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Stand up to the trolls

By Tom Ehrich

“Speaking the truth to power” has always felt a little risky. The powerful can push back: cut off your salary, find ways around “whistleblower” protections, shun you in business venues and stymie your career, or shun you in social venues and render you unwelcome.

But I have never seen anything like the retribution arising among the powerless – the trolls who feast on Trump’s tweets and go charging after any enemy he names. They unleash a torrent of vicious social media messages, emails and, if they can get your number, telephone calls. They threaten death to the truth-teller and his/her family.

This is different from random bigotry, like the subway rider who suddenly launches a tirade against a Muslim woman in hijab, or the white driver who shouts at a black diver. These trolls are engaging in calculated attacks designed to intimidate and to make an entire family feel endangered.

It will only be a matter of time – maybe the day after January 21 – before they make good on their threats and start bringing violence to the homes and workplaces of people with whom they disagree. This is what happened in Nazi Germany. It happened in the South when lynch mobs suddenly invaded a black neighborhood. It happened in union neighborhoods when Pinkertons suddenly wheeled machine guns into firing position. It happened the other day when a white customer who was displeased with fast-food service pulled out a pistol, swore at the clerk, and shouted, “Go back to Africa!”

The single-shot tweet-induced firestorm against a union official in Indiana who dared to question Trump’s honesty looks like a proof-of-concept, a further testing out of how to push buttons among the rabid. When the trolls get going, we could see vigilantes like those executing citizens in the Philippines, under the delighted eye of Trump’s new friend in Manila. We have already seen one nut carry an assault rifle into a pizza parlor. Next could come the targeting of, say, an entire chain of pizza stores, and nationwide vigilante activity.

Trump seems to enjoy pushing the trolls’ buttons. He calls them his “people.” This is how the Nazi brownshirts got their start. It’s a heady thing to know you can reach tens of millions of people by keying in a few words and pressing Send – and to know that some of those recipients are so deranged that they consider it their patriotic duty to go after the now-named enemy.

How far will this go? Trump has already sequestered journalists in pens at his rallies and goaded his people into shouting at them. It’s a small step to take aim at a reporter on assignment or to walk into a newsroom armed and ready. Some journalists like Fox’s Megyn Kelly are already feeling the trolls’ wrath.

Also vulnerable would be members of the Electoral College, Democratic legislators who consider challenging Trump’s agenda, and organized labor leaders. I know it sounds crazy to raise such an alarm, but these are crazy times.

What should truth-tellers do? Tell the truth. Tell it loudly, tell it boldly, tell it all, tell it even as the trolls are mounting their assault. They can’t be allowed to win.

Bullies back down if decent people stand up to them. It could take more courage than most of us usually expect to need. But the future of our communities depends on decency in action.

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Seeking to understand the all-GOP era

By Tom Ehrich

In order to understand the brave new world we are entering with an all-GOP government led by an unstable, narcissistic personality whose lies, bragging and flawed character actually endeared him to millions of voters, I subscribed to The National Review.

This longtime voice of conservatism was launched in the Cold War era by William Buckley Jr. and seems rooted in the Ayn Rand school of conservative intellectual ideology, not in the bigoted rage of the Tea Party. It grew out of a literate tradition but now finds itself in a semi-literate era of uninformed voters, whose grasp of history, factuality, and objective reality is diminishing every day.

Many voters, it seems, wanted a vapid leader who told them whatever he was feeling at the moment. They weren’t fooled by Donald Trump. They chose him. They did so precisely because he held no allegiance to the truth or to any rational agenda for governing a complex nation in a dangerous world. His subsequent theatrics, late-night tweet-storms, and ignorance of policy considerations is precisely what they wanted.

As a Greek chorus to this spectacle unfolding in Trump Land, The National Review isn’t at all what I expected. I remember listening to William Buckley pursue his arch and often condescending explanations of why his conservative views were correct. He had arguments, points to make, ideas to spell out. I thought his ideas wrong-headed, but I never thought him a fool or a phony. I suspect he would never be caught at the Trump eat-crow table at Jean Georges, where Mitt Romney recently shed his remaining self-respect.

The latest iteration of the Review seems much more in keeping with the Republicanism of the era: long on conspiracy theories, long on whining, long on victim-speak, not much interested in ideas. (Disclaimer: I have only read a dozen of their daily newsfeeds. It might just be a bad sample.)

Yesterday’s issue, for example, pursues the Christian-as-victim theme, rewrites the Bush disaster in Iraq, laments a misguided (“ridiculous”) educational reform in the UK, offers a silly article about political correctness in opera, and segues into the familiar attack on Barack Obama as a big, bad bully.

Today’s issue considers recount efforts under way in three states. Rather than offer cogent arguments on why a recount is unhelpful, or how to handle their results, or how to structure future elections to avoid such questions of legitimacy, the National Review mocks Democrats for being willing to spend money of such a thing.

It’s as if the 2016 campaign is still going on, as if ratcheting up the whining would do what Trump’s late-night tweets seek to do, namely, alter reality.

I am disappointed. I doubt they care one bit about my opinion. Nor should they. But I had hoped to hear ideas, some cogent arguments for a way forward under Republican leadership. Some serious people have attached themselves to this new administration. They must have some ideas on how to make the nation and world better. They can’t all be narcissists desperate for applause.

So I will keep looking. The conservative movement must have some venues where serious people pursue serious ideas. If not, we are more lost than I had imagined.

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Better to give thanks

By Tom Ehrich

How could a hater hate a Colombian woman who works hard at a Midtown Manhattan shoe store to help her immigrant family make it here? Better to give thanks for her industry and hope.

How could a hater hate a Japanese man playing a kokyu in Central Park, sending a mournful and yet joyful tune across a lake? Better to give thanks for beauty.

How could a hater hate young lovers of every sort – Korean, African, Russian, Chinese, mixed-race, mixed-nationality, same-gender – discovering the deeper meanings of life? Better to give thanks for love.

How could a hater hate life at ground level – one recovering alcoholic talking another off a ledge in a bank building’s atrium, a Latina interviewing a Caucasian man for a job, a black man working on his laptop, mixed-everything groups enjoying lunch? Here at ground level, people were giving thanks for life.

While white nationalists were trying out their Nazi salutes, people in the actual melting pots of America were getting along. Not just enduring each other, like snarling in-laws at an awkward Thanksgiving supper, but drawing life from each other. For reasons I don’t yet comprehend, the haters cannot abide tolerance. For what do they give thanks today: the accident of being born with white skin? Freedoms for which they paid no price but they would presume to deny others?

If nationalists truly aspire to be a “Christian nation,” they should learn what Jesus and the prophets actually taught: thanksgiving begins in humility, not in pride. Thanksgiving starts in being loved and helped along in life, not in macho self-sufficiency. Thanksgiving says to God, When I was hungry, you fed me, and now I share my food with others. You heard my cries in bondage and came to me. You led me across a desert to a land of plenty. You provided land, seed, water and companions. You loved me first. So now, in humble gratitude, I give back to you.

The haters who now claim to have a political mandate to oppress everyone whom they hate couldn’t be more wrong. America has never been built up by hatred. This isn’t a “white nation” or a “Christian nation.” It is a place where the oppressed of the world can find freedom and hope. My white ancestors weren’t defined by their whiteness, but by their hunger for religious freedom. Ours isn’t a nation founded on skin color, or European origin, but on escaping the darkness and finding the light of freedom and hope. To deny that freedom and hope to someone else is simply wrong. It is anti-American.

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Trump and the art of misdirection

By Tom Ehrich

Donald Trump might not know much about “the art of the deal” – most of his business ventures ended in failure, and his few wins required cheating and bullying – but he clearly understands “the art of misdirection.”

Like a point guard looking one way and passing the ball another, Trump gets the press worked up about his going to dinner without letting reporters tag along – oh oh, “access” problems – while he wages war on The New York Times as a surrogate for any newspaper that dares to question his actions.

From that same playbook of misdirection, Trump gets people lathered about adding his son-in-law to the staff, with full security clearance, despite anti-nepotism law, while the more dangerous Mike Pence and his demonizing of homosexuals and his phony “religious freedom” crusade handles 4,000 appointments to run the Federal Government.

He names an avowed racist as chief strategist, while looking the other way as bigots of every stripe launch hate crimes across the country, and he sets in motion mass deportations and possibly internment camps for Muslims.

He threatens a string of outrageous cabinet appointments while he cozies up to Paul Ryan and his Tea Party stalwarts and baldly betrays the promises he made not to do what Ryan is obsessed with doing, namely, gutting the social safety net, including the privatizing of Medicare, taking food, health care and safety away from ordinary citizens in pursuit of some small-government ideology – and, oh yes, funneling more wealth to the wealthy. Unless, of course, the cozying up to Ryan is the misdirection that diverts attention from something even more nefarious.

Trump throws a bone to right-wing Christians – naming a Supreme Court justice to overturn Roe v. Wade – even as he sets about violating the basic tenets of the Christian gospel, namely, concern for the least of these, concern for freedom, concern for justice, and cautions about wealth.

This strategy of misdirection works because we the people are easily distracted, as well as isolated from each other, and those who might keep the urgent and important in front of us are being bullied into submission. We were poorly served by social media during the election campaign, as Facebook is grudgingly admitting, and by television journalists with a few exceptions.

The misdirection strategy works by keeping people off-balance. Trump did that brilliantly throughout his campaign. Just as the press caught up with one lie, he launched another. He sets up a military-style headquarters in Manhattan – paralyzing Midtown as Christmas shopping begins and getting delicious revenge on the city whose elite dismissed him as a clown and arriviste and never let him near the big kids’ table – and in so doing, he gets the public used to seeing him surrounded by troops in battle gear, like a Third World dictator showing who’s in charge.

Like Hitler’s technique of the “big lie” – keep telling big lies until people start believing them – misdirection keeps people guessing at what is real. Sifting through the feints, false flags, sly innuendo and lies requires eternal vigilance. Eventually, most people just conclude that everything is real – until it becomes clear that nothing is real, and at that point the demagogue has achieved his real goal, namely, despair, fear and helplessness.

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Now come hate crimes, and the pushback

By Tom Ehrich

Now we know.

Now we know – at least a bit -- what it was like living as a black in the South. And why 6 million southern blacks moved north after World War Two. And why African-Americans of all ages are uniquely sensitive to signs of racism.

As hate crimes accelerate in the days after Trump’s election, we also know something of what it was like living as a homosexual in the closeted era. Now that we have seen colleagues and neighbors have “faggot” spray-painted on their cars and homes, we know why long-since-out gay friends are wondering what comes next. Even if Trump tells his hate-filled followers to “stop it,” can the genie be stuffed back in the bottle?

Now that we have seen swastikas painted on houses of worship, we know why Jews have vowed always to remember the Holocaust and the days that preceded it, when polite Germans, like polite Americans today, said the mobs weren’t really serious, if indeed anything happened at all.

Now we understand why women don’t just chill about having a sexual predator in the Oval Office. And why an exuberant celebration like Pantsuit Nation has turned itself to serious political action. Nasty Women, unite!

Now we know – or maybe if we don’t know fully, we sense the assault’s impact, we catch the acrid wind of hatred. I doubt that any of us can ever know what the hated minority experiences. But one impact of these past days is that the stench is wafting through every community.

The pushback has come, too. Tolerant folks are teaching each other how to intervene when, say, a Muslim gets assaulted. People on social media are cataloguing every hate crime as it occurs. News media are reporting on them. Fact-checking has intensified. New bonds of solidarity are emerging. Haters are still going to hate, but they will face exposure and opposition at every turn.

At some point, leaders in the rural areas and suburbs where much of the hatred is boiling over will need to push back, too.

Every small town I have visited dreams of being discovered by a major industry, maybe even a high-tech firm. They have invested in industrial parks and digital infrastructure. They are desperate for new jobs. Leaders in these areas will discover that high-tech firms and overseas companies won’t think of launching satellite operations in towns where hatred is the norm. Nor will young professionals move there.

Suburbs, meanwhile, are getting steadily older. Who is going to buy my generation’s suburban houses when the yard signs blare “Trump” and when local schools are filled now, not only with drugs and entitlement attitude, but hatred of gays, blacks, immigrants, and girls?

Techs in Silicon Valley will live in trailer parks outside San Francisco rather than take a risk on Omaha or Topeka or Des Moines.

The tide, you see, turned years ago. Younger Americans have moved beyond bigotry as a casual norm. Urban residents take tolerance and multiculturalism as givens. People don’t move to Manhattan in spite of diversity, but because of it. Many – most, I think – middle-agers and older adults have turned the same corner.

Election results skewed odd because of prevailing frustration and disenchantment with the establishment. But that skewing wasn’t in the direction of hatred or any affirmation of the racist, sexist, anti-immigrant rhetoric of Donald Trump. He will figure that out, I think. So will leaders across the country. They have a conservative agenda, and it will do great damage to the nation. But it isn’t grounded in the hatred on display in this week’s vandalism.

Even so, the watchword is vigilance. Hatred prefers the darkness. So we shine a light on it. And we sympathize as best we can with its intended victims, and we stand in solidarity with them.

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Most important election of my lifetime

By Tom Ehrich

In 1964, I was too young to vote, but old enough to be potential cannon fodder for the nation’s latest war. The right wing’s insanity touched me at a visceral level. So did the federal government’s efforts to lay a foundation of justice and fairness for all citizens, not just the white ones.

Sixteen years later, Election Day found my wife and myself driving to the hospital for the birth of our second son. We stopped at our polling place and cast our ballots against the latest iteration of that same right wing. We got a wonderful son, the nation got Ronald Reagan and eight years of economic disaster and galloping injustice.

Since 1980, the right wing has pledged itself to bring down the federal government and to serve the interests of the rich. They have played the “race card,” and now the “immigrant card” and “homosexual card” to convince non-rich whites to go along with their schemes.

They hounded Bill Clinton throughout his presidency, ignored the egregious faults of George Bush, and then unleashed their conspiracy-theory and bigotry machines against the nation’s first black president. As a result of this relentless assault on democracy, Congress has basically ceased to function, the Supreme Court is under-staffed, and their champion for president is openly calling for the assassination, harassment and impeachment of the Democratic candidate if she wins.

The American experiment in democracy is at risk. Serious risk. Even if we dodge the bullet of Donald Trump, the ground is laid to paralyze the nation and to funnel even more wealth to the donor class. The fundamental rights that enable this nation to work – free speech, free assembly, free voting, free belief, tolerance of diversity, respect for the other’s humanity – are under attack by people pretending to be patriots and moral stalwarts.

No less under assault are the foundations of society: respect for the truth, respect for objective information, respect for science and knowledge.

This is happening because nihilists want power, and they will stop at nothing to attain it. And because the mega-haves are insane in their greed for more. Nihilism and greed are a deadly combination.

Next week’s election is the most important I have witnessed as an American citizen. We must start by rejecting nihilism and greed, and then continue to push back against the anti-democratic forces out to undermine our homeland.

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Endless campaign is almost over

By Tom Ehrich

Just a few more days, and this endless presidential campaign will be over.

The sore loser might try to prolong it with whining, lawsuits and goading his followers to violence. But if the projected Clinton landslide happens, Trump’s cries of “rigged” will sound hollow, and his aching for revenge will require a different venue, maybe a TV talk show.

I can think of many other things to think about, worry about, write about. When oxygen returns to the room, much will require our attention. Income and opportunity disparities, for one. Also, all the issues that fell to the wayside in an election that turned on one candidate’s repellant personality, such as climate change, violence in the Middle East, Russia’s warlike behavior under its own repellant leader, Europe’s pending disintegration, and all the fear, bigotry and xenophobia released in this year’s campaigning.

The list goes on and on, and a dysfunctional Congress seems determined to avoid anything like responsible governance. The mobs who roared for Trump will need to be brought into the general fold, as fellow citizens whose needs and interests matter.

One thing about Trump is that he got us thinking about how much we value American democracy and our tradition of peaceful transfer of power, as well as the great, if yet unfulfilled, promise of liberty and justice for all. I hope we stay out in the open and avoid retreating into our small tribes.

Truth-telling has taken a beating during this election season. Trump piled lie upon lie, got fact-checked, but kept right on doing it. We will need to restore our trust in facts, statistics, science, and historical realities.

Faith has lost its way, too. Conservative Christians made common-cause with a monster who violated everything they hold dear. They will need to rediscover their real faith and real values. Progressive Christians will need to become bridge-builders and stop approaching a needy world as a charity case. Liberal noblesse oblige is no more savory than right-wing power plays.

Except for a few stalwarts like The New York Times, Washington Post and The New Yorker, American journalism lost its way. It stopped reporting the news, and became fixated on polls, process stories and a false equivalence in which everything horrible that Trump said had to be matched by a Clinton fault. We depend on a free press. But we also depend on a press that uses its freedom to do the hard work of holding the powerful accountable and naming reality.

The end of this election cycle means our work of recovery must begin. We allowed a vile con man to strut on center stage. Now we have a nation to rebuild and trust to restore.

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Take a road trip, Donald, by yourself

By Tom Ehrich

LAWRENCE, KS – I met a pleasant woman in the laundry room at my hotel here at the epicenter of Jayhawk Nation.

She and her husband were visiting from Texas to care for their ailing daughter. While I folded and she unloaded, she told me about her daughter..

She asked if I was going to watch the presidential debate. I shook my head and said, “If I have to hear one more word from Donald Trump’s mouth, I will scream.” She nodded agreement and sighed.

So when the candidates squared off in what, I read later, was a lopsided contest between a woman who knew her stuff and an easily goaded bully who seemed deflated at being called out, I was writing an essay.

The essay was about sitting on a railroad bridge beside the Arkansas River in the delightful city of Hutchinson, KS, where, in case you didn’t know it, the original masters of “The Wizard of Oz,” “Gone with the Wind,” and other cultural treasures are stored deep underground in old salt mines.

I listened to train whistles echoing across the prairie. I remembered lying on my bed as a boy and listening to the Monon Line beckoning me away from Indianapolis.

I wonder if Donald Trump has ever heard what Merle called “a lonesome whistle,” and felt the power of a Santa Fe freight train surging across the prairie, and sensed the ambiguity of loving home and wanting to leave it, and met a stranger and didn’t need to jump her or bully him, and gotten outside himself in a society filled with diverse ideas and people.

The more I observe Trump, the more I am reminded of Scott Peck’s book “People of the Lie,” about people whose empty eyes, soulless words, and cruel actions are frightening to behold. This campaign has gone on long enough that we have seen the sordidness of Trump’s character. He has been reduced to playground taunts in debates, and demagogic mob-inciting in rallies. We know who he is, and the thought of him in the Oval Office is horrifying.

It isn’t just his bad policies and rather startling stupidity. It’s the mental illness of narcissism for which there is no cure. It’s an entitled rich boy grabbing whatever he wants. It’s a man driven by appetite. It’s a deep-seated contempt for women, for people of color, for the weak and vulnerable – all felt from a self-assigned seat of power that cannot mask his own weakness and failures.

When this is all over and Trump retreats to whatever TV show awaits him, I hope he takes a break from his fawning crowds and tacky hotels, and goes on a road trip by himself in a rental Chevrolet. I hope he stays in normal hotels, eats the food most people eat, walks the streets of their cities and towns, and talks with mothers in laundry rooms. I hope he hears about ailing children, and neighbors who are struggling, and people of color getting shot, and women who fear for their safety every day.

I hope he will see what he doesn’t understand about people and about America.

We are a decent people. Even the folks waving assault rifles probably come from decent stock. We have failed, and we have stood tall. We found the humbling grace of aging, of losing jobs, and getting by. We have doubted our worth, and then found a life-partner who doesn’t need us to be perfect.

This nation is anything but a playground for the rich and would-be famous. Democracy is tough duty. Making a living is tough duty. Providing playtime and education for our children is tough duty. Going to work every day is tough duty. Growing wheat is tough duty, and so are making automobiles, writing ads, working retail, teaching in classrooms, selling insurance, watching your town die and your church die.

Americans do that tough duty. Day in and day out. To no special applause, for less reward than we deserve, but we do it, out of both necessity and self-respect. We sign contracts and honor them. We pay our bills. We pay our taxes. We serve when called to serve. We give when asked to give.

We listen to train whistles, and to worried parents, and to the cries of the oppressed. At our best, Americans are generous, hard-working, unexceptional people who take life seriously. At our worst, we sound like a rich kid who thinks only of himself.

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Encountering America's rape culture

By Tom Ehrich

My first close encounter with America’s disturbing rape culture was the Sunday morning I joined a protest outside a shabby house across from Duke University’s freshman campus.

This house was where a group of varsity lacrosse players had indulged their locker room fantasies by gang-raping a woman from the Durham, NC, community.

This was before helicopter parents from the rich suburbs where lacrosse is a tribal sport swooped in, lawyers in tow, to protect their precious boys from any consequences. They threatened, they intimidated, and a weak university administration backed down.

After all, the woman was black. She was an exotic dancer being paid for a sexy performance. Maybe she was a prostitute. Maybe a drug user. Maybe even delusional. With that resume, the team’s brutal treatment of her lost its urgency. As the saying goes in rape culture, “she was asking for it.”

All that would come out later. On this Sunday morning, a crowd of mostly women shouted down the clueless lacrosse guys. They were outraged by this incident. Even more, they were outraged by systemic violation of women at this allegedly prestigious university.

One woman in five, they said, would be sexually abused before she graduated. They would be abused by their dates, by classmates and by strangers. No place on campus was safe. And the university seemed not to care.

That statistic – one in five – shocked me, naïve white male that I was. I couldn’t conceive of such abuse, or understand why the school averted its eyes from a moral crisis and, at a level that might hit them closer to home, a pile of lawsuits waiting to happen. Where were the fathers? I wondered. Where were the upstanding young men who should be protecting their fellow students? Why was a binge-drinking and date-rape culture so casually allowed?

I had lunch with a friend who served mid-level in the Duke bureaucracy. He was horrified, too, but he said nothing would come of it. The university courts rich families. It couldn’t be seen as holding their children accountable. He seemed sad as he told me this, as if the school to which he was giving his professional life had now been unmistakably revealed as corrupt.

Indeed, nothing did come of it. By the time high-priced legal talent and indignant parents were done with her, the rape victim had been made the villain. The lacrosse louts were the good guys.

Women know this story. Many men know it, as themselves victims and as people who care about what happens to women. They recoil at Donald Trump’s casual bitch-assault scenarios. What I saw on that Sunday morning was that many women have had enough. Trump’s wink-wink defense – just “locker room banter,” just guys being guys – has backfired. He has been revealed not only as a sexual predator, but as the poster child for a national collapse in mutual respect. This is the face of the corruption that women have been talking about.

One woman started a Twitter campaign to let women tell of their first experience of sexual abuse. Millions of women have written They describe being fondled at age 10, age 12, age 14 by friends, family, strangers on buses, strangers on the street. The remarkable thing is how unremarkable those stories become after you read dozens of them, let alone millions. This, it seems, is the way of the world for women.

It is nothing new. Plantation owners raped slave girls. Power does what it wants. Getting food by enduring a grope or paying the rent by enduring rape happened to immigrant women and poor women. Groping at the office, we now know, was common once women entered office culture, first as underlings and now as equals in everything but sexual power. Incest of girls happens at the rate of one in four (and, for boys, one in six).

The difference now is that we know the stories, and women who once felt powerless have claimed their power. Now it is a campaign issue, not just a delicate dance for a politician’s biographer. It is a moral crisis with names, stories, details, aftershocks.

Trump keeps trying to change the subject. But one woman after another stands up to tell of his predatory behavior. One right-wing rally after another is recorded and its ugliness laid bare. In corporate culture, where jobs are at risk, women are speaking out against abusers. In time, men who care about women will stand with them.

A quick grab at the water cooler won’t fly. Nor will intimidation by armed right-wing “observers” at the polls. As African-Americans keep telling us, once an oppressed people tastes freedom and dignity, it won’t go back to former days.

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On kneeling during the National Anthem

By Tom Ehrich

I am not a high school football player. So I won’t be facing a decision about whether to stand or kneel during the National Anthem at Friday’s game.

But I understand the movement that a San Francisco 49ers quarterback began when he took a knee during the anthem to protest racism in American life. The Times looked at a school in Colorado where Black and Hispanic students see racism every day in how they are treated, and now many players are following Colin Kaepernick’s lead. So are student athletes across the country.

Many adults support them. Many are outraged by what they see as disrespect for flag, anthem and nation. In Texas (where else?) death threats have been aimed at kneeling players.

I was 18 once, of course, and our moment of decision was the Vietnam War. Many fought in that war as an expression of their patriotism. Many protested the war and fought to end it, also as an expression of patriotism. Although the right-wing tried to narrow the definition of “patriotism” to nothing more than support for the war, those of us on the protesting side were doing so out of our love of country, our belief that a nation must be just in its dealings, and our belief in democratic ideals.

It was like the battles in Christianity. Fundamentalists try to define other points of view out of existence. They view diversity as inherently erroneous, especially when it threatens their franchise. In fact, faith takes many forms, and two people arguing heatedly about the will of God might both be guided by Scripture, tradition and reason, both be expressing a deep and abiding faith, but saying different, contradictory things.

The anthem protests are another in a long history of protests that a free people pursue and their opponents try to stop. The same has been true when workers organized labor unions, when women demanded the right to vote and to manage their own lives, when people insisted on reading whatever books they wanted, and people pursued inventions that others said were wrong.

The forces of resistance to change and diversity, and those who demand special status for whites or the wealthy or whatever group they belong to, will always try to strip away the freedom and dignity of those holding opposing views. Instead of asking what life experience causes a black quarterback to protest racism, they defame him as anti-American.

Patriotism, like love and respect, cannot be compelled. It must be felt deeply, and to some extent it must be earned. If you believe your nation has gone astray, the patriotic thing to do is say so and seek a better path, as you understand better. This is the push-pull of a vibrant democracy.

It is always easier to demonize opposing viewpoints and to say, as Trump is saying, Vote for me or else. Many will gladly pick up their assault rifles to provide the “or else.” But true patriotism expects disagreement, values disagreement, and will defend both sides in a disagreement.

In a democracy, every voice counts, not just the ones that sound like yours. And every posture during the National Anthem must be allowed, from the quarterback kneeling to the veteran saluting to the mockers hoisting brews.

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Wise counsel on "Being Mortal"

By Tom Ehrich

My personal librarian – a/k/a my beloved wife – ordered a book for us both to read. It is having a big impact in our home.

The book is “Being Mortal,” by a surgeon and Harvard medical professor named Atul Gawande. The Times described it as “a personal meditation on how we can better live with age-related frailty, serious illness and approaching death.”

I have many pages to go, but I can share a couple of early takeaways:

First, the medical profession struggles to deal with aging. The number of people practicing geriatric medicine is actually shrinking, even as the number of people entering the realm of geriatric care is burgeoning. It seems, the author suggests, that prospective physicians aren’t attracted to a field where much of the work is boring and where the fix-it-at-all-costs dynamic of modern medicine doesn’t pertain.

Second, much of end-of-life medicine should be about handling the end of life, not trying to forestall it. Our bodies wear out, he says. Later and later, of course, but the end does come. Not because aging is a problem that should have been solved, not because someone failed, rather just because that’s the way we are made.

For some the end stages happen suddenly with no apparent warning, like the sudden downward plunge of a roller-coaster. For others the final stages are a gradual downward slope, perhaps with occasional ups among the downs, but inevitably trending to zero (or what a person of faith would call “victory.”) There’s no predicting which will be our experience.

What I take from this for now is that my work is to live as fully as I can. Skip the morbid fascination with twinges and changes in appearance. Just live. Let my hair go gray. Try to keep my weight in check but not expect a 20-year-old’s buff physique. Understand that some things will happen – like losing teeth, losing some flexibility and dexterity, seeing poorly. Just press on to do my work as long as I feel like working, maintain my property as long as I am able, and use my mind, body and faculties fully.

I found his counsel helpful. Our culture’s obsession with youthfulness doesn’t help anyone. It makes an idol of those who are young, slim and beautiful. It makes middle-age feel like a defeated army in retreat. And it makes elderly years and old-age feel like mistakes. All ages should be about dreaming, taking risks, learning and growing. All should be about purpose and making a difference in the world.

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Courage vs. Cowardice

By Tom Ehrich

On the eve of the presidential debates, I attended a church supper and meeting to chart our future course and possible capital expansion. Conversations revealed the difference between courage and cowardice.

One talked about her cancer. One talked about her lesbian daughter’s difficulties in getting launched as an adult. One voiced grave concern for the difficulties refugees face in trying to enter the US. One talked about declining population and rising average age in our valley. One talked about loneliness among seniors. One talked about poverty among children and their dysfunctional home lives. One talked about how she, at age 58, is starting over in her career. One talked about nutritional deficits in the valley touching more lives than ever. One talked about people needing places to find sanctuary in a noisy world.

Not a single one voiced a need to “make America great again.” America is already great, and this valley is proof of it. Not that it is Elysium, but that it contains people doing their best to make life work for themselves and their neighbors.

The issues they face are substantial: inadequate employment, a raging epidemic of heroin addiction, declining school enrollment, the lingering effects of corporate greed in farm labor, inadequate housing for seniors, and a gap between well-to-do weekenders and a struggling year-round population.

Their response? Not to “take arms against a sea of troubles,” not to shout in crazed rage against imagined enemies, not to cry out for a demagogue, not to hope for magical solutions in Washington or in Albany, not to shower blame on political opponents as if they were the only ones who could act and therefore they are to blame for everything that is wrong.

Their response is to act. This is our valley, these are our families and neighbors, and we can do something about it. Not in swaggering survivalist bluster, but in a quiet conviction that faithful people can make a difference. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. Others can act, too. There is no reason why a single child must enter school each day hungry. There is no reason why a single senior should be buried alive in loneliness and lack of purpose.

If our children aren’t learning enough, we can teach them. If local businesses are struggling, we can shop local. If people feel lost, we can go to them, and we can invite them closer. No, we can’t solve every problem or touch every life. But we can act, not just howl at the moon.

The gap between the political class and its allies in the ownership class and the people who actually live, move and have their being in America is staggering. They are looking for ways to amass more power and wealth and to protect owners from accountability. The people are looking for ways to help each other – help that includes counteracting the destruction caused by politicians and owners.

Sure, some religious communities huddle safely inside and glower smugly at the world. Most, however, look for ways to help. Some bigots are thrilled to have rallies where they can shout their hatred. Most people, however, want to make life better – yes, for themselves, but also for others.

I think we underestimate how community-minded Americans tend to be. And how brave. The right-wing wants to paint us as frightened, isolationist and just as self-serving as they are. In fact, most Americans are struggling bravely with the very problems that politicians like Trump want to blame on scapegoats. They struggle, they do their best, they look out for each other, and they remain reasonably optimistic. That is courage. Bellowing bigotry isn’t courage. It’s the face of cowardice.

Courage is dealing with cancer. Courage is being oneself in a challenging world. Courage is giving one’s resources away. Courage is imagining solutions to real-world problems and then pitching in. Courage is preparing food for a hungry child even as your own larder is bare. Courage is preparing for a hard winter by sharing fuel with others. Courage is entering the home of a lonely senior and staying for a while.

Bluster isn’t courage. Calls to violence, insults, lies and going home each night to luxury aren’t courage. They are the face of cowardice.

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When a defender of democracy loses its way

By Tom Ehrich

American democracy is in peril when some of its key defenders lose their way.

Many work to defend American democracy. Voters who vote, of course, as well as our large and complex legal system, from judges to enforcement personnel, plus an educational system that enables citizens to process complex information, and the men and women in uniform who defend our freedoms.

But nothing surpasses the defense provided by a free press and especially by a handful of news enterprises: The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, a few other newspapers, a small handful of magazines such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and a few online news teams.

They dig for truth and hold candidates and officeholders accountable. If one candidate brags that he has been a huge success as a businessman but the record shows a consistent string of failures, bankruptcies, stiffing vendors and employees, fraudulent enterprises, and bullying government officials, a free press lets us know. What citizens choose to do with this information is a great imponderable, of course. Many denounce the media for reporting it. But nothing will be healthy if the facts aren’t known.

A free press enables all citizens to listen in on a political campaign rally or a debate and to draw our own individual conclusions. We aren’t limited to what the candidates say in ads and puffball interviews.

An effective free press provides the same fact-based, unfettered and bold coverage of the economy and its key players, education and what students are actually experiencing, and popular culture as it shapes our values and awareness.

Perhaps the single most worrisome phenomenon of this election system isn’t the demagoguery of Donald Trump. It’s the failure of The New York Times to cover this campaign effectively, with insight and perspective, and to help voters understand what is going on. Following a foolish doctrine of “false equivalence,” The Times has led the way in giving Trump a free pass on the dangerous, fraudulent, fascistic content of his campaign.

Fortunately, The Times sees its errors. Investigative reporting of Trump’s background and business enterprises has intensified. Last week, the paper demoted its Washington bureau chief for the paper’s poor political coverage. This morning, columnist Nicholas Kristof said, “We owe it to our readers to signal when we’re writing about a crackpot.” He said, “We should be guard dogs, not lap dogs, and when the public sees Trump as more honest than Clinton, something has gone wrong.”

Political coverage is more than a scorecard, more than reporting on poll results, more than naming the odds of who will win, as if American democracy were a pro football weekend. The woods and web are filled with shouts and outrage, conspiracy theories and invective of the basest sort. In this storm of one-sided words that are unhinged from fact, reason and civility, our democracy depends on at least a few news enterprises telling us the truth.

Democracy requires an informed and engaged electorate. The blizzard of lies, conspiracy theories, threats and bigotry don’t constitute “informed.” It’s important to know when a lie is a lie, a conspiracy theory is nonsense, a threat violates civil and human rights, and bigotry trespasses on American values.

Most news enterprises won’t tell us any of that. We depend on a handful of serious news organizations to remember their reason for existing.

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The destructive allure of "bubble thinking"

By Tom Ehrich

Ever witnessed “bubble thinking”? Here’s what it looks like.

It looks like Apple trying to get away with a minor upgrade to its iPhone and Apple Watch, an upgrade that barely moved the needle on performance, features or design, and yet was labeled courageous and exciting. Only someone living inside the Apple fan-boy bubble could be fooled by a new color for the iPhone – shiny black, easy to scratch, costing $749 and up – and a new ceramic band for the watch.

Tech critics wondered if Apple had simply run out of ideas. I doubt that. Bubble thinking isn’t about ideas, it’s about living in the echo-chamber of self-reinforcing perceptions and making too much of the incremental nudge that the guy next to you considers a game-changer.

“Bubble thinking” looks like the absurd theater that NBC put forward when it sent an entertainment anchor to moderate policy interviews with presidential candidates. The result, even NBC admitted, was a “disaster.” The outclassed anchor proved himself unprepared and incompetent. With tough-as-nails, highly informed Rachel Maddow available for the event, NBC chose lightweight Matt Lauer. That’s “bubble thinking.”

“Bubble thinking” looks like the Trump campaign, in which an uninformed candidate tries to capture the White House with bullying, invective, bigotry-flogging, and a torrent of lies that defy real-time fact-checkers. His vocal fans love the show and have no interest in facts, policies or democratic principles. They just love getting permission to shout hatred. Trump’s bubble rallies are hothouse events that only like-minded souls are allow to attend, where Trump shouts, the people shout and Trump turns their shouts into ad hoc pronouncements.

“Bubble thinking” looks like high season at the Hamptons on Long Island, and its counterparts in other urban areas, where extremely wealthy people enjoy supremely precious time parading in expensive tribal costumes and talking passionately about things that don’t matter, and then return to boardrooms and law firms determined to grab even more wealth from a struggling economy so that they can do it again next summer.

“Bubble thinking” looks like a $5 million fifth-floor walkup apartment in lower Manhattan. It looks like a $200,000 college education that provides no skills or mental toughness for jobs that actually exist.

Inside the bubble, people don’t deal with facts or truth. They deal with what they want to earn, not the value of what they do. They deal with the promise of great wealth if they can scam the market quickly enough, not the long-term damage done by fraudsters. They love the excitement of high-octane collaboration and don’t stop to ask if their efforts accomplish any worthwhile purpose. They love the money and the toys and don’t ask about real costs and real benefits.

Inside the bubble, fooling people matters more than serving people. Getting elected matters more than strengthening democracy. Having power matters more than using power for the good. Keeping the doors open matters more than doing anything worthwhile inside them. The interests of shareholders matter more than the employees who create the wealth and customers who buy the product.

Bubbles are enticing, and yet they always burst. Sometimes dramatically like the dot-com bust around 1999 or the bursting of the housing bubble in 2007 and beyond. Sometimes in sad middle-of-the-night abandonment, like the poorly managed company that raids pension funds, borrows heavily, and then closes its doors with little warning and no accountability. Sometimes the bubble bursts in a house that won’t sell, a product that falls short of hype while it’s still being financed, or a commencement ceremony where highly paid administrators dispense expensive degrees to graduates burdened with debt, and then send them out to a job market that isn’t fooled by their diplomas.

If Trump can keep his bubble intact long enough to capture the presidency, the bursting of it will be epic, tragic and dangerous. But it will burst. We can be sure of that. Bubbles always burst. Bubble thinking always loses out to reality.

For example, the Matt Lauer/NBC bubble didn’t last even the length of his show. Even as he cowered before the bully, knowledgeable reporters and analysts were calling Lauer to account. The aftermath was blistering. His career is down the tubes. In the end, Lauer’s apparent intention to embarrass Clinton and to build up fellow entertainer Trump backfired and had the opposite effect.

The moral: don’t mess with bubbles. They don’t last, and they do great damage when they burst. Better to see reality, tell truth, and accept the ups and downs of accountability.

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Labor Day: Jesus' kind of holiday

By Tom Ehrich

If work were compensated according to its value to society, trash haulers would earn bigtime and bankers would earn less. Schoolteachers would earn more than administrators and way more than attorneys.

Those who assemble cars would earn more than those who design them. Nurses, ER docs and first-responders would earn more than Big Pharma executives. Hospice staff would earn more than the Big Tobacco executives who dispensed cancer-sticks. Plumbers would earn more than hedge fund managers. And so it would go.

Labor Day, of course, is our annual reminder that we don’t live in a just and rational world. We live in a world where the ownership class lords it over those whose backs, hands, imaginations and minds actually create wealth. Labor Day exists as a celebration of organized labor, which the right wing excoriates as socialist, communist, and welfare for the lazy, but in fact are the ones building the nation. And the ones fighting its wars. And the ones paying its taxes.

A healthy system needs all of us, owners and workers, those amassing capital for factory construction and those working in those factories and those selling its products and those buying those products. We don’t live in such a system, where all are appreciated and treated fairly. Greed has run the table.

Some religious folks will fuss about Labor Day being called a “holiday,” because it isn’t actually a “holy-day.” I disagree. If any holiday could catch the imagination of Jesus, it would be Labor Day. For workers and the one-down were his constituency. The wealthy had no need for him. In fact, they resented him.

An estimated two-thirds of Jesus’ teaching were about wealth and power. A holiday that honors rank-and-file workers and calls the owner class to account is exactly what Jesus had in mind.

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IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO ALL READERS

By Tom Ehrich

IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO ALL READERS

I am about to undertake what is called a “fork.”

One direction will be a continuation of the writing I have been doing for many years. Daily On a Journey meditations, a Weekly Essay, the Church Wellness Report, and regular blogposts on faith, ethics and politics. Plus Fresh Day online magazine.

The new direction will be a focus on aging. Now that I have turned 70, it seems time to write about aging and to offer resources that will help you in your aging and/or in your role as a caregiver or pastor.

I have created two new web sites:

www.tomehrich.com is a personal site that will provide access to all that I am writing and a blog on what I am learning about aging.

www.agingwellproject.com is a site offering resources, links, useful writings, poems, videos and other tools that pertain to aging. I will publish a weekly newsletter containing those resources.

Both sites are launched, but with little material on them yet.

I would like to start sending blog and newsletter to all of my readers, to give you a glimpse of what I am doing. Eventually, I will invite you to join targeted mailing lists. For now, just enjoy and send me your feedback. (Send to tom@tomehrich.com.)

May I take this opportunity to tell you how much I appreciate your interest in my writing? I spend much of my workday in writing – a never-ending struggle to marshal my thoughts, find words to express them, and get them out to interested readers. Knowing that you are out there and reading my pieces makes a huge difference.

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Saying No to evil

By Tom Ehrich

Some years ago, I made two new friends through Cursillo. Later they transferred to my parents’ church, so I saw them on visits home.

Lovely people.

The other day I opened my Facebook newsfeed and found a friend request from one of them. I was happy to oblige, though I did wonder, Aren’t we already friends on Facebook? It’s hard to keep track on social media.

Almost immediately I got a Facebook message from her: “Hello.” I don’t normally respond to Facebook messages. She tried again a day later. This time I said, “Hi.” She asked how I was doing. I said, “Great.” She asked what I planned to do today. I said, “Work.”

I usually rise above the monosyllabic. But this exchange sounded canned. Sure enough, her next message asked, “Have you heard the good news?”

There it was, the “good news” scam. If I kept going, the writer would eventually tell me about a Federal program to give away money, if I would just follow their instructions. I replied that I found it “sordid” that this person had hacked my friend’s account and was trying a scam. No response from the other end.

Same thing happened the other day, when another friend’s Facebook account got hacked by a “good news” scammer. I confronted them, and they backed off.

I don’t mind playing this game. It’s interesting, in an odd way. But I do find it sordid that a promising social medium like Facebook has become such a cesspool of scams, attacks posts, lies, bullying and partisan demagoguery.

I have wanted to use Facebook to disseminate information about my writing and to build my subscriber base. But I wonder. What do I lose by being associated with a cesspool? I work hard on my writing and try to use my words to draw people closer to God and to their own best selves. Does using Facebook implicitly lump me in with the scammers and predators?

It’s confusing. My family is on Facebook. Many longtime friends are there. I see photos of my grandchildren and read updates on lives I care about. But in and around this good stuff come the Oakley ads, the “good news” scams, the attacks and deceit from Breitbart and the right-wing, the outlandish claims about partisan enemies, and the vile nastiness of racists.

It’s like standing on a street corner as a Klan parade goes by. The parade isn’t about me, but it’s there, crowding my field of vision. I can tune it out, but it’s still there, the stench of evil bypassing my filters.

I stay on Facebook, though with diminished expectations of any personal or commercial benefit. I just think it’s important that I not hide from the stench of evil. I think we all need to look evil in the face and say, No.

I think we need to read reports from inside Trump rallies and hear the hatred on display and the threats to kill journalists once their candidate is elected. That is evil, not responsibler partisan polityical expression.

The time to confront evil is right away – early in its rise if possible, the first time you see it, or when the stench becomes overwhelming. Evil doesn’t just evaporate. Evil spreads as far and as fast as we allow it to spread.

Say it early, or say it late, but a resounding NO must be said. Evil won’t stop until decent people push back.

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Freedom will carry the day

By Tom Ehrich

Some days my caller is “Julia,” who is excited that I have been pre-approved for a $250,000 business loan. Other days it is “Lisa,” who’s calling to congratulate me on winning some “reward” for having visited an unnamed web site.

Another “Lisa” has great news about boosting my credit score. (What is it about the name “Lisa”? Is it like the deliberate errors in spelling and grammar in a “Nigerian letter”: a sign that my caller is a simple-minded girl whom I can outwit? First cousin, of course, to the car salesman who is smarter than I will ever be about hawking overpriced cars.)

I quickly block the incoming number on my iPhone, but these clever ladies must have several hundred phone numbers available to them. Today’s call by “Julia” was from some hamlet in New Jersey.

Their automated scripts apparently were written by the sadist who moonlights as a customer service manager at Microsoft. His mission is to make customer service so maddening that I will never call Microsoft again. Interesting approach to supporting product.

Then there’s the thoughtful person who hacks a friend’s Facebook account and sends me a message asking if I have heard the “good news.” As you know, good news isn’t a staple on social media, so maybe this is a break in the caustic flow. Alas, it turns out to be a scam for getting free government money.

So here I sit with an iPhone 6 Plus, the current acme of technological advancement at the largest company in the world. Its main telephonic function is opening the door to telemarketers masquerading as ebullient easy-to-fool girls just aching to help me solve life problems like my credit score. How did several thousand brilliant minds get sidetracked onto this trivial pursuit?

But no matter. If Apple can convince people to buy a high-end smartphone product that hasn’t been significantly improved in three years, that’s their business. If Microsoft can build customer loyalty through wretched customer service, more power to them. If Facebook can monetize users’ desire for friendship, go for it. In the era of Donald Trump, lying and cheating and pretending to be important might well be a path to victory.

A day of reckoning will come, of course. You can’t fool people forever. Apple-watchers are worried the iconic brand may be losing its way by counting on fanboys’ automatic upgrade fever. Sarcastic ads aren’t helping Microsoft move its hardware. Facebook users seem to be getting savvier and warier, which bodes ill for the social medium. Twitter is already tanking. Tech brands like Cisco and Yahoo are in deep trouble.

Big banks are back at their bad-boy behavior. But this time, the market is paying attention. So are government regulators. Housing prices in Manhattan and San Francisco got so absurd that the market shifted against them. The bloom has faded for WeWork, a high-flying startup whose customers are discovering that renting small spaces with no privacy, a lot of frat–boy noise and poaching of employees isn’t all that appealing.

In other words, people do eventually wake up and see reality. They see empty promises made by employers. They see the poor cost-benefit of an Ivy League education. They see products that don’t deliver and customer service that doesn’t serve. Even lovely “Lisa” can’t keep us on the line.

Polls suggest that The Donald is losing his ability to cast a spell. His aura of business acumen has been dimmed by actual results of his enterprises. Years of cheating on contracts are catching up with him. Now that people outside his raging cohort are paying attention to his rhetoric, they are fleeing. Doing the old “wink-wink” on bigotry is turning people against other GOP candidates.

The good news, I think, is that when people have freedom and choices, they tend to move in a healthy direction. That’s why big banks, software makers and employers work so hard to keep us tethered – unfree – by making it difficult to unwind from them. But nimble competitors keep emerging that counteract that strategy. No wonder Trump promises that his first sortie as President would be to trash freedom of the press, followed by walling off the free movement of peoples.

I put my bet on freedom. God made us to be free. Anything less than freedom won’t last for long. Sorry, “Lisa.”

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Work for a trustworthy election

By Tom Ehrich

The top GOP candidate sees his stock falling and begins to position himself as a sore loser, brought down by a “rigged” system, “vicious” attacks, “crooked” opposition. No surprise. Trump would rather crash the constitutional system than bear the label “loser.”

If it were just a bully taking his ball and slinking home, that would be one thing. But he would leave behind a large and angry mob, whose penchant for violent language could well feed a penchant for violent action.

I suspect that this will be Trump’s endgame. Reject me in November, he will threaten, and my people will take to the streets. Nice. Reject me, and I’ll sue you blind and prevent the orderly transfer of power in January 2017. Double nice.

One of the hallmarks of American democracy has been the peaceful transfer of power every few years. In any given election, roughly half the people will be disappointed. In a healthy system, led by healthy and responsible people, the losing side accepts disappointment and vows to try again in four years.

The GOP candidate, however, has no interest in democracy or national interest. His narcissism has no room for such values. He thrives on the mob’s adulation, swarming rage, readiness to do his bidding in assaulting the vulnerable. He will have no interest in lowering their intensity. Let them riot.

Then, if his career in business is any harbinger, Trump will abandon them, as he has fled creditors and consequences in bankruptcy filings. Imagine the mob’s rage when their champion joins the political establishment in betraying them.

I have three suggestions.

First, let’s make sure Donald Trump doesn’t get near the Oval Office. This is a primary national interest.

Second, let’s not demonize those who follow Trump. He has manipulated and exploited them. Their bigotry is despicable. But more than anything else, they are broken, the inevitable consequences of a broken system – a system deliberately undermined by the wealthy few, not broken by people of color or immigrants.

Third, let’s make sure voter fraud, voter suppression and Election Day tricks are seen, documented, pursued immediately, and kept from calling the election into question. Now is the time for a fair and honest election.

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Sick candidate, but real issues

By Tom Ehrich

We had a bully at my elementary school. His dad was thought to be a bully, too. We suspected that being beaten at home made our classmate cruel at school. Hard to say, no one wanted to get close enough to him to find out.

I hope Joey got his life together, escaping his father and whatever abuse drove him to cruelty. It is painful to watch bullies remain bullies well into adulthood. They become more deft at hurting people but never move beyond the lonely, ego-crushing experiences of childhood. They find meaning and safety in crushing the egos of whomever they meet, even their families and colleagues.

Many wonder what sickness drives Donald Trump. Some see strong indicators of narcissism, perhaps leading to psychopathic behavior. That is a tragic diagnosis, if true, because narcissism is a personality disorder from which one doesn’t recover. The narcissist can learn to function, but should never be put in charge of anything.

Some see him as a playground bully who just never grew up. Some see him as an entitled rich kid who was taught to believe in getting his way at all costs. Some see him as a pathological liar and cheat.

The diagnoses go on and on, many little more than armchair psychologizing, but some put forward by serious psychologists who have studied the man with professional skill. But in them all is a widely held belief, even in his own party, that something isn’t normal and right about Trump.

It isn’t his political opinions – those are run-of-mine positions dating back to Reconstruction, the advent of Jim Crow and the Klan, the America First movement, and a centuries-old history of seeing Islam as an enemy of civilization. Even in his fascination with fascism, Trump’s voice is a voice we have heard before. And his ignorance of history, the Constitution, foreign policy and what makes a society tick can be matched by many politicians whom we simply vote down, but don’t question their sanity.

In his relentless need to belittle people, however, Trump suggests a deeper toxicity. When he mocks whatever he finds vulnerable in a person, when he fires off angry messages whenever his thin skin is pricked, when he casually calls for violence against opponents and says he would like to “hit them hard,” when he shows lack of self-control under pressure and a stubborn, childlike refusal to admit error, many see deep pathology.

It is important to separate the GOP’s current positions from the sickness of its leading candidate. The people in their common sense can defeat Trump at the polls. He can go down in flames and resume a failed business career with even greater name recognition. The positions he espouses, however, will remain a living legacy that we must take seriously. The racism in Trump’s taunting is a racism deeply felt in America. After all this time, it hasn’t gone away. The fear of immigrants isn’t going away. Neither is growing alarm over the violence possible, indeed likely, in a heavily armed populace.

The gap between rich and poor is widening. The predatory behavior of financial institutions is worsening. The determination of politicians to take money from the poor and middle class and channel it to the already-wealthy is accelerating. Collapse of basic institutions through under-funding and over-bureaucratizing isn’t going away.

Reasonable people can disagree about these matters. It is tragic that a sick candidate has turned the normal push-pull of democratic politics into a messianic cult. Many who follow him will wonder what to do next when his candidacy fails. They have legitimate concerns. Who will hear them? Or do they need to look for another proto-fascist strongman?

It won’t be enough for Democrats to defeat Trump. They will also need to prepare for healing a broken society. The bully’s mob will need to be brought back into the mainstream. The bad actors who are plundering the nation will need to be held accountable. Eight years of right-wing obstructionism will need to end, preferably through a renewed willingness to do the hard work of governing.

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