Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Sunday Musings Regarding the United States, Division, and the Upcoming Election

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It’s been awhile since I last wrote one of these Sunday Musings posts, so I thought it was time for another. Enjoy!

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the United States came to be so divided. (The idea that we’re supposed to be united despite our divisions and differences really seems to have gotten lost beside the wayside, lately.) And the only thing I can come up with is, some people — maybe the vast majority of people — want to believe in their own version of reality.

Now, you might be asking, “Barb, what the Hell are you on about this time?”

It’s simple, really. Most people, whether their politics are conservative or liberal, want to believe whatever it is that makes them feel the best about themselves and their circumstances. So whatever narrative they see has a great deal to do with their own lives, and nothing else need apply.

Should it be this way?

I’d like to say no. Because facts are what they are, and you can’t choose to only believe some facts rather than others. And optimally, everyone should do a good deal of research into political candidates — almost the same as if you’re vetting a personal friend for a job you’re not sure they’re up for, but want them to try for anyway.

The thing is, here in the United States, and perhaps around the world as well, there are many people working more than one job. Or they are working way more than forty hours at the one job they have, to support their families.

In other words, they are exhausted, and they don’t have time to do the research if they wanted to. So they pick whomever they think they can hate the least, and call it a day.

While I understand exhaustion quite well — having fibromyalgia as I do, that comes with the territory — I still wish people would challenge their own assumptions more often. Because that way, it’s easier to get out of ruts; in fact, if you do challenge your own assumptions regularly, you may never fall into a rut at all.

I also wish that we could somehow get back to where we were ten or fifteen years ago, where people didn’t choose their friends solely by whether or not they fit their political beliefs. There are so many things that unite us that it pains me to see unnecessary divisions making things worse.

It’s almost like people thought after 2008, when Barack Obama was elected, that everything would now be wonderful. (You may remember that I conscientiously objected at the time to that point of view.) And because it didn’t happen, they grew disenchanted with anyone who still wanted to see hope in any form.

Yet somehow, we went from the cult of personality that Barack Obama had about him to the cult of personality that Donald Trump now embodies. And we went from “Yes, we can!” to “Hell no, we can’t!”

What I would like to see, going forward, is that we all realize we have more in common with each other than not. We want safe streets. Good quality, affordable health care. Schools that do more than just warehouse kids, and actually teach them usable skills. And I’d like to see us have a dialogue that shows we’re paying attention to one another, rather than just dismissing everything the other side (or sometimes, sides) says out of hand because it doesn’t automatically fit our worldview.

That said, some things are flat-out wrong. Racism is one of them. Sexism is another. Unnecessary fear regarding the LGBTQ community is another.

But you know what is the most wrong of all? Stupidity.

So I urge you, today, to reach out to your friends, neighbors, and others. Try to see where you have things in common. Do good things for one another, if you can. Or at least listen and care if you can’t.

Regardless of who you vote for, you need to start looking to re-form a community around yourself. So we can all feel like we matter, and are important.

That’s what being a citizen of the greatest nation on Earth is supposed to be about, rather than “us vs. them.”

Voting, Nightmare Scenarios, and the 2020 Election

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Folks, this past week, for me at least, has been one of great dismay.

After the death of ground-breaking Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), didn’t even wait a full day before saying “her seat will be filled as soon as possible.” (This is my best paraphrase of the many things he did say.) As I said in my last blog, this is contrary to what McConnell did the last time a Justice — in that case, Antonin Scalia — passed away in an election year, as at that time he more or less filibustered the nomination of then-President Obama’s choice, Merrick Garland, for the Supreme Court.

But that wasn’t all that was so disheartening out of Washington, DC, this past week.

Nope. We also got a very oddly worded, meandering comment by President Donald Trump (a Republican, in case anyone has forgotten), saying that he felt the ballots are a “disaster” and that he shouldn’t have to worry about leaving. (This was in response to a question about the peaceful transfer of power, something that has been a hallmark of American democracy since its inception.)

Because of that, a good friend of mine discussed with me the following scenario, which comes straight out of the Constitution: Trump is apparently leaning hard on Article 2, which would in effect throw the election (if disputed) to the House of Representatives. Every state there gets one and only one vote. And there are more Republican-led states than not, so it’s quite possible that even with a landslide victory for Joe Biden (a Democrat), Trump could still conceivably stay in office.

My response to this, aside from incredulousness of course, was as following: “If there’s a landslide for Biden and his VP pick, Kamala Harris, there’s likely to be a Democratic Senate along with a Democratic House. Trump will be impeached in short order, for pulling something like that, and he’ll have bought himself a maximum of six to nine months. What’s the point of that?”

My friend assured me that to Trump, every day in office counts. It gives him and his family more chances to amass power (and, I suppose, wealth). And, of course, the Constitution doesn’t allow for any sitting President to be arrested on any charges, anywhere in the world…mostly because the rather naïve belief was that anyone terrible enough to be charged with anything would be impeached in short order, and then no longer out of reach of the legal system.

(Ah, the innocence of the Constitutional framers. They could not have conceived of the situation of 2020, nor the naked partisanship of the Republican Party as led by Trump and McConnell. They knew naked partisanship, mind; how not? But they didn’t necessarily understand that some people are just immoral, and will grasp power for its own ends just because. Or maybe they did, but figured there would be enough good people to oppose such a power grab in the Senate…but woe betide us, as there aren’t.)

The idea that my vote, your vote, your parents’ votes, your friends’ votes, and even your enemies’ votes won’t be likely to be fairly counted because counting the votes is not in the current President’s best interest bothers me greatly. It is undemocratic and unAmerican. And it also flies in the face of Trump’s followers, because most of them voted for him believing he would be a capable President and behave as Presidents do…that is, if they get voted out, they leave, peaceably, and let the next President take over.

Even though Trump did not win the popular vote last time, he did win in the Electoral College. This still reflects that, at that time, Trump was respecting conventional norms; his was a legal way through, and also an ethical way through. It wasn’t a preferred way through — most Presidents prefer to win the popular vote and the electoral college, if they can — but it was both legal and ethical. And he did win many votes, though not the most, as Hillary Clinton led by over three million votes overall.

In the situation I’ve described, where the election is not in doubt and Biden has won by swamping Donald Trump, but there are many legal challenges — so many, a slate of electors from each state cannot be chosen in a timely manner — we’d be thrown to Article 2 of the Constitution. And while that is completely legal, it is not ethical. Nor is it moral, to overturn the overwhelming will of the voters like that, which is why up until now it’s never been tried.

This year, it may be, though. And the prospect of it vexes me greatly.

The thing is, something tells me this is being thrown out as a red herring. It’s being thrown out to suppress the will of the voters. It’s being thrown out there to make people believe their vote doesn’t matter. That nothing they do will ever matter. And that there’s no way to overcome the Trump Machine/Republican Party as led by Trump/McConnell…even by voting them out.

My belief, therefore, is that we MUST vote. (I want everyone to vote, even if you still believe Trump is wonderful in every way and deserves a second term despite his obvious mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States.) We have to vote. We have to show what our will is, and trust that there are enough good people out there to overcome the bad ones — whomever or whatever they may be, and whomever and whatever they try to do — and do our civic duty despite all efforts to depress us and make us too despondent to do anything at all.

And if worse comes to worst, and Trump stays in due to using Article 2 of the Constitution to blatantly disrespect the will of the people, I’ll have to trust that somehow, some way, the ship will be righted. And that we will not slide further into autocracy, much less a straight-up dictatorship, with a second, undeserved in this scenario, presidency.

What do you think of my nightmare scenario? Tell me about it in the comments!

Justice Ginsburg Dies, and the U.S. Goes Crazy…**

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**at least, the internet world. (Are there any others? /sarcasm)

The last few days have been surreal. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a trailblazing lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court judge, has passed away at age 87. She was possibly one of the few jurists in the nation most people trusted; they might not like her, or like her viewpoints, but they trusted her to come at them from a judicial/legal standpoint. And her death is a great loss to the nation, much less to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS, for short).

“But Barb, all you’ve explained so far is that Justice Ginsburg has died. What is this part about the United States supposedly going crazy about?”

It’s simple, dear readers. She was needed at this time and place. Despite her advanced age, and her long-time battle with cancer, her clear-headed nature and trustworthiness were a Godsend for the American people. Her death means that the current President of the United States (POTUS, for short), Donald Trump, can now appoint a new Supreme Court Justice even though there’s only forty-five days until the next presidential election.

Which wouldn’t seem that bad, until you consider your recent history.

In 2016, the Republican Party forced then-President Obama to hold a SCOTUS seat vacant until the next election. They did nothing for nine months, at all. And they said it was because they wanted the people to decide.

Now, the Republican Party, which is in power, feels they can replace a judge on the Supreme Court with less than two months to go until the next election. Their reasoning (rather spurious, to my mind) is that last time, the Rs held only the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, not the Presidency. This time, they hold the Senate and the Presidency (but not the House).

If you fail to see why this is acceptable, join the club.

**The only thing that comes to mind when I think about this whole situation is Disturbed’s song “Down with the Sickness.” (Just felt I should throw that in there. Moving along…)

Me, I see it as rank hypocrisy. And here’s why…Mitch McConnell, who was the Senate Majority Leader in 2016 and is still the Senate Majority Leader today, seemingly wants to do this so fast because Trump could lose this election. But if McConnell and the Rs can ram through another judge before Trump leaves office, they can affect laws for decades to come.

And power, after all, comes before consistency. /sarcasm (mine)

Note that it usually takes far more than forty-five days to find a qualified person (usually someone who’s already a judge, but not always), get that person through Senate confirmation (even when your party is in power, this can be an ordeal), and onto SCOTUS. But who the Hell cares about finding the right justice for SCOTUS, when it’s all about the power?

(And yes, this time, I wrote that without any sarcasm at all.)

I can tell you one thing. The people of the United States know what hypocrisy looks like. Tastes like. Smells like. And most, regardless of party, do not want to partake in hypocritical things or use hypocritical means for any reason.

Why? Because most of them have endured this in their own lives. And they know it’s wrong.

Plus, they know that in general, no one party stays in power forever. And if one party — in this case, the Rs — treats the other party (in this case, the Ds) badly, that means it’s justified — or at least justifiable — if the Ds later treat the Rs with as much vitriol and condescension as they’ve just seen themselves.

Because make no mistake about it. Justice Ginsburg died yesterday evening. And today, McConnell has already said he will get President Trump’s nominee a fair hearing. In the next forty-five days.

Yep. “Down with the sickness” is the only thing that keeps going through my head, here. Moving on…

Anyway, I do not believe in hypocrisy. And I do think it should take any party or any person more than forty-five days to put a new judge on SCOTUS as it’s a lifetime appointment.

And in the midst of all this, Justice Ginsburg’s remarkable life is being given short shrift. As is her stated final wish, as dictated by her granddaughter, which was, “Please wait to fill my seat until after the election.”

To say I find that infuriating, much less maddening, much less frustrating, much less despair and anguish-inducing, is an extreme understatement.

So, for those of you trying not to go crazy right now, I want you to think of this. The wishes of the dead usually are respected if they make sense. And in this case, they do.

I also want you to think about this: We, as people, need to stand up and say, “No more of this nonsense, please.” Because if it’s wrong for a Democratic President to fill a SCOTUS seat in an election year (nine months out), it’s just as wrong for a Republican President to fill a SCOTUS seat in an election year (forty-five days out).

And if this is allowed, don’t come back to me and say, when the next Democratic President takes office, “Oh, he shouldn’t do that! It’s hypocritical!” Because you’ll have ventured all your dignity, ethics, and morals already, and you’ll have no philosophical “leg” to stand on. At all.

Just Trying to Get By…

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As the blog title says, the mood around Chez Caffrey tonight is exactly that: trying to get by.

I can’t ignore the stresses in the world. They bother me. And I can do so little about them.

For example, I hate it that the people in Hong Kong, who are protesting for democracy, are not being backed up by the United States in word or deed. (I don’t want the U.S. to go to war with China. But this is a situation where diplomacy might’ve done some good. Yet the Congress, as well as the President, remains for the most part eerily silent.)

I also am unhappy by much of what I’ve seen and heard regarding the impeachment inquiry in the U.S. Congress. Everything I’ve read (and I have read the entire 300-page report put out by the Congress yesterday) shows that President Trump seems to believe that Presidents are like Kings, and can do whatever they like. I can’t abide that. And I don’t understand why others can.

Mind, I believe in the rule of law. If the Senate, which probably will get the impeachment from the House sooner or later (the House hasn’t taken a vote yet), refuses to carefully ponder the evidence, I will be extremely unhappy. And if they do what Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has already said he will and refuse to even read the evidence, that will make me furious.

These people are not being paid to duck the evidence. They are being paid to do what is in the best interests of the country.

Not their party. The country.

Anyway, I mention all of this because it does weigh on my mind. And I can do so little about it.

What I can do, mind, is write about it. (Which you see, for what good it does.) I can register people to vote when my health is strong enough. I can also weigh the evidence, when it fully comes out, in my own mind, with my own knowledge of the U.S. Constitution, and decide for myself what I’d do if I were in the Senate.

(Hint, hint: I do not believe in party over country. I believe in what John McCain did. Country over party. Or as John Quincy Adams said, “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone.”)

Mind, if the evidence ultimately isn’t there, then it’s not. (Though it’s hard to believe right now there won’t be enough evidence to show that. And if you doubt me, go read that report and put “Obama” in there instead of Trump. Would you think this behavior is OK then? But I digress.)

The evidence should be heard, should be weighed, should be measured…and if the folks in the Senate who are apparently blinded by Donald Trump’s cult of personality can’t figure out that what the current president has done will be used as a measuring stick for all presidents to follow, then they are idiots. (And should be voted out of office forthwith.)

Anyway, I see all this, and wonder what in the Hell the point is. There’s so little I can affect. And it bothers me.

But all I can do, from day to day, is be my best self.

(And so should you, even though it may seem completely pointless to try.)

So, I’ll keep on trying to get by. And as I do that, I’ll continue to work on my writing, my editing, my music, and whatever other abilities I have that can do some people some good somewhere…as that’s all I know how to do.

——

P.S. We still do live in a free society. I am grateful for this. I am able to say what I feel, in a way I feel is right, and not be hauled off to jail for doing so.

May it continue ever so.

When People Disagree: A Rant

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Folks, if you’ve been following my blog for the past few days, you may have noticed that there was a disagreement between me and a long-time reader of my blog. Over politics, of all things…the most fraught subject in the United States, partly because everyone seemingly has made up his or her mind already. Worse yet, most of the folks I know of any political persuasion won’t change whatever their initial snap judgment was in the first place, and thus we stay stalled out.

Nothing gets done, because we can’t even agree on the basics anymore.

I don’t know what to say about this, except that it saddens me.

In this case, my former reader was a Trump supporter. I am not, and never have been. That said, I do read George Will (a conservative columnist) regularly, watch Shep Smith regularly (the best newsman on TV, and he works on Fox News), and sample a number of conservative blogs every week, including Hugh Hewitt’s (a Trump supporter and radio host).

Do I agree with much of what any of them say? Hell, no, I don’t**. But I owe it to myself to find out what they’re saying, because sometimes I do agree with a little here and there. (And every great once in a while, I find myself in agreement with someone like longtime Republican strategist Rick Wilson. Granted, he’s a #NeverTrump guy. But he still is a true conservative, and thus doesn’t have a ton in common with me in some ways.)

And one thing I do know we all agree on, whether it’s Hewitt or Will or Wilson, is that we need to believe our government works for us. Rather than them doing whatever the Hell they want (or don’t); rather than our Congresscritters (and other governmental folks) acting like pigs at the trough and getting all they can, as long as they can; rather than them acting like complete and utter idiots, out of touch with people in the middle and lower classes (so they can’t possibly make decent laws, having no idea of what the true issues are).

The way to find consensus is to read exactly what’s written, and not impart what we think the other person is writing instead. The former reader decided no matter what I said about politics that I hated Trump so much, “Trump was Hitler.” (He said this in several comments.) And I said no such thing.

In fact, what I did say was, “I don’t like Trump. I don’t trust him. I don’t think he’s a good POTUS (president of the United States). But he’s not Hitler.”

I should’ve gone further, though. Which is why I’m writing this right now.

Many dictators and authoritarian-types who’ve come to power shut down the freedom of expression as the very first thing they do. Whether they are from China or Chile, Venezuela or Uganda, or anywhere else that’s featured dictatorial rule in the past century (including Cuba), the one thing a dictator can’t handle is the freedom to say, “I don’t like that guy, and here’s why.”

With all of Trump’s faults — and he does have many — he has not done that. He’s not even tried to do that. And I think one of the reasons the hard-core Trump supporters out there (including the former reader of my blog) get so frustrated is that some members of the media have worried incessantly that Trump will do that. And worse, some of the most loudmouthed members of the chattering class believe it’s only a matter of time, and have already decided Trump is guilty of suppressing freedom of the press right now.

Know, please, that I am not among those folks.

But back to the matter at hand. It isn’t fair to impart motives to my writing that do not exist. That frustrates the Hell out of me. As a writer, I try to be as blunt and to the point as I can, and make it blindingly obvious what I think when I’m writing my blogs or anything of a nonfiction nature. (Fiction, by definition, is different. And you have to take different tactics there as a writer to do the job. But I digress.) I do that on purpose, because I do not want to be misunderstood.

What I do know, though, is this: If we can’t agree even on how to disagree, we’re in big trouble.

I realize many people, myself included, are worried about all sorts of things, big and small; that said, we have to at least be willing to agree to disagree sometimes, and be civil about doing it. And not just storm off in a huff when you’re not getting your point across, or you don’t particularly want to agree to disagree, either. (That’s something the US Congress does very well. We, as people, should not.)

My belief, overall, is that you don’t have to agree with me. (In fact, I hope you don’t always agree with me. How boring would it be to have a bunch of echo chambers around all the time?) But you do have to be civil about your disagreement, and you really should try to see what the words actually are, rather than what you think they are.

End rant.

——–

**I like Shep Smith’s newscasts, and I agree with how he presents the news. He is objective and principled. I like that. I wish we had a lot more of it.

 

Yes, We Need Freedom of the Press

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Folks, today is a day for action. As a writer, I feel it’s important to let you know that hundreds of newspapers have written and published editorials about the importance of the freedom of the press, due to constant verbal battering by President Donald J. Trump calling any news he dislikes “fake news.” (If you want to know more about it, take a look at the New York Times editorial from today, and then click on a few of the associated publications that are listed. And those aren’t all of them; those are just the ones the Times knows about, as far as I can tell.)

See, the 45th President of the United States complains that all news is fake. Or at least all news that he doesn’t like must be fake. And he constantly proclaims this from the highest mountaintop, letting everyone know he hates the press, he hates everything they say (unless they fawn over him, of course, as they often do on Fox News’ morning programs), and that supposedly the press is “the enemy of the people.”

Um, no, Mr. President. They aren’t.

As a writer, I want you to know where I stand on this.

We need the First Amendment to hold, and as such, we absolutely must have freedom of the press to operate as they will, to find out what they can, and to hold the powerful accountable. (Is that emphatic enough? Do I need to add emojis? GIFs? Frowny faces? Or will this do?)

(Moving on…)

I’ve written for a few newspapers in the past. (Two college papers, and freelance articles in a few other places, to be exact.) We took what we did seriously. We researched. We wrote. We edited. We checked our facts. And then we wrote and edited some more…yes, sometimes errors were still made, but we did our best to correct them. (Something President Trump doesn’t seem too worried about doing, if you ask me. But I digress.)

As today’s Kenosha News‘ editorial put it (this being the closest paper to me that’s taking part in the nationwide effort; my hometown paper, the Racine Journal-Times, did not, which shames me):

Presenting news that you disagree with is not “fake news.” We work hard to inform, serving as watchdogs of government and institutions, while also celebrating the good in the community. This has been going on for decades.

Absolutely correct. And without watchdogs, what would we learn except spin, spin, and more spin?

Here’s why we need the free press: They find stuff out everyone needs to know when the bigwigs in state, local, or federal government (or, perhaps, the very, very wealthy corporations) don’t want anyone to find out.

How would we have learned about big problems that led to the meltdown of Three Mile Island’s nuclear reactor without the press? (Wouldn’t the government have just spun everything, and said everything was fine?) How would we have learned about the Flint water crisis, and all the problems with the pipes, without the press? (Especially as the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, did his best to obfuscate and “happy talk” the problems away until they got so big, they had to be dealt with publicly? Not that they’re over by any stretch, but at least we know about them now.) How would we have known at all about the problems of Senator Joseph McCarthy (who was from Wisconsin), if not for the press? (Wouldn’t Senator McCarthy have continued his reign of terror, accusing people of being Communists willy-nilly, and ruining even more people’s lives, reputations, and livelihoods thereby?)

And those are just three examples. There are many more. (For my conservative friends, think about how Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky would’ve been covered up if there were no journalists. Linda Tripp could’ve spoken until she was blue in the face, but if there was no one to publish what she had to say, other than the folks in her limited circle, who else would’ve known?)

This is why I urge you to please remember that the press is not the “enemy of the people,” no matter who says it, no matter how many times that person says it.

And start thinking about why someone who holds the highest office in the US of A keeps nattering on about “enemies of the people,” hm? Because shouldn’t he have bigger fish to fry, like North Korea? Or better yet, trying to make sure hackers don’t shut down our power grid in the middle of winter?

———–

P.S. And yes, dammit, the Russia investigation needs to be fully investigated, if for no other reason than to find out once and for all what happened. We need to know.

And if nothing happened, well, we need to know that, too. (I wait for facts. But the way this President has behaved, including his atrocious behavior in Helsinki alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin, makes me wonder just what he’s trying to hide. Surely I can’t be the only one?)

Insist on Facts, Please

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Folks, as I watch the wrangling in Washington, DC, I get more and more frustrated.

The Republicans don’t think anything they do is wrong. So whatever the current President of the United States, Donald Trump, says or does must automatically be right.

And the Democrats don’t think anything they do is wrong, either. So whatever they say must be right, too.

What this does is alienate literally everyone. Because no one takes responsibility for anything. And no one ever admits wrongdoing.

And I’m tired of it.

The thing is, as I watch all this nonsense, I want to remind you of one thing: No matter what is being said, get the facts.

Insist on facts, please.

Do not allow your own biases to be confirmed or denied unless and until you have facts.

And when you see something like a release of a memo by one party (as reportedly will happen within days) about the FBI supposedly doing something wrong, where a whole bunch of stuff can’t be confirmed or denied due to being classified — when the memo by the other party is blocked by the party in power (as the Republicans are going to release the memo authored by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, but won’t release the memo authorized by Democrats) — you must absolutely, positively insist upon facts.

If one party — in this case the Ds — says that the Justice Department and/or the FBI should at least be consulted before releasing the memo due to possible classified information being there, and that the other party — in this case, the Rs — refuses to even consult with the professionals in the area, that is deeply troubling.

And it looks like facts are being ignored, at least from here.

Still. Even now, when all sorts of things look wrong and are annoying and frustrating and nonsensical, get the facts. Get as many facts as you can, before you condemn.

So, while I continue to condemn tribalism and reflexive thinking — if you’re an R, everything the Rs do is good (even if it’s not), or if you’re a D, everything the Ds do is good (even if it’s not) — I urge you to be smart, be prudent, refuse to be snowed, and dammit, to get the facts before you make up your mind. (Please?)

Unwritten Rules, Social Norms, and You

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Folks, recently I read a book by Mike Duncan called THE STORM BEFORE THE STORM. It was about the fall of the Roman Republic, which preceded the fall of the Roman Empire…and about the various things that happened that caused the Roman Republic to fall.

Something called Mos Maiorum had been followed up until that time, you see. Those were the unwritten rules and social norms that every Roman professed to follow, and none seriously transgressed until things started to fall apart. These were especially important for Roman politicians, as they dictated how often you ran for office, how long you should stay there in some cases, whether or not you should run again, and what you should do while you actually were in office (including treating other office-holders with respect rather than disdain, whether you liked those people or not).

This rang true with me in our contemporary American society, because it was the breakdown of the unwritten rules of the Mos Maiorum that led to the rise of Roman demagogues, who exploited rising economic inequality for fun and profit…and that is what we’re seeing right now, at least in part.

Mind, by the time a demagogic politician takes command, those rifts are already there for him (or in some cases, her) to exploit. The loss of the unwritten rules of conduct everyone is supposed to follow may seem negligible, but we saw it play out in the 2016 Presidential election, where Donald Trump refused to release his taxes (as every other politician had done for many years), criticized many people (including those in his own party) and called decorated war heroes such as Arizona Senator John McCain unimportant (because hey, Trump only likes people who weren’t captured). Trump even complained about a Gold Star family — that is, a family who lost a loved one while serving the United States as a military member — which is something I couldn’t have imagined anyone doing for any reason before 2016.

Mind, as in the fall of the Roman Republic, some pols still do follow the unwritten rules. (For example, Hillary Clinton released her taxes, and while she certainly criticized Trump — and he returned the favor, in spades — she did not go after anyone outside of the campaign. She left Scott Baio alone, Kid Rock alone, and any other celebrity or personage that expressed a strong affection for Trump strictly alone as far as I could discern.)

So it’s not an exact science, no. But I am still struck by the parallels.

When the civil discourse breaks down, it’s hard to remember that we all need to pull together. And that sort of division can be exploited by anyone with demagogic leanings, which is why we all need to educate ourselves as best we can, read widely (and not just to our own political leanings), and challenge our assumptions as that is the best way to deal with demagoguery I know.

That all being said, people may still prefer the demagogue in the future. I can’t do anything about that. But what I can ask you to do is to please, please, for the love of little green apples, do your homework. Vote for someone who represents you and your interests as closely as possible…but yes, someone should stick up for the unwritten rules of civil discourse and most importantly civility in politics, too, lest we follow the Roman Republic into oblivion.

That way, it’s less toxic to watch. And we may stay better-informed.

Staying Stable in an Unstable World

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Lately, wherever I’ve gone, I’ve had the feeling that the world just isn’t as stable as it used to be.

Granted, maybe it was all illusory, that feeling of stability. But feelings need to be taken into account, or you can’t keep yourself stable no matter what’s going on around you.

In the United States, we have a President who shoots from the lip (or at least from “the Twitter”) as often as he possibly can. He doesn’t seem to care if this bothers foreign leaders, or his own citizens, or anyone else; he just does it, because “Trump’s gotta be Trump.” (Yes, I’ve heard this a great deal.)

We’ve never before had a President like this in the U.S. We’ve had blustering Presidents, sure. (Some might say Teddy Roosevelt qualifies, here. And certainly Warren G. Harding.) We’ve also had Presidents that got in under odd circumstances (witness the 1876 election of Rutherford B. Hayes). But we’ve never before had someone who seems to delight in recklessness and obnoxiousness in this particular way.

That President Trump doesn’t seem to understand the pain of new widow Myeshia Johnson, the wife of deceased U.S. Army Sergeant LaDavid T. Johnson, just adds the cherry on top of a whole bunch of unadulterated rudeness and disrespect.

And as an American citizen, I can’t help but feel terrible about this. I don’t understand why this particular man can’t seem to understand that being the President requires empathy as well as logic, and caring as well as commerce.

Not that Donald Trump is alone in seeming to bring the caricature of “the ugly American” to a new (and highly disgusting) sheen. There are all those people who marched in Charlottesville in a white supremacist march, too, pointing out there are still plenty of others in this country who have no interest in tolerance, respect, or basic human decency.

And that also makes me, as a rational person, feel less stable. Less like the light I can bring, and the creativity I keep trying to use, will make any difference.

Regardless of anything else, those of us who have a shred of creativity need to keep using it. This is when it’s needed most. And we can’t stop when it’s hard; we may have to take more breaks, and we may have to give ourselves time to rebalance ourselves sometimes, and we may have to remember that what we do still matters no matter what it looks like…but yes, indeed, we must use our creativity as best we can.

Why? Because we need to do everything we can to stay on balance. Live the lives we were born to live. And refuse to let anyone, regardless of pride, position, or Presidency, take us off our course.

So, in addition to doing my best to stay creative, I’ve also resolved the following things. I’m going to reject bad behavior, whoever it’s from. Reject words that make no sense, whoever says them. Reject those who just don’t seem to get it that we all need to pull together, and do what we can to bring more rationality and respect and tolerance and (dare I say it?) kindness into this world.

And if I can do all that, I believe I will feel more stable, centered, and whole.

What do you do to stay stable in an unstable world? Tell me about it in the comments!

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 24, 2017 at 8:39 pm

Bridges, Walls, and Transgender Rights

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This past week was a very frustrating one in many senses, folks.

First, we had the “announcement” of a transgender ban from military service by the President of the United States, Donald Trump, via a Tweet. (Something the Joint Chiefs of Staff had no idea was coming, much less the ordinary rank and file.)

Next, we had utter chaos at the White House as one of the new staffers (a guy I won’t name) decided to go on a profane rant. And rather than be fired, as anyone else would’ve been from any job anywhere, this particular new staffer was more or less praised by the President. (Or at least excused by him.)

Look. I believe in building bridges, not walls. I think we need to learn more about each other, in order to become more compassionate, much less wiser, people. And trying to understand the other person’s point of view is essential, or you can’t get anything done in that regard.

But I don’t understand the President’s point of view at all, here.

Donald Trump, in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, talked about how he was for LGBTQ rights. And the T in that stands for “transgender.”

Granted, if you had to ask me to ask one person whether the sun was rising in the East and setting in the West, I would pick anyone instead of Donald Trump. (I might even pick my dog, Trouble. He’d not be able to answer me, but at least he’d look cute.)

Still. Since transgender soldiers were allowed to serve openly in the military, they’ve done a fine job. No one’s seemed to have any trouble with them. They’re soldiers, like anyone else. They do their jobs, like anyone else. And no one’s ever questioned the fact that the United States military contains some of the best trained fighters ever seen.

(And make no mistake about it: I fully expected this to be the case. A trans person is a person like anyone else. And trans soldiers want to serve their country like anyone else does, too; give them credit for that fact, Mr. President. Please?)

I would’ve rather seen a bridge built here, rather than the wall of Donald Trump’s Tweet. I’d rather Mr. Trump had spoken to the transgender soldier retired from Seal Team Six, who could’ve given Mr. Trump a very solid education on the entire subject. I’d rather Mr. Trump had spoken to any soldiers, including Senators Lindsay Graham and Joni Ernst, who would’ve told him that soldiers of any persuasion, creed, color, sexuality or gender preference are worthy of care and will do the professional, thorough job that soldiers of the U.S. military are known for.

I tried to say that myself on my little-used Twitter account, but I was immediately given short shrift by a few of Mr. Trump’s more rabid followers. They believe that Mr. Trump was right to do this, because supposedly being trans is a “mental disease.” Or that it really is too expensive to give trans soldiers the care they need, which is absurd considering the immense amount of the military’s budget. (Supposedly, the military spends more on Viagra for male soldiers’ impotence than they do on the care for their trans soldiers. I wouldn’t doubt that for a minute.)

I know, myself, that as a writer and as a human being, I want to know more about people who feel marginalized and misunderstood in order to give them hope that someday, they will feel completely accepted and fully understood. That’s why I wrote my book, CHANGING FACES, and it’s why I believe firmly that we need to build a bridge to the trans community, and learn more from them, rather than exclude them out of hand as if they don’t matter — or worse, pretend that they don’t exist.

The Deity must have a reason for people coming in all sorts, shapes, creeds, sexes, genders, and yes, even differing political philosophies like Mr. Trump’s. But I don’t understand why anyone needs to be obnoxious in spreading his or her own political philosophy, especially if he hasn’t studied the subject at all, as it appears Mr. Trump has not.

For someone who said he was for LGBTQ rights, Mr. Trump had a horrible week.

But the trans soldiers had a worse one. Because they realized, perhaps for the first time, that this President does not have their back. And that is a very sad, even shameful, thing.