Everything Else Being Equal…

I have no quote to start today’s post. I thought about quoting someone I was having a Twitter conversation with, but I eventually decided that would be disrespectful. Essentially, the discussion centered on the idea of opinions and respecting everyone’s opinions. It’s a difficult topic and one that has a number of layers.

It also brings to mind topics like “cancel culture”, censorship, and what I like to call proportionality. Those topics weren’t discussed expressly, but they are always in the background. I’ve discussed all of them before, but they all came to a head here.

Essentially it boils down to this: not all opinions have equal value. It sounds harsh, but it is true. The problem is that those with discounted opinions are dedicated to the notion that their opinion should be worth as much if not more than someone else’s. When one sees their opinion discounted they immediately cry censorship or cancel culture.

How do we determine which opinions carry weight and which ones don’t? There are few factors that determine this. The first factor comes from the weight of the source. Is it coming from an expert or just some average Joe? This is one area where we have really seen a decline in our judgment. A number of people seem to want to look at a Youtube video from some yahoo as equally valid as that from a subject expert. Nope.

That dovetails into the second point. There are opinions and there are facts. Opinions must be based on some level of agreed upon facts. You cannot take something that is objectively proven false and call it an opinion. You cannot objectively say it is your opinion that the Earth is flat. At least you can’t do it and object when everyone laughs or discounts your “opinion.”

The third consideration involves whether your opinion is morally, ethically, or socially repugnant. This is usually where “cancel culture” comes into play. It is also where the whole idea of respecting everyone’s opinion comes up. I should always give everyone respect. I should not respect everyone’s opinion. Those two statements sound the same and look the same, but they are not the same.

The past decade or so have seen an explosion in offensive content. Some of that is due to the explosion in social media. Some of that is due to the backlash against political correctness. Some of that is due to the last president making it okay for people to air those views because of his own speech. Believe it or not, that is not necessarily all bad.

Political correctness has its place, but one of the pitfalls with political correctness is that it kept these opinions hidden. That’s not a good thing either. We need to allow these opinions to come out in the open. We just shouldn’t give them any value. The people that hold them may have value in our lives. They may be family or friends. They could be coworkers or people that we went to school with. They could be neighbors or people we share a pew with at church. There has to be a balance between acknowledging their value as people without acknowledging that their opinion has value.

That’s how this thing eventually changes. When you cancel someone, socially shun them, or unequivocally let them know their opinion is repugnant then they have the opportunity to see the impact it has. They also have the opportunity to grow and change. In our most honest moments we would all admit we have been there. We might not have uttered any cringeworthy words or phrases out loud, but we have thought at least some of them and hopefully grown from it. We won’t get there insisting that every opinion has equal value. They just don’t.

What do we do now?

“I am I said to no one there. And no one heard at all not even the chair. I am I cried. I am said I and I am lost and I can’t even say why. Leaving me lonely still.” –Neil Diamond

We talk a lot about bigots and bigotry, but at the heart of the Q’Anon conspiracy is fear and loathing. Fear is always at the root of hatred and bigotry. There’s also a certain amount of self-loathing at the heart of every conspiracy theory and cult. The most dangerous time is when something shakes that single-minded faith. That happened this week.

According to the Q orthodoxy, Donald Trump was supposed to remain in power somehow. First, he was supposed to win reelection. Then, he would find a way to invalidate the election. When that failed he would declare martial law and remain in power. On Wednesday, that all came tumbling down as Trump slinked out of Washington.

On some level, watching the collective reaction to reality is fascinating. Clinical psychologists probably love the exercise. Some double and triple down on the belief structure. They simply shift the final apocalyptic moment further down the road. That’s convenient. Others abandon that conspiracy and immediately link up with another one. Finally, there is a group that wakes from the stupor a whole lot worse for wear. A large part of them feels betrayed somehow.

We make generalizations all the time about who succumbs to these things, but there is never a hard and fast rule. Sometimes they are stereotypically uneducated and underemployed. Yet, others are very educated and otherwise somewhat successful people. The whole point is where one ends up and not necessarily the path it took to get there.

It’s a lot like watching the show The Biggest Loser. Occasionally, they populated the show with former athletes. It made you wonder how someone could have been a world class athlete at some point and wind up weighing more than 300 pounds. It can be overwhelmingly depressing to consider what was once possible with our bodies that some of us have let go. I used to be able to run a sub six minute mile in high school. I’ve run marathons and half marathons, but I’ve never come close to that again. In just the past few years, I really haven’t been able to run.

The same thing happens with our brains. I love watching people on social media brag about this degree or that degree from this institution. They could have graduated from Harvard or Hollywood Upstairs Medical College. It really doesn’t make a difference. If you don’t use your brain regularly it starts to soften. It gets weaker. You become susceptible to these kinds of things.

It’s also not necessarily a left wing thing or right wing thing. Populism seems to find its way into both ideologies. What they have in common is a framework to explain why you aren’t as far as you think you should be. Sometimes that dilemma is imagined and sometimes it’s very real. Some people legitimately have been left behind by the economy and by elites. Some people just think they have.

You can always spot a populist when they tell you it isn’t your fault. They point to a group or individual for you to direct your anger. That group or individual is never yourself. That’s the whole point and that is why coming out of the stupor is so dangerous. By the time you get to a certain age it becomes increasingly difficult to meet your expectations of how your life was supposed to go. It is never impossible. They just want you to think that it is.

There is always a kernel of truth in what they are telling you. Some people have made it harder for regular folks to succeed. Over the past forty years there have been countless new millionaires and billionaires. Just in the last year there have been an astonishing number of new billionaires. That’s not a mirage. That’s very real.

The question is who is responsible. The trouble with conspiracies is that they try to simplify everything. There is no one clear answer. Part of it is us. We have the power to make our lives better, but we either choose not to or we need a little help along the way. Part of it rests at the feet of those in power. There have been real policy shifts that have caused this to happen. People would be smart to look into that because often the people selling you the bill of goods are those really responsible.

A part of it is a fact of history. We don’t deliver milk or ice door to door anymore. There are any number of industries that have simply gone away. Politicians didn’t do that. We didn’t do that. It is just part of the evolution. We adapt or die.

So, I think everyone (or almost everyone) has empathy for the feeling that the world is passing you by. Most of us feel it at one point or another when we don’t get the job we want or wake up one day and realize that the career path we chose isn’t as fulfilling as we thought. Maybe married life is not what we thought it would be. Maybe we look around at people we perceive to be less than us that are somehow more successful. These feelings are all too real to dismiss. The problem is when we don’t do the hard work to overcome them, reconcile them, or make our situations better. Conspiracies rob us of our ability to do that. They feel good in the moment, but you wake up one day with the worst hangover of your life.

What exactly is unity

“While you see it your way
There’s a chance that we might fall apart before too long.” — Paul McCartney

The term unity has been used a lot recently and it helped articulate an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. I’ve danced around it on these pages. The new president has talked about it and so we bring it up again, so we can put some things to bed.

Today, @POTUS pledged to be a president for all Americans. It’s unclear how all Americans are served by opening travel from terror hot spots, proposing a giant amnesty, or halting the installation of security barriers along the Southwest border.” — Stephen Miller

Mr. Miller has articulated the point perfectly on the conservative side. He seems to feel that unity means that we do what we have always done and certainly don’t do anything to piss off conservatives. Yet, it’s difficult to look at controversial policies that cause disunity and inflame passions and argue for keeping them.

Governing is about choices and ultimately you have to make them. The new president has chosen to immediately retract many of the past president’s moves. This is not unique. Trump did the same thing. More and more it just seems that “unity” for conservatives simply means agreeing with them and accepting that they should be in power.

The cognitive dissonance is staggering. In a discussion with a colleague, he put forth the idea that the attack on the capital happened because progressives were constantly attacking the president and therefore were attacking these folks by extension. We simply didn’t understand the 74 million Trump voters enough. We’ve heard that for time and memorial. The fly over states feel disrespected by coastal elites that just don’t get how hard they work and how difficult they have it.

Yet, I got back exasperated silence when I explained that by giving into the 74 million and “understanding their pain” that you would be disenfranchising the 81 million people that voted for Joe Biden. It simply didn’t compute. You are what you do. There isn’t a ton to understand there. The collection of your words, deeds, and beliefs is the sum of what you really are.

Think of what Miller was proposing. He wanted to continue a travel ban on Muslims, continue a crackdown on immigrants, and to continue building the border wall. Ask yourself how that achieves unity. It certainly doesn’t achieve it with those affected groups. Yup, we love you and want to be friends as long as you stay the hell out. Sounds really unifying.

The whole idea behind unity is that we share a common destination. Astros fans, Texans fans, and Rockets fans are all united in wanting their team to win a championship. They may argue vigorously in how to get there. America is the same deal. We have unity as long as we have a common goal in mind. The trouble is that we may not.

What conservatives object to the most is the insinuation that they are small-minded bigots. Yup, I can see how that stings. I also firmly believe that being conservative doesn’t necessarily make you a small-minded bigot. However, when you support and promote racist policies it is hard not to come to the conclusion that you are a racist.

Unity does not demand that we give everyone a voice. Unity does not demand that we understand every little nuance of their perversion. I do not stand arm and arm with domestic terrorists. I do not stand arm and arm with people that would abuse women, children, or anyone else. You can tell me your sob story until you are blue in the face. Understanding you doesn’t change what you are.

The vision for this country is simple. We want to move forward guaranteeing everyone an equal opportunity at success and everyone equal protection under the law. That’s the goal. That’s always been the goal. It will always be the goal. Suggesting something else and calling for unity is like rooting for the Texans to go 0-16 every year and then calling yourself a Texans fan. It just doesn’t make sense.

The problem the 74 million have is that they seem to think we have to understand them and where they are coming from, but they get to discount our challenges, beliefs, and obstacles. We have had everything given to us while they work hard and never seem to get ahead. If only those silly minorities would understand their place then all would be well. The success of everyone doesn’t limit your success. This is not a zero sum game. Unity doesn’t mean accepting bigotry. It means bigotry needs to get out of the car while we drive this thing in the right direction.

Morning in America

“Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God’s recreation of the new day.”– Cat Stevens

It’s morning in America. There is nothing more exciting and refreshing than hope. We search for it everywhere and sometimes find it in tiny places that have satisfy us in the moment. Today marks a beacon of hope that you only see every four or eight years. Yet, there’s something special about this day.

Every writer, whether they be a non-fiction, poet, novelist, or hobbyist, dreams of writing words that become immortal. Most of us never get there. I can barely remember my own words much less have anyone else remember them. Yet, with each day hope springs eternal. There is nothing more immortal than the inaugural address. As of this writing, we only have to wait a few hours before Joe Biden delivers his.

Back in 1974, Gerald Ford uttered the now famous words, “our long national nightmare is over.” I was less than one when those words were uttered. Obviously, I have no idea of how people felt back in those days. I’m a student of history and my parents went through it, but it is hard to capture a feeling and pass it down to subsequent generations. We can only hope that we never have to feel this feeling ever again.

The past four years have been a daily barrage of pain for many Americans. It’s a combination of factors that have collided to create a collective PTSD throughout the country. The outgoing president had the assistance of the internet. social media, and 24 hour news. There was always something to be outraged about and we’ve become addicted to outrage like a three pack a day habit.

In many ways, Biden is in a perfect place and in many ways he is in a horrible place. On the one hand, by simply showing basic human empathy and normal emotions he soundly defeats the outgoing president. On the other hand, there are now so many things that have to be done that he has an impossible bar to clear.

Realistically, he has two years to do it. There are no guarantees that the Democrats will keep both chambers in Congress in 2022. Often changes spur anger and there will be a lot of change that needs to happen. However, like Opening Day of a baseball season, you don’t worry about how shaky your bullpen is or whether the shortstop will hit his weight. You bask in the glow of hope in another season anew.

Our long national nightmare is over. Like many of you, part of me is still nervous about the remnants of the insurrection of two weeks ago. Apparently, some in the national guard were relieved of their duties when it was determined that they belonged to right wing hate groups. Hopefully, their last round of vetting caught them all. We will be talking plenty of policy and plenty about justice in the coming days and weeks. Let’s try to enjoy the day.

Rage against the machine

“Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters – nothing really matters to me.” — Freddie Mercury

Ironically, this began as a sports blog. After all, why would anyone call a political/social blog “The Hall of Fame Index.” Finding a balance for work, family, self-care, and sports is difficult for a number of people. I’ve been there too. I’ve written four books about baseball and might have sold about 1000 copies combined. Grand total, I’ve lost more money than I’ve made over the years.

So, I get it on a grand scale. If I could earn a living doing anything other than what I’m doing it would definitely involve sports. While I am interested in politics and care deeply about current events, I probably wouldn’t have the stomach for doing it forty hours a week or more.

This weekend saw a rare combination of sports and politics locally. For those not in Houston, you may have heard snippets about what has happened with the Texans. Essentially, Deshaun Watson (the starting quarterback) is not happy. How unhappy he is is an open question. He hasn’t really spoken to the media.

What we do know is that the Texans seem to be under the throws of a modern day Rasputin. The Rasputin story is a fascinating one in history. Some people call him a wizard and others a conman. Either way you slice it, he wormed his way into power in Russia before the bolshevik revolution. In fact, there are many that would say he was the catalyst for all of that.

Enter Jack Easterby. Easterby is a preacher/character coach that somehow weaseled his way up to the vice president’s role with the Texans. No one in the organization cares to say exactly what he is good at or exactly what he does. Yet, he clearly has the owner’s ear. To my knowledge, none of Cal McNair’s children have hemophilia, but something is going on. Suffice it to say, players, coaches, and executives are not under the spell.

What does this have to do with politics? Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Somehow, about 150 Houstonians felt that yesterday was an appropriate day to protest Easterby’s presence in the organization. So, that solemn day was a good time to go get a character coach turned executive fired. Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Dr. King had in mind.

Mind you, I’m not defending Easterby. When a large enough group of people say someone is the problem then they are probably the problem. It just seems with everything going on in the world that whether a quarterback wants a preacher in the organization should be somewhere far on the back burner. Sports are entertainment at the end of the day. At the very least, we can say the situation with the Texans has been entertaining.

Of course, the psychology of it all is fascinating. Watching people get so hot and bothered that they travel downtown to shout at the stadium is surreal. I buy the gear. I watch and listen to the games. I even get emotionally involved in the games too. It’s never occurred to me to make a poster asking for someone to be fired. Then again, maybe that’s just me.

The other fascinating part of this is the concept that our personal and political anxieties might be boiling over. It’s hard not to feel rage when watching the news. No matter what side you are on you undoubtedly feel that rage. Even after the event is over, the rage just doesn’t go away. It has to go somewhere. Maybe it’s not a bad thing that it goes into a demonstration to get some yahoo (that few outside of Houston have heard of) fired. I suppose it could be a lot worse.

Sports have unified us in the past. Earlier in our childhood, the entire country rejoiced when the U.S. hockey team defeated Russia in the 1980 Olympics. The Super Bowl is always the most watched single event of the year. Locally, everyone remembers vividly where they were and what they were doing when the Rockets won their two titles and the Astros won their World Series. So, maybe uniting behind Deshaun Watson will have ancillary benefits. Watson is no Dr. King, but then again, who is?

Stay in your lane

“This day and age for all and not for one
All lies and secrets, put on, put on and on.” — Roland Orzabal

We have seen the first major legislative suggestion by president elect Joe Biden. He is proposing a 1.9 trillion dollar coronavirus relief bill that would pay everyone 1400 dollars, extend unemployment benefits, provide schools with money to help them reopen, and provide for a raise in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. There are numerous other benefits in there including aid to states, families, and potentially paid leave.

Now, what does this have to do with the price of tea in China? In short, it’s about political capital. Every president has political capital and depending on the results of the election that voted them in, some have more than others. Biden has a mandate of sorts, but the mandate is really about not being a mad man. Beyond that, he saw his advantage in the House shrink and he barely got the Senate by the skin of his chinny chin chin.

So, the question is what you choose to spend your political capital on. Donald Trump didn’t have a ton of political capital. He lost the popular vote the first time around, so he had to create it out of good will. He was incapable of doing that, so he spent his capital on a tax cut. Obama spent his on the Affordable Care Act and the bail outs to revitalize the economy.

In economics, we talk about the concept of opportunity costs. The whole idea is that the possibilities are limitless until you actually make a decision. What do you want to spend your political capital on? The plan above would spend a lot of it. It would give people the 2000 dollars (600 + 1400) that Congress couldn’t seem to pass, and would provide for key measures to roll out the vaccine and help stop the spread of the virus. The minimum wage hike will likely be the battle that spends a majority of that capital.

These are routine discussions we used to have back in the good ole’ days. Is the 15 dollar an hour minimum wage a hill worth dying on? How does that compare with the idea of expanding health care coverage, planks from the Green New Deal, and other things he talked about in his campaign? How does it compare to the desire to hold people in the current administration accountable for all of the bad acts that have occurred over the past four years?

The first smart thing that Biden has done is separate himself from all of that. He has already named Merrick Garland as his attorney general nominee and with a 50/50 Senate he should get approved. All of that becomes Garland’s problem. Biden established that the Justice Department would be independent and would represent the will of the people. Of course, they have political capital as well.

The Justice Department has the resources and wherewithal to prioritize a few things in each administration. The tentacles of Trump’s illegal activities runs pretty deep. Are you only going after him? Are you going after him and his family? Are you going after close associates and aides? Are you waging a full-scale war against everyone that had anything to do with Wednesday’s insurrection? These are all important questions and ones that are not easily answered.

James Comey (the former FBI Director) suggested that Biden pardon Donald Trump. The suggestion is interesting even though it is not particularly persuasive. It goes back to political capital. Such an act might not only preserve some that the Justice Department has, but it might even give Biden’s some boost with Trump’s voters. It would almost certainly take some away from the progressive wing of the Democratic party. Biden would have to decide whether he would stand to gain more than he would lose. Like I said, it’s interesting but not particularly persuasive.

The best use of political capital is simply understanding why you are where you are. What exactly is your mandate? In the case of Biden, his mandate is probably one that would be similar to Pope Benedict’s mandate when he was elected to replace Pope John Paul II. The church had gone through major upheaval during JPII’s run as pope and the cardinals didn’t want another reformer. They wanted everything to stabilize.

Some of the American people want Medicare for All, a higher minimum wage, the Green New Deal, and other progressive planks. I suspect the voters that threw Biden over the top (keep in mind that he defeated Trump soundly in spite of the GOP gaining seats in the House) were the ones that just wanted a return to normalcy. So, he might be better off leaving some of those fights for the next president.

That might mean spending considerable political capital changing election laws to safeguard our democracy. Gerrymandering is a huge concern as the makeup of Congress doesn’t reflect the will of the people. Voter suppression is a huge concern as the makeup of Congress doesn’t reflect current demographics. Obviously, there could be a huge fight over absentee voting and other new measures. Congress could go in and put some of these new measures in stone before another would be despot tries to further erode the mechanisms of our democracy.

It’s a daunting list of priorities. People will be wise to temper their expectations of a Biden presidency before it begins. Some are more effective than others at getting what they want. Yet, a careful study of the last few presidents shows that you aren’t going to get everything. You might not even get most of it. We judge him on what he chooses to go after. Will it be worth it?

Blame the victim

“The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” — George Orwell

I had one of those conversations with a coworker yesterday that kind of crystallized everything that has been going on over the past few weeks. It also happened to tie what I have been talking about into a neat bow. The last week at least has been dominated by the desire to hold at least the president accountable, make people understand how penance works, and the desire from some to unplug from online life because they don’t like how political things have gotten.

Mind you, I didn’t ask for this conversation. We started talking baseball innocently enough. Then it came out. The Democrats were causing all of this unrest by ignoring the feelings of the 74 million people that voted for Donald Trump. It was their hateful rhetoric that started this. It was the fact that they were now impeaching him twice for essentially no reason. It was only going to cause more strife.

Before I rip into that nonsense specifically, let me tie together the other items I have been talking about in recent weeks. Of course, that line of thinking aligns perfectly with the notion that we just need to move on and unite as a country. It falls right into the notions that “you said some things and I said some things, so let’s just agree to move forward holding hands and singing kumbaya.”

I can’t help but notice that all of the people that I have seen say they are dropping Facebook lately are all conservative. All of them. So, I thought to myself: what do these people all have in common? The answers are all pretty stark. They say that things have become too political. They don’t want to be bombarded with hate and vitriol. They want to stay connected to their friends and family, but they don’t want to stay connected with what is going on in society.

I think we all get that on some level. Yet, what these folks all have in common is that they all come from positions of privilege. That by itself isn’t a judgment. I do too. The trouble is that when we choose connect on a platform we choose to connect with people that may or may not share that privilege. We choose to connect to their joy. We choose to connect to their pain. We choose to connect to their triumphs and we choose to connect to their anguish.

The standby response for those a little more understanding of the capital siege is to whatabout the demonstrations from this past summer. Sure, they will admit this past Wednesday was wrong in some abstract kind of way, but they honestly don’t see the difference. It’s all very connected. The desire to disconnect from social media, get to a place of unity, and whatabout an attempted insurrection all comes from the same place. It is a place of denial.

It is a place of entitlement. We are entitled to be in charge. It is our birthright. The idea that we are being taken over by socialists is not real in that sense. What they see are not really socialists. What they see are people that want to wrestle the reigns of society away from the privileged and give it to more people. Government assistance has always existed. It’s just about who the government chooses to assist.

Millions saw Donald Trump as the last line of that defense. They saw him hate the same people they hated. He unlocked something in them that had been smoldering for over a generation. Others saw him and didn’t like what he said. They didn’t really hate anyone, but they wanted to keep their position in society. So, they defended him even though they saw what he was doing. So, when he got in trouble they blamed the Democrats.

Just consider a few things. People have very short memories. The current president is always treated unfairly and no other president has ever been treated this way. I have vivid memories of people calling Bill Clinton a communist. I have vivid memories of people calling George W. Bush a war criminal. I have vivid memories of people calling Barack Obama every racist name in the book and flat out refusing to cooperate with him from day one. So, the fact that people have opposed Trump is not new.

Two things are new. First, more people in his administration have been indicted and convicted than any administration in the history of this country. Secondly, his supporters attempted insurrection. Did the Clinton supporters do this when Republicans were being mean to him? Did Bush supporters do this when Democrats were being mean to him? Did Obama supporters demonstrate and kill the racists among us in the name of Obama? Let’s see if we can figure out how these situations are different.

Our collective response says a lot about us as people. There is a mountain of shame we have to collectively overcome. It is a shame that comes from installing a man into power that is openly hostile to women, people of color, and anyone else that is disenfranchised for any reason. The shame comes from a man that neglected his duties and is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The shame comes from a man that treated the rule of law like a disposable menu at the Seafood Shack. The shame comes from knowing that event a small part of us was on board for any of it.

We must choose how we need to deal with that shame. Some of us have chosen to run away from it by unplugging from social media. In the past, that might have meant retreating to the wilderness. Now, we just have to click a few buttons. Others have chosen to blame the victims. It’s their fault we are in this mess. If they would have been silent and compliant while they were being abused then none of this would have ever happened. Some are bargaining by calling for unity and trying to distance themselves as carefully as possible. A few are meeting it head on. They are being vilified now, but history will remember them well.

Free speech isn’t free

“You talk too much, you talk too much,
I can’t believe the things that you say everyday
If you keep on talking baby,
You know you’re bound to drive me away.” — George Thorogood

We have seen two reactions to the past week’s events from most conservatives. Both reactions prove yet again that the party of responsibility has taken a break from that mantra and taken on the mantle of the party of whining. Essentially, they are taking no responsibility for the events of the past week and have just proven to be tone deaf.

The main takeback seems to be that we collectively should ignore what has happened in the last week. We should let bygones be bygones and move on in favor of unity. Unity. That’s been the big buzzword. I’m not exactly sure how that is supposed to work.

A few years ago we caught our daughter stealing. We have made a habit out of withdrawing a certain amount of cash per week so that we can make routine purchases with cash. We might use it when going out to eat or going to the grocery store. It keeps us from using our credit card too often which keeps our identity from being stolen and keeps the balances on those cards low. She was stealing that cash from us.

The first part of the reckoning was determining exactly how much was stolen. Then, we moved on to the whole idea behind what the cash was for and why she felt she was entitled. At that point, she understood where she was wrong. However, she wasn’t off the hook. She had to repay every penny back. Part of that was through labor around the house and part of that was in taking her allowance, Christmas, and birthday money. It took her awhile, but eventually she paid the money back. Now, she is forgiven.

The Catholic sacrament of reconciliation is a fascinating one (as all of the sacraments are). It’s one which is not shared with Protestants. Protestants teach us that we can go directly to God for forgiveness. I’m not here to argue which is better, but the Catholic version has a key step that can’t be overlooked. A part of the process of forgiveness is going through something called penance. You can look at it as a penalty for committing the sin, but it’s really a way to make amends for what has been done. The notion comes from the idea that one cannot be truly sorry for what they have done until they at least attempt to make restitution for their bad acts.

Obviously, that’s easier in some cases than others. If you have committed murder (say killing a member of the Capitol police) it is next to impossible to truly make restitution. However, the attempt to make restitution goes a long way. The hurt feelings don’t ever fully go away, but the act of saying you are sorry AND the act of making restitution certainly helps.

Conservative complaints in the past week seem to be fought on two different fronts, but they stem from the same issue. They want to be forgiven for their role in an event without saying they are sorry and without making any attempts to mitigate the fallout. They have complained incessantly about the president being banned on social media and many of them are complaining about losing their own Twitter followers. A number of them have even called it all censorship.

I can’t believe I have to do this, but let me breakdown the first amendment for everyone so there is no confusion. It starts off by saying, “Congress shall make no law…” If a private company chooses to ban you from its service or chooses to reduce your influence by banning people that followed you that is not censorship. You do not have a right to tweet.

Furthermore, the first amendment goes on to say to we have the right to freedom of speech, expression, religion, and to peaceably assemble. Supreme Court cases have long maintained that these rights are not absolute. If I am meeting to plot or execute insurrection then I am not peaceably assembling. If my speech incites violence it is certainly not free. I bear some weight for those subsequent events.

Conservatives bear a great deal of weight for the events of the past week. Their rhetoric has stoked the flames and enraged the unhinged members of their herd. As much as they might claim they didn’t mean for any of this to happen, it is hard to not see the connection between their words and the mob’s deeds. So, if they truly want unity they cannot get there merely by calling for unity. They need to do so much more.

First, they need to acknowledge that they have been unnecessarily stoking people’s anger and mistrust by incorrectly claiming their was fraud in this election. They must tell people that Joe Biden was elected in a fair and legitimate election. They must admit they were lying and ask for forgiveness for shamelessly lying to the American people. Some of them may even have to accept some legal punishment for stoking the rage that caused last week’s events.

In parlance, they have to pay it back. They have to go through their penance. You cannot unify without accountability. You cannot move forward until you fully acknowledge what has happened in the past. We have tried to do that before and it felt right in the moment, but we not know that it is not possible to really unite. Impeaching the president is a good first step, but it is only the first step. Now begins the hard work.

Looking for a home

“Walked out this morning, I don’t believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone at being alone
Hundred billion castaways, looking for a home.”– Sting

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “may you live in interesting times.” I’m not exactly sure whether that’s supposed to be a fortune, prophecy, or a curse. I guess it could be said that we are always living in interesting times. Some times are just more interesting than others.

I’ve seen a number of people lately that have chosen to leave Facebook. I suppose Facebook is the addiction for people in my age group. The younger crowd prefers Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat. Either way, they provide us with a way to stay connected to friends, stay connected to the world, and stay connected to family. Occasionally, those three intersect in a way that makes us increasingly uncomfortable.

I get it. I have been posting these to my public wall recently and have been sharing them with a few select friends. The ones that say they are leaving say they are fed up with the politics and the fighting. I get that too. Part of me realizes that I’m playing a role in that. A part of the cost of that connection is being forced to choose how to deal with how that connection makes us feel.

It wasn’t so long ago that we didn’t get bombarded with news and constant updates on the news every minute of every day. You might have the nightly news cover a major news story for ten minutes and then everything would go dark until the next day. It wasn’t until our childhood before we had cable and then we didn’t have 24 hour news until we were out of high school.

The emotional toll of getting constant updates, alerts, and commentary can seem overwhelming. Then, add to that the slings and arrows of people we may have known somewhat well back in school and it can seem like all too much. If I simply counted the number of people I am friends with on Facebook from high school it would easily outnumber the people I was actually close to in high school. It’s similar to the number of people that shared a class with that one now famous member of your graduating class. I didn’t know they could fit 80 people in a Chemistry class.

So, some of us surf the internet looking for a social network that allows us to see family photos and shots of the last vacation without diving into a political diatribe. I’m keenly aware of this. It’s the main reason why I’ve refocused my energies to write one of these a day. I can say what I need to say, post it for those that want to read it, and then go about my day. I can go to my private groups where we can all collectively complain about the same things and no one is the wiser.

As tempting as it is to unplug from the world, the world will always be waiting for us when we get back. We certainly don’t have the energy to fight every battle and no one expects us to. Yet, we need to stand up and be counted for some of them. None of us want to be bombarded with politics and I have certainly snoozed more than a few people lately. Still, these times make it unavoidable. So, for those wanting to leave I wish them the best of luck and hopefully we won’t be total strangers. Being a part of the madness is somehow preferable to having to put my message in a bottle.

Justice Delayed, Justice Denied

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.” — Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a Nobel Laureate and a Holocaust survivor. His entire family ended up perishing between two different concentration/death camps including Auschwitz. When you mix his story with the subject of the headline you can’t help but draw the immediate comparison with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Often, the best writers and activists end up mirroring each other even if by accident.

King spoke of this in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. On the subject of peace he said, “the white moderate (who) is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” If we look at what is going on now in Washington and throughout America we see examples of this run amok.

After awhile, you begin to filter out the noise from those just don’t see. Either they are too ignorant to see or they actively see and agree. The people that try your patience are those that see and prefer to allow things to die down rather than meet the issue head on. There are those that now understand the dangers that Trump presents and yet want Congress to do nothing so that everything dies down. They don’t like the tension.

I get it on a certain level. There are only ten days left. Once he is out of office he is out of power. Ex-presidents don’t carry a ton of influence. Only one ex-president has ever successfully run again after leaving office. Teddy Roosevelt is the last one to try and he did as a member of a third party and ultimately failed. Essentially, these folks want to have their cake and eat it too. They acknowledge that the current president isn’t normal and yet they want to treat the situation as if it is normal.

The meek middle need to consider lessons from history. Specifically, they need to broaden their historical horizons and look at situations from outside this country. What we witnessed was a failed coup. The trap we lull ourselves into is that we saw both strong institutions that withstood the attempt and the abject failure of the attempt. Attempted murder is still a crime no matter how haphazard the attempt. The person willing to go to those lengths is still dangerous no matter how stupid they may seem.

History is marred with numerous despots that failed in their first attempts at claiming power. Usually, they were caught, but somehow escaped harsh punishment. Maybe those countries wanted to practice forgiveness and leniency. Maybe they thought (as some here are currently thinking) that harshly punishing those involved would somehow cause an uprising. I think we all get it on a certain level. Yet, in each and every instance those despots used that kindness to their advantage.

This is not an American problem. At least it’s not one that is peculiarly American. It is the same problem that countries have faced for centuries. Appeasement has been tried before and it has failed every time. Donald Trump has been allowed to continue because either those in his inner circle have stopped him or his attempts at illegally obtaining power have failed so miserably that it inspires laughter more than focused fear.

Yet, each time he has gone a little further. He is the six year old testing out our limits. So far, he hasn’t seen any. He tried strong arming a foreign leader into giving him what he wanted. He tried strong arming a state level official into overturning the election for him. Now, he tried turning his ardent supporters loose to go take the capital and maybe even kidnap or kill several officials including his vice president. Each attempt failed. That failure might seem comforting, but it is downright scary to those that take the intent seriously.

The vast majority of dictators from history didn’t begin that way. They didn’t roll out of bed one day ready to command millions to do their bidding. It was a gradual process and for most it involved plenty of failure. That failure afforded the forces of law the opportunity to rid themselves of that threat. They failed partially because they couldn’t predict the future. They failed because they couldn’t perceive the threat. Let’s not make that mistake ever again.

We begin by throwing the book at Donald Trump. He needs to be impeached, barred from holding federal office ever again, and then thrown in jail for sedition and possibly even treason. From there, you throw every single person that played a role in the planning of Wednesday’s events or were a part of carrying it out in jail. If they prevented the capital police from doing their job they belong in jail. If they are members of the capital police and they allowed the protesters in on purpose they belong in jail. If they serve in the administration and they were involved in coordination of the plot or were responsible for inhibiting the national guard from arriving in time then they belong in jail. If they were one of those inciting violence they belong in jail. If they were one of those perpetuating the lie about fraud they belong in jail. That means administration officials. That means former mayors and U.S. attorneys. It means sitting senators and representatives. It might even mean the wife of a Supreme Court justice. They all go to jail and they don’t see the light of day.

You never give an inch to a would be dictator. We have given several feet to Donald Trump because he seems so pathetic and normally he would be exiting stage right. Nothing about this is normal. Nothing. We have seen this too many times in history. You don’t exile Trump to his own island. You let him rot for the rest of his days inside a jail cell.