Tuesday, August 13, 2019


Tr*mp's teleprompter comments on the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings got a lot of air time — especially the parts where he suggested he might be open to some degree of gun control — but one line kept getting dropped off: "we must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement."

Thomas Szasz
The movement to deinstitutionalize psychiatric patients was kicked off by Thomas Szasz in the 1960s, beginning with his very influential book, The Myth of Mental Illness.  Granted, his arguments for the civil rights of psychiatric patients may have had less impact than the desire of states to close down the very costly state facilities where they were warehoused; but the process was a civil rights victory nonetheless.  Now, that victory may be undone.

Granted, the Tr*mp speechwriter's chief intent was yet another reiteration of the standard Republican line: guns don't kill people, crazy people (and minorities) do.  In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, it's normal to think the gunman "must have been crazy" — and people with psychiatric problems are "other" enough to fit the Republican template for victimhood quite readily.

It remains to be seen whether or not Tr*mp's call for involuntary confinement will become a major Republican talking point in a debate over how to deal with gun violence.  If the private corporations currently running so many of our prisons decide to get into the business, the likelihood will increase exponentially.

Friday, August 2, 2019


Joe Biden was better rehearsed in his talking points for the second debate, but that's all he had: talking points, delivered with a singular absence of charisma.  Primary voters who imagined him on a debate stage with Tr*mp much have felt more than a little queasy, even as they tried to figure out which of the other establishment white males were which.

Kamala Harris is trying to bridge the divide between the progressives and the moderates, but was visibly stressed during the second round of debates; and Pete Buttegeig's base of supporters seems to have topped out.  Unless there's an unexpected surge by Amy Klobuchar or Tulsi Gabbard, Biden is likely to remain the anointed choice of "moderates" in the party's leadership — potentially with devastating results.

Here's my nightmare scenario: Democrats go to their Milwaukee convention next July with no clear leader.  Hoping to maintain the Democratic advantage among women, Bernie Sanders releases his delegates to Elizabeth Warren, and it comes down to a choice between Warren and Biden.  Elected delegates are split, and establishment super-delegates throw the nomination to Biden.  On Election Day, large numbers of young progressives stay home in disgust: Tr*mp redux.

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One last thought: in the September debate, I genuinely will miss Marianne Williamson  — the only candidate to make a consistently moral argument against Tr*mpism.  Hopefully, some others will be more inclined to call out evil when they see it.