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Posts published in October 2019

Vending machines


Sometimes when you listen to people you hear the way they think. When we have a problem to solve, how we think about it, how we frame it can determine our ability to find a solution.

Many people see government as a vending machine. It’s a mysterious thing that takes our money and gives us back something we expect to be of equal value. If it doesn’t work we cuss it and kick it. If the candy bar is stale or melted, we cuss it and resolve not to put in any more quarters.

Does this image work for you? Should the services we receive from the government we elect equal the money we put into it in taxes levied?
If this is how you think government should work, then just how much is your safety worth? Government cannot ensure safety, but we expect some modicum here in the United States, don’t we? We don’t have roving bands of armed drug-lord-paid para-militaristas shooting up our town centers. Most of us live in relative safety. In fact, we are more likely to harm ourselves than be harmed by others here in Idaho.

What price would you put on justice? Or should justice just be something you get, like a candy bar, when you put enough money into the machine? On a trip to Washington DC I took a picture of the inscription above the columns of the US Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under Law. We here in Idaho are struggling to provide adequate defense for those charged with a crime and unable to afford their defense. Maybe you think they shouldn’t get the candy bar.

Do clean water and clean air have a value? I’ll bet you’d pony up more than a quarter if you didn’t have it. If you do, do you think it just comes for free?

I watch the arguments around public education in our state and the vending machine image sits right up front. If we pay teachers more will the test scores come up? If we make college more affordable will salaries rise? What will I get from this vending machine for my quarter?

Taxes are painful if you think you aren’t getting “your fair share”. I was heartened to find US citizens actually pay their federal income taxes at a pretty high rate; around 86%. And this compliance rate has been consistent for years. We beat most European countries, the UK at 78% and Italy a mere 62%. Are we suckers?

I wonder if this will change much as our faith in our government seems to be eroding. Almost 70% of Americans trusted government before the Vietnam War. Our faith rebounded under Reagan after the Nixon/Carter decline. But we have been below 25% of people who have faith in the government for ten years now. So why do we keep ponying up our quarters to this vending machine in which we have such little faith?

I think it’s because our local governments are doing a good job. We have little faith in Washington DC, but our city water systems and streets keep working. And we know our local mayor or city council. We should anyway.

The vending machine way of thinking can build distrust. One essay I read suggested government should be considered more like a barn raising. We all get together, share our different skills, energies and resources to accomplish something it would take just one of us way too long to accomplish.

So, get out and vote for your city council, your mayor, your fire district candidates. Your vote is just some of the work you can do. Don’t figure they can get this work done without all of us chipping in. Keep your quarters, raise a barn.



Clean it up or sweep it out.

The word corporatism seems, in a day when massive corporations occupy so large a part in society, like a natural: It’s short, simple and seems to relate to something specific.

It’s not that simple.

It has been used on the right to attack the left (notably during the Obama Administration) as a big-government approach; some on the left have attacked others on the left using the word to reflect a a too-close consortium with big corporations and the finance sector. It has been used on the left to attack the right for its close association with large business interests.

Author Michael Lind pointed out a few years ago that “there are at least four different and incompatible meanings of ‘corporatism’: political representation by vocational groups; centralized collective bargaining among employers and organized labor; modern industrial capitalism;1 and ‘crony capitalism’ or the corruption of public policy by special interests.”

Benito Mussolini preferred the term to fascism, which was the ideological label that stuck to his regime in Italy, and that might make for a fifth definition. Other dictators, including António de Oliveira Salazar of Portugal, also have used it.

Lind argued that “As an epithet, ‘corporatism’ fits into the worldview of Jeffersonian populists, for whom large corporations have always been suspect. And ‘corporatist’ as an insult also makes sense when deployed by libertarians who insist that they are pro-market, not pro-business.”
One libertarian writer suggests the term can be dated much earlier than a century ago as a reaction to capitalism, proposing a return to the governmentally-controlled guild and mercantile system, to “avoid the ills of laissez-faire capitalism, with its accidental (‘atomistic’) agglomerations of unconnected individuals.”

Lind’s complaint that corporatism has no clear discernible meaning seems well taken.

That doesn’t mean it couldn’t, and the word itself – forking off the base of corporate – offers something the work with. Merriam-Webster defines that original word as “formed into an association and endowed by law with the rights and liabilities of an individual,” and that could offer a concept “corporatism” could be drawn from.

Evidently, though, no one is especially eager to identify themselves with it.

Mitt Romney and the senators


I have to admit that I was not particularly impressed with Mitt Romney when he was running for president in 2012. He’d done a great job on the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002 and run a credible campaign for president in 2008, but his core values seemed elusive. Many of the positions he took in the 2012 election were substantially at odds with his track record as Governor of Massachusetts. It was hard to look beyond the attractive exterior and get a glimpse into his soul.

Romney has been in the Senate for less than a year, but I think we are starting to see what he’s made of. On January 1 of this year, Romney wrote an op-ed saying a president “should unite us and inspire us to follow ‘our better angels.’” He observed that Trump “has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

When most of his Republican colleagues were incorrectly claiming that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report completely cleared the President of wrongdoing, Romney did not join the chorus. Responding to the Mueller Report on April 19, Romney said, “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office in the land, including the President.”

When Republican Senators were either hiding under their desks to avoid comment or praising the President for inviting China and Ukraine to investigate a political opponent, Romney was having none of it. On October 4, he tweeted, “By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”

On October 17, Romney described Trump’s sellout of the Syrian Kurds as “a bloodstain in the annals of American history.” He said a supposed ceasefire, which was being trumpeted as a victory by Trump, “does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally, adding insult to dishonor….The administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly, even as our ally has suffered death and casualty. Their homes have been burned and their families have been torn apart.”

In response to administration claims that Trump did not fold to Turkish strongman Erdogan in the October 6 phone call that greenlighted the Turkish assault on the Kurds, Romney had some telling words. “Are we so weak and inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey?”

It is clear that Romney grasps the danger of an American President unable to stare down the despotic leader of a much weaker country. If Erdogan said he was going to attack anyway, he could have simply been told his forces would meet a lot of American steel at the Syrian border. He could have been told the U.S. valued the great sacrifices the Kurds made to eliminate the Islamic State threat to America and that the U.S. stands by its friends. Erdogan would have been the one backing down. Can anyone picture Ronald Reagan turning tail in these circumstances?

When the leader of a great nation displays weakness on the international stage, it only emboldens strongmen around the world. We can expect some of those strongmen to test our President’s courage in coming months because of that perceived weakness. Let’s keep a keen eye on North Korea’s murderous despot, Kim Jong-un, because he’s likely to pose the next challenge.

It has been interesting watching the unveiling of Mitt Romney’s inner being. He seems to grasp the need for checks and balances--the idea that members of the Senate have a responsibility to exercise independent judgment on behalf of our great nation. Too many of them have become enablers, afraid to speak out when the President does wrong. My hope is that Romney can instill some honor, independence and patriotism in his Republican colleagues.

Who’s in charge


I’ve come to think our nation is running on auto-pilot; that there’s no responsible adult at the controls which makes us very, very vulnerable.

With last week’s childish display of Republican arrogance and ignorance by those gate-crashers in the U.S. House, I hope we’ve seen the last of such rule-breaking in an attack on proper protocols. But, I doubt it.

The evidence is beginning to mount that our misbegotten “president” is dangerously close to being out-of-control. Watching and listening to him is frightening, even to those of us lacking the medical credentials to make an official diagnosis. We’re seeing his lack of focus and mental disassociation with reality. Daily.

In what seemed a laughable quote, he noted the “success” of a new portion of his beloved wall being built between Mexico and Colorado. Laughable, yes, until you see it a couple of times and remember there are about 800 horizontal miles between those two points.

His foreknowledge of the schoolboy “attack” on that House hearing - and apparent approval - is yet another indicator this is someone who will stop at nothing to save himself from the certain impeachment that’s coming down the political track.

Time and again, he’s created international calamities and given way to aggressive dictators. Look at the military and humanitarian mess in Syria where the only “winners” are our sworn enemies. Last week, he said our troops are “coming home.” They’re not. They’re being moved to Northern Iran. Then he added, “We’re protecting the Syrian oil fields.” Say WHAT?

Sending American military to Saudi Arabia. For what? He’s treating our troops like mercenaries. If the Saudi’s need protection from God knows what, they can buy an army from someone who doesn’t want to build a hotel in Riyadh.

There are more examples of an addled mind. Many, many more. But, back to impeachment. The process will be introduced and voted on. He will be impeached. The Senate will hold a trial. What sort of trial and under what circumstances remain to be seen. Trump supporter Mitch says he “can’t see any reason why it would last more than six days.” Interesting number.

If there’s ever been a time in our nation’s history where it’s been impossible to look ahead six months or so with any certainty, we’re living it. What comes out of Congress will be a crap shoot. How many Republicans will finally read the “writing-on-the-wall” is an unknown.

But, one thing is absolutely certain. Democrats do have control of the House and of the proceedings. Nancy Pelosi is firmly in charge. And you can bet the farm, everything will be done “by the book.” Every “T” crossed. Every “I” dotted. Every one! There’ll be no rush to bring the bill of impeachment to the floor until everything is just right.
There’ll be no “do-overs” on this one. The stakes are too damned high.
Meantime, who’s in charge? Who’s running “the store?”

I don’t mean to sound like the 1960's movie “Seven Days In May,” in which a small group of generals plot a coup against the president, but you have to wonder what’s going on with Pentagon brass as they watch this president fall apart. One thing successful military leaders never, ever forget is the troops. Generals not only rely on adherence to orders in the ranks but also to respect for the leaders issuing those orders.

What Trump has allowed to happen in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen has to be weighing on the military. He’s shown his disrespect by using that military in egregious ways. Starting with that damned parade he ordered up to which the brass said “NO.” That refusal to “fall-in-line”wasn’t ignored by the troops. Trump’s lies about where the soldiers leaving Syria are going hasn’t been ignored, either. Nor have the orders to go to Saudi Arabia to “protect the oil fields.”

My years in the military were spent in communications. While seeing thousands of Americans wearing the same uniforms can lead onlookers to believe all are “of one mind,” I assure you, that’s not the case. There are many military news outlets civilians never see. There are stories aimed at a military audience that are, most often, well-written and incite full. The folks in uniform are not just one large crowd dressed alike. And you can bet they’re looking up the chain-of-command for clues to what’s ahead.

And in Congress. How many Republicans have one foot on the gangplank, ready to leave a sinking ship? How many are checking their “hole card” to determine how long to back a certain political loser? Who and what will make the difference when the winds change? And they will.

In the White House, who’s in charge? If it’s Mulvaney, then no one. Guliani? Hardly. Conway to be the next Chief-of-Staff? Ha!

The one - and only one - in charge is Trump. A man cornered and running out of time. A man who can see light at the end of the tunnel and it ain’t daylight. A man who’s never been forced to “stand pat” with a losing hand when the deal goes bad. This is one he can’t walk away from. And he knows it.

So, who’s in charge? All we can do is hang on. And, as Bette Davis said, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

Poisoning the well


At a recent town hall, Idaho’s First District Congressman Russ Fulcher bashed federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies, claiming they are acting like an unaccountable fourth branch of government. He went on to say that the agencies hate each other, don’t work well together, and seem to be acting outside the law. What a nice little echo chamber for our paranoid president who constantly attacks federal law enforcement and the intelligence community with wild, unsubstantiated accusations.

Fulcher’s loose, uninformed babble might score points with the conspiracy theorists, but it is irresponsible and very possibly harmful to legitimate investigative and law enforcement efforts.

Of course, Fulcher wouldn't be the first Idaho demagogue to make a name for himself lambasting agencies of our federal government. His first district predecessors -- Helen Chenoweth, Steve Symms, Bill Sali, and Butch Otter -- all took their cues from the same playbook, whether demanding the feds "butt out," conjuring up images of predatory "black helicopters," or denigrating agents as "jack-booted thugs."

But Fulcher is wrong.

Having served for seven years as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho, I worked day in and day out with all of our nation's intelligence agencies and can attest to the fact that the men and women who do the critical and often dangerous work of federal law enforcement are -- with precious few exceptions -- outstanding public servants. Yes, there is the occasional federal agent who is overly zealous, unethical, dishonest, or even corrupt -- but such individuals are extremely few and very far between.

Moreover, the agencies do not "hate each other," as Fulcher asserts. Both the leadership and the rank and file in the various agencies understand full well that teamwork is essential if they are to be effective. Are there occasional turf wars? Yes, there are. But while the agencies might compete for resources and recognition, they see their missions as complimentary. They serve the same nation, swear to defend the same Constitution, protect the same people, and follow the same laws.

When individual agents or entire agencies truly act outside the law they should be promptly and fully held to account. But broadsides made of whole cloth, such as those lobbed by Trump and Fulcher, can do real damage to our system of justice. What are we to say to the victims of federal crime when hung juries result if just one juror refuses to accept the sworn testimony of a federal agent because people like Trump and Fulcher have so poisoned the well that the juror rejects the agent’s testimony out of hand?

Many Idahoans have long had a love-hate relationship with the federal government; but this wholesale vilification of federal law enforcement by our president and Mr. Fulcher is unwarranted and recklessly undermines public confidence in some of our indispensable institutions. By sewing fear and distrust, they will harvest chaos. This makes it all the more important that we who have worked in federal law enforcement forcefully and consistently speak up and call out the lies.

(drawing/Robert Huffstutter)

Corruption in plain sight


The ultimate danger of the Trump presidency, even beyond the potentially catastrophic consequences of the recent abandonment of northern Syria to the Turks, Russians and ISSI, has always been that Trump will completely and permanently warp the simple notion of facts and destroy the idea of acceptable political behavior.

There was always going to be days of reckoning with the rabble-rousing, norm busting, and corruption pushing president. Those days have now surely arrived and the ultimate question has been framed for Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation.

“It is no longer a question of whether this happened,” the veteran and very measured Dan Balz of the Washington Post wrote this week concerning he latest revelations about the Ukraine shakedown. “It is now a question of how the president explains it and how lawmakers — especially Republicans — choose to respond to it.”

That is the question for Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson. Also a question for Gov. Brad Little and all the other Republicans who have shelved their sensibility about ethics, while bowing at the Trump alter.

As my friend David Parker, a political scientist at Montana State University, wrote this week on Twitter: “Imagine the following: Churchill, calling FDR: ‘We could really use some help here to stop the Nazis…’ FDR: ‘Winston, sure thing – but not until you give me some dirt on that bastard Dewey.’” David was factiously, of course, referring to the unthinkable: Franklin Roosevelt withholding critical aid to Great Britain in exchange for shaking down the prime minister for help defeating his 1944 Republican opponent.

Unthinkable, at least until Trump created a shadow State Department, put the criminally incompetent Rudy Giuliani in charge and used a Portland hotel operator who gave a $1 million to his inaugural fund as his messenger. All this – the illegality of seeking a political campaign favor from a foreign leader, the rogue foreign policy, the fundamentally venal corruption – is right there in plain sight.

Trump corruption was also glaringly on display with the president’s decision to award the upcoming G-7 summit of leaders of major industrial nation to his own Florida golf resort. Under intense pressure from among others Mike Simpson, who admitted it was getting a bit difficult to defend such blatant Trump corruption, the president backed down. Of course he blamed Democrats and the press and dismissed Constitutional prohibitions against his sleazy behavior as “phony.”
Donald Trump in his element at his Doral golf course in Florida.

So, why exactly was it difficult for many Republicans to condemn such corruption? The president awarded a huge contract to himself after all, which in a simpler, more ethical time would have been the very definition of improper, self-dealing. The fact that the Constitution directly addresses such misconduct ought to have made reproaching Trump an easy call. And, of course, the president never admitted his scheme was wrong, just that it had been criticized.

Imagine if Gov. Brad Little owned a hotel in downtown Boise rather than a ranch. And imagine that he ordered all visiting Republicans or traveling state employees to stay at his hotel. Would that be improper?

Or imagine that House Speaker Scott Bedke owned a printing business rather than a ranch. And then imagine that he ordered all state agencies to do their printing with his business. Would that be corrupt?

That type of scandal would be spread across every front page in Idaho. There would be demands for investigations and calls for resignation. Yet, some Republicans actually defended Trump’s corruption before he cut off the limb they crawled out on.

“It may seem careless politically,” said North Dakota Republican Senator Kevin Cramer, “but on the other hand there’s tremendous integrity in his boldness and his transparency.”

Forehead hit table.

And there was Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s “economic development defense” of Trump corruption. “Anything that draws a major event like that to Florida is not something I would discourage,” Rubio said.

That’s a far cry from the Rubio of 2016 when he was warning fellow Republicans about Trump. “On issue after issue, what he’s saying to people isn’t true,” Rubio said then. “It’s called a con job. And we’re not going to allow a con artist to take control of the party of Lincoln and Reagan.”

Yes, yes we are. In fact, we have.

I would never have imagined that Mitt Romney would have become the keeper of the Republican soul, but that is precisely what has happened. Virtually alone among major GOP officeholders, Romney clearly has a conscious and clearly knows that character must still count in public life.
The Atlantic’s profile of Mitt Romney positions the former presidential candidate as the “ethical hall monitor” of the modern GOP

“Berating another person, or calling them names, or demeaning a class of people, not telling the truth—those are not private things,” Romney told journalist McKay Coppins who wrote about the Utah Mormon recently in The Atlantic. “If during the campaign you pay a porn star $130,000, that now comes into the public domain.”

Romney told another interviewer this week, “We certainly can’t have presidents asking foreign countries to provide something of political value. That is, after all, against the law.”

The House impeachment investigation will grind on and there will certainly be more – perhaps many more – revelations of corruption, illegal activity, dishonesty and debasement of the truth. The Giuliani cesspool alone will provide enough content for two new seasons of “Law and Order.”

The question is this: what do we do about it? Do members of the Idaho delegation continue to accept this profound level of corruption at the very top of the American government? Will they continue to be party to resetting the ethical sideboards for future presidential behavior? Will they uphold their oath to “protect and defend” the Constitution? Will they finally realizing that defending the indefensible is just too hard?

The days of reckoning are here. And, if irony had not died when Donald Trump moved into the White House, we could shake our heads at the fact that the president proclaimed this week “National Character Counts Week.”

“May we never forget that our Nation is only as strong as the virtue and character of our citizenry,” Trump’s proclamation read. He obviously forgot the line about the “virtue and character” of the president.

Snack time


It was the call-out for pizza and Chick-fil-A that nailed it. One question that might be asked of Idaho First District Representative Russ Fulcher is, did he consume his share? Another is, what else did he and his compatriots get out of the early morning adventure?

When the group of Republican U.S. House members including Fulcher gathered in a subterranean hallway at the U.S. Capitol to protest the impeachment investigation going on behind a closed door, they seemed at first to have little in mind other than to protest. There was a show of abrupt determination to break into the closed door proceedings, captured on the smart phones many of them carried along … into the room where smartphones were banned. (Fulcher’s office said he was not one of the phone-bearing members.)

That location was a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, a congressional place somewhat like the White House Situation room. A Wikipedia entry describes it: “Access to SCIFs is normally limited to those individuals with appropriate security clearances. Non-cleared personnel in SCIFs must be under the constant oversight of cleared personnel and all classified information and material removed from view in order to prevent unauthorized access. As part of this process, non-cleared personnel are also typically required to surrender all recording, photographic and other electronic media devices. All of the activity and conversation inside is presumed restricted from public disclosure.” A sign outside the room noted the rules.

The group of House members was not cleared, did bring their smartphones, and may have exposed whatever was in the room to a security breach.

They were not the first members of Congress to protest at the Capitol; a group of Democrats held a sit-in in the House over gun control issues. They may, however, have been the first to violate security rules.

It sounds spur-of-moment, but it wasn’t. It apparently was discussed the day before with President Donald Trump (who reportedly approved). The planning also was enough to account for food - the aforementioned 17 boxes of pizza (better than half a pie per congressperson) plus edibles from Chick-fil-A. This puts them one up on the occupiers at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge a couple of years ago, who famously pleaded to be supplied with snacks.

The federal officials didn’t stay nearly as long as the activists at Malheur, though: Only about five hours. They succeeded in two things: Delaying the latest round of impeachment inquiry testimony by that amount of time, and maybe making a visual with enough splash to soak up media oxygen, diminishing by a small amount the latest negative (for the president) headlines in the investigation. But not much else.

Usually, protests have a clear complaint - hopefully something people on the outside can easily understand and sympathize with. That wasn’t so much the case in the SCIF protest. They did complain that the inquiry was unfair and secretive and biased. But that runs into some basic problems. Close to half of the members of Congress eligible to hear testimony inside the closed room were Republicans, who have been allowed to (and have been) actively participate in the proceedings. What’s happened in that room is much like a grand jury, which typically is closed to public access; everything that will be used will appear in public soon. The process being used here also is much like the process used by House Republicans a few years ago when they led an inquiry into Benghazi. As happened then, the plan is that the information-gathering stage gives way later to public hearings.

That’s the process. As for the substance - what the president and his advisors did in relation to Ukraine - what the inquiry is about - the protesters had little to say.

The closest I’ve seen to that came when Fulcher was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to go into that [impeachment] vote without that knowledge. If the president has done something that warrants impeachment, we need to know about that.”

Absolutely right. No protest is needed to accomplish that, though. All he has to do is wait until the next stage of the process, when the action moves to open committee rooms, as is planned. But he shouldn’t expect that the proceedings will become any more comfortable at that stage.

Don’t take offense


In the middle of my career I was given a gift. The nurse I had worked with for a long time told me she would need to be leaving the office at 4PM each day to deal with family issues. She said she could arrange for someone to cover for the last couple hours of the day. I thought about it long and hard and said, OK, I will see my last patient at 4, then with finishing dictation, paperwork and hospital rounds I could be home by 5-530. Prior to this I’d get home by 630-7 on days I wasn’t on call.

But with this new schedule I was able to get home and have dinner with my wife and four daughters most nights. It was a generous gift. It cost me money, but I gained in memories and time with my family.

My oldest daughter was by then in Junior Hi School, the youngest in grade school. It was expected that we all sit around the table, pass the food and have conversation. One prolonged conversation I remember had to do with one daughter reacting to another with the loud declaration, “I am offended that you would say that!” The conversation usually stopped for a while after such a declaration.

As the pattern kept being repeated I intervened. “Taking offense is something you have control over. You are not in control over what comes out of your sister’s mouth. If you want to have a conversation, it’s fine to feel offended, but you cannot expect the person you are conversing with to guess or know what might offend you. Take control of your own offense. Share your feelings if you chose, but when you take offense and react with anger, the conversation is probably over. We can do better.”

You can imagine with school-age daughters this took some practice.

This last week we had our President’s Chief of Staff tell us all to “Get over it!” when reporters questioned him on our president seeking aid from a foreign leader for his own political benefit. In fact, he acknowledged that the president withheld appropriated military aid to incentivize cooperation, though President Trump has declared, “No quid pro quo!”

The Chief of Staff’s “Get over it!” declaration sounded like we, or the reporter might have taken offense at a politically incorrect utterance. Indeed, the Trump for President campaign now has embraced the slogan “Get Over It” with a fund-raising t-shirt.

When a conversation is the goal, it is important to “get over” one’s strong feelings to further understanding. But when one needs to be making judgements about another person’s character or indeed actions, I think of another phrase I ran across in medical residency training. Residents are new medical school graduates. We had four years of medical school and limited patient care and management but now we staffed hospital wards, emergency rooms and clinics under the supervision of teaching attending physicians. The phrase I heard that stuck with me was from good teachers who ultimately would decide whether we residents would graduate to the position of practicing physicians. It was: “Forgive and Remember”. Mistakes occur, some can be severe; forgive those mistakes, but remember them and look for patterns, because some patterns can prove to be fatal for patients when a physician is independently practicing. If these patterns cannot be corrected, the resident should not be graduated.

My interpretation of “Get over it!” was our President’s chief of staff calling for us to either dismiss shaking down a foreign leader as unimportant, or just forget that it might be an illegal bribe.

I understand that many are offended by our President’s demeanor, his tweets, his untruths, his policy decisions and actions. We should “Get Over” our feelings of offense. But we should remember his actions, his cumulative behavior, his abuse of power and then make some judgement about his fitness.

Alternative facts


“Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
► Chico Marx (Usually attributed to Groucho Marx as, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” The Groucho-attributed version scans better, but he may not actually have said it.)

When President Trump’s Counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Meet the Press on January 22, 2017, she was asked about the president’s press secretary’s recent description of the size of the crowd at the recent inaugural.

Host Chuck Todd asked why he would “utter a provable falsehood” (which it was, as photographic evidence soon showed).

Conway responded that he was delivering “alternative facts.”

Todd: “Look, alternative facts aren’t facts. They’re falsehoods.”

One actual fact is that this conversation took place; it was watched live by many people, and video evidence of it exists. Another apparent fact is that Todd was correct. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fact this way: “In contemporary use, fact is generally understood to refer to something with actual existence, or presented as having objective reality.”

Conway tried to walk back her statement, indicating that the press secretary was referring to additional facts which had not yet been included in the discussion. But “alternative facts” is a modified version of “fact.”

As in, a modified version of “truth.” (It might barely fit the Stephen Colbert coinage of “truthiness.”)

One of the top Twitter has tags, #AlternativeFacts, was swiftly born.
But as one Psychology Today article4 points out, the concept at least is not new: It derives from the same stream, and uses the same structuring, as the messaging of the totalitarian state in the George Orwell novel 1984 – “newspeak.” Newspeak, among its other features, is designed to avoid “negative” words; these ideas instead are conveyed by using modifiers of “positive” words. The word “bad” would be made over, for example, into “ungood.” Similarly, “falsehood” or “lie” is translated into “alternative fact” – not a negative in sight.

Just place a modifier in front of “fact” – which choice of modifier almost does not matter – and you get the same effect, both as a matter of language and in real world practice.

If you do need an actual (real) alternative, try fict.

Used (invented?) by Greg Jenner, a history consultant at the British Broadcasting Corporation, a fict “is a falsehood that is widely believed to be true.” This sounds like a commonplace word waiting to be unleashed.