The Belled Tiger and the Bull in Democracy’s China Closet

‘Let he who tied the bell on the tiger take it off’

So said China’s President Xi Jinping, alluding to who is responsible for reigning in Vladimir Putin from his vicious and unlawful military assault on Ukraine.

So, who tied the bell on the Russian Tiger?

I would suggest:

The first bell was tied on the Tiger when Trump sought Russia’s cooperation in a US election.

The next bell on the tiger was Trump’s un-ending praise of Putin and other autocrats.

More bells were attached with 4 years of Trump trashing NATO alliances.

And then there was that big bell when Trump sided with Putin over US intelligence agencies, for everyone to see, in Helsinki.

Another bell on the Tiger was the Trump administration turning its back on the Kurds and letting Russia have its way in Syria.

So, President Xi is correct; America did indeed put the bell on the Tiger. A fuck-load of bells. Christ, with so many bells, we could name that Tiger Jingles.

Biden is dealing with a Russian Tiger, belled by 4 years of praise and appeasement from a thug-loving autocratic-wanna-be President who hated our NATO allies.

And now Putin, the belled Russian Tiger, is terrorizing Ukraine, murdering innocent men, women, and children.

I have my own proverb:

The belled tiger is less restrained and more dangerous after 4-years of an orange bull in Western Democracy’s China Closet.

Like a bull in a China Closet, former President Trump obliterated the norms of liberal western democracy in favor of autocratic principals, opening the door to a terroristic Tiger.

Closing the Sky on Bullies and Despots

© Chris McGrath/Getty Images Then-US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

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.

The Cost of Autocracy

Stoyan Nenov/Reuters
A woman cries as she walks with her children after fleeing from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, at the border crossing in Siret, Romania, Feb. 28, 2022.

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.

Democracy on Fire

Ukrainians are fighting for their lives and their freedom.

Their country is under attack, and their sovereignty is threatened by a thuggish dictator, drunk on nostalgia and looking to impose authoritarianism on a country that poses no threat to him or his country.

And rather than condemn the actions and motives of the Russian President, Mike Pompeo and Former President Trump praise him for his tactics, lending aid and comfort to a true enemy of democracy.

This is utterly unsurprising, as Trump’s 4-year presidency is littered with examples of praise for authoritarian rulers and governments. And don’t hold your breath for Republican leadership to condemn Trump or Pompeo, as today’s Republican party is infested with anti-democratic seditionists who are beholden to Trump and foreign influencers.

The threat to western democracy in Europe is genuine. Another Trump presidency would act as a linchpin and accelerant for anti-democratic forces abroad and in America.

We should all keep that in mind when we head to the ballot box in 2022 and 2024.

Debating the Undebatable

For as long as he can remember, he loved to argue.

He wasn’t sure where this penchant for debate came from.

His mother had firmly held beliefs, but he had no recollection of her engaging others in a passionate discourse about politics or religion, or anything else for that matter. 

His father’s passions revolved primarily around a reclining chair by the fireplace, an after-work scotch on the rocks, and cigars.

He remembers a heated debate with a friend at a sleepover when he was just a kid.

They argued fervently about which baseball league (the National or American) had better players and teams. He remembers being energized by the back-and-forth discussion. He remembers the thrill of responding on-the-fly to his friend’s assertions, countering them with well-thought-out retorts.

That debate dragged into the early-morning hours. The warm stuffy bedroom became thick with a swampy August heat and the two boys’ passion for sports.

Eventually, he and his friend drifted off to sleep, no hard feelings, no carryover.

The arguer never put his love of debate to practical use. He lacked direction and parental guidance. In the absence of a nurturing nudge, his life was shaped primarily by the stance brothers (circum and happen).

Later in life, when jonesing for a debate, he’d engage others over social media, arguing with vigor and passion about politics and religion.

It was from 2016 onward, that the arguer noticed a fundamental change in some of the individuals he debated. Many of them disregarded verifiable facts and truth in favor of falsehoods and outright lies.

So, for example, when the arguer made a declarative statement about Trump supporters attacking the capital on January 6th, some of his friends took this as an invitation to debate.

They argued the attackers were not Trump supporters.

They argued that the attackers were tourists that posed no threat.

They argued against what everyone saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears.

It was stunning.

A basic premise of debate is that there are facts on both sides of the issue being argued.

The intellectual joy of debating comes from being challenged with factual information that counters your argument. The idea that you’ll be able to convince the person that you’re debating to change their mind (and vice versa) is what made debating so enjoyable to the arguer.

The COVID-19 vaccines are safe and work, is not a debatable statement.

On January 6th, the United States Capital was attacked by Trump supporters at the behest of the defeated former president. This also is not a debatable statement.

Climate change is real and poses a genuine threat to our planet. Again, not up for debate.

The point here is that some issues have been settled definitively by evidence, truth, and facts. But because old habits die hard, the arguer was drawn into debating the undebatable.

The result was exhausting, frustrating, depressing, and ultimately revelatory.

The arguer concluded that America is inundated with millions of willfully disingenuous people who are guided by politics over truth. These people are continuously debating the undebatable with falsehoods, misinformation, and quackery.

This represents a default way of thinking and arguing for nearly half the country, to the chagrin of the arguer.

Trumpocrisy

Concept, american flag on cracked background

The other day, I watched former President Trump praise his relationship with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Ill in a televised interview.

I listened to the former disgraced and seditious-prick-of-a-president say how well he got along with dictators and autocrats and how he admired their strong leadership.

None of this surprised me.

Trump is an easily manipulated, egotistical fool. Leaders like Kim Jong-Ill and Vlad Putin simply blew a little smoke up the orange one’s undies to court favor with Trump.

What disheartened me most about the interview was the applause from my fellow Americans in the audience.

When did getting along with murderous dictators become a praiseworthy trait in an American president?

Had President Obama or candidate Clinton said anything remotely like this, they would have been crucified by the very same people who were applauding. As Forest Gump would say, Trump supporters and hypocrisy go together like peas and carrots.

Republicans and Democrats have always differed on policy. But when it came to condemning brutal dictators and autocrats, we stood together.

That used to be common ground.

Why is this no longer the case?

What changed?

Well, for one, we had four years of being led by a self-absorbed, morally corrupt, and intellectually vapid president. Trump rose to power by tapping into many Americans’ grievances and fears around race and then, with purposeful malevolence, sold them a solution based on a warped definition of Americanism.

Trump understood that a divided country was his only path to power. So, from the onset of his candidacy, all the way through his presidency, he divided this country.

Five years later, we see the result in a fact-resistant confederacy of MAGA-hat-wearing morons and the cowering politicians who fear them.

Trump and his supporters are the blood in the boner of an alt-right movement in America — and you can’t reason with a boner.

But usually, over time, it subsides on its own.

Hopefully, that happens here.

Once Upon A Time, When The GOP Had Some Integrity

America has more than her fair share of fascists and white nationalists.

Some of them even serve in congress.

The vast majority, if not all, vote republican.

Donald Trump is a White Nationalist. That’s why White Nationalists supported his presidency.

When someone says they supported Trump’s policies but not his white nationalist and authoritarian views, its no less ludicrous than a German citizen in 1939 saying they support Hitler’s economic policies, not his views on the Jewish population.

In throwing your support behind a president, you have to look at the totality of the man – not just policy bits and pieces that you can align with and rationalize to yourself and your friends.

As we saw with President Trump, it’s the totality of the man (all of his views and values) that set the tone and attitude of his administration. Under Trump, the party’s platform was built on divisiveness, hate, mistrust, and anger, and that’s exactly what was reflected in most of Trump’s policies and actions.

It’s important to keep in mind that the anger, hate, and mistrust of government and institutions that Trump used to divide America and strengthen his position politically, are alive and well today. Those feelings and attitudes didn’t magically disappear when Trump was trounced in the 2020 election.

Many Americans who supported Trump are simply waiting for him, or the next Trump-wannabee to come along and validate those feelings, while cultivating and promoting policies that weaken our democracy and march us down the path to authoritarianism.

Colin Powel was a lifelong republican, military man, and honorable public servant who understood the danger of authoritarianism. When he saw fellow republicans refuse to stand against a dangerously authoritarian president, he called them out for their cowardice and left the party.

We need more republicans of stature to do what Colin Powell did – speak up and shine a light on the dangerous and dark influences taking hold of their party. And more importantly, we need strong and outspoken leaders in the GOP to provide a roadmap for getting the party back on track to decency, integrity, and basic American ideals. Without a roadmap, we’re going to see the GOP continue it’s downward spiral towards authoritarianism.

The four years of the Trump administration laid the groundwork for dismantling democracy in America. Colin Powel understood that and voiced his disdain for Trump and the political cowards who failed to stand up to him.

If democracy is to survive in America, we’ll need more voices like Colin Powel’s.

Donald Trump, Cousin Eddy, Josef Goebbels, and the GOP

Donald Trump saw masses of hateful and uneducated Americans as an untapped resource. He pandered to them from the very beginning of his campaign, all the way through his presidency. He adroitly tweaked their xenophobic fears and white nationalistic attitudes and transformed them into votes.

He effectively made them the foundation of today’s Republican party.

In the past, Republicans would have blanched at welcoming these types of people under their tent. But once invited, they’ve spread like invasive vegetation, choking out moderate republican and authentic conservative voices.

Today, a uniquely unqualified brood of jackals and jackasses like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, “Gym” Jordan, and Devin Nunes has turned the GOP from a party of ideas to a demeaning cult of personality, with zero ideas.

We see them scrambling to prevent the release of phone records that will likely show collaboration with the President in his attempt to subvert the 2020 Presidential election.

When Donald Trump became President, the old guard Republicans lost control of their party. The GOP is now controlled by a bunch of cousin Eddies’ (from Vacation), except this version of Eddy doesn’t have an ounce of decency or kindness. In fact, he’s more like an Eddy / Josef Goebbels hybrid, and he’s parked that God-awful RV smack dab in the middle of the Republican party.

Instead of taking out the trash, Donald Trump opened the front door and dragged the garbage into the GOP. And now, decent/moderate Republicans find themselves between a rock and a hard place, where If they turn their back on the Cousin Eddy Goebbels of the GOP, they’re likely going to be out of a job.

So, they sit and watch the transformative ruin of their party.

Democrats should work with Republicans to help them get back control of their party for the country’s good. They should reach out to moderates and cut some deals in exchange for expelling the growing number of Eddy Goebbels from the party – it might be the only way we save our country.

Man’s malevolence

Mankind is a misnomer. 

For as long we’ve existed, man’s kindness has been matched by his cruelty. 

We’re a volatile and combustible mix of the easily misguided. Too often (under the influence of others), we drift towards our darker nature, nestle up to fear, hand reason over to blind faith, or swear a misguided allegiance to political tribes. In the past, this has led humankind down dark paths where we deny our fellow man freedom and dignity on a mass scale. 

That’s been our history.

We’ve seen how the fluidly we move from our better selves to our darker nature and how easily influenced we are by the world around us. We’re not immune to the momentum of tumultuous events. And, because we’re more connected (technologically speaking) than ever before, we’re more susceptible to being collectively influenced, manipulated, and pushed towards our darker nature.

This is nothing new. We’ve teetered on the edge of darkness before. Manipulated by political and religious movements that feed on fear, hate, and irrationality. Unfortunately, I believe we’re teetering one of those precipices now, as world events push mankind towards our darker nature.

I still believe America can be a force for positive change. I’m not talking about nationalistic flag-waving “USA, USA, USA!!” patriotism, but rather all of us living by and promoting the ideals and ideas of Western Democracy. 

To make mankind kind again, we must consciously engage in acts of kindness, resist being influenced by fear and fear mongers, put reason above religion, and ditch political tribalism for critical and idea-based thinking. 

The uptick in political, social media posts about what’s going on in Afghanistan reveals just how shallow and vulnerable we’ve become. Sadly, the willingness to parlay human tragedy for political hay (I’ve done it myself) represents troubling fault lines for our country. 

Joe Biden did not blow up Americans and Afghanis at the Airport in Kabul – religious extremists did. Instead of focusing on the enemies of reason and rationality, many Americans devolve into sectarianism, focusing their contempt on the American President. 

I’m not suggesting Biden not be held accountable for missteps and intelligence failures that occur on his watch – he should be. But, instead, I’m suggesting that we remember Biden is not the enemy. Biden is not a religious extremist. He believes in American ideals. Our fight is not with him; it’s with ISIS, the Taliban, and any of the other man-made entities that are hellbent on pushing us to a darker existence.

I’m also suggesting that we differentiate malevolence from incompetence when critiquing our leaders. But, unfortunately, that requires nuanced and critical thinking – lost skills in America today.

Every President has moments of incompetence. Kennedy had his Bay of Pigs; Obama had his healthcare rollout. Bush fucked up majorly with his weapons of mass destruction debacle. Reagan screwed the pooch with Iran Contra, and Jimmy Carter botched a hostage rescue. 

Humans are at the helm of intelligence. They push the pen and ink onto intelligence reports, and leaders act on the assessments. And sometimes, they make mistakes. And when this happens, citizens should speak up and demand accountability. 

But Malevolence is a different kettle of fish. 

Malevolence is knowing a pandemic is deadly but telling others just the opposite for personal political gain.

Malevolence is proposing our military shoot protesters in the legs or that leakers of information be executed.

Malevolence is spreading lies about election security and promoting insurrectionist movements against America. 

Malevolence is courting and praising dictators for the control they have over their citizens.

That’s Malevolence. 

Let’s not confuse Incompetence with Malevolence. 

And malevolent leaders and wanna-be dictators thrive in periods of uncertainty. And sometimes, in a storm of uncertainty, citizens become blind to malevolent leaders. 

Let’s stay vigilant.

Have you heard enough?

After five years of crap, I keep waiting for the tipping point.

I keep waiting for my Trump-supporting friends to say they’ve had enough. I want to believe in their humanity. I’d like to think that after listening to yesterday’s testimony from the officers who defended the capitol on January sixth, they’re saying to themselves:

“You know what? I’m a proud Republican and a conservative, but what Donald Trump and members of congress promoted in the lead-up to January sixth – and the lies they continue to spread today, are despicable. I can no longer support Trump or any other politician who continues to espouse those lies. I’m fucking done with Trump.” 

That’s the humane response that people who care about this country hunger for. And we keep waiting for it. We long for the days to argue and differ on politics, not humanity, not democracy, not on basic human decency and integrity.

For more than 5 years, there’s been no normalcy around our politics, and that’s because America voted into office a sociopathic fascist with low-level intelligence. And even though he’s no longer President, Trump continues to control the Republican party.

For more than 5 years, more than half of the country sat bewildered at the number of people who went along with the Donald Trump shit-show, cheered him on, and sent him money. For most us, it was a deflating realization that America was not what it claimed to be. 

We kept hoping that maybe this was just an example of people being caught up in their personal and familial political history “I grew up in a Republican family, I support conservative values, I’ve always voted red.” We kept waiting for Republicans to have an epiphany; we kept hoping for that “lightbulb moment” where Republicans would wake up and see that Trump was not a Republican or conservative; he was only interested in politics in so far as it benefitted him.

Yesterday’s testimony should have been that moment for my Trump-supporting friends. If after yesterday you still support the former President, then please, just fuck off.

I’ve no space in my life for shitty human beings.