Monthly Archives: January 2021

Yelling “Stop the Steal” in a Crowded Ellipse


Much of American journalism, which was supposed to revert to its historic role as a check on those in power after Donald Trump left town, is now devoted to shutting down the commercial lifeline of other media. Think of the precedent for the next populist Republican President who might declare pro-choice publications “deadly.”

~Wall Street Journal Editorial Board/January 29, 2021

To the WSJ editorial board, I say, “I don’t have to think about the next populist Republican president.  Did it only take nine days for you to forget the last GOP chief executive declared the media to be ‘the enemy of the people?'”  Furthermore, is the WSJ saying Congress has now ceded its Article I powers under our system of checks and balances to the media?  Or federal courts expect journalists to decide when a president operates outside constitutional boundaries?  NO!  The media is not a check on presidential power.  Its traditional role has been and continues to be a guardian of the truth.  Just this morning, the New York Times fact-checker Linda Qiu reported three instances during his first week in office Joe Biden misrepresented or overhyped empirical data.  Sounds like she’s doing her job.  Likewise, when one media outlet calls out lies from a counterpart or rival outlet they are doing the same thing, fact-checking those who are disseminating information, regardless of the source.

But that’s not what I came here to talk about.  Instead, I wish to focus on how those who hide behind the curtain of “moral equivalency” (sometime referred to as “what about..ism”) have hijacked the First Amendment and represent a greater threat to free speech than those accused of promoting the “cancel culture.”  And it is the responsibility of those who have become the intellectual voice of free speech on college campuses and the press to call out these insurgents.  Not doing so destroys any chance of expanding their audience.

First, a little history.  The free speech movement received national attention with adoption of the Chicago principles, so-called because they are based on the findings of a 2014 report issued by the University of Chicago’s Committee on Freedom of Expression.  (Yes, the same university whose School of Economics continues to push supply-side economics and trickle-down theory as helping the middle class and balancing the federal budget despite 40 years of evidence to the contrary.)  A campaign to promote adoption by other institutions of higher learning has been led by the non-profit Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE).  As of August 2020, FIRE reports 76 U.S. colleges and universities have “adopted or endorsed the Chicago Statement or a substantially similar statement.”

Before proceeding, let me stipulate there are valid concerns about free speech on college campuses.  But let’s be clear, there is a distinction between controversial opinions and, as Kellyanne Conway would say, “alternative facts.”  One need only read the inscription from John 8:32 above the Upham Hall arch at Miami University where I taught for nine years.  It does NOT say, “You shall know the OPINION, and the OPINION shall set you free.”  It refers to the TRUTH as the source of personal and professional liberation.

In more practical terms, there can be a difference of opinion about whether slavery was an essential factor in the early development of the United States as a commercial power, but you cannot deny there was slavery.  We can argue whether there was justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but Saddam Hussein’s role in 9/11 cannot be part of that conversation.  As so often quoted, the late Senator Daniel Moynihan declared, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Fast forward to two more recent examples.  On January 23rd the Washington Post reported on the backlash when former Trump official Richard Grenell was hired by Carnegie Mellon University.  Reporters Marisa Iati and Lauren Lumpkin wrote, “Criticism grew in November when Grenell falsely claimed that voter fraud had cost Donald Trump a second term.” A lie repeatedly debunked in judicial opinions, statements by state and federal officials and via media investigations.  If FIRE is concerned about the “cancel culture,” you cannot defend someone who repeatedly attempts to cancel the truth about the 2020 election.

And of course there is the king of alternative facts Donald Trump.  To understand the extent to which Trump exceeded any protection under the First Amendment, one must study the history of the phrase, “Shouting fire in a crowded theater.”  I suspect you will be as surprised as I was.

Oliver Wendell Holmes - HISTORYThis caveat to the First Amendment protection of free speech appears in Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.’s decision on behalf of a unanimous Supreme Court in the 1919 case Schenck v. United States.  The justices found the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated when he was charged with undermining the war effort (WWI) by opposing the draft.  However, the story does not end there.  I was not aware the decision was partially overturned in 1969 in Brandenburg v. Ohio.  This time the court found “yelling fire” was not enough.  Inflammatory speech (pun intended) had to directly “incite imminent lawless action or produce such action.”

Therefore, for U.S. senators who have not taken their Prevagen in the past 24 days, let me again remind you using the words of GOP outcast Liz Cheney, “The President of the United States summoned the mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack.  Everything that followed was his doing.”  And to FIRE and other advocates of the Chicago Principles, I encourage you to read Trump’s January 6 speech to the assembled crowd on the Washington ellipse in its entirety.  Because Trump’s lawyers are going to argue he was only exercising his constitutional right to free speech.  And yet the speech is peppered with debunked claims of voter fraud and conspiracy theories.  He yelled “fire” when there was none, and within an hour, that false claim “produced lawless actions.”

If the leaders of the free speech on campus movement want me to join them when their arguments are valid, they need to push back against those who scream “I have a right to speak out” if the content consists of demonstrable falsehoods or when they act criminally under the Brandenburg v. Ohio doctrine.  Therefore, I look forward to FIRE and other adherents to the Chicago Principles acknowledging the difference between apples and oranges during the impeachment trial or if and when the alleged insurrection conspirators are tried in court.  And issue a public rebuke when Trump’s legal team claims “the big lie” that incited an attack on the U.S. Capitol was merely an exercise of free speech.

To not do so, severely damages their credibility and motivation.  Because the Chicago Principles would undermine academic integrity because they send a message universities and colleges cannot demand faculty, students and guest speakers ground their theories and opinions in empirical evidence.  In which case, Miami University might as well sandblast the words above the Upham Hall arch.

For what it’s worth.


The Death of Logic


Question of the Day:  Is the media’s focus on “a war on truth” misdirected?

There are two kinds of horror movies.  To prove this point, I will stick to films based on Stephan King novels.  At one end of the spectrum are stories, while gory, are not the source of nightmares.  For example, to believe in aliens disguised as clowns who pull unsuspecting children into sewers (“It”) or lonely high school students with telekinetic powers (“Carrie”) is not a matter of fact or fiction.  In contrast, the King tales that give me the willies are those that could be ripped from the front pages of any hometown newspaper.  Where a rabid dog (“Cujo”) turns on his master and his extended family or the obsessed fan of a series of romance novels seeks revenge when the author decides to hang up his keyboard (“Misery”).

Cujo (1983) - FILMGAZMThe difference?  To enjoy the cinematic treatment of the supernatural requires something other than evidence of its possibility.  Instead, all one needs is to suspend logic.  On the other hand, identifying with a mother trapped in a VW Beetle, trying to protect her son from a foaming at the mouth St. Bernard, is not predicated on a moratorium on common sense.  Anyone with a limbic system, the part of the brain that processes emotion, knows creatures and people like Cujo (portrayed by four St. Bernards, a black Labrador-Great Dane mix in a St. Bernard costume and stuntman Gary Morgan) and Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates) exist in our world.

Which brings me to 2021 and media reports about the “war on truth” and how it might be won.  How do you get the 75 percent of the Republican Party who believe Joe Biden stole the election to accept he won fair and square?  Certainly not by reminding them 64 judges, six state legislatures and numerous governors and election officials tell them there is no basis for denying the obvious.   That’s now been done for over two months.  Perhaps it is not the facts themselves the non-believers cling to, but their suspension of logic that makes their acceptance of a Trump defeat so unbelievable.

Let’s look at a more logical explanation of an election where the challenger wins by more than seven million votes and more Americans cast ballots than any time in the nation’s history.  Logic, as well as presidential history, tells us NO chief executive with the following portfolio should expect to be re-elected.

  • Never had an approval rating over 50 percent.
  • Insulted ethnic groups which are an ever growing percentage of the electorate.
  • Was constantly outed as self-absorbed and incompetent by his own inner circle.
  • Separated thousands of young children from their parents.
  • Violated constitutional and legal norms to further his hold on power.
  • Lied to the nation about the worse health and economic crisis in over 100 years.

To believe in any other outcome requires a suspension of logic equivalent to that needed to accept a Native-American burial ground turned pet cemetery can reanimate a child tragically killed on a rural Maine highway.

Download PDF Dr. Spock s Baby and Child Care Full Online by Benjamin Spock - 873rgsw2eswfewfewfThe same is true of the record turnout.  Any parent has experienced the consequences of trying to modify behavior by telling a child they cannot do something.  That is Dr. Spock 101.  So, when GOP officials in several states did everything they could to discourage voters they knew would vote against Trump’s re-election, the response was as logical as a three year old drawing on a wall despite exhortations to the contrary.  How dare you tell me what I cannot do!  I’ll show you!  And show us they did.  Eighty-one million of them.

America has a choice.  It can fight every political and cultural battle one fact at a time.  Or it can encourage a return to logic, where all facts are viewed in the context of a more rationale backdrop.  And like charity, logic begins at home.  Consider the following.  Instead of trying to convince COVID-19 deniers to mask up by pointing to the growing number of cases, hospitalizations or deaths, ask them what they would do if a member of their own family was susceptible to a potentially fatal disease.  And their family physician tells them there are three or four things they could do to make a negative outcome less likely.  They inherently know what they would do.  Perhaps then you can have the conversation, not about 335 million Americans, but the 128.5 households, just like theirs, that are all having to make the same choice.

Bottom line?  If you want agreement on the facts, it is necessary to first get people to subscribe to the logical context and assumptions which can make the facts easier to accept regardless of one’s partisan or ideological prism.  It is the pending “death of logic,” not the “war on facts” that makes that task so much more difficult.

For what it’s worth.


Russia, Russia, Russia


Among the issues that divide Democrats and Republicans is their attitude toward Russia and Vladimir Putin.  A February 2020 survey by Pew Research approached the question from several angles and found:

  • 82 percent of Democrats expected Russian interference in the 2020 election compared to 39 percent of Republicans.
  • 31 percent of Republicans trust Putin to do the right thing when it comes to world affairs as opposed to 10 percent of Democrats.
  • There is a 30 percentage point difference between Democrats (65%) and Republicans (35%) when asked if “Russian power and influence posed a major threat to the well-being of the United States.”

Since the residents of MAGA world have such an affinity for Russian and Putin, perhaps we should encourage them to look to Russia as a model which explains the current state of their movement.  I will use two examples.  One from personal experience during a trip to Moscow in November 1994.  The other extracted from this weekend’s headlines.

My trip to Moscow, as a representative of the National Governors Association, was in support of the U.S. State Department’s efforts to promote government decentralization by aiding the creation of a Russian counterpart made up of the governors of Russian oblasts, the regional geopolitical entities most analogous to U.S. states.  To understand the challenges these Russian officials might face, I participated in a seminar sponsored by the commercial attaché assigned to the U.S. embassy.  Also, attending were several graduate students from Moscow University, many who pursued careers in engineering.

Among the topics covered were the students’ career expectations pre- and post-dissolution of the former Soviet Union accompanied by government reforms.  I quickly learned any transformation from “cradle to grave” dependence on central planning would not be easy.  This was best captured when one student was asked, “What do you think you will do when you graduate?”  His reply?  “We have to wait until the government tells us what needs to be done.”

I was reminded of my Moscow experience when I saw the following headline on January 20th on POLITICO.COM.  “Trump leaves QAnon and the online MAGA world crushed and confused.”  Was Joe Biden taking the oath of office any different from December 25, 1991 when, as reported by the U.S. Office of the Historian (who knew there was such an office):

On December 25, 1991, the Soviet hammer and sickle flag lowered for the last time over the Kremlin, thereafter replaced by the Russian tricolor. Earlier in the day, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his post as president of the Soviet Union, leaving Boris Yeltsin as president of the newly independent Russian state.

While it is easy to imagine Trump followers waiting for someone to tell them what needs to be done next, the Russian example is also a cautionary tale about ignoring their sense of loss and lack of direction going forward.  Even if Trump is gone, his supporters will look for a new leader as did the Russian people, culminating in Putin’s rise to power.

Kremlin Critic Alexei Navalny Faces Arrest As Flies Back To RussiaWhich brings me to the second instance in which Russia can be instructive, in this case, for Republicans who want to take back their party from the Trump insurgency.   They need only draw on efforts by Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny to expose Putin’s corruption and abuse of power.  The difference between the situation in Russia and the GOP is the emergence of a champion who is willing to speak truth to power.  Or as the NRA president Wayne LaPierre might say, “The only thing that can stop a movement with a bad leader is a movement with a good leader.”

That responsibility cannot fall to a “never Trumper.”  It has to be someone who has been part of MAGA world.  Someone like Navalny, who believed the Russian people were more interested in the truth than sound bites as evidenced by the two-hour video in which he laid out, point by point, the harm Putin has inflicted on the Russian population.  Someone like Navalny, who knew he would face persecution upon returning to his homeland.

In Arizona, Trump's false claims have torn open a GOP riftMy nominee is Arizona governor Douglas A. Ducey, Jr.  Though Ducey has neither been poisoned or jailed for refusing to join Trump’s conspiracy to overture the 2020 election, he is now a persona non grata within the GOP, having been censured by the Arizona Republican Party.  Up until November 3rd, Ducey had been a fervent Trump supporter, campaigned with him and even accompanied him to “the wall.”

Just imagine if Ducey pulled a Navalny and produced a video in which he offered a mea culpa.  If he told MAGA world he too had high hopes for the Trump administration, but now realizes he was duped.  And lays out each instance of Trump’s corruption and abuse of power over the last four years, and admits he too wore blinders that limited his ability to recognize the danger that culminated with the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

I know some of you will say hard core Trump cultists will not be easily convinced.  And you may be right.  But what if you are wrong.  New York Times reporters Anton Troianovski and Andrew Higgins were surprised how quickly support for Navalny spread across Russia’s 11 time zones.

The demonstrations did not immediately pose a dire threat to President Vladimir V. Putin’s grip on power. But their broad scope, and the remarkable defiance displayed by many of the protesters, signaled widespread fatigue with the stagnant, corruption-plagued political order that Mr. Putin has presided over for two decades.

If you believe Joe Biden’s current 69 percent approval rating is less due to his executive orders or policy proposals and more to the contrast with four years of Trump fatigue, maybe the situations are not as different as one might think.  And now is the best opportunity to wrestle Trump’s grip on the GOP from his cold, small hands.  (Sorry, the NRA is just too ripe for parody.)

For what it’s worth.




It only took two days.  Republicans are already making the moral equivalency argument they are just following Democratic precedent when they say, “Joe Biden is not MY president.  Isn’t that what all you 2016 deniers said about Donald Trump?”  They are half right.  I was proud to say Trump was not MY president.  Primarily because I was not responsible for his becoming the chief executive of the United States.  But more importantly, for more reasons  than I choose not to re-litigate here, I never want anyone, anywhere, anytime to explicitly or implicitly  think I would possibly associate with such an indecent, un-American individual regardless of their station in life.

But here is the difference these one-conspiracy-fits-all advocates miss.  I NEVER said, “Donald Trump is not THE president.”  You do not support impeachment and conviction of someone who is not THE president.  You do not wonder if Mike Pence has enough backbone to save the nation he swears he loves by invoking the 25th Amendment for anyone other than THE president.  You do not spend six months doing everything you can to deny someone a SECOND term unless they are THE president for four years.

I can only surmise Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Kevin McCarthy and 146 other GOP members of Congress never watched the Sesame Street segment, “Which one of these is not like the others.”

  • Impeachment
  • 25th Amendment
  • Presidential Elections
  • Storming the United States Capitol

Ooh! Ooh!  I KNOW!  The first three are in the Constitution.  The fourth is only grounded in statute, in particular U.S. Code Title 18, Chapter 115, Section 2384 which makes it a crime when “two or more persons … conspire to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States … or to oppose by force the authority thereof, or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof.”

During floor debate following the deadly attack on the “People’s House,” GOP speakers were quick to point out they were doing nothing more than their Democratic counterparts in 2000, 2004 and 2016.  True, if you believe telling your spouse he or she has not put on weight is the same as telling 365 million people an international pandemic will magically go away.  Or that 60+ judges, governors, election officials and state legislators of all partisan backgrounds are part of a six state cabal to steal an election.

In 2000 and 2004, objections involved one state each time, Florida and Ohio respectively.  In 2016 the issue was Russian interference in the election. In each case, the objections were raise by one or two lone voices, not a majority of the Democratic caucus. And in all three instances, the Democratic nominee conceded the election.  And none of the challengers invited supporters to come to Washington, D.C. and halt the constitutionally mandated process of counting state-certified slates of electors.

There is one more reason I never accepted Trump as MY president.  Recognition is a two-way street.  As I wrote on December 19, 2016, I acknowledged his constitutional right to sit at the Resolute Desk, but maintained my right not to support the substance of or his approach to governance when he suggested people like me were not real Americans.  At a “victory rally” in Mobile, Alabama two days earlier Trump told the crowd, those who rejected his candidacy were not patriots nor did they really love America.  Donald Trump had the same right to accurately claim I was not ONE of HIS people, but not that I no longer qualified as AN American as a result.

For the learning impaired let me put it this way.  When I look at a banana, I admit it is a fruit, just not MY kind of fruit.  I have to accept the fact it is a banana based on its physical characteristics and the process by which it became a banana.  But I am entitled to my own opinion whether to make one part of my diet.

I have no doubt one of the consequences cable news and on-line outlets will face in coming days is the dilemma when they do not have the benefit of breaking news from the White House multiple times a day.  News media of all stripes will be looking to fill airtime with insights about the state of the nation and citizen attitudes.  There will be occasions when correspondents will ask die-hard Trump voters how they feel about Joe Biden’s performance in office.  In many cases, the response may be, “He’s not MY president.”  How refreshing it would be if the reporter followed up, “I understand.  That’s your prerogative.  But do you recognize him as THE president.”  If the answer is, “No,” will that same reporter then ask, “Then do you believe in democracy and the Constitution?”

As the most trusted man in America Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.  January 23, 2021.”

For what it’s worth.


The Trump Legacy


A swath of Republican election officials have been held up as examples of how Trumpism has spread across the country to infect state and local government.  But that discussion has been about the rhetoric, not the execution of their public responsibilities.  Their message has been consistent.  “We are a new breed who will shake up the establishment.”

Shake it up they did.  When it came to politics, they kept every promise on which they rode into office.  Fear of the other.  Allegiance to big lies about democracy, the press and anyone who did not share their desire to bring back an American that as Margaret Mitchell wrote was, “Gone with the Wind.”

However, this is all noise to mask the true legacy of the protagonist of last four years.  On this day which will become the de jure end of the Trump era (as opposed to January 6th which was the de facto end), I am more hopeful than I should be about the reunification of America.  The reason?  Because one political axiom, above all, is more valid than ever.  GOOD GOVERNANCE MAKE GOOD POLITICS.

The legacy Trump and all the mini-Trumps leave behind is not division and chaos, it is incompetence.  More importantly, incompetence when it matters the most.  The past four years are riddled with the inability to translate rhetoric into action.  However, no visual tableau could expose this incompetence more than the 200,000 American flags on the Washington mall.

Americans understand this is in stark contrast to what Joe Biden brings to the Oval Office.  Donald Trump will be the first chief executive since the Gallup organization began tracking the president’s approval rating never to have reached 50 percent.  On Monday, Gallup reported Biden held a pre-inauguration approval of 68 percent.  That is 16 points higher than his percentage of the votes just two months earlier.  Why?  Even respondents who did not vote him for him said they were impressed with how he was handling the transition.

GOOD GOVERNANCE MAKES GOOD POLITICS.  Nothing Biden says from the West portico of the U.S. Capitol will make a difference over the next four years.  If the team he has assembled can usher in a new era of competence and professionalism, verbal attacks against “the establishment” and “academic elites” will cease.  Congressional debates will be about policy, strategy and tactics, not constitutional principles.  The primary mission of the press will return to informing, not fact-checking.  And the darker elements of the American psyche will be exposed, not as patriots, but non-believers in Madisonian democracy.

As Donald Trump journeys back to Mar-a-Lago, he will likely still be focused on how he could possibly lose to someone like Joe Biden.  The answer is simply.  When you are an outsider, it is easy to challenge those in power.  But as an incumbent, the metrics change.  Good governance, not slogans and rallies, make good politics.

As I am writing this post, I am watching the sun rise over the White House.  It is figuratively and literally a new day.  And I am optimistic.  As Ziggy said, “We call today “the present” because it is a gift.”  And though, under the circumstances, there will be no party, there is much to celebrate.

For what it’s worth.