American Cussedness & the January 6th Insurrection

The rioters at the US Capitol are not people to be admired. They’re deluded, they’re racist, they’ve gone absolutely wrong in a violent and disturbing way. But there is one thing to admire about those Trumpist seditionists:  They are soaked head to toe with a peculiarly American attribute: cussedness.

American cussedness os rooted in our fierce independence & intense skepticism of authority. It is fueled by an abiding, fulminating rage at lies and injustice. It is a resolute unwillingness to care what any supposed expert thinks, a trust in one’s gut instincts and in what one sees with one’s own eyes..

Mark Twain had it, and admired it in others. He wrote with “a pen warmed up in Hell,” the most cussed of weapons. George Carlin had it when he said “It’s called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.”  Malcolm X had it, when he said “If you’re not ready to die for it, put the word ‘freedom’ out of your vocabulary.”.

Their cussedness made them stand up and rail against the Way Things Are, damn the consequences. Cussedness made them think for themselves and mistrust everything they’ve been told to believe.

Donald Trump doesn’t have it. It requires some moral common sense and respect for the truth, both things he lacks. He does know to exploit it in others, though. He taps into our absolute conviction in this actually true thing: we’ve been lied to, manipulated, and exploited.

The tragedy of Trumpism is that the people he won over are missing the things they’d need to see his bullshit for what it is. He spoke their heart language of cussedness when no one else did, and they went all in for him. He disarmed them, and spewed at them such a stream of unrelenting falsehood that they could no longer reliably distinguish truth from fiction.

None of the people & institutions that should have stood up to him – conservative media, Republican politicians – did so. They knew he was a ticking bomb and that he betrayed every moral principle to which they’d always paid lip service. They thought he was biddable, a malleable tool, a useful idiot. By the time they realized he was an uncontrollable monster, it was too late.

Trump was 100% right about the rest of the Republican field in 2016 – they were craven lickspittles to the corporate oligarchy, who didn’t care if average Americans live or die. He mowed his opponents down easily, finding each one’s weakness, turning them into objects of ridicule. It was easy, because they were every bit as crooked and desperate as he was.

Unfortunately that was the only time he told the truth, except by accident, Once he was elected he could count on the loyalty of his base. He spoke their truth to power and harnessed their rage, They might have had doubts about him from time to time, but they stayed loyal, because he was President, and even the most purely cussed American still reflexively holds that office in respect.

Many of us clocked Trump for a cheap grifter from the start, but we could still find ourselves doubting our own convictions. He was always right there, pouring his poison in our ears via Twitter and cable news. In a weak moment, one might think “Maybe what he’s saying is the truth, and all the sad, complicated, messy grey area of life and reality is the lie.”

Now we hope that at long last, the spell is broken, that facts, science, and truth will come back into fashion. But it’s vitally important that we don’t discard our grand American cussedness as one of the things that Trump spoiled. We need it. It’s who we are. We just need to be smarter with it, and find ways to be more persuasive with our fellow cussed Americans who were sucked into Trump’s fake reality..

Trump weaponized cussedness against us. We need to take it back from him and his enablers. We need to reclaim the Gadsden Flag and use it’s motto against the people who are really responsible for the dire straits we’re in, the people who bankrolled and enabled his rise: DON’T TREAD ON US ANY MORE.

Trump, Racism, and the American Id

the-new-yorker-who-is-donald-trumpLately there’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing about the racism and anti-semitism of some of Donald Trump’s supporters.  Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times tweets out a Washington Post editorial critical of Donald Trump, and is met on twitter with a good old-fashioned two minute hate from Trump supporters.

Republican racism and anti-semitism — at least in the old party of… two years ago? —  was a lot more genteel. It was the racist joke told in hushed tones over cocktails at the country club.  It was the gentle shake of the head at people who “just aren’t our sort.” The old GOP was all about the established order — the obedient elected officials, carefully gardening the wealthy and powerful’s interests, the police quietly persecuting those too brown or too poor to ‘fit in.’

Donald Trump is only tangentially Republican.  He isn’t even implementing a plan; he’s just transferred his self-promotional skills from TV to politics.  His initial leverage came out of name recognition, based on a popular TV show.  Alex Trebek could have had the same head start, if not for being Canadian.

What has happened is a perfect marriage of an a man of un-reflective intellect and massive ego, meeting with the ecstatic adoration of a mob of disaffected people, nostalgic for a fictional past where their tribe was on top.  They knew his name, though most of them couldn’t name 5 US Senators. To them, government is like television, it all happens somewhere else.  The difference for them is that nothing ever seems to come from Government.

They instinctively saw Barack Obama as a sinister interloper in their world. He doesn’t look like their idea of an authority figure: an old white guy in a suit. They blame him for everything that is difficult about their lives, even though some of their biggest problems — un- and under-employment, wage stagnation — were the inevitable outcome of Republican policies. 

Along comes Trump. He has the common touch. He promises to kick some Washington elite ass. He isn’t going to pussyfoot around with threats foreign and domestic.  He reinforces their idea — based on a complete disinterest in how government actually works — that there are simple solutions to the problems we face, but that the people in Washington are too corrupt or pointy-headed to implement them.

Maybe one shouldn’t blame Trump for the way white supremacists and neo-nazis have flocked to him.  He’s not really those things, is he?  But they see in him what they’ve been looking for: A white guy — German, actually — who is going to make America great again.

That’s a program so vague as to be a sort of universal political solvent.  Trump’s natural constituency is everyone who feels like things used to be better for them. It used to be a country they felt at home in.  They used to live in Bedford Falls, and now they’re trapped in a scary, unfamiliar Potterville.

It is nostalgia for a past that never happened, a golden age of one’s dreams.  When men were like Ayn Rand’s heroes, standing arms-akimbo and fearless in the face of mealy-mouthed grey-area-ism.  When women were attractive, not so flat-chested that they couldn’t hope to be 10s. Where foreigners stayed foreign, except for the clever ones who know their place: making delicious take-out food.

And even though he’s a crass, foul-mouthed womanizer, he appeals to conservative Christians, because they don’t care who he is, they care about returning to that magical past, where everyone had a friend in Jesus, where no one wore a hijab, food tasted better, your neighbors spoke the same language as you, and nothing hurt.

P. J. O’Rourke, America’s funniest conservative asshole, once said “God is a Republican. Santa Claus is a Democrat.” He describes God as stern and exacting, and Santa as “giving everyone everything they want.”  He then says, “Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.”

That is the problem with Trump: He is the Republican Party’s Santa Claus.

U of Iowa Socialists and their First World Problems

This headline definitely rubbed me the wrong way. I’m all for small-‘s’ socialism where appropriate — health care, education, social security, appropriately modest defense — but I’m having a hard time imagining many people who would receive a University-wide e-mail who could credibly complain of being oppressed. Sure, there’s racism, sexism, and the erosions of personal freedoms in the US, but when I think of oppression, I think of having your home bulldozed, or being kept naked in a cell with a bag over your head and receiving daily beatings.

There’s hardly a more privileged group of people on the planet than the faculty, staff, and students of the University of Iowa. We worry more about cell phone reception & the price of Lattes than we do about actual oppression.

Will the U of I Socialists do anything useful to liberate the oppressed of the world? If they actually do something that in some small way comforts the afflicted or afflicts the comfortable, more power to ’em. But somehow I don’t imagine they can do much beyond holding weekly meetings.

The Cost Of Truth Telling

Assistant secretary of State P.J. Crowley resigned yesterday because he said of Bradley Manning’s mistreatment in military custody “is ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”

Ron Schiller resigns in disgrace for saying “The Tea Party is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian* — I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move.” and that they aren’t “just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”

In both cases, they were telling the truth. In both cases there was a scandal and they were forced to resign. Now I fully understand why that happened, but it vexes me that we live in world where lying, prevaricating, waffling and misdirecting are rewarded and telling the truth gets you punished.

It’s a world where James O’Keefe gets rewarded for being manifestly, comprehensive dishonest. I could fulminate about this all day but what’s the point? It’s not going to change anyone’s mind. Because the basic, fundamental principle of conservatism is this: Believe what we tell you, and never question our authority.

*I might quibble with Schiller about the ‘Christianity’ of Tea Party People. There might be some crossover between religious conservatives and the Tea Party, but there’s plenty of secular people involved. They’re united in their belief in a bunch of bullshit. Not just differences with Liberals over policy, but “slept through high school civics, never actually read the constitution” errors of fact. They get together and reinforce each other’s misguided bogosity.

George Bush: Liar, Sociopath, War Criminal

Think of the children!

So this guy started two wars on the most doubtful of premises, and is responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, tens of thousands of maimings, traumatic brain injuries, and cases of PTSD. And he sleeps like a baby. What do you call a person who is not affected by killings he is responsible for? A sociopath.

This may be seen as ‘extreme rhethoric’ but look at it this way: compared to George W. Bush, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer were small potatoes. And as horrible as they were, they at least looked people in the eye before they killed them.

Congratulations Republicans!

I’m not going to stay up and find out in real time about this election. There’s a few close ones but I have no appetite for the ever-increasingly-fine slicing of the baloney on TV.

Congratulations Republicans and ‘Independents.’ You got what you wanted: A bumper crop of hypocrites, ignoramuses, frauds, hacks and weasels. You now how a Republican House of Representatives, chock full of people without a credible plan to do anything except preventing anything good from happening, and keeping things need to happen from happening.

You must be so very proud.

The Republican Party: Party of Death

The Republican Party, and the conservative political philosophy centered around it, is, contrary to their loud chest-beating about Freedom and the ‘sanctity of Life,’ centered around death.  Why do I say this?  Consider their positions:

  • Wants to fight a multi-front war against Islamic terrorism.  With little real chance of actually stopping terrorists, Republicans supported the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and wouldn’t mind attacking Iran in the bargain. Perfectly OK with sending young people off to die, killing innocent civilians.
  • Passionate about the right to bear arms, no matter the real cost of gun violence. Wish their were fewer restrictions on gun ownership.
  • Against safe, legal, abortion. Would rather force women who are desperate to terminate an unwanted pregnancy be forced to find unsafe, illegal ways to end it.
  • Against comprehensive sex education, especially anything that teaches about safer sex. Not bothered by resulting teen pregnancies or the spread of sexually transmitted diseases
  • For the Death Penalty. Loves State-sponsored murder, even if it has no deterrent effect, costs more than life without parole, and means wrongly convicted people could die.
  • Against assistance for the poor. Apparently, wants women to be forced to have babies they can’t afford, and doesn’t want to help the children of the poor with nutrition and medical care
  • Against Health Care Reform. Even though we in the US pay more money for inferior outcomes than the rest of the industrialized world. Even though medical problems are a leading cause of bankruptcy and people losing their homes.
  • Don’t believe in Global Warming. Skeptical of doing anything substantitve to reduce the use of fossil fuel. Apparently doesn’t care about the megadeaths that could result if the seas inundate low-lying countries, reduce access to arable land, causes species extinctions, etc etc.

I could go on and on. I can understand and appreciate the core idea of Conservatism, which is to move forward with caution, preserve the best things about the past and the status quo. Even though I think Liberals have always been on the right side of history, I think there should be skeptical conservative voices to temper and critique Liberal policies.

Republicans and Conservatives are on a nihilistic death trip, wanting to do everything they can to make life worse for nearly everyone on the planet. And yet they find an ideological basis to think they’re doing exactly the opposite. Incredibly (to me) they are able to convince a third of the country that they’re absolutely right. Or Right.

Whenever we’ve made progress, it’s been in spite of conservatism, not because of it. The end of slavery, the 40 hour work week, Social Security, giving women the right to vote, ending segregation, gay rights etc etc. There isn’t a single expansion of freedom & fairness in our country that hasn’t been fought tooth & nail by conservatives.

What vexes me even more is wishy-washy American voters who want to give the government back to the GOP, just because Obama didn’t instantly fix every problem we face as a country. If you’re voting Republican, you’re riding with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You’re immanentizing the Eschaton. You’re wrong.

Vote Republican? Yeah that will work.

I keep hearing on TV that the ‘Generic Republican’ has a 10% lead over the ‘Generic Democrat’ in polls. Apparently, because the President and the Democratic Congress haven’t found the magic wand to cure all the problems our country faces, they’re going to vote for Republicans.

Because Republicans always do a good job of governing, because they have the interests of common man at heart, because they have a firm grasp on the real facts on the ground, and how to build consensus on how to move forward as a nation. Because they would never inflame racial and religious hatred, make unrealistic promises about tax cuts, start hideously expensive foreign wars on the basis of paranoid fantasy. Because they respect our privacy, our right to free speech and religion.

Yeah that will work.

The Awl: The Phantom Tollbooth, or The Democratizing Principle of Literature

Maria Bustillos nails it on the Awl Blog

“…I cannot help but think that it is flat wrong to teach anyone that he or she should not read, or love, or identify with, any book he or she pleases.”

George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, originated a great turn of phrase — “”There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when I heard it my heart did leap for joy.”

Now unlike friend Fox, I’m not a Christian in the Supernatural Sky Father sense of the term, but I evaluate all art on whether it speaks to my condition. And that means that there are no boundaries: I can dig on Omar Souleyman, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Burning Spear, and Ferron. Even though I’m not a Syrian Muslim, an oppressed black man, a Rastafarian or a lesbian.

One of the things that makes them each great artists is that they can speak to my condition — their work is about the specifics of their condition, but there’s nothing narrow or specific about their ability to connect with an audience. I’m with Maria Bustillos on The Phantom Tollbooth. That book fired my imagination and I’ve always been an evangelist for it. In fact, when my brother Sean was still in grade school I gave it to him for his birthday twice the second time because I’d forgotten the first.

To paraphrase Norton Juster, our project should be to swim in the sea of knowledge and get wet. If we put blinders on for any reason no matter how well intentioned, we lose.

And another thing: The Islamic Center near Ground Zero.

Should I be surprised that the same people who are scared to death that black folks might get over on them, feel that an Islamic Center a couple of blocks from the WTC site in New York is, as Sarah Palin so vividly termed it, a stab in the heart?

Let me just say this: If you feel that way, I can guess some other things about most of you:

  • You’ve either never been to New York City, or have only visited briefly.
  • You reflexively dislike New Yorkers as too liberal.
  • You really think there’s something sinister and threatening about Islam.
  • You have never spent any time at all learning about Islam, not even as little as visiting the Wikipedia entry for the religion.

Which leads me to this conclusion: You are operating from a position of complete ignorance, and you need to stop watching Fox and spend some time learning about Islam. You know less than nothing because you know a whole bunch of things that are just not true.

As-Salamu Alaykum, dumbasses.


This whole Shirley Sherrod makes me want to puke. It’s bad enough that Shirley Sherrod got screwed. But that’s just one instance of a disturbing idea in Right Wing politics — that there’s some sort of rise in reverse racism. They look for ways black people are racist and how that’s keeping the white man down.

First off, as Harry Allen pointed out, “Racism has a sole, functional expression: White supremacy.” Read the whole essay, but my synopsis is this: Black folks might entertain overly broad stereotypes about white people — just as anyone might about a tribe/race/religion other than their own — but it isn’t functional; since they don’t have the same sort of power as white people, they can’t cause the same sort of harm to white people.

To claim there is reverse racism in the United States, to campaign against Affirmative Action, to fulminate with righteous anger whenever a black person, against all odds, succeeds where a white person fails, is not just wrong-headed. It is, in fact, the use of victimology and the appeal to atavistic tribalism to perpetuate White Supremacy. Just because you’re not wearing a sheet and waving a torch, yelling “DIE N***ER DIE” doesn’t change things a bit. You’re just being devious and subtle, or to put the most charitable interpretation to it, ignorant and misguided.

And those Tea Party people who are all up in arms that the NAACP called them racist? Please. The easiest way to tell when a white person is being racist is when they’re getting indignant about being accused of racism. Not only that, Andrew Breitbart isn’t dumb, he knew that he was consciously manipulating racism to whip up his base and discomfit the NAACP and Obama administration.

The root of the matter is this: If you are a White American, you are the beneficiary of White Supremacy and racism. Your government, on your behalf, is killing brown people on the other side of the world to make sure you have gas for your car. Your education system, news media, and entertainment industry does everything it can to reinforce in people of color the idea that they are inferior beings. You are the baseline, the norm, the default, ‘that guy,’ and that African American person over there is ‘that black person.’ The burden is on him, not you.

To deny that this is the case makes you, in a word, racist.


People want to intervene militarily in Iran? Really? What are they basing that on — how well that has gone in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I’ve had co-workers, college room-mates and friends from Iran. Iran is a highly educated, literate, and in many ways progressive country. They are currently under the thumb of a toxic, criminal regime. But if you attack Iran, you’re not just attacking the government. You’re attacking and killing people who you want on your side, people you could be friends with, people whose lives are as valuable as your own. You’re making enemies out of friends.

Let me repeat:

If you attack Iran, you’re not just attacking the government.

Sure the government is a bunch of assholes, but in the long run, being assholes isn’t a sustainable strategy for governing. The Iranian people will figure out how to fix their country; anything we do will just make things worse. Killing innocent Iranians make the United States no better than the Basij. And at least the Basij have the balls to do their dirty work up close and personal.

Chuck Grassley Gets His Guns From God

Elena Kagan’s expression in reaction to Chuck Grassley’s Crazy Old Man act is priceless. For the record I first saw Chuck Grassley speak in public 40 years ago and my instinctive reaction is “that man is brain damaged.” Nothing he’s done in the intervening years has changed my mind. Lately though, he’s gone from conservative dullard to doddering mullah of the far right. He’s making Steve King look good.

This, btw is I think the first post to this blog I’ve added to both the ‘silly shit’ and ‘Politics’ category.

Malawi Got You Down? Come To Iowa!

Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, who were jailed for being openly gay in Malawi. News reports say they’ve considered leaving Malawi. I say, “come to Iowa!” You can get married here! People are nice! I’ll put up $100 to help you get here! Who’s with me!

Anti-Health Care Reform Protesters — Photo-essay

Posted this morning to the Little Village Blog
My favorite sign — inexpertly enhanced in The Gimp:

I spoke to them briefly — apparently the man knew me but for the life of me I couldn’t remember who he was — sorry dude! They were responding in character when people asked them about their sign: “Um, he’s sick. My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it’s pretty serious.”

They said one man asked them about the sign and his response was “my wife has cancer.”

Elon James White’s “13 Black Truths”

I’ve been accused of stating the obvious like it’s my own personal revelation. But it’s hard to know sometimes when the blindingly obvious is just blindingly obvious, and when it still needs saying. Elon James White is like Professor Frink: He makes you laugh, he makes you think.

Marine Corps Public Affairs Director Upset by Avatar? Please!

Marine Corps Director of Public Affairs Upset about portrayal of Marines

I’m sure the USMC has their better moments, and attracts some truly dedicated, courageous young people to the profession of protecting our country. On the other hand they also take a lot of confused young people looking for a purpose in life and turn them into remorseless killers.

I had a friend years ago whose brother enlisted in the Marines, who I’d known as a rather aimless sad sack. I hung out with him when he was on leave after being in for a year, and he’d gone from pudgy to ripped, but after he got outside a few drinks all he wanted to talk about is how he and his buddies would go on leave in Virginia Beach and look for fights. Their favorite thing to do was beat up Navy sailors.

The Marines put a lot of energy into their ideas of Duty and Honor. But make no mistake — it is the military, and arguably the most hardcore of the US Military services. Their highest value in real world is to create a fighting force that kills enthusiastically on command with no qualms whatsoever.

If anything, Avatar presents a version of the USMC that’s better than the reality — it has a Marine with actual moral qualms about immoral orders. That’s exactly the sort of thing the USMC fears most in their soldiers.