Detached from reality…

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. It wasn’t a fact blatantly obvious at the close of election day, but one that became rapidly inescapable as absentee or mail in ballot totals were added to in person vote totals over the next few days. Certainly, by Friday of that week, the trend – and outcome was clear. I knew it. You knew it. The media knew it. The political class knew it. The overwhelming majority of American people knew it. 

Hard as Trump and his people might spin tales of election fraud, the claims were not reflected by the evidence – a fact that court after court found as one ruling was handed down after another, while other, wilder claims were thrown out as having no merit on their face. It seems that everyone except Donald Trump and perhaps his inner core of true believers was well aware of the state of play.

Bill Barr, in his testimony before the select committee appointed to investigate the January 6th insurrection, asserted that when then President Trump went before the cameras claiming theft and fraud, “he was detached from reality.” Let that phrase sink in. That’s a man who has twice served as Attorney General of the United States observing that the guy we’ve entrusted with the nuclear launch codes was having a hard time telling reality from make believe. 

I’m increasingly convinced that on January 6th we stood a hairs breadth from an American chief executive, gotten high on his own supply, refusing to leave office. How close we came to overwhelming the creaking, 200+ year old Constitutional safeguards that have always been more than enough to guide better men who held the office, is absolutely horrifying to behold. 

 If seeing these facts and patterns of behavior laid out now, when not caught up in the heat of the moment, doesn’t give you even a moment’s pause, I don’t have any idea what would. We got incredibly lucky that the American system, under incredible and unprecedent pressure, worked. We’d be well served to never run it that close to the red line ever again, because I fear being delivered safely out the other side had a lot more to do with luck than skill. 

Some thoughts concerning the bipartisan framework on gun control…

It appears that the United States Senate, in a rare bit of bipartisan effort, has cobbled together a framework for new gun control laws. As one of those people who will be stuck complying with whatever goofy laws the state and federal government come up, I have some thoughts on the issue. I’ll try to get through them in some kind of logical order.

I think most people who know me will be a bit surprised as they get through (most of) the rundown:

  • Clarify who must register as a licensed firearms dealer. This feels like a bit of a no-brainer. Clarifying current regulations defining who’s “engaged in the business of selling firearms” should make it easier to understand exactly what that phrase means and who needs to be in compliance in order to conduct that business appropriately.
  • Enhanced penalties for straw purchases. If you knowingly and intentionally purchase a firearm with the intention of reselling or otherwise giving it to someone who is legally prohibited from owning one, you ought to have the book thrown at you. I have no idea what percentage of total sales are straw purchases, but each one of them is an insult to every one of us who jumps through all the hoops in order to stay in compliance.
  • Closing the “boyfriend loophole.” Makes sense. If you’ve been convicted of abuse against your domestic partner – whether married, living together, or in a “serious dating relationship” – your propensity to violence or poor decision making is documented and the state therefore has a vested interest in limiting your ability to escalate that violence.
  • Increased mental health funding. Sure. Is anyone out there really saying that we don’t need to improve access to mental health in this country? I’m not going to turn this post into a brief history of mental health failures over the last century, but getting past the idea that “they’re nuts and there’s nothing we can do about it” is probably a good idea.
  • Enhanced school security. This one feels like something of a red herring. School shootings and “mass shootings” as a whole grab the headlines, but they make up a vanishingly small portion of overall violence in which a perpetrator uses a firearm. I mean sure, more security for soft targets is fine, but you’ll get more bang for your buck in getting people who commit crimes using a firearm off the streets and keeping them there.
  • Enhanced background checks for buyers between 18 and 21. Personally, if we’re going to make gun owners a suspect class, I’d say go all the way back and make sure the review includes juvenile records as well. Walking in with a clean record on your 18th birthday shouldn’t count for more than being a little felon as a minor.

Of course, there’s one bit of this proposed framework, that I’ll be watching with intense interest: Expanding red flag laws.

In Maryland, our red flag law takes the form of the Extreme Risk Protection Order and allows a spouse, domestic partner, dating/romantic partner, relative, law enforcement officer, or medical professional to potation the court to require an individual to surrender firearms and ammunition to the state and to refrain from purchasing new ones. It further provides the court with the ability to refer the individual for emergency mental health evaluation. Some states are more or less restrictive on who can waive the red flag to trigger this process.

It sounds eminently reasonable on its face, but feels replete with opportunities to be abused – by those who might file for an ERPO illegitimately, by an overzealous judiciary, and by the government agency that can continue to hold an individual’s firearms days and weeks after the ERPO has expired or been rescinded.

Unlike some, I don’t think these red flag laws necessarily violate any kind of due process expectation on their face. I do expect, however, that they need to be very strictly constructed and closely overseen in order to prevent them from slipping towards a scenario where those subject to an ERPO find themselves like those Americans who were incorrectly placed on government “no fly” lists with no recourse besides a faceless, shrugging, government bureaucracy.

Personally, if I were king for the day and I wanted to get after gun violence, I’d spend my time chasing better legislation to put violent offenders in the deepest, darkest hole that local and state government and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons could find. Commit a crime with a firearm and the whole world ought to fall down on your head. Instead, we continue to usher these individuals into the revolving door of arrest, incarceration, release, wash, rinse, and repeat… but that’s not the story that’s going to ever lead the headlines and captivate public attention, so we are where we are.

Joe…

Let me say it straight from the shoulder… I’m not a big fan of Joe Biden as president. From spearheading America’s flight from Afghanistan to the current conflicted economic environment the administration is determined to cheer as rosy, while simultaneously decrying as hard times and painfully inflationary, it feels like the presidency is his in name, but that the hard work of the office remains, somehow, out of his grasp. 

I’ve never met him, but maybe he’s a nice enough old man. I’d be willing to go so far as to say he’s probably well intentioned. He might even be successful his role as head of state (à la Elizabeth II) where the main function is unveiling plaques, making proclamations, and waiving at crowds. I have to believe that even those who supported him during the election have found him wanting when exercising his awesome constitutional role as head of government. His performance when it comes to the hard stuff could, charitably, be called something between mixed and abysmal.

I’m certainly not advocating for a return to the batshit crazy administration of Donald Trump and his band of merry insurrectionists, but the fact that Joe was popularly recognized as the best available option really should concern every one of us. The best thing he could possible do would be to, as soon as the midterms are over, go on television and announce that he won’t seek a second term. I’m sure I’ll still hate the next contender’s policies, but the job deserves someone more engaged and energetic. 

The limit of endorsements…

Although my days of voting in Republican primary elections are over, I don’t suppose I’ll ever stop keeping an eye on them. It was gratifying to read reports last night coming out of Georgia that both the governor and the secretary of state, officials who stood as a bulwark against Donald Trump’s attempt to illegally overturn election results, both won their primary fights against Trump endorsed opponents. It gives me at least a bit of home that even though Donald’s voice remains loud within the party, it may not command the unquestioning obedience that it once did. 

On the other side of the coin, we have utter wackjobs like Marg Green winning her primary in the Georgia 14th. That’s a clear indication that we remain miles and miles away from what anyone could reasonably call “normal,” but it’s a just barely a shuffle in the right direction… even if It’s probably still worrisome that the measure of a candidate is “well, at least this one isn’t crazier than a bed bug.”

Now, having said all that, I don’t mean to imply that any politician anywhere that won their primary yesterday is actually any good. The older I get, the more I hold the opinion that they’re all either useless, self-serving, creeps, crooks, or weirdos. Many of them seem to be all those things simultaneously. It’s a matter of picking through the trash heap in hopes that some of them are very slightly less awful than the others.

What a wreck we’ve made of a perfectly nice republic.

It’s like a penis…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I was raised Methodist, but as an adult the only interest I’ve really had in religion is an academic one. It’s hard, after all, to study any aspect of European (and by extension, American) history since the Romans pulled out without at least tangentially touching on the premise of Christianity and how it has been practiced and applied during the centuries.

My take is pretty consistently that religion, in spite of whatever uplifting and comforting elements it may have, has mostly been used as a cudgel against anyone who refused to live and die by its tenants. The Crusades, the European wars of religion, witch hunts, orthodoxy tests, and more laws based on “church teachings” than you could shake a forest of sticks at are just the most obvious examples. And that’s only including the violence-in-the-name-of-God delivered up under the auspices of Christianity. The rest of the pantheon is hardly less bloodthirsty.

Despite what the Moral Majority or whatever the religious right wants to call themselves these days says, the United States was not founded as a Christian country. I’m sorry. It just wasn’t. Saying that it was is simply presenting facts not in evidence. Actually, it’s flat out lying. The Founding Fathers went out of their way to codify the prohibition against establishing a state religion right there in the Bill of Rights. It follows directly from that prohibition that “because it’s what Jesus would want” is a singularly problematic reason to pass a law – it’s every bit as invalid as justifying your laws in the name of Allah, Vishnu, Zeus, or Ra. 

I know it’s a hard pill for the seriously religious to swallow, but it’s entirely possible to be an upright and honorable man without the threat of eternal punishment hanging over your head. In fact, if the only reason you’re “doing the right thing” is because you fear eternal hellfire, one might say you’re responding only to fear rather than any actual personal commitment to being morally upright. Being a decent person only because you’re under duress means you’re not, by definition, a decent person to begin with. 

I’m sure organized religion has many virtues for its practitioners. That’s fine. I don’t want to take any of those virtues away from them. They can rule their homes by the precepts of whatever God or gods they see fit. If they’re really feeling froggy, they can probably even gaggle up some like-minded folks and live their theocratic dream in a community setting. I am, however, going to insist that they don’t expect me to subscribe to and live quietly under some evangelical theocratic nightmare government they want to inflict on everyone else. I presume only the same liberty of conscience I extend to them. In fact, I insist on it… because otherwise, I’ll raise up and army myself and strike their tract-quoting, puritanical asses down.

As the poet said, “Religion is like a penis. It’s nice to have one and fine to be proud of, but don’t whip it out in public or shove it down someone else’s throat.” When you choose to ignore such wisdom, it makes it awfully difficult to see any significant difference between Christian extremists and the goddamned Taliban. The lesson, probably, is maybe try not to be some kind of asshole extremist and try some of that peace and tolerance that your God was so fond of talking about.

Idiocracy…

It’s primary election day for seven states. I’m sure I should be paying more attention than I am, but other than next-door Pennsylvania I don’t think I could reliably name any of the other six states who went to the polls today. I won’t say that I don’t care, but I’ll confess to being disinterested. 

Even without knowing details or specifics I can surmise what’s going to happen. The Republicans will end up with seven candidates who move forward to the general election and fall somewhere along the political spectrum between January 6th apologists and Benito Mussolini. The Democrats will advance their general election candidates who land somewhere between Uncle Fluffy and Chairman Mao. The Republicans will be horrified by the Democrat’s candidates. The Democrats will revile the Republican’s candidates. All the while, the vast sea of voters who fall between the extremes will look at the candidates, yawn, and wonder how the hell these are the best, most qualified candidates we could find.

Look, I’m engaged in the process and informed about the issues… and I’m struggling when I look at the whole field of potential candidates. Across the board it’s hard to see one I’d want to spend an hour talking to, let alone one I’d feel comfortable elevating to high public office.

So it goes, on and on, election after election into the future as we all slide increasingly closer to living in a live-action version of Idiocracy. 

Show me your papers…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

I’ve spent a few Friday evenings opining on topics that would inevitably annoy my friends on the right, so it only feels fair that I offer up something to antagonize my friends on the left. 

You see, I support the notion that only citizens should be eligible to vote in our elections. What’s more, I believe where people vote should be inextricably tied to where they live. For instance, Mark Meadows should not have in any way been considered eligible to vote in North Carolina elections while not domiciled in that state any more than I should be allowed to vote in Tennessee elections simply because I use to live there once upon a time.

That there should be some form of identification required to ensure someone who seeks to participate in the electoral process is, in fact, eligible to participate feels like it should be a no brainer. 

“But,” I can hear the cry, “Voting is a right protected by the Constitution.” Yes. It is. Licenses and permits are required for many constitutionally protected activities. If I wanted to exercise my 1st Amendment right to stage a protest on the National Mall, for instance, I’d need a permit from the National Park Service. If, heaven forfend, I wanted to use my 2nd Amendment rights to purchase a handgun in the state of Maryland, I’d need to show ID, get finger printed, spend money to apply for a special Handgun Qualification License, and undergo an additional background check through the Maryland State Police. That hardly feels like unrestrained and unfettered exercise of a Constitutional right. 

As a nation, we’ve already accepted limitations placed on how and when we can exercise our rights under the Constitution. Unless we’re going to suddenly agree to roll back the others, needing to show some valid form of ID at the polling place hardly seems onerous or out of line with limits already in place for other rights. 

Perhaps more unpopular than my take on voter ID is my heretical notion that just because people are eligible to vote doesn’t mean they should. I think often of George Carlin’s quote that encourages us to “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.” It’s a reality that makes me question if we really should be making such a big push by saying everyone should vote. Expecting everyone to have an informed grip on who or what they’re voting in favor of or against doesn’t feel strictly reasonable… which in my estimation leads to people simply voting for whatever voice happens to be loudest in their ear rather than any kind of informed self- or community interest.

So maybe we should back off this “get everyone to the polls” bit. If you’re not interested enough to know it’s election day without being bludgeoned over the head with that information, what are the chances you’ve spent even ten minutes “studying” the issues at hand? This business of getting everyone to the polls has contributed largely to getting us exactly the kind of government we deserve, so all I’m saying is maybe try a slightly different approach and focus in more on eligible voters who are halfway informed than the broader pool of eligible voters who don’t know or don’t care what’s happening in the wider world.

For most of us, voting is the most important responsibility we’ll ever exercise as citizens of the republic. Cleaning up the process a bit doesn’t feel like it should be a bridge too far. 

I support personal liberty and choice…

A few months ago, I kicked around the idea of starting up a weekly limited feature focused on topics that some people might consider controversial, unpopular, or otherwise not appropriate for polite company. Nothing much came of the idea then, but it has stewed in my head ever since. This is the next of what I like to think will be a recurring series of Friday evening contemplations. If you’re easily offended, or for some reason have gotten the impression that your friends or family members have to agree with you on every conceivable topic, this might be a good time to look away. While it’s not my intention to be blatantly offensive, I only control the words I use, not how they’re received or interpreted.

Well, it looks like the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hand down a ruling this summer that will overturn 50+ years of “settled law” and precedent. On January 22, 1973, the court’s ruling in Row v. Wade found that the Constitution protects a woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion and that right could not be broadly restricted by the government. Associate Justice Blackmun hung his argument on the idea that such restrictions violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Blackmun’s opinion in Roe was further exercised in a number of subsequent cases to enlarge a Constitutional protection of personal privacy rights. And before anyone says it, no, a specific right to privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the text of the Constitution. The right to privacy, however, is strongly implied by a plain text reading of the 4th, 5th, and the 14th Amendments. The whole intent of the Constitution was and is to restrain the actions and behavior of government. One might say there’s a compelling national interest in keeping the various levels of government as far out of people’s business as possible.

The people are, after all, the font of sovereignty in this country. And on this particular issue those people believe that Roe should be upheld by a 2-to-1 margin. 

My position on abortion is consistent with my position on most other things. Don’t want a gun? Don’t buy one. Don’t want a gay marriage? Don’t get married to someone of the same sex. Don’t want an abortion? Don’t have one. See what I’m getting at here? Personal liberty = good. Jamming your religio-political beliefs down everyone else’s throat = bad.

Yeah, if the thing you care so desperately about doesn’t actually impact you in any way, just mind your own goddamned business. I have no idea why that’s idea is so hard to glom onto for 25-30% of the people in this utterly beshitted country of ours.

Pure partisan fuckery…

I was born and raised in the mountains of Western Maryland. There are certain inevitable assumptions made when someone describes himself like that, I suppose.  I might have spent my childhood ripping and running on Squirrel Neck Road, but that doesn’t mean I feel any need to present myself to the world as some kind of backwoods yokel Gomer. I didn’t then and I don’t now. 

Based on a lot of social and demographic factors, I should probably be expected to weigh in heavily against the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to fill a vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s an almost mortal lock that I won’t agree with how she interprets the law or the opinions she would write as a Justice. 

The thing is, none of that really matters. The simple fact is Judge Jackson is incredibly well qualified for the job. Whether her judicial philosophy conforms to the pleasure of Joe Biden, or Jeff Tharp, or Josh Hawley isn’t particularly relevant outside the spectacle of a confirmation fight in the halls of the U.S. Senate.

Barring the discovery of some truly monumental skeleton lurking in her closet, the Senate should confirm her nomination and put her on the Court. To claim otherwise is the kind of pure partisan fuckery of which we’ve already seen far too much.

Unaffiliated…

Since the face of the Republican Party today is Lauren Boebert and her wide-open orifice during the State of the Union Address, I’m extra pleased to announce that according to the confirmation email, I’m officially no longer a registered Republican on the voting rolls of Cecil County. 

With hucksters like Boebert, her fellow-traveler Marge Green, and leadership luminaries like Kevin McCarthy holding down the right wing of the House of Representatives, it’s hard to imagine a circumstance where I could ever find myself even nominally aligned with where the loud and obnoxious minority want to drag the party. 

It’s a pity that we’ve collectively lost the concept of having any sense of personal shame, because the behavior of Boebert and the other such sewer dwellers reflect nothing but shame on themselves, the institution they were elected to, and the nation as a whole. I know it’s hard to believe, but there are manifold ways to disagree without being a completely trash human being.

So, here’s to being politically homeless, or “unaffiliated” as Maryland is determined to call it. It’s far better than remaining unhappily in a party that seems to be determined to become that which it swore to destroy.