In Defense of the Electoral College

I began watching a very well-made documentary called Safeguard, advertised as a non-partisan look at the Electoral College. The film makes a unified case for the genius of the Electoral College as a safeguard of democracy in our republic. All the experts cited seem to agree that without this visionary safeguard, which ensures a presidential candidate has achieved broad national consensus, state by state — beyond just the number of popular votes he or she gets — say a vast popular majority in only our largest cities — you could have the masses voting in unprincipled, non-consensus minded populist demagogue presidents who could do great damage to democracy.

The summary description of the documentary touts a nonpartisan view of why the Electoral College remains a brilliant and indispensable device for moving our experiment in democracy forward. As you hear a very reasonable-sounding historical discussion, you begin to notice something about the speakers’ credentials, they are always from schools and other institutions you’ve never heard of. I guess that could be a kind of tip off that they’ve gone a bit off the mainstream grid for experts on democracy.

Then, you see this guy, misleadingly identified as a nonpartisan former high government official:

Hans von Spakovsky. Defender of democracy and enemy of divisive partisan demagogues everywhere. Architect of the one ballot drop box per county voter suppression scheme for the 2020 election. The filmmakers identify him as the former Commissioner of the Federal Election Committee (years before Trump left the FEC without a quorum to do investigations), although he is currently a Charles Koch/Heritage Foundation employee and secret national Republican strategist for the re-election of the unpopular unifier Donald J. Trump.

Trump, we recall, won the presidency in the Electoral College by 78,000 surgically placed votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania [1]. He won these states Electoral College electors, legally and indisputably making him president, by less than one percent in each state, a total margin of 1.6% of the vote in those three states, combined.

Mr. Trump is, of course, the very man the Framers envisioned when they imagined future presidents of the United States of America. Who but von Spakovsky better to speak about the genius of the safeguard of democracy that is our Electoral College?

As the filmmakers tease in their trailer, without the Electoral College there would have been no Emancipation Proclamation — Lincoln became president because of the Electoral College! (Did he really? [2])

[1]

According to the final tallies, Trump won Pennsylvania by 0.7 percentage points (44,292 votes), Wisconsin by 0.7 points (22,748 votes), Michigan by 0.2 points (10,704 votes). If Clinton had won all three states, she would have won the Electoral College 278 to 260.     source

[2] the fruits of forty seconds of dogged research:

Despite minimal support in the South (Lincoln’s name was not on the ballot in 10 Southern states), he won a plurality of the popular vote (40%) and a majority of the electoral vote.
1860 United States presidential election – Wikipedia

Four candidates vied for the office of president of the United States during the 1860 election. When the voting concluded on November 6, 1860, Abraham Lincoln had received more popular votes in the United States than any of the other candidates and had won a majority of the electoral votes.
1860 Presidential Election – Education from LVA

The Need to Write

People have different things they need to do most days to make themselves feel whole and intact. For many, it’s going to work, assuming your duties, being productive, doing a good job and taking home a pay check. Some good people feel best when doing something concrete to help others in need. Some love to cook for others, for example. Sekhnet loves bringing forth life-sustaining organic food from the earth, she spends hours a day working contentedly among her plants.

There are also more interior pursuits that make us feel most alive. Some people do strenuous exercise, or meditate, or pray, or chant, or read poetry aloud to themselves every day. For some it is engaging a talent or passion as fully as possible. For a musician, a great session is a life-giving tonic, nothing feels better than sounding as good as they can. For mugs who sit at computers reading and writing for long stretches, writing something coherent about the world, ideally with an original thought or two, feels very productive.

Is this writing any more illusory a daily life-sustaining routine than praying or meditating? I have no idea, though writing every day does it for me. Much of what we do lacks objective value, beyond how it makes us feel.

Reading is generally regarded as a good thing to do, though, if we are judging, we can make a distinction between reading transcripts of demented political hacks that bark to our lower natures and reading beautifully rendered prose that resonates psychologically and fills us with wonder. There is a place for each of these things, I bring them up them as an example of the solitary things we do, for personal reasons, that are not always easy to put onto a scale of value. Masturbation is another of these things, it occurs to me, self-love or self-abuse, as you wish.

I’ve had the need to write every day since I was about fourteen. I’d come to a point in my life where the confusion and anger I felt needed to be combed through somehow. I had to choose a mighty struggle to make the unbearable somehow coherent in language or an unthinkable alternative. There didn’t seem to be a better option, much of the time, than sitting quietly by myself trying to get my vexations into plain words. I found I could often talk myself calmer on the page. I always felt a bit better once I’d thrashed out a difficult situation in a way that made the clashing, senseless parts of it make more sense to me — and to a reader. There is comfort, I find, in coherence. Also, obviously, in connecting coherently with others.

My favorite writers enter into a conversation with me when I read them. The first time I heard Isaac Babel‘s writing read out loud, the cadence of his words fell on my ears with an uncanny familiarity. Babel’s writing (in the English translation by Walter Morrison, I stipulate) speaks to me in an intimately familiar voice (in addition to its unsurpassed condensed beauty). Many years later I realized he wrote some of his stories in the perfect regional accent of my grandparents, his characters spoke exactly like them. A lansman!

But, actually, it is not really the writer’s voice I’m talking about, but the conversation the writer initiates with the reader. I’m thinking now about a writer like Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, or Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money, The Dark Side and other treatments of institutionalized evil. They write clearly and directly to our understanding, individuals with important, complex stories to tell us.

When you read something that speaks to you, that reaches toward your understanding in a way that feels thoughtful… well, I don’t want speak for you, but I find this kind of writing a comfort, a direct connection to another soul. The best spoken conversations we have with people in real life feel this way — our intellect and feelings are held in high esteem and our person is treated as the unquestioned equal of whoever we are talking with.

We are living in an unprecedented shit-storm at the moment. Even without this raging, once every few hundred year plague, we would all be very much up against it.

The world, the inhabitable, non-poisoned, natural planet we’re all part of, is in imminent danger of permanent destruction. The irreversible loss of this is not really up for debate, though the “debate” about it rages on, funded by millions of dollars from the world’s greediest, those who stand to gain the most by sowing confusion while urging the world to ignore the onrushing destruction of our habitat.

The reflexive mass hatred among people, many of whom are poor, out of work, hungry, angry, frightened, was on a scale not seen in decades — before the pandemic hit. Authoritarians, the plain-talking “strong men” who arise during such times, are exploiting this fear and anger to rule the majority of the world’s population at the moment. Not just here — India, Brazil, Russia, China, Philippines, many other populous places.

Then, BOOM!, just when the stress of all this couldn’t be more crushing, the vengeful Old Testament God, right out of a bad Hollywood movie, reaches out a strong hand and smites mankind, all over the world, with a brand new deadly virus.

It’s all enough to make you run even to a job you hate, if you can, just to have eight hours of some kind of normalcy in your life. There are better and worse things to do for stress during scary times like this, and things that help others are better than things that hurt, for sure. We all have to do what we can for those near and dear to us, and out in the larger world, to whatever extent we can reach beyond those we know to help strangers. We are all we have.

In the spirit of virtual camaraderie (had no idea it was spelled that way), here’s a short bit, called New Normal, featuring Bill Burr and Kate McKinnon as a couple stressed out by this weird isolation. The sketch really hits the nail on the head about how socially, psychologically disorienting this hideous situation is. I felt a tiny bit better after watching it, another proof of how impossibly difficult this moment can feel and how an artful evocation of it can help us feel less alone in it. Hopefully it will have the same effect on you:

Retribution is Trump’s mantra for his enemies

Full disclosure: I believe Donald Trump is corrupt, a compulsively lying deadbeat with open contempt for the law, rules and norms, and the most dangerous president in American history. I won’t be voting for him. Mr. Trump’s supporters, I suspect, love the fact that their president only respects the law and order that helps him. They love that he protects his risk-taking friends and humiliates his enemies, when he gets the chance actually killing them. Here is a recent example of a hit squad doing the vindictive president’s business, plucked from a news story updating the narrative of what seems to be the execution of a suspect by federal officers.

An armed right-wing counter-protester in Portland was killed during an altercation by someone identified with Antifa. Soon afterwards, on September 3, 2020, the suspect was rolled up on by federal marshals, who jumped out of their cars and opened fire, killing him on the spot.

Attorney General William P. Barr trumpeted the operation as a “significant accomplishment” that removed a “violent agitator.” The officers had opened fire, he said, when Mr. Reinoehl “attempted to escape arrest” and “produced a firearm” during the encounter.

source

It turns out that the “violent agitator” had not attempted to escape, unless you consider his staggering several steps after being shot, seconds before the fatal fusillade killed him, an escape attempt. Turns out that he had not produced a firearm, an unfired gun was found in his pocket after he was killed.

It now appears, from evidence presented in today’s New York Times (too discreet to say the words that follow) that he was executed by a rapidly moving firing squad of federal marshals sent to get the job done.

The U.S. Marshals Service declined to comment for this article, citing the pending investigation. The agency previously said that it had attempted to “peacefully arrest” Mr. Reinoehl and that he had threatened the lives of law enforcement officers.

source

The peaceful arrest apparently could not be effected in the few seconds between when the marshals sped up in their cars and when the marshals leaped out and began shooting the suspect. Extrajudicial killing in America. What the hell? Who needs a trial when the guy is guilty, a man who clearly hates America?

That this particular dead guy identified himself as antifa, (even if he attended the protests to protect peaceful protesters from intimidation by armed counter-protesters), plays beautifully into the Barr-Trump narrative: the country is in extreme danger from dangerous, violent left-wing radical criminals claiming America is a systemically racist society and trying to destroy it.

As the president framed it, with characteristic simplicity:

“This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him,” the president told Fox News. “And I will tell you something, that’s the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this.”

source

Just to underscore how fair and impartial the administration of justice is in Donald J. Trump’s America, compare the summary execution of this antifa suspect with the Trump administration’s treatment of killer Kyle Rittenhouse. Rittenhouse is the teenager who shot two protesters to death with an illegally possessed long gun, after his mother drove him across state lines to take up arms against those protesting racial injustice.

Meanwhile, at the Department of Homeland Security, federal law-enforcement officials were instructed last month to express sympathy for Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Illinois resident who traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, with an (illegally possessed) AR-15 to defend law and order in that city — and ended up shooting two people dead. Specifically, in internal documents obtained by NBC News, DHS officials were advised to respond to any questions about Rittenhouse’s case by noting that Rittenhouse “took his rifle to the scene of the rioting to help defend small business owners” (curiously, the document simultaneously advises the officials to say that they could not comment on an ongoing investigation, before offering comments sympathetic to the subject of an ongoing investigation).

Officials were further counseled to describe Rittenhouse’s alleged actions as an object lesson in the importance of suppressing urban chaos. “This is also why we need to stop the violence in our cities,” the talking points read. “Chaotic and violent situations lead to chaotic, violent and tragic outcomes. Everyone needs law and order.”

To this point, DHS officials have largely ignored these messaging cues. But the department may provide Trump’s campaign with a more brutal form of aid later this month. As the Washington Post reported Tuesday:

The Trump administration is preparing an immigration enforcement blitz next month that would target arrests in U.S. cities and jurisdictions that have adopted “sanctuary” policies, according to three U.S. officials who described a plan with public messaging that echoes the president’s law-and-order campaign rhetoric.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation, known informally as the “sanctuary op,” could begin in California as soon as later this week. It would then expand to cities including Denver and Philadelphia, according to two of the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive government law enforcement plans … Two officials with knowledge of plans for the sanctuary op described it as more of a political messaging campaign than a major ICE operation, noting that the agency already concentrates on immigration violators with criminal records and routinely arrests them without much fanfare.

source

Fair is fair. To recap: money is speech, as the 5-4 Supreme Court recently declared. If you have more money, you deserve more freedom of speech, obviously. If you do something that looks bad but no specific law prevents the exact thing you’re doing, how is that wrong? If you have the votes not to be put on trial for misdeeds, who would not use them? If you can fire enemies and protect friends, why not? Losers who are angry about any of this — well, they get what they deserve if they ever become too angry. Fair is fair, unfair or not. That’s the way the rigged game is played, by winners!

Long delayed Dismissal of Trump’s infirm federal vote suppression case against the State of Pennsylvania and the boards of election of every one of its counties

Apparently not part of all the news that’s fit to print in today’s online New York Times, on Saturday federal judge (and Trump-appointee) J. Nicholas Ranjan [1] finally threw out Trump 2020 and the RNC’s attempt to prevent expansion of voting in crucial swing state during a pandemic.

Judge Ranjan went into great detail explaining why each claim by Trump and the RNC had to fall, as a matter of law, on the merits, for lack of evidence. I see the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office has already posted a PDF of the decision on its website. The judge began his 138 page decision (I’ve added paragraph breaks for easier reading):

After a careful review of the parties’ submissions and the extensive evidentiary record, the Court will enter judgment in favor of Defendants on all of Plaintiffs’ federal constitutional claims, decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-constitutional claims, and dismiss this case.

This is so for two main reasons.

First, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs lack Article III standing to pursue their claims. Standing, of course, is a necessary requirement to cross the threshold into federal court. Federal courts adjudicate cases and controversies, where a plaintiff’s injury is concrete and particularized.

Here, however, Plaintiffs have not presented a concrete injury to warrant federal-court review.

All of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims have the same theory of injury—one of “vote dilution.” Plaintiffs fear that absent implementation of the security measures that they seek (guards by drop boxes, signature comparison of mail-in ballots, and poll watchers), there is a risk of voter fraud by other voters. If another person engages in voter fraud, Plaintiffs assert that their own lawfully cast vote will, by comparison, count for less, or be diluted.

The problem with this theory of harm is that it is speculative, and thus Plaintiffs’ injury is not “concrete”—a critical element to have standing in federal court.

While Plaintiffs may not need to prove actual voter fraud, they must at least prove that such fraud is “certainly impending.” They haven’t met that burden. At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions:

(1) they assume potential fraudsters may attempt to commit election fraud through the use of drop boxes or forged ballots, or due to a potential shortage of poll watchers; (2) they assume the numerous election-security measures used by county election officials may not work; and (3) they assume their own security measures may have prevented that fraud.

All of these assumptions could end up being true, and these events could theoretically happen. But so could many things.

The relevant question here is: are they “certainly impending”? At least based on the evidence presented, the answer to that is “no.” And that is the legal standard that Plaintiffs must meet.

As the Supreme Court has held, this Court cannot “endorse standing theories that rest on speculation about the decisions of independent
actors.” See Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 568 U.S. 398, 414 (2013).

Second, even if Plaintiffs had standing, their claims fail on the merits.

Plaintiffs essentially ask this Court to second-guess the judgment of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and election officials, who are experts in creating and implementing an election plan. Perhaps Plaintiffs are right that guards should be placed near drop boxes, signature-analysis experts should examine every mail-in ballot, poll watchers should be able to man any poll regardless of location, and other security improvements should be made.

But the job of an unelected federal judge isn’t to suggest election improvements, especially when those improvements contradict the reasoned judgment of democratically elected officials. See Andino v. Middleton,— S. Ct. —, 2020 WL 5887393, at *1 (Oct. 5, 2020)
Case 2:20-cv-00966-NR Document 574 Filed 10/10/20 =- (Kavanaugh, J. concurring) (state legislatures should not be subject to “second-guessing by an unelected federal judiciary,” which is “not accountable to the people”) (cleaned up).

Put differently, “[f]ederal judges can have a lot of power—especially when issuing injunctions. And sometimes we may even have a good idea or two. But the Constitution sets out our sphere of decision-making, and that sphere does not extend to second-guessing and interfering with a State’s reasonable, nondiscriminatory election rules.” New Georgia Project v. Raffensperger, — F.3d —, 2020 WL 5877588, at *4 (11th Cir. Oct. 2, 2020).

As discussed below, the Court finds that the election regulations put in place by the General Assembly and implemented by Defendants do not significantly burden any right to vote. They are rational. They further important state interests. They align with the Commonwealth’s elaborate election-security measures. They do not run afoul of the United States Constitution. They will not otherwise be second-guessed by this Court.

source

I love that this young Federalist Society judge quotes Kavanaugh in supporting the principle (undercutting the Republican position in this case) that whatever the majority legislature decides to do regarding voting, unless it violates some specific constitutional or federal statutory provision, is legal.

fun fact from the decision:

Indeed, Secretary Boockvar stated that as many as 16% of voters nationwide had cast their ballots using drop boxes in the 2016 general election, including the majority of voters in Colorado (75%) and Washington (56.9%).

Judge Ranjan on Summary Judgment (dismissal for failure to provide sufficient evidence to support a claim)

The summary-judgment stage “is essentially ‘put up or shut up’ time for the non-moving party,” which “must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument.” (citation omitted)

If the nonmoving party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial,” summary judgment is warranted (another citation– zapped)

A bit analyzing the anecdotal and expert testimony evidence presented by Team Trump (from page 61):

Based on the evidence presented by Plaintiffs, accepted as true, Plaintiffs have only proven the“possibility of future injury” based on a series of speculative events—which falls short of the requirement to establish a concrete injury. For example, Plaintiffs’ expert, Mr. Riddlemoser, opines that the use of “unstaffed or unmanned” drop boxes merely “increases the possibility for voter fraud (and vote destruction)[.]” [ECF 504-19, p. 20 (emphasis added)].

That’s because, according to him (and Plaintiffs’ other witnesses), theoretical bad actors might intentionally “target” a drop box as the “easiest opportunity for voter fraud” or with the malicious “intent to destroy as many votes … as possible.” (declaring that drop boxes “may serve as a target for bad actors that may wish to tamper with lawfully case ballots before such ballots are counted”).

But there’s no way of knowing whether these independent actors will ever surface, and if they do, whether they will act as Mr. Riddlemoser and Plaintiffs predict.

As to the rest of the “put up or shut up” evidence:

In addition to Plaintiffs’ expert report, Plaintiffs’ evidence consists of instances of voter fraud in the past, including an article in the N.Y. Post purporting to detail the strategies of an anonymous fraudster, as well as pointing to certain prior cases of voter fraud and election
irregularities (e.g., Philadelphia inadvertently allowing 40 people to vote twice in the 2020 primary election; some counties counting ballots that did not have a completed declaration in the 2020 primary election).

Initially, with one exception noted directly below, none of this evidence is tied to individuals using drop boxes, submitting forged mail-in ballots, or being unable to poll watch in another county—
and thus it is unclear how this can serve as evidence of a concrete harm in the upcoming election as to the specific claims in this case.

Perhaps the best evidence Plaintiffs present are the several photographs and video stills, which are depicted above, and which are of individuals who appear to be delivering more than one ballot to a drop box during the primary election. It is undisputed that during the primary election, some county boards believed it be appropriate to allow voters to deliver ballots on behalf of third parties. But this evidence of past injury is also speculative.


Initially, the evidence is scant. But even assuming the evidence were more substantial, it would still be speculative to find that third-party ballot delivery will also occur in the general election. It may; it may not.

Indeed, it may be less likely to occur now that the Secretary issued
her September 28, 2020, guidance, which made clear to all
county boards that for the general election, third-party ballot delivery is prohibited. (“Third-person delivery of absentee or mail-in ballots is not permitted, and any ballots delivered by someone other than the voter are required to be set aside. The only exceptions are voters with a disability, who have designated in writing an agent to deliver their ballot for them.”). It may also be less likely to occur in light of the Secretary’s other guidance, which recommends that county boards place signs near drop boxes, warning voters that third-party delivery is prohibited.

pp. 62-63

Naturally, for part of their failed denial of Equal Protection argument Trump/RNC lawyers cited Bush v. Gore. Judge Ranjan did find their argument persuasive, another of their arguments that failed “as a matter of law” :

In this respect, Plaintiffs argue that they suffer an equal-protection harm similar to that found by the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000). There, the Supreme Court held that the Florida Supreme Court violated equal protection when it “ratified” election recount procedures that allowed different counties to use “varying
standards to determine what was a legal vote.” Id. at 107.

This meant that entirely equivalent votes might be counted in one county but discounted in another. See, e.g., id. (“Broward County used a more forgiving standard than Palm Beach County, and uncovered almost three times as many new votes, a result markedly disproportionate to the difference in population between the counties.”).

Given the absence of uniform, statewide rules or standards to
determine which votes counted, the Court concluded that the patchwork recount scheme failed to “satisfy the minimum requirement for nonarbitrary treatment of voters necessary to secure the fundamental right [to vote].”

p.75

and

In addition to their equal-protection challenge to the use of drop boxes, Plaintiffs also appear to argue that the use of unmanned drop boxes violates substantive due process protected by the 14th Amendment. This argument is just a variation on their equal-protection argument—i.e., the uneven use of drop boxes will work a “patent and fundamental unfairness” in violation of substantive due process principles (substantive due process rights are violated “[i]f the election process itself reaches the point of patent and fundamental unfairness[.]” (cite removed). The analysis for this claim is the same as that for equal protection, and thus it fails for the same reasons. But beyond that, this claim demands even stricter proof. Such a claim exists in only the most extraordinary circumstances.

p. 92

Got to love that “plaintiffs also appear to argue…”

Judge Ranjan, analyzing the poll watcher issue, provides a nice example of the quality of the evidence presented by the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee:

For example, in his declaration, James J. Fitzpatrick, the Pennsylvania Director for Election Day Operations for the Trump Campaign, stated only that the “Trump Campaign is concerned that due to the residency restriction, it will not have enough poll watchers in certain counties.”

Notably, however, Mr. Fitzpatrick, even when specifically asked during his deposition, never identified a single county where the Trump Campaign has actually tried and failed to recruit a poll watcher because of the county-residency requirement.

(“Q: Which counties does the Trump campaign or the RNC contend that they will not be able to obtain what you refer to as full coverage of poll watchers for the November 2020 election?
A: I’m not sure. I couldn’t tell you a list.”).

p. 124

and

Plaintiffs argue that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic greatly reduces the number of people who would be willing to serve as a poll watcher, which further exacerbates the alleged problem caused by the county residency requirement.

The primary problem with this argument, though, is that Plaintiffs have not presented any evidence to support it. Plaintiffs have not put forward a statement from a single registered voter who says they are unwilling to serve as a poll watcher due to concerns about contracting COVID-19.

p. 128

[1]

Wikipedia gives the skinny on Judge Ranjan and his thoughtful handling of this shabby Trump/RNC attempt to suppress voting in a key swing state:

On July 10, 2019, his nomination was confirmed by a vote of 80–14.[9] He received judicial commission on July 12, 2019.

In August 2020, Ranjan ordered the Trump campaign to produce evidence of voter fraud in Pennsylvania by Friday, August 14. The Trump campaign must answer questions from Democratic groups, or admit to having no proof of election fraud. A hearing about the evidence is set for late September.[10] On August 23, 2020, Ranjan issued a stay on the Trump campaign’s lawsuit, pending the result of a similar state-level lawsuit.[11] On October 10, 2020, Ranjan denied the Trump campaign’s claims of voter fraud and allowed ballot dropboxes to remain in service.[12]

Check out the AD!

Ladies and gentlemen, your monetized internet at work!

The all-powerful algorithms, delivering a Trump-themed ad, from one of the very outfits Sheldon Whitehouse is describing in his presentation. Want to know why this ad? Click the link, I didn’t, but you can when it plays.

The main thing is: Sign the petition! Pay no attention to this partisan hater ranting against fake “bad guys,” supposedly obsessed with power, not letting the good, Christian judge get a word in edgewise. The problem is not an ideologically committed, dark money-funded, politically biased 6-3 Supreme Court, or the brazen effort to cram another unappealable lifetime justice down the throat of American democracy in the days before a presidential election (something never in our history done after July) it is that caravan of rapists coming from South of the Border! The highly successful wall ain’t stoppin’ ’em, they’re coming to rape us all!!! Keep your eye on the ball!!

Whitehouse’s presentation is worth taking in. Won’t change any votes, or help stop what McConnell and his 51-49 Senate majority is going to do, but important information well presented and very much worth knowing.

Court-packing

Brett “Boof” Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump’s previous extremist pick, to fill the Supreme Court seat Anthony Kennedy gave up after negotiating the terms of his retirement with Trump’s lawyers, snorted indignantly and literally cried to the Senate Judiciary Committee about “millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups” [1] deployed by rabid partisans to unfairly sink his nomination and viciously destroy his life.

In fact, millions of dollars have been spent by outside right-wing groups to make sure committed Federalist Society ideologues like Mr. Kavanaugh, like today’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett, get confirmed for lifetime judicial positions. That these lifetime judicial nominees may sometimes be deemed too inexperienced, or outright unqualified, or show themselves to lack judicial temperament (see Kavanaugh’s snorting “rebuttal” to charges that while drunk in high school he did things to a younger girl against her will) — no matter, the American Bar Association is a well-known Communist front group and liberals blindly hate good, honest, God-fearing conservatives. And besides, 51-49 wins every time.

Extreme right-wing billionaire Charles Koch, never shy about spending to promote his belief in libertarianism — a dream world where government leaves the rich and their property alone and harshly polices everyone else — is on the verge of victory with a long dreamed of 6-3 ideologically pure corporatist majority on the Supreme Court. He and his Kochtopus network of wealthy right-wing fellow travelers have spent untold, untraceable millions on this project in the last four or five decades. Nice op ed in the NY Times today on the subject. Here’s a taste:

Judge Barrett’s nomination is the latest battleground in his decades-long war to reshape American society in a way that ensures that corporations can operate with untrammeled freedom. It may be a pivotal one.

Since the early 1970s, Mr. Koch has sought to dismantle most federal regulatory institutions, and the federal courts have been central to that battle. In 1974, Mr. Koch gave a blistering speech to a libertarian think tank, called the Institute for Humane Studies, in which he outlined his vision of the American regulatory state, and the strategy he would employ over the ensuing decades to realize that vision. On the list of government interventions he condemned were “confiscatory taxation, wage and price controls, commodity allocations programs, trade barriers, restrictions on foreign investments, so-called equal opportunity requirements, safety and health regulations, land use controls, licensing laws, outright government ownership of businesses and industries.” As if that list were not exhaustive enough, he added, “… and many more interventions.” In short, Charles Koch believes that an unregulated free market is the only sustainable structure for human society.

By the way, speaking of “humane studies,” every time I listen to a podcast on my phone app, I have to first close an ad from Charles Koch’s favorite “think tank”, the mischievously named Institute for Humane Studies. I see their ad for paid graduate school fellowships, featuring two young black scholars, a male and a female, not 90% of the time, mind you, it is there every single time I open the app to listen to Democracy Now! Somewhere indomitable octogenarian Charles Koch is cackling.

Keep in mind, Koch has an army of paid activists, marshaled by Americans for Prosperity and like groups, tirelessly promoting libertarian dogma among the American citizenry. They were active in the sustained effort to get Kavanaugh confirmed, an effort that cost “seven figures”. They are very active in this final Trump appointment in progress. It is do or die– they have only weeks to do what generally takes months to accomplish. Of course, in the end, it’s 51-49 suck it.

Today, historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote a thorough short history of the largely successful conservative project to create a permanent one-party conservative government, through court packing with ideological true believers they have been grooming in law schools since 1982. As she points out, they’ve bizarrely managed to put Biden on the media spot about his charged “court packing” when the side Mr. Trump currently leads has appointed 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court judges, McConnell has packed the federal bench with young true believers and is making history by forcing through a nomination days before an election. Plus, of course, adding justices to the court is legal and may be proper at this point,the Constitution is silent on the number of judges who shall sit on the court anyway.

This is from her important piece, which I highly recommend you read in its entirety (it’s not very long):

… And yet, today the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, told Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face The Nation” that she would not talk about Trump’s financial scandals because “You have a Democrat running on the biggest power grab – the absolute biggest power grab in the history of our country and reshaping the United States of America and not answering the question. That’s all we should be talking about.” The media seems to be taking this distracting bait.

What makes this so especially bizarre is that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who have made the courts the centerpiece of their agenda and have packed them with judges who adhere to an extremist ideology. Since the Nixon administration began in 1969, Democrats have appointed just 4 Supreme Court justices, while Republicans have appointed 15.

The drive to push the court to the right has led Republicans under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to take the unprecedented step of refusing to hold a hearing for Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, the moderate Merrick Garland, on the grounds that it was wrong to appoint a Supreme Court justice during an election year. There have been 14 justices confirmed during election years in the past, but none has ever been confirmed after July before an election.

Obama nominated Garland in March 2016, but now, in October, McConnell is ramming through Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett.

Americans are worried that the increasingly conservative cast to the court does not represent the country. Four, and now possibly five, of the current justices were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote, and have been confirmed by senators who represent a minority of the American people: Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate support represented just 44% of the country.

So there is talk of increasing the size of the Supreme Court. This is legal. The Constitution does not specify the size of the court, and it has changed throughout our history. But the current number of justices—9— has been around for a long time. It was established in 1869. Nonetheless, in 2016, when it looked like Hillary Clinton was going to win the presidency, Republicans announced that they would not fill any Supreme Court seats during her term, and if that meant they had to reduce the size of the Supreme Court, they were willing.

Instead, with Trump in the White House, the Republican Senate has pushed through judges at all levels as quickly as it possibly can.

This is no accident. Since Nixon, Republicans have made control of the nation’s courts central to their agenda. But while most voters tend to get distracted by the hot-button issues of abortion or gay rights, what Republican Supreme Courts have done is to consolidate the power of corporations.

And here is the single best question to ask this impartial jurist who seeks to cement the permanent right-wing majority on the Court for many of our lifetimes. Posed by a comedian, it is a seriously perfect question to put to the highly moralistic Trump-appointed federal Judge Amy Coney Barrett:

Looky here (you learn something every day):

Comedian (and lawyer) J-L Cauvin asks the question Senate Democrats must ask of Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett

[1]

the heart of Kavanuagh’s tearfully delivered demonstration that he lacks the judicial character and nonpartisan fairness to be on the Supreme Court. He dismissed the un-investigated accusations of a woman who credibly testified (in the face of death threats) that Kavanaugh traumatized her decades earlier as part of:

the typo is mine: it should read “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election”

You Can’t Argue with A Feeling

There’s a point in a serious, hard to resolve conflict where nothing you can say or do will avert a terminal impasse. It is no longer possible to talk about objective things that actually happened and find any agreement, we’re in the realm of feelings – hurt feelings, at that – so, everybody gets to be right.

Everybody gets to be right. You get to have very fine people, on every side of every issue. You get to have courts rule in your favor with or without evidence, if you have the power to make them feel the way you do. You get to be right, no matter how strong the case is that you’re wrong.

Among people who care about each other, things can be done to soothe hurt feelings. The first thing we do for someone is listen, without trying to correct anything the person is feeling. Between people who despise each other, or have hurt each other beyond caring, hurt feelings are their just desert for being assholes — you know, fuck ’em.

Common Argument Technique (Reframing) Analyzed

When you argue with someone who constantly reframes what you’re talking about, so that you’re always discussing the issue they want to talk about, from their chosen perspective, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to ever reach agreement about anything. This technique is used all the time in bare knuckle politics and the partisan interpretation of law, and it can be maddening. It can also be hard to see or counter, until you learn to spot it as it’s happening.

Here is a recent example, from my life, which lays out clearly how reframing can create a false equivalency that can then be used to drop the mic, having won the argument. It’s likely you’ve experienced the same thing, possibly without being able to get a handle on what actually happened. If so, this illustration may help you see it more clearly.

An old friend questioned me about my falling out with an old jamming partner. I described how tensions had been rising and anger was being stored up by the ace harmonica player. I wasn’t aware of how much resentment this guy had stored up, since he never mentioned any of it to me. In the end, and suddenly, a spark burst into a bonfire. Hurt escalated quickly, and, had the confrontation been in person, and we were the types to resort to violence, we would have come to blows. Things were said in anger that could not be taken back. It was the end of our ability to ever get along again. My later attempt to make peace did not succeed.

The old friend who questioned me later jumped ugly during a couple of tense phone calls, yelling and angrily hanging up mid-sentence the last time we spoke. We then communicated a few times by email, trying to make things right. He felt no need to apologize until I brought it up weeks later, in taking my leave of the troubled friendship he said he was trying his best to save. He no doubt felt justified in his angry actions, under the theory, I suppose, that since I had mercilessly and infuriatingly provoked him, I was the one at fault and so he didn’t need to explain why a person would hang up on somebody like that, let alone apologize for it. Anyone with any self-respect would have done the same thing.

It became impossible to pretend to a friendship that had obviously outlived itself. I finally threw in the towel. To my mild but persistent dismay, he was determined to have the last word.

Here is his reframing of my comments about the awful final, unresolvable confrontation with the harmonica player, which he used to demonstrate that I was the unreasonable, unyielding party in our unresolvable dispute, the cruel bastard who had ended our friendship for no understandable reason:

You’ve said many unkind words to me, Eliot, and I’ve been deeply hurt. When we were discussing your issues with Noam about a year ago, you said something along the lines of, when you have a disagreement with a friend, you try hard to get to a meeting of hearts and minds, but once you conclude that’s not happening, you give it to them with both barrels. I feel that’s where you’re at with me. I feel you no longer value the relationship, but value articulating your grievances and causing me pain in retribution, for whatever purpose that may serve for you. If at this point you just want to be sure you’ve “given as good as you’ve gotten, and then some,” I think you have. 

The beauty of this paragraph is that it makes one of us clearly wrong and the other one the victim of the wrong person’s senseless, deliberate cruelty. When I disagree with a friend, and don’t manage to persuade him I’m right, I blast him with both barrels of the old shotgun.

Note that it could not have been accomplished without reframing.

Substitute “disagreement” — a common human experience we all deal with regularly, a largely intellectual conflict — for “violent fight” — an emotional flare up, something hopefully rare, and always upsetting — et, voila! you have the proof you need of who’s being reasonable and who is undeniably at fault for the end of a long friendship. Never mind that it always takes two to Tango, Foxtrot or Waltz.

What I actually told him, in relation to Noam, was that once I recognize behavior as abuse, motivated by sustained, righteous anger, and I fail in my best attempts to defuse that abusive situation (where anger is dumped on us that we’ve done little to bring on and the other party won’t yield a millimeter in their insistence that we are exclusively at fault), I owe that person nothing but a figurative punch in the face.   

Friends can do this sort of thing sometimes, argue using unfair politician’s tricks to reframe what is actually at stake and why, particularly when they feel defensive, and it is best to overlook it most of the time. We all can be assholes, our friends are people who value the best of us and don’t slam us for our weaknesses. I had a friend for many years who was a habitual liar, it never bothered me much since it rarely had a direct effect on me or my friendship with the guy.

These kinds of flaws only become dangerously contentious when good will has been otherwise lost in a friendship. When we share a problem with a friend who tells us we’re crazy, that it’s all in our head, or who won’t address our concerns at all — it’s pretty much game over. Once that happens, every technique available can come into play to pry whatever remains of friendship apart. What I think about then is trying to leave with integrity, taking my leave in a way that explains my position as clearly, and nonviolently, as I can.

Of course, not matter how gracious I may try to be, it doesn’t change the other person’s sincerely held belief that I am the violent, enraged asshole who deliberately and unilaterally blew everything up. Nothing I can do about that. Having extended courtesy and fairness to the other party makes me feel better about my difficult decision. It also supports my improved ability to make healthier choices based on an honest assessment of what actually took place, to own and try to fix damage I’ve caused and to let go of blame unfairly thrust on to me.

Of course, the injured party, reading this account, will snarl at this further proof of my pathological need to be right, and sanctimoniously unforgiving, and the lengths to which I’ll go to preserve my self-righteousness. Fortunately, that particular snarl is no longer really my problem.

No Good Deed…

No good deed goes unpunished, it is often said. Usually by people trying to be philosophical about that bitter feeling when your best attempt to make something better by doing a kindness comes around to bite you in the ass. I woke up with that cliche in mind today and find myself needing to organize some thoughts about it.

I saw a cool short discussion of why so many people want to be writers these days. The little animation makes a convincing case that the desire to write stems from existential loneliness (which is on the upswing in this era of “social media” — and heightened during the pandemic, of course) — an unfulfilled need for intimate back and forth conversation all too rare in real life. To accommodate ourselves to our relative isolation, many of us conduct internal conversations on the page that we wish we could have in life [1].

I recently attempted an extended soul-draining good deed over the course of several months and got a sharp, defensive, hurt retort by email the other day. The upshot is that I am mean, vengeful, incapable of generosity– and deluded. This is the verdict of an old friend with his own emotional limitations. Though I had no confusion about where the anger was coming from at this point in our long back and forth, it’s an argument, isn’t it?

Nonetheless, it irked me, after my patient efforts to get through were all ignored, to get this shotgun blast blaming me for being a rigid, vindictive, insensitive putz. I gave an adorably reluctant Sekhnet the two minute version last night, she was sympathetic as I read part of the email, after dismissing anything he might have written to me by telling me to consider the source and the context. She was right. Nobody else I know can reasonably be expected to listen to a few pertinent takeaways as I struggle toward them in conversation. So I’m going to give it an hour or two here, make a fuller account of why this resonates with me so much.

I’m also hopefully doing a good deed by providing a discussion that might be helpful to someone in turmoil about a relationship turned sour, and to anyone who’s had to give up on an old friendship after a long struggle not to.

First, there is the matter of the good deed itself. Most “good deeds” are done for a variety of reasons. For one thing, it makes us feel better to do something nice for a person in need. I once liberated two women, strangers, who were locked in their apartment, plaintively calling out of a window overlooking an alley. Overcoming my feeling, on that dark, deserted street, that someone might be waiting behind the door to knock me out with a baseball bat and take my wallet, I entered their lobby and went to unlock their door. The women were relieved and grateful to be saved from their predicament by a sympathetic stranger. I felt good too, and a little better about mankind in general.

One person’s good deed may be another person’s self-righteous, passive aggressive kick in the groin. Strictly a matter of perspective. Think of the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. Picture outgunned, desperate Jewish partisans in the Warsaw Ghetto as the Nazis were “liquidating” the population. I suppose it’s possible to say there were very fine people on both sides, everyone believing they’re on the side of the angels, especially when fighting for their own notion of freedom. Not many would say that, perhaps, but you see what I’m driving at about our point of view being key to analyzing right and wrong.

For purposes of this exercise, let’s agree that a good deed is rarely 100% selfless and altruistic. It’s just part of the nature of good deeds. They make us feel better to do them, they help somebody else — or not. When they don’t help, they can hurt. Unwanted results in such cases are to be expected, sometimes lead to punishment, as they say.

I try to practice of my secular version of Ahimsa (non-harm) and I attempt to “first do no harm.” This doesn’t always result in a peaceful outcome, though I’m doing better now than years ago. It is much more important to me these days to avoid fights than to win them. I try my best to see things from the other person’s point of view, to listen, to be fair, to phrase things in a way I think will be heard, to eventually realize when I need to accept, with as little anger as possible, that there can be no agreement in this particular case. I try to avoid the bad feelings that can easily come from these clashes. I withdraw when I see a relationship is no longer a mutual exercise in overlooking human flaws in the other. Sometimes, in spite of my efforts, I get drawn into an existential showdown anyway.

I recognize that this strong reflex to fight back is from my childhood. I was raised by an implacably angry, very smart, adversarial father. In my conscious mind, I am now taking a nonviolent stand by being direct: laying out the causes of friction with as little anger as I can and appealing to conscience when I feel somebody is unfairly accusing me of being the aggressor. To a longtime observer, my need to take this stand probably feels like “here we go again, he really, really needs to be right…”

It’s true, it’s hard to know for certain sometimes that what we think we’re doing is what we are really doing. I had a troubled friend who dramatically and infallibly illustrated this principle. He lived the Repetition Compulsion over the decades I knew him– endlessly replaying the identical, primal three-act play in every situation. It always began with great excitement and inevitably ended in betrayal, anger, sometimes violence. No matter how often he fell into the same trap, he was never wrong. Also, he could not see the pattern, had no clue that he was performing the same idiot drama over and over. Maybe I’m the same way?

Memory is unreliable, we’re ruled as much by emotion as by Reason, we believe things that turn out to be shaky, outright mistaken. The world, if we scroll through the Doom that is today’s headlines, offers unlimited proofs of the power of irrationality and delusion. I am obsessed with this issue, as you can read here on any given day [2].

So, you may be forgiven for seeing my writing here as just so much venting, a twitchy, idiosyncratic virtue dance to make myself seem righteous. People I’ve known who thought themselves the most brilliant, the most insightful, were also, in fundamental ways, the most broken. We all virtually always believe we are doing the right thing for the right reasons. Otherwise, how could people gather to do things like burning down the home of a voting rights activist?

I’ve digressed from the story with these caveats about my own reliability. Of course, I believe I am right in this case– but, of course I do! So just two or three illustrations that I think will complete the point I’m trying to make.

A longtime friend, a lawyer by profession and personal style, called after my health insurance had been abruptly (and mistakenly, it finally emerged) cancelled last January. He was angry that I seemed to be so angry about it, had written him a couple of overwrought emails and then sent him one that he called “snide and inaccurate”. He told me he was concerned about my out of control anger, worried where it might lead me. Within a few minutes he cut me off and loudly challenged me to tell him to go fuck himself, if that’s what I felt like doing.

This guy was an old friend, one of a small handful I have left. I managed to calm him down. In the discussion that followed he admitted that my email had not been inaccurate, or even very snide. It was snide, he said, by the standard of my usual breezy communications with him, which is why the snideness struck him so hard that it also felt inaccurate, which he now allowed it was not. After the call, I felt good that I’d avoided a shouting match with an old friend who was obviously going through some stressful shit on his end.

I know, “Jesus, El, this guy sounds like… well, you described it yourself.” Sure, but we had been friends for about fifty years. He is a very smart guy, good sense of humor, we shared many beliefs about the world, a taste for blues guitar, a love for good, clear writing, we went back decades and had always been loyal friends to each other. You don’t throw all that away because the guy is having a bad day and calls to take it out on you. Or do you?

In hindsight, maybe you do. It certainly feels that way in light of the relentlessness that followed. But hindsight, you know what they say about that superpower.

The crankiness continued, on a slow boil, expressed through endless challenges to most things I said in the weeks that followed. This rigorous contestation was always part of my friend’s nature — he relates by parsing, analyzing, challenging assertions, testing the strength of claims. It served him well in his legal career, if not always in his personal life. I was very slow to grasp how much he was deploying these things to … I don’t even know, destroy our friendship?

He has a dark view of the human race, seeing people as basically flawed, unreliable, deluded, incapable of not being selfish. Perhaps it was inevitable that his closest friend had to be shown to be the same as everybody else. He said I was a better person than him, at least I was struggling against my crabbed human nature, but over the years more and more bitterness crept in.

I will spare you all the ugliness of the months that followed. I isolated for my friend the two most intolerable things in our frayed friendship. These were things I thought he’d be able to see and make adjustments for, as he told me I was his best friend and that he was determined to do everything in his power to make sure our friendship continued.

The first was the lack of response to concerns I raised. He would simply ignore them, no matter how many times I raised them. I told him this was particularly hurtful to me because it was my angry father’s favorite technique for getting under my skin. I presented him with my belief that virtually anyone, bringing a concern to a close friend, would be rightfully hurt if that concern was ignored. He had no comment about this, no matter how many times I raised it.

The other thing that was intolerable was the reflexive lawyerly reframing of every issue to shift the ground of the discussion. This was another dreadful adversarial technique I knew well from childhood. As a kid I’d try to explain why I was upset and my father would cooly counter that I was conveniently sidestepping the real issue: my vicious, uncontrollable temper. Suddenly I am struggling to defend myself, and stay calm enough not to prove my father’s provocative point, the hope to get my father to understand why I was upset long gone.

Reframing is a very easy technique to use. Even a man of limited smarts like Mike Pence can do it almost in his sleep, as he did over and over the other night while talking over his female opponent for Vice President. All you need for reframing is a perceived weakness in the person you’re talking to and a desire to dominate. They say A and you immediately pivot to X, and, HA! now they have to defend why they want to put 100,000,000 Americans out of work!

In the end, after thousands and thousands of words spoken and written, and reducing the friction between us to just these two crucial points, I had no response to anything I’d raised, except for my friend’s protestations that he still didn’t understand exactly what I was asking him for. In the end, after all my attempts had come to nothing, I sent him these thoughts, before repeating, with some anger, a few of my many unheeded attempts to make peace:

Intimate friendship is rare and can be hard to maintain, in my experience.  Real mutuality takes trust, mutual vulnerability and sometimes work, including a two-way readiness to overlook a friend’s faults and to accommodate ourselves to a friend’s weaknesses and problems.  We can all be assholes sometimes, the beauty of real friendship is that our asshole side is not held against us, not tallied on some kind of ledger for future use at the worst possible time — and that we repay our friend’s generosity in kind.   

When our attempt to explain why we’re hurt is met with resistance, reluctant acceptance, impatience, then anger, and that anger is redoubled (as when a friend angrily cuts us off, hangs up the phone and texts us back to tell us he’s done with us violating him), then, for weeks, the friend stands on his right to be angry and unapologetic, and later, after multiple explanations, claims to still not understand the exact nature of his hurtful acts … I’m not sure how a friendship moves on from there.  I haven’t figured it out in my life, anyway.

It may be that like all living things, friendships have life spans.   As much as I understand from your last email that you want to somehow salvage our friendship, the idea that you’re unable to imagine, after so many years, how I feel, how I think, even what I actually mean when I try my best to be clear (let’s stipulate that I express myself with reasonable clarity), is impossible to get past.  

It turns out knowing how to take care of a friend’s hurt feelings is the most essential part of being a good friend.   Of having good friends, of deserving the few close friendships we’ve managed to sustain.  Knowing how to take care of a friend’s hurt feelings is another way of describing intimate, mutual love, which requires a reflex to mercy above all else.

I’m not entirely sure how we’ve come to this sorry pass — this brutal contest of vanities — and, outside of this little intro, I really don’t have anything to add to what I’ve written below.  Along with the sadness is a sense of disappointment at our mutual limitations, that I, in spite of exhaustive efforts, haven’t been able to figure out a way to solve this sickening moral puzzle.   It feels like a failure of my ahimsa shtick, the “first do no harm” business of being a loyal friend, and a mensch.

I balance that disappointment with the knowledge that we can only work to change ourselves, not others.   If you can’t overcome a reflex to act abusively when you feel righteously angry, even with someone you deeply care about, nobody but yourself can help you with that.   The breaking point for me is when somebody, claiming to love me, stands on their right to act abusively — fuck that.

Anyway, no need for a reply like to the other emails.  Each reply did more harm than good, in spite of the good intentions expressed in each one, each one made the hole deeper.  Your good intentions were complicated by the confusion you expressed, and the lack of confidence that you knew how to interpret the past, understand the present or move productively forward.   Your confusion and lack of confidence in our friendship are things it’s unproductive for me to grapple with at this point — particularly since you acknowledge that I’ve always been a good friend to you.

I understand you may want to have some kind of last word, but it’s not necessary.   As I’ve sat weeks (now months) with this email ready to go I’ve wondered from time to time if there’s any real point to sending it.   I’ve decided I don’t want to leave you hanging after our many years of good friendship and your last good faith attempt to salvage it.  It doesn’t seem right to finish without some kind of closure that might help you understand the impossibility of my situation, of our friendship, even if only a complete explanation of why I have nothing to add to what I wrote weeks, and now months, ago.    

I understand the impulse to have a last word of some kind might be strong.   You may feel a reply would be your last chance for a summary, an understanding, an expression of any final regret, etc., but I urge you to consider, again, out of friendship, whether your reply will do anything to make me feel better about the end of our long friendship, or go any way toward mending what is torn.  If not, just don’t do it, OK?   In any case, if you need to reply, there’s absolutely no rush.   At least hold on to what you may have written for long enough to repeatedly reread and refine it, if you need to make some kind of reply.  On my end, there’s no need.

It’s very sad, either way you slice it — eternal silence by way of final reply or a categorical final reply like the one below.  Little rehearsals for our own deaths, I suppose, these leave takings from old friends after so many decades.  On the other hand, I don’t know anyone else who has a friend from Junior High School still in their life.  Also, sadly, we all have to die, something I find myself thinking about more and more these days as the death count continues to rise in the greatest nation Jesus ever blessed.

I’m sad about the loss of our long friendship, but as I’ve seen in other situations like it over the years, it is best to be philosophical.   The most important thing when a friend is not treating you with the mercy you’ve tried to extend (and have a right to expect in return), and when nothing you say or do makes any difference in that friend’s perceptions, is to leave.   

Sad, truly, but sadder still is fragile, self-conscious, sentimental friendship, waiting for the next chance to repeat the same enraged, clueless dance and shatter into painful pieces again.  There is relief at the end, to be finally out of harm’s way.    

With that, my regrets and my immediate reply to your email of May 27

(in part that email offered many specific things I’d raised in previous emails that he’d never responded to– this is key to appreciating the last line of his first paragraph below).

Here he is, the final 10% of his long reply:

I understand well that I’ve hurt you, Eliot. I’ve told you I’m sorry. You apparently find my conduct unforgivable. I’ve asked myself (and others) many times what you might be looking to me for that I’ve failed to offer, that would demonstrate to you that I’m someone you still want to be friends with. I find no answers in your emails or elsewhere, and reluctantly  conclude you really don’t want that.

You’ve said many unkind words to me, Eliot, and I’ve been deeply hurt. When we were discussing your issues with Noam about a year ago, you said something along the lines of, when you have a disagreement with a friend, you try hard to get to a meeting of hearts and minds, but once you conclude that’s not happening, you give it to them with both barrels. I feel that’s where you’re at with me. I feel you no longer value the relationship, but value articulating your grievances and causing me pain in retribution, for whatever purpose that may serve for you. If at this point you just want to be sure you’ve “given as good as you’ve gotten, and then some,” I think you have. 

If I’m mistaken and you actually do still want to be friends with me, the door is open. If not, nothing more needs to be said.  In any case, my best to you and M.

The issue with Noam, as presented by my friend, was slickly reframed, probably by the instinct to remember something in the light kindest to oneself. It is reducible to this:

If I have a disagreement with a good friend, try my best and can’t get my friend to agree with me, I give it to them with both barrels, like the brutal, self-righteous asshole I am.

The issue with Noam was not a disagreement, except in the broadest sense of the word. Noam had picked a fight with me, out of the blue, for no apparent reason, over what turned out to be a catalogue of unexpressed resentments, as he finally admitted. It was not a “disagreement” that could be worked out with Reason, it was open hostility that could not be pacified, that had become mutual.

For anyone who has made it this far, a bit of “sorbet”. Here is the footnote (written by this same articulate fellow) that I closed my last snide, if not inaccurate, email with, his own words about the end of my friendship with Repetition Compulsion Man from many moons ago:

[FN]

Not ever having really known him –I was around him at times but have no recollection of actually exchanging any words with him directly –I could only vaguely comprehend the basis for your position. His email opens a window. Very manipulative and emotionally Byzantine, the art of placing blame while trying to appear not to have done so, but rather to have made a bold and mature gesture. Very frustrating, if not infuriating, watching someone bob and weave so strenuously to evade emotional connection and basic responsibility, seeking to anticipate and counter objections and arguments rather than open a line of communication.  I can only assume it’s infinitely more exhausting for him than it is for the recipient, and that’s saying something.

[1]

[2]

Just the other day, the Supreme Court ruled that lack of evidence of actual voter fraud is no obstacle to the South Carolina state legislature imposing its will in a democracy by passing laws to prevent a practice they believe could result in such fraud. We have a raving emotional basket case as our fearless leader. Tens of millions love him and regard him as their savior from a cabal of immensely powerful cannibal pedophiles. And so forth.

a gratuitous self-quoting headilne:

It’s very sad, either way you slice it — eternal silence by way of final reply or a categorical final reply like the one below.  Little rehearsals for our own deaths, I suppose, these leave takings from old friends after so many decades