Archive for the 'Politics' Category

The Most Non-Partisan Thing You Can Do

A friend of mine keeps sending me emails staking out his strongly-held conservative positions, attacking and ridiculing liberals and Democrats.  I feel very sad about this, but not because I think he’s necessarily wrong.   Like any of us, sometimes he is, sometimes he isn’t.  I’m sad because it’s like watching someone trying to hit an 8-iron into a tight pin while staring at his competitor’s Titleist.  Eye on the wrong ball.

This election is not about policy.  It’s not about left vs. right or what we’re going to do about healthcare, and so on.  That day will come again.  But it is not today.

This election is, or should be, about only one thing: eliminating the risk that our precious republic will slide into tyranny.

It doesn’t matter what label you attach to Donald Trump’s behavior – narcissism, psycho- or sociopathology, anti-social personality, etc.  Whatever you call it, it is beyond question that he is not exactly right in the head.  Look at this list and try to explain it any other way:

  • Lack of empathy or the ability to see others as humans
  • Complete disregard for the truth
  • Willingness to contradict himself without remorse
  • Willingness to use others for his own ends, again without remorse
  • Profound, deep-seated need for power
  • Profound, deep-seated need for approval or adoration
  • Admiration of tyrants

What makes these behaviors concerning is that while not everyone who has them becomes a tyrant, everyone who becomes a tyrant has them.

Tyranny starts when the person described above meets a population that feels deeply belittled, weakened and aggrieved.  This is post-Versailles Germany.  When that population sees a potential strongman who offers what looks like a path to feeling strong (great?) again, tyranny begins.  This is the history.

When it happens, the tyrant and those who embrace him engage in a love affair that is completely irrational.  People who are otherwise reasonable and good sometimes wind up believing and doing unreasonable and abhorrent things.  The scapegoating and dehumanizing of recognizably non-majority people is always at the core of this love.  Again, this is the history.

And then there are the people who aren’t so reasonable and good to begin with.  They find a happy home.

Tyranny may begin as populism.  It never, ever ends well.

The beginnings of this exist in America today.  Donald Trump is a would-be tyrant, even if he isn’t self-aware enough to realize it.  40% of Americans see him as their savior.  If we get to 50%, we’re done.

Can’t happen here?  It couldn’t happen in Germany in 1932, either.  There was no way Donald Trump was going to win in 2016.   And he just said that he thinks he can change the Constitution by executive order.

The risk is real, and even small odds are deeply frightening.

We are lucky that our would-be tyrant is not very competent and is something of a buffoon.  But it’s not a great idea to bet our future on that.

It is the duty of patriots to put a brake on this guy.  This is not partisan.  It’s about nipping potential tyranny in the bud.  OK, not the bud.  40% means we’re post-bud.  And that the other 60% need to stop it.

Sadly, what calls itself the Republican party these days has shown itself to be completely servile and willing to put the nation at risk in exchange for short-term political gain.

For patriots, that leaves only one alternative, which is to vote for Democrats.  Not because you like or agree with them (I often don’t), but because before we deal with policy, we need to take tyranny off the table.  We can’t wait for someone else to do it for us.  It’s in our hands.

So that’s where we are.  The single most non-partisan thing you can do in this election is to vote straight Democrat.

Who’d have thought?


Ducks, Spades and Psychopaths. And a Little Anonymity to Boot.

When my clients are trying to solve a problem, one of the things I lean on them to do is get really clear what the actual problem is.  Part of that is learning to use clear, unambiguous language.  To call a spade a spade.  To stop talking about “Centers of Influence” because that’s fuzzy.  What am I doing?  Getting more influence?  What does that look like?  Nope.  Those people are “Referral Sources,” and your job is to get referrals from them.  Everyone understands exactly what that means.

With that, I give you Donald Trump, sanity vs. insanity, and why a little anonymity makes sense.

If you’ve read these posts for any time, you know that I am deeply centrist and profoundly in favor of what works.  I’ve always tried to explain more than advocate.  But before the 2016 election, for the first time since I started writing these posts, I took a specific position on a specific election.  My position was that given the choice between venal (Hillary) and crazy (Trump, whom I described as an “ADD-addled, narcissistic sociopath with a significant brain defect [underdeveloped frontal cortex leading to lack of impulse control”]), the right answer was to put 100 clothespins on your nose and vote for venal.

The only thing that has happened in the past two years to change my assessment has been learning that the single term “psychopath,” in its true clinical form rather than its Hollywood-melodramatic form, encompasses the entire collection of traits I used to describe Trump in October 2016.

Here, according to Psychology Today, are the clinically defined, observable characteristics of psychopaths.  I encourage you to read the full description.

  • Callousness and lack of empathy
  • General lack of emotion, but especially lack of “social emotions such as shame, guilt and embarrassment”
  • Unreliability
  • Blaming others for things that are their own fault
  • Admitting blame only when forced into a corner, but not exhibiting shame or remorse, and not changing as a result
  • Superficial charm coupled with chronic untruthfulness and “pathological lying,”
  • Speech inflated and distorted to serve selfish ends
  • Difficulty using metaphors and abstract words
  • A “grandiose sense of self-worth”
  • Impulsivity
  • A “pathological egocentricity and incapacity for love”
  • Inability to plan for the future ( “Carefree nonplanness”)
  • Violence (“Very low tolerance to frustration and low threshold for discharge of aggression”)

That’s the clinicians’ list, not mine.  Take a serious look at it.  On the last trait, Trump talks a big game but actually displays signs of physical cowardice rather than bravery.  On everything else, he is way, way over the bar.  You know it and so do I.

It is amply documented by Wolff, Woodward and the anonymous writer of the NY Times op-ed (whose three descriptions are stunningly consistent), and by everything we know about Trump dating back to his public emergence in the 1980s.  And if you check out this assessment, you’ll find it easy to give him a score high enough to justify an actual diagnosis.

Some calls are close.  This one is not.

If you’re trying to see it otherwise, I’m afraid you are proactively looking for reasons to avoid an obvious truth.  Perhaps you’re afraid that some policies you like will get tarred in the process.  That’s not what this is about.  This is about something that looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks.  I’m sorry, but it’s a duck.  With its finger on the button.

So here it is:  We have a psychopath in the White House.

Many people, including the press, Congress, and even the Democrats seem reluctant to state this obvious truth.  They seem to be afraid that our public discourse, our security or perhaps our desire to avoid embarrassment would be threatened if we admitted that we elected a psychopath to be our president.

I don’t understand that.  I think calling a spade a spade matters.  There are some entirely legitimate reasons why millions of Americans cast a profoundly anti-status quo vote in 2016, however poor the vessel may have been.  But imagine a poll asking Americans, “Would you vote to elect a psychopath president?”  I’m guessing that fewer than 60 million would say yes.

There’s a bit of good news here.  We can stop wasting time and breath looking for reasons and rationale and rationality and clever strategies behind his behavior.  He’s just crazy.

Which brings us to the aforementioned NY Times op-ed.  The writer has been widely criticized for remaining anonymous and staying in the administration.  If this were a case of policy disagreement – you know, we had a serious debate about tariffs and I couldn’t abide the decision – then I would agree 100%.  Resign and declare your differences.

But that’s not what this writer was telling us.  He or she was saying that there’s a crazy person at the controls, and that some non-crazy people are staying in the cockpit to try keep him from flying the plane into a mountain.  This is about fundamental fitness for office.  25th Amendment stuff.  Lack of sanity.

This is not how our government is supposed to work, but we should be glad it’s working that way right now.  Because there is a psychopath in the White House.

It doesn’t matter whether he’s clothed in the garb of a conservative or a liberal or a populist or, for that matter, a Druid.  What matters is that he’s a psychopath.

One more time, get used to it: He’s a psychopath.

We all know he is, so let’s stop pretending he’s not.  Duck or spade, let’s name it.  It won’t make things worse, it will save us a bunch of time and energy, and it might even help keep us from doing this again.

Second Chances – Part II

In response to my post a few days ago about the general misunderstanding of Second Amendment, I was steered to this CNN story, that simply presents the text exchange between two sisters, one of whom was trapped in the high school.

Please take a moment to read it.  If it doesn’t move you to tears and anger, well. . .

My friend Jack Altschuler also steered me to a dissenting opinion on a Second Amendment case written by Justice John Paul Stevens in 2008.

The salient paragraph reads:

“The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.”

You can read the entire opinion here:

It’s a slog, but I recommend reading it.  In case you don’t, here are the headlines:

  • The Second Amendment was intended specifically to give you the right, and almost the duty, to keep a musket in your house in case you were called upon to join your state’s official militia, which is how they envisioned the new nation defending itself, and the states defending themselves.
  • The Framers considered and rejected proposals to make that right broader, but chose to limit it to possession of weapons for military use.
  • It was intended only to limit the Federal government, and was not intended to prevent the states from passing whatever laws they saw fit regarding the possession and use of weapons for non-military purposes (which a few states did, mostly by sanctioning the possession of weapons for hunting and self-defense).

Again, the notion that the Second Amendment is in any way about you having the right to own any firearms you want in order to protect your fierce American independence is a myth.

What we’re really dealing with is not an unlimited right, but bad grammar.  Bad on you, James Madison. (Yes, he wrote the damned thing.  Think “D-; see me in my office.”)

Now, a little common sense about this.

I once heard the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom I’m citing here because he was as conservative a judge as we’ll ever see, say that we should reserve our effort to interpret the Constitution to cover things the Founders didn’t know about, and on which they could therefore not express direct views.

Here’s a partial list of things they didn’t know about:

  • A standing army that has existed for 200 years
  • The institutionalization of state militias in the form of the National Guard
  • The operation of those militias in complete cooperation with, rather than in opposition to, the aforementioned standing army.
  • Bullets (they only knew musket balls)
  • Cartridges (projectile and gunpowder in a single casing)
  • Breech-loading weapons
  • Weapons that could be fired at a rate faster than once every 20-30 seconds
  • AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons
  • 30-round magazines
  • Tanks
  • Missiles
  • Nuclear weapons

A strict interpretation of the back half of the Second Amendment (the front half is where all the confusion exists) would permit individuals to own all of those things because they’re all “arms.”

It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this isn’t what the Founders had in mind.  They certainly didn’t have in mind dozens of dead children on the floors of our schools.

Repeal of the Second Amendment is a pipe dream. I know that. But I would rather see us spend our time on that than on arguments over exactly what it does and doesn’t allow.  That would free us up to apply common-sense restrictions to gun ownership that would couple entitlement with responsibility.

I would also like to see an insurrection against our real oppressor, which is the NRA.

This is not some noble organization that defends a precious American right.  As described above and in my last post, that “right” is a myth.

The NRA spends around $70 million per election cycle to ensure that we will continue to have dead children on the floors of our schools, on the floors of concert venues, in churches, and elsewhere.  Plain and simple, that’s what it does.

Very little of that money takes the form of actual campaign contributions.  It’s mostly spent directly on ads supporting or, mostly, opposing candidates based on their spinelessness.  That form of spending is largely unaccountable.  Try Googling “how does the NRA spend its money” and see how little of the $70 million you can account for.

If you know how to make the hashtag #NRAmeansdeadchildren go viral, please let me know.  I’m serious about that.

There is a bright spot in all of this.  I’m delighted to see that brave students who survived the Parkland shooting are banding together to organize a nationwide student protest to start making NRA-backed members of the House and Senate face the music.

They picked March 24 in order to eliminate any “now’s not the time” objection.  They are wonderfully, stunningly informed and articulate.  And they have a moral compass of which our elected leaders are sadly devoid.

They are also credible in a way that no one like me will ever be.  I fervently hope that this will start a long-overdue grassroots movement, and bring about a change in the national consciousness.

Perhaps they will be able to accomplish what I wish I could and almost certainly can’t.

Second Chances

I’m a little tired of this.  I’m guessing you are, too.

We’re living in very strange times.  I’ll have more to say about that – from a big picture perspective – soon.  But for now, let’s stay focused.

There have been eight school shootings so far in 2018.  Taking out weekends, when they don’t happen, that’s one every four days, or more than one a week.  They’ve become so routine that you probably don’t know about any of them other than the one in Florida this week.  I certainly don’t.

What’s wrong with us that we allow this to go on?

After the Las Vegas massacre (Remember that? It’s rapidly fading?), the disgraced and disgraceful Bill O’Reilly said, “That’s the price of freedom.”

He couldn’t have been more wrong. Or more ignorant.

It’s a sound, solid, conservative principle that when the need for a law or government program goes away, the law or program should go away, too.

Stay with me. And please know that everything that follows can be validated with very simple Google searches.  Like “Why do we have a Second Amendment.”

The notion that the Second Amendment exists in order to allow fiercely independent Americans to protect themselves and their property from marauders and from the risk of government oppression is a myth.  It has far more to do with John Ford westerns than with anything the Founders said.

The fact (which is a stubborn thing, according to Founder John Adams) is that the Founders put the Second Amendment into the Constitution because they didn’t want to create a standing army.  That’s why the amendment starts with the language about a “well-regulated public militia.”  And it’s why they disbanded the Continental Army immediately upon the end of the Revolutionary War.

What were they afraid of?  They were afraid that a standing Federal army might threaten or overwhelm the states.  (Remember, the word “state” actually means “country,” as in “Department of State.”  The United States was initially a federation of 13 separate countries.)

They were also afraid that a standing Federal army might threaten the Federal government, itself.

So they decided that if armies were needed, they would rather that let the states raise them on the spot through militias.  You kept your musket at home, and if Virginia or Massachusetts called, you came.

In short, the Founders did not put create the Second Amendment in order to protect the people from an oppressive government.  They created it to protect the government from what they feared would be an oppressive army.

Well, the standing army that was disbanded after the Revolutionary War was re-established in the War of 1812, and we’ve had one ever since.  We’ve had a very large standing army since WWI, and a really, really large standing army since WWII.

In other words, that train left the station a long, long time ago.  So long ago that it wasn’t even a train.  It was a horse leaving a barn.

Here’s what the idiocracy of the O’Reillys don’t understand.

The foundation of American liberty is the notion that your right to swing your arm ends at my nose.  Before there was a Bill of Rights, there was a statement of three “inalienable” rights with which we are all endowed.  The first of those is Life.  Notice that they put Life before Liberty.  Why? Perhaps because liberty without life is a non sequitur.

17 people, most of them children, were permanently deprived of their right to life this week.  In October, 58 people in Las Vegas were similarly deprived.  Only 5 weeks after that, 26 people were deprived of their right to life in a church in Texas.  The list goes on and on.

If you consider all shootings in which four or more people wounded or dead, they happen in this country at the rate of nearly one a day.

This – and I’m not going out on a limb here – is crazy.  As The Onion famously said (sadly, four years ago), “‘No Way To Prevent This’ Says Only Country Where This Happens.”

We all know why it happens.  Gun manufacturers fund the NRA, and the NRA uses that money to threaten Congressmen/women and Senators if there’s even a whiff of gun control.  None of this is a secret.  It’s not about liberty at all.  It’s about money, manipulation and tragedy.

This is a solvable problem.  We don’t have the will to solve it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t solvable.  Here’s a formulation that would work:

First, repeal the Second Amendment.  Yup.  S*!#-can it.  Like I said, conservatism calls for the repeal of laws that have outlived their original purpose.  This one is 200 years obsolete.

Second, change our mindset from one of “You have a right to own a gun unless we can find (without looking very hard) an overwhelming reason why you shouldn’t” to one of “In order to buy a gun, you have to prove that you can own it responsibly.”

We could enforce that mindset by requiring three things of anyone who wants to own a gun:

  • Before you can buy a gun, you have to pass the same background check required to obtain a Top Secret security clearance. (Don’t be alarmed.  Top Secret is only the second rung on the security clearance ladder.)  And you have to pay the actual cost of that investigation.
  • Before you purchase, and every year thereafter, you have to obtain a certification from a licensed mental health professional that you are of sufficiently sound mind to own a firearm. No mental health professional who is a gun owner him- or herself will be allowed to provide such certifications.  You have to pay for that evaluation.
  • Just like you do with your car, you have to maintain liability insurance in case your gun is used (by you or anyone else) to do harm to other persons or property. Not only would this create a whole new insurance market, which would be good for the economy, it would actually price the risk of gun ownership.  Of course, you have to pay for that insurance.

That would do it.

We could also simply outlaw weapons capable of rapid firing, which is what the Australians did in 1996.  They did this after a single mass shooting incident because they couldn’t imagine not taking action.  And a bunch of fiercely proud, independent Australians were patriotic enough, and other-oriented enough, that they turned in their guns.  Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting incident since.  Meanwhile, we have one a day.  Again, facts are stubborn things.

We have a second chance to get this right.  The 535 invertebrates who represent us in Washington won’t do it unless we collectively make it clear to them that we’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore.  We probably won’t because collectively we are more persuaded by tv ads and the Bill O’Reillys of the world than by reason and fact.

But we should.

And we should remember that this week there are 14 more children who won’t get a second chance.  And those are just the ones we know about.

A Drop of Hypocrisy

Back in the old days, I used to watch the Today Show a lot.  You will never catch me admitting that I did this because I was a big Deborah Norville fan.  But that’s a story for a different day.

Today’s story is that I remember them having someone from the ACLU on to argue for a museum’s right to display artwork that many people found patently offensive, and just a few days later having someone else from the ACLU on to argue for something – I don’t remember exactly what – that required them to take exactly the opposite position.

It struck me as strange enough that I actually called the Today Show, got a producer on the phone, described what I’d seen and said, “I think it would be really interesting if you got a senior ACLU official on the show and asked them to explain how they could take such diametrically opposed positions only two or three days apart. I’m not anti-ACLU at all, but it seems like there’s at least a drop of hypocrisy in there somewhere.”

The producer agreed it was a good idea.  Alas, it never happened.

But that thought came back to me this morning as I was listening to the news coverage of the Anthem Antics at many of yesterday’s NFL games.

A significant chunk of the American people seems to believe that the First Amendment guarantee of free speech is a wonderful thing as long as the speakers are white and speaking about what they see as “preserving important aspects of American culture,” but that can and should go right out the window when the speakers are black and speaking about preserving something else they see as important – namely the right not to be shot in the back by the police.

Sadly, it goes without saying that the beacon for these conflicting views is the current occupant of the White House, who told us that in August that many of the pro-statue demonstrators in Charlottesville were “good people,” and said last Friday that NFL players who choose to kneel during the anthem are reprobates who should be fired.

Seems like there’s at least a drop of hypocrisy in there, doesn’t it?

Now comes the hard part.  It’s easy to point the finger at the current occupant of the White House because he’s, well, a moron.  But 60 million Americans voted for him.  Once again, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Confronting a Would-Be Tyrant

Years ago, I heard Mel Brooks being interviewed.  He was asked how he, in general but especially as a Jew, justified wrapping The Producers around a faux-musical called Springtime for Hitler.

His answer stuck with me.  As best I recall, he said that one of the best ways to deal with  would-be tyrants is to laugh at them because it just deflates them.

Obviously, he was a little late, as was Charlie Chaplin with The Great Dictator.  But maybe we can learn a lesson.

In that spirit, here’s what’s been going through my head over the past 3 weeks:

I think the Republic is strong enough to survive four years of this.  During that time, the best thing to do may just be to laugh at the news, and then go back to trying to preserve a great nation and build an even better one.

Pass it on.

Still Trumped Up

In the week since my last post, I’ve received a surprising number of emails (by surprising, I mean three) from people saying that while they agree with my assessment of Trump, they just can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary.

The arguments have ranged from “What’s wrong with a protest vote for Gary Johnson?” to “I want to send a message to the Libertarian Party that they could be a legitimate contender if they put up candidates better than Gary Johnson, like maybe Bill Weld” to “I just can’t bring myself to vote for someone who should be in jail.”

Let me check. . .yup, that’s three.

My responses:

  • Protest vote: I get it. In fact, I cast one in 1992.  But that was a year in which neither of the major party candidates was a nut-job who posed an existential threat to the Republic.  When there is a lunatic in the race, and this year there is, the protest vote has to wait.  Job #1 is to make sure the lunatic doesn’t get elected.


  • Send a message to the Libertarians:   This is a great idea.  And here’s a way to do it without contributing to the election of a nut-job.  Just copy the following text into a letter: “Dear Libertarian Party – I would like you to know that I think you could be a serious contender, but only if you nominate better candidates than Gary Johnson.  Like maybe Bill Weld.”  Print it, sign it and mail it to:


  • Belongs in jail: First, in fairness, that should be “might belong in jail.”  Innocent until proven guilty, blah, blah, blah.

That said, I get it. Here’s how deep my desire not to vote for Hillary runs.  In 2008, living in the most Republican county in Illinois, I pulled a Democratic primary ballot, which meant throwing away the rest of my votes, and voted for Obama because I believed it was the only chance I would ever have to vote against her.

Her judgment has often been weak (see my post on the email server here).  Her ethics are fuzzy at best.  Colin Powell uses the words “greed” and “hubris” to describe her.  Remember – hubris doesn’t mean arrogant.   It means “thinks the rules don’t apply to you.”  That’s her (and Bill) in a nutshell.


All of that is true.  But the choices we have are the choices we have, and like it or not, here they are:

  • A career politician with questionable judgment and fuzzy ethics who might actually belong in jail.


  • A guy who belongs in an asylum. By “asylum,” I do not mean “what you apply for after you finally make it across the Rio Grande because the gringos haven’t built that wall yet.”  I mean the loony bin.  If you really don’t think Donald Trump is a nut-job, please go back and read the links in my last post.  We’re talking about a man who by all appearances is an ADD-addled narcissistic sociopath with a significant brain defect.  A man who has absolutely no interest in facts.  A man who lies like a bearskin rug and actually seems not to know he’s lying. A man who is either a sexual predator or is so insecure that at age 60 he felt the need to curry the approval of a 32-year-old entertainment reporter (take your pick, it has to be one of the other).  A man who is unnerved and provoked into response by the slightest insult (imagine if the provocations came from the Iranians, or for that matter the French, and the tools of response involved the United States military instead of a smartphone and a Twitter account).  A 70-year old who behaves like a six-year-old – whose pattern of behavior will be recognized by anyone who ever encountered a bully on an elementary school playground.  Oh, and let’s not forget the long-distance love affair with Vladimir Putin, who is currently running a close second to Kim Jong Un for Most Dangerous Man on Earth.


  • A dope-smoking crackpot whose knowledge of world geography ends at Santa Fe, and whose soul seems to be stuck permanently at a Doors concert.


  • Jill Stein


I don’t like that list of choices any more than you do.  But everything in life is relative, and that’s what we’ve got.  Given those options, “belongs in jail” starts to look pretty good, doesn’t it?

It’s going to be OK.  Really.  Here’s all you need:


Trust me on this.  I tried it on Friday and I’m still here.

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