I watched Joe Biden’s acceptance speech at the Democrats’ convention. It was unusually and pleasantly brief, and because there was no live audience, it wasn’t interrupted dozens of times by applause. So it was watchable for me. Later I went back and read it for this blog post.
I read but didn’t watch President Trump’s acceptance speech. I mostly avoid watching and listening to him, and I usually prefer to read such speeches anyway. His was long-ish, with many interruptions for applause. Life’s too short.
I thought it might be interesting to compare what the two rivals said about the United States of America — specifically our heritage and our historical and current place in the world.
A small fraction of conservatives view almost any taxpayer-funded service provided by government as socialism, and anything that smacks of community as communism.
It’s not just the obviously redistributive programs like progressive income tax, earned income credit, housing subsidies, etc. They denounce the basics too: public roads, public libraries, water and sewer systems. You can hear just about anything government proposes denounced as socialism, if it involves spending, hiring, or making new law or regulations.
This faction has its own wing nut fringe. We heard from them in 2018, when Hurricane Florence hit. A Chick-fil-A in North Carolina opened on Sunday (which they almost never do) to provide free food to refugees in three local refugee shelters. Crazy as it sounds, these fringe conservatives said a business’s voluntary donation of free chicken sandwiches to hungry travelers was socialism. (Some on the left were unhappy for other reasons.)
In a bizarre turn worthy of 2020, now some on the left make the same claim: any service government provides is socialism.
This is the second half of an essay on cloth masks — on their own merits and as a symbol of our loss of nuance in the public square. If you haven’t read Part 1, it’s a good place to start. It focuses mostly on masks and their effectiveness. Here I’ll summarize several facets of mask-related nuance, then turn to more general questions: why losing our sense of nuance matters, how it may have happened, and a few things we might do about it.
I Wear a Cloth Mask, But …
For me, wearing a cloth mask to slow the spread of COVID-19 is not a one-sided question. There’s nuance here. Allow me to illustrate.
I wear a cloth mask at church, at stores, and at work right now, even sometimes when it’s not required. I don’t mind that my mask protects you a lot more than it protects me. And I can accept a cloth mask’s usefulness even when I know it’s far less than 100% effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. (See Part 1.)
I wear a mask, but I agree that elected and unelected officials have confused the issue by saying one thing, then another. I agree that their recommendations may be influenced by their own goals, especially as regards the November 2020 election.
I wear a mask, but I acknowledge that the pandemic itself has been politicized, with deadly effect. Even the science has been politicized — corrupted — also with deadly effect. Yet I don’t simply reject science or politics; each has its place.
To mask or not to mask? Cloth masks, I mean. The nature of the debate suggests a larger problem.
Some people’s views of cloth masks are reasoned and nuanced, but extreme responses on both sides are frequent. Even dwelling on the question may seem extreme, when … but you don’t need me to list the world’s or a nation’s troubles. Do we really have time and mental energy to spare for a sustained quarrel over cloth masks?
Beyond health considerations, the cloth mask has come to symbolize for me the death of nuance in our thought and discourse. We’ve lost our taste for complexity, for seeing more than one side of a question, for reserving judgment and forming a balanced view. From our family dinner tables to our national politics, we reject depth and perspective, and weaponize the shallowest version of everything against our political enemies … er, opponents.
We’ve downed those trendy cocktails of fear and anger until we may be too drunk to self-govern. Perhaps we’re drunk on trivia too, in Mark Steyn’s phrase. The almost-ubiquitous cloth mask is a tangible talisman of our inflamed, intemperate time.
I’ll try to explain. And before this two-parter is done, I’ll discuss some remedies — or at least muse on some things we could do that might help. (I don’t want to oversell.)
Drawing freely from the Declaration of Independence and the passing scene, and dividing roughly by topic, I hold these truths — these American ideals — to be self-evident:
Individual Worth and Dignity
That all men and women should be equal before human law, as they are equal before the law and mercy of God.
That each human individually is endowed by the Creator, not by earthly government, with certain inalienable rights.
That among these rights (it’s a partial list) are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This is the fundamental American ideal: we should be free to live our lives according to our own individual senses of happiness, as far as that is compatible with a free society which credibly attempts to balance the competing, legitimate rights of all individuals and to defend itself from enemies foreign and domestic.
I have a Democratic primary ballot in front of me. I’m not a Democrat, and I’ve never voted in a Democratic primary before. But the Democrats want me to vote in their presidential primary, so I will. Utah is a Super Tuesday state this year, and that’s tomorrow.
Has enough time passed that we can look calmly at certain aspects of President Trump’s impeachment and trial? Locally, the Utah legislature has backed off; they’re not pushing through a resolution censuring Senator Mitt Romney for voting yea on one article of impeachment. There are still a couple of electronic billboards along I-15 in Salt Lake County which are inviting him to quit, but that could go on for years.
[Later note: For some reason this post did not become visible to the public generally when it should have. One way or another, it’s my mistake, and I apologize. The billboards on my commute telling Senator Romney to resign seem to have disappeared by now, and our minds are on other, bigger things. But the lessons here are portable, and the experience bears remembering, even if you’re reading this in March, not February, 2020. As ever, thanks for reading!]
Several weeks ago, the US House of Representatives impeached the President of the United States by a close and almost entirely partisan vote. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally held another vote, on a resolution appointing the House managers for the Senate trial and formally sending the impeachment to the Senate. Now the Senators have been sworn in and the rules established, and the trial is beginning.
Meanwhile, and closer to home, I haven’t blogged here in slightly over a year. In case my reasons interest you — they have a lot to do with the present political climate — you’re welcome to peruse another article I’m posting simultaneously, “On Blogging and Not Blogging in the Trump Years.”
I’m looking forward to blogging on other topics, but …
If the proverbial cross between an elephant and rhino is an “elephino,” then this impeachment is … what? A giant elephonkey in the room?” So let’s talk about impeachment generally, and this impeachment specifically. I’ll mention revolution and counterrevolution before we’re done.
Impeachment Is Political
The impeachment we’ve been watching is a political process. That sounds like a bad thing, but it’s important to realize that it’s inherently political. Because of this, some things matter and some don’t, in a procedural sense. I’ll tell you what I mean.
I haven’t blogged here since the aftermath of the 2018 midterm election. If you’ll forgive the possible narcissism, I’ll tell you why. Then I’ll examine two of the reasons in the context of our current politics. President Trump’s name will come up, as it also does in a separate, simultaneous post about impeachment and due process.
One reason for my long silence is, I’ve been writing other things:
several posts on local issues and elections at afelection.info, which involved many hours of work;
occasional posts on non-political topics at bendablelight.com, where I write about books, religion, high school bands, etc., but not a lot lately about anything; and
some fiction, including some (local) award-winning short fiction and my first novel, which is now ready for beta readers.
I’ve also been busy at work.
My supply of mental and physical energy is not increasing with age.
And sometimes life gets complicated, despite my efforts to simplify.
But it’s more than all that, which brings me to our topic.
I haven’t been ignoring national politics. I consume about as much content as before, from across the political spectrum. I’ve outlined and even drafted a few blog posts along the way. I still discuss issues with friends, family members, and acquaintances of various political stripes, in person and online. But I’ve left blog posts unfinished and unposted, and I’ve discussed issues with others a lot less than before.
The 2018 election is mostly behind us by now. In the past I usually haven’t waited a week to recap an election and inject my own mordant thoughts. In the past we almost always had firm results on Election Night. But this is the age of the mail-in ballot, when Election Day is too late to vote by mail, and Election Night is too soon to draw firm conclusions.
So locally we’re waiting for Utah County in particular, which our governor dubbed “an epicenter of dysfunction,” to finish counting ballots (not just the ones which come late but properly postmarked in the mail). The highest-profile race yet in doubt is in the Fourth Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Mia Love trails Democratic challenger Ben McAdams by a few thousand votes, with some Utah County (read: heavily Republican) votes yet to be counted. We may know that result today.
Nationally, we just got final results in a tight US Senate race in Arizona, where Republican Senator Jeff Flake’s seat has taken a bizarre and dispiriting turn to the nutty left.
We’re waiting for a November 27 runoff election in Mississippi, where neither major party’s US Senate candidate got 50 percent of the vote.
And we’re waiting on the outcome of another circus in south Florida, where gubernatorial and US Senate races apparently won by Republicans are subject to a perverse, familiar drama in – where else? – Broward County (with a sideshow in Palm Beach County), where election law is merely a set of inconvenient suggestions, to be ignored as long, as defiantly, and as comprehensively as possible. It’s anybody’s guess whether they’ll have time to “discover” enough boxes of mysteriously “misplaced” ballots to turn the results Democratic before the long arm of the law arrives.