stallioncornell

CES Reply – One Year Later

I published “A Reply from a Former CES Employee,” my magnum opus in Mormon apologetics, on April 1, 2016, which, in hindsight, was probably not the best date to release something that I wanted to be taken seriously. That said, I have been deeply gratified by the response I have received. All told, it has been viewed tens of thousands of times, and I have gotten a large number of kind emails from those who found it helpful in their attempts to find answers to the objections raised by church critics.

Some examples:

Hi Jim:

We’ve never met but as I just (literally 2 minutes ago) finished your “A Reply From A Former CES Employee”, I wanted to drop you a line a say a HUGE thank you for what you’ve created…  I have already been able to use info from your “CESReply” in conversations and it’s been great. Surely I will time and time again.

Mr. Bennett,

I just finished reading your reply to the CES Letter. I found it wonderful. I met with the missionaries about 7 months ago and stopped after reading the CES Letter. I intend to start again. I can’t say I will convert, but I have a lot less reason not to now.

Thank you for your reply to the “CES Letter”! I’ve gotten through the answers to 6 questions. Superbly brilliant! Funny, easy to follow, well-reasoned!

Don’t know if I’ll ever get through all 251 pages, but just know of my gratitude for your efforts!

I found your blog/letter through Cougarboard.com of all places. Just want to say thank you. It was a fun and inspiring read. I couldn’t put it down. Truly grateful that you took the time to do this and I can assure you that your original purpose (“if this helps even one person…”) was fulfilled.

These messages are deeply humbling and heartwarming, and I want to express my gratitude to all who have taken the time to write to me, as I don’t think I’ve adequately responded to all of them personally. I’ve received many, many more responses similar to these, as well as a fair number of nasty notes from people who insist that I’m suffering from massive cognitive dissonance and am, in many ways, a terrible human being. You’ll be pleased to know that the kind messages outnumber the vicious ones by a ratio of roughly 10:1. Or, if you hate the Church and want to see it burn,  you’ll be upset to learn that the response I’ve received has been much more positive than negative.

I thought, then, that as I pass the one-year anniversary of the CES Reply, I thought it appropriate give a summary of the whole experience thus far.

Perhaps the most profound praise I received was from my father, who suffered a stroke on April 11 of last year, ten days after my reply went online. He passed away less than a month after that.

Dad read the whole thing from beginning to end, and he was thrilled with it. It may well have been the last thing of any length that he read in this lifetime, and it dovetailed with his own apologetics efforts that were the subject of his final sermon, delivered the evening prior to his ultimately fatal stroke. As such, the CES Reply will always be connected, in my mind, to my father’s final days, which were a precious time of family gathering and love.

People continue to ask me whether or not Jeremy Runnells, the author of the CES Letter to which I replied, has in any way acknowledged my response. To my knowledge, he has not. He has a full section on his website tabbed as “Debunking,” which is primarily aimed at Fairmormon.org, and it references a couple of other articles. My reply is not mentioned. It is, apparently, unworthy of debunking. I have received second-hand reports that he tells people that I didn’t answer any of his questions and spent all 110,000 words of my response merely cracking jokes and attacking him personally.

That last accusation has been made several times, yet my accusers can never provide me actual examples of ad hominem arguments against Jeremy. That’s because they aren’t there. I don’t expect my critics to concede this point, but I will reiterate my challenge to any reader – if you can find a single instance of a place in my reply where I either insult Jeremy or attack him personally, please call it to my attention so I can remove it immediately.

Perhaps most notably is that this experience has also exposed me to the desire, both in and out of the Church, to find immutable, irreducible truths that are only open to a single, self-evident interpretation. For Runnells, that desire means that there is no other explanation for his lack of knowledge about Joseph Smith’s rock in a hat other than an extensive campaign of deliberate deception by Church leaders. For some active and believing members, that desire means that no prophet has ever made a consequential mistake. For me, it shows that those who harbor this desire are pining for a reality that does not and cannot exist.

Any truth of any significance invites scrutiny and can be interpreted in a variety of ways. That’s why Republicans and Democrats can both read the Constitution and believe they are interpreting that document correctly yet still come away with diametrically opposite conclusions. The desire for irreducibility leads partisans to assume the absolute worst about their ideological opponents  – after all, if Democrats/Republicans could see the truth, they’d know the Second Amendment absolutely doesn’t/absolutely does guarantee an individual right to bear arms. If they don’t see that truth, then the must be either imbeciles or demons.

It’s also fascinating that thousands of different churches have sprung up over the centuries, all of which are devoted to the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the World, and yet most of these churches are quick to disavow other churches who dare to interpret that truth in even slightly different ways.

The CES Letter, then, relies less on factual falsehoods and errors than on hostile interpretation of a common set of facts. In every instance where Jeremy Runnells sees an event or a doctrine that lends itself to different points of view, Runnells assigns the worst possible motives to the Church and the best possible motives to its critics. Joseph and Brigham apparently never made an honest mistake or were subjects of misunderstanding or misrepresentations. Every defender of them is a hopelessly biased and brainwashed dupe, whereas every critic is above reproach with no hidden agenda. Every mistake by church members or leaders should be amplified, and everything they did and do right should be completely ignored.

I do know that the quickest way to get banned from Jeremy’s Facebook page is to reference my reply. The minute it is mentioned, the comment is deleted, and the user is blocked. I have not made the mistake of personally commenting on his page, but I have been in the room when other have commented, and I have watched the comments disappear and the banning take place in real time. (This was shortly after I published my reply, so things may have changed, but I doubt it.) I think that demonstrates that Jeremy is less interested in open discussion than he is in perpetuating the narrative that his questions have never actually been answered and are, indeed, unanswerable.

That’s a false narrative.

The whole point of my reply was not just to provide my own answers to Jeremy’s questions, but to demonstrate that the questions are answerable. That is not the same thing as saying that my answers are in any way definitive, or even that my answers are correct. Rather, it’s to highlight the reality that one can confront thorny issues in church history and doctrine and still come out with a testimony on the other side. Furthermore, you can do so without having to set aside reason or rationality to preserve your faith.

Your answers may differ from mine, but I hope that if I’ve done nothing else, I’ve demonstrated that there’s no need to be afraid of the questions.

 

The True Magnitude of the Trump Train Wreck

“It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters,” writes/shrieks the LA Times editorial board. “The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a ‘catastrophe.’ Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck.”

As I read this overwrought and irresponsible slice of hysterical nonsense, I couldn’t help but wonder what actual magnitude of train wreck the Times had been prepared for. Given that most of the media insisted that we’d just given Hitler the keys to the White House, one would expect a train wreck much bigger than the one we’ve actually gotten. Where are the concentration camps and mass executions of dissidents? Trump’s closest flirtation with fascism – his travel ban that excluded legal residents of the United States from returning to their homes – has twice been struck down by the courts, and other than a few snarky and stupid tweets, he has taken no steps to Hitlerically dismantle the judiciary and has grumpily accepted and abided by both rulings.

Other train wreck elements that the Left warned us about have failed to materialize. Remember when Trump was going to wipe out all rights and protections for LGBT citizens? He’s since quietly renewed Obama’s executive orders prohibiting discrimination against LGBT federal workers, and he’s stated his acceptance of gay marriage as the law of the land. Remember when he was going to blow up Obamacare completely and leave millions uninsured? He couldn’t even persuade his own party to pass a symbolic repeal of the Affordable Care Act that would include a replacement that was not that far removed from the law it was designed to replace. Now observers insist that a good deal of his proposed agenda is in doubt, which ought to be pleasing to the LA Times, as the problem seems to be that Trump is trying to wreck a lot of trains and doesn’t seem to be able to get the job done.

As Scott Adams has pointed out – and you really ought to be reading his blog – the narrative has largely shifted from “Trump is Hitler” to “Trump is incompetent.” Given Hitler’s ruthless efficiency in executing his planned genocide, it should be obvious Trump cannot be both Hitler and incompetent at the same time. Yet the Times editorial and other critical pieces ignore that logical inconsistency and simply apply any and all epithets to The Donald in the hopes that one of them will stick. Critics do not demand that their criticisms be either consistent or coherent, and it tends to diminish the impact of each new paroxysm when they flail for ways to turn the volume up higher than eleven.

But okay, fine. What is it that has gotten the LA Times so exercised? To further quote from their editorial:

In a matter of weeks, President Trump has taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will rip families apart, foul rivers and pollute the air, intensify the calamitous effects of climate change and profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.

“Ripping families apart” is the first complaint right out of the gate, so I assume that it’s the editorial board’s biggest beef. What’s curious is that they never flesh out this accusation, so we’re left to deduce on our own how Trump will supposedly accomplish the family-ripping. Is this a reference to the blocked travel ban(s), which aren’t actually doing anything? To Trump’s extremist immigration rhetoric, which so far has yet to translate into implemented policy? Specifics would be helpful. Without them, this is just hyperbolic nonsense.

Trump’s scheme to “foul rivers” seems to have reference to Trump’s rollback of the controversial 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which was immediately blocked by the courts upon its issuance. So the Trump policy is to stop a brand-new rule that has never gone into effect from going into effect. If the Times were consistent, it would equally indict the Obama administration, and, indeed, every previous presidential administration, for fouling the rivers because they were not abiding by the 2015 rule, which is more about federal bureaucratic overreach than actual protection of rivers.

As for Trump’s plan to “pollute the air,” the editorial seems to be conflating air pollution with climate change, despite the fact that CO2 is not a pollutant in the traditional sense that inhaling it can make you sick. CO2 does not present any health hazard whatsoever, and it’s quite good for plants. In fact, you’re exhaling it right now, you polluter, you!

As for climate change, i.e. the Times’s contention that Trump will “intensify [its] calamitous effects,” I am exhausted by the massive amount of ignorance on display whenever this subject is discussed, and I am under no illusions that anything I say here will move the needle in any direction. Please note that the Times, and every other observer, can cite no actual example of how Trump’s policies will do this. Yes, he is rolling back Obama era regs on the subject – regs that, like the Waters of the US rule, were blocked by the courts and never implemented – but even the proponents of those regs have conceded, under oath, that the Obama regs would have no impact on climate.

From a WSJ piece entitled “The Climate Yawns”:

Gina McCarthy, Mr. Obama’s EPA administrator, admitted as much when confronted, during a 2015 House hearing, with the fact that, by the agency’s own climate models, the effect would be only 1/100th of a degree Celsius. Instead, she said success should be measured in terms of “positioning the U.S. for leadership in an international discussion.”

Even so, many climate activists felt the need to walk back Ms. McCarthy’s concession by insisting Obama policies would have a measurable effect—on the amount of CO 2 released. Yes, the relative decrease would be tiny but measurable, though the climate effect would be zip. This is akin to medical researchers claiming a drug a success because it’s detectable in the bloodstream, not because it improves health.

Trump doing nothing on climate change, therefore, will have the same effect on global temperatures that Obama’s regulations would have had – i.e. none whatsoever. (1/100th of a degree is a measurement too small to be discerned from statistical noise.)   Surely, then, Trump’s inaction will do nothing to intensify climate change’s “calamitous effects,” which, whatever they may be, will not be at all mitigated by anything currently being proposed by world governments to avoid them.

Trump’s do-nothing plan does have the benefit, however, of not being a massive regressive tax on the poor, who shoulder a disproportionate share of the financial burden when energy prices skyrocket to pay for a symbolic gesture that accomplishes nothing with regard to the climate.

That leaves us with the charge that Trump will “profoundly weaken the system of American public education for all.” And how will Trump do this, given that education is almost entirely a state function, not a federal one? Betsy DeVos, the much-maligned Secretary of Education who is supposedly the harbinger of national ignorance, simply does not have the capacity to profoundly weaken the public education system. The Federal Department of Education, a fairly recent invention that does little but provide block grants to states, is usually only noticed when it’s acting as a nuisance, as it did when states were compelled to labor under the burdens of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act, which has since been repealed. DeVos is currently engaged in regulatory tinkering to make school choice more palatable, but absent a drastic act of Congress, there is little or nothing she can do to keep public education from publicly educating.

The Times editorial continues with examples of Trump’s dishonesty, stupidity, and irresponsibility, all of which are more or less accurate. But in reiterating the extent of his profound foolishness, the piece merely restates the obvious and adds nothing to the conversation.

For my part, I maintain, as I have from the beginning, that Trump is an awful person and, so far, a lousy president. I am encouraged that the system of checks and balances, which was designed to prevent lousy presidents from destroying the Republic, seems to be working as designed. My best-case scenario was that Trump would merely be an incompetent buffoon, and that seems to be how this is playing out. As such, this train wreck has far fewer casualties than I, personally, had anticipated.

Is That Doctrine?

Years ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine about Spencer W. Kimball’s inclusion of a goofy story about Cain in his book “The Miracle of Forgiveness,” which is (thankfully) out of print. It’s not worth revisiting at length, but then-Elder Kimball quoted from the journal of early church leader David W. Patten, who claimed to have met Cain while riding on horseback. Cain was allegedly about seven feet tall and completely covered in hair, and he lamented that he was cursed to roam the earth until the Second Coming. This story is the genesis of the Mormon folklore that Cain is actually Bigfoot.

Now we all now this story is nonsense, as Bigfoot is actually a robot creation of aliens that were eventually thwarted by Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. You can’t fake a picture like this:

(From L to R) Bigfoot and Steve Austin, as played by Cain and Lee Majors

Anyway, my friend and I shared a hearty chuckle over the whole thing, and he concluded the conversation by saying something along the lines of, “It’s nice that we don’t have to believe this, because Spencer W. Kimball wasn’t the prophet when he wrote it.”

I didn’t say anything in response, but I should have. Because the reason we don’t have to believe this has nothing to do with whether Spencer W. Kimball was the prophet or not when he wrote it.

The reason we don’t have to believe this is because it isn’t true.

I think too many Latter-day Saints have a distorted sense of what the Lord expects from us with regard to how we accept and understand truth. At no point are we ever required to believe anything that isn’t true. That includes things that aren’t true that may be believed by people in positions of ecclesiastical authority.

I thought about this as I read this thoughtful piece on the subject of whether or not Mormons believe we each get our own planet when we die. This writer addresses this bit of folklore at length and does yeoman’s work at trying to explain it, but I think the piece falls down when it tries to justify the reasons why Mormons don’t necessarily believe it.

Some relevant quotes from the linked-to piece:

Mormons believe that all scripture is given by revelation by the Holy Spirit… However, not all scripture is equally valuable… We believe God has called prophets and apostles to receive revelation for the whole Church… However, even among these men, there is a prescribed order in the Church for receiving revelation.

The “prescribed order” of revelation adheres to the following criteria:

  1. “[N]o pronouncement by the President of the Church is considered binding on the Church unless it is supported by the President’s counselors as well.”

  2. While the writer can think of “no really significant pronouncement by the First Presidency (President and counselors) in my lifetime that was not also unanimously sustained by the next governing body of the Church, the Quorum of the Twelve,” such sustaining is “not strictly required.”

  3. “In the absence of a First Presidency, as when a President passes away, the full authority of the First Presidency falls on the Quorum of the Twelve. Their unanimous pronouncements — and only their unanimous pronouncements — are then fully binding on the Church.”

  4. “[T]he Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price… are the touchstones against which other revelations are measured. Nevertheless, we do not consider them infallible.”

  5. “[T]he Joseph Smith Translation [of the Bible]…is best thought of as a kind of inspired commentary on the Bible.”

  6. The four “Standard Works are preeminent. Only the pronouncements of the current First Presidency can supercede them or even be regarded as their equal.”

  7. “Official statements by past First Presidencies remain binding on the Church, but can be clarified or extended by the current First Presidency.”

  8. The speeches and writings of “individual prophets, apostles, and members of the quorums of Seventy… do not carry the same weight of authority. Books written or endorsed by these men are not generally regarded as scripture.”

  9. A “sermon or a lesson manual from decades ago, even when it comes from a member of the Seventy with the blessing of some of the Apostles, is not a binding statement of Mormon belief.”

  10. “Think of Mormon doctrine as a spectrum. At one end you have doctrine that is found repeatedly and expressly in the scriptures, has been repeatedly and expressly preached by the prophets from Joseph Smith to the present, is a frequent subject of exhortation from the pulpit or in Sunday School classes and other church settings, is part of the general understanding that Mormons have of the gospel, and is an integral part of current Mormonism as it is actually lived. Anything that meets all those criteria is clearly official doctrine by any standard.”

  11. “Something that isn’t expressly stated in scripture, hasn’t been preached by any of the prophets, isn’t taught over the pulpit and in other church settings, isn’t part of the sensus communis of the Mormon people, and isn’t an integral part of their lived experience, isn’t official doctrine by any standard. In between you have considerable grey area and have to exercise judgment.[Emphasis added for reasons that will become clear later]

The author goes on to make additional legalistic distinctions between what is doctrine and what isn’t. He believes the concept of a mother-in-heaven “is in the gray area of not-quite-settled doctrine,” but later concedes that it falls just within the bounds of settled, official doctrine.” (Phew! Just made it!) The “Proclamation on the Family carries an authority just short of the Standard Works.” Our “relationship to God the Father…widely viewed in the Church in terms of an intimate family relationship, of a perfectly loving character, analogous to the very best in human family relationships… is more a cultural phenomenon than a doctrinal matter.” The “doctrine that God the Father was once a mortal man comes close to being settled doctrine, [but] the further we extrapolate from it, the less settled the ground we are on.”

The writer admits that all this “may seem a bit confusing to a non-Mormon.” I submit that they’re a bit confusing to this lifelong Mormon, too.

Apparently, if a prophet says something, but his counselors don’t say it, it’s not doctrine, but if his counselors do say it and the Twelve don’t, it is doctrine, although it must be measured against the four Standard Works of scripture, which are not infallible and can be superseded by the very statements that are being measured against them, although those statements can be later “clarified or extended,” but not in books or writings that don’t have universal endorsement or official lesson manuals that are old, although the Joseph Smith Translation can provide an inspired-but-non-doctrinal commentary. Also note that the Proclamation on the Family is, maybe, 94% doctrine, Mother-in-Heaven is approximately 87% doctrine, and the idea that God was once a man is on a sliding scale of 73% to 22% doctrine, depending on how it’s extrapolated.

With everything else, you have to exercise judgment.

I don’t mean to pick on this guy, as I think his piece is a well-written, good faith effort to clarify what’s doctrine and what isn’t. But I think he makes a mistake that a vast number of other members make when they ask the question, “Is that doctrine?” Because what they actually seem to be asking is, “Can I believe this without any additional thought or consideration on my part, or do I have to exercise judgment?”

The answer to the first part of that question is “no, you can’t,” and the answer to the second part is “yes, you do.” You always have to exercise judgment if you want to know the truth.

Moroni 10:5 states that “by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” Indeed, throughout the scriptures, the Lord makes it clear that the Holy Ghost is the only way to know truth. In Doctrine and Covenants Section 50, versus 19 and 20, the Lord asks, “he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God.” That includes discussions where people are browbeaten into accepting something as “doctrine” because it fits some arbitrary list of criteria, no matter how well-reasoned that list may be.

So whether or not the Cain-as-Sasquatch story fits any or all of that criteria is not at all relevant. Whether the Holy Ghost will testify to the truthfulness of the Cain-as-Bigfoot story is the only thing that matters. In my admittedly fallible experience, I have received no such confirmation and therefore feel entirely justified in rejecting such nonsense freely.

And yes, you still have to exercise judgment about issues that clearly check all the right doctrinal boxes. The fact that Jesus Christ the Savior of the World is at the heart of all Mormon doctrine, but the Lord requires each member to receive an understanding and testimony of that truth from the Holy Ghost. It is not enough to know that the all prophets have said it or it appears in every lesson manual, even the new ones. You are not absolved from exercising judgment about this bit of doctrine simply because its official status is beyond dispute.

As for Mormon ideas are not quite as doctrinally authoritative as Christ’s divinity, the question shouldn’t be “Is this doctrine?” The question should be, “Is this true?”

And if the answer is yes, than it doesn’t matter whether the truth appeared in the fully authoritative-but-fallible Standard Works, an almost-fully authoritative Proclamation on the Family, a quasi-authoritative Deseret Book publication written by an emeritus Seventy, or a completely non-authoritative Six Million Dollar Man episode. For truth is truth. To the end of reckoning.

Shakespeare said that, but I’m not sure if his counselors agreed, so you don’t necessarily have to believe it.

An Evening with Stallion Cornell

Allow me to quote from my very first post on this blog, On Being Stallion Cornell:

I was a theatre major at USC, and, as such, it was my duty to dig up a string of monologues for class assignments, and, invariably, the same monologues kept being recycled, and I can only take so much Christopher Durang. So I started writing my own and, to be sure that I was being judged on my acting and not my writing, I attributed them to a fictional author, the good Mr. Cornell.

These monologues got goofier and goofier, and they usually involved bizarre situations with really loud people. The first of these, which included all manner of shrieking punctuated by the phrase “I’d offer you a biscuit first, but I don’t like you very much,” still remains my favorite, although the one where a guy rips out his own heart and smothers it in mustard remains a close second.

Perhaps the highlight of my university education came when a classmate and I wrote and assembled several of these monologues for a one-night-only performance of “An Evening with Stallion Cornell” at USC’s Bing Theatre. Great actors performing truly stupid monologues is a joy forever. And this guy’s performance, which involved ripping out a heart/KFC chicken sandwich from his chest and proceeded to pour ketchup all over it and eat it, still makes me laugh every time I think about it. (He was supposed to use mustard, but I freely forgave the departure from the script.)


End quote.

I now offer a modified quote from another post:

If you’ve ever taken an acting class, then you know the constant demand for new material – especially monologues. People don’t generally speak in monologue form, so most plays focus on one line at a time, not whole paragraphs. Still, every acting teacher or auditioner demands that the actor perform a monologue, and the number of good monologues out there seems to shrink with each passing year.

That actually makes sense if we’re playing it old school. If you’re doing a classical piece, then there are only 37 Shakespeare plays to choose from, and everyone’s heard all the good stuff in them before. But the Troubled Young Actor Community is stuck on all the same tired modern pieces, and you hear the same ones over and over.  You get very sick of them very quickly.

Now I recognize that for auditions, I could have just written my own monologue, but the minute you did, you were being judged not just as an actor, but as a writer. And the actors who did that always looked like pretentious buffoons. Auditioning is nerve-wracking enough without having to have another layer of judgment slathered on top of the first one.

So I used my pseudonym Stallion Cornell to become a monologist.

I remember taking the stage on one audition and unleashing Stallion once again.

What piece would I be performing? I was asked.

“An excerpt from ‘The Worms of Hell,’” I answered.

The Worms of Hell? The director cocked his head. I’ve never heard of that.

“It’s by Stallion Cornell,” I said, assuming that he, like anyone who was anyone, would have heard of him. Which is an easy assumption to make, because everyone in the theatre likes to appear well-read and contemporary and comments on books and plays that they’re supposed to know.

All right, fine, said the director. Go ahead.

So I did.

“What makes you think you’ll ever be able to understand?” I said. I was powerful. Commanding. And, most importantly, loud.

Loud is good.

“I don’t need your pity,” I howled. “I don’t need your sickly sweet smiles–I don’t need you to tell me everything’s all right. Time?!”

I laughed scornfully. Scorn is always good, too.

“What is time to a man like me? I’ve seen a nation die–I’ve seen all I’ve ever worked for crumple into one bloody heap! Can you give me time? Time for revenge? For death? For the angry fire that I will never tame? The churning, fiery volcano of hate that burns hotter than the sun itself?”

Oooh, I was cooking now. Time for just a smattering of PG-rated profanity.

“Damn you! Damn you to Hell! And may the infernal demons which slather for your soul consume your very innards in their unyielding flames! I’d offer you a biscuit first, but I don’t like you very much. So die! And let the worms nibble on your bowels.”

I got the part, and the director didn’t get a biscuit.

It was hard to keep my secret from my classmates, but the adults, if they ever caught on, never said anything. And it didn’t hurt that Stallion’s pieces were now being used at several auditions, on campus and off. My fellow actors, it seems, were just as bored with the old stuff as I was, and they used the Stallion pieces to cut through the noise.

So it became a simple thing to toss off a ridiculous monologue here and there, and everyone felt like they were getting away with something.

One of the proudest moments of my life was hearing that one of the actresses in my class used a Stallion Cornell monologue to land a recurring role on a soap opera back in New York. And back in Los Angeles, the last week of my tenure at USC, some the best actors in the school gathered in the largest theatre on campus and produced, to a full house, the entire collection of monologues I and a friend had written over the past four years, each as scornfully and loudly as possible.

It was billed as An Evening with Stallion Cornell. 

My favorite was Jovan Yvan Rameau, now a world-renowned actor who spent that evening in a white spandex unitard, performing a monologue to his dead wife that involved him ripping a KFC chicken sandwich out of his chest and then pretending it was his heart, which he then proceeded to eat with a big mess of ketchup. The guy who videotaped the performance got some pretty rocky footage of that one, because he was trying to keep from rolling in the aisles. Jovan then pretended to die of leg injuries.


End this quote and all quotes.

I’ve mentioned Jovan twice now, but I wanted to cover this ground sufficiently so you could understand the context of what I’m about to share with you.

You can now watch, in its entirety, An Evening with Stallion Cornell, transferred from VHS and now on Vimeo in digital glory.

The conceit was that Stallion was one of the great playwrights of the ages, and all of these monologues were excerpts from his famous plays, works like “Booze and Betrayal,” “Rat in a Box,” and “Love and Guts.” Oh, boy, love and guts.

I don’t know if you will enjoy it or appreciate it as much as I do. Probably not. It’s utterly ridiculous, for the most part, but it truly represents the highlight of my theatrical life. It;s a thrill to watch so many young, talented people completely committed to hamming up material that is too absurd for words. The goal was for the actors to have more fun than the audience – except the audience ate it up. And how could you not?

One of the delights of rediscovering this is Ed Hofmeister’s treatise on a new theatrical art form that the fictional Stallion embodied – the Theatre of the Massive. I really wish this were a real thing. Maybe, after this goes viral, it will be.

Or maybe nobody will care. Maybe it’s just a bunch of punks having fun a quarter of a century ago. I can appreciate it on that level, too. I adore all the people in this video, and I miss seeing them every day. I am so grateful to them for this moment we shared, and for their genius and friendship, not necessarily in that order. I’ve reconnected with a few of them, but I’d love to see them all again. Maybe we could get together and do an encore.

Regardless, in case you want to skip to the best part, Jovan’s monologue begins at 55:00.

Two Years of Trump

“I’m not gonna make it,” a friend of mine wrote on Facebook recently. “I’m not gonna be able to live through this for four years.”
(She then added a emoji for emphasis. So you know she’s serious.)

I’m a bit more sanguine about things, but I think I’m going to make it through these next four years just fine. That may be because I’m increasingly convinced that the Trump administration is not going to last that long.

I’m not kidding.

The way I see it, there are three ways in which our Orange Overlord departs the Oval Office prior to the appointed end of his four-year term. I will review each of the possibilities in order of their likeliness, from least to most.

1. Trump could die in office.
The anti-Trump memes are becoming increasingly violent, with the Village Voice going so far as to use a picture of a target on Trump’s head as its cover photo. I think such images are reprehensible and irresponsible, and I’m increasingly unnerved by how easily and, indeed, eagerly anti-Trumpers resort to violence, as evidenced most recently by the UC Berkeley riots. Certainly there are plenty of vicious people who would be willing to put a bullet in the president’s head, perhaps more than ever before.

I don’t think they will succeed, however, mainly because the Secret Service has gotten really, really good at keeping presidents from being killed. They’ve learned the lessons of Dealey Plaza and/or John Hinckley and had several decades to work out the kinks. They also have better technology and better intelligence, and I think there’s a reason that there hasn’t been an actual attack on a president in three and a half decades. It isn’t because there haven’t been any willing assassins.

Trump could die of natural causes, too, and it’s not insignificant that he’s 70, overweight, and eats like crap. But all reports are that he’s hale and hearty and not likely to shuffle off his bulbous mortal coil within a four year time frame.

I put the likelihood of a Trump funeral prior to 2020 at 3.6%.

2. Trump could be impeached. 
Yes, every president has critics that cry “impeachment” from the day they take office, and it’s usually an empty threat. But Trump is easily the most impeachable president in the history of the republic.

What people failed to realize during the Clinton impeachment was that the process of removing a president is 100% political. There is no objective legal definition of the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are constitutionally required to oust a POTUS. Senate Democrats, early in the Lewinsky scandal, were drafting speeches calling on Clinton to resign, and had public opinion soured on Bubba, they’d have tossed him out on his ear.

But by the time Clinton was finally brought to trial on the Senate floor, it was clear that his party would pay no political consequences for overlooking his crimes. So Senator Robert Byrd could go on television and excoriate Bill Clinton for committing perjury, a felony, yet still vote to keep a perjurer in office. Yes, they knew he was a scalawag, but  he was their scalawag, so they ignored the law and kept him in power.

Trump is nobody’s scalawag but his own. Large chunks of the GOP despise him, and they would like nothing more to see him sent packing. The fact that Mike Pence is a milquetoast, mainstream Republican waiting in the wings makes a Dump Trump interparty movement even more appealing. When – not if – Trump does something colossally stupid, embarrassing, and/or destructive that threatens to take the whole party down with him, the party will toss him overboard before he can lift a tiny finger to stop them.

I put the likelihood of a Trump impeachment at 25.3%.

That’s pretty high, all things considered, but it’s not the most likely scenario. No, the next one is where I’m putting my money.

3. Trump will quit. 
I don’t think Donald Trump had – or has – any idea of how different being president of Trump Inc. would be from being President of the United States. When you’re both owner and president of a privately held company, everything you say goes. People cater to your every whim, and nobody has any ability to stop you from taking the company in whatever direction you choose, even if you decide to send it down the drain. It is a dictatorship, not a democracy, and it is the life to which Trump has become accustomed.

Winning the presidency is the ultimate ego boost, but being president isn’t nearly as much fun. You can’t just ban people from seven countries without some “so-called” judge weighing in. Trump frantically tweets every time he’s checked or balanced because he’s astounded that he can’t snap his fingers and make things happen. He’s going to become increasingly frustrated by how little of his grubby little agenda he’s actually going to get accomplished, and he has neither the patience nor the wisdom to endure the near-constant defeats that are in store for him.

He’s also going to chafe at the constraints of life in the White House, a building Harry Truman once called “the crown jewel of the American penal system.” For a man whose used to tomcatting around whenever he gets the urge, he’s going to find that there isn’t as much opportunity to grab things as he had when he was making that Access Hollywood tape. There’s no reason to believe that he’s been any more faithful to his third wife than he was to his first two, and the fact that she has no plans to join him in DC demonstrate that Melania knows precisely who she married and what to expect from her lecherous husband.

We’ve had leches in the Oval Office before, but the days of JFK being able to smuggle Mafia princesses into the White House residence are over. Clinton’s squalid affairs had to take place in bathrooms and cupboards. It’s really not the life to which Trump is accustomed.

I think the day will come – and not in the far future – where Trump decides he’s had enough. He’ll declare victory, hand the White House keys over to Mike Pence, and then kick Schwarzenegger out of the Apprentice  chair and resume the life of decadence that defines who he is.

I put the likelihood of a Trump resignation at 42%.

Adding up the odds, there’s a 70.9% chance Trump doesn’t finish out his term. That’s just science. 

Don’t Be Diluted

When I keep telling you that Scott Adams’s blog is required reading, it’s not because I necessarily agree with him. It’s because he has been the only observer that has accurately predicted the rise of Trump – and done so with eerie specificity. If you love Trump, or especially if you hate Trump, Adams is the only reliable source if you want to understand Trump.

His latest post as of this writing is one titled “Outrage Dilution,” and he once again makes a point that nobody else seems to have noticed.

I quote from him at length:

At the moment there are so many [Trump] outrages, executive orders, protests, and controversies that none of them can get enough oxygen in our brains. I can’t obsess about problem X because the rest of the alphabet is coming at me at the same time…

Instead of dribbling out one headline at a time, so the vultures and critics can focus their fire, Trump has flooded the playing field. You don’t know where to aim your outrage. He’s creating so many opportunities for disagreement that it’s mentally exhausting. Literally. He’s wearing down the critics, replacing their specific complaints with entire encyclopedias of complaints. And when Trump has created a hundred reasons to complain, do you know what impression will be left with the public?

He sure got a lot done. [Emphasis in original]

Initially, I read this and decided the conclusion was accurate but incomplete. Yes, the public will conclude, eventually, that Trump did a whole lot in his first few days, but while they may believe Trump has accomplished something commensurate with the noise he has generated, the actual changes to our national life won’t be nearly as remarkable as they think. I then imagined writing a clever post about how Trump is all bluster and no real beef.

And then, today, Trump tried to deport Muslims with green cards.

Permanent residents of the United States – people who have been vetted to every extreme possible and have been given permission to live in this country indefinitely – were told at airports that they couldn’t go home and would have to return to their countries of origin. As a guy who has tried very hard to talk people off the ledge and convince them that Adolf Hitler has not been reincarnated with an orange-ish hue, I find myself seeing a path from kicking out permanent residents because of their religion that leads to fascistic destinations where I insisted we would never, ever go.

Thankfully, the courts stepped in to temper some of Trump’s latest Kristillnachtian impulses, so maybe I was right the first time, and all this will just be noise that won’t amount to much. But increasingly, I find myself feeling like the dog in this cartoon:

So I got to thinking about Scott Adams and his so-called “outrage dilution,” and I came to realize that he’s on to something even bigger than he initially realized.

Let me step back and recall an article written during the campaign titled “How Paul Krugman Made Donald Trump Possible.” I recommend you read the whole thing, but by way of quick summary, the piece maintains that the full-volume hysteria of the Left about every Republican candidate made it impossible for them to have any remaining credibility when someone as reprehensible as Trump came down the pike. It doesn’t mean much to say Donald Trump is Hitler if you said Mitt Romney was Hitler, too.

The brilliant Camille Paglia long ago pointed out that this was part of the problem the Right had during Obama’s first week. I’ve quoted this before, but her wisdom bears repeating:

Talk radio has been seething with such intensity since Barack Obama’s first week in office that I am finding it very hard to listen to it. How many times do we have to be told the sky is falling? The major talk show hosts, in my opinion, made a strategic error in failing to reset at lower volume after Obama’s election. When the default mode is feverish crisis pitch, there’s nowhere to go, and monotony sets in.

That’s true, but it, too, misses the salient point. Non-stop shrieking isn’t just monotonous – it leaves you powerless if the sky actually begins to fall.

The attempted deportation of permanent residents because of their faith is so egregiously beyond the pale of anything that any president in my lifetime has ever tried to do, or even thought of doing, that I find myself unable to find words to adequately express my revulsion to it. It’s several orders of magnitude worse than anything else Trump has actually done, but since every bit of Trumpism has been greeted with the outrage volume turned up to eleven, there’s no way to differentiate between faux-fascism and the real thing.

So this past week, I’ve seen hyperventilating Facebook posts that Trump has already repealed the Affordable Care Act (he hasn’t), and that he’s already slapped a 20% tariff on Mexican goods (empty rhetoric unless Congress complies), and that the wall has started construction (yes – much of it was already built before Trump took office), that he’s banned overseas abortions (no, he’s only revived a Reagan-era piece of pro-life window dressing that accomplishes nothing), and even that, according to the orgasmically overwrought Keith Olbermann, Trump’s fixation on his inaugural crowd sizes will lead inevitably to nuclear war. (Apologies to those who think “orgasmically overwrought” is too indelicate a phrase, but you have to concede that it’s Olbermannically descriptive.)

This outrage dilution has done more than just make it difficult to respond to every one of them; it’s given the illusion that each of these outrages deserves dollops of outrage in equal measure. Trump’s stupid obsession with his inaugural crowd sizes and his refusal to acknowledge hard data is maddening, yes, but it pales in comparison to the outrage of taking concrete steps to remove legal Americans from their homes because of how they worship. One is stupid; the other is fascist. Fascism deserves exponentially more outrage than run-of-the-mill stupidity.

So now, of course, I have to be concerned that my newfound willingness to drop the F word – i.e. “fascist” – in describing Trump means I’m joining the chorus of wolf-criers. It’s imperative, then, that as the outrages keep coming with relentless fury as Trump continues to tornado through the traditions that have been at the core of this Republic for over two hundred years, we learn to separate what’s truly worthy of outrage and what’s just eye-rollingly dippy.

TL/DR: Trump’s using mud to dilute poison. Don’t let yourself be diluted.

A Perfect Object

In 1972, Jerry Lewis made a movie called “The Day the Clown Cried” about a clown in a Nazi concentration camp. It has never been released. It is supposedly so awful that Lewis has gone to great lengths to keep it hidden from view, even after he dies.

“You will never see it,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”

But while we will never see it, someone else has. Harry Shearer, voice of a thousand Simpsons characters and the bassist for Spinal Tap, claims to have gotten a screening of the notorious film in 1979, and this was his assessment:

With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is.

Now I have never seen this film, but yesterday, for perhaps the first time in my life, I was in the presence of a perfect object. Due to bad judgment and an OCD unwillingness to blithely accept asininity, I participated in a Facebook “discussion” with some militant Mormon Trump supporters. Their arguments were so drastically benighted, their spiritual loyalty so wildly misplaced, that I could not possibly, in my attempts to write a fictional brief in support of Donald Trump, improve on the boneheadedness of what they were actually saying.

I’m not going to name names, as my purpose here is not to shame the stupid. Indeed, what they have written here is so pure in its philistine pig ignorance that, in its own awful way, it is a thing of beauty. Behold – a perfect object.

Actually, it’s less than perfect in the sense that I have altered the object from its original form. Below is an edited version of the exchange that will transform it into an essay rather than a series of comments. Other than editing for length, I have made minimal changes. Mostly, I have cleaned up some punctuation and added some white space, as the original author chose to spew this nonsense in solid, unreadable blocks of text.


I believe at Trump’s core he is a good man. I believe he got mixed up in the world for about 10 or 15 years. I believe he has apologized for all the things he has done. (I have seen the videos myself).

We don’t know if [the Access Hollywood] video is real. It could have easily been made up. His voice is easy to copy. And you don’t actually see him say it. It is actually uncharacteristic of him to speak that way. But even if he did at that time he was entangled in Hollywood, and he has come back out of it. Hollywood hates him now. And I believe he feels the same towards it.

[In reference to Trump’s televised comment that if Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he’d probably be dating her],  I had a teacher that said something similar to me thinking it was a compliment. He was the age of Trump. Perhaps it is a generational thing. They consider it a compliment. 

I also believe many people cast things upon him that weren’t true just to bring him down or get themselves votes. I believe I can forgive him (seven times seventy at least). I believe he is a different man now. He has stated that he is sacrificing himself so that perhaps he can get into heaven.

He is a charitable man. He does not drink. He loves people and believes in a positive attitude. He recognizes evil and isn’t afraid to stand against it. You may not believe me on all this but I know it all to be true. That is who he is. I studied it out getting headaches every night for a good several months.

We are a bunch of complainers that won’t take time to understand him. Laman and Lemuel were complainers. Trump is a doer. And a thumbs upper. He is doing good things now and that’s what counts. It’s okay if you don’t like his personality, but to completely overshadow his good qualities by the bad is, well, building a wall for unhappiness and unforgivess. What about his positive traits? I love his thumbs upping. I love his positive attitude. And most of the time he is very positive if you can recognize it without looking at him like a pig.

By the way, it is one thing to be mean to people. It is another to speak truth and then have people react in an offended way. He may not say it well, but he is far from a rude man. He speaks truth as it should be – loud and clear. We need that right now.

I just want to throw this out there. I want to show people that Trump is doing exactly the right thing at this time. We know the [Book of Mormon] story of King Benjamin, and if not, then I’ll fill ya in. He was a righteous good king. He had an awesome speech up on the tower and all were converted to Jesus Christ. Before that could happen, he actually had to take action on the wicked.  I bet there were many that were offended by King Benjamin.  I’m not saying Trump is King Benjamin, just saying his actions reflect King Benjamin’s. He wants to round up our enemies. He wants to throw the false preachers (the media) in line and the criminals that have taken over our system in prison. Therefore, they are not bad actions to take.

At the beginning, I couldn’t stand the thought of a man like him being President. And so I prayed. I completely opened my heart to God and His will and said what do you want me to do?!

Now he DID NOT tell me who to vote for. But he did immediately tell me very audibly, “I have paid for him.” And then basically the feeling of “what is that to you if I use him for my work.”  I can’t tell God he is wrong. Seeing through God’s eyes is an incredible journey.

I started looking at everything I could about Trump to see what was desirable about him. I looked for months and months every day getting migraines from all the exhausting work of looking at all angles and reading everything. We’ve had a media who have been lying to us. His strength of his truthful mouth is also his weakness, but he’s getting better at it and I applaud that effort.

What would you do if you were a great person running for president and the whole time people kept misreporting about you and saying you had said or done all these things that you hadn’t actually said or done? You would be frustrated because you would know that wasn’t true. You’d probably even apologize a time or two just to get past the issue. But if you knew you were good that would give you strength to keep you going.

If you knew that you had done those things you would either try to lie about it more or you would shrivel up and not be able to withstand. If you lied some more than you are in cahoots with the devil, right? So he either got there because of the devil or God. The odds were against him. It is a “miracle” that he is there. So it is either a deception or God’s miracle. But like I said, I know his true character and he is good despite the aweful things the media have cast upon him. And I know what God told me and that is enough.

Phew! Sorry, there’s just so much to this and my point is, figure it out and ask God about it. Then maybe you will see. And if not, then you can remain unhappy. But if you come to know what he’s doing then maybe there will be a release from that sadness and you can feel at peace. It’s worth a try. Anywho, thanks for discussing and I’m sure you don’t want to keep this going for days and days. Neither do I. However I am always here for questions.😘💗 LOVE AND HAPPINESS ALWAYS!!


A perfect object.

Please Hold

23 years ago this month, I was a newly-married young goofball living in the District of Columbia who had just started work as in intern in the office of Senator Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming. I adored Senator Simpson – and still do. I have often said that if he were running against my own father, I’d have a hard time making a choice between the two. (Which, really, isn’t true. I’d vote for Dad. But Al Simpson is a close second!)

One of the glamorous jobs of a Senate intern is answering the phones in the front office. For some reason, lots of people would call in complaining about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which they were convinced was going to have the UN take away their children and raise them in some godless socialist utopia. There was some radio host in Wyoming who would bring this up, and, like clockwork, the phones would start to ring every time he told his listeners to “call your congressman and tell them how you feel.” (Just for fun, I once stepped out to the payphone in the hallway and called the office to tell them, in a disguised voice, that I supported the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, and could Senator Simpson please send someone round to pick up my kids that afternoon.)

I was given very specific instructions as to how to handle phone calls. Before they launched into whatever tirade they had prepared, I was to ask them their name and where they were calling from. I had a form next to the phone where I wrote down the details of their complaint or question, and if a response was necessary, I’d ask them for their contact information so the office could mail them a reply.

Of course, I was only supposed to write all this down if the person was calling from Wyoming and was one of Al’s constituents. (Sen. Simpson wanted everyone to call him Al, even us lowly interns. This was a bit informal for my father’s staffers, who referred to Dad as “the Senator” and were definitely not on a first name basis.)

“What if they’re calling from, say, Florida?” I asked.

“Don’t write anything down. If it’s not busy, you can listen to them politely until they get whatever it is off their chest,” my supervisor said.

“What if it is busy?”

“Then you say, ‘Please hold,’ and you put them on hold and leave them there until they hang up.”

That struck me as rather cruel, but the intern coordinator shrugged her shoulders. “If they can’t vote for Al,” she said, “then he’s not accountable to them, and he doesn’t care what they think.”

I had my first phone skirmish after Al had been on the floor of the Senate giving a speech about entitlement reform. Al was quite a colorful character, and he had a penchant for referring to the “greedy geezers” of the AARP who opposed any changes to Social Security. Needless to say, “greedy geezers” are the only people watching C-SPAN2 at any given moment, and all of them have plenty of time on their hands to make an angry call to a senator they don’t like.

The first call went something like this.

“Hello, is this Senator Simpson’s office?”

“It is, yes. How can I help you?”

“Well, you can tell your boss that if he’s going to start calling people ‘greedy geezers,’ then he ought to know that this World War II veteran doesn’t take kindly to some rich, out-of-touch Washington hack messing around with my Social Security. And furthermore -”

“I’m sorry,” I said, interrupting, “but where are you calling from?”

“I’m calling from Florida, and I…”

“Please hold,” I said, interrupting again.

I pressed a button, and just like that, the angry voice became one of a series of blinking red lights on my phone console.

(Disclaimer: While this story is representative of what actually happened, it should not be interpreted as a verbatim transcript of the conversation and would not hold up as such in any court of law. With regard to precise words or locales represented, it may contain alternative facts.)

After the rush was over, my fellow interns and I watched the series of blinking red lights drop off one by one after all the greedy geezers finally lost patience or found something better to watch on television.

I was working on the Hill when Newt Gingrich had just become the first Republican House Speaker in 40 years, and lots of people called asking for the number to his office so they could give him a piece of their mind. I was instructed to give them the number for the Capitol operator. I was assured by my supervisor that if they weren’t from Georgia, or even if they were from Georgia but not from Newt’s district, they, too, would become nothing more than blinking red lights.

I tell you this story because I have seen a number of friends on Facebook posting calls to arms to write or call Paul Ryan, or Elizabeth Warren, or Ted Cruz, or whoever else to get them to oppose all or part of the Trump agenda, and I think you should be warned in advance that whether it’s Ryan, Warren, or Cruz or anyone else in Congress, you’re wasting your time if you’re not one of their constituents.

It is true, for instance, that Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House, and that his role as such has an impact on the nation at large. But the nation doesn’t vote for the Speaker; the House does. The only people who actually vote for Paul Ryan live in a congressional district in Wisconsin, and those are the only people Speaker Ryan has to please in order to keep his House seat.

If you are not one of those people and you call his office, they may listen politely if it’s not busy, but they aren’t going to make any note of what you say. If you write him a letter, that letter will be discarded, unopened. Your email will be deleted, unanswered and unread. I was answering phones long before email was a big deal and social media was even a fantasy, but I’m confident that innovations in technology haven’t changed the meaning of “please hold.”

 

Alternative facts can feel like justice

Kellyanne Conway has blessedly introduced the phrase “alternative facts” into the national lexicon, and she has been roundly and rightly excoriated for her claims that hard data is actually a matter of opinion. I mean, yes, the sky is blue, but I offer the assertion that the sky is green as an alternative fact. Others have offered any number of examples of this brave new subjective world, and most of them are funnier than mine has been. Here’s my favorite, provided by my Sanders-supporting daughter:

(Disclaimer: I love Ringo. Please note, however, that Paul is objectively the best Beatle. That’s beyond dispute.)

All this mockery is well-deserved, but there’s another lesson here that many Trump haters have overlooked.

I take you back to the halcyon days of the mid 1990s, when O.J. Simpson was found not guilty and large numbers of African-Americans erupted in applause. I remember seeing television footage of black people cheering when the verdict was announced, and I was dumbfounded. All the contemporaneous polls indicated a stark racial divide in how the verdict was interpreted, with a majority of whites overwhelmingly convinced that Simpson got away with murder, while a majority of blacks were celebrating because one of their own finally beat a corrupt and racist system.

For me, personally, it was jarring to see all this happening in my hometown. I grew up in LA. I attended many a family dinner in my cousin’s Brentwood home that was within walking distance of where Ron and Nicole were killed. How was it possible that so many people from the same place could interpret those facts so differently?

It wasn’t too long after that I was watching an interview with actor LaVar Burton, who put the whole thing into perspective for me. I can’t remember his exact words, and I can’t find them online, but his premise was that for many of his fellow African-Americans, it was almost secondary as to whether or not O.J. had actually stabbed and nearly beheaded his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman. So many of them had seen so many of their friends and family suffer at the hands of racist law enforcement that they assumed, from the outset, that there was no way O.J. could get a fair shake. To many, O.J. symbolized all victims of America’s collective racial sins. The actual facts, and even the alternative ones, weren’t nearly as important.

Or, as LeVar Burton summed it up – and these words I remember verbatim:

“In a warped way, it felt like justice.”

Seeing so many Trump opponents recoil in horror and astonishment at the victory of our new Cheeto-in-Chief reminds me of me watching the O.J. Verdict. For many of them, this may have been the first time that they were confronted with the reality that roughly half of the country is interpreting reality in a very different way. Because even Republicans who know full well that a good chunk of what comes out of Trump’s mouth isn’t worth the spittle that accompanies it also see him as a symbol of a Republican willing to fight back. In a warped way, even the alternative facts Trump serves up can feel like justice.

Again, I have to reiterate that I’m not a Trump supporter. I remain a conservative and a supporter of free markets, and many of the things at the top of the Trump agenda are anathema to my political point of view. In some very crucial ways, Trump is not a conservative, and because Trump has corrupted the party, I’m no longer a Republican. But I know full well what it’s like to be a Republican in a country where all the culture at large feels stacked against you.

I don’t think many Democrats know how it feels to watch a movie or TV show and have all the good guys making fun of everything they believe. I think many get offended when Republicans complain of bias in the news media because they’re not used to ABC, CBS, NBC, and every major metropolitan newspaper in the country taking editorial positions telling them their ideology is not only wrong, but evil.

(A tangent, but if you feel the need to comment on this post with an argument about how conservatives are wrong to complain about media bias, or who want to use this as a vehicle to launch into a tirade against Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, I respectfully suggest that you’re missing my point, which is that conservatives feel like elite opinion is stacked against them, and they respond accordingly. Whether or not these feelings are justified is a separate – and probably unproductive – discussion.)

So, okay, fade out, fade in. Along comes Trump. And for the first time in living memory, a Republican is fighting back. A Republican is telling the press that they’re biased; they’re liars; they’re hacks. And he wins by beating up on the biased, lying hacks, who have never before been defeated as soundly as they were on Election Night. Does that feel like justice to many? You bet it does.

So, yes, of course there were fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than were at Obama’s in 2009. (Why Trump keeps hammering on this point is beyond me. 2017 inaugural attendance was entirely in line with previous presidents, and a POTUS’s power and authority does not in any way correlate with the number of people who stand outside on a cold January morning to hear him speak live.) But please know that your mockery of Kellyanne and her “alternative facts” is likely to galvanize the Trumpers, not shame them into submission. The angrier you get, the happier they get. To them, your rage feels like justice.

The saddest part about all of this is that justice isn’t about feelings. It’s about facts, and not alternative ones. And if we’re ever going to live in a country where we all acknowledge the same set of facts, we have to be willing to walk a mile in the other side’s shoes. (Just make sure that if you’re going to walk in rare Bruno Magli shoes, don’t allow photographs of you wearing them surface after bloody size 13 Bruno Magli footprints have been identified at a murder scene.)

On HRC and Climate Change

Got a very nice message from an old friend who told me she appreciates what I write, even though she disagrees with me on climate change and Hillary Clinton being evil. So I thought I’d talk about those two things as I keep blathering on about our new Trumpian reality.

With regard to HRC, my opinion of her no longer matters. The greatest thing about this awful election is that the Clintons are now permanently gone from the national stage, and I need not ever comment on or even think about them again. I wish Hillary a long, happy, pleasant retirement, and I hope she has plenty of time with her grandkids. At this point, any further investigation of her is a waste of time and resources and serves no purpose. I’m happy that Trump seems willing to let it die, even if Jason Chaffetz doesn’t. (He should let it die, though. Hillary’s gone. Move on, folks.)

As for climate change, I’ve been thinking about that since people began hyperventilating about Trump’s removal of the climate change section of the White House website. As I noted earlier, it’s an issue too poisoned by politics to discuss rationally. I’m therefore going to try to approach it from a different angle in the hopes that I don’t fall back into the tired partisan grooves that make for a tedious discussion.

Let’s begin with President Obama, who felt strongly enough about the issue to put a section about climate change on the White House website. That’s all well and good, but the undeniable truth is that Barack Obama, over the course of eight years, did absolutely nothing to lower or even slow the rise of global temperatures.

That’s not to say he didn’t try. True, he issued executive orders that would have increased the cost of energy by 30% and done nothing to affect the climate, but those orders got bogged down in court challenges and were never implemented. During his tenure, domestic production of fossil fuels rose dramatically, due primarily to fracking that Obama hated and tried to stop, but, again, couldn’t. His partisans can applaud his intentions, I suppose, but in terms of what he did in practical terms, it’s the equivalent of what Trump plans to do – absolutely nothing at all.

But Obama sure talked a good game, didn’t he?

He’s the one who insisted that “climate change is a fact” in his 2014 State of the Union address. He wasn’t wrong, but the problem with this statement is a very simplistic distillation of a rather complex issue. Climate change is much more than just “a” fact. It’s lots of facts. It’s also a large number of assumptions and, increasingly, a whole lot of political agendas that often have little or nothing to do with assumptions, facts, or anything resembling reality.

It’s an indisputable fact, for instance, that carbon dioxide traps heat in the earth’s atmosphere, and that human activity generates carbon dioxide. That fact is undenaiable, and when you call me a “denier,” remember that this is a fact I do not and cannot deny.

From this fact, however, it does not necessarily follow that forcing all existing coal power plants to cut their carbon emissions by 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 is a good idea, which is what Obama wanted to do. A study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that these emissions reductions would have a negative drag on the economy at a cost of about $50 billion per year. The price tag for hitting Obama’s arbitrary targets will therefore be somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 billion.

So what would we get for all that money?

On this fact, the scientific consensus is clear: we would get nothing at all. The emissions cuts would neither reduce global temperatures or even slow their rise. That’s the finding of the Obama administration itself, which determined that shutting down all coal-fired plants in the country would only reduce the increase global temperatures by a paltry five one-hundredths of a degree by the year 2100.

But we wouldn’t be shutting down all coal-fired plants. We’d only be cutting their emissions by a third, and we’re aiming for 2030, not 2100. With those variables an applying the Obama administration’s own assumptions, that means that those now-dead regulations would have slowed rising global temperatures by a few thousandths of a degree, a measurement that is all but indistinguishable from zero.

In other words, they would have been a total waste of time, money, and resources. You don’t have to be a climate scientist to understand the math.

This is almost criminal when you consider who will bear the cost for this kind of feel-good government overreach. Coal plants facing steep increases in costs would pass those increases on to their customers in the form of higher prices. This ends up acting as an extremely regressive tax, 99% of which would be borne by the 99%. When President Obama promised in 2008 that electricity prices would “necessarily skyrocket,” he seemed to think that was a price worth paying to save the planet. And, indeed, if these regulations could have actually saved the planet, that might be a discussion worth having. But they wouldn’t save anything, and they’d cost a great deal. The same is true for the Paris climate agreement. Even if fully implemented, it would have no discernible impact on the climate. It’s all nothing but empty – and expensive – symbolism.

We need to be wise environmental stewards, which means to approach every challenge with our eyes wide open. Everything the government does should be subject to a rigorous cost/benefit analysis. The previous administration has thrown a great deal of money at a number of boondoggle projects – anyone remember the Solyndra debacle? – that have had the appearance of being environmentally responsible, but ultimately were useless. They were only “green” in the sense that they cost billions of taxpayer dollars.

That said, there are a number of reasons why we need to make every effort to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. Technology, not regulation, is our best bet in thwarting a climate crisis, and free markets are far more likely to come up with solutions than the federal bureaucracy. When someone discovers they can get rich by figuring out a way to effectively harness solar power to power cars and heat our homes, many of our current energy and climate problems will vanish virtually overnight.

That’s why I take heart in the fact that some heartless, capitalist pig with no regard for anyone but himself is going to figure out how to make billions of dollars by inventing a car that can turn crap into fuel. As soon as someone can get rich by inventing a sustainable power source, fossil fuels will go away of their own accord.

That, incidentally, is how cities drowning in horse crap from the animals pulling their buggies were saved from a sanitation nightmare. Back in the day, the Model T was an environmental miracle that washed the feces off all our city streets.

The best thing the government can do to help make that transition is to take a common sense approach and, whenever possible, get out of the way. Which, realistically, is what Trump is going to do, and what Obama, despite his best efforts, actually did.