Young, vibrant, confident, and just starting out in adulthood. I believe this picture was taken before I was born.
In the photo, I both see and don’t see my mother. It’s my mom, yet, it’s not my mom. The simultaneous feeling of the familiar and the unacquainted wrestle and dance inside my head. I recognize her instantly, yet that recognition doesn’t map to my experience.
The feeling’s a bit like the one you had as a kid the first time you saw one of your teachers outside the classroom, walking an aisle of the grocery store, you were like “wait, I know you . . . . but what are you doing here?? and why are you buying Kraft Macaroni and Cheese? You recognize that teacher, but they’re out context.
In this picture, my mom is out of context for me. I think its because at the time of the photo, she had not yet assumed the role of mother. The person in the picture is a purer, undefined by role version of my mom, and that’s what emanates from the photograph — its a version of my mother that I never knew.
Our relationship with our parents is so rigidly defined by role, we tend to see them as mom or dad only, as caretaker or protector only. Parents rarely reveal their true selves to their kids — I’m not sure why. There’s no written rule stating “Don’t let your children know who you were before you became mom or dad”, but that’s what we do — we keep that part of our self, to ourselves, almost instinctually it seems.
The photo made me realize how little I truly knew of my mom; that most of what I knew of her was based on the bits and pieces she revealed to me as caretaker, protector, mother. The rest of her — her core self — her fears, what she wanted for herself, and the things she thought about in the dark of night, remained hidden from me.
The photograph reminds me how parenthood ushers in a new phase and sense of self, distinct from who and what you were before taking on that role.
I think this transformation was more impactful for women of my mother’s generation, many of whom chose to put off careers or ventures that might have fulfilled them in different ways than motherhood.
It’s a risky proposition, becoming a parent. How will the sense of self we lose, measure up to the new self we become? The potential for reward, matched equally by the possibility of regret.
Some find their better-selves as a parents, others struggle, or feel a sense of loss and sadness at the self they left behind. In my mother’s waning years, I can’t help but think she felt some regret and sorrow.
My mom was a good mother. She relished the role – threw every once of herself into it. She instilled in her 3 children a sense of responsibility and a love of learning. And I think she was proud of her effort and the results.
We all get a certain amount of time on this earth. My mother, like many other moms, put her pre-parent ambitions and untapped capabilities on hold, dedicating her time and energy to motherhood. I suspect she felt the impact of that tradeoff.
When you put everything you’ve got into nurturing your kids, you sometimes lack the energy, or simply run out of time, to nurture your self. It wasn’t until later in life that I understood the enormity of that sacrifice, and the love that fueled it.
The impetus behind the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement is systemic racism.
People join and support BLM to protest a system of justice in America that treats people of color differently than white people. From that perspective, the BLM movement comes from noble place – the desire to right a wrong in our society.
This past Summer, the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer sparked outrage and widespread protests, deservedly so.
Rising up and taking to the streets to protest that murder was an entirely appropriate response by Americans. And, if I remember correctly, when some of those protests turned violent, that violence was condemned by democrats and republicans alike.
Most Americans agree that violent protests cannot, and should not be tolerated. That said, it’s important to understand the psychology of a riot.
Marin Luther King said:
“I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.
And, what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.”
The BLM riots were the result of America failing to acknowledge the mistreatment of black and brown citizens by our justice system, which has been going on for years. Prolonged injustice needs but a spark to lead to protests and riots, and the George Floyd murder was that spark.
Contrast that with the January 6th “stop the steal” protest, which turned into a violent riot.
The January 6th protest had nothing to do with prolonged injustice. It was not borne out of years of systemic racism. Instead, the January 6th protest was a planned and calculated attempt by our president to disrupt the certification the 2020 presidential election.
The impetus for the January 6th protest was the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was rigged. There is not a shred of truth to that claim. But, as we all know; Donald Trump does not care about the truth. So, he pushed the false claim of a rigged and stolen election to millions of Americans in the weeks leading up to the January 6th rally. And on that day, he again lied to the thousands in attendance.
None of this is in dispute. We know that President Trump spread lies and false claims about the election, and we know that he assembled the rally on January 6th to disrupt the certification of the election by congress.
The primary difference between the BLM protests and the Stop the Steal protest is the legitimacy of the issue being protested.
Systemic racism is a real and legitimate problem in America. We have data showing black and brown citizens are treated more harshly than white citizens by both the police and by the courts. In short, for BLM protesters there’s a genuine issue at hand and a real reason to be angry, and George Floyd’s life being extinguished under the knee of a white racist cop, brought an ugly and graphic clarity about racial injustice, to millions of Americans.
In contrast, what Trump supporters were protesting on January 6th was not justified. The very foundation of the Stop the Steal protest was built on lies. There was no widespread voter fraud. The election was not stolen.President Trump did not win in a landslide.
How do we know that the issues being protested on January 6th were not legitimate?
We know this because:
The votes were tabulated and Joe Biden had 7 million more of them.
The votes were recounted several times, and Joe Biden still had 7 million more of them.
Every challenge that the president’s legal team brought to the courts was defeated in resounding fashion.
The Trump Administration’s Attorney General reviewed the claims of widespread fraud and said there was none.
The indisputable truth is that President Trump lost the 2020 election.
Now, if the candidate that I supported and trusted lost an election, and then went on to tell me every single day for weeks at a time, that the election was stolen, and that the consequence of that stolen election was that my country was going to be destroyed, I might have stormed the US Capitol as well.
Take what Doctor King said about riots and apply it to what happened on January 6th:
I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard. And, what is it that America has failed to hear?
They failed to hear that my vote was stolen – that the election was rigged, that I won’t have a country anymore if the election is certified
I honestly believe that millions of Americans believed what Trump told them every day for weeks before and after the election – that it was rigged and stolen. And for the thousands that showed up on January 6th, the only way to stop the steal was to stop the certification, and that meant storming the Capitol building. So that’s what they did, at the behest of our lying president.
The issue many of us are grappling with today is how did we get to the point where millions of Americans are resistant to facts and immune to the truth?
How did this happen on such a mass scale?
I believe it was the perfect storm of the browning of America, globalization, religiosity, and an opportunistic and depraved leader.
More than any other President in our history, Trump understood the value of other people’s fear. He understood that he could use that fear to his own advantage.
Trump understood that connecting with people over fears about our changing demographics, what it means to “be American”, growing secularism, and loss of manufacturing jobs, would override everything else – including truth and facts — because fear, national identity, and religion resonate at an emotional level.
Trump knew the quickest and easiest way to get people to vote for, and support him (no matter what), was to connect with them over fear.
Trump’s connecting with voters over fear didn’t involve engaging in meaningful dialog or the difficult task addressing our changing world – instead he commiserated – not because he was genuinely empathetic, but because he knew both the power and expediency of commiseration.
Trump saw early on that if he could get the disenfranchised to believe he was with them in terms of their fears around abortion, immigration, and globalization – he would have them in his pocket. Once he achieved that, he could “shoot someone in the middle of 5th avenue” and it wouldn’t make a difference to supporters.
Trump’s fake commiseration around religious issues, immigration, and globalization led to a fact-resistant base of supporters, and emboldened the President to embark on his Hitleresque desire to rule a nation.
Trump knew that once he connected with people over fear, he could lie to them with impunity, and that they would follow him off a cliff, or to the doors of the US Capitol.
Josh Hawley saw an opportunity in the angry, throbbing-with-hate, wild-eyed, vein-popping crowd of Trump supporters.
He felt the energy of that crowd’s rage and understood if he could harness it, he could jettison himself to the front of the 2024 Republican presidential pack. The only thing that stood in the way of that happening was the truth. For months leading up to the 2020 Presidential election, and every day after it, Americans were fed a constant diet of lies that the election was rigged. Those lies breathed life into the January 6th insurrection that resulted in 5 dead, including a capital police officer.
Josh Hawley knows that President Trump did not win the 2020 election. He understands that every election comes with some irregularities and that in the 2020 election, those irregularities were minor and had no impact on the outcome. President Trump got drubbed by more than 7 million votes in an election deemed by Trump’s own election security expert as the most secure election in the history of our country.
Hawley’s motives leading up to the events of January 6th were seditious. His explanation of why he voted to overturn a free and fair election is both laughable and disingenuous.
Hawley said the people of Missouri had concerns about the integrity of the election, and as their senator, he was obligated to make sure their voices were heard.
If we listened to Hawley’s words in a vacuum, they sound reasonable and almost noble. But Hawley’s obligation as a US Senator is not to blindly support the concerns of his constituency, especially when those concerns are based on false information and lies. No, his job as a Senator is to tell those people the truth, even if that truth is complicated for some of them to hear – even if that truth becomes somewhat of a hindrance to Mr. Hawley’s political aspirations.
But Hawley did not do that. Instead, he used the divisive and volatile climate to elevate his own political profile and boost his presidential aspirations. This was a test of Josh Hawley’s character, and he failed miserably – and it’s an example of why character matters in our representatives.
I’m reminded of when John McCain was confronted with a lie about President Obama and how he responded to that lie.
McCain was holding a town hall, answering questions from his supporters, when a woman took hold of the microphone and said she did not trust Senator Obama because he was an Arab. Now, this woman was not alone in her fears – she and the nation had been fed a constant diet of lies about the President’s birth origin and religious affiliation.
That moment was a test of John McCain’s character, and he passed it with flying colors. McCain was not stupid. He understood the potential benefits off manipulating the lie about President Obama. But to John McCain’s credit, he understood that correcting that lie was far more important than any political momentum to be gained from it — because lies like that, the lies that divide Americans, are dangerous to democracy.
Regarding the lie about a rigged election, Josh Hawley and President Trump did the exact opposite of what a true leader should do: confront the lie head-on and stop it in its track. Instead, Trump and Hawley consistently propagated rumors that they knew were false for opportunity’s sake.
Truth is the sticking agent in the masonry mix of democracy. Without it, the foundation of our country crumbles.
Under the Trump administration, the truth became a malleable political commodity. It was hammered, reshaped, forged in lies, and repurposed for political gain.
Every administration plays with the truth on occasion, spinning it to suit this or that political reality. But spinning the truth is not the same as creating your own version of it to deceive and manipulate the public and to galvanize your own political power. That’s not spin – that’s propaganda. That’s a weapon.
The desecration of truth that happened during the 4-years of the Trump administration is the strongest argument for why character matters.
A presidential candidate with a high moral character knows that manufacturing a false truth for self-gain is inherently wrong. On the other hand, a presidential candidate with low moral character sees manufactured truth as a tool, a means to an end. And when such a person gains access to power and the levers of government to wield that power, our democracy enters a dangerous and precarious situation. The culminating consequence of 4-years of manufactured truth is what we witnessed and experienced collectively on January 6th, 2021.
The Trump administration had a strategy for truth, and truthfulness was not part of it.
The Trump strategy for truth was this:
As long as we hold the reins of power, we’ll use alternate facts, cherry-pick data, and create a version of the truth that serves our political agenda and strengthens our hold on power.
We’ll weaponize our strategy by publishing our version of truth on communication platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
We’ll use these channels to magnify and reinforce the lies about voter fraud and a rigged election. And our supporters will spread these lies (knowingly or unwittingly) either way; the lies will take root.
The strategy, like Donald Trump himself, was utterly devoid of ethics.
But it worked.
For 4-years, the Trump administration designed their own version of the truth to meet a pre-defined set of facts. Then, they leveraged conspiracy theories and right-winged websites to discredit actual truth and to stand up for their own version of it. Finally, they injected their version of truth into the public square with mindful malevolence, feeding the masses lies and misinformation through every available communication channel.
Artificial Intelligence, the internet, and behavioral algorithms helped spread the lies incredibly and quickly.
Trump’s 4-year disinformation campaign and an all-out assault on truth was a mass poisoning of America’s mind by a well-oiled propaganda machine. The result? A cult-like following impervious to any information that goes counter to the narrative pushed by the President and his administration.
But unlike Jonestown or Waco, the Trump cult hasn’t succumbed to arsenic-laced Kool-Aid or fiery smoke. Instead, this mass poisoning continues to propagate, grow, and metastasize. And now, America is riddled with a cancerous, malformed notion of truth.
The biggest threat to our nation and our democracy is the continued bastardization of truth and the potential for that strategy to become a framework or playbook for the next power-hungry demagogue.
What if on election eve 2016, after all the networks and news outlets declared Donald Trump the winner of the Presidential Election, Hillary Clinton takes to a podium and in front of a large crowd of supporters says that the election was rigged. That there was rampant voter fraud, and in actuality, she won not only the popular vote, but the electoral college as well. She goes on to say that Americans are going to lose their country if Donald Trump is allowed to steal this election and that Americans must fight with all their energy to “Stop the Steal!”
For more than 40 days after the election, Hillary Clinton still refuses to concede and she takes her claims of a rigged election and massive voter fraud to the courts. She goes on TV nightly, takes to twitter nearly every single day, pushing her case that the election was rigged, that she actually won, that the Donald Trump will ruin America.
She files more than 60 lawsuits claiming voter fraud and voting machine irregularities — all 60 lawsuits are defeated resoundingly, some are argued all the way to the Supreme Court, where all 9 justices disagree with her legal team’s claim.
But Hillary is not deterred. She continues to hammer into her supporters that they are being conned, that the election is being stolen right in front of their eyes, that this is the biggest fraud in the history of our country and that they cannot allow it to happen.
The states certify the results of the election and now all that remains to officially seal the deal for a Trump presidency is for congress to certify the electors. Traditionally, this is a perfunctory process — a counting of the electors that takes the members of Congress about 30 minutes.
But Hillary still has her staunch supporters in Congress who are promising to contest the certification process on January 6th in an effort to overturn the election.
Meanwhile, through social media, Clinton supporters have been planning a massive rally outside the Capital to protest the certification process and to Stop the Steal. Thousands of people show up on January 6th, carrying Clinton Flags, many donned in military garb, all of them shouting “Stop the Steal, Stop the Steal, Stop the Steal!”
Hillary has set up a stage, a PA system, and a podium. She steps up to the stage with her close friend Barack Obama and they launch into a speech, claiming over and over again that the election was stolen, that Trump will ruin America, that they must fight for the country, that they must march to the capital and stop this assault on democracy!
The crowd heads to the Capital building, full of rage and anger, and they launch an assault on the building, beating law enforcement with Clinton flags and American flags, looting offices, destroying property, breaching the chambers of the house in an effort to take Trump supporters hostage, they murder a police officer in the process.
Hillary and Barack Obama are seen on video watching the assault approvingly, the President fails to call in the National Guard, fails to try and quell the uprising. Help finally arrives at the behest of congressional members and the VP, all of whom were hiding in fear from the mob.
Congress goes back to work later that evening to complete the process of certifying the vote in the final step of a constitutional process for “peacefully” transitioning power to a new President. Even though several representatives who are staunch Clinton supporters refuse to vote for the certification, most do, and the election results are finally official, Donald Trump will be President.
Meanwhile, Hillary still claims the election was rigged, she praises the people who participated in the uprising, telling them how wonderful they are and that she loves them.
WHAT IF ALL OF THAT HAPPENED IN 2016?
How would Trump supporters have reacted?
I contend that even if Hillary Clinton had decided to go down that crazy path, that after all 60 lawsuits were thrown out, her supporters would have said that was enough for them.
She would not have been able to whip her supporters into a frenzy with blatant lies and conspiracy theories — because most of her supporters don’t believe in the unbelievable — most would have looked at the information and data themselves and would have come to the conclusion that she did in fact lose the election and that that Donald Trump was indeed the winner.
Unfortunately, Trump supporters believe whatever Trump tells them. They refuse to think for themselves. They are part of a cult of personality, where whatever the leader says is true, even when what he says is clearly contradicted by the facts. And we will be dealing with that dangerous phenomena for decades to come.
After some deep thought and scribbling notes on a napkin about ways to improve community spirit, you design a flyer, head to the local Kinkos, and launch “Susan’s Front Porch – Community Story Night.”
At first, it’s just a few families that attend. They lay their blankets on your front yard, bring picnic baskets, pop open a bottle of wine, and listen to individuals from your neighborhood, each taking turns telling stories on your front porch.
Word spreads in a small town, and soon you have 40 to 50 families every Tuesday night gathering in your front yard, listening to individuals from all over your community as they take to your porch, one at a time, to share stories anecdotes, and jokes.
You’re thrilled to be able to provide a venue for your friends and neighbors. So you start baking and selling honey biscuits from a concession stand that your son built with his two cousins.
Pretty soon, “Susan’s Front Porch” is the place to be! You open your yard and porch to the community 3-times a week. Your honey biscuits are flying out of the concession stand faster than frisbees in a tornado – Life is good!
One day, a new guy (let’s call him Don) comes to your event. He takes to the stage and launches into a boisterous, funny, off-color rant. He’s pretty charismatic, a bit politically incorrect, but a big hit with a segment of the audience.
Before you know it, Don becomes a regular on your porch. People from outside your small-town travel hundreds of miles to catch him telling stories and cracking jokes.
One day, Don takes to your porch and starts bemoaning about a new restaurant that opened a few weeks ago in your town.
“Where do these Greeks get off opening a restaurant in the good ole USA?” he snarls.
“Not enough opportunity in Greece, they have to come to our town and put Americans out of work?? That’s what’s wrong with this country today – too many Greeks, not enough real Americans!!”
A peal of nervous and hushed laughter hangs over the blankets on your sun-splashed lawn.
Then someone in the back shouts, “Yeah, what’s up with the Greeks???” And before long, others are joining in, yelling profanities about the Greeks and their restaurant.
But here’s the thing, you know the Greek family who opened that restaurant. They go to your church. They’re new to the restaurant business but have lived in your town for many years and are well-loved members of the community.
After Don finishes his set, you approach him.
“That was pretty funny, but I know the family who runs that restaurant, and they’re wonderful people, hard-working Christians as a mater of fact. And actually, the husband and wife are both naturalized citizens, so your story was not only a little offensive but false.”
Don says nothing at first, just aims an icy stare in your direction before stating matter of factly:
“I thought Susan’s Porch was part of the USA? – You know, the free speech capital of the world?”
Nervously, you say, “Well, yes, it is, but I don’t want to make people fearful or uncomfortable.”
In an off-handed way, Don says, “Sure, I get it Sue, have a good night.”
The following week, Don gets on stage and starts telling how that new Greek restaurant is a front for a child sex-trafficking ring and drugs. He heard that from a very reliable source. The folks on your front lawn start looking around at each other in disbelief (Could this be true??).
Then, again, from in the back:
“Yeah, I heard that as well!”
Before you know it, 50 to 75 people are yelling and screaming about the Greek family – and how they can’t do that in our community!!
Several of the more agitated men jump in their trucks and head downtown.
They burst into the restaurant and killed the owner. Shooting him in the face as his son looked on in horror.
So, do you ban Don from telling stories on your front porch – or do you let him continue next week when he plans to rant and rave about the new Chinese restaurant?
As the Trump administration enters its death throes, look for supporters on social media to shift their attention to Hunter Biden or any other story that distracts from the retelling of Trump’s horrifically negligent handling of the pandemic, and his criminal activity (both as a candidate and as president).
I’ve gone back and forth on how I think the state should move forward on citizen Trump. Part of me wants the government to cut a deal with Trump — Forgo prosecution if Trump agrees to retire quietly to the dustbin of American history. America turns the page, and Trump slinks away. “It’s time to put this shameful chapter behind us and move on”.
A continued focus on Trump through criminal and civil prosecutions just fans the flames of political tribalism and deepens the divide in our country. But a deal works only if Trump is capable of quietly walking away – is Trump capable of doing anything quietly? I don’t think so.
The other part of me wants to crush the orange menace unmercifully in the juicer of the American Justice System. Squeeze that motherfucker until there’s nothing left in that sorry orange hide of his. Prosecute him aggressively and relentlessly on all fronts criminal and civil. Make an example of him, because the next fraudulent criminal thug with autocratic tendencies might not be as inept and incompetent as Trump.
Regardless how the justice system proceeds against Trump personally, America must go full medieval on any organized effort to promote Trumpism in the future. Trumpism is the enemy of Democracy. It’s a poisonous and divisive political philosophy that ferments mistrust, fragments the population, and promotes a cult of personality (dipped in nationalism, sprinkled with religion) as a solution.
Trumpism is the blueprint for democracy’s demise – regardless of who sits at its head. When Trump leaves, another ambitious thug is sure to pick up the banner. Waging war against Trumpism is the only way forward.
I remember my kids watching a Trump speech early-on in his run up to the presidency, and the expression on their faces as they listened to him.
In Trump, they saw all of the behaviors and attributes they were taught to fight against. He was awash in them — he was a brazen an unabashed example of what they were taught not to be — he was the embodiment of the worst human attributes and characteristics (mean, petty, vindictive, and intellectually lazy) and surprisingly, there was no attempt by Trump to obscure any of this, no subterfuge – he reveled in these negative attributes like a hog in the slop.
I remember my kids watching Trump on television, then looking over their shoulder at me with a confused expression, bracketed by nervous laughter. An expression that occurs when realizing somethings not quite right at an elemental level — an expression that bubbles up from your core when what you’re seeing doesn’t jibe with what you were taught. It was an expression that said “Is this guy for real? This can’t be real, right dad?”
And I think that’s why I detest Trump so much. Because his ascension to highest office in the land was a refutation of the values that I so strongly believed in and that I so vigorously instilled in my kids. Values like kindness, empathy, understanding, hard work, and strength of character.
After the 2016 presidential election, I had to come to terms with the fact that the person elected to the highest office in the land — the person representing America to the rest of the world, was unkind, apathetic, and totally dishonest.
For nearly four years, I had to deal with a buzzing dissonance deep inside the frontal and limbic lobes of my brain. Not only could I not make sense of a Trump presidency, but its very existence agitated the shit out of me (as evidenced by my social media posts over the last 4 years).
If I take a step back, my anger at Trump is misdirected. Sure, Trump is an intellectually lazy and vindictive narcissist. But he’s never tried to hide that from anyone, he’s totally transparent, never tries to be something he’s not, which normally is an admirable trait, if you’re not a raging asshole.
If I were on a psychiatrist’s couch, it would be a relatively short session to get to the true source of my anger.
“Mr. Reilly, you’re not angry at Trump at all, you’re angry that so many of your fellow citizens voted for him – TWICE!”
And, that would be an accurate diagnosis.
Which brings me to some questions:
Doesn’t every good parent teach their kids the basic values that I taught mine (work hard — be respectful — be honest — be a good sport – admit your mistakes — don’t bully — don’t brag)? And if they do, how do they square that with voting for a person who exemplifies the opposite of those values?
I have a theory.
My theory does not take into account the people who support Trump because they’re drawn to the President’s bigoted views and white supremist tendencies (fuck all of those people), in my view, these are not the majority of Trump supporters.
I’m pretty sure that the Trump supporters who I’m friends with, know the President is a deeply flawed and selfish man.
If they were to walk into a bar and see some schmuck spouting disparaging remarks about women or a handicapped person – or, if they saw an individual bragging about his intelligence and then, in the very next minute, demonstrating his ignorance, they’d think that person was a moron.
And yet, they turn a blind eye to the same behavior when it’s the president.
Because for some Americans, Trump’s flaws are insignificant and easily dismissed when balanced against the views they hold on abortion and religion.
For other Americans (though I suspect there’s a lot of cross-over with the first group) they believe in a wildly-weird conspiracy theory that pits President Trump against a cabal of global elites who are trafficking in human flesh. Like the first group, these folks are willing to dismiss the President’s intellectual ineptitude and moral decrepitude, because the alternative is a country being run by cannibalistic vampire sex traffickers.
These two groups (the religiously-fueled and the conspiracy-driven) are tightly spooning bedfellows when it comes to their support for the President. For both groups, the president’s casual relationship with truth and facts matter less than what they see as the alternative.
I’m still working on how we overcome this phenomenon.