A Modest Proposal

Maybe this blogpost should bear a label, warning: Check with your pharmacist before ingesting, to be sure the contents do not conflict with other information prescribed for you.

This is likely to be an intolerant commentary, as in being unable to tolerate any longer the mega-spread of stupidity that seems to have increased, with Trump modeling and encouragement, from a small, durable, mortifying characteristic in American life, into a full-blown epidemic that makes the coronavirus seem like a casual sneeze.

In fact, this is a modest proposal for all of us to lower our tolerance level regarding stupidity. That won’t be easy, because apparently it’s blissfully comfortable to be stupid, because stupid is often considered cute, and what’s more, because stupid is now pervasive—it surrounds us, grunting, glowering, giggling, and scratching itself with pride. So we could begin anywhere.

But let’s start with Iowa.

Oops, pause for the ritual caveat. By stupid I mean willfully stupid. I do not mean intellectually challenged or illiterate or uneducated, since I’ve known quite a few persons who demonstrate both intelligence and wisdom while juggling one or more of those conditions. I also do not mean to insult Iowans, including the many who fled it for freedom in, say, New York; and especially not the original Iowans who named it “Beautiful Land” in their Sioux language, before the European conquest and expansion. I also don’t believe that rural people are necessarily stupider than urban ones, although I do know from experience—yes, I once romanticized farming before I actually lived on a farm for protracted periods—that isolation tends to reinforce whatever is already there, including uniformity, whereas city living inherently encounters and chafes what’s there against what’s new and different, altering both in a daily dynamism. But clearly, human beings manage to be stupid everywhere.

Still, let’s face it, people. Only Iowa has a butter cow.

Only Iowa has exhibited such dastardly clever stupidity as to have manipulated political candidates into stumping across its cornfields for an entire year, praising ethanol as manna in speeches delivered while teetering on haystacks, and spending millions of dollars in hopes of garnering all of 41 pledged delegate votes. As opposed to, for instance, a state like Illinois, where lots of people live in rural and urban communities and vote in primaries boasting a total of 155 pledged delegates. To be fair, Iowa does have one justifiably famous writers’ workshop, one distinguished newspaper, and a few good colleges—but after that you’re down to life-size cattle carved out of yellow breakfast spread, state fairs, fried ice cream corn dogs, and godhelpusall caucuses. A handful of other states plus the hapless colonies euphemistically termed “territories” also still hold caucuses, though in dwindling numbers: a patchwork crazy quilt of enfranchisement that political parties and state governments resist standardizing even in an election for national office—which is frankly, well, stupid. Each state has its own quirky modifications: North Dakota’s caucuses mercifully allow mail-in ballots, for instance. In all, it’s understandable that Iowa hungers for some distinction and respect—maybe like being first in the nation to vote for presidential candidates? If you’re New Hampshire, smaller even then Iowa but just as white, you already have the first primary in the country and you’re not about to give that up. It brings press, candidates, press, tourists, press, and attention. So in order to be first, Iowa has had to cling to its convoluted system from the 1800s. Back then, nobody got out much, especially in rural areas, so the act of voting, like that of attending church, was considered a social, even entertainment-worthy, occasion. The result? At its extreme in Iowa, possibly the most absurd expression of suffrage ever conceived, one that makes putting pebbles in a jar seems stunningly sophisticated.

Not only absurd, though: also discriminatory and arguably in violation of The Constitution. There are no absentee votes permitted in the Iowa caucuses, so if you can’t get to a caucus site (or, as of this year, the site of an electronic “satellite” caucus), you are flat-out disenfranchised. Too bad for the elderly, or the poor, since Iowa is hardly celebrated for its mass-transportation systems. Too bad for the disabled. Too bad for mothers with young children: the caucuses are held on one date only, at night and in the dead of winter, with no childcare on site available. And due to the demographics of Iowa itself, too bad for would-be voters of color, because even in an Iowan August you could go snow-blind from the whiteness. Last, but hardly least, caucusing leaves voters stripped of the privacy and thus safety of the voting booth, vulnerable to pressure and lobbying, and literally forced to switch from preferred candidates whose numbers didn’t “qualify” them; furthermore—given the celebration of small-town culture that caucuses represent—this can leave a voter exposed to lasting disapproval, antagonism, possibly even ostracism, from neighbors, vendors, and former friends who don’t like the way someone voted.

What a way to discourage voting!

This monumental screwup of the 2020 caucuses gives Iowans an opportunity for doing away with the caucus system altogether and changing to a primary system. The combination of human error, reliance on shiny (untested!) technology, possible hacking, and we-now-know-definite Trumpist sabotage in deliberately tying up phone lines installed to report results, all combine this year to point the way out. New Hampshire should not be the first or second primary state, either; there are plenty of other more representative-of-America states better suited.

Whew. Well, Iowa took more space then I had calculated—which was stupid of me–so I need to pick up speed with other stupidities no longer tolerable.

Item: The moment much commented on, analyzed and argued about, tsk tsked by some, and predictably deplored by Fox News as “rude,” when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, with her usual elegant aplomb, calmly ripped up Donald Trump’s State of the Union address in public to demonstrate what she believes should be done with piles of trash and mendacity. Later, she pointed out that since his words had shredded the truth and his conduct had shredded The Constitution, she had decided to rip up the pages displaying the state of his mind. It was an I Have Had It moment, deeply appreciated by me, among most other Americans. Do we really care that Trump and Hannity thought it rude? That would be stupid, you know.

Item: The stupidity of Bernie Sanders or anyone else saying a woman cannot be elected president, when 1) a woman already was and then had the election stolen from her, and 2) of course a woman can’t be elected president until she is, and then that will be that. Perhaps Bernie is sex-indeterminate and confusing himself with a woman, in terms of electability? Meanwhile, Iowa—sorry to harp on Iowa–seems to have delivered us to the choice between a chronically grumpy old man who’s a 1930’s type socialist modern economies like the Scandinavian countries find boring and a smart, young, gay, likable and totally inexperienced small-town mayor, both of whom however can boast of having penises.

Item: The stupidity of hanging on tenterhooks worrying Will She or Won’t She regarding Senators Susan Collins of Maine or Lisa Murkowsky of Alaska ever emerging from hand-wrung anguish before and after their impeachment votes. “Inappropriate” is a fitting adjective for behavior that blows its nose in a dinner napkin, Susan, not for committing bribery and inviting a foreign power to sabotage our electoral process. And, Lisa, terming that behavior merely “shameful and wrong” makes you sound like a 19th-century governess lecturing naughty Donald about the sins of masturbation or, as they used to call it, “self abuse.” How about calling it for what it is, abuse of power?

Item: The, sorry but yes, stupidity of reverence for Mitt Romney’s vote to convict Trump on one count of impeachment (but not the other). I might be alone out on a limb here, but have our standards been so guttered that we fall all over ourselves in gratitude at someone acting with the minimum principles his/her job and oaths require? Certainly I’m pleased that although the Republican not-guilty vote was strictly along party lines, the guilty vote was in fact bipartisan, with one Republican and two Independents joining the Democrats. Certainly I realize this was accomplished at some cost: poor Utah, Trump will now try to turn it into the national center for regulation-free testing of radioactive and biochemical weapons. Certainly Romney has won himself a place in history. Then again, he’s a Mormon, which means his sense of history is already embedded in his belief system: the Latter-Day Saints keep genealogies tracking back for generations, a practice doubtless necessitated by all those ancestors with multiple wives and the intermarrying of families. Furthermore, Romney adulation should be tempered by recalling that his position on virtually every issue is fairly odious, and he has four more years of his term left before facing voters again, plus he is a multimillionaire who owns multiple residences in which to retire if he chooses, one of which is so palatial it has a special elevator for his vintage automobile collection. (Just sayin.’) If you want a real profile in courage, look to Democratic Senator Doug Jones of Alabama, former successful prosecutor of two Ku Klux Klan members for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four African-American girls. Jones is in the first year of his first term as a senator from a blood-red state, one who landed his seat by upsetting in more ways than one all the Trumpists back home—who lie in wait for him now.

Item: The stupidity evoked and expressed even by liberals and progressives going “Awwww,” in the wake of Trump having turned the State of the Union address into a cheap reality show, cynically displaying a moment of what should have been family privacy with the reunion of a soldier who was shipped home from the front for the occasion, and opportunistically parading a surviving Tuskegee veteran. For godsake, these were juxtaposed with awarding Rush Limbaugh the Medal of Freedom! The only thing missing was Trump announcing that if you looked under your seat, every representative and senator would find a voucher for a free car. When will we stop being pushovers for terminal sentimentality? When will we stop crouching in fear of overlooking the lowest possible common denominator? When will we stop being terrified of our own smart, trustable sense of outrage?

Me, I’m done for now—although nowhere near finished. To be continued in future. I do feel better for having triaged what stupidities I could manage, though still facing so many more. Call it judgmental if you wish—or, if so moved, feel welcome to add your own list!