It kind of feels like the fabric that holds our society together is becoming more and more threadbare by the day.
Calamity fuels anxiety, and anxiety churns our ideas and emotions into a bitter black butter, clogging the arteries in our brain and preventing us from generating optimistic thoughts.
Hopelessness gathers on the horizon, settling in our collective consciousness.
War, disease, and apathy carry the day, leading humanity down a dark and twisting path, permanently away from light and hope.
But my dog doesn’t sense any of this.
My dog still greets me with smiling eyes and a wagging backside – the same way she did when life on earth was good. She still strolls from the patio to the sun-warmed grass, shoulder-rolls onto the ground, and joyfully wiggles on her back.
Somedays, she’s the ray of light that sees me through tomorrow.
At first, it was difficult to brush aside the carnage.
We see the horror of war and empathize with those engulfed by it.
We get angry at the senselessness of it.
We get agitated that one man’s evil ambition can wreak havoc on millions of innocent people who just want to live their lives.
But as the war drags on, we’ll grow to accept it as part of the global landscape.
For Ukrainians, outrage and anger fuel their fight and their will to survive.
For Ukrainians, outrage is ammunition. Outrage is necessary.
But for us watching the war from a safe distance, in 3-minute segments on flat-screen TVs, maintaining the same level of outrage we felt initially is not sustainable. Not because we’re callous or ambivalent, but because that level of outrage interferes with our daily routine and our need to get on with our lives.
Humans are not wired to maintain a constant state of outrage when their environment does not merit it, or when their survival does not depend on it.
For those not directly impacted by war, extended outrage is an impediment. To move on with our lives, outrage gives way to a begrudging (and guilt-laden) acceptance of other people’s suffering.
In a way, turning off our outrage becomes a survival mechanism.
Putin understands this.
Putin is betting that the world will get tired of feeling outrage.
Putin knows that outrage has a short shelf-life and all he has to do for victory is wait us out.
We need sustainable outrage to stand up against the enemies of freedom and democracy.
Across from you stands 5-feet seven inches of sunshine, splendidly packaged in twinkly eyes on a lightly freckled face, each freckle perfectly placed by one of God’s angels.
“Nice to meet you, Sandi,” you suck in your gut and shake her hand.
She turns and walks ahead, her hair bouncing playfully on tanned and toned shoulders as you stroll towards the front door of an overpriced, undersized 2-bedroom condo.
You struggle to not let your gaze drift southward.
Newly divorced, you’re looking for your own place for the first time in 30 years – “A fresh start,” you tell yourself, and Sandi’s listing seems to fit the bill — at least on paper.
At 60, you’re done mowing lawns; your achy knees are a weekly testament to that. You’ve convinced yourself a monthly HOA is a small price to free you from that discomfort.
As you enter the condo, Sandi begins her pitch:
“In addition to the living area, we have 2 bedrooms (one with an ensuite) and a lovely eat-in kitchen leading to a cheery patio overlooking the backyard.”
Sandi’s lilting voice bounces softly off the walls of the empty condo, mixing with her perfume to form an intoxicating blend of scent and sound that hangs in the air for you to absorb.
You quietly inhale.
Ballerina-like, she spins and says, “feel free to walk about,” then heads onto the patio, taking out her phone and sitting down in one graceful motion.
You realize you’re barely a blip to her. A soon to be forgotten notation on her calendar.
This unexpected encounter with youthful exuberance brings a heightened awareness to your current station in life. It wasn’t that long ago when purpose and promise filled your days. Now, in the full grip of a midlife crisis, you grasp for what’s no longer there.
Your situation hits you like a two-by-four to the back of the head. You tour the unit numbly; you feel yourself move from room to room, seeing it all but noticing nothing.
You walk towards the patio where Sandi sits in the sun. “I’ll take it,” you say, not because you want it, but just to see her turn towards you and smile.
A recent report from the January 6th commission shows Ginny Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, was communicating with President Trump’s Chief of Staff to illegally (and seditiously) stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
The report illustrates that extremism, guided by conspiratorial thinking, existed at the highest levels of government. Unfortunately, that’s still the case today. The ideas and conspiracy theories that Ginny Thomas referenced to prod Mark Meadows to turn against his country are readily available to anyone with internet access.
Lies and conspiracy theories are nothing new. But social media amplifies them and accelerates how they’re spread. So, to combat this, one must be committed to countering the lies with truth and facts. But, unfortunately, and with few exceptions, Republican politicians have done the exact opposite. They’re embracing the lies and conspiracy theories, not because they believe them but because it’s politically advantageous. In fact, embracing lies and spreading conspiracy theories is now a political strategy of the Republican party. And we’re seeing the effect before our very eyes.
The political proliferation of lies and conspiracy theories is like a constricting snake around the throat of our democracy – choking off reason, rationality, accountability, and integrity.
The lies and conspiracy theories are woven in fear, fake patriotism, and culture war issues such as transgenderism and critical race theory.
I feel sorry for people caught up in conspiracy theories, many of whom are so desperate to be part of something worth fighting for they disregard facts and evidence. But I have nothing but contempt for politicians who look to capitalize on the misguided and misinformed. And that’s what a lot of Republican congressmen and senators are doing.
Republicans clearly understand the connection between technology, lying, and generating support from voters. We saw this on display at Judge Jackson’s confirmation hearing.
Senators Cruz, Hawley, Blackburn, and Graham cherry-picked snippets from Judge Jackson’s court cases and decisions and painted an un-nuanced and inaccurate caricature. That caricature became twitter-sphere fodder for their party’s base and kindling for their political campaigns.
We all saw Senator Cruz checking his Twitter feed after questioning Judge Jackson about racist babies and pornography.
The hearing illuminated a disturbing trend, where politicians are not simply repeating lies and conspiracy theories but are ginning up their own lies and false narratives, which end up on websites and social media accounts, and, inevitably, into the hearts and minds of their constituency.
Since the end of the confirmation hearing, we’ve seen a disturbing uptick in political attacks against Judge Jackson, labeling her as a sympathizer of Nazis and pedophiles. So perhaps we’re witnessing the birth of a fresh new conspiracy theory about Judge Jackson?
I would not be surprised.
And finally, Kudos to Judge Jackson for her grace under pressure.
Had Lindsey Graham asked me to rate my religiosity on a scale of one to ten (as if religion has anything to do with being a sound jurist), I would have said, “Zero. And fuck you for asking the question.”
Judge Jackson is supremelyqualified. She has the intellect, experience, and temperament to be a justice on the United States Supreme Court.
On daddy’s dime, he ran business after business into the ground.
He shorted his contractors, defrauded and extorted his way to the top of the New York real estate market.
He cheated on his taxes almost as much as he cheated on his wives.
He sexually assaulted women and bragged about it.
He publicly mocked a handicapped reporter.
When a woman reporter held his feet to the fire with tough questions, he insinuated that her tough questions were related to her menstrual cycle.
He endlessly equated a women’s worth with her appearance.
He sexualized his own daughter publicly.
He denied housing to people based solely on the color of their skin.
He used a charity as a front for illegal activities and was forced to shut it down.
He created a fake university to take money from suckers, truckers, and dumb motherfuckers all across America.
He pandered to Americans’ fears, employing a nationalistic propaganda campaign emblematic of the Nazis in Pre-World War II Europe. And as a result of that campaign, he ascended to the highest office in the land.
And for four years, we bore witness to a fundamental truth; like sewage in a leeching field, a man’s lack of character seeps into every decision he makes.
At the pinnacle of power and public service, instead of leading and uniting a nation, Trump put all his energy into pitting Americans against one another. He understood that a divided America was his best and only chance at hanging on to power.
As president, he promoted and pushed tax policies that helped the rich and powerful.
He implemented a punitive immigration policy that separated children from parents and caged them, all while using nationalistic propaganda and xenophobic tropes to justify his cruelty.
He tried to shake down a foreign leader by holding-up military funding for dirt on his political opponent.
He minimized the danger of the COVID-19 pandemic and pushed false cures and the notion that COVID-19 would not last, despite knowing his words were lies.
He cheered the efforts of nationalist militias to overthrow state governments.
He regularly praised and flirted with authoritarians while simultaneously trashing alliances.
And when the American people finally said enough is enough, he used lies and misinformation about a stolen election to whip his supporters into a frenzy. Then, he gathered his supporters in Washington for the express purpose of subverting American Democracy, urging them to storm the capital to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election.
Blood was spilled, people died, but Democracy prevailed.
Since then, members of his administration have said that Trump was, and is, unfit to lead. Yet members of the Republican party serving in congress refuse to refute the fat orange brute.
A few weeks ago, Russia invaded the free and sovereign nation of Ukraine and Trump refused to refute the brute who initiated the attack. In fact, he praised Putin’s tactics as “Genius” and “Savvy.”
When asked by a reporter, “what message would you like to give Vladimir Putin today?” Trump did not denounce Putin’s aggression. Instead, the former leader of the free world said, “I have no message.”
And yet Trump – this menace to American Democracy and democracies around the world – this selfish, shallow, vile human being devoid of character and morality is still the most powerful man in the Republican party.
Republicans in congress grub for his support., similar to the scared immigrant families of generations ago who cowered to the local mafia thug strutting in their streets.
Unfortunately for America, Trump is that Mafia thug. Instead of threatening physical violence, he threatens the congressional community to withhold his support. And to the dismay of many, Republican congressmen bend a knee and kiss the ring of this despicable human being.
The lack of courage in the face of Trump’s moral and ethical turpitude stunned and deflated Americans and weakened our standing around the globe. Our allies wondered aloud if America could still be trusted. How can we expect America to stand up for Democracy when their own president does not?
Trump spent four years weakening alliances with western democracies across Europe. He joyfully cozied up to authoritarian leaders and countries around the globe. He softened the ground for autocratic regimes in their march against western democratic ideals, which lead inevitably to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Like Trump, Putin is a bully and a thug.
Like Trump, Putin understands Democracy is the iron in the blood of free men and women.
And when Democracy takes hold in a country previously constricted by authoritarianism, it unlocks the desire for freedom that exists naturally in all human beings. Our natural human desire for freedom is contagious and spreads quickly, especially in countries where freedom has been denied.
Freedom, and the courage to fight for it, is the kryptonite of autocrats, dictators, and bullies.
Freedom was flourishing in Ukraine. And though Ukraine was no threat militarily to Russia, the freedom of its people was a threat to Putin himself.
What happens if Russians get infected with freedom? How long would Putin last?
And so, we have bombs raining down on cities across Ukraine. We have a free and sovereign nation under attack by a menacing bully.
Like Putin, Trump understood that his rule was also threatened by freedom.
The freedom for people to march in protest.
The freedom of the press to report truthfully.
The freedom of citizens to question and challenge authority.
All of these freedoms ended Trump’s presidency and saved (for now anyway) our Democracy.
We must do all that we can to help Ukraine fight for freedom. As free people, it’s our responsibility to help Ukrainians in their fight to remain free. They’re standing up to the bully, putting their lives on the line to remain a sovereign nation of free people. If they lose their fight, it’s a victory for the enemies of freedom everywhere. A victory for Putin opens the door to further aggression and the spread of autocracy’s dark shadow around the globe.
In a recent interview, a reporter asked Ukraine President Zelenskyy if he understood America’s view that imposing a no-fly zone over Ukraine would worsen the situation. Worsen it for who? was his reply.
By refusing to close the sky over Ukraine, we’re permitting the slaughter of Ukrainians.
When you’re an ocean away from bombs raining down from the skies, you can afford to be pragmatic; when bombs are raining down on you, pragmatism goes out the window.
Ukrainians don’t have the luxury of being pragmatic or assessing their situation from a geopolitical perspective. Instead, they’re asking America and the world to give them a chance at survival. Refusing to close the sky over Ukraine diminishes their chances significantly.
Either we stand up to the bully and close the skies and risk escalating the war to other countries, or we permit the slaughter of innocent civilians.
Put more simply, either we do what is right or what is safe. We stand up to the menacing bully with all of our strength and courage, or we do not.
I’ve been watching gut-wrenching footage of the Ukrainian refugee crisis.
Images of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing their homes. Pictures of desperate and panicked mobs on train station platforms looking for safe passage to Poland or Hungary. The same pained expression on every face. An expression that comes from leaving all you’ve ever known behind with the devastating understanding you’ll likely never return.
I think the world is still reeling from how quickly events leading to the crisis unfolded. The transformation from Ukrainian citizen to Ukrainian refugee seemed instantaneous.
Ukrainians went from sipping coffee at sidewalk cafés to walking for miles with everything they own stuffed in a duffle bag. We watch them stagger down the middle of streets, surrounded by block after city block of blackened and bombed-out buildings. We wince in discomfort at the hundreds of children in winter coats clinging to stuffed animals while holding on to their stunned parent’s hands. We imagine the feeling of having our own security ripped away and our lives forever changed because of one man’s delusions of grandeur and unbridled lust for power.
What’s happening in Ukraine is so unsettling because we see with our own eyes the fragility of life and how tenuous the connection between safety and total chaos is.
As I watch the crisis unfold from the comfort of my surroundings, a sense of hopelessness settles in. The hopelessness is chased by an anxiety-fueled realization that everything which anchors me to my own sense of belonging might disappear in a wisp and whim.
Simple things, like walking through the front door into the arms of a loved one, relaxing in a favorite chair, falling asleep to the warm and familiar nuances of home. The almost unconscious absorption of sights and sounds that comprise life; the sound of my dog walking across the kitchen floor, a ticking clock in the den, the electric hum of a refrigerator at night, or the relaxed, carefree expression of my children sitting around the kitchen table.
It’s unbearable knowing that everything that grounds us and keeps us whole can disappear when one man decides to go to war.
But that’s what happens in an autocracy.
Most importantly, we shouldn’t get lulled into thinking this can’t happen in America. We have a vicious and ugly streak of “might-is-right” believers in our country and government.
And let’s keep in our collective consciousness that Donald Trump is one of Vladimir Putin’s biggest admirers, and that Donald Trump still controls the Republican Party.
Redirecting our democracy to an autocracy might be one election cycle away.
When Donald Trump was President, he openly mused about shooting protesters in the legs. Donald Trump ordered military police to use tear gas to disperse peaceful protestors. Donald Trump despises a free press and openly talks about “investigating” and targeting journalists. And like every true authoritarian, Donald Trump understands the biggest threat to autocratic rule is truth and freedom. After all, it was truth and freedom that ended his presidency, despite all his attempts to suppress both.
I’ve no doubt that Trump is fine with Putin clamping down on protestors. And I’m sure that Trump sees nothing wrong with Putin keeping the truth from Russian citizens by cracking down on journalists. Trump himself longed for that type of power and control.
Imagine if Trump were President today. Do you honestly think he would condemn Putin and work with our NATO alliance? How much worse would the Ukrainian people be under a Trump Presidency?
We are all Ukrainians today – their fight is our fight, because they fight for freedom and democracy.
One of the easiest things we can do as Americans to help the Ukraine is to stand up to the autocratic forces in our own country. Call out Trump and his sycophants at every turn and be sure to vote for candidates that support democracy and freedom.