Trump, Twitter, and the First Amendment

Twitter shut down Trump’s account and Trump is crying “First Amendment!” “Free speech!” “Censorship!” The Constitution of the United States protects free speech. Any American can express their opinions, prejudices, truths, ideas, including criticism of government. This is a precious treasure of American government. In some countries, a person can be subject to arrest and seizure, in fact, imprisonment and even execution for speech that the government doesn’t like. It is remarkable that in the United States, citizens are free to say whatever they wish, provided it does not incite violence. An American can’t shout, “Fire!” in a crowed movie theatre. But that’s not the direction I want to go in here.

While Americans are free to say whatever they want, private publishers are in no way obligated to print whatever Americans want to say. I have poems that I want certain journals to publish. Some have declined to publish my poetry. Does that mean that my First Amendment rights are being violated? Is The Chicago Review compelled to print my poems because of the First Amendment? Of course not. I can publish my poetry on WordPress–and even WordPress can shut down my account if they wish. The same is true of Twitter. They have the freedom to publish whatever they wish, or to deny publication to whatever they wish. The First Amendment does not compel Twitter to publish anything Trump says at all. Twitter liked to publish Trump because he has an 88,000,000 plus following, and Twitter makes ad money off accounts with large followings like Trumps. But Twitter judged that Trump had inflamed the riot in the Capitol Building on January 6, and that he had the potential to incite more violence, so they shut his account down. They could have done so for lesser reasons. They could have shut him down for talking about the fly on Mike Pence’s head during the debates. Or for no reason. Most journals give me no reason when they reject my poems for publication. So Twitter suspending Trump’s account is in no way a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Free speech does not mean the right to be published. Trump can still talk, if anyone cares to listen. And this short essay isn’t about my trials in publishing poetry.

NEWSCASTERS VERSUS TRUMP’S MONKEY BOYS

I saw one of Trump’s monkey boys sit at the Presiding Officer’s Desk
in the US Senate Chamber
Another Trump monkey boy hung from a wall by one arm just like a monkey
in the US Senate Chamber
A Trump monkey boy stood in front of the chair of the Speaker of the House
in the US House Chamber

Desecration

What is desecration—de-consecration?  What is desecration in a time and age
An age that holds nothing sacred?

Sacred

Indifference

Trump’s monkey boys riot and think it a good time, indifferent
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Dignity

In affront to the dignity all around them
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Contempt

Contemptuous of law, due process
drunk in anarchic party orgy

Respect

Knowing no respect for the symbol the Capitol Building is
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Disgrace

Disgracing the suggestion of a temple the Capitol Building is
in drunk anarchic party orgy

Honor

Honoring no one, nothing
in drunk anarchic party orgy

And the TV newscasters said that they were embarrassed
Look—you’re embarrassed when you walk around with your zipper down—

Embarrassed?

And they worried about what the rest of the world would think
As if to worry what others think ever mattered
Treasonous rabble bursts the oldest living democratic republic
The coup led by a president who craves power as coups will
“What kind of message does it send to the rest of the world,” the journalists ask.
Marvin Gaye asked long ago the persistent question, “What’s going on?”
Liberty stands in New York Harbor and her torch beats in every American heart
Anarchy’s fangs salivate at the edges of liberty, slinking for a chance

NOVEMBER 2, 2020

The love poem I want to write tonight is superseded

Everything is superseded by a microdot on a piece of paper

A microdot in a timeline of chaos, flashpoint in history

In one single day, the anxiety will culminate in a vote

Four years of conflicted administration, conflicted nation

That broke out in outright civil war, bloody war

Wounds that haven’t healed in one hundred sixty years,

An outbreak breaking out in protests, riots, civil speech exhausted

Wealth disparity, despair, disinformation, lies

Pandemic denied in a pantomime economy

Destined for collapse through dying workers, denied workers

Dying jobs markets, dying for relief from a dead congress

All summed up in a microdot on a piece of paper

Destined for the ballot box—summation but not salvation

For the sins of our forefathers, writ into racial blood,

Radical divide, denied equal opportunity

EQUALITY

Fragmenting a national illusion persisting in a culture of cruelty

For outsiders, inside the inner-city blight in a nation

Of freedom for insiders, a segregation of insiders, by insiders, for insiders

White trashed lives whose sway they aim to own, even my own life

Had I not left town they would have kept me down, destined to be an outsider

Like my music partner from New Orleans who never did break in

I can’t leave all this undone, unsung—this division, this decision

In a pantomime economy, in a pandemic, in a microdot on a piece of paper

Just a microdot in a timeline of chaos

Angelic Political Opponents

These days in politics, there is a tendency to demonize people who hold opposing political views from our own. I feel so strongly about my candidate, I can’t imagine how people can support the other party’s candidate. There are enormous flaws with the other candidate that they either explain away double talk away or deny. They are dead wrong, it seems to me. So there is a strong temptation in me to denounce the people themselves who support the other guy. To make them into demons.

I have a highly successful friend who supports the other guy. My friend is a devout Christian, as I am. He was mentoring a young African-American man through the church. After his daughter grew up and moved out of home, he adopted a young Chinese boy with a cleft palate. Then he adopted two more Chinese girls. This guy is rich, so the children from China came into a good home. He has a friend who is a surgeon. The doctor performed multiple surgeries on the palate of the young Chinese boy. The wife of my friend told me one night that she felt bad because the doctor wouldn’t take any pay for performing the surgeries. That doctor one night gave me an Allman Brothers double-album CD and a Los Lonely Boys CD. My friend always gave me discounts on the products he sold because 1) he wanted to keep my business; and 2) he knew I was poor. He always treated me familiarly and with respect. When I self-produced a CD of my original music, he sold them in his store.

By every metric of a man, my friend is exemplary. And yet I am tempted to hate him because of his political allegiances. Can you imagine! Is that what this age has come to? I don’t think it’s just me. I really need to remind myself of the character of my friend, because I keep manufacturing bad reasons why he is supporting the other political candidate. He and I used to be able to debate our opposing political positions. We cannot, now. But I do need to remember he is a friend. And an angel on earth.

The Soul of America

I am worried.  I had this feeling in 2016.  I had a feeling in my gut that it was possible that Trump could be elected.  The polls all had him down significantly.  But I watched what he did in the debates.  And I knew the people he was speaking to, reaching.  And in my gut I had a feeling he could win the presidential election.  I have not as strong a feeling now, but I see he’s up to his old tricks.  The question–and it’s a vital question–is how many people are with him this time?

So much of the US now has witnessed him in action.  We know what he’s all about.  These days we see mass protests all over the world about racial injustice in the US–particularly in regard to police brutality.  Trump is not with this movement.  Trump has ducked out of the COVID-19 pandemic because he embarrassed himself so disgracefully publicly.  But the pandemic rages on anyway.  Racial injustice in the US rages on.  And Trump is fleeing these problems like an ostrich with it’s head in the sand, even as he hid in his bunker at the White house while the voice of America’s conscience rose up en masse.  It is not my intention to list the wrongs I perceive in Trump–they are abundantly clear.  We know who Trump is.  But the question remains, “How many Americans are with him?”

I am an American.  I was born in the US.  I was brought up and educated in the US.  I live in Canada, now, a country that is not favorable to the US; I know this because they tell me this almost daily.  But I never disguise my American heritage.  I love my country.

I do not like what I see Trump standing up for.  I can easily dismiss this man, and say to myself that he does not represent the America I know and love.  However, it’s a different matter if a majority of the American people reelect him.  Then it’s a statement of what the country stands for, not just one man.  That concerns me deeply.  I would be very disappointed in America if the majority of the country sides with Trump and what Trump stands for.  I am putting this all in print.  So I must choose my words carefully.  But I am willing to say this: if Trump is reelected by a majority of the American people, I will have to seriously reconsider my citizenship in the country I was born in, educated in, and still proudly call my homeland.

Capitalism, Socialism, and COVID-19

In the Unites States, there is pressure to reopen.  And some areas are reopening in ways that disregard the advice of medicine.  For instance, in Wisconsin, bars are open with patrons partying shoulder-to-shoulder, swizzling beers and shots.  Wisconsin is a laboratory for the rest of us.  If everything goes well, so much the better.  If Wisconsin shows a peak of new COVID-19 cases, then the medical experts were right.  I gamble sometimes, but I wouldn’t gamble as Wisconsin is.  But the real issue is, why this desperation to reopen?  I think that the answer is in political systems.  And it comes down to a test of capitalism versus socialism.

The pressures to reopen in the US are driven by economics.  People are out of money.  The US government redistributed wealth in the form of a one-time check for $1,200.  For most Americans, that wouldn’t even cover one month’s rent.  Then there are electric bills, cable and internet bills, phone, and food–just to name a few expenses that an average household owes monthly.  So Americans are desperate.  It wasn’t cabin fever that led to armed protests in Lansing, Michigan.  It was desperation driven by economic deprivation.

In France, which has a more socialistic government than the US has, people receive nearly 90% of their work salary as a government subsidy.  I haven’t seen protests in France to reopen.  Neither have I seen them in Canada, where residents can apply for a monthly $2,000 check.  Let’s assume that cabin fever is about equal in the US, France, and Canada.  We see that in France and Canada, cabin fever hasn’t driven people to protest.  The US society is based on capitalism.  Also, the US has a strong tradition of individualism.  That means if you are a white-collar worker, you can work from home and keep your high income.  But if you are a blue-collar worker, it is probable that your income derives from the very workplaces that are shut down during the pandemic.  President Trump has used an executive order to force meat processing plants back to work.  And he hasn’t insisted that proper safety protocols be implemented.  He just wants to eat well.  He has the power to use executive authority to produce COVID tests, to help identify which workers are a threat to others.  But he hasn’t used such an executive order.  For the protesters in the US, money is driving them to risk their lives and to go back to work unsafely.  And for workers in meat processing plants, where safety protocols are not being implemented, Trump is ordering them back to work.  In France and Canada, the national government has set in place safety measures for the whole country to observe–the familiar shelter-in-place orders.  This has not happened in the US.  Trump thinks that such a national policy is socialism.  His capitalistic ideology leads him to encourage the country to open without federal guidance.  “Vaccine or no vaccine, we’re back,” Trump bragged.  The US is careening toward a desperate COVID-19 spike in a few weeks, as it opens economies unsafely.  While France and Canada have kept their numbers down and are instituting a graduated, staged reopening.  That is the difference between capitalism and socialism.  And it is playing out as unsafe and safe reopening plans for the respective political systems.

Moderating Rage: Trump’s Antics

I am appalled and galled at Trump’s antics.  Lately, I am sad that 800,000 government workers are facing life issues because Trump won’t pay them.  I am worried that the US government is closed for business.  And there’s so much to do.  And, finally, I am troubled at how many people still support Trump, and that those people are fellow Americans, citizens of my own country.  (However, I am somewhat relieved that lately only 34% of Americans support him, meaning that 66% don’t.)

So shall I pass my time galled, appalled, worried, and troubled?  If I do, Trump is getting me.  He’s pushing my buttons from his luxury resort in Florida or in the White House–way, way far away from where I live.  So I have a dilemma.  Shall I go about my business and not care about my home country’s problems?  That kind of callous disregard strikes me as un-Christian, and unbecoming.  I care for my fellows.  Yet, I’m not strong enough to stretch my concern to the whole world.  I have sufficient concerns in my personal life, and in the world I touch.

I’m re-thinking Voltaire’s concluding line from Candide.  “Il faut cultiver notre jardin”–“We must cultivate our garden.”  In Voltaire’s novel, after innumerable calamities which were explained away with a metaphysics that said we live in the best of all possible worlds and all things work out to the best that they can, the small group we follow through the story finally ends up tending a garden they collectively own.  When the metaphysician tries to explain why ending up tending a garden is the best possible outcome in the best of all possible worlds, then we get that line, “We must cultivate our garden.”  What that means, I think, is that we have enough to handle with the immediate problems we tend to in our lives.  Whether we live in the best of times or the worst of times, all that really matters is what we can manage in the life we live in and the lives we touch.  I did act with passion in my 2018 vote, in absentia, reading the instructions, printing up the ballot from the emailed copy sent me, mailing it snail mail to the district in which I vote.  And that is all I can see that I can actually do about the troubling matters in my home country.

There’s another quote relevant to this issue.  “Turn it over.”  While I have limited power to care about the whole, wide world, there is One who does have the power to care about it.  I do wonder, at times, what that One is up to in this world.  But that One does know what He/She/It is up to.  Where does that leave me?

What I am finding is that I need to come to terms with my own passions.  I didn’t like George W. Bush.  I couldn’t watch him on TV.  I didn’t, however, feel outraged and appalled as I do now.  So am I going to ruin my present getting mad at politicians I don’t agree with?  The real issue is how I come to terms with those things I disagree with.  I have come to a decision.  I will no longer watch MSNBC and wallow in gall, and drive around town perseverating about all the bad things Trump is doing to the US.  My heart and soul matters more than that.

My own heart and soul is the garden I must cultivate.  How I spend my now, my eternity, matters to me.  I have cultivated peace in relation to my personal enemies.  I now need to do that in regard to my disagreement with Trump’s antics.  There were people appalled with Obama, too.  I can remain in the ready in relation to my vote; I can stay informed about the political development in my home country; I can act in my immediate environment for the good of the world I touch; and I can remain personally at peace.  There are heights I can ascend to in my soul–joy, peace and love.  There are broken individuals I can buy a sandwich for at the convenience store near where I live.  And these things matter more to me than going about my business appalled at Trump.  “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.”

Trump Tests Contemporary Philosophy

At a supper party I spoke with a young woman who was getting a degree in philosophy.  I took the opportunity to lament the state of contemporary philosophy.  I told her, “There’s no more truth!”  She responded, “If there ever was.”

There were a coterie of philosophers in recent years who maintained that there is no such thing as truth.  Some of the notable philosophers were Nietzsche, Derrida, Fish, and Rorty.  Their assertion is that there is no outside reality that language copies and reproduces with words.  Rorty wouldn’t even make an assertion like that.  Because if he had said that there is no reality that language copies, that would have been an assertion of which the predicates of true or false could be attached.  Being consistent to his own system, Rorty said that he would use language in such a way that we would be attracted to speak like him.  He wasn’t making a statement about truth.  He was persuading us to speak like him, think like him.  Rorty wouldn’t even accept the endowed chair in the philosophy department at the University of Virginia which was offered him.  He thought that philosophy was no longer a viable discipline.  So U VA created a chair in a brand new department called something like cultural studies.

What does all this have to do with Donald Trump?  A lot of us are getting sick of all the lies he is telling.  As of August 1, the fact checker at the Washington Post found 4,229 lies told by Trump.  This averages 7.6/day.  If Trump had the brains, which he doesn’t, he could claim that contemporary philosophy has eliminated the concept of truth.  Since there is no truth, he would not be making statements contrary to it.  In short, Trump is the most prominent spokesperson for contemporary philosophy.

I was always suspicious of Rorty, Derrida, and Fish when I was a student.  Their claims didn’t convince me.  Now we have a test case for contemporary.  Is Trump lying?  Or can’t he lie?  Is there such a thing called truth which Trumps 4,229 statements are contrary to?  Or are the tactics of Trump and Giuliani, which seek to poison the notion that there is truth at all, entirely legitimate and in keeping with philosophy today?

I think the public outrage against Trump’s lies is an indication that most of us believe in truth, and bristle against lies.  When it comes down to it, I think that the pretensions of contemporary philosophy is another case of the emperor’s new clothes.  We see through it, even as we do Trump’s lies.

It Isn’t Even Interesting

After I got over the shock of Trump’s election to the office of the presidency, I became interested in politics.  I was never much interested in politics before.  Now I became an avid follower of American politics.

I called my cable company and added CNN and MSNBC.  I started watching with righteous outrage.  I was glad that the news networks were calling out Trump and bringing to the public his glaring missteps and violations of constitutional norms and good practice.

Later, I watched with amusement as the best reality show on the air.  “What was he up to next?” I asked, glued to the TV news.

Now I’m just getting sick of it all.  I don’t watch much, anymore.  I have this kind of resignation to low standards of human decency, unbridled violations of presidential protocols, bragging, influence peddling, conflicts of interest, and the list goes on.  I just want all this over as soon as possible.  It isn’t funny anymore.  Isn’t even interesting.

When Politics Used to Bore Me

Politics used to bore me.  In the past, I would rather watch old, mediocre movies like, “I Killed Rasputin” than listen to presidents or congresspersons hold forth on public policy.  Now, however, I find politics more entertaining even than good movies.  I have MSNBC on all the time, and am thoroughly entertained.  Politics in the Trump era is a real reality show that is more riveting than those reality shows drummed up by Hollywood.

Trouble is, I watch with a kind of unholy glee.  I like MSNBC because of their relentless Trump bashing.  Deserved.  All that MSNBC televises are facts that Trump himself utters, his tweets, his spoken word, his policies.  Trump calls this “fake news,” but his own tweets and speech are there to read or hear.  But it is not my best trait to loiter amid disgust and revulsion over Trump.

I long for those days when politics bored me.  I look forward to a new congress and a new president who will occupy their time and energy with the public good.  I want a president I won’t have to listen to because I trust his or her integrity, applaud their vision, and have confidence that they are serving the public good according to their own vision.