A Pardoned Turkey’s Dumpy Fate

The surviving children of Abraham Lincoln are Robert and Thomas, the first of which is about twenty-three years old, a graduate of Harvard College, and is a young man of modest and agreeable manners, quiet, and with a very good share of his father’s sagacity and kindness.

So wrote Noah Brooks, a White House reporter during the Civil War, in his1865 book “Lincoln Observed” about life in Lincoln’s White House. Brooks’s glowing portrait of the elder Lincoln son is not matched by his dismissive description of his younger brother:

The youngest son is a little more than eleven years old, and was nicknamed “Tad” by his father when a small boy, which nickname was an abbreviation of “tadpole,” the youngster reminding his father of that creature in his short, dumpy shape.

That must have been quite a conversation.  “Hey, kid, I’m going to call you Tad, because you’re short and dumpy.” Honest Abe may have been a little too honest on this occasion.

But despite his dumpiness, Tad’s contribution to America’s Thanksgiving public traditions will not soon be forgotten.

From Brooks again:

The President was passionately attached to his boys, and seldom went anywhere without “Tad,” of whom he told me an amusing anecdote on the last election day. About a year before a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but “Tad” interceded in behalf of its life, and carried the case up to the Executive Chamber, securing a stay of proceedings until his father could be heard from. The argument was that the turkey had as good a right to live as anybody else, and his plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared. The soldiers on duty about the house made a pet of the bird, and on last election day the boy came tearing up into his father’s room to call his attention to the fact that the soldiers were voting. Noticing the turkey among them, the President asked “Tad” if the turkey was voting, too; to which the boy promptly responded – “Oh, no; he isn’t of age yet!” The indulgent father thought that reply was a great deal better than many of the so-called Lincoln stories.

Yeah, not bad for a dumpy kid.

This account is the source for the claim that Lincoln began the tradition of pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys, but the facts here make that dubious. In the first place, this was a a turkey “brought home for the Christmas dinner,” not Thanksgiving. It survived at least until the next year’s election, which would have been roughly concurrent with the Thanksgiving celebration that Lincoln had first designated the year before.

Thus, since the bird received no formal pardon, there would have been no legal obstacle to slaughtering, basting, and consuming it, complete with stuffing, a year after Lincoln’s dumpy son spared its life. That turkey’s ultimate fate, however, remains lost to recorded history.

Later presidents have offered similar reprieves, but none of them carried the force of law until 1989, when President George H.W. Bush began the process of offering an official pardon. Every president since has kept with tradition. This year, President Trump pardoned a turkey named Drumstick, who the president predicted has “a very bright future ahead of him.”

A bright future, eh?

Drumstick, like Tad, is pretty dumpy. He’s a 37-pound bird who has been genetically engineered to live fat, die young, and leave a tasty corpse. It turns out that he and his other pardoned turkeys tend to drop dead of dumpy causes not long after their official reprieves.

John Stossel commented on this phenomenon in a report during George W. Bush’s administration:

Bush made this promise to the two turkeys [he pardoned]: “They will live out their days in the comfort and care of Kidwell Farm in Herndon, Virginia.”

… I visited Kidwell Farm to see how the turkeys pardoned in previous years were doing. I looked for some of the birds pardoned by Clinton, but couldn’t find them. I couldn’t find the Bush Sr. birds, or the Reagan turkeys, or Carter’s, or any of the pardoned birds.

There is a sign saying Turkey Pen, and farmer Marlo Acock took me to it. But the pen was empty. Why? Well, the birds do come here, explained Acock, but they don’t last.

“We usually just find ’em and they’re dead,” he said.

Most of the pardoned turkeys only last a few months, Acock said. One died within days.

It seems that the presidential birds, bred to be eaten, are so fat that by the time of their pardon, their days are numbered.

“Their flesh has grown so fast, and their heart and their bones and their other organs can’t catch up,” said Acock.

Trump joked about the idea of undoing President Obama pardons of turkeys Tator and Tot, respectively. “”I have been informed by the White House counsel’s office that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot, under any circumstances, be revoked,” Trump joked. “So, Tater and Tot, you can rest easy.”

Or, more likely, rest in peace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Stallion Returns!


So this blog has gotten no love in over five months, and it has actually been offline for the past two weeks. (Please note that Yahoo Small Business web hosting sucks. I wasted many hours on the phone with those guys repeatedly trying to verify who I was before repeatedly telling me they couldn’t help me.)

This wasn’t just benign neglect. I was intentionally ignoring this place while I was running for Congress.  Any writing I was doing was in the service of the campaign, and I didn’t really want to explain to potential constituents why I operate under the pseudonym of “Stallion Cornell.” I even changed my Twitter handle from StallionCornell to jim_4_congress. (I have since changed it back, but when I’m not campaigning, I don’t really tweet much.)

So, yes, I ran for Congress under the banner of the new United Utah Party, and I had to sue in Federal Court to get on the ballot. I ended up persuading over 13,000 people to leave their tribal politics behind and vote for me, earning over 9% of the vote. That’s the highest percentage for any third-party congressional candidate in Utah history. I was also the first non-Republican/non-Democrat to participate in the official televised debate, which you’re welcome to watch in its entirety below:

I’m the guy in the middle, and they had to raise the podium to accommodate me. It was a lot of fun, actually, although perhaps the most nerve-wracking experience of my life.

But anyway, it’s all over, and now I’m getting deluged with variations of two questions:

  1. Are you happy with the result? and
  2. Are you going to run again?

I’m proud of the race I ran, yes, and I don’t think I embarrassed myself. At the same time, I’m not particularly happy about losing. When I tell people that, they tell me I shouldn’t have expected to actually win a third party run, and they’re probably right. Yet there’s no way to conduct a credible campaign if you’re not running to win. You can’t wake up in the morning and hit the hustings hard if your only goal is to get 9% and go down in flames gracefully.

It was weird, too, to have people complain that the United Utah Party was trying too hard to win. One guy wrote a whole op-ed about how he was excited about this new party until he saw that I wasn’t willing to concede the race to my Republican opponent before the ballots were cast, and it was somehow unseemly that I was actually competing.

Another guy wrote that we should “take it slow” and “plant the seeds” and not expect to win elections for years, maybe even decades. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It’s what the Libertarians have done since 1972, and look how well it’s done them. Fact is, you can’t “take things slow.” You have to swing for the fences from your first time at bat. Granted, most people who swing for the fences strike out, but every once in awhile, they hit a home run.

(Yikes. Sports analogies? Really? Maybe the campaign really did change me.)

So to answer #2 – yes, I would very much like to run again. I had a great experience, and I think I tapped into a hunger for an alternative to the broken two-party stalemate. But whether I do or not will depend on a number of factors. The first is, will I have the resources to compete? I was outspent by a ratio of over 10 to 1 by both the Republican and the Democrat, and I’m not willing to jump into another race and be forced to bootstrap it in the same way.

I’m also not interested in being a sacrificial lamb. I’m not going to run to make a statement or plant seeds. If I run again, it will be in a race that I am confident I can actually win.

In the meantime, I’m not currently writing for the Deseret News – they understandably wouldn’t let candidates write for their paper –  but I do have a new gig as a contributor to The Jack News, a new website with a mission “to reevaluate political happenings and current events with an eye for factual response and at times a little humor and satire.”

Here are a couple of my latest pieces from other there – one about Al Franken who I have disliked intensely for many years prior to his current scandal, and another about the Justice League movie, which I haven’t yet seen. (No, it’s not a review.) I’ll post other links as they become available.

Beyond that, I’m trying to get my bearings and figure out what the next step is. While I’m doing that,  I’ll probably have more time to bring this blog back from the dead. I’be now been at this for more than a decade. That’s an eternity in Internet years.

But that’s no thanks to Yahoo Small Business. Seriously, they’re the worst.

The Politics of Will Rogers

I’m halfway through the run of Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “The Will Rogers Follies.” I play Wiley Post, the aviator who was piloting the plane that went down  in Alaska in 1935, claiming the lives of both Rogers and Post as a result. I spend the entire show sitting in the audience, yelling “Let’s go flying, Will” every once in awhile. It’s kind of a running joke until the end of the show, when it finally dawns on everyone as to what happens when Will finally takes me up on my offer.

Let’s go flying, Will!

The subtitle of the plays is “A Life in Revue,” meaning that the events of Will Rogers’s life are recounted in the context of an old-style Ziegfeld Follies extravaganza, complete with massive old-school singing and dancing from a bevy of beautiful showgirls. It’s mostly lighthearted fun, but you get a clear sense of Will Rogers’s political point of view throughout, most notably his serious third-party credentials.

At one point, he is asked which political party he belongs to. “Oh, I don’t belong to any organized party,” he replies. “I’m a Democrat.” He also claims that Democratic conventions are much more fun than Republican ones, because the Democrats know they aren’t going anywhere afterwards. In real life, he stepped away from the Democrats in 1928 to run for president as the head of the Debunk Party, which actually carried the District of Columbia in the general election.  Rogers said he took that as a personal compliment, seeing as how the people in DC are the ones who have to live with whoever gets elected for the next four years.

The show turns serious right near the end, as Will Rogers goes on the radio to address the country in the wake of the Great Depression.  The dialogue in the show is a condensed version of a speech that’s come to be known as ““Bacons, Beans, and Limousines.” You can watch it for yourself here:

Watching the speech every night has been a delight, as David Lutken’s performance in the role of Will Rogers has been a joy from beginning to end. Having seen it multiple times, I have had ample opportunity to consider not just the performance but Will Rogers’s message, which has sparked an economic epiphany for me.

Specifically, I’ve decided that a major source of the world’s economic and political missteps come from the mistaken assumption that money and wealth are the same thing. That was an assumption that Will Rogers embraced, and the speech in the show contains couple of moments that demonstrate that he didn’t make any distinction between the two.

The first comes when Rogers, talking about how to relieve the suffering of the unemployed, insists that this shouldn’t be too difficult to do. “We’ve got the money,” he says. “There’s as much money in the country as there ever was, only fewer people have it.”

In a strict sense, that’s true, but it’s also irrelevant. There probably were just as many pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents on them after the 1929 stock market crash as there were before it. But that same amount of money represented a smaller amount of wealth. When old people go on and on about how, in their day, it only cost a nickel to ride the bus, they’re ignoring the fact that a nickel back then reflected essentially the same amount of wealth as the two bucks it takes to ride the bus today. Probably more, in fact, given the technological improvements that have cut the real costs of public transportation. Money is a reflection of wealth, not the other way around.

When the stock market crashed, the money didn’t go anywhere, but a huge amount of wealth disappeared. (Actually, in strictly economic terms, that’s not entirely true, as the stock market was trading on an assumption that the country had more wealth than it actually had, and the crash was the free market making a ruthless correction to bring fantasy in line with reality. But that’s getting a little too far into the weeds on this.)  So while Will Rogers could stand up and say there was just as much money as there ever was, he couldn’t accurately go on the air and say there was just as much wealth in this country as there ever was, because there wasn’t.

If money and wealth were identical, the way out of the Depression would be for the government to write everyone a check for a million dollars. In fact, why doesn’t the government just write us all billion dollar checks and be done with it? We could all be rich! I get first dibs on the private jet with the cool flames on the sides.

But that doesn’t work, because giving everyone a bunch of money for no reason just makes everything cost more. When you increase the money supply without a commensurate increase in wealth, a billion dollars can’t buy you a private jet any more than today’s nickel can get you a bus ticket. You end up having to take wheelbarrows full of dollar bills to the grocery stores to buy one loaf of bread. That’s why governments that try to dig their way out of debt by printing up more money end up collapsing into crushing poverty that takes generations to overcome. If you doubt me, take a vacation in Venezuela and see how well printing money has solved all their problems.

The second part of Rogers’s speech that raised some economic red flags was when he started talking about how we get money. “A man can make a million dollars overnight and he’s on every front page in the morning,” he says. “But it never tells you who gave up that million that he got. You can’t get money without taking it from somebody else.”

This is the kind of zero-sum thinking that fuels President Trump’s rants against China. He’s always complaining about how much money we “lose” in trade with other countries, when neither country loses anything. When people pay money for something, they’re doing it to get something in return. When we give China a billion dollars, they give us a whole bunch of stuff, much of which we can resell at a higher profit than what we paid for it. In international trade, its usually the case that after money changes hands, both sides walk away wealthier.

Of course, a great deal of money spent on perishable goods that don’t appreciate in value, but even in those exchanges, both parties walk away satisfied, because nobody feels wealthier if they go to bed hungry when they refuse to buy food for dinner. Money, therefore, is usually offered as a reward for creating wealth, and those who “give up that million that he got” always gets something of value in return for their cash.

Those misunderstandings aside, Rogers is on to something when he talks about wealth disparity and the social responsibility we have to care for our neighbors. While the free market is very good at creating wealth, it’s entirely indifferent to the needs of those who, for whatever reason, are not able to create enough wealth to meet their needs. Good government is able to balance the need for a vibrant free market with concern for the poor. Such balances require active compromise and consensus, and they require input from all sides.

This is probably why Will Rogers’s maxim that he never met a man he didn’t like is so valuable in today’s political world. He’s not saying that he endorses everyone’s point of view; he’s saying that even people who do the wrong things are often doing it for the right reasons. Accepting the good faith of an ideological opponent is a great way to build a country, and a great way to live a life.

To sum up: Will Rogers had some economic misunderstandings, but overall, he was on to something. You’ll get a better sense of the if you come see my show. Get a ticket on the third row, and you can even sit next to me!

Various and Sundry

I’m now writing a lot more than I ever have, but not much of it is posted here. I’m sorry this blog is being neglected, but, since nobody pays me to write it, I’ve been forced to shift my focus to wordsmithing in ways that produce income.

That said, there’s a bunch of stuff I’ve written that I haven’t linked to anywhere, so I thought I could kill two birds with one stone by shamelessly plugging some of my stuff and reviving this moribund blog at the same time.

Here’s a piece I did on the National Endowment for the Arts that echoes an earlier blog post I wrote about my experience as a musical theatre panelist for the NEA.

Here’s one where I review the Netflix movie “The Most Hated Woman in America”, which I doubt anyone else but me has actually seen. I think Madalyn Murray O’Hair was a fascinating figure, despite the fact that I disagree with her profoundly.

It looks like Disney isn’t going to put Carrie Fisher into Episode IX at all, so this article about repurposed footage is probably irrelevant now. But here it is anyway.

I turned a Facebook status update game into a column! Behold the Jim Bennett Guide to Broadway Musicals.

This is NOT a review, but it is a nice little piece about my experience in The Will Rogers Follies.

Incidentally, every time I do a show for Pioneer Theatre Company, I feel a need to take a picture of myself in costume next to the portrait of my great-grandfather that hangs in the lobby of the theatre, like so:


The eyepatch is cool but problematic, as I have to sit in the audience and watch the whole show without any depth perception.

The show is getting some great reviews, and I’m even mentioned in a couple of them.

Here’s the Deseret News review, which includes the following line:

Wiley Post, Rogers’ fellow aviator (played by Deseret News columnist Jim Bennett) delighted the audience as an agitator who would occasionally stand up and holler at Rogers.

Nice to get a mention, although I’m hardly an “agitator.” Pretty much all I say is “Let’s go flying, Will!” Glad to know that’s all it takes to “delight the audience.”

I’m mentioned in this review, too –

Wiley Post (Jim Bennet (sic)) has some of the funniest lines–but I grew to dislike him–the character, not the actor. If I tell you why, it’s a spoiler if you don’t read the Wikipedia link I added. Bennet (sic) has great timing and it was fun that he did his entire performance from a seat in the audience.

It’s nice to be disliked for the right reasons, so I won’t dislike the reviewer for spelling Bennett with only one T. And, really, I should be nice to her, because the reality is that I don’t have any funny lines at all. Unless, again, you think “Let’s go flying, Will!” is funny.

Moving on…

In this piece, I slam the new Alec Baldwin Match Game.

And in this piece, I praise Mystery Science Theatre 3000, because it’s awesome.

That’s all I’ve got. Come see me at Pioneer Theatre! Show runs until May 20. If you get a seat on the third row, you can even sit next to me.

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.