Congressional ineptitude…

It’s that magical time of year when thoughts turn inevitably to the non-zero percent likelihood of a government shutdown. This stems from the inability of the United States Congress to pass a basic federal budget any time in the last 15 years. Yes, for 75% of my career, your federal government has been funded through makeshift resolutions rather than via the actual federal budgeting process. It’s an arrangement that has led to a number of furloughs and government shutdowns while our beloved representatives in Congress attempt to find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.

Now personally, with all of the elected branches of government controlled by members of the Democratic Party, I find it hard to believe they’d shoot themselves in the foot by failing to even pass a continuing resolution to fund government operations for FY23. Although I find it hard, I don’t discount the possibility completely. Having “full control” of the Congress over the last two years has certainly highlighted the Democrat’s inability to get along among themselves. Having one or two of their members bolt during negotiation is certainly well within the realm of the possible. 

In the past, a government shutdown meant most of us went home and sat around wondering if there was going to be a provision for back pay when the doors eventually opened again. In my experience, the answer was always yes, but it was never a certainty until a special provision was passed allowing for it. Thanks to a new provision in law, the Government Employee Fair Treatment Act of 2019, the question has been permanently resolved. Uncle Sam is now required to pay his employees in full at the end of a shutdown, regardless of whether they were sent home or not.

With that delightful piece of legislation now enshrined in law, my level of concern at the potential for the U.S. Congress to become the world’s largest circular firing squad has been almost completely eliminated. Sure, it’s bad from a PR perspective, it holds up our representative democracy to all sorts of mockery, and it makes our most senior elective leaders look ragingly incompetent… but that’s pretty much the opinion I have of them already. At least this way I know I’ll be getting paid. Eventually. So, bring on the Congressional ineptitude. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Eye strain. My eyes aren’t getting worse, the doc tells me. My prescription hasn’t changed now in three years. In response to my complaint about not being able to read deep into the night like I used to, “Your eyes are just getting old,” he says with a grin and the hint of a chuckle. Apparently looking at a computer all day and trying to read all night, is just straining the hell out of them, which is what’s making the world go all blurry after 8 PM every night. The fix, maybe, is to add a set of reading glasses to my current bifocal order. Theoretically, that will mean when I’m reading in the evenings, I won’t have to keep looking down through the bottom third of my lenses. If that doesn’t do it, we’ll order a set that really magnifies instead of just adjusting the focus for my crummy vision. I’d pretend to be indignant, but at this point I’m willing to try most anything to get the situation corrected or even just improved.

2. Autumn. We’ll see the first few hours of autumn today. I don’t particularly mind the onset of cooler weather, but I resent the hell out of the days getting shorter. If feels like losing a lot more than we’re gaining for the trouble. This time of year always comes along with a certain nagging black dog. History tells me he’ll be around for the next 10 or 12 weeks. I’ll perk up a bit at the solstice, when we’ve gone over the hump and days lengthen instead of grow shorter – with its promise of gaining something rather than losing it. Until then, I’ll simply go through the day with a slightly increased baseline level of aggravation. It’s probably not so much that anyone would notice, but I’ll damned well know it.

3. People. Donald Trump is easy to mock. He’s a twice impeached reality television star-in-chief who spent his final days in office plotting the undoing of our republican form of government and when caught red handed begged his followers not to believe the evidence seen by their own lying eyes. As we’ve learned over the last seven years of his candidacy, his term of office, and his post-presidential career, that’s just Donald being Donald. The really troublesome bit is the people, who despite all evidence – or perhaps because of it – still rally to the call of this disgraced carnival barker. Make no mistake, there’s still enough of them, added to critical mass of those who are simply ambivalent, that it’s entirely possible he’ll be on the ballot two years from now. You can’t blame the former host of The Celebrity Apprentice for that part. It’s only a possibility because people are gullible, too invested in the narrative to be open to new information, or too stuck on their pride to admit they’ve been misled and find another way ahead.  

On brand…

I was having a text conversation this morning with someone who was decrying the increased likelihood of political violence following the upcoming midterm election. Given the level of Republican fuckery over the last few years and the already demonstrated propensity towards violence of the extremist element among them, I’d say it’s almost unavoidable. Perhaps it won’t be immediately following the next election, but sooner or later I fully expect to see levels of domestic terrorism in the United States on par with The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the last half of the 20th century.

It’s not a future I’m particularly looking forward to, but it feels definitively on brand for America. We are, after all, a country founded in part due to a violent rebellion against a three-penny tax. In 1794, the ink of our Constitution barely dried, federalized troops were called out to put down a rebellion in Western Pennsylvania, again, over taxation. Sixty years later, we fought a bloody, four-year civil war. All the years before and after are pock marked with acts of individual and group violence. It ebbs and flows as a common thread through the history of the Republic.

I can’t deny the nagging feeling that we’re on another up swing towards conditions that will almost certainly be worse than anything seen in living memory. Just because we haven’t personally experienced it, though, we shouldn’t pretend that this is something altogether new and different. The only real question in my mind now is whether this generation will develop the will and personal fortitude of a Washington or Lincoln and put down this latest accumulation of rabble before they manage to do any lasting damage.

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.

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. 

In continued opposition to right wing nutters…

A year ago we watched as conspiracy theory fueled, right wing violent extremist nutters stormed the Capitol after being egged on by then President Trump. 

Today, I’d be hard pressed to say that anything has gotten better with the exception of Donald no longer being able to use the machinery of government to circumvent the laws and Constitution. It seems a not insignificant percentage of the country still thinks that disgraced carnival barker is still the rightful president. About the same percentage think that the COVID-19 vaccines are a one world government effort to sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids or some such abject fuckery. I’d expect the Ven diagram there to be a near-perfect circle. That would make fine fodder for a separate, but related, post on the price we pay for the rise of disinformation, willful ignorance, an America’s peculiar strain of anti-intellectualism.

If anything, I suspect conditions have deteriorated as positions have hardened. Little or nothing has been done to sure up the institutions of government, making it more difficult to subvert the peaceful transfer of power following an election. Baring something unexpected, we could even see Donald back again as the presumptive Republican candidate for president in 2024. A second Trump presidency reinforced by a sycophantic Republican controlled Congress is the nightmare scenario, because then all brakes, guardrails, and safeties would be off.

I used to think a terrorist loose with a nuclear weapon on the streets of Washington or New York was the worst-case scenario. Now I’m far more worried about the ring leader of a domestic terror movement seizing control of the government and all the levers of power that go along with it. 

Our Constitutional government is, perhaps, more endangered than it was when insurrectionists briefly seized the seat of American government and sent the Legislative Branch into hiding. Republican leaders won’t condemn the vile, treasonous creatures who lead, financed, and participated in the Capitol insurrection – but I will curse their names and memory for as long as I have breath… and I’ll consistently use my voice to oppose any and all who seek to undermine our Republic

What Don wants…

I watched a clip last night of a rally over the weekend in which the former President of the United States waived off the January 6th Capitol Insurrection as an event that never happened.

Republicans in the House might be willing to go along with such blatant disregard for facts. Republicans in the Senate might be willing to stay silent for fear of drawing the ire of those who continue to support the failed candidacy of a one term president. State level Republican committees and state parties may line up behind the fabrication too.

I have no influence at all on what those other Republicans do or say. 

Unlike them, though, I have a sometimes uncomfortable tendency to stand with facts and truth in the face of lies – even when, maybe especially when, those lies are told by those in positions of power.

The facts in evidence are these: Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election. There is no substantive evidence of fraud. He (eventually) conceded, after first expending great effort to undermine the electoral process and people’s faith in it. As his supporters stormed into the Capitol, he refused to call them off at best and actively encouraged them at worst. 

Now, Don wants us to refuse to accept what we’ve seen. He says he didn’t concede. He says there’s no way of really telling who won an election. He’s saying nothing happened at the Capitol on January 6th, 2021. Who are you going to believe, he seems to ask, a disgraced former president who fled Washington in shame on January 20th, or your own lying eyes?

Other so-called Republicans can do what they will, but from my seat here, I’ll stand against Don’s bid to rewrite history. I’ll stand against the weight of the party that just wants its members to fall in line because they think we all value power more than truth. I’d rather see the Republican Party cast down for the next generation than give in to those who betray the republic and hope we’ll all just look away.

My fellow Republicans – whether they be friends, family, or the party at large – are going to be sadly disappointed if they think I’ll stand with them for the sake of preserving peace and tranquility. I stand with and for the republic, the Constitution, and the laws… and there’s absolutely nothing political about that.

With a song in my heart…

I remain, for now, a card-carrying member of the Republican Party. How much longer that remains true depends largely on how Republicans respond in this moment. The decision now is simple, does the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Reagan continue to follow a disgraced carnival barker ex-president down the path towards its eventual destruction and historical irrelevancy, or does what’s left of the sane center manage to haul in the reigns and rebuild a Republican brand that’s focused on rolling back creeping socialism, confronting growing international threats, and presenting a clear-eyed conservative vision for the future of America.

The Republican Party can’t and shouldn’t survive a transition to standing only for “Trump good, everyone else bad.” A modern political party should have a vision of America’s future beyond perpetually rehashing the 2020 election while excluding such inconveniences as science, evidence, and basic common sense. 

With razor thin margins in both the House and Senate, Republicans stand a fighting chance of retaking one or both houses of Congress in 2022. History says it’s fairly likely. If those seats are filled by slavering conspiracy theorists, the long-term fate of the party could likely be set. Retaining Representative Liz Cheney as chair of the Republican Conference presented Republicans with an opportunity to save ourselves from the ascendency of the small, but vocal batshit crazy wing of the party. It could well be the last viable exit ramp and we’ve now put it squarely in the rear view mirror.

I don’t expect many of our elected representatives to have the personal courage to take that kind of stand. Going along with the lie is far easier than speaking out, standing up, and making yourself a target of lunatic outrage. To quote Liz Cheney, though, “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former President’s crusade to undermine our democracy.” 

I’ve served the republic nearly all of my adult life. If the price I pay for continuing to support it now in opposition to a loud and determined cult of personality is dirty looks, angry comments, and “unfriendings,” it’s an easy cost to bear – and even if we reach a point, perhaps during the 2022 election cycle, where I can no longer in good conscience do so under the banner of the Republican Party, I’ll pay it with a song in my heart.

Working for it (just a little)…

I’m not a stranger to staking out unpopular opinions. It’s why I’ve never fit comfortably in such descriptive categories as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat. I take a bit from each, apply my own logic and analysis, and come up with a position that makes purists in all categories somewhat uncomfortable. I’m fine with their discomfort.

It shouldn’t be surprising that I also have what I’m sure will be an internet-unpopular take on voting.

I simply believe that requiring a bit of effort to exercise the vote isn’t the worst thing that could happen to the Republic. 

There. I said it. I don’t think voting should be turned into a sacred quest, but participating in an election should require at least a minimal amount of work. Showing up on the appointed day and time or needing to request a ballot isn’t a high bar to cross, but it does demonstrate personal commitment to the process. It’s a small, perhaps only symbolic gesture that someone is taking their role of citizen seriously… and we put a much higher burden on exercising other essential liberties.

Needing to work for it, if even just a little bit, implies a level of commitment to the idea that your vote is the matters not just to the process, but also to you as an individual… and that doesn’t sound like the worst idea I’ve ever heard.