Category Archives: Politics

The Trumpian Power Scramble

The Trumpian Power Scramble is a high-fat, low protein breakfast that leaves you feeling full of yourself. Consume at your own risk.

The precise origin and attribution of “. . . absolute power corrupts absolutely” is unclear. The quote may have originated with Lord Acton. However, the idea that power corrupts is a robust concept with long and old roots, including a fascinating poem from Muzahidul Reza of Bangladesh about a saint and a rat.

Knowledge is ever-evolving. The concept that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” needs updating. Instead of absolute power corrupting absolutely, I’m proposing: Fantasies of absolute power corrupt absolutely.

No one has absolute power—except perhaps for fleeting moments when megalomaniacs are actively squishing the perceived bugs beneath their shoes. But people can easily imagine absolute power—or at least increased power. When it comes to corruption, the biggest problem involves power fantasies, not reality.

The thought, image, fantasy, belief, or cognition of absolute power is what moves people toward corruption and solipsistic self-interest. For example, the power-based belief, “I’m the f-ing President” might even inspire someone to reach for the neck of a secret service agent. It’s possible.

With the January 6 hearings happening, we’re learning a lot about power, corruption, and fantasies of absolute power. Trump is our prototype. He didn’t have absolute power, but he imagined himself with absolute power. . . and we know what he would have let happen to Mike Pence had he owned such power.

Checks, balances, and honor in governance are beautiful things for countering corruption. As I write this, I think of Liz Cheney, her January 6 testimony, and her words, “there will come a day when Donald Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.” Although I detest most of Ms. Cheney’s political positions, I am in awe of her steadfast conviction to calling out deeply corrupt power.  

What surprises me most is that so many media outlets are acting surprised at Trump’s pathological efforts to remain president. His behaviors were very predictable . . . and until enough republicans or judges or people on the street hold him accountable, he will continue to coerce—directly or indirectly—people into dancing to his absolute power fantasies.

The driving force behind Trump’s behavior is relatively straightforward. I wrote about it in Slate Magazine back on August 30, 2018. Trump is a particularly talented man who also happens to have a particularly disturbing personality. My article, titled, “Trump Will Never Give Up” describes behaviors linked to his personality. Below, I’ve included several excerpts from that 2018 article, because these statements still fit better than anything else I’ve seen.

Also, I apologize for this redundancy. But sometimes to understand what’s happening, we need to hear it again and again and again.

Trump’s personality is what the renowned psychologist, Theodore Millon, called “The Aggrandizing-Devious-Antisocial Personality.” This personality is commonly referred to as “Antisocial Personality” but when it occurs in a person with Trump’s talents and wealth, just calling it antisocial personality doesn’t suffice. So, let’s use the whole phrase: The Aggrandizing-Devious-Antisocial Personality.

Excerpts from the August 2018 article follow:

Millon summarized these personalities as “driven by a need to . . . achieve superiority.” They act “to counter expectation of derogation and disloyalty at the hands of others,” and do this by “actively engaging in clever, duplicitous, or illegal behaviors in which they seek to exploit others for self-gain.” Sound familiar?

Blaming Others for Shirked Obligations. Antisocial personalities “frequently fail to meet or intentionally negate obligations of a marital, parental, employment, or financial nature.” When negative outcomes arise, Trump will be inclined to blame external forces or subordinates. This is the equivalent of a personal philosophy in direct opposition to President Harry Truman’s, “The buck stops here.” Holding Trump responsible for his behaviors has been, is, and will be extremely challenging.

Pathological Lying. Millon wrote, “Untroubled by guilt and loyalty, they develop a talent for pathological lying. Unconstrained by honesty and truth, they weave impressive talks of competency and reliability. Many . . . become skillful swindlers and imposters.”

Declarations of Innocence. During times of trouble, antisocial personality types employ an innocence strategy. “When . . . caught in obvious and repeated lies and dishonesties, many will affect an air of total innocence, claiming without a trace of shame that they have been unfairly accused.”

Empathy Deficits. Antisocial personalities are devoid of empathy and compassion. Millon called this “A wide-ranging deficit in social charitability, in human compassion, and in personal remorse and sensitivity.” He added that “many have a seeming disdain for human compassion.” Going forward, Trump’s efforts to display empathy or sustain charitable behaviors will sound and feel much less genuine than his glowing statements about himself or his aggressive attacks on his detractors.

Counterattacks. Millon noted that antisocial personalities are hyper-alert to criticism. He “sees himself as the victim, an indignant bystander subjected to unjust persecution and hostility” feeling “free to counterattack and gain restitution and vindication.” For Trump, the urge to counterattack appears irresistible. He often uses a favorite attack or counterattack strategy among antisocials—projecting their own malicious ideas and behaviors onto others through name-calling and accusations of illegal (or crooked) behavior. Trump’s pattern of lashing out at others will only continue to escalate.

Moral Emptiness. Antisocial personalities have no ethical or moral compass. As Millon described, they “are contemptuous of conventional ethics and values” and “right and wrong are irrelevant abstractions.” Antisocials may feign religiosity—when it suits their purpose. But the moral litmus test will always involve whether they stand to gain from a particular behavior, policy, or government action.

Clinicians have observed that some individuals with antisocial personalities burn out. Over time, negative family and legal consequences take a toll, prompting antisocials to conform to social and legal expectations. However, as in Trump’s case, when antisocial personalities wield power, burning out is unlikely. Power provides leverage to evade personal responsibility for financial maleficence and sexual indiscretions. Antisocial personalities who have the upper hand will increase their reckless, impulsive, and self-aggrandizing behaviors in an effort to extend their ever-expanding need for power and control. 

Because antisocial personalities don’t change on their own and don’t respond well to interventions, containment is the default management strategy. Without firm, unwavering limits, deception, law-breaking, greed, manipulation, and malevolent behaviors will increase. An antisocial person in a position to self-pardon or self-regulate is a recipe for disaster. Containment must be forceful and uncompromising, because if an antisocial personality locates a crack or loophole, he will exploit it. Staff interventions, comprehensive law enforcement, and judicial systems that mandate accountability must be in place.

**********************

The January 6 hearings are only one piece in the puzzle of pressure needed to keep Trump and his Aggrandizing-Devious-Antisocial Personality at bay. Now is the time when many of his followers are scrambling to gain power or safety. We need wide-ranging consequences for Trump, as well as his power scrambling minions and wannabes. Trump’s existence and success have emboldened many, arousing power fantasies around the world—especially among others who resonate with his vengeful victim identity.

Remember, it’s not just that real power corrupts, it’s also the power fantasies, because they fester up from underlying insecurity and push otherwise relatively powerless people to engage in power grabs and horrific acts.  

This is why the rule of law and consequences for breaking the rule of law are essential. We need to push back megalomania fantasies with reality. Trump, others with antisocial personality tendencies, and his followers need firm consequences for their illegal behaviors. Let’s hope the January 6th committee hearings inspire the Department of Justice toward action, consequences, and justice. If not, insurrection behaviors in Trump and others will only escalate.

What To Do About Bad News? Organize, Sublimate, and Repeat

This week, like last week, is saturated with bad news. As if racism, the pandemic, Ukraine, Buffalo, and Uvalde weren’t bad enough, this week we have the Supreme Court ruling on cases in stark opposition to public opinion.

When bad news strikes—especially bad news that feels beyond our control—it’s easy to feel helpless and hopeless. In response to my own helplessness (which feels even worse because I just tested positive for COVID-ugh), I’m reminded of Joe Hill’s old motto and song, “Don’t mourn. Organize!” To that, I’ll add that we should use the best of all the psychoanalytic defense mechanisms (sublimation) and channel our anger into constructive activities.

One lesson from politics over the past 30 years is: “Stay on message, repeat the message, and say it again and again until the message becomes truth.” Some of us have been reluctant to do this because we already have a good case and so why should we say it again? Besides, there are so many issues to address, it seems important to move on. . . which is why I’ve decided to linger a bit with my Superintendent message before I move on to firearms and private healthcare decisions.

Thanks for all the comments on and support for last week’s Missoulian Op-Ed piece on how our current Montana State Superintendent of Schools is a clear and present danger to Montana schoolchildren. Most of the feedback I received was positive, including many references to my phrase describing Superintendent Arntzen as having “Voldemortian-level malevolence.” Among other outcomes, this phrasing caused a pronunciation debate. Is it pronounced “Vold-uh-mort-ee-an” or “Volduh-morshan?” Although I prefer the former, I can see the case for the latter. Either way, I’m happy to report that if you Google Arntzen and Voldemortian-level malevolence you can find the article.

One person commenting on the Missoulian website suggested I should be put on the next list of the 101 most dangerous academics. If speaking up for children and school counselors makes me dangerous, count me in.

The big question about Superintendent Arntzen, firearms, private healthcare decisions and other world events is: What to do? Coming up with constructive activities for channeling our anger is difficult. The good news is that some responses to the Op-Ed included great recommendations for next steps, and so I’m posting them here. I’m leaving the names off, but if you read your content, feel free to claim it.

One reader wrote:

There are 2 Interim [Legislative] Committees that have meetings this summer & fall, and would respond to public outcry on this, especially from districts of Committee members. Dan Salomon (R) is on Education, from Ronan, and has been good on mental health, Medicaid expansion; worth talking to him directly about how to bring pressure. Education met today, June 14 (nothing like this on their agenda), will meet again Sept. 12-13. Children, Families, Health & Human Services is meeting twice this month, again in August, another good pressure point. Danny Tennebaum from Missoula is on it.

If anyone reading this has other ideas on how to advocate for School Counselors and Librarians and push back against Arntzen’s recommendations, please let me (us) know.

To close, another Op-Ed reader shared the following with me as an example of the Superintendent’s incoherence.

This is the Montana State Superintendent of Schools speaking at a federal meeting on school safety:

It is not so much what’s inside the plan because we are very unique. But to say that the plan needs to be revitalized every year. And then, it is not housed at the state level. It is housed within them. So it is their responsibility. Again, I come back to liability, responsibility flowing together. But in Montana, it is a belief. It’s very important for teachers as well. They are in the buildings. This is their livelihood. This is something that their children, their charges, regardless of what age of student that they have within their classrooms. Professional development on mental health is extremely important. We have Montana Hope as an initiative where we are working within the capacity that we have in very rural Montana who do not have social workers, who do not have counselors, psychologists at all, trying to employ something that a classroom teacher might be able to recognize. So to recognize what is happening in schools right now is very important to allow education to flow. Hardening buildings is a topic in Montana. But making sure that we have a quality teacher there that understands the capacity that they can, wherever they are located in Montana, is extremely important. Anything that we can do to instill that that teacher holds that child at that moment of wherever that child is, whatever that child comes into that school with or into that classroom with, to recognize that I think is extremely important. That’s where education is. We’re not growing children like we used to in Montana. They’re very precious resources to us. Professional development.

This is not the voice we want heading up OPI.

Why I Wrote Another Op-Ed Piece on State Superintendent of Schools Elsie Arntzen

Tomorrow morning (6/15/22) I’ll have an Opinion piece published in the Missoulian, and possibly statewide in Lee Newspapers. The piece is extremely critical of the Montana Superintendent of Public Schools, Elsie Arntzen.

Update: Here’s the link to the article: https://missoulian.com/opinion/columnists/john-sommers-flanagan-a-clear-and-present-danger/article_9018bcfa-7277-548c-a218-436b52cabb7e.html

I don’t like being publicly critical of anyone, so I thought I should clarify why I’m criticizing the Superintendent.

Recently, Superintendent Arntzen recommended eliminating school counselor “ratios” in Montana public schools. Montana state statute currently requires that schools employ one school counselor for every 400 students. If you know the work of school counselors, you know that facilitating the academic, career, and personal and social development for 400 students is no easy task. Nationally, the recommendation is for a 250 to 1 ratio.

In the midst of the worst youth mental health crisis ever, the Superintendent is recommending fewer requirements for school counselors in public schools.

As someone who has been involved in the training of school counselors in Montana since 1993, I can say without reservation that people who dedicate their lives to being school counselors are some of the best people in Montana. They’re smart, compassionate, dedicated to improving children’s lives, and support the academic success of all students. They’re also, along with school psychologists, the most informed and capable school mental health professionals in schools. School counselors are masters level professionals with extensive training in how to support children’s mental health.  

If you support school counselors, I hope you’ll go online, find my opinion piece and share it widely . . . especially if you live or work in Montana. I’ll post the link tomorrow. We need to push back against the Superintendent’s efforts to devalue children’s mental health and potentially reduce their access to school counselors.

Thanks for joining me in the effort to maintain school counselors in schools and to support the mental health and well-being of school counselors.

Let’s Go Rita!

This morning, being behind not only on my grading, course planning, writing, and housecleaning, I also found myself behind on current events. As a consequence, I was forced (not literally, of course) to do an internet search to understand the meaning of the “Let’s go Brandon” catchphrase or meme or whatever we’re calling such things in our contemporary and ever-changing vernacular.

What I found was—on its face—disturbing. After having won his first NASCAR event, a man named Brandon is being interviewed by an NBC reporter. He looks so young, so happy, and so excited to talk about his first victory. In the background, there is chanting. Although not PERFECTLY clear, if you listen closely and look at the video clip, some in the crowd are shouting, “Fuck Joe Biden.” The reporter, in an effort to weave the chanting into her interview, explicitly interprets the chanting as “Let’s go Brandon!”

At a deeper level, the chants, their interpretation, their re-interpretation, and their current use as a method for mocking and insulting President Biden, represent a deep, sad, and pathetic powerlessness. We all feel it. We all want to shout out our own beliefs, because, of course, we think our own beliefs are the best beliefs and the right beliefs and the beliefs that should be heard above the roar of the crowd.

What saddens me the most is that it also represents not only the deep divisions in our country (and the world), but that it has become viral fodder for confirmation bias and spinning. People see whatever they’re inclined to see in the chant. Is it evidence of fake news or disrespect for the presidency? Have we caught the press intentionally remaking reality or have we caught Trump supporters in their anti-patriotic hypocrisy? The facts don’t matter much anymore. Polarizing is the thing. Sloganizing is the thing. It’s not so much about what unites us; it’s about what divides us.

Like many, I feel a paradox. I care about the deep divisions. I wish I could bridge them. At the same time, I don’t care for people stoking deep divisions. I wish to ignore them.

All this brings me to something that I unequivocally and unapologetically wish would go viral . . . instead of the popular outrage and mockery.

After discovering and lamenting the Let’s Go Brandon mockery, I read Rita Sommers-Flanagan’s Sunday morning blog post. Hers are the messages I wish would catch fire on the internet.

She wrote:

“God,” I whisper, awake and facing morning, “You know I’d like to extend my reach; do things that make me feel important and complete. I’d like to turn the tide of hate into an ocean of love. I’d like to make the fear go away.”

This is the call for unity, love, and peace that SHOULD be in my newsfeed.

Here’s another line: “I am of your doing, and you of mine.” Just spectacular.

Rita’s blog is titled, “Short visits with an honest God.” Should you be interested in deeper unity, here’s the link to her blog: https://godcomesby.com/ . . .

And here’s the link to this morning’s post: https://godcomesby.com/2021/11/14/the-long-gray-bird/?fbclid=IwAR1kYlUDhLOUdj0lV-9001MnEIeK3XCsCd-FjkAmlZinBTMp7z1lq0NkEyw

Who’s Afraid of a Little CRT?

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been in the news lately, especially in Montana. As it turns out, several Montana public officials (you know who you are) appear frightened by CRT. Their response to the idea (not the reality) of CRT being taught anywhere or anytime is to try to ban it, as in make it illegal. It’s like a modern Montana-style prohibition (“Don’t you go out and get caught with a bottle of CRT or we’ll be taking you on down to see the sheriff!”).

All jokes aside (well, not all), I have a couple brief comments and a question.

I’m struck that, in the 21st century, anyone is using the old tried and failed strategies of banning ideas and burning books. Alcohol prohibition seemed rather unsuccessful. . . and we don’t need to know what happened with Romeo and Juliet to understand that, that which is forbidden, takes on a certain sex appeal.

My other main thought is that, just in case anyone was sleeping through science class, Critical Race Theory is a . . . (wait for it) . . . a theory! As with all theories, it’s not a perfect explanation of anything. It’s a working model, a set of ideas, with maybe a few scientific hypotheses. The right response to CRT isn’t to outlaw it—because if CRT is outlawed, then only outlaws will understand CRT. Instead, CRT is great food for thought, discussion, and public and private discourse. Rather than make it illegal, we should be discussing, evaluating, and critiquing its usefulness and validity, rather than acting like studying the presence of systemic racism in American history is blasphemy. If you contemplate the issue, the answer is “Yes, of course” there has been, from the beginning, systemic racism in the U.S. (think Columbus, slavery, Indian Boarding Schools, etc.). However, the fact that systemic racism is an historic and contemporary reality doesn’t make every jot and tittle of CRT true; but certainly it suggests we take it seriously. If not, we risk tempting our children with forbidden fruit or teaching them to be afraid of new ways of thinking. Either way, banning or illegalizing or running like scared rabbits away from CRT does a disservice to our state, our country, and our children.  

My question is whether I should write an Op-Ed piece on this topic. If you think so, let me know. If you think not, tell me I should let it go.

100 Days: What Happens Next?

Elephants

For many, watching a sweaty Donald Trump give himself high praise for being able to pass a cognitive test that awards points for accurately identifying a picture of an elephant is oddly reassuring. Liberals, #NeverTrumpers, and other hopeful humans have had difficulty covering their glee. Mocking Trump’s person-woman-man-camera-TV buffoonery and how it illustrates his diminished or diminishing mental capacity is gratifying.

Speaking of buffoonery—because it’s more pleasant than what I’ll speak of next—a former student of mine sent me his proposal for a new cognitive test. He calls it the Idaho Cognitive Assessment (IdCA). Here’s what he wrote:

Listen, I’ve been making up five item memory tests for myself lately, and I ace them every time. For example, I’ll list off the names of my three kids, Monica, and our dog, and when I try to remember them a minute later, it’s easy for me. It’s not easy for everyone, but it’s easy for me. I even give myself extra points if I get them in order.

The IdCA is a fabulous and perfect parallel to the Donald Trump Cognitive Assessment (DtCA).  Using his clever spontaneity, Trump made up the DtCA on the spot while being filmed by a person, a woman, a man, a camera, and a TV. Just for the record, although the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) isn’t especially difficult, it’s harder than the IdCA and the DtCA. But because Trump lies about everything we still don’t really know if could identify an elephant, remember five items, or pass the MoCA.

What I wish (and, I suspect, many others) is that Donald Trump was only a sweaty buffoon making a comedic cameo on Fox News. But, sadly, he’s more than a sweaty buffoon; he’s a dangerous sweaty buffoon, serial liar, and incompetent leader who’s putting the future of the United States and planet Earth at risk. What I fear is that while gloating over his buffoonery, we’ll forget that Trump is also an evil genius.

Trump is a once-in-a-century antisocial demagogue. If you don’t know what that means, check out my Slate article or this blog post: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2018/11/05/my-closing-argument-take-a-breath-check-your-moral-compass-and-vote-for-checks-and-balances-in-government/.

Trump has a particularly unsavory personality type. Documentation of this personality type goes back to Aristotle’s student, Theophrastus (371 – 287 B.C.), who wrote:

The Unscrupulous Man will go and borrow more money from a creditor he has never paid . . . . When marketing he reminds the butcher of some service he has rendered him and, standing near the scales, throws in some meat, if he can, and a soup-bone. If he succeeds, so much the better; if not, he will snatch a piece of tripe and go off laughing (from Widiger, Corbitt, & Millon, p. 63).

About 2000 years later, the famous American physician, Benjamin Rush, picked up on Theophrastus’s theme, becoming intrigued with what was briefly called moral insanity. In cases of moral insanity, individuals are capable of clear and lucid thought, but repeatedly engage in irresponsible, immoral, and destructive behaviors without experiencing guilt or shameless. These shameless criminals act boldly, but without moral compass, believing that only they could possibly divine the true and correct way forward. In an apt description of Trump’s everyday behavior, Rush wrote: “Persons thus diseased cannot speak the truth upon any subject” (1812, p. 124).

Although predicting the future is always inexact, Trump’s personality type provides a reasonable foundation. That being the case, my personality-based predictions for Trump’s future behaviors are below—along with ways in which we, as U.S. citizens interested in the continuation of a democratic republic—can respond.

  1. Trump will tell more and bigger lies. As threats to his presidency and risks of defeat loom, Trump’s lies will grow in size and frequency. The good news is that Trump’s lies will grow more obvious, and hopefully the American public and media can leverage them to further grow opposition.
  2. Trump will continue to show poor judgment, principally because he’s the only one who living in his personal decision-making echo chamber. Trump’s logic and gut are impaired. His decisions will continue to often be wrong and dangerous. The good news about Trump’s poor judgment is that if the media can pounce on his upcoming egregiously bad decisions, the public may continue to grow in their distrust of him.
  3. Trump will deflect responsibility. Trump’s moral philosophy includes complete opposition to taking responsibility for mistakes. This pattern will continue. As in the past, he’ll blame others (e.g., Obama, Biden, Clinton) for things they’ve never done. In many cases, his deflecting responsibility will include abject projection (Crooked Hillary was clearly a projection by Crooked Donald). Trump’s tendency to project his own criminal behavior onto others can provide leads to what he’s doing. Also, and this is critical, EVERYTHING Trump does needs to be framed as the responsibility of every individual member of the GOP, until and unless they split from him.
  4. To compensate for his slagging physical and intellectual abilities, Trump will become increasingly desperate to look strong. The bad news is that Trump posturing may translate into more tear gas, more fomenting of foreign conflict, and more steps toward martial law. The good news is that he cannot stop himself from looking and acting pathetic . . . and as organizations like the Lincoln Project target Trump’s weakness and pathetic efforts to appear competent, they’re proving their exceptional media savvy.
  5. Trump will stoke division and inflame hatred. This is a common Trumpian strategy. The good news is that many Americans are aware of this strategy and can compensate with unification. The other good news is that if polls continue downward, Trump won’t be able to resist stoking division within his own ranks.
  6. Trump will continue to seek profit and praise to assuage his battered ego. Again, the more desperate his follows this path, the more likely he is to make mistakes, and the more opportunities there are to catch him, red-handed, in criminal activity.
  7. Trump will continue in his role as influence-peddler in chief. Trump will use money, power, legal intimidation, and any leverage he can find to recruit and embolden followers. The details of how he accomplishes this and the psychological vulnerability of ForeverTrumpers is grist for another mill, but count on it to continue, and count on it to continue to seem completely irrational.

I know there’s nothing much new here. But the point is that now and into the future we need to maintain a planned and proactive attack on Trump’s competence, with unwavering focus on catching him and holding him accountable for the many lies, mistakes, and criminal activities he will be engaging in for the next 100 days. We know Trump is an immensely narcissistic compulsive liar who lacks basic self-awareness and seems unable to muster up empathy or compassion for anyone other than his loyal, criminal, and sycophantic followers—even when those followers happen to have deep links to pedophilia or the Russian mob. However, we also know that these traits were in place four years ago, and he was elected anyway. That’s why, right now, as we enter the home-stretch, we all need to be focused like a laser on deconstructing his genius while simultaneously, exposing his weaknesses, his criminal activities, and every manifestation of his pathetic buffoonery . . . as he makes his way down the slippery metaphoric ramp toward November 3, 2020.

Trump on Ramp

To Mask or Not to Mask: Making America Rational Again

Make America Rational Again

About 4 years ago, I made a MARA hat. MARA stands for “Make America Rational Again.” My hat was in honor of the late Albert Ellis, a famous psychologist who relentlessly advocated for rational thinking. Given that some folks are doubting Covid-19, while others are passionately accusing health officials of infringing on their God-given liberties, I’m thinking my MARA hat from the last presidential election is still in style.

Way back when I was a full-time therapist working mostly with teenagers, I developed a method for talking with my teen-clients about their freedoms. When they complained about their parents infringing on their rights—those damn parents were pronouncing unreasonable curfews, alcohol prohibitions, and other silly mandates—I’d say something like this:

“Really, you only have three choices. You can do whatever your parents think you should do. That’s option #1. Or, you can do the opposite of what your parents think you should do. That’s option #2. Those are easy options. You don’t even have to think.”

Hoping to pique the teen’s interest, I’d pause and to let my profound comments linger. Sometimes I got stony silence, or an eye-roll. But usually curiosity won out, and my client would ask:

“What’s the third choice?”

“The third choice is for you to make an independent decision. But that’s way harder. You probably don’t want to go there.”

Actually, most of my teenage clients DID want to go there. They wanted to learn, grow, develop, and become capable of effective decision-making. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case today. All too often, Americans are basing their decision-making on poor information. For example, when people are gathering the 411 on whether they should mask-up in public settings, to where do they turn? The rational choice would be medical professionals and virologists. But instead, people are turning to Facebook, Twitter, and even worse, Fox News, where misinformation from Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity is offered up with nary a shred of journalistic ethics or integrity (for a fun and fabulous SNL Parody with Kate McKinnon as Laura Ingraham, check out this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XezLiezWN0E).

A related question that’s especially pressing right now is this: “How should we respond to coronavirus deniers and rabid anti-maskers?” Speaking for myself, I’ve been struggling to find the right words. Saying what I’m thinking—which usually starts with “WTF!? Have you been listening to Tucker Carlson instead of Dr. Fauci?”—seems too offensive and unhelpful. Instead, I’m making a commitment to letting go of the outrage, putting my 2016 campaign hat back on, and making myself rational again. Instead of being angry, my plan is to retreat to rationality. I’ll say things like this: “Hey, I’m curious, have you read the latest article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled, “Observational study of hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients with Covid-19?” or, “What are your thoughts about the chilblain-like lesions doctors are finding on patients with Covid-19?” or “According to the CDC and Dr. Fauci and the American Medical Association, the cloth face coverings—although imperfect—statistically reduce the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus.”

I invite you to join me in gathering good data for our personal and social decision-making. Together, we can Make America Rational Again.

A Glorious Moment

Pumpkins at birth

One nice thing about having my own blog is I get to post whatever I want. Sometimes that means I suffer from my own bad judgment. But not today.

Today, I’m posting a link to a fresh, new article in Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. The article is titled, “Our False Promise of Justice.” Not only is this article timely and compelling; not only is it well-reasoned and compassionate; not only is it balanced and beautiful prose; it’s also written by Rylee Sommers-Flanagan, my youngest daughter, who happens to be an attorney, a graduate of Stanford Law School, and a pretty fantastic person. Okay, so now I’m just bragging.

Despite my bragging, the preceding information is all true. At least IMHO.

If you read it and like it, please do me the favor of sharing this article with your friends and on social media.

Here’s the link: https://democracyjournal.org/magazine/our-false-promise-of-justice/

 

2020 Dreams from My Mother

Mom in Chair

By most estimates, moms have had it rough this year. Day care centers are closed and moms are working from home; at the same time they’re homeschooling, keeping their children from watching porn on the internet, and sanitizing everything. And then there’s that former reality television star who perpetually gets himself in the news, rambling in front of cameras about treating the novel coronavirus with disinfectants in the body. In an optimal world, mothers would get celebrated way more than once a year. In a decent world, they’d be able to protect their children from exposure to Donald Trump.

Looking back 50 years or so, my own mother—she’s in a care facility now—was a mysteriously effective role model. She was more submissive than dominant, never hit me or raised her voice, didn’t directly boss anyone around, but indirectly gave my sisters and me VERY CLEAR guidance on what behaviors were expected in our home, and out in the world.

Rarely did my mother explicitly tell us how to behave. But once, when an African American family moved into our all-white neighborhood, she proactively, quietly, and firmly sat my sisters and me down and told us we would always treat them with respect. We did. When my mom got serious, we never questioned her authority.

One time, she was driving and a car squealed past us in a no-passing zone. She sighed, glanced over at me, and said, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever drive like that.” For the next 5 decades, including my teen years, my friends and family have ridiculed me for my slow, conservative driving. I watch my speedometer, stop at yellow lights, and slow down at uncontrolled intersections. My mother said it once, I remembered what she said, and I still don’t want to disappoint her.

Without a stern word, my mother taught us to love our neighbors (even when they were annoying), showed us how to treat everyone with kindness and respect (even when they didn’t deserve it), and modeled how we could be generous with our time and energy by focusing on the needs and interests of others.

Once, when the family was out watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a sex scene started. Immediately, my mom elbowed my dad, and I was ushered from the theater. My mom didn’t want me to see or hear things that might lead me down the wrong path. She would cover my eyes and ears (literally) to stop me from being exposed to negative influences.

All this leads me to wonder how my mother would handle the disastrous role-model-in-chief. Mr. Trump is a mother’s nightmare, spewing out perverted values on a daily basis.

My mother’s first strategy would be to not let me hear whatever terrible ideas Trump gets out of his brain and into his mouth. She would have blocked me from watching news pieces about Mr. Trump’s playboy models, paid off porn stars, shitholes, Pocahontas, pussy-grabbing, gold star families, and references to women as pigs.

As much as my mother would have hated Mr. Trump’s sexist and racist words, she would be even more apoplectic about his poor character. If we saw or heard Mr. Trump counterattacking his critics, she would have sat us down, and talked about how an eye for an eye will leave us all blind.

If my mother caught us reading Trump’s tweets, she would have gathered us around the kitchen table for a spelling lesson. She would explain, “there’s no such word as unpresidented,” the phrase “twitter massages” makes no sense, “smocking guns” is just wrong, “the Prince of Whales” is from Wales, and journalists cannot win the “Noble prize.” She would never allow us to utter the word covfefe in our house.

My mother would be deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s incessant lying. If she were parenting us right now, every day she’d find a way to show us how we should admit our mistakes, take personal responsibility, and resist the temptation to blame others. She would talk about truth-telling. She would explain that Mr. Trump being President is a tragic mistake and that we should all work very hard to make sure this tragic mistake ends, so this malevolent man cannot continue to abuse women, minorities, and the American people.

But, for parents like my mother, Mr. Trump offers small advantages. As a teaching device, horrendous role models work quite well. In the end, and with one sentence, my mother would steal away all of Trump’s past and future influence. She would say, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever act like that man.”

And we wouldn’t.