforting Vladimir Putin, but also undermining our justice system and abetting the largest single instance of voter fraud in U.S. history. He and his friends are rolling the dice and hoping it won’t make any difference to the voters. And it could work. All of these issues may be at the very heart of Republican orthodoxy, but hey, they’re just principles. As we have said, the lust for power often trumps such concerns.

There is always a chance, of course, that they overplay their hand and end up seeing their efforts to discredit Mueller succeed. The investigation would end, Trump would still be there, and so would the massive Russian intrusion into our democracy. But heck...nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I admit that all of this is an ugly scenario. If true, it would be a dark episode for our republic. Honestly, though, my theory is really very Pollyanna-ish. It assumes the absolute best about Lindsey Graham, given what he has already done. The truth could be much, much darker. His complicity could be even deeper, his crime against the common good even more reprehensible.

But I really don’t think so. Or maybe I just prefer an explanation based on ugliness rather than full-out criminal insanity. I guess that is my gamble.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon