Pardon Me?

Shame on you if you are surprised.

I refer to the new Washington Post report which has President Dumpster Fire asking his henchmen to investigate and advise him on his power to pardon anyone who may face indictment as a result of the blossoming Russia scandal.  He is also reported to be asking them to find out if it’s possible for him to pardon himself.

Are you amazed?  Are you stunned?

If so, shame on you.  Two reasons.

In the first place, a raft of pardons would be the most entirely predictable thing ever for the ethics-resistant 45th president.  Remember that time he shoved the prime minister of Montenegro out of his way so that he could stand preening in front of a group of world leaders?  Remember that time a reporter learned that he had decorated his golf resorts with fake issues of Time magazine showing his mug on the cover?  Remember how people said, “This is the most Trump thing ever”?

Wrong.  Covering his backside?  Acting out of naked self-interest? Being the ultimate weasel?  That’s the most Trump thing ever.

Which brings us to the second reason you ought not feel the least bit surprised at any of this.  Namely, it would suggest that you still have expectations of this guy, that you still think there’s a bottom somewhere and eventually, he will hit it.  In that, you would be like those pundits who exult that he’s “turned the corner” or “become presidential” every time he manages to read an intelligible sentence or two off a teleprompter.

In my neighborhood, we used to have a saying: “If you catch a sucker, bump his head.”  It meant that if someone is a naive fool, he deserves to be conned.

Trump has been bumping heads for far too long.  Meaning not just the Kool-Aid drinkers who would happily die in the bunker with him if it came down to that, but also those otherwise sensible observers who simply cannot credit the evidence of their senses, cannot make themselves believe he is this much of any empty suit.  They are the ones who insist there must be some “there” there, the ones who still hold out hope he might somehow rise to at least some rough approximation of the dignity and selflessness the presidency demands.

Give it up, folks.  He does not have that gear.  More to the point, he has no interest in reaching it.  It was always a fallacy to believe a man who was a narcissistic boor when he was only a private citizen would somehow become the soul of probity when he attained the powers of the presidency.

So let no one be surprised that he has begun talking about issuing pardons.  Nor let them be surprised when he does.  Or, for that matter, when he fires the special prosecutor who might make pardons necessary.

After all, there is no bottom here.

Make America Good Again

Have you heard what Roy Moore said?  If not, I’m about to ruin your day.  But fair warning: do not attempt to drink any beverage while reading the next sentence.

You see, Moore, credibly accused child molester and Republican senatorial candidate from Alabama, said that the last time America was great was during slavery.  He said families stuck together back then.

You tried to drink coffee and read that sentence anyway, didn’t you?  Well, while you clean up the mess, I will provide the details, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times:

In response to a question from one of the only African Americans in the audience — who asked when Moore thought America was last “great” — Moore acknowledged the nation’s history of racial divisions, but said: “I think it was great at the time when families were united — even though we had slavery — they cared for one another…. Our families were strong, our country had a direction.

This head-snapping observation came in September during a campaign rally.  It says something about the incredible political moment we are living through – the bizarre is now commonplace – that nobody noticed.  That changed a few days ago when the quote resurfaced on social media.

And here, I will state the obvious.  Among the many deeply ignorant and offensive things about that statement, perhaps the most ignorant and offensive is that bit about how “families were united” prior to 1865.  In a word, no.

In nine words: This man must be out of his damn mind.

During that period Moore regards with such longing, African-American families were not “united.”  To the contrary, they were torn apart, sold apart, babies literally snatched from their mother’s arms, by men and women who looked and sounded just like Moore.

There are no words powerful enough to plumb the affront of him describing that as an era of American greatness, so I won’t even try.

It should have been obvious to every sentient human person that “Make America Great Again” had not a damn thing to do with you unless you were white, male, Christian and straight.  The more of those four boxes you are able to check off, the more possible it is for your look back to the 19th century – or, as Donald Trump once did, to the 1940s – as a period when things were right and America was great.

Why not?  Those were periods during which every lever of American power and authority was manned – a word I use advisedly – by someone who looked like you, loved like you, believed like you.

Conversely, the fewer of those boxes you are able to check off, the more apt you are to say that no era of American life has ever been “great” for you, though for awhile there – a black man in the White House, a woman set to succeed him, the Supreme Court coming down on the side of same-sex marriage – you were able to glimpse a little hope.

But all of us, I think, failed to truly appreciate the intransigence of those folks who have learned to think of access to those levers of power as their birthright.  We did not understand the lengths to which they would go – not to avoid losing power (that was never in the cards), but simply to avoid sharing it.

I have said since the first tea party rally that what we were seeing was not a tax protest, not an uprising based in “economic insecurity” but, simply and obviously, a movement based in straight, white, Christian, male resentment.  People have been telling me I was wrong for just about that long.  But it has become more obvious  every day just how right I was.

Indeed, from the unprecedented name-calling and the coordinated obstruction that attended Barack Obama’s presidency to the hyperventilating over the so-called “War on Christmas” to the misogynistic complaining over Hillary Clinton’s voice to the deadly Charlottesville march, it is, by now, as glaringly obvious as neon in the dark.

Now, here comes Moore, pining for the days of slavery.

Those of who don’t check off any of the aforementioned boxes – and those who do, but are also possessed of functioning consciences – can only regard this moment with awe and a renewed determination to make this country right.  We will have our work cut out for us.

Thanks to the party of “family values,” an accused child molester who praises slavery days is poised to join the U.S. Senate, where he will support a confessed sexual assaulter who tweets Islamophobic  videos, and vote for legislation that rapes the poor in order that the rich might have tax deductions for private planes.

Make America Great Again, they say.

Some of us have never been part of the greatness to which they aspire to return.  Some of us saw that greatness built on the oppression of our forebears.

But if we don’t remember when America was great, we do remember when it offered us glimpses of hope.  We do remember when it was good.

Right now, I’d be happy to settle for that.

Mike Ditka, This One is For You

So it seems Mike Ditka is all upset over the recent string of protests by NFL players who have been taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem to protest police brutality and other forms of racial oppression. A few days ago, Ditka, a former star and coach of The Chicago Bears, said in a radio interview that African Americans have not been mistreated in this country since the days of parasols and Model T’s. “There has been no oppression in the last 100 years that I know of,” he said.

This proves one thing: Mike Ditka is an idiot.

Yes, I know that he attempted to “clarify” the comment a days later. He said was only speaking in the context of professional football. If you buy that, I’ve got a used Detroit Lions Super Bowl ring to sell you.

No, it seems pretty plain: Mike Ditka is an idiot.

Worse, he is a particular kind of idiot, the kind – increasingly prevalent – who seeks to diminish or deny what African Americans have endured in the “land of the free” from the moment the first slave ship arrived in 1619.

So the following list is compiled as a public service, both to help Ditka stop being an idiot and to educate those who, like him, think all the bad stuff magically disappeared when the slaves were “freed.” Here are one hundred instances, examples and illustrations of oppression black people have faced over the last century, one for each year. The list is completely random and certainly not exhaustive.

If you know Ditka, please make sure he sees it – he’ll be particularly interested in the entry for 2017.

Enjoy. Or, something…

1917 – Thirty-seven African Americans are lynched

1918 – Sixty African Americans are lynched, including pregnant Mary Turner, whose baby is slashed from her abdomen and stomped to death by the white mob

1919 – “Red Summer” sees 26 anti-black race riots all over the country

1920 – Fifty-three African Americans are lynched

1921 – At least 50 – and perhaps as many as 300 –  African Americans are killed in an anti-black race riot in Tulsa

1922 – The U.S. Senate kills an anti-lynching bill

1923 – Martial law is declared in Oklahoma because of a Ku Klux Klan insurrection

1924 – Sixteen African Americans are lynched

1925 – A black doctor in Detroit is arrested for defending himself against a white mob that attacked his home

1926 – Twenty-three African Americans are lynched

1927– Sixteen African Americans are lynched

1928 – Ten African Americans are lynched

1929 – Seven African Americans are lynched

1930 – Twenty African Americans are lynched

1931 – The “Scottsboro Boys” are put on trial on false charges of raping two white women on a train

1932 – Six African Americans are lynched

1933 – Twenty-four African Americans are lynched

1934 – Fifteen African Americans are lynched

1935 – Eighteen African Americans are lynched

1936 – Eight African Americans are lynched

1937 – the Senate kills an anti-lynching bill

1938 – the Senate kills an anti-lynching bill

1939 – the DAR bars Marian Anderson from singing at Constitution Hall because she is African American

1940 – The White House reaffirms the policy of military segregation

1941 – In the midst of a national military emergency, the Red Cross refuses to accept blood from African-American donors

1942 – Whites in a housing development in Detroit riot over the prospect of African-American neighbors

1943 – Whites in a Mobile, Ala. shipyard riot over the promotion of 12 African-American workers

1944 – In a letter to Yank, a military magazine, African-American soldier Rupert Trimmingham complains of being forced to eat in the kitchen of a Louisiana restaurant while Nazi prisoners, “sworn enemies of this country” are served in the dining room

1945 – white students walk out of schools in Gary and Chicago to protest integration

1946 – A white mob in Moore’s Ford, Ga. lynches four African Americans, one of them a World War II hero

1947 – African American activists in Walton, Ga. ask that federal troops be sent to quell a “reign of unbridled mob violence, terrorism and arson”

1948 – incensed at the introduction of a civil rights plank into the party’s platform, a group of Southern Democrats split from the Democratic Party

1949 – an appearance by African-American singer Paul Robeson is disrupted by white rioters angry over his political stands

1950 – Two white police officers are indicted for beating an African-American prisoner to death

1951 – Over three thousand whites riot in Cicero, Ill. to stop a black family from moving in

1952 – The state of Kansas defends school segregation, arguing that there is no proof the “mental development of any of the [African-American students]…has been retarded” by the practice

1953 – a “virtually continuous riot” that will last over three years begins when black families move into a Chicago housing project

1954 – the first White Citizens’ Council is organized

1955 – Emmett Till is kidnapped and lynched in Money, Miss.

1956 – Singer Nat King Cole is attacked by whites while performing onstage in Birmingham

1957 – the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army is called in to escort nine black children to school in Little Rock

1958 – An African-American doctor leaves Fort Valley, Ga., rather than serve an eight month sentence for “using obscene language in the presence of a white woman”

1959 – Prince Edward County, Va. closes all public schools rather than comply with an order to integrate them

1960 – Over a thousand African-Americans are arrested in sit-in demonstrations

1961 – “Freedom Riders” are beaten and brutalized – and have a bus burned – during an interracial bus ride through the South

1962 – Over a thousand protesters are arrested for demanding equal justice in Albany, Ga.

1963 – Four little black girls are murdered in church by white terrorists with a bomb

1964 – Three voting rights activists are murdered by white segregationists in Mississippi

1965 – Nobel laureate William Shockley argues for the genetic inferiority of African-American people and advocates a program of paid, voluntary sterilization

1966 – Martin Luther King is stoned in Chicago while fighting for housing rights

1967 – A group of African-American men and two white women are held captive and brutalized by Detroit police – three of the men are killed – during a racial rebellion

1968 – Martin Luther King is assassinated by a white supremacist

1969 – Two leaders of the Black Panthers are murdered in their beds by Chicago police

1970 – Mississippi bans the new children’s show Sesame Street because it “uses a highly integrated cast of children” and “we’re not ready for it yet”

1971 – a young African-American woman is randomly killed by three whites in Drew, Miss.

1972 – the federal government admits that African Americans have been used for 40 years as unwitting guinea pigs in a syphilis experiment

1973 – Donald Trump is sued for housing discrimination

1974 – The city of Boston explodes in unrest over the issue of school busing to achieve integration

1975 – The National Guard is called in to Boston to restore order because of white unrest over school busing to achieve integration

1976 – Newly-released FBI documents reveal a massive FBI counter-intelligence and sabotage program against African-American civil rights organizations

1977 – Four people are shot and killed – three of them African-American, one a dark-skinned Indian man – in a rampage by a white supremacist in New Rochelle

1978 – Results of a preliminary study indicate that the death penalty is used primarily to punish those who kill white people

1979 – Five people are killed when Klansmen attack an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, NC

1980 – Eighteen people are killed in a riot that explodes after five white Miami police officers are acquitted of beating to death an African-American man who fled from them on a motorcycle

1981 – An Army private is indicted on murder charges in the racially-motivated killings of three African Americans in Buffalo, NY

1982 – A race riot in Miami after a police officer shoots a young African-American man in the head at a video arcade, claiming he was reaching for a gun

1983 – The U.S. Supreme Court refuses to intervene after an African-American robbery suspect sues, claiming he was denied his right to a fair trial because a Brooklyn prosecutor systematically removed African Americans from the jury

1984 – An African-American family is forced out of their new home in a white Chicago neighborhood after two weeks of racial harassment and anonymous violence

1985 – Five children and six adults are killed in the police bombing of an African-American militant group in Philadelphia

1986 – A black man is savagely beaten, another chased into traffic and killed, by a white mob in Howard Beach, NY

1987 – a parade celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday is attacked by whites in Forsyth County, Ga.

1988 – Candidate George H.W. Bush uses an appeal to racial fears – the “Willie Horton ad” – to win the presidency

1989 – five young African-American and Hispanic men are falsely accused and imprisoned for the rape of a white jogger in Central Park

1990 – In Louisiana, David Duke, a white supremacist and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, gets 43 percent of the vote, running as a Republican for a seat in the U.S. Senate

1991 – A 15-year old African-American girl, Latasha Harlins, is shot in the head and killed by a store owner who believes, mistakenly, the child has shoplifted a bottle of orange juice. The store owner is sentenced to probation

1992 – Rioting ensues when a jury in a white suburb acquits the Los Angeles police officers who beat an unarmed African-American motorist, Rodney King, nearly to death the year before

1993 – Denny’s restaurant chain is sued for mistreating African-American customers, including requiring them to pay before receiving their meals, refusing to serve them, and calling them derogatory names

1994 – President Bill Clinton signs a crime bill that will fuel the mass incarceration of African-American men, effectively decimating their families and communities for a generation

1995 – Mark Fuhrman, a Los Angeles police officer and a witness in the racially-charged murder trial of O.J. Simpson, lies on the witness stand when he testifies that he has never used the racial slur, “nigger.” Tape recordings will capture him using the term over 40 times and bragging about illegal and unethical conduct

1996 – Thirty-one black churches are targeted in a wave of arson attacks, most of it centered in the states of the former Confederacy

1997 – Abner Louima, a black man from Haiti, is beaten, tortured and forcibly sodomized with a broomstick by New York City police officers

1998 – an African-American man named James Byrd is chained to the back of a truck by three white supremacists and dragged to his death

1999 – Amadou Diallo is shot and killed by New York police while reaching for his wallet

2000 – New York City police shoot and kill Patrick Dorismond, an unarmed African-American man who had been waiting for a taxi

2001 – The attorney general of Missouri releases a report that black motorists are 30 percent more likely to be pulled over by police and 70 percent more likely to be searched

2002 – Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott ignites a firestorm when he says of Sen. Strom Thurmond, a notorious segregationist who ran for president on a racist platform in 1948, that if the rest of the country had joined Mississippi in voting for him,  “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”

2003 – Prominent African-American athletes, entertainers and businessmen receive letters threatening them with being set on fire and castrated if they don’t stop dating white women

2004 – A white judge is suspended for wearing, as his Halloween costume, an orange prison jumpsuit, an Afro wig and blackface

2005 – The Bush Administration is heavily criticized for a laggard response to Hurricane Katrina., which leaves many poor people in New Orleans – most of them African-American – without shelter, water or food in the midst of one of the greatest natural disasters in history

2006 – An unarmed African-American man named Sean Bell is killed in a hail of police bullets fired into his vehicle; three police officers will be acquitted of manslaughter and other charges

2007 – Six African-American teenagers in Jena, La, are charged with attempted murder after a schoolyard fight with a white boy who feels well enough after the assault to attend a party that same night

2008 – A white supremacist is indicted over threats to, among others, a newspaper columnist, a college professor, a politician and housing rights activists

2009 – The inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president leads to an extraordinary period of racial insults by political officials and media figures. Over the course of his administration, Obama is heckled while speaking to a joint session of Congress, is called “uppity,” “boy” and “subhuman mongrel,” and has his American birth repeatedly questioned and denied.

2010 – A new report from the Drug Policy Alliance indicates that African Americans are arrested at up to four times the rate of whites for marijuana possession, though they use the drug at lower rates than whites

2011 – A New York City police officer is arrested for falsely arresting an African-American man under the city’s “stop and frisk” policy, which has seen 600,000 people detained by police, 85 percent of them black or Hispanic. This, even though only two percent of the stops turn up contraband and, indeed, contraband is more likely to be found on whites who are detained.

2012 – in Sanford, Fla., an unarmed African-American boy named Trayvon Martin is killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, who will later be acquitted

2013 – A Missouri man and woman plead guilty to plastering a swastika in the driveway of a black family’s home and setting the home on fire

2014 – an African-American man named Eric Garner is killed in Staten Island by a police chokehold; authorities decline to bring charges

2015 – nine African Americans are slaughtered by a white supremacist while at a prayer meeting in their church in Charleston, SC

2016 – an unarmed motorist named Philando Castile is killed in Falcon Heights, Minn., by a police officer who will later be acquitted

2017 – Mike Ditka says African Americans have faced no oppression for a hundred years






Working my Last Good Nerve

I swear, these people sometimes…

Or as Marvin Gaye once put it, “Make wanna holler.  Throw up both my hands.”

So anyway,  I wrote this column a few days back on Colin Kaepernick’s protest.  In it, I made the entirely incontrovertible point that America has stolen from African-American people.  In response, I received the email below from a reader, whose surname and other identifying information I’ve redacted.  My response follows.

Dear Mr. Pitts,
Regular readers of your column are, by now, used to a diatribe of anti-white racism in place of reasoned debate, but you may have hit bottom with your column last week entitled, “America, a Land of Liberty and Justice for Some”. You defend NFL players for demonstrating against the flag, and their own country, which comes as no surprise. You excoriate the Cleveland Police Department for taking exception to the demonstrations, which also comes as no surprise. What does come as a surprise, if not a logical fallacy, is your line, which reads, “”But America steals from us, then tells us we’re thieves.”

What sir, has America stolen from you? You are given a well-paid sinecure at a major metropolitan newspaper, thus, you have a privileged position from which to bash the country that has given you so much. Can you back up your assertion that America has “stolen” from you? From here it seems that this country has been very good to you, but your anti-white racism combined with an unbalanced rage has blinded you to that fact.

Best regards,
St. Louis, Mo.

Dear Mr: 

The very fact that you need to ask the question argues strongly that you’ll never understand the answer. But here it is anyway.

First of all, I said that America has stolen from “us.” 

As to what it has stolen:

It stole our bodies.

It stole our labor.

It stole our names and family histories.

It stole our children.

It stole our land.

It stole our ballots.

It stole our money.

It stole our peace of mind.

It stole our health.

It stole our lives.

To a greater or lesser degree, much of that theft is still ongoing.

That said, I have a question for you. You seem so overwrought about this chimera you call “anti-white racism.” I’m just curious: what, if anything, did that ever steal from you?

Yours Truly,


Leonard Pitts, Jr.


Thank you, Rush Limbaugh

I have this theory about facts.

Yes, we live in a truth-challenged era.  Yes, we live in alternate realities built upon red and blue facts that are often – especially in the former case – not factual at all, but only politically useful lies designed to fool the foolish and gull the gullible.

Like the birther idiocy.  Like “Pizzagate.”  Like widespread voter fraud.  Like virtually everything that comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth, including “Good morning.”

But it has always seemed to me that, while we may lie to our heart’s content about what reality is, the facts have this way of eventually asserting themselves, regardless.  Argue, for instance, that you are a so-called sovereign citizen who has found a loophole in the Constitution freeing you of the obligation to pay taxes, and agents of the federal government will eventually show up at your door to help you see how mistaken you are.  They may even award you some shiny bracelets designed to alleviate your confusion.

And as satisfying as it is when the government disabuses cretins of dubious “facts,” it is a hundred times more so when nature does it.  So ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hurricane Irma.  …And radio talk show host Rush Hudson Limbaugh III who, just days ago, was heard opining how coverage of that monster storm was part of a giant left-wing conspiracy.

This “thinking” – if that word may be applied here – is not new to Limbaugh.  “It is in the interest of the left to have destructive hurricanes,” he said last year, “because then they can blame it on climate change…”

With Irma knocking on the door, he expanded on these thoughts.  “These storms, once they actually hit, are never as strong as they’re reported,” he claimed, adding that weather map graphics are designed to exaggerate the threat.  According to Limbaugh, this is done as an act of collusion between news media and retailers.

” And the two coexist. So the media benefits with the panic with increased eyeballs, and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they’re getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers.”

Here’s the kicker: shortly after thus informing his audience that Hurricane Irma was a left-wing media hoax, Limbaugh informed them that he was evacuating South Florida.  He gave no explanation of why he felt it necessary to run from a left-wing media hoax and we were left only with that satisfaction that comes of seeing facts crash into someone’s alternate reality like a tractor through a henhouse.

Mind you, that satisfaction is not nothing and I’m grateful to Limbaugh for it.  But you know what would’ve been even better?  If he’d had had the courage of his convictions and remained in South Florida to, as one observer put it, broadcast his show from a lawn chair outside his studio.

That would have been fun.  I’d have popped popcorn for that.

Instead, he folded his tent and ran.  From a liberal hoax.  It turns out that even Limbaugh doesn’t believe Limbaugh.

And that’s a fact.

Enough Coddling

Here’s a question nobody is asking about the current debate over the propriety of taking down Confederate statues:

Haven’t we coddled the South enough?

It is bad enough we are asked to venerate, on public land, no less, people who took up arms against this country – who killed Americans – in defense of the right to hold slaves.  But what people don’t often discuss is that this is all part of a very long history of the rest of us being asked to defer to white Southern and/or socially conservative sensibilities on matters of race.

This dates back to the writing of the Declaration of Independence, when Thomas Jefferson, himself a slave owner, was required to strike out a passage condemning slavery because the Southern colonies objected.

And thus, a pattern was set.  You saw in 1876 when Rutherford B. Hayes was awarded the presidency in a disputed election on the condition that he withdraw from the South federal troops that had been defending African-American rights, property and lives.

You saw it in 1943 when white Southerners rioted rather than obey an Executive Order desegregating the defense industry and the federal government quietly declined to enforce its own rule.

When the Supreme Court struck down segregation in interstate travel in 1946, the South ignored the ruling and federal government again looked the other way.

Perhaps most tragically: with dozens of black people being lynched every year, the Senate declined to pass anti-lynching legislation for fear of offending Dixie.

One is hard pressed to find examples of government worrying overmuch about offending African-Americans.

It is not incidental that the two times in history the South did something it did not want to do where race was concerned – the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement – force was required.  And even then, the region howled and resisted long after the matter had been putatively settled.

So one looks with a jaundiced eye at the resistance that has risen as municipalities across the country ponder taking down statutes that were only erected in the first place as monuments to white supremacy.  The people clinging to those statues – and to the soiled battle flag that too often accompanies it – are not just bigots and supporters thereof.  They are also whiners, forever trying to blackmail the rest of this country into embracing a vision and version of itself that should have been retired many decades ago.

Since 1776, it seems like every time adherents to the Lost Cause have cried, America has given in.  It would be nice if we said no for a change.

What’s Next: Bill Gates Doing Ads For iMac?

Maybe this is just me.

I mean, I went to school hiding under my desk on the last Friday of every month as air raid sirens howled and we practiced what we would do if the Russians attacked.

I read comic books where Iron Man, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four were always on their guard because of the threat posed to America by the evil “Commies.”

And I grew up at a time when every liberal politician jockeyed to prove that he (always “he”) was tougher than the next guy where the Soviet Union was concerned.  Conservatives demanded an unyielding and aggressive stance toward our great geopolitical foe and liberals were seen as too potentially soft to get the job done.

In that era, to suggest mere outreach toward the Russians was to be called a traitor, a “Commie dupe”, a “weak sister.”  It was to commit political suicide.

So while I’m sure a lot of us are taken aback by it, a sense of stark and utter bamfoozlement overtakes me and people of my age at hearing conservatives now rationalizing the Trump Administration’s ongoing liplock with the Russians.  For us it’s as if we woke up in a world where cats are mating with dogs and Coke is singing the praises of Pepsi.

The easy argument is that times have changed.  Maybe so, but the former Soviet Union remains our great geopolitical foe, as witness its recent attempt to hijack an American election.  What has changed, it seems, is our response thereto.

Conservatisim, as practiced by the Republican Party and Donald Trump, has embraced a conditional morality in which nothing is ever truly wrong – or right.  No, the only markers that seem to matter are whether a given alliance, arrangement or agreement helps them gain or hold power.

As a result of that moral sliminess, we find ourselves in an era that, to those of us of a certain age, cannot help but feel surreal.

Trump’s son meets with a Russian lawyer in hopes of being given information damaging to Hillary Clinton?

Trump spills top secret information to Russian visitors during a meeting in the Oval Office?

Trump trusts the word of the Russian president more than he does his own intelligence agencies? 

And all of this now “conservative?”

One wonders what ever happened to the conservatives of not so long ago who would have spat fire and raised unholy hell at a fraction as much pro-Russian misbehavior on the part of a U.S. administration.  

Has situational morality won the day?  Has our capacity for outrage been worn to a useless nub?  Or isnt this new order of things not every bit as bizarre and untenable as it seems to those of us of a certain age?

I mean, is it just me?


The United States of Apartheid

I am not going to burn a regular column on this, thought I am more tempted than I can tell you.  Still, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least note the incident in passing.

You’ve heard about it, right?  How Devonte Shipman, a 25-year-old African-American man was stopped the other day in Jacksonville, FL for jaywalking and then cited for not carrying an ID.  If you haven’t heard, then by all means, enlighten yourself with this story and video courtesy of The Miami Herald.

As you will hear, Shipman seemed less angry than just frustrated and even mildly amused by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer J.S. Bolen, an officious martinet straight out of the Barney Fife Academy.  Obviously – and sadly – this wasn’t the young man’s first encounter with racially biased policing.  The closest he comes to anger is some amazed cursing at the end of the video as he realizes that Jacksonville – which apparently has no crime – has dispatched two more patrol cars to back up Bolen in this dastardly case of walking against the light.

And then, there’s the matter of the ID Shipman wasn’t carrying.

“In the state of Florida,” warns Bolen, “you have to have an ID card on you identifying who you are or I can detain you for seven hours until I figure out who you are.”

Actually, the law says you have to have ID to operate a motor vehicle.  And as my colleague David J. Neal notes with admirable restraint, Shipman was only “operating his feet.”

Problem is, he was operating said feet while being young, male and black.  Worse, he did so in a nation that is fast and proudly backsliding from the progress it made during the Civil Rights years toward finally redeeming its founding promise of liberty and justice for all.  Those things seem – putting it mildly – less of a priority in this era than at any point in my adult life.

Because of that, you get incidents like this one, a black man cited because he was found to be without papers.  As Neal notes, it smacks of Miami Beach in 1962.  Frankly, it also smacks of Johannesburg in 1962.  More to the point, it smacks of the use of the police as a force not to deter or investigate crime, but to clamp down upon and control an inconvenient population.

There is an unfortunate historical resonance in that fact.  I’d like to think we were beyond that sort of thing.  I’d also like to think the Lakers are going to win the NBA championship next year, but that’s also not very likely.

As far as I know, the city of Jacksonville has yet to speak out on this.  At minimum, it owes Shipman an apology and should seriously consider firing – or at least, retraining – Officer Fife.

The kind of behavior he showed is unprofessional, racist, infuriating and unacceptable.  But even worse, it is common.

What Happens When “Terrorism” is Us?

My last column raised a simple question: Is leftwing terrorism making a comeback?

It seemed to me an obvious thing to ask.  In the last year, we have seen three random attacks on police officers in apparent solidarity with (though not collusion or connection with) Black Lives Matter.  Top that off with last week’s mass shooting in a DC-area park by a gunman who hated Republicans, and the question seems obvious.

I knew it was a provocative point and I was fully prepared for a storm of responses.  Nor was I disappointed.  I heard from many Republicans who, amusingly, feel themselves victims of “hate speech.”  Then, there was the individual whose email said, in its entirety, “Terrorism has always been perpetrated by the left with no exceptions.”

Yeah.  Because it was tree huggers in the Ku Klux Klan who bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963, right?  And the guy who bombed the Atlanta Olympics, wasn’t he angry about global warming?

More interesting than those, though, were the tweets and emails from liberals affronted by the idea that the left can commit terrorism.  Some were willing to go to truly prodigious lengths to rationalize.

Indeed, one person dismissed the idea that there was something morally wrong in shooting Rep. Steve Scalise, who is, in the writer’s estimation, a bigot and homophobe.  Putting aside that I wouldn’t want to live in a nation where bigotry and homophobia were capital crimes, two police officers were also wounded in the shooting.  Were they bigots and homophobes, too?

Another individual wrote that the shooting did not constitute terrorism, but, rather, “spasmodic violence on the part of oppressed people whose mental state cracked and failed them.”

I couldn’t help thinking how forgiving that is, how terribly understanding.  I wonder if that compassion will extend to the next Muslim who shoots up a street full of tourists.

Terrorism is defined as violence (usually indiscriminate) aimed at terrorizing a population in the name of some social or political point.  It’s a pretty simple definition, but I find myself struck, not for the first time, by how ready some of us are to believe that it can’t be terrorism if the terrorists look – or think – like we do.

That’s why news media are routinely slow to identify white terrorists as terrorists.  It’s why some liberals who don’t think twice about labeling Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph a terrorist contend that last week’s shooter was just a guy with a  good heart who “cracked” under pressure.

But that’s bull.

But in my humble opinion, if you are not willing to hold your own to the same standard you demand of others, you forfeit any right to the moral high ground.  These are angry and politically perilous times, yes.  We find ourselves saying, doing and feeling things we never thought we would, yes.

But in the midst of that maelstrom, it is as important as it ever was – in fact, more important than it ever was – to hold on to that high ground, to hold on to right.  Because otherwise, what’s the point?  If you become what you abhor in order to defeat what you abhor, what have you really won?

We all draw the line in different places, mind you.  But I’d like to think we can all agree on this much:

When you find yourself making excuses for a mass shooter, you’ve probably gone too far.

It Can’t Happen Here?

Did you hear?

Today came news that the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia have filed suit against Failed President Trump.  They’ve charged him with violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution – that’s the one that prohibits a president from receiving payments from a foreign government.

The Great Trumpkin, of course, has, indeed, violated that clause with gusto, refusing to let go of his luxury hotels, which are frequently patronized by foreign officials.

News of the lawsuit brings to mind something that fascinated and troubled me last year, as I listened to an audiobook of Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here.  As you may know if you stayed awake in English class, Lewis’ book, published in 1935 as Hitler was building his war machine, imagined a dystopian future in which fascism came to America.  The intriguing thing about Lewis’ story was that when authoritarianism comes to this country, it comes, not by force of arms but, in a very real sense, by force of apathy.

In other words, as the established norms and laws, the things that theoretically make America America, are trampled upon by the incoming dictator, a populist presidential candidate named Berzelius Windrip, there is a sense of America shrugging in response.  For all the newspaper editorials fulminating against this outrage, there is a sense of ordinary people  looking the other way, sheepishly surrendering their rights, freedoms, and national identity in exchange for the candidate’s magical promises.

It’s a narrative that suggests how fragile our institutions really are.  It’s a reminder that they exist only because we all agree they exist, have force only because we agree they do.  And that they are threatened the moment we don’t.

Lewis’ fear was that that unspoken agreement, the social covenant by which we live, would prove unequal to the task of restraining a brazen and charismatic strongman.  Which is precisely the situation we now face.

The good news is that our institutions are, in this early going at least, proving more formidable than we might have thought.  The courts have decisively stopped the failed president from implementing his Muslim travel ban.  Though Trump fired its director, the FBI is still looking into whether his campaign improperly colluded with the Russians and seeking to ascertain whether the failed president himself sought to derail that investigation.  Congress, albeit with morally supine Republicans dragging their feet, is doing the same.  Now comes this news out of Maryland and DC.  

The best part? For all his brazenness, for all he has done to undermine these institutions, Trump not yet signaled a refusal to be bound by them.  It suggests that the things that theoretically make America America are actually rather resident.  In an alarming political season where truly good news has been hard to come by, that offers a reason for guarded hope.

Maybe it truly can’t happen here.  At least, not yet.