How We Can Win: Understanding the Physics of Viral Contagions

Defeating Covid-19 and returning to a world we once again recognize may have less to do with biology and epidemiology and more with physics.  To be clear, viruses have unique and at times confounding characteristics that can be very difficult to assess, especially as they continually mutate, playing a biological game of hide and seek.  We must further acknowledge that our scientific and medical community is doing everything it can, motivated by both public policy supports and economic incentives, to introduce vaccines and therapeutic treatments to defeat Covid-19.  But, victory over this insidious disease will come sooner if we focus on what we can affect today—the physics of Covid-19—that include two principal factors: the density and flow of human beings.

Humans play two viral roles: hosts and vectors.  We host the virus as its vessel of life and we transmit the virus as its method of transportation.  Without access to our warm nurturing and mobile bodies, it dies.  There are, therefore, two and only two elements of physics we must interrupt to defeat Covid-19: the density and flow of humans.  And, as is often the case, the data tells the story.  Look at the data and the maps they illustrate and the big numbers and big red blobs confirm the hypothesis: places with both high density and rapid flows of humans are hit the hardest, like New York City.  Meanwhile, the Dakotas appear as if they are sitting this pandemic out.  Admittedly, some of this gap in viral incidents can still be blamed on a lack of testing, but that gap is shrinking as more testing occurs.  In my own county of Ouray, Colorado, our commissioners and public health officials continue to tout “no confirmed tests in the county!,” which amounts to little more than a head-in-the-sand proclamation due to a lack of testing.  It’s an easy claim when one’s eyes are shut that dangerously lulls the community into a false sense of immunity and careless behaviors.  As humans, we are hosts and vectors just as humans are in large cities.  But, what we have going for us is a lack of density and flow.

In an attempt to gain more materiel support for New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo asserted, watch out America, “We are your future.”  As welcome as Cuomo’s veracity and tenacity are when compared to our president, his assertion is false.  Few places in the United States have the density and flow of humans that the New York metropolitan area does.  The New York City metropolitan area has around 24 million people in 3,450 square miles, or 7,000 people per square mile.  By comparison, the State of Texas has around 28 million people occupying 268,597 square miles, or 104 people per square mile.  New York City then has 67 times higher population density than Texas and, understandably, has (currently) 32 times more confirmed Covid-19 cases.  To get a sense of flow, historically Texas has 255 million visitors while New York City has 65 million, or 4x more visitors in Texas.  This flow multiple in Texas is, however, spread over a vastly larger geographic area, which partially explains a less than 4x adjustment to expected viral infections in Texas.  Density and flow must be considered together, as a dynamic duo of physical impacts.  But, it does (along with levels of current testing and medical interventions—much higher in New York City than Texas) help explain why there are (only) 32x more cases than the 67x suggested by the density data alone.  I recognize this back-of-the-napkin analysis will be cringe-worthy to some epidemiologists who would argue for much deeper analysis, but they might also recognize that the availability and quality of data today does not yet exist to satisfy their desire for a broader and deeper plunge.  Regardless, we know what we need to know to guide public policy and personal behaviors: keep our distance and stay in place.

Colorado has done a fairly admirable job of affecting density and flow.  With less than a quarter the population of New York City or Texas, density is less of a problem in Colorado.  Looking at the state map of Covid-19, the axis of incidents follows density and flow, from Denver west along I-70 to several ski resorts, and north and south from Denver along I-25, a major commercial corridor and the unfortunate venue of a bridge tournament a few weeks ago in Colorado Springs that created a Covid-19 hotspot.  Colorado Governor Polis was absolutely right to shut down ski resorts on March 15th; in hindsight, he should have done it sooner.  Eagle County, home to Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts, is second only to Denver in Covid-19 cases.  Flow (of snowbound tourists) matters too.  Moving forward, notwithstanding damaging economic effects, or the prospect of a scientific and/or medical breakthrough, we must do everything we can to reduce both the density and flow of humans.

I understand we all want to get back to social interactions and freely going wherever we desire.  Lately, our president is making noise that he wants our wealth and his poll numbers back where they were in February, and is suggesting we will be able to return to our active selves by Easter, but doing so prior to seeing data that confirms viral transmission and death rates have both ebbed and are in retreat is a foolish violation of the physical realities that confront us.  Economic activity, which (at least as of today) requires both the density and flow of humans will increase both the velocity of money and the virus.  Releasing our bonds of probity would sacrifice any flattening of the curve we have thus far sacrificed for, and put us back where we were, on a steep ascent to death and further economic destruction.  If we want to get out of this sooner than later—if we desire the summer of 2020 to be similar to 2019—we must have the discipline to take our medicine, as distasteful and disruptive as it is.  Discipline will end this crisis; social, economic, and political greed may produce years of peril rather than months.

It’s going to get tougher rather than easier for the foreseeable future, but we must honor the challenge we face with both fortitude and compassion.

By |2020-03-25T18:11:33+00:00March 25th, 2020|Current, Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Will Staying Apart Bring Us Together?

The irony of “social distancing” is that we may finally reunite as a nation.

The spite and abject selfishness of those who have worked so hard to divide us has proven toxic in our time of pandemic crisis.  The institutions and social safety nets that were built during and following our last crisis—the Great Depression and World War II—have been systematically dismantled since the end of the Cold War, first by the Tea Party and now by Trump and the Trumplicans.  Trump’s “very stable genius” appears to be as phony as his spray-on Orangu-tan.  I cannot decide between “appalling” and “despicable” as the best adjectives to describe his performance in the Covid-19 pandemic, but the results are certainly catastrophic.  His self-awarded grade of “10” is both laughable and extremely dangerous.  Delusion reigns in the White House while people are losing their livelihoods and lives.  If there is a hell, Trump needs to take his throne there, sooner rather than later.

When presidential historians finally unearth all the documents related to the Trump administration’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, I suspect they will find there was a concerted effort to delay testing for Covid-19 in the United States because, as Trump himself put it, he did not want to see “rising numbers” that might hurt his reelection campaign.  Forget the fact that early testing would have provided critical intelligence to thwart what we now have, a pandemic, Trump opted to preserve his poll numbers rather than preserve our lives.  Further, we need to be aware that he will undoubtedly instruct his Diabolical Department, headed by the reptilian Stephen Miller, to look for every way possible to use the pandemic to manipulate the election process—including attempting to delay or cancel the presidential election in November—to keep him in power.  Trump clearly cares more about being a full two-term president than he does preventing the deaths of thousands—perhaps even millions—of Americans.

As we keep our distance from each other, we must find a virtual way to come together.  Earlier in Trump’s presidency, efforts at unification were aimed at preserving our democracy and the American Dream.  In the last few weeks, the stakes have become much higher.  We now face a president who is literally trading our lives for his ego.  All of us, regardless of party affiliation, must summon our strength, wisdom, and compassion and come together (virtually for now) to defeat both the virus and Trump.  In November 2016, we traded the audacity of hope for mendacity and hate.  In a “letter to my children,” published on November 9, 2016 at www.ameritecture.com, I wrote,

So, what to do? First, focus on your own physical, psychological, economic, and intellectual strength. Protect and strengthen those four cornerposts. Second, focus on the well-being of your family and friends. Their welfare is your direct responsibility. Finally, get politically active and organized. Your generation has more voters today than mine. The reality, however, is that we vote and too many of your peers ignore this solemn duty. Do not allow my generation to continue to damage America. You have the power. Do not squander it through apathy or neglect. In the end, we all—individually and collectively—are responsible for Trump and what happens next.

Inject the above call to action with steroids and jet fuel today and we may have a fighting chance at ending this nightmare.  But, we can only succeed together.  Yes, we must keep our distance to flatten the curve of the Covid-19 outbreak, while coming closer together than this nation has been since it faced the fascists of Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito.  It is not just about our way of life anymore; it is a battle for our very existence.  We must stick together and look out for each other today, or face the collapse of both America and world order.  This is the challenge.  We must prevail.

By |2020-03-25T18:11:51+00:00March 18th, 2020|Donald Trump|0 Comments

Out of Crisis, Salvation

Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of imminent death.  Throw in a global economic collapse and we might just achieve the kind of clarity and inspiration to, in Thomas Paine’s words, “make the world over again.”  As one who fits the definition of “at high risk due to underlying health conditions,” I do not take the COVID-19 global pandemic and associated economic effects lightly.  Yet, as an historian I know the rhythm of history and expect this collective calamity—an unforeseen development—may be just what we need to wake-the-fuck up and realize that we are all culpable for the path we have taken and the leaders we have chosen.  The unforeseen has always driven world events more than the foreseen.  As Michelle Obama suggested, power does not change people, it reveals who they really are.  And, times of crisis quickly reveal who among our leaders are authentic and capable and who are incompetent frauds.  Unfortunately, for this moment in history, we do not have a Washington, or Lincoln, or Roosevelt, who led America out of the peril of our three prior American crises; rather, we have a president whose sole concern—even with crisis raging—is, as it always has been, himself.  How I wish Michelle was wrong.

Most (but not all) of us will get through this.  Markets will recover once supply chains and demand are restored; washing hands and “social distancing” are welcome improvements on past practices.  However, we should and must take this opportunity, afforded by crisis, to change our leadership and restore America’s Probity Values that have been squandered since the end of the Cold War.  Responsible individualism must displace the narcissism that denominates too many of our behaviors.  Exemplar exceptionalism—setting the example for others to follow—must subvert the arrogant imperial impulse that seeks to remake the world in the image of America.  Perfectibility—leaving things better than we found them—must, once again, prevail over our sense of entitlement.  Moreover, we must realize we are stronger together—united in common purpose—than we are pursuing power and wealth at the expense of our neighbors.  We are capable of better behavior.  Crises make transformations easier; in the chaos of creative destruction we must seize the moment.

The time is now to set a new course.  Our differences and disagreements—stoked by those who benefit from divisiveness—must be set aside in favor of building stronghold communities.  A stronghold community is a shared place that is largely self-sustaining and foundationally resilient; which looks no further than its common interests to guide its application of power and resources; and which seeks to achieve a sense of virtuous humanity where every member holds both the responsibility and opportunity of participation in advancing the objectives of the community.  Our communities may be small, but we are strong.  We must quit staring at the clown show that is our federal government and demand the return of both authority and tax dollars to our state and local communities.  If we believe in ourselves and each other, we can create a better community, country, and world.  The work begins now.

By |2020-03-18T22:07:55+00:00March 11th, 2020|Donald Trump, Leadership|0 Comments

Hope at Home: Shifting Our Focus to Developing Stronghold Communities

One of Ronald Reagan’s favorite go-to one-liners was to suggest that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”[1]  Following the Viet Nam War and Nixon’s Watergate scandal that led to his resignation, Jimmy Carter tried to heal the nation with the disposition of a Baptist minister who sought redemption for his flock through his jeremiads built on the theological triad of sin, repentance, and salvation.  Reagan had a much simpler and more appealing approach, which made his defeat of Carter in 1980 a relative slam dunk.  Reagan offered Americans absolution by a theological slight-of-hand when he relocated the entire Calvinist concept of original sin away from the individual to the institution: Americans were not the problem, government was.[2]  In his words of absolution, Reagan began a movement to view the federal government as the enemy of the people that has slid from constructive criticism during his presidency to outright demonization in the current Age of Deceit that began with Bush 43.  The New Deal institutions and attendant bureaucracies that proved critical in America’s recovery from the Great Depression and World War II had become, in Reagan’s view, lead weights wrapped around the ankles of enterprising Americans.

The Republican Party under Reagan became as libertarian as it was conservative, which eventually manifested as the Tea Party movement at the onset of Crisis IV in the early aughts that mixed a rather schizophrenic blend of libertarianism with social conservatism.  This progression of anti-government sentiment made way, finally, for Trump’s faux-populist ethno-nationalism to destroy the federal government’s institutions whenever and wherever possible to give cover to, and create space for, the exploitation of government by Trump and his co-conspirators both inside and outside government.  Trump’s “Drain the swamp!” mantra, which is a common anti-government trope has, of course, only resulted in the expansion of the swamp into a small ocean with small craft advisories posted daily, punctuated by the occasional orange-hued hurricane.

This progression—from Reagan’s focus on individualism over institutionalism where government was the problem to Trump’s claim that only he can fix it (while in reality being, himself, the existential threat)—has ridden a wave of growing anti-government vitriol resulting in most American’s view of the federal government as a very expensive travesty of trust.  In fact, since 2007, American’s trust in the federal government—”to do what is right always or most of the time”—is the lowest in more than fifty years.  78% of Americans report either being frustrated with, or angry with, the federal government.[3]  Congressional approval ratings, which is probably the best proxy for American sentiment toward their federal government, have languished in the mid-to-upper teens for most of the recent decade, ironically only breaching 20% once the impeachment of Trump began.[4]  In this Age of Deceit, marked by extraordinary partisan divisions, the silver lining here is that most of us—a clear majority—actually agree on this: the federal government does not serve our interests.  Even though a sad commentary on the federal government, this consensus is also our common ground from which to begin the restoration of America in the Age of Deceit by shifting our focus, our energy, our resources and power away from the federal government and toward our state and local governments.

Notwithstanding the many social, political, and economic issues that divide us, America is, as Yoni Appelbaum, ideas editor at The Atlantic pointed out, “a land of continual change and a nation of strong continuities.”[5]  Things must change; that much is clear, but the remaining continuity—the common ground—that all of us must embrace is that the hope of restoring America begins at home—away from the klieg lights of congressional investigations, narcissistic Twitter feeds, and the shrill cable TV pundit-criers—where it is far more likely to reach agreement due to the communal necessities of compromise, performance, and accountability.  It is one thing to sling insults at your opponent through national and social media, it is much more difficult to sustain such behavior when you have to stand next to that person in the grocery store checkout line, or passing the “peace’ in a church pew on Sunday morning.  We tend to find common ground more easily when the ground beneath our feet is where we must stand every day.

These structural realities are fortunately also met with a higher general trust of local government, which has been rising, rather than falling, during the Trump presidency. In fact, approval ratings for local government at 72% are the near-inverse of those for Congress and the federal government.  Even state governments garner a 63% approval rating.[6]  Potholes cannot tell the difference between Republican and Democrat tires.  That’s not to say ideology and partisanship remain clear of local politics, but the simple reality is that problems just out your front door are less tolerable and, therefore, more likely to be solved through creative compromise.  The immediacy of issues creates an intrinsic sense of urgency all on its own.

There is another structural trend that supports turning our attention away from the national level toward the state and local level, and that is the waning influence of the nation-state.  Globalism, decried by Trump and other faux-populist wannabe dictators around the world, is affecting the decline of influence and relevancy of the nation-state.  In their attempt to debase the very idea of globalism, Trump and several white nationalists have even tried to restore  globalism as an un-patriotic anti-Semitic slur.[7]  However, the fact is that centralized state authority is being slowly but surely diluted by the distributed information systems that affect all aspects of our lives enabled by digital technologies.  All forms of communication and commerce may now occur without the participation of the nation-state, unless impeded with even stronger technologies to interrupt the channel, as China does with its peoples.

Hierarchies of all kinds are being challenged and usurped by horizontally aligned, web-styled networks.  Regardless of attempts to keep the world dumb—as in disconnected—the benefits and efficacy of connection—of a smart world—are simply too attractive and too durable to be suppressed in the long run.  The collision of imagination and critical thinking that drives creative solutions does not require nation-state intermediation in a smart world.[8]  It is highly likely that what we are seeing today, both in America and across the world, represents the last agonizing dyspeptic reflux of centralized authority as people realize more and more every day that America’s Trump, Russia’s Putin, Turkey’s Erdogan, Hungary’s Orbán, Philippines’ Dutertes, Iran’s Khamenei, China’s Xi, and North Korea’s Kim have little interest and even less capacity to meet the needs of their peoples.[9]  Borders are, after all, a manmade artifact of the nation-state era that become meaningless when transcended by technology and the will of people.  We may as well turn our attention away from the crazies at the national level and connect our communities directly, without the intermediation of the nation-state.  As Lincoln showed in his address at Gettysburg a “government of the people, by the people [and] for the people” draws its legitimacy and power from one source: the people.  Both because of, and in spite of, our national leaders, the time is now to move “the people’s” attention to the local development of stronghold communities.

“Stronghold” is actually a term borrowed from Tucker Malarkey, author of a book of the same name that recounts the valiant efforts of Guido Rahr to create stronghold habitats for wild salmon across the Pacific Rim.[10]  Stronghold in the case of human communities means a shared place that is largely self-sustaining and foundationally resilient; which looks no further than its common interests to guide its application of power and resources; and which seeks to achieve a sense of virtuous humanity where every member holds both the responsibility and opportunity of participation in advancing the objectives of the community (in spite of the interests of outside forces like the federal government).

Regardless of how the impeachment proceedings or the 2020 presidential election turns out, we, as in We the People, have it within our power (paraphrasing Thomas Paine) to begin America over again.  Restoring America is unlikely to occur at the national level.  In 2020, we should begin a movement for the development of stronghold communities by demanding a slow but certain inversion of power and resources back to the local and state level.  Rather than continue to stare at the circus in Washington, D.C. we need to elect people who embrace the stronghold ethic and affect the restoration of the American Dream from the ground up.  Yes, we may end up being the Affiliated States of America, rather than the United States, but I am afraid that we really have no choice.  And, those communities that achieve stronghold status will, very likely, become the most attractive and successful in America while others, stuck in the deceit of “Making America Great Again” will, no doubt, languish; that is, until the truth comes home to roost.

 

[1] Ronald Reagan, Presidential News Conference, August 12, 1986, Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, https://www.reaganfoundation.org/ronald-reagan/reagan-quotes-speeches/news-conference-1/.

[2] See William Steding, Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy: Jimmy Carter the Disciple and Ronald Reagan the Alchemist (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), pp. 100-101.

[3] Samantha Smith, “6 Key Takeaways About How Americans View Their Government,” Fact Tank News in the Numbers, Pew research Center, November 23, 2015, https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/23/6-key-takeaways-about-how-americans-view-their-government/.

[4] “Congress and the Public,” GALLUP, https://news.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx.

[5] Yoni Appelbaum, “How America Ends,” The Atlantic, December 2019, p. 51.

[6] Justin McCarthy, “Americans Still More Trusting of Local than State Government,” Gallup, October 8, 2018, https://news.gallup.com/poll/243563/americans-trusting-local-state-government.aspx.

[7] See Ben Zimmer, “The Origins of the ‘Globalist’ Slur,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/the-origins-of-the-globalist-slur/555479/.

[8] See Richard Ogle, Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the Science of Ideas (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007).

[9] See David Brooks, “The Revolt Against Populism,” The New York Times, November 21, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/21/opinion/populism-protests.html?searchResultPosition=3.

[10] Tucker Malarkey, Stronghold: One Man’s Quest to Save the World’s Wild Salmon (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2019).

By |2020-03-11T19:12:12+00:00December 11th, 2019|General|0 Comments

Hurricane Dorian: Destined for Sainthood?

The “chosen one”; the “second coming”; “the son of God.”  As evangelicals succeed in making their once-proclaimed moral majority into an immoral minority by their bear hug of the most amoral president in U.S. history, spiritual poetry-in-motion lurks in the Caribbean Sea.

After mercifully sidestepping that nasty island (Puerto Rico) with that nasty lady-mayor (Carmen Yulin Cruz), Dorian, a hurricane that is predicted to make landfall somewhere on or between Donald Trump’s beloved Mar a Lago and Trump National Doral Golf Club offers a spectacle of comeuppance long overdue.  130 MPH winds may rip the faux gold-plated chandeliers from their moorings of The Donald’s southern white house, raining down a wrath of Biblical proportions on what evangelical clowns like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Franklin Graham, Ralph Reed, and Robert Jeffress consider Jesus Trump.

What Democrats and Robert Mueller have thus far been unable to put asunder, the new nasty-lady, Dorian, may ravage with the spirit of a lady scorned.  The women in Trump’s orbit, who favor heavy makeup, ballgowns, stiletto heels, and silicon in all the right places will, no doubt, rush to hiss at Dorian as she approaches, but no amount of Aqua Net will save the day.  Of course, the wreckage will be left to be cleaned up by Mar a Lago’s undocumented workers paid for by American taxpayers, but the carnage will sing in lyrical rhyme to those of us who suffer the wickedness of Jesus Trump and his Bible-thumper sycophants.

The most nasty-lady of all, Mother Nature, whom Trump’s toadies at the EPA and Department of Interior are working feverishly to destroy with cocktails laced with methane and benzene, has her opportunity to silence Jesus Trump’s Twitter feed, capping off the end of the hottest summer in the history of the modern world with her own tweet:  Donald be damned!  As we each settle in for the spectacle of ruin on this three-day break from Jesus Trump’s apocalypse, please God—whomever and wherever you may be—allow us this brief respite from the spiritual fraud that is Donald Trump.

And, to all the nasty-ladies everywhere: You go, girl, you go.

Happy Labor Day.

By |2019-10-04T17:12:04+00:00August 30th, 2019|Donald Trump|0 Comments

TTN: the Trump Terrorist Network

May we please, at long last, call a spade a spade?  Donald Trump is terrorist-in-chief.

His entire modus operandi is centered on fomenting fear, destroying democratic institutions, and now a direct—word-for-word—connection to mass murder in El Paso, Texas.  He is a social terrorist (racist, misogynist, bigot).  He is an economic terrorist (trade and currency wars).  He is a political terrorist (abuse of power and obstruction of justice).  And, he is a security terrorist (Russian election meddling, cyber negligence, nuclear proliferation malfeasance, and the degradation of NATO).

As I have argued since before his inauguration, Trump IS the existential threat to the United States of America.  It is time we came together to rid our country of this threat.

Section 802 of the USA Patriot Act expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, adding to existing international terrorist laws dating back to the early 1990s.  Among other things, it provides for any act committed that is “dangerous to human life” that is intended to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

I recognize it is odd—okay, bizarre—to consider that an American president, who is supposed to be commander-in-chief of the country’s security resources to protect the life, property, and liberty of the citizenry to be, in reality, its terrorist-in-chief, but that is clearly where we are today.  Yes, it is embarrassing and unsettling, but we must also acknowledge that it is profoundly dangerous to the welfare and security of the American people.

Trump has been called many names, but terrorist-in-chief subsumes all of them and he, as the existential threat to the nation, must be defeated by those of us who are the real American patriots.

The Trumplicans will not see it this way, but they are—in spirit, in fact, and in law—Trump’s accomplices.  They enable, comply, and assist him in his terrorist activities.  They, Fox News, and the many Internet troll sites that traffic in hate and destruction comprise a domestic terrorist group that must be prosecuted and dismantled before they are allowed to inflict further destruction on our peaceful coexistence and, moreover, compromise the Constitution and the many laws that keep our citizens safe and our country secure.  As with child pornographers, they are not entitled to protection under the First Amendment, nor should we allow the Second Amendment to provide them protection from enabling mass murder.  They are domestic terrorists.  Guantanamo?  No.  But crimes against the state and humanity?  Yes.

Those of us who care about our fellow Americans must muster the courage to call this for what it is and rid this country of its most immediate threat: TTN, the Trump Terrorist Network.

By |2019-08-30T15:58:22+00:00August 6th, 2019|Donald Trump|0 Comments

The MAGA Hoax

When the history of the Trump era is finally written, those who will have lost the most will not be immigrants, or the “enemy-of-the-state” media, or liberal elites, or Democrats, or objectified women, or even the Republican Party, it will be those who were his most fervent supporters: the MAGA hatters.  These are the folks who lose the most when the Affordable Care Act is gutted, opioids are distributed like M&Ms, school funding is eviscerated and teachers migrate to urban areas, fracking and industrial waste ruins water supplies, middle-class take-home pay falls to subsidize tax cuts for corporations and wealthy individuals, infrastructure projects (especially broadband) never advance beyond rhetoric, and plentiful guns become the weapon-of-choice to settle family feuds and end the hopelessness of the forlorn—the so-called deaths of despair.  In this age of deceit, Trump’s swindle of white, mostly rural, Christian, MAGAs will amount to one of the greatest cons ever perpetrated on a group of citizens in American history.

His trick?  Making sure MAGAs remain fearful of, and enraged at, all the wrong things: collectively Trump’s stalking horses.  Mexican “rapists,” all people of color, immigrant families, working women, all non-FOX media, Democrats, sanctuary cities, and virtually everyone and everything beyond the borders of the Unites States—especially Muslims.  Trump’s next ghost-written book should be titled, The Art of the Con.  Deflection, distraction, dishonesty, and his ultimate goal: disorientation, are easily achieved in the stew of fear and anger that he and FOX news work tirelessly to foment among MAGAs.    His relentless campaign that utilizes Twitter, FOX, and revivalist-styled stadium rallies have one target: MAGAs.  Fear begets anger, which begets more fear and anger such that the spiral of disorientation is assured.  The result: a disorientation so extreme that its victims can no longer discern truth from lies and, ultimately, right from wrong; they become so disoriented as to approach the clinical definition of mental illness.  More specifically, MAGAs suffer from Trump-induced psychosis: a severe mental disorientation in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality, which is exactly what Trump must maintain to keep his fascist fantasies alive and, moreover, Trumplican congressmen and senators in line.

Emerging studies now show the reality of Trump’s stewardship of white rural America.   Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland, by, Jonathan Metzl (Basic Books, 2019), reveals the extraordinary costs inflicted on white America by Trump and the Trumplican Party.  Metzl studies public health and the “intersecting histories of race and health in Southern and midwestern states.”  He observed an array of conservative political movements like “starving government funding, dismantling social programs, and allowing the free flow of most types of firearms” that originated with the Tea Party, funded by the Koch brothers, legislated by the Freedom Caucus and given voice (particularly to the alt-right) by online outlets like Breitbart.  The effects on “state agendas, national GOP platforms, and, ultimately, policies of the Trump administration” resulted in what he calls “backlash governance.”

Metzl further found that the principal appeal to garner support from the folks who now proudly wear MAGA hats was simple, but intoxicatingly powerful: white racial resentment.  White backlash politics gave MAGAs “the sensation of winning, particularly by upending the gains of minorities and liberals; yet the victories came at a steep cost.”  Specifically, rapidly increasing rates of white death.  The numbers are disturbing.  For example, in Missouri as gun laws were liberalized at the insistence of the NRA, gun deaths spiked among white people and, incidentally, not among African Americans.  He concludes that “lax gun laws ultimately cost the state roughly $273 million in lost work between 2008 and 2015 and … the loss of over 10,506 years of productive white male life.”  In Tennessee their refusal to expand Medicaid “cost every single white resident of the state 14.1 days of life.”  In Kansas, the Tea Party economic experiment of slashing state education budgets resulted in a sudden rise in high school dropout rates that correlates with an average reduction in life expectancy of 9 years.  In all, in Kansas, in just four years: “6,195.51 lost white life years.”  MAGAs are, quite literally, dying for Trump and the Trumplicans at rates much higher than other demographic groups, including African Americans and Hispanics.  Trump claims he is the only one who can save them and yet, his policies are actually killing them.  Some savior.

It is difficult to predict if saving MAGAs from Trump and the Trumplicans is even possible.  When one observes the rage in their eyes, directed at all the wrong targets, changing their minds about Trump may be impossible.  Like trying to convince an addict they will feel better once they take the needle out of their arm, white racial resentment feels too damn good in the moment to be convinced that the rush, however transient, is supporting politicians and policies that are actually killing them.  For MAGAs, such data, such intelligence, likely emanates from the deep state boogeyman they have been taught to fear by Trump and FOX News.  To them, the underlying fear of being displaced from their historical position in social, political, and economic order by persons of color, women, and those who praise a god (or no god) unlike their own, is terrifying and, apparently, worth dying for.  We can only hope that other voices—maybe even a Democratic candidate for president—will be able to reach enough of them with arguments and policies that might provide them a better path to a better life before they die from Trumpism.  If you believe in prayer, send a special one to a MAGA in your life; that they may see the proverbial light before they are buried, MAGA hat in-hand.

By |2019-08-06T19:33:38+00:00May 1st, 2019|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

A Sermon for Sanctuaries

Destroying places of peace and unity—sanctuaries—appears to be a thing today.  In both physical form and ideation, sanctuaries have been under attack in this age of deceit.  Whether it be the accidental burning of the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris, the murderous rampage at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the numerous bombings and burnings of African American churches across the South, or this Easter morning’s church and hotel bombings claiming more than 200 souls in Sri Lanka, sanctuaries are under siege.  Even our president has attempted to defile the concept of sanctuary as he continually casts “sanctuary cities” as places where dirty liberals harbor even dirtier immigrants rather than comply with his vile impulse to banish the weakest among us from American soil.  But then, peace and unity are anathema to his fascist affections.

As an agnostic myself, I generally concur with American industrialist Andrew Carnegie who lamented the fact Americans built more churches than libraries.  I share his wonder for how different America might be today had those numbers been flipped.  And, while the Easter story of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection (let alone the virgin birth) never passed my giggle-test as a young churchgoer, and made even less sense as an adult, I do not condemn true believers even while they have often sought to condemn and persecute me.  Notwithstanding the fantastical promise of everlasting life that millions of folks have easily embraced, the values espoused by Jesus Christ are indeed worthy of the sanctity of sanctuaries.  On this Easter Sunday, my hope is American Christians—especially as their numbers wane—will set aside their penchant for judgment and condemnation in their feeble attempts at personal puffery and seek instead to reinvigorate the lessons of Jesus who would have never considered the weakest among us to be enemies of the state.  In so doing, perhaps they may even reverse the current decline in religious membership, which Gallup Research has shown is declining at an accelerating rate; curiously aligned (for the first time in American history) with party affiliation.  Apparently, Trumplicans are now the most fervently religious among us.

Salvation may be impossible for those Catholic clergy engaged for decades in pedophilic perversions and attendant coverups across the globe.  Evangelicals who have sold their souls to support Trump—who arguably comes as close to the anti-Christ as any American leader may have ever come—may find redemption beyond their reach.  Jews who look upon Palestinians in the same manner as Trump does Mexicans might also want to look in their spiritual mirrors.  Buddhists killing Rohinga refugees in Myanmar will undoubtedly face a perilous reckoning.  Jihadi Muslims who twist the Koran to justify their murderous ways may find the fires of damnation awaiting them rather than seventy-two willing virgins.   All are quick—too quick—to forget the teachings of their chosen spiritual leaders whether Christ, Moses, Buddha or Muhammad to, as a start, treat others as they wish to be treated themselves.  None of these behaviors—as pervasive and deplorable as they are—are consistent with the peace and unity that are the foundational elements of sanctuaries.

Ironically, the fate of peace and unity, which has been the clarion call of religions across the world for centuries, today rests with the secular rational humanists among us: the areligious.  The soul of sanctuaries and the values of Christ, et al, are in the hands of atheists, agnostics, and what Gallup and Pew Research calls “nones.”  Not all true believers, nor all nones are all good or all bad, but the pendulum is swinging hard in favor of the nones.  Those of us who prefer humanity in all its glory and failings over those who succumb to the impulse of self-aggrandizement, fear, and hate are the new caretakers of historically religious values.  We may prefer to walk alone in different sanctuaries than those constructed under the yoke of slavery or celebrity-styled donations, but we are often the first among many to respond to those in need.  We may be reluctant to stand in the judgment of others, being familiar and accepting of our own failures, but we may also be better teachers than those who loudly proclaim their righteousness.  We may not have our names engraved on the pews of great churches across the land, but we may be the first to sacrifice our place in the sanctuary of peace and unity to someone who needs the comfort of fellowship.  We may not check all the boxes of conformance to be admitted at the gates of heaven, but it may be because we never needed the promise of everlasting life to be good and moral people in the here and now.  We may be considered wayward souls by our religious brethren, but our preference for doing good over just feeling good remains always in the present.

Sanctuaries, in churches or as cities, or just a big beautiful canopy of evergreens splitting a crystal blue sky, must be protected and nurtured to assure the prospect of peace and unity.  Vile politicians, perverted priests, angry rabbis, sanctimonious ministers, or imams preaching violence deserve their increasingly certain fate of irrelevancy.  The goodness of morality and virtue—wherever and within whomever it may be found—must prevail over these pious pretenders.

Happy Easter, or Passover, or maybe just spring.

By |2019-05-01T14:44:59+00:00April 21st, 2019|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Starving for Virtue

It is nearing time to choose a path; do we continue down the current rabbit hole of what columnist David Brooks has called “performative narcissism,” or do we reach back to the values that actually made America great and reengage with each other by demanding honesty, humility and decency?  The top of the presidential candidate card for both parties—Trump, Biden and Bernie—appear to be mired in Brooks’ performative narcissism.  To be fair, Trump is in a league of his own; I suspect that in the coming years his name will be attached to many newly-named psychoses in medical journals than it may appear on shiny new buildings around the world.  Trumpicism may become shorthand for malignant narcissism. Orange skin tone and Aqua Net shellacked hair swirls may prompt calls for an exorcist.  Still, the front-runner Democrats offer little more than slightly milder narcissism and, at times, just as much scapegoating and demagoguing, not to mention inappropriate shoulder rubs. Instead of Mexicans as an existential threat, it’s Wall Street.  Instead of porn stars slapping ass with a rolled-up Forbes, it’s too close—much too close—hair sniffing.  Perhaps old white guys should simply go home and stay there.  Patriarchy has become about as welcome as a houseguest who really thought you meant it when you said, “Stay as long as you want.”  As a relative newcomer to the old-white-guy demographic, I am totally cool with banishment.  At some point, you just have to go fishing and be happy that John Coltrane is available on Amazon music.  Plus, you can sleep in later.  (If only I could.)

Spring is, however, upon us, and green sprouts are beginning to appear among the younger set of political prospects.  Who would have expected that a gay mayor of a mid-western town would rise in a just a few weeks to be third among Democratic presidential hopefuls?  But, besides being gay and from South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg is wicked smart and conveys an honest sense of humility with an apparent addiction to solving problems that face those of us outside the top one percent. Whipping the evangelical avatar Mike Pence with lessons from Jesus was a smack-down long overdue.  Who knew such a person existed in today’s political arena?  Running South Bend may not qualify him to manage an ageing superpower, but his intellect and disposition will, no doubt, send his star soaring well beyond the Hoosier state.  Stacey Abrams also catches my ear; when she speaks, listening is a pleasure.  Like Mayor Pete, her brain exceeds the collective intellect of the entire Trumplican caucus. In three sentences, she defined the entire game in 2020: “Winning does not mean beating Trump. It means winning America. That’s our mission.”  I don’t know if or what she may run for next, but Dems had damn well better start listening to her or Trump, like Netanyahu earlier this month, will be headed for another term.

Happy spring my friends.  Now, it’s time to go re-org the flybox.

By |2019-04-21T14:38:00+00:00April 12th, 2019|Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

Two Men, Two Destinies

“If you have no character your destiny is tragedy.”  These words offered by former federal prosecutor John Flannery as he described the likely outcome of Donald Trump’s presidency and life.  This notion of self-inflicted fate has been around for centuries as when  Oedipus the King was advised by Tiresias, “Creon is not your downfall, no, you are your own” (Sophocles, circa 430 B.C.).  The remarkable thing about the noose that appears to be tightening around Trump’s neck is that his nemesis, Robert Mueller, has yet to speak one word.  Trump’s addiction to peevish impulse, fearmongering, and deceit are tightening the rope with virtually no help from others.  All one must do is look at the faces of Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Stephen Miller, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, et al—that are often either bursting with rage or spewing contempt—to know these folks are not only in deep trouble, they know they are in deep trouble.  Contrast that with the seldom seen face of Mueller or, moreover, the face of John McCain even as he faced imminent death.  When you are on the right side of honor, tranquility is easy.

McCain’s final words were full of gratitude, self-awareness, and grace.  He spoke of the “privilege of serving,” of his “love for America,” and his “love of my family.”  He easily acknowledged “I have made mistakes”  and even in his life that included physical and psychological torture, and humiliating defeat, he claimed he was “the luckiest person on earth.”  In the end, he knew he had “lived and died a proud American.”  These are words of honor.  These are words of a man at peace.  He also had a message many thought was aimed at Trump.

We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.

Those same ‘many’ wonder if Trump was listening; if he got the message.  But the question is not was Trump listening, the question is, are we?

McCain also deftly arranged his eulogies at his memorial service in the National Cathedral to be delivered by prior political foes, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  He knew that the accolades of former adversaries would be more powerful than those of advocates.  And, he wanted to show the world the spirit of his often stated credo: “we must serve a cause greater than ourselves.”  Of McCain, Bush said,

John was above all, a man with a code.  He lived by a set of public virtues that brought strength and purpose to his life and to his country.  He was courageous, with a courage that frightened his captors and inspired his countrymen.  He was honest, no matter whom it offended.  Presidents were not spared.  He was honorable, always that recognizing his opponents were still patriots and human beings.  He loved freedom, with a passion of a man who knew its absence.  He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators.  Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.

Obama, more direct perhaps than Bush, but with a subtlety he mastered as a target of vitriol and racism himself, summoned us to engage anew.

So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse can seem small and mean and petty.  Trafficking in bombastic manufactured outrage, it’s politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear.  John called on us to be bigger than that.  He called on us to be better than that.  That’s perhaps how we honor him best, by recognizing that there are some things bigger than party or ambition or money or fame or power, that the things that are worth risking everything for, principles that are eternal, truths that are abiding.

The proverbial elephant NOT in the cathedral was, of course, Donald Trump, whom the press pool reported left the White House in his white MAGA hat midway through Meghan McCain’s remarks, perhaps for a round of golf.  Meghan, the most direct of all in assailing the antithesis of her father, Donald Trump, gave the most eloquent eulogy of the day closing with a line that will, no doubt, be broadcast over and over: “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”

I have no hope whatsoever that any of these messages will be considered by Trump.  There is no space to comprehend virtue in a mind addled by avarice.  Again, the question is not did he listen, but are we?  The challenge is to restore our own sense of honor to deliver America to a better place than the dark mendacity that is Trump.

May we embrace the destiny of honor McCain so ably bestowed, and allow the destiny of tragedy to be Trump’s and Trump’s alone.

By |2018-12-31T17:50:20+00:00September 1st, 2018|Donald Trump, Leadership|0 Comments