Cloth Masks and the Death of Nuance – Part 1 of 2

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.)

Impeachment, Politics, Due Process, and the Revolution

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.

Ford v. Kavanaugh Last Thursday

Readers have been asking for my thoughts about Thursday’s all-day Senate Judiciary Committee hearing since Thursday morning, when the committee was still questioning Dr. Christine Blasey Ford about her allegation that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. I’ve put off everyone who’s asked, until I could finish these notes. (I was hoping for Saturday, but it turns out that I have a life.) Six days later, off we go. I know this is a lot.

First, my starting point: I awoke that morning willing to believe Dr. Ford and to conclude that President Trump should withdraw his Supreme Court nomination. I was also willing to believe Judge Kavanaugh and to declare that the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate should just vote already.

The hearing ran through the afternoon. I watched or listened to about half of it live — some of it from my dentist’s chair, and the dental work was a lot less painful. By Friday evening I had watched the rest of it. Parts of it I watched a second time, or even a third or fourth.

This all would have been easier, if I were willing to believe that he is lying simply because he’s a man (and a conservative), and that she is telling the truth simply because she’s a woman. Some folks are wired that way, I guess, but I still see guilt and innocence as individual matters, not a tribal thing.

Why I (Still) Love the United States of America

I’ve been poking at these thoughts on why I love America for a while now. Once you see what they are, you’ll see why Constitution Day seems appropriate for posting them.

More broadly, this is either an especially good time or an unusually bad time for these reflections. We’re several weeks from a midterm election; those are never pretty. We’re two weeks into the Kneel for the National Anthem regular season. We’re in the throes of another nasty Supreme Court nomination battle. We’ve been watching — has it been forever yet? — the ongoing attempt to overthrow a duly elected President I heartily dislike by a  bureaucratic coup I dislike even more. We’re seeing (still? again?) just how ugly our politics can get, when we’re more committed to obtaining political power over each other than we are to truth, justice, freedom, and the rule of law.

And yet I love my country. Here are some of my reasons. (They don’t have to be yours.)

On Inauguration Day: 15 Things I Didn’t Blog About Lately, 9 Wishes for Our Future, 8 Points of Gratitude and Pride, and 3 Gifts for You

As I post this, one President of the United States is in the last minutes of his second term. (Much of the chattering class said this as New Year’s Day approached, but now it’s literally true.) Another President will call this the first day of his first term. Yet I will finish the day much as I begin it: a citizen of a country whose chief executive’s political aspirations and principles, or personal qualities, or both, I expect to be more harmful than beneficial to the freedom and welfare of my nation and the world.

Ten and a half weeks have passed since Election Day; one day less has passed since I last blogged here. True, I’ve been caught up in personal, professional, and church obligations; I spent more than half that span at least slightly ill (due to nonpolitical causes); and there was a holiday season stuck in there somewhere. So I have plenty of excuses for not blogging here. But they are only excuses. Obviously, I had some time to write, as you can see at my non-political blog, Bendable Light. I just didn’t want to write about politics enough to finish anything I started. I’m not sure what that means.

But here we are. I propose to do four things during our time together here today. First, I’ll briefly mention most of the political topics on which I’ve considered writing in recent weeks. I don’t know what that will do for you – paint a picture of my current political thoughts, perhaps, without belaboring any of them – but it will probably make me feel better and help me move on. Second and third, I’ll try to lift my eyes and words above grim politics, mostly, to some hopes and some points of pride and gratitude we’re more likely to share. Fourth, I have three small gifts for you.

The Electoral College and the Vote

This post is not about candidates or races. I’m not telling you how to vote or why. I’ve already done all I intend to do of that.

Instead, this is something relevant but more general, something to think about while we await results — and briefly, something to do once we know them, whatever they prove to be.

The Vote

Be sure to vote today, if you didn’t vote early – and not to, if you did. (The Chicago exception is noted.) Besides tending to moderate the outcomes, a high turnout among living, registered voters is one of the best ways to ensure that the living outvote the dead, the legal outvote the illegal, and the real outvote the fabricated – if you worry about those things at all.

I believe there is an implied, inalienable voter’s right to be reasonably confident that conscientious measures are in place (a) to facilitate voting by everyone who is eligible to vote and wishes to, and (b) to protect the integrity of the vote from various forms of fraud, intimidation, and other activities which would corrupt it.

I Declare Amnesty (No, Not That Amnesty)

We’ve entered the post-Labor Day season, during which, by tradition, many voters will begin taking our presidential race seriously.

Meanwhile, many of us have already been paying attention, and we like what we see far less than usual. We’re doing things like leaving our political parties and wondering if our deluded country isn’t worth our political exertions any more.

It’s time for me to make an announcement.

My friends, I am neither God nor the government, so I don’t expect you to think this is earthshaking, but . . .

I hereby grant you amnesty.

Perhaps I should explain.

To Whom and for What?

Yes, amnesty.

To all of you.

No, not for everything you may have done lately. For example, some of you primary voters got us a choice between Trump and Clinton. I’m not presently offering amnesty for that.

Today’s amnesty is mostly preemptive. It’s for your vote or lack thereof in the presidential race this November — and for any reasons, opinions, or gut feelings you may have or offer in support of that vote (or nonvote).

Toward a Diagnosis of Our Politics

Trump Sanders Clinton

I’ve said for years that President Obama — the quasi-monarchical head of a selectively but systematically lawless regime — is more of a symptom than the disease. I think the same of Donald Trump. I don’t mean Donald Trump the person; I mean Donald Trump the Republican front runner. Donald Trump of reality television (pardon the oxymoron). Donald Trump the foul-mouthed verbal bully. Donald Trump, the least convincing conservative impersonator we’ve seen at the head of the pack in a long time. (Rabid right-wingers will insert their own snide Mitt Romney joke here, I suspect. But he would have been a great president, even if he’s not conservative enough for you and you and you and you and maybe me.)

Meanwhile, with a less partisan Department of Justice the Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton, would probably be facing — and in fact may yet face — federal indictment on many counts of knowingly treating classified and secret materials with all the seriousness due to recipes published in the food section of last week’s Sunday Times. And she’s losing states to Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist whose appeal crosses demographic lines, but is particularly strong among young adults who have not yet been required by curriculum or circumstances to learn how the world works.

The symmetry here is that millions of voters are so hostile to establishment candidates on both sides of the aisle that they are voting for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It is a remarkable time in our politics, though not a particularly encouraging time.

There are some very smart people (among many others) thinking and writing about this. Here I’ll offer some highlights from the best recent explanations I’ve seen. Peggy Noonan looms large here; she’s a perennial favorite of mine. I’ll also throw in some George Will, some Charles Krauthammer, some (American-turned-Brit) Janey Daley, a bit of Mark Steyn (an Aussie), and even some David Brooks (who sometimes plays a conservative on television but must, in general, be embraced with particular caution).

In each case I am excerpting longer essays or columns which you should read in their entirety. I offer the excerpts as much to persuade you of that as to offer an explanation of the Trump/Sanders phenomenon here. (Note: The fact that I have called the phenomenon after its most prominent current symptoms does not mean they are the only symptoms, or that the disease is not rampant at other levels of government. We’ve been fighting it locally in my city, American Fork, Utah, for some time in our own quirky way.)

The Post I Never Finished Last Year (Updated)

For me 2015 was, among other things, a year in which I didn’t blog as much as I hoped to, and didn’t finish some of the writing I started.

I’m trying to avoid that this year, in part by scaling back my expectations, but also by doing a little better outside of election season. There are things other than politics and government about which I want to write — am writing — elsewhere, but these things matter too.

I have fragments of an unpublished post from last year in which I predicted some things for the coming year. I thought it might be interesting to look back, forward, and around on the same topics one year later.

Constitution Day: A Big Deal

US ConstitutionHappy Constitution Day!

228 years ago today, the 1787 Constitutional Convention finished its work and formally sent its proposed Constitution of the United States of America to the states for ratification. It was a pivotal day (and then some) for the United States, but also for the world.

Granted, the Founders each brought large, vigorous bundles of competing interests to the convention. Granted, they were imperfect on many levels, as mortals tend to be. Granted, some of them owned slaves, and the rest of them were (just barely) willing to defer that problem as the price of having a functioning government at all. Granted — and inevitably — their work was imperfect, incomplete. That’s why they established a mechanism for amending it. But their compromise of compromises was the best they could do under the circumstances. It was the best we have ever done. They gave us a flawed, tempestuous republic which survives to this day.