For a Certain Value of ‘Win’

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y0aRjr1DSo, the Trump campaign has launched a brand new website intended to help their supporters ‘win’ arguments over the Holiday dinner tables. (No, I’m not linking to the damned thing; you can find it yourself if you like.) I seem to recall the deplorable pundits encouraging their faithful to harass us at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Now they’ve decided to press the fight on into Christmas as well.

…and supposedly, it’s liberal secularists that are trying to ruin Christmas, but whatever!

How are they pitching this little bundle of disinformation? According to CBS News:

“We’ve all seen the news articles about liberal snowflakes being afraid to see their MAGA relatives at Christmas or holiday gatherings, so the Trump campaign wants people to be ready,” Kayleigh McEnany, Trump campaign national press secretary, said in a statement. “We’re not helping snowflakes avoid arguments – we’re helping Trump supporters win them! As 2019 draws to a close and 2020 approaches, President Trump and Americans are going to be winning, winning, and winning, and then winning some more!”

Which brings to mind a certain question. Why is it that we liberals are the ones ducking these Holiday discussions? Why is it that we are the ones consciously trying to avoid politics with friends and family over the Holiday season. I suppose there may be some counter-examples, obviously there are, but I do think the general pattern is those pushing this sight see it; liberals are the ones who would rather not engage even as deplorables are only too happy to spill their love of the Manchurian Cheeto all over the room, regardless of the season.

its-hard-to-win-an-argument-with-a-smart-person-44291783Frankly, I think this quote, commonly attributed to Bill Murray sums it up rather nicely. (Speaking of which, does anybody out there know when Murray said that? Or if it really was him?) It isn’t a fear of losing the argument so much as the knowledge that any argument worth making will be wasted on some folks. We’ve all been there, and the headache just isn’t worth it. Also, quite frankly, the fear of seeing the darker truths about people we know and love. It sucks when you realize that someone you really care about shows you that that they are only of egg-nogs away from telling a bunch of really racist jokes. It’s unpleasant to realize that a close friend or relative doesn’t check his facts before opening his mouth and can’t be corrected when called out on it. It’s genuinely horrifying to realize that someone you love is just fine with seeing certain people suffer needlessly (ahem! Children in cages on our borders or living under the bombs in any number of places around the world). It isn’t just the unpleasantness of disagreement that makes some of us wary of Holiday discussions, it’s those moments when you can’t help seeing a trace of cruelty or willful deceit underlies the politics of some people you’d like to love. Sure, sometimes people make a reasonable argument from the other side. Even a right wing clock is right twice a day, so to speak, but sometimes, all-too-often really, it isn’t the challenging case that makes us uncomfortable, much less the cold hard-to-explain fact, it’s the moment you see the genuine cruelty in a friend or family member. Politics brings that out in people, some people at any rate.

With Trump in the White House, politics is bringing it out of them a lot more often.

If Hell is the impossibility of reason, then Holiday Hell is the impossibility of reasoning with a half-drunk uncle. The White House wants to see more of that happening today and tomorrow. Apparently, this year it isn’t enough to fight an imaginary war on Christmas or to do as Trump has done in the past, which is to take credit for the fact that people are wishing each other Merry Christmas again, and hope that people won’t notice that most never stopped in the first place. Now they want us to argue more over Christmas.

This is just one more example of trump’s old promise that he will deliver countless wins to his followers. Like so many other ‘winning’ moments, this one is a manufactured moment of one-up-manship, a pointless battle designed to give someone lacking any semblance of character a chance to feel he got the better of someone else. It is neither patriotism nor conservatism. It certainly isn’t Christianity.

And it really isn’t much of a win when you think about it.

Which is to say that it is just like everything else Trump has brought to us over the last 3 years.

 

Alpha Schmalpha!

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DSCN0687It’s become a commonplace observation that women often get called a ‘bitch’ for doing exactly the same things that earn men a reputation for strong leadership. It’s a good observation. Whatever the mental twists and turns that explain this tendency, there is something about gender that seems to skew perception of assertive behavior, making roughly the same conduct objectionable in women and laudable in men.

The problem is ubiquitous. If you think you are an exception, then you probably aren’t. It isn’t necessarily a function of conscious bigotry and political commitments to support feminism don’t in and of themselves resolve the matter. I expect many well-woke folks have caught themselves grumbling at that bitch over there even as they admired this man over here for behaving in roughly comparable ways. (I expect many more never caught themselves doing this at all.) It’s a latent bias hard-wired into the social patterns of our daily lives and reinforced by countless layers of stereotyping and gender-based norms, many of which don’t come with obvious red flags telling us, “this way lies misogyny!” You have to think your way out of this kind of bias.

And then you probably have to do it again.

…and again!

…and (you get the idea.)

One thing that does bother me about the observation in question though, is that it’s practical significance is usually taken as obvious. When this observation is made, it is usually made in the service of getting us to reconsider harsh evaluations directed at assertive women.

“Okay, fair enough,” I usually find myself thinking. But I think there is at least one other implication here that doesn’t get near enough attention. If perhaps a lot of us should rethink our condemnation of misbehaving women, I think it’s at least as important to consider that maybe a lot of us are far too easily impressed by obnoxious behavior from men. Perhaps, we need to get a lot better at telling the difference between a man showing great leadership potential and one who is simply acting like an asshole.

Ironic Redemptions and Persistent Crimes

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indexI’m still trying to get used to seeing Jim Bakker in the news again. I’m old enough to remember when his initial scams were alive and well. I remember how painfully obvious his deceits were. I remember the outrageousness of it all, not just his own lies, but the utter gullibility of his followers. I distinctly remember realizing with some degree of sadness that his followers must not merely have been fooled. To say they believed in this man (and his wife Tammy Fae) required a trace of dishonesty in itself. They couldn’t simply be fooled. They had to be lying too. I remember the scandal that finally broke Bakker’s financial empire, and I remember his statements about Jessica Hahn. Like so many of those uttered by God’s top salesmen, Bakker’s confessions were littered with excuses and self-serving narratives that showed little contrition and plenty of bad faith all around. It may have been a sex scandal that broke his old over PTL ministries, but it was fraud that sent Bakker to prison, fraud perpetrated in the name of Jesus and sold primarily to retired pensioners who could ill-afford to bankroll the lavish lifestyle this man enjoyed at their expense. But here we are. Bakker is back, and he is selling Jesus once again.

Because people never really seem to learn from history.

Not the lessons that matter anyway.

Is this a newer an wiser Jim Bakker? Can we trust him now? Is he a better man than the one who clearly did have an affair, and quite possibly raped the woman he had the affair with? Is he more honest than the one who bilked his followers out of millions with the promise of lifetime memberships in PTL and membership benefits he never even tried to deliver?

***

That’s not really the question to ask though, is it?

Bakker is who is he, who he always was. That should be perfectly clear.

Better to ask if we are a better and wiser society?

Have we done anything to protect ourselves from the likes of Jim Bakker, or is America just as wide open for this sort of scam as we were back in the gullibility jubilee that was the Reagan era? Are we still going to humor two-bit huxters with the miraculous power to turn thoughts of Jesus into perfectly material cash? Do we have any means of holding the likes of Bakker accountable for their perfectly antics?

Or are we still unable to do anything about them?

***

Take no solace in your own intelligence!

People like to imagine that those who fall for the likes of Bakker are simply stupid, that the sort of crime in which he engages amounts to a sort of poetic justice. “Anyone dumb enough to fall for that sort of thing deserves what they get,” so I am often told. But that’s just an evasion.

Critical thinking skills won’t save any of us, especially not in our twilight years. Televangelism is a business that works by catching up on the tail end of our own better judgement. Many of those who give to the likes of Bakker better might have known better at some point in their lives. Many would have laughed him out of the room in their younger days. This is one of the main features of televangelism. It’s a business model that can wait for us to lose our our intellectual edge, to give up some of our skepticism, and to embrace hopes we might once have shunned.

…and to accept the token promise that giving our hard-earned money to some perfectly mortal human with grifter written all over their every word and deed we can somehow make good with a divine force capable of making everything right in the end.

We may know better now.

Make no mistake.

The likes of Bakker can wait until we don’t.

***

Does it need to be said?

Bakker is hardly alone. I don’t know about you, but I’ve long since lost track of the number of times one of God’s surrogates has been caught making off with money meant for him, …pardon me, Him. I can’t easily count the number of His faithful who’ve been caught in the wrong bed, hotel room, or sex club either, to say nothing of the number of those denouncing homosexuality, or offering some cure for it, who found their way into the arms of someone of the same sex. Time and again, it turns out that the message of god just doesn’t fit well in the mouth of its mortal medium.

No, the problem isn’t simply that Christians are just as human, and just as flawed as the rest of us; it’s that Christianity (or at least some versions of it) often proves to be the worst thing about these people. Left to their own vices, many of these people would prove little less than perfectly human, but high on God, they are a hazard to others, and a constant threat to many more harmless than themselves.

I can understand someone whose love life is a train wreck, but when that person makes a living promoting a more perfect vision of what that life should be, damned right I expect them to live up to that vision. Or to give it up when that vision proves fatally flawed. When selling that message becomes a multi-million dollar business, I am just a little less forgiving about the whole thing.

***

Bakker isn’t a fluke. He is poster boy for a type of business that has always been fraudulent to its core.

Yes, I said ‘business’. Televangelism is a business. It may enjoy non-profit status, and it may generate all kinds of god-talk, but it is absolutely a business. The likes of Bakker prove this time and time again. These men are in it for the money. That should be perfectly obvious to all concerned.

Jim Bakker is a business man. His business is Televangelism.

Right now, that business is good. With Kanye West celebrating his new Jesus-flavored branding scheme in Texas with Joel Osteen and Paula White enjoying a gig as the spiritual advisor to Donald Trump, it does seem to be a good year for huxters with open wallets and talk of God falling out of their open mouths. Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Franklin Graham have certainly been enjoying their renewed access to the worldly powers made possible by the Orange man in the White House. Of the course the common element in all these sordid stories (and countless others) is Donald Trump himself.

Few things could be more odd than the way conservative Christians have embraced Donald Trump, this man who has never shown the least bit of interest in anything but worldly pleasures and worldly powers. The allegiance that so many of America’s entrepreneurial Christians have sworn to this man seems like a clear and loud confession to their own hypocrisy. You couldn’t possibly ask for a more blatant condemnation of conservative Christian politics, than the support these charlatans have shown to Donald Trump. It makes no sense at all.

Well it makes no sense if you take their messages seriously.

On another level, it should come as no surprise at all that a man who once bilked countless pensioners out of their life-savings in a fake university would find common cause with an entire industry that thrives on the life savings of the old and infirm. It should come as no surprise that people who spend their entire lives talking about an absolute authority with perfect power to determine matters of right and wrong would jump at the chance to support a man who recognizes no authority other than his own whim. That those who conceive ultimate authority in the form of a ‘Lord’ would prove unwilling to defend the checks and balances of a constitutional republic from a political movement recognizing no power capable of saying no to ‘The Leader’. If you pay any attention to the way that America’s political Christians think about power and authority, their willingness to support Donald Trump should prove no more surprising than the fancy cars and homes enjoyed by evangelical leadership. The Televangelists who turn this mentality into big business are acting in perfect concert with their normal MO when they line up to bend the knee before their perfectly mortal savior. With or without Jesus, Donald Trump is the answer to their prayers, and they know it.

Praise Mammon!

***

Jim Bakker is back, and he is now enjoying a resurgence of his own media popularity. Much like the Reagan era, this is his time. He isn’t back because he has changed his ways, much less because he or any other televangelist gives a damn about Jesus. He is back because the rest of us haven’t done anything about the particular kind of crime at which he excels. If we had, Hell trump would be in jail right now, as would so many other big business pastors.

America is still wide open for any thief smart enough to allude to the promise of eternal salvation instead of foolishly offering a quid pro quo in explicit and concrete terms. We are still willing to watch the elderly lose their life savings to these crack-pot con artists, just as we are willing to tolerate so many other crimes whose victims don’t have enough power and money to matter. They have an ally in the White House now, and these people who sell Jesus for a living grow bolder every day.  What they deliver to Donald Trump is a political base willing to take his word (and theirs) on any of the controversial issues of the day. What Donald Trump offers them is the support of worldly powers, powers left unchecked by the very gullibility of a political base that would donate money to the likes of Jim Bakker or spend it on an institution like Trump University. It’s a good time to be shameless. So, I guess it shouldn’t surprise me to see the likes of Bakker back in the news.

No doubt, we will see much more of him in the future, and of others just like him.

Praise Mammon!

I Vandalized a Work of Art

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ResizedTank

Close-Up of Tank

So I recently vandalized a piece of artwork. I totally tagged a painting by Austin Parkhill.

Cause that’s just how I roll!

…and because he invited me to.

Austin was in Utqiaġvik awhile back to complete a mural for Iḷisaġvik College. The man used to work here, before moving down to Homer. He is definitely missed.

Even so, we totally tagged his painting!

Yes, we did.

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Moni taking a picture of Austin at work.

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Bear face

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All 3 Panels

 

BTW: You should definitely check out more of Austin’s work on his own website, right HERE.

Lost in Translation

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Recent Korean

A more recent meal

I still remember the first time I ever went into a Korean restaurant. A friend and I had been playing pool down at the Cue Club in Las Vegas for a couple of hours. It was pretty late as we left, but both of us were quite hungry. Seeing Korean restaurants all over the plaza, as we had for years, we decided that it was was well past time to give one a try.

I don’t remember what either of us ordered, but I do remember that we were both pretty unsure of what we’d be getting. Familiar choices were available, but we both decided to avoid going for the Chinese items we’d both had before. We wanted to try Korean food, so that meant launching into unknown parts of the menu. Anyway, we both found something to order, and in time the food came around.

Two main dishes and a whole host of side dishes, plus some rice in a covered bowl and a bowl of soup for each of us.

We could tell that some of the side dishes were Kimchi, but some of them were a complete mystery. We weren’t entirely sure if we should add the rice to the main dishes or visa versa, eat them separate, etc. Were the side dishes really side dishes, or were we supposed to mix them in with the rest? We just didn’t know the drill. We thought about just plowing ahead, but it occurred to us that doing it wrong might mean missing out on the full experience, so we decided to ask.

The waitress didn’t speak English that well, and the question was at least a little odd, but we stumbled through it, and she seemed to understand us. Was there some trick to eating this? How were we supposed to go about this?

She hesitated.

Then she called over a second waitress and spoke to her in Korean.

The second waitress thought carefully and then began to explain something to the first, also in Korean. She went on for a while. …quite awhile! She was actually a little bit animated, and her answer must have taken at least five minutes.

Mike and I looked at each other. Clearly, we were right. There was something we should know, but what was it?

Our first waitress, asked a follow-up question.

The second answered her.

They began going back and forth, still in Korean. The full conversation must have taken at least ten minutes, tough it actually seemed much longer. We had no idea what they were saying to each other.

Mike and I prepared for the long and complex lesson we would surely get when this conversation was over.

Finally, the first waitress turned to us and we both straightened up, ready for the coming lecture.

“It’s just food. eat it!”

***

Needless to say; when a certain Bill Murray film came out, I laughed my ass off at a certain scene.

A Happy Memory

Andy at Majestic Mold Making

Andy at Majestic Mold Making

The campaign itself was beyond epic. Twenty-plus years of First Edition AD&D, all played in the same imagined world involving mostly the same group of players had left us with quite a cast of recurrent characters. By now, each of us had some that were old enough to get a driver’s license. My old high school friend, Andy, and I each had characters old enough to buy beer …legally. It was a rich world we had built up over the years. Somewhere in there, we had the idea to round up our biggest and best bad-ass characters and run the campaign to end all campaigns with them.

Each of us chose a bunch of our favorites to add into the small army we would be using and we decided to alternate the job of running the game. Each game would essentially be a one-off with which we would loosely fold into a larger plot ending with some scale of bad-assery we had never gamed before.

The whole thing fizzled of course, as campaigns often do, but not before furnishing us with a few great sessions.

***

Andy ran this particular session. He set up the scenario as we put together out a take-out order and someone set up the stereo with a couple choice CDs. We began placing our characters in the setting and getting ready for the challenge. Straight to initiative! Andy wasn’t messing around, but just before we began the hack & slash, he announced an odd twist. There would be a single modifier of -5 to +5 on all die rolls that would apply to each of the characters belonging to one player for an indefinite time during the course of the game. Andy would assign the modifier whenever it proved appropriate appropriate. We received no explanation, and that was that.

Okay, sounds like fun!

I think Mike got the first modifier. It was a small bonus of +2 or +3, and it helped him a bit with whatever challenge we had for the day. Soon, the modifier changed and I received a -1. Then my penalty was upped to -3 or so. Later Mike got a penalty, and then I got a bonus of +3, followed by a penalty of -5. (That hurt!)

…and we had no idea where this was coming from.

Generally speaking, Mike was doing better than me. He got mostly benefits. Chuck had few modifiers (mostly small penalties), and this modifier never seemed to apply to Andy’s characters at all. I think we once went an hour or so with no modifier to anyone. I was the only player in the entire game to receive the maximum penalty.

The timing wasn’t consistent. It changed at close to an hour, but not quite, and not always at the same time interval anyway. It fell almost in between rounds, but not quite. On an exceptionally long round (we had lots of characters on the table), it might change half way through, but at least once it had lasted 2 rounds, and we even checked. Andy insisted that it wasn’t time to change the modifier.

We thought about actions taken by different players. Was it a response to certain specific spells? Success or failure in attacks? Something to do with alignment? Could it be the enemy? Was there some object on the table that made the difference? Perhaps movement of characters into different parts of the game surface? There were moments when we thought we might have seen a pattern, but then something always happened to debunk our thoughts on the subject. We played the entire game without figuring it out, and it was a very long game, long enough to get a call from another friend’s wife wondering when he was coming home. Not till it’s over (of course!), but we never did figure out the basis for the modifier. The whole challenge ended without resolving that one troublesome question.

I remember this had been a particularly satisfying game. We were still laughing and smiling as we packed. Andy had run a great scenario, enough that we actually said so. Compliments were a rarity in this crowd (except for the back-handed kind of course). Oh there was the occasional ‘fuck you!’ or ‘asshole!’ delivered right after someone did something exceptionally well. That was what usually counted as praise in our circle. But ‘good game’ and ‘I enjoyed this’ were not phrases that rolled often off of our tongues. Still, Andy got a couple of those remarks at the end of the session.

And then we asked.

“The modifier? What was it?”

“Oh, it was based on the music. I gave bonuses if I liked the disc you put on and penalties if I didn’t.”

(The hour with no modifier to anyone had been the one time Andy put on a disk himself. It was The Reverend Horton Heat, as I recall, is what earned me the full penalty of -5.)

I don’t think I ever stopped laughing about that.

***

Andy Sneed introduced me to RPGs way back in our freshman year of high school. He asked me if I’d ever payed Tunnels and Trolls before, and after hearing me say ‘no’, Andy promptly informed me that I was playing the game with him and his brother that coming Saturday. ‘Who the Hell is this guy’ I wondered? But I agreed to come try it. To say that I was hooked from the first game session would be putting it mildly. It was the beginning of a lifelong interest and a long-standing friendship.

Andy and I lost touch with each other in recent years, but I had always hoped we would one day end up back in the same room, tossing playful insults back and forth at each other and fighting over what music we’d listen to as we slew another dragon.

…probably in some old folk’s home!

Sadly, no.

Andy’s funeral was yesterday. His passing has me thinking of this story and countless others like it. I will miss my friend.

Rest in Peace, Andy.

Gray Mountain Murals

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69915490_10220346134668553_8025486970597670912_n“Honey, this place looks like it’s closed.”

Moni is trying to brush the sleep from her eyes. Leaning forward as far as the seat belt will let her, she cranes her neck around to see if she can see why I have pulled over. The more she sees, the more she realizes how very right she is. As I recall, this place was already closed over ten years ago when I used to drive through Gray Mountain on my way to work. It’s well past closed now.

“Why are we stopping here?”

After a moment, she realized the answer to her question.

(Click to embiggen. …You know you wanna!)

This seems to be the work of Jetsonorama whose “Painted Desert Project” has produced a lot of wonderful pieces. I am occasionally lucky enough to get down there and see some of this beautiful work.

FWIW: My Instagram.

A Late Night Conversation

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Elaborate ScenelMoni: honey if a man shot at me and I died, would you avenge me.

Me: mmmm …maybe.

(Whack!)

Moni: you wouldn’t avenge me?

Me: I’d step in front of the bullet.

Moni: Awe!

Moni: But suppose you don’t get there in time, would you avenge me?

Me: What did you do to this guy anyway?

(WHACK!)

A Random Thought on Customer Service

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20190827_103245.jpgThis last weekend, I enjoyed a few rounds of beer along with a few rounds of one of my favorite games, “Unexploded Cow,” by Cheepass Games. It’s a great game, especially for anyone well into their cups. The game is just predictable enough to lend itself to a little strategy, but not so predictable that victory will always go to the better player. You can try, but you can’t really count on winning, so the important point is to sneak a bad cow into the herd of someone you love, have another brew, and enjoy talking trash to literally everyone at the table.

I love this game!

I mean, I love the game itself.

But the game itself also reminds me of a panel presentation I attended long ago featuring one of its designers, James Earnest. He shared all sorts of wonderful ideas about game design and the gaming business, but what I remember most was brief exchange that took place during the question and answer period. Earnest had described the conditions under which he might reduce the price of a game, and an audience member asked if he ever had customers angry because they had paid for a game shortly before he lowered the price of a product. His response was to say that if anyone ever complained about that, he would gladly refund the difference. This lead to one more question; “Aren’t you afraid someone will claim the refund fraudulently?” Suffice to say that the answer was ‘no’. In fact, Earnest told us, nobody had ever claimed the partial refund at all, fraudulent or otherwise, and he certainly wasn’t worried about the expense if someone did.

Mind you, this was well over a decade ago, so I have no idea if Cheapass Games ever suffered a wave of frivolous requests for small rebates, but at the time, Earnest seemed quite willing to accept the possibility that someone might somehow get such a con past him. Preventing that just wasn’t all that high on his list of priorities.

…which struck me as pretty cool.

***

Note: Another company, Greater Than Games, purchased Cheapass Games sometime back and Katie, their customer service manager, assures me that they would make such a refund now.

***

Whenever I remember this exchange, I am immediately reminded of a very different story, one involving a very different gaming company. It was a fantasy miniature-manufacturing company that had already gained a reputation for obnoxious treatment of others in the business when someone popped into a hobby forum to gripe about them. He had bought one of their larger miniatures for a price somewhere between ten and twenty dollars and when he got the miniature home, he discovered one part was defective. He asked for a refund or a replacement part.

Their customer service rep immediately told him that he should go back to the game store where he had bought the miniature and ask for a refund or a replacement. The store would refund him or replace the product and they would refund the store. This was how they preferred to do business, and no, that wasn’t all that unusual.

The customer then told them that the store had gone out of business (there was a lot of that going around at the time), and so this wasn’t an option. So they asked for proof that he had bought the mini and that the product was defective. He responded by sending them pictures. They then told him that if he mailed the product back to them, they would send a replacement.

It was at this point that the customer gave up. Mailing the product back would have cost a fair chunk of the value of the mini and he had already put more time into the efforts to get a replacement than it was worth. He wouldn’t be buying any more of their miniatures, and venting about it on the forum was pretty much the end of it as far as he was concerned.

The post appearing as it did on a popular website for miniature painters couldn’t have helped their sales much. This was a very niche market and a fair chunk of that niche had just been given a reason to think twice about doing business with them.

I’m not sure that I could pinpoint a specific moment at which this miniature company’s approach became unreasonable, and I never did hear their account of the exchange, but on taking the story at face value, I certainly understand the customer’s frustration. I can also think of numerous instances in which other companies in the business sent replacement parts to myself and my friends without so much as a request for anything but our mailing address or the name of a store in the area where we could pick them up. This might have incurred an extra cost to the companies in question, but I’m pretty sure it inspired a few extra sales from me at any rate.

***

The moral of the story?

Sometimes people can get so focused on watching the bottom line that they hurt themselves in the end. What a business gains or loses in currency may not be worth the cost in goodwill. Conversely, the goodwill of a customer can be well worth an extra expense, even a questionable expense. Mileage varies of course and there is a point at which people obviously need to draw the line. Still, I can’t help thinking a lot of folks draw that line far too early.

They do so at their own expense.

 

Donald Trump Could Let a Man Die on His Watch…

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2019-08-11 (2)Yesterday, the Idiot-in-Chief retweeted this little bit of tripe from one of the lesser grifters riding his crappy coattails to fame. This retweet an entire Gish Gallop in a single tweet. Seriously, you could write a book on the many ways in which this is simply stupid.

Idiots will idiate!

But the particular idiocy that I keep coming back to is this. This is the President of the United States, and Epstein was a high profile suspect in a Federal institution. Epstein’s welfare was the direct responsibility of federal officials, and those officials answer to Trump. If Jeffrey Epstein was killed by ANYONE, it is ultimately the responsibility of Donald Trump. More to the point, that Epstein died in this facility absolutely IS Donald Trump’s responsibility. No hypotheticals needed! Yet trump sits there, just like any other couch-potato, musing on the possibility that something awful might have happened as if he were not himself implicated in the very rumors he is spreading.

Donald Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the world. (Well, to be honest, that status would probably belong to Putin, but that aside,…) Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the United States, and yet he still reacts to major political events as though he is simply Archie Bunker sitting in the comfy chair with nothing better to go on than his first impression of a news item and no more responsibility for the events in question than any other guy who just walked into his living room tired from a long day of work and sat down in a chair to learn about events well beyond his scope of power and expertise. The problem here is that Donald Trump isn’t just another guy sitting in a chair learning about the news from the pundits of his personal choice. He is in charge of the institutions in question and this death happened on his watch. Ideally the President of the United States should do more and know more than this President appears to, and there is every indication that this appearance of a hapless hackwit with neither self-awareness nor public consciousness is absolutely the underlying reality of this living facade.

There is no underlying truth to anything Trump says or does, no deeper meaning or real intention underlying the many misleading slogans which constitute the entirely of his political engagement. Donald Trump is the surface impression he creates, nothing more and nothing less.

…all of which is why it is so disturbing to see the President talking as though he were not implicated in events unfolding under his own authority. Donald Trump is the proverbial man (as in ‘the man’) talking about the politics of his day as if he were just another underdog, just another guy trying to make sense of another scandal, a scandal in which he doesn’t seem to see himself, even though he is all over it.

It’s an iconic moment, this tweet. Trump at his Trumpiest. It is also the present GOP and its most GOPest, a party completely devoid of any sense of responsibility for anything it or its members do.

I suppose Republicans have played the underdog for as long as I can remember, but that particular theme wasn’t always quite so prominent as it is now. There was a time when it was substantially overshadowed by themes of respectability and adherence to time-honored traditions. When I was in college Republicans were more likely to hold themselves up as the standard of moral and intellectual propriety from which liberals sought to free themselves. Back then the proverbial Man was understood to be a conservative Republican, and Republicans typically assumed a level of authority across the board which is fundamentally inconsistent with the ethos of rebellious underdogs fighting the powers that be. They were the ones telling the rest of us how to live, and quite often they were happy to tell us why they had the authority to do that.

Something changed.

But what?

If you ask me, it was Rush Limbaugh. It was Limbaugh that taught conservatives the joys of playing the smartass in the back of the room instead of posing as the Professor and then having to answer somebody else’s smartass questions. Limbaugh never tried to assert the authority of tradition; he always preferred to mock the efforts to liberals in whatever they happened to be doing. He set aside the authority tat was once so central to ‘conservative’ politics and instead opted to play the underdog fighting against somebody else’s authority.

It was also Limbaugh that taught bigots and bullies all over the country to think of themselves as conservatives, and to filter their hatreds through a political lens. You don’t hate blacks or Mexicans or women or homosexuals, or any of these people, so went Limbaugh’s message. No, you hate liberals, and you can always identify a liberal by their willingness to advocate for any of these groups. What looks on the surface to be hatred of an oppressed minority is instead, according to Limbaugh, rebellion against the oppression of those who would tell you how to think and act. That was a powerful message, a bigotry-laundering, and a successful one at that. Today’s bigots don’t just come out and say that they hate this group or that group; they consistently tie their contempt to some narrative about liberalism. It’s liberalism that they really hate, so they want to believe, even if their anti-liberalism means consistent attacks on underprivileged minorities.

In point of fact, Limbaugh’s hyper-politicization of prejudice goes hand-in-hand with his assumption of under-dog status. In retrospect, this was the real-pay-off for decades of PC-bashing. It enabled ‘conservatives’ to disavow any sense of responsibility for the real world outcomes of anything people experienced as a result of the culture wars. In their rejection of political correctness, hateful words directed at the powerless became spirited rebellion aimed at the real powers that be, and those who sought to help the unfortunate became oppressors in the new plantation system. (Don’t laugh, the DNC as a plantation system is a prominent theme in republican circles. It’s shit, yes, but the deplorables are eating that shit right up!)

What Limbaugh did was to help the racism goes down by teaching conservatives to think of someone else as the real authority. That authority could be the liberals, the Democrats, the coastal elites, Hollyweird, or whatever else you care to imagine as the over-arching power behind any policy that might help the underprivileged. Either way, someone else always had the power, and the expression of prejudice became, under his influence, resistance to that authority. When you use the N-word, you’re not really attacking African-Americans. No, you are just offending liberals. If they weren’t so touchy, then you wouldn’t have done it, right? How many times has Limbaugh played this gambit and countless others like it? And how many of those now flashing the ‘OK’ sign in racist circles have done so just because it would offend liberals, not because they endorse white supremacy.

…supposedly at any rate.

Anyway, my point is that all this PC-bashing which has long since become central to ‘conservative’ Republican thinking effectively transformed the GOP’s relationship to power and authority. They are no longer the 80s-era Christians telling us who to marry or what books to read or how we should dress. No, now they are the ones defying authority. And thus punching down has come to look an awful lot like standing up to the Man in the rhetoric of cultural conservatives.

Donald Trump took over the market for this message in his Presidential campaign. PC-bashing was a big part of his act from the very beginning. Nobody has ever inhabited the role of the politically incorrect rebel with such abandon. Under Trump, defiance of political correctness became everything from the usual racial epithets and sexist slurs to outright violence against protesters or explicitly discriminatory policies. In being politically incorrect, Trump wasn’t just hurting people’s feelings; he was declaring his intent to hurt people in very real and very tangible ways. Lest we dwell on his victims too much, trump has always (true to form) called our attention to some external power, some liberal authority, that is always the real reason things had to get so ugly. Trump’s every exercise of power counts now as defiance of the ultimate power, the ‘deep state.’ With such a fictional power somewhere out there, how could any mere mortal be anything but an underdog?

…unless of course that person was an emissary of the deep state!

But that role, the role of a deep state emissary, is of course reserved for Trump’s enemies. By definition, they are the real powers that be. If someone gets in his way, they are the ones working to maintain the status quo. And Donald trump’s every abuse of authority takes on the significance of fighting the power of that deep state and its surrogates. The children who have suffered in his internment camps are really the victims of that deep state, so the deplorables tell us, just as those who died in those camps are really victims of the deep state. Everyone he hurts is really the victim of that other power, the shadowy deep state that made all of this necessary. That is reality as Trump and his ilk understand it. So when this faux-Underdog in orange is sitting on his ass learning that his own people have let an important prisoner die, then he too can imagine that it must really be the fault of someone else.

Someone with REAL power!

It stands to reason that Trump would blame the Clintons. Of course they too may have reasons for wanting Epstein to be silent, so he can make a case for it, but Trump has other reasons for pointing at the Clintons; those that have more to do with story-line. The notion that the Clintons did it fits the narrative he has been using since the 2016 campaign. Far from diminishing her authority, Trump inflated it. He made Hillary into a surrogate for anything the government had ever done that his fans might have found objectionable. Whatever powers she might have had as a Senator or a former First Lady, they were dwarfed in comparison to the power that trump attributed to her in his campaign rhetoric. I lost track of the number of times Trump blamed Hillary for anything that did or didn’t happen in Congress when she was there (and even when she wasn’t). Trump held Hillary personally responsible for things well beyond her control so many times in the actual debates it was laughable. As if she, simply by being a Senator, were directly responsible for everything Congress (or the President) did. I wondered then, as I do now, how anyone could be so gullible as to believe him? But I also knew it was a powerful story-line. It made Hillary a symbol of government, of the establishment, of anything that disaffected Americans could imagine themselves to be up against.Trump then had only to oppose her to become a hero to many.

…even to those who would be hurt by his policies.

In Trump’s rhetoric, Hillary (and the Clintons in general) came to represent the government as it is and he came to represent government as anyone might imagine they wanted it to be. (That Trump  never really provided policy details or even finished his own damned sentences certainly made it easier for others to imagine the details as they wished.) The logic of Trump’s rhetoric has consistently made Hillary (and the Democrats) responsible for actual policy and real-world consequences. He in turn occupies an ideal world of government that is divorced from anything, even his own policies. So, I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise us that the Democrats in Congress have been responsible for every failure of the Trump administration. Neither should it come as any surprise that we’ve been hearing “What about Hillary” for close to 3 years now. To the deplorables, she is still government as they imagine it to be, or at least everything that’s wrong with it, and Trump is still government as they might hope it will be. Anything bad that actually happens is still her fault. This symbolism just isn’t affected by facts. It never was. And that is why countless people look to her whenever something goes wrong, even if it is directly the result of something Trump himself has done.

It’s also why a President whose own Department of Justice somehow took one of the most important prisoners off suicide watch can sit there on his ass and wonder out loud if the Clintons didn’t really do it.