It’s Been Awhile

“The consequences that are rendered
I’ve stretched myself beyond my means.” –Aarron Lewis

There comes a time when it’s hard to know the difference between a banana republic and the greatest system of government devised in human history. Sometimes it’s just a Thursday. defines a banana republic as “any exploitative government that functions poorly for its citizenry while disproportionately benefitting a corrupt elite group or individual.” Gee, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are any number of biases we have to sift through on a daily basis. The worst one is what I would lovingly call the superlative bias. In short, it is the concept that whatever event we are currently going through is the best or worst event of its type in history.

In some sense it makes perfect sense. Sensationalism sells and nothing kills the sensationalism like the admission that we have been through this before. Just this week we saw reporting that pointed to what most people would call treason during the Iran hostages scandal of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Americans back then would have been flummoxed to hear that news if it had immediately come out, but the fact is that it wasn’t unique even back then. Fortunately or unfortunately we did not hear about those events until long after they actually happened. If American voters had known Richard Nixon was conspiring with North Vietnam then maybe he doesn’t become president. Maybe his ass winds up in jail. Then again, maybe no one would have cared and he would have gone on to be president.

The job of the media is becoming increasingly more difficult as these stories become news instantaneously. We learned about Russian interference in the 2016 election almost virtually as it was happening. We learned about various Trump scandals almost immediately. We had all of the evidence we needed. Hell, it was all on tape.

It has to be difficult when things are that simple. In a nation where conspiracy theories reign (and rain), it can be difficult to stomach something so out in the open. We keep getting told that arrests and indictments are imminent. We saw that in 2017 and 2018 with the Russia scandal. We saw that with the first impeachment following Ukraine. We saw that with the second impeachment and January 6th.

Every time an arrest or indictment doesn’t happen it makes you doubt the story itself. The press is just crying wolf again. Maybe this is another “trumped” up charge. It’s really not that serious. Someone that is such an accomplished businessman would never do something so blatantly obvious like that. Except he did at every turn.

The current and former jackass in chief is even leaning into it. He is releasing his own rumors that he will be indicted. Why? It leans into the narrative. If he gets indicted for Stormy Daniels then it is a blown opportunity on a grand scale. He did all this other stuff and it is a one night stand with a porn star that gets him? He must not have done any of those other things.

Political prosecutions are tricky business. If you overplay your hand then you guarantee the other side will do the same when they get the opportunity. There was talk from day one about impeaching Joe Biden. What’s the charge? They don’t know and couldn’t explain it if they did. They just know that it’s not fair that you busted our guy when he obviously broke every law in the book. Just rest assured that this latest scandal will be the worst of all. At least it will be until the next one.

Performative Politics

“Your wise men don’t know how it feels
To be thick as a brick.” — Ian Anderson

It’s happened again. I guarantee that it happens on a nearly annual basis. An enterprising legislator will put forth a bill to separate Texas from the union. This time it’s Bryan Slaton to the rescue.

We are at the looking glass and the reflection staring back at us is our own idiocy. The civil war of the 21st century isn’t over slavery, race relations, the haves and have nots, or even any kind of coherent policy. It’s wokeness. This is where GOP frontrunner Ron DeSantis has planted his flag. This is the battle ground of a new generation.

What does wokeness mean? They really can’t tell you. They really don’t want to tell you. It’s better if they just leave it up to your worst imagination. You can see the signs around town, “The Church Awake and not Woke.” Sure. Obviously, a true believer cannot be woke. Except if we apply the meaning of woke we realize how mind numbingly stupid this sounds.

The modern dictionary defines wokeness as “the quality of being alert and concerned about social injustice and discrimination.” Yup. We don’t want to be a part of any country that has anything to do with that. We don’t want Christianity to be mixed up with any of that mumbo jumbo. That’s just crazy talk.

Davy Crockett famously said that everyone else could go to hell and he would go to Texas. Who knew that they might end up being one in the same. Who knew that those of us that might even casually worry about the welfare of their fellow people would be held hostage by a mob of idiots. After all, it’s a lot easier to say you are anti-woke then to say you are against equality and human decency.

It Matters

One of the principals I used to work for had a motto: it matters. Ultimately, what that meant is that everything matters. Unfortunately, that can’t literally be true. If everything matters then nothing really matters. This governing philosophy impacts so many things. It impacts our political priorities. It impacts our priorities in education. It impacts our priorities individually as we run through life. 

Occasionally, the world of sports and the political world collide. Star basketball player Brandon Miller is a perfect example. For those that don’t want to go down the rabbit hole, he was involved in a fatal shooting in January. He did not pull the trigger, but the gun was supplied by him. From here we get into the normal rigmarole of whether he possessed the gun legally, knew how the gun would be used beforehand, or even if he knew the gun was in possession prior to the shooting. What we know is that the shooter asked him to bring the gun via text message before he arrived. He may not have read the text before leaving or didn’t realize he was actually bringing the gun.

This case is interesting for any number of reasons. For one, he is still playing basketball and has since the incident occurred. The university, his coach, and the athletic department presumably knew about the incident after it happened in January. We are in damn near March and he is still leading his team in scoring and driving them to a number two overall ranking. He hasn’t been charged with a crime, so I guess they legally can do that. However, as we have discussed before, there is a huge difference between whether we CAN do something and whether we SHOULD do something.

This is where we ask a few common sense questions. If your best friend calls you up or texts you after midnight and casually says, “oh, and can you bring the gun?” you would think just about everyone would ask some very pointed questions. After all, very little good can come of that situation. His attorneys will obviously argue that he couldn’t foresee what would happen. Maybe he didn’t know that a murder would occur, but he should have known something.

I’d be remiss not to point out the similarities between Miller and Kyle Rittenhouse. No, he didn’t bring an AR-15. He wasn’t protecting property. However, the language surrounding it is similar. Maybe he legally could possess the gun. Maybe he was returning the property to his friend. Maybe Rittenhouse could legally bring an AR-15 over straight lines. Maybe he had a legal right to defend himself. Maybe a lot of things. What we know is that neither of them should have been doing these things.

There is a difference between legal culpability and moral culpability. More importantly, notice the difference between the groups of people that make excuses for each of these young men. I guarantee that the intrinsic circle in the Venn diagram will be very small. As an educator, I can’t help but think that we’ve failed these young men. We’ve made excuses for both of them for different reasons. One can run, jump, and shoot better than most of us. Another fit a narrative of the good guy with a gun. In the not so distance past, both would feel some level of shame that would cause them to withdraw for at least a time so they could rebuild their image. March Madness is just around the corner. Sadly, the time for culpability or personal responsibility will have to wait.

Corporate Power is Protected

“independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” — Citizens United ruling

It may seem like we are floating around these 14 markers in a haphazard way. Perhaps that’s even accurate, but there is a rhyme or reason to it all. In this case, it is much more stream of consciousness than anything else. In Florida, Ron DeSantis has decided to take on Disney and it looks like he’s won the first rounds.

Now, why is taking on Disney? Aren’t right-wing politicians supposed to protect job creators and profitable businesses like Disney? I couldn’t even come up with a Texas equivalent to Disney. The best I can come up with is if we somehow combined Bucees, Whataburger, and HEB into a conglomerate. Even then it wouldn’t match.

However, to understand this you would have to understand the purposes of those corporations. In a traditional capitalist society, corporations are seen as the final evolution of a market economy. They’ve managed to manipulate supply in order to also manipulate demand. Good for them.

In a fascist state, everything is there to glorify the state. Religion glorifies the state. Popular culture glorifies the state. Corporations glorify the state. So, it isn’t so much that fascists support all corporations. They support the right corporations. In this case, Disney has shown themselves to be the wrong corporation.

Why is Disney the wrong corporation? Well, they had the audacity to have a pride week and support the LGTBQ+ community. Do they really support those causes? I suppose they do on some level. At least they aren’t going to turn down their money.

The last time we went to Disney it was very important for our daughter to get a “pride donut.” Smart corporations manage to walk a tight line so that they don’t alienate any customers. So, having a pride week and selling pride donuts are good ideas while they generate revenue. They probably would celebrate conservative causes if it meant earning a little more money.

Every business whether they big or small must make a similar calculation. A small town baker must decide whether baking that cake for the gay wedding will ultimately generate more revenue or create a backlash. This is why most corporations are at least publicly non-political. Why piss off half the population?

In this case, DeSantis is aiming to steer Disney the way he wants them to go. You want your tax breaks? You want all of the power you used to enjoy? It’s time for you to play ball and govern yourselves the way we are governing. We’ll scratch your back if you scratch ours. You keep getting those breaks and we get corporate sponsorship of our right wing ideals. Chick Fa La and Hobby Lobby get it. Come on Disney, how much could a pride donut really matter?

Identifying Enemies/Scapegoats

“So we’re different colours and we’re different creeds
And different people have different needs
It’s obvious you hate me though I’ve done nothing wrong
I’ve never even met you, so what could I have done” — Martin Gore

When you start to look at the characteristics you find the order given is not necessarily the most logical way to think about it. Last time we took a look at nationalism and how it relates to fascism. Many of these characteristics have very close relationships with one another. When one becomes fervently for the team then it stands to reason that those not on the team become our enemies.

A couple of weeks ago the House of Representatives voted to condemn socialism in a resolution. The Senate certainly didn’t touch that, so what exactly was the point? Well, this made it easier for them to highlight representatives that did not vote for the resolution. They must be socialists so therefore they must be the enemy.

This is one of the go to moves for fascists. They identify things and concepts that people can’t define. They can’t tell you what socialism is and when they point to examples they are usually extreme and have nothing to do with the aims of people that might subscribe to. No one really wants Venezuelan socialism, but suddenly that becomes the standard for socialism. Straw men should be so lucky.

Fascists usually don’t create hate where it did not exist. They simply take the hate that is there and make it palatable. It is not good to hate to people of color. It is not good to hate those that are LGTBQ+. It is not good for men to hate women. Yet, if we can attach a sinister motive to them like BLM, CRT, or grooming drag queens then it suddenly becomes okay to hate them. After all, if they just understood their place then we wouldn’t need to hate anybody.

There has been no magic trick quite as pervasive and bewildering as the treatment of Ukraine. This is a pretty simple situation. One country invaded another sovereign nation because they want to take it over. We used to understand these things. After all, there really isn’t anything to understand. There aren’t difficult geopolitical issues here. There is no nuance.

Yet, somehow the fascist elements in our society and politics have somehow turned this around. Fascists give a head nod to other fascists after all. Somehow the Ukrainians are the horrible party. There has been talk of Volodymyr Zelenskyy being a Nazi sympathizer. So, it is okay for Russia to invade. Even if we can just muddy the waters some then it becomes easier to oppose intervention or assistance.

Of course, this isn’t to say that we definitely have to support Ukraine financially. Those that claim we can’t support everyone and should focus on our own problems aren’t necessarily fascists. The key is to listen why they say what they do. If they are worried about the fiscal burden I suppose that can defended. If they are crushing Ukraine as some kind of rogue state then you know they are horrible and are gaslighting you.

Powerful and Continuing Nationalism

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” — Unknown

The above quote used to be attributed to Sinclair Lewis, but Politifact has stated that this was not his quote. Either way, this quote is prescient now. The large difference between the past and the present is that the quiet part is now being said out loud.

The notorious MTG has already called for a move to Christian Nationalism. Obviously, my commentary on religion has been a lightening rod. So, I won’t try to belabor this point too much, but the whole concept of Christian nationalism is a bastardization of Christianity.

In the gospel of John, a story is told about the woman at the well. Jesus approaches the woman at the well and asks for some water. The Samaritan woman has a conversation with Jesus and if you believe the wording in the translation, she convinces him that he is supposed to be the savior for the whole world.

So, how do we take a savior that is the savior for the whole world and somehow shrink him down to a savior of just your own country? Obviously, the answer is that those doing this and those listening to it have no earthly clue what the key point of Christianity really is.

Really this is about the love of team. The best analogy I could give is that of being a sports fan. Everyone wants their team to win the big game. Whether it is the World Series, NBA Championship, or Super Bowl you feel an immense amount of joy when your team wins. The problem comes when you are willing to sacrifice your personal beliefs and borders on common decency.

So, you have to ask yourself if you are willing to root for a scumbag on your team. Are you willing to root for Deshaun Watson? Are you willing to root for Trevor Bauer? Are you rooting for Kyrie Irving? What happens in fascism is that the team becomes more important than any personal feelings on morality and decency.

If we make this portable to the political world then this becomes very clear. There are Democrats that are scumbags. There are Republicans that are scumbags. Yet, these scumbags are members of our team. So, we are going to root for them to succeed even though we know they are horrible people.

If you have any doubts about this, just check out the number of people that call themselves a patriots or have a bunch of flags around their name. Are they not all rabid conservatives? You will notice that anyone that comes across them on social media and states something wrong those people will not politely invite you to leave the country.

People that have to say they are patriots are just like the people that feel the need to tell you they are nice guys or that they are smart. How smart and how nice are they really? If you feel the need to tell me you love America then how much do you really love America? You love a certain part of America which means you hate other parts of America. That’s when we get to another of the pillars of fascism. Stay tuned…

The Phantom Menace

“It’s not the way that you say it
When you do those things to me
It’s more the way that you mean it
When you tell me what will be” — Justin Hayward

My wife watched a play this week chronicling some of the goings on under Pol Pot in Cambodia. The play mixed in music in a creative way of telling the story. It essentially, followed a man who was in a rock band before the revolution and what had happened to him.

Like most productions it included plenty of literary devices we teach our students. In this case, it including foreshadowing when the band was discussing what they would do if the worst occurred. Some discussed fleeing Cambodia. Others discussed hiding in the countryside. One essentially said he was in favor of Cambodia and would fly whatever flag or do whatever was asked to get by.

As you might have predicted, he ended up doing horrible things so he could stay on the “right” side. It was a singular moment in an otherwise poignant play about a very dark time in history. It is these stand alone moments that seem to grab my attention more than anything.

One of the principle characters in the play was a math teacher and family man before he turned into the administrator of a prison camp. The prison camp ended up being more of a death camp than a prison camp. Naturally, the character justified himself by saying that he did not personally beat or kill any prisoners. The guards had done that.

Fascism never begins with the horrible. Decent people never do the horrible at the outset. They convince themselves they are for the state. They love the state. Their belief system gets coopted with the state where we start calling it “Christian nationalism” as if that’s even a thing. You either for the state or against the state, so we should be for the state.

That’s of course until the state begins to do terrible things. By then it’s too late. Decent people have begun to do very indecent things because the country demanded it. The signs were all there. Some out in the wilderness even said it was coming, but they didn’t listen. They allowed their focus to be on the team instead of the ideals that team was supposed to represent.

Orthodoxy in all of its forms is a dangerous thing. It requires strict adherence that is all-consuming until it is too late. The band mate that became a tool of the state really wasn’t a bad guy at heart. The math teacher turned monster wasn’t a bad guy to begin with. Yet, they became the very worst version of themselves. If we pay close enough attention it could be a cautionary tale for all of us.

On Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy- conforming to established doctrine especially in religion

In my last piece, I talked about the Democratic/progressive/liberal need to reach out to Christians on the left. Crazy as it might seem, they do exist. In the process, I talked about the problem of shunning religion altogether in messaging and how this alienates Christians who are otherwise progressive or at least leaning that direction.

I shared this with another site and the comments were quite revealing. They were also predictable. One could trace much of the world’s problems back to orthodoxy. When put through a religious prism, orthodoxy usually looks a lot like fundamentalism. The second definition in Webster’s dictionary lists fundamentalism as “a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.

This has forever been associated with Orthodox religions. You could be talking about Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Muslims, or Orthodox Christianity. The responses demonstrate that this type of belief system has been transferred and coopted by atheism. On first blush, it makes perfect sense. Non-believers feel assaulted by believers. They feel belittled by believers. Those beliefs have been shoved down their throats for years if not decades.

These are how these things get started. You feel cornered and so you look for a group of like-minded individuals. You commensurate with them and complain about everyone else. You poke holes in the orthodoxy and poke fun at the hilarity and hypocrisy of it all. You don’t bother to notice that you have essentially become them in another dimension. Lack of belief has become as rigid and intractable as belief.

Jean Jacques Rousseau spent a great deal of time in his famous book “The Social Contract” talking about the “general will.” The idea was that there is a set of non-specific values that everyone could agree upon. Naturally, the how is always the sticking point. The other sticking point has become the source of those values. If multiple people think the same thing then what does it matter whether those values come from religious doctrine, secular humanism, or anything else? This is what orthodoxy has wrought.

There are people in this world that could care less about the general will. They know what the general will is. They know what is right and what is wrong. They know exactly what they should do. Yet, they don’t do it because it does not benefit them directly. So, the battle lines have been drawn. The final frontier is not a battle between liberals and conservatives, left and right, or Democrat and Republican.

Instead, it is a battle between those that want what is best for a majority of the people and those that want what is best for themselves. Maybe they are just selfish. Maybe they are under the influence of another power. Either way, the time for worrying about orthodoxy is long gone. In a world where there is an enemy around every corner you join with allies anywhere you can find them, orthodoxy be damned.

A Christian Nation

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their ruler, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.” — Jon Jay

I have a beef with the Democratic party, progressives, and leftists. I’ve made no bones about the fact that I’m a Catholic. I also have made no bones about the fact that my Catholicism shapes my politics. I didn’t pick a church that matched my politics. While it is true that the first amendment guarantees of freedom from religion as much as it guarantees freedom of religion, there is a difference between the reality of policy and the tactics that we use to communicate those policy ideas.

This past Sunday, the gospel reading was the Sermon on the Mount. Obviously, the homily was too. The sermon on the mount was compared to Moses bringing down the ten commandments from Mt. Sinai. In Moses case, he was bringing God’s law down to the people. In Jesus’ case he was trying to lift the people up to heaven. The famous eight beatitudes are listed below:

  1. Blessed are the poor in spirit
  2. Blessed are the meek
  3. Blessed are they who mourn
  4. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice
  5. Blessed are the merciful
  6. Blessed are the clean of heart
  7. Blessed are the peacemakers
  8. Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice’ sake

If Jon Jay was right then we should be seeking leaders that embody the characteristics listed above. This is where Democratic and left wing thought slides off the rails. Many want to shun Christianity in favor of something else. This has given over Christianity and its values to the right wing and the right wing alone.

Admittedly, it is a tight rope balancing act. You can be a peacemaker, clean of heart, merciful, and hunger for justice and be no religion at all. You can do those things while being meek and suffering persecution for justice’ sake while being Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. You can call yourself a Christian and be none of those things.

I hate to use a golf analogy, but there have been many a round that I have played that began poorly. In fact, that’s the norm these days. The road back does not begin with a string of birdies, eagles, and pars. It begins with a single shot. You execute a single shot. Then you execute another and another. When you look up, you have rebounded from your poor start.

In a similar way, our politics will not rebound overnight. A sea of performance artists and carnival barkers won’t suddenly give way to serious people with serious ideas. It starts with a single shot. It starts by asking ourselves one simple question regardless of religious affiliation or not: which candidate embodies most of the qualities above? That’s true whether it is the local school board or the presidency. That’s true whether it is the dog catcher or the governor. It’s true whether they be Republican, Democrat, or third party. Good and wise policy cannot come from bad people. There is no getting around that no matter what they call themselves.

Listen Very Closely

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” — Howard Beale

Beale is a fictional character. He was an anchorman in the movie “Network”. In the movie. Beale asks all of the viewers to open their windows and shout out the above refrain at the same time. Referencing a fictional character and a fruitless gesture seems oddly apropos in the moment. Naturally, you are just going to have to take my word for it.

What you are looking at above the media bias chart we teach our students. See, most people naturally just assume that media sources should only be measured by where they are on a left-right scale. The more important axis is percentage of factual content provided on these programs. The lower you are on the chart, the fewer facts that get dispensed on your network.

I’m sure you noticed that the left and right axis is pretty balanced on both sides. There are more right wing sources than left wing sources when you absolutely count them out, but it’s close enough not to make a difference. It is the factual axis that is most revealing. You’ll notice all but two left to center stay above the line that denotes selective or incomplete story information. Quite a few right leaning sources fall below that. In other words, it’s not symmetrical. Both sides do not do the same thing.

We set this in the backdrop of the latest right wing hysteria piece about DirecTV dropping Newsmax from it’s channel list. The right wing noise machine has called this censorship. Sure. If anyone leaning right accidentally stumbles onto this space I want you to listen very carefully. Censorship happens when the government stifles your ability to speak. It is not happening if your boss fires you for saying something offensive. It is not happening if a social media site blocks your commentary or decides to ban you from their site. For the love of God, it is not happening when a cable company decides not to carry your channel.

If you look carefully you can find Newsmax on the site above. It exists on the far right hand wing on the chart and is one of the least accurate. It comes somewhere between OANN and Fox News. That is terrific company. Since most commentators can’t be bothered to explain this nuanced point, I will make an attempt in case you are conservative and stumbled into this space.

All media outlets are biased in some sense. There are two kinds of bias. The first kind of bias reflects the editorial judgment of the outlet. What stories do they pump up? What stories do they bury? On this level, everyone in the mainstream media deserves all of the criticism that gets hurled their way. We amp up conflict. We amp up controversy. We amp up whatever sensationalism we can for eyeballs, clicks, and advertising dollars.

The second level of bias is the kind of bias most people think of. Are you actually telling the truth? You can see the chart above as easily as I can. There simply is no equivalency here. The notion that both sides do it is not only wrong, but it is inherently dangerous. I suppose that when someone exaggerates the importance of an issue then we can consider it a form of lying. That of course depends on how cynical you want to be.

However, take a look at your chart. MSNBC and CNN are reliable sources. They exercise a ton editorial discretion in what they choose to focus on, but they generally report facts. OANN, Newsmax, and Fox News do not. I don’t subscribe to DirecTV. They can allow any channel they want and they can cut any channel they want. It’s called capitalism. Maybe conservatives can give it a try.