Content Of Our Character

In his now famous “I Have A Dream” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Content of their character, meaning be judged for who they are – on the basis of their own words and actions – and not what they are – black people – which would mean judged on the words and actions of others.

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The Greater Good

I get really twitchy when somebody tells me they are doing or saying something to me for my own good. I am a fully competent adult, thankyouverymuch, and I can make my own decisions. I get even twitchier when I’m told that some policy or governmental action is for the greater good. Governments rarely, if ever, do things purely for philanthropical reasons. Governments are filled with politicians. And politicians have but one goal, and that is to remain in a position of power. I wrote before about fear and how the powers that be will make sure that we are afraid. Now, I want to talk about how they’re going to make sure that we will be happy. And we will be happy as we are instructed. It’s for our own good.

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Avoiding the subject

A few days ago, Sarah Hoyt wrote a post called “Operation Swamp Fox.” In it she talked about tactics to push back, fight back, against the gaslighting and propaganda coming from the left; the media, Democrat Party, and their followers/supporters (which includes those who are going along in the hopes of being left alone, and Never Trumpers who are delusional they’re going to come out on top). I agree with Sarah’s sentiment and I resolved to start engaging in my own Swamp Fox tactics (go read her post for ideas).

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Chaos, contradiction, and tigers

Several things have wandered through my field of vision this week and each one has simultaneously surprised me and confirmed my already high levels of cynicism. The first was a second lockdown and restrictions. In Philadelphia, our (incompetent) mayor has decided to do our (incompetent) governor one better and shut down all indoor dining and gyms and gatherings. Additionally saying we shouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. And to top it off, the PA secretary of health, Rachel Levine is saying that we all need to wear masks indoors. Yeah. Not happening. This is planned to last until January. Other governors are doing similar things…Newsom (or Noisesome) in California has instituted travel restrictions (immediately violated by him and several members of the state assembly and senate…they traveled to HI for a conference), and gathering restrictions (immediately violated by him as he traveled to Napa for a birthday dinner for a lobbyist at the French Laundry…inside). But he presumes to tell people not to celebrate Thanksgiving. As does Cuomo.

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Evil good people

I was reading Sarah Hoyt’s post Smelling the Smoke, and the comments. It was brought up that when it comes to mob behavior, or maintaining social credit, many people who consider themselves to be good people find themselves committing horrific acts and condoning appalling behavior. Behavior such as rioting, looting, arson, harassment of strangers, bullying, etc. All behaviors they will loudly proclaim they teach their children to abhor. They will go to great lengths to condemn language on social media posts, piling on when “trigger words” are found, calling language the equivalent of violence. And, then, they will excuse a “peaceful protester” for shooting and killing a counter-protester, because the counter-protester was a Trump supporter. “Well, that’s what happens when you support Trump.” It’s all enough to make one question the sanity of friends and family members, not to mention the world as a whole. Has everyone gone mad?

In response to statements (usually from politicians) that expressed surprise and/or shock that some marvelous idea had gone sour, my father used to say that they were operating on the idea of “how can we be wrong when we’re so sincere?” He always followed that by commenting that not thinking about either collateral damage or unintended consequences would cause worlds of trouble. Today, more than ever, I find myself thinking about my dad’s comments. Riots, looting, destruction, deaths. All of which are the result of “good” policies gone bad (yes, I count bad policing habits among that…training is a good policy gone bad), and “good” people committing evil in the name of creating a “good” society. I’m still not sure how that works, especially if one believes that two wrongs don’t make a right…but then, hey, I’m obviously not a “good” person.

Righteous and needed anger over some police tactics and procedures has been turned into a race war. Or, rather I should say, the simmering race war has found an excuse for blatant violence in the use of questionable police tactics. So, people who view themselves as the forefront of all that is good and right in the world (they know better than everybody apparently) started destroying lives and livelihoods in the name of that “good”. Then, other people, who would never condone such violence, started to condone it. They justified it. “Well, if I had to live with that sort of fear for my family, hell yeah, I’d riot.” Really? You would? You’d attack a 75-year old woman who was trying to defend her store? You’d shoot and kill a black retired police officer trying to protect his friend’s business? “Of course not!” they cry. “That’s not what I meant!” Well, then. What exactly did you mean when you said you’d riot? You’d only loot Macy’s? Or you’d only smash windows? Or you’d only throw things at cops? What exactly did you mean? “No! I mean, I wouldn’t do that…but I can see why they would!” But, if you can see why they would, that means you can picture a situation where you would do the same. At this point, they usually curse you, call you names (racist and fascist being the most common…no imagination there), stomp away and block you on all social media.

How do these supposedly good people (and under normal circumstances they truly are good) end up supporting such evil? Two words: social credit. They’ve been told that these are the policies they must support regardless of the inconsistencies and outright contradictions they can see within the policies and the outcomes. If they wish to continue to be viewed as a “good” person, they must adhere to these arguments. To do otherwise means they risk losing friends and social standing. As tribal animals that makes humans exceedingly nervous.

But! They’ve been lied to regarding the intended (and unintended) outcomes of these policies, and those who created the policies have turned around and told them that the policies are good, any problems are the fault of those opposing the policies. The most blatant of these lies is that the riots in cities that have experienced decades-long dominance by Democratic politicians are currently being blamed on President Trump. Damn, that man in powerful! But you must support these lies to maintain your social credit. Note that it wasn’t until two CNN commentators, Chris Cuomo and Don Lemon, discussed falling poll numbers due to rioting. Lemon actually said that now Joe Biden and others must condemn the riots because the poll numbers are showing that riots don’t help. So, the argument pivoted to “the riots are all Trump’s fault”. Maintaining social credit gets harder by the hour.

If you try to bring up anything good that Trump has supported, you will usually get the “stopped clock is right twice a day” response which is itself an implicit acknowledgement that he did something right. But most often you will get a response where the policy or his support is picked to pieces. “Well, I’d have to see…”

It is very frustrating, yes. Friends will drop you like a hot potato. Good people do not like being questioned on their motives or actions. Because they are good, by definition their motives and actions are good. Questioning that (any by extension making them question their own motives) is evil. Because only evil questions a known good. Where we can find support is in those who also question the good. There are a lot of people out there who categorically oppose rioting, looting, arson, and murder. And, they are not afraid to say so.

You are not alone in your defense against the “good” people who currently support evil.

Trust me. You aren’t.

No, We’re Not Becoming Russia

On June 1, 2020, President Trump declared he would invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 and activate various military units to move into states to assist local police and national guard troops with quelling rioting and stopping looting and other violence. Since he did that media, Democrats, and other progressives have been up in arms shrieking about authoritarian moves and how dare he and…and…and… I even saw a post on FB suggesting that Trump would cancel the November election in order to remain in office. I have to wonder how dark, twisted, and pessimistic is one’s view of this country and it’s people, and how much hatred you hold for Trump that that’s where you go first. Seriously? I read that post, rolled my eyes, picked them up and put them back in my head, and then logged out of Facebook. I may check back in tomorrow, but I think I’m going to go back to my previous routine of checking in on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and then skipping that swamp for the rest of the week.

Back to my original topic…the mention of the Insurrection Act pushed me back into my political science researcher mode. What exactly does the act do, and when has it been utilized? My comparative side wanted to go find out if other democratic countries had something similar.

Starting with the U.S. law, Jefferson signed the Insurrection Act of 1807 into law. It has been used several times since. What most people probably recognize are Eisenhower and Kennedy’s use of it to break up anti-desegregation protests and open schools in the south. It was also invoked during the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Wikipedia has a good discussion and a list of the times that its been used here.

What I hadn’t known (US law is not my area of specialization), is that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress changed the law and expanded it to include natural disasters, epidemics, public health crises, and terror attacks. By designating AntiFa as a terror organization, it seems to me that Trump has now provided two underlying justifications for invoking the Insurrection Act: a functioning terror group, and riots that have moved beyond the capacity of local law enforcement to handle. As of now (Tuesday morning), the act has not been officially invoked. However, we did have a relatively quiet night here in Philadelphia, so perhaps it will not be necessary. I hope.

Looking at other countries with federal systems, you obviously find laws that specifically outlaw riots (even in democracies the term “riot” can be defined more or less strictly, but usually includes violence and looting in the definition. Here’s the Encyclopedia Britannica’s definition). Sanctions for participating or fomenting vary between countries as well. Canada, for example, gives police and governments, provincial and federal, much more leeway to define a gathering as a riot, and take actions as police deem appropriate. As a member of the Commonwealth, Canadian law mirrors that of Great Britain. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is a federal police force and the one used most often to disperse violent gatherings and deal with things like wide-spread looting. My quick and dirty search for Canadian law regarding activating military units within the country didn’t turn up anything specific, but going off of their status as a former British colony and current Commonwealth member, I’m going to guess that there are provisions for the Prime Minister to call up military units if he deems it necessary.

India is another democratic federal system. It has a strong central government that has more control and power over state governments than does the U.S. government over states here. India also has so-called paramilitary units which function similarly to the U.S. National Guard. India runs high with tensions between Muslims and Hindus and those tensions frequently break out into violent clashes. Also, almost as frequently, police will either do nothing, or occasionally step in on one side or the other as opposed to simply stopping and/or arresting all participants. For the army to be called in to help control violent riots, the civilian authorities must make that request. The army is viewed as more secular than local police forces so when the violence is between religious groups (usually Hindu and Muslim) the army gets the call.

In the end, it does not mean that a government has shifted from a democracy to an authoritarian system simply because the leader, whether president or prime minister, has called in the regular army to help local and state police forces deal with violence. Yes, a democracy can morph into an authoritarian system so slowly that one might not notice. But, if this is a part of that process, I argue that people are noticing the change (I think some moves have been going on for a while) and are now taking steps to reverse away from authoritarian means of governing. As an example, during Obama’s presidency, conservatives were extremely upset about his use of executive orders (EOs) noting (correctly) that EOs violated the legislative process. During the Trump presidency so far, that concern has reverted to liberals who are now extremely upset about EOs and claiming (correctly) that they violate the legislative process. In the end, more people are learning about the problematic nature of EOs and that’s a good thing.

We must remember that the U.S. is a very unique political system in the world. We were the first to institute a representative or republican form of government. We also have the widest/highest levels of individual freedoms among the world’s democracies. Those wide freedoms mean our political culture is also unique and that can be seen in how we respond to issues like police brutality and looting, or even the fact that we do respond. I know that it is not fashionable to proclaim American uniqueness, but we are indeed a one-of-a-kind political culture and political system.

I believe we will come through this current craziness and we will not be an authoritarian system. That will happen only if we allow it. And, no, Trump will not be the cause of it. I’m more inclined to think that those who so violently and vehemently oppose him and his policies (without ever thinking through results or consequences), those who scream at any and all dissent from their policies (on both sides), and those who try to force speech conventions (i.e. political correctness) on the rest of us, shift history around to suit their needs (1619 Project), and those who demand conformity with their ideas are the ones who would institute an authoritarian system.

We are a country and political culture built on individuality and compromise. The very definition of compromise is that nobody and no group gets everything they want, but we all come away a bit more satisfied with the situation than we were previously. Compromise by its very nature is messy and less than wholly satisfactory. Long-term survival, both as a political system that gives people the most leeway to define themselves, and as a species, demands that we all compromise with each other.

That’s the end of this rambling rant. Thank you for reading. Here’s to a looting-free week and all of us calming down, correcting what needs to be corrected (so, maybe the MPLS PD can look at their training and discipline procedures…), and return to rebuilding our lives and economy.