Archive for October, 2020

SF, Fantasy, or Alternative History?

I’ve written science fiction and fantasy professionally for slightly more than 47 years, and if I’d put some of what has been in the news in recent days and weeks, any editor I’ve ever had would have said, “That’s not believable. Not even close.” Or words to that effect.

We have a President telling a rally that Californians wear special masks that they can’t take off even when they’re eating.

Friends and neighbors are claiming that the requirement for protective masks to curb the spread of a virus are instruments of oppression and tyranny. I mean, cloth or surgical masks aren’t anywhere like tools of torture.

The acting head of Utah public health lifted the mask requirement for Iron County because the rise in cases has only been 20%, as opposed to the record numbers of cases and hospitalization in adjoining counties.

Right-wing militia members plotted to kidnap and execute a female governor for enforcing public health measures. When Trump condemned the governor’s public health measures at a campaign rally, the audience responded by chanting “Lock her up!”, to which Trump replied,”Lock ’em all up.”

The President is claiming that the country has “turned the corner” and heading in the right direction as case numbers and hospitalizations are reaching new highs in many places and increasing in 41 of the 50 states. What’s even stranger is that huge numbers of people believe him.

The same President is claiming that children ripped from their parents arms are being treated “so well.”

And that in the steepest economic decline in ninety years that United States has had the best economy ever under him.

Or that he holds international meetings in his own luxury hotel chain and bills the government, in fact, overcharging the government – three dollars for every glass of water, for example.

He continues to insist at his rallies that Mexico is paying for his wall, but every dollar has come from U.S. taxpayers, often shifted from other federal programs.

He claims that five foreign auto makers are building new manufacturing plants in the U.S. when no plants have been even announced, let alone built.

Interestingly enough, Trump offers the most lies the most often in forums and media where they can’t refuted as the lies they are or can’t easily be refuted, just like an evil genius would in a F&SF book… except a fictional book based on Trump couldn’t ever have been published except as a farce – at least until now – because editors would have rejected it for being too improbable.


There are two common definitions of “liberty”: (1) the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views and (2) the power or scope to act as one pleases.

For the most part, the political party railing about “liberty” these days tends to be the Republican Party. In my part of the country, as well as elsewhere, they find masks and social distancing “tyranny” and “oppressive.” Most refuse to wear masks except when absolutely required, because they want the liberty not to be inconvenienced and, in effect, the liberty to infect others.

But this desire for “liberty” is only for their liberty.

What I find both ironic and hypocritical is that they support oppression and restriction in a considerable number of areas. They want to dictate what a woman can and can’t do with her own body, even what forms of birth control her insurance, whether private or Medicaid, will pay for. They want to legalize the right of religious believers to discriminate against employees and customers on the basis of their own religion.

They oppose removing barriers to oppression and discrimination, which is, in effect, the same as retaining oppressive restrictions. They close polling places and limit ballot drop boxes, which is certainly restrictive. They gerrymander legislative districts, which restricts the liberty and voting power of those in the other party.

They want the liberty to pollute the air and water, which restricts and oppresses the ability of others to breathe. They want the liberty to pay workers as little as they can, even when people can’t live on those wages, and then they complain about government providing aid to those underpaid workers, calling the taxes required tyrannical. They’ve pushed to restrict the ability of people to obtain affordable health care.

But they claim they’re for liberty.

Just whose liberty is another question.

A Few Debate Take-Aways

For Republicans and Trump supporters, apparently all Trump has to do to claim “victory” in the debate is for Trump to be relatively polite and coherent. There’s certainly no requirement for factual accuracy, and the repetition of popular lies apparently passes for intellect and truth among his supporters.

The most brazen and bare-faced lie that Trump delivered, at least to me, was the idea that separated refugee children were being treated excellently.

Biden’s natural courtesy, and the fact that his voice is softer, tends to work against him when dealing with someone like Trump.

Trying to accurately explain complex issues in a debate is usually not a good idea, because most of the audience is looking for soundbites with which they can identify. Biden had a very good point on oil industry subsidies, but didn’t explain it well. Oil and gas producers get to exempt as much as 15% of their gross income from taxation. That’s a subsidy that other industries and workers certainly don’t get.

Trump kept asking why Biden hadn’t done things while he was a senator and vice president. While it was an effective line, it was particularly effective with Trump supporters because most of them don’t understand government. The vice president literally has no power at all, except to break ties in Senate votes and whatever the President delegates, and that’s seldom much. Trump certainly hasn’t delegated any real power to Mike Pence. Individual senators also have very limited powers. They can propose, but unless they can persuade at least fifty others, and sometimes sixty, they’re powerless. Both the House and Senate are legislative bodies that have to work out compromises with other members. Almost never is legislation the result of one member. But trying to explain that in a debate comes across as weak and whining. All Biden could do was to cite some of his documented accomplishments. Given the power a President has, and how little power a vice president or an individual senator has – except to stop legislation from occurring – Biden was better off doing what he did, which was to point out Trump’s shortcomings, given how much power the President does have.

Republicans and Trump supporters make a big deal over the allegations about Hunter Biden, allegations that Trump’s own FBI declares represent Soviet disinformation, but are quite comfortable with all the money flowing into Trump properties because Trump is President. They also seem to have little problem with his keeping his tax returns hidden. Yet Biden’s tax records are public. So Trump and company use fabricated allegations against Biden’s son, while ignoring, if not dismissing Trump’s own sad and checkered financial history.

The Over-Reliance on Personal Experience

…the rise of misinformation, and “Covid fatigue” have been, in my view, the principal reasons for the surge in Cobid-19 cases and the coming increase in fatalities.

For most human beings, what we see and what we hear is far more important to us, and we’re more likely to believe what we see or hear – or what we don’t – than what we read in the newspapers or online (unless that online contact is a “trusted” source or friend), and our behavior reflects that.

Here in Southwest Utah, in my county, there have only been eight hundred cases of Covid-19 and three fatalities all year. Yet, as I write this, in Salt Lake some 250 miles to the north and in St. George 50 miles to the south, case numbers are surging, and ICUs are almost at full capacity.

Has that made any difference in behavior here? More people wearing masks or social distancing? Not that I can see. People wear masks only where they’re absolutely required, and there’s certainly no social distancing in public spaces. Outside, college students are unmasked and congregate in close proximity.

Almost no one knows anyone who contracted Covid-19, and the few cases they know about turned out to be mild. Then there’s the fact that Utah’s the reddest of the red states, and Trump signs and banners abound. And what is Trump saying? That Covid’s not a problem, and that we’ve “turned the corner.” With a resurgence of cases all across the Midwest and in Utah, we may have turned a corner, but it doesn’t look to me like that turn is toward a quick recovery.

But people are tired of not having sports and getting together. While restaurants here are open, they’re required to have social distancing. People are having large gatherings, without masks… and without social distancing. The governor is under intense pressure to relax what restrictions do exist, and the Mothers Against Masks [in school] continue to press against that requirement.

Why? Because no one’s seen much Covid-19, and what serious cases have occurred are quarantined, so that families don’t even see how debilitating the disease can be. Studies show that roughly ten percent of those hospitalized for Covid-19 have permanent systemic damage, but that damage isn’t visible to most people either. People can’t think or breathe as well, and there are a host of other complications.

We’re approaching 220,000 deaths in the U.S., but for too many people (largely Republicans) – those who haven’t lost someone or suffered that permanent damage – 220,000 is just a number, a meaningless and impersonal statistic… and that’s why the cases and deaths will continue.

How Long Will Some People Believe?

It’s been four years since Donald Trump promised that he’d provide a cheaper and better national health program. So far as anyone can tell, such a program has never even been drafted, but he’s still promising.

He promised to bring coal back. He didn’t deliver on that, either, because he knew, as does every resource economist with any ability, that it’s economically infeasible, in addition to being environmentally disastrous.

He promised that by last April, Covid-19 would be gone, like a miracle. Since that promise, some 200,000 Americans have died, and case numbers are increasing. In addition, a recent study suggests that deaths due to Covid-19 have been undercounted.

He promised a great new wall that Mexico would pay for. Mexico didn’t pay for it, and of the 194 miles “built” only three miles were new. The other 191 miles were to strengthen the existing wall.

Trump promised to deport every single one of the 11 million illegal immigrants. He’s actually deported fewer illegals than former President Obama.

Trump promised to build an infrastructure second to none. There’s been no progress on that, either, and no real effort.

He was going to bring back manufacturing. That hasn’t happened.

Trump vowed to eliminate wasteful spending in every federal department. That was just lip service. He also vowed to eliminate the federal debt in eight years. Even before the onset of Coviod-19, the federal debt increased under Trump.

He said he wouldn’t take vacations, but he’s played far more golf than Obama, whom he criticized for golfing too much.

He said he’d eliminate the carried interest provision of the tax code that allowed financial moguls to avoid billions in taxes. He not only didn’t do that, but he passed a tax bill where most of the benefits went to millionaires.

He promised to ban foreign lobbyists from raising and spending money on American elections, but did nothing,

I’m not saying Trump didn’t keep all his promises. There were some that he did. He promised to raise import tariffs, which he did, and which increased the price of imported goods, as well as the price of American manufactured goods that use imported parts or components.

In 2016, he ran on a platform of steep tax cuts, increased defense and veterans spending, and no major changes to Social Security and Medicare. As a result, between those promises and Covid-19 expenditures, the president has enacted a total of $6.6 trillion in new borrowing, a total amount of debt now likely to exceed the size of the economy in 2021.

He’s also kept promises to roll back environmental regulations and to remove the U.S. from the Paris climate accord. He also kept promises to be tougher on all forms of immigration, with the result that families seeking to immigrate – both legally and illegally – were ripped apart and children separated from their parents, and often placed in cages.

In summary, between the promises Trump failed to keep and those he did keep, as a nation, we’re poorer (except for the very rich), less healthy, suffer more air pollution, and continue to have a deteriorating infrastructure… not to mention deteriorating relations with allies.

So why do so many people still support Trump?

The “Ultra-Liberal” Voter

Ultra-liberal voters also have less than desirable and clearly identifiable characteristics, and, as with “Trump” voters, not all of them share the following traits that I’ve observed in ultra-liberals over the years.

Sadly, today, most ultra-liberals have little or no understanding of the basics of politics or economics, which is why the conservatives have been able to create a political structure that favors them over time in the majority of states. It’s also why, once the current furor is over, Democrats will find themselves on the defensive again, especially at the state level, which will become ever more important with a Supreme Court that will be even more tilted to the right. Beyond that, they also continue to believe that more funding will solve almost every problem, except for the military, where less funding is the answer.

Ultra-liberals also have a tendency to focus on semantics, rather than power. They fail to understand that, if they get and hold power, the semantics will follow.

While many ultra-liberal voters are theoretically more secular than ultra-conservatives, many of them “compensate” for the lack of fervor in religious matters by channeling the same kind of emotion into politics and political correctness.

Ultra-liberals have a dismaying tendency to adopt causes, technology, words, and educational theories not necessarily because they’re good, but simply because they’re new. Conservatives, of course, reject most of what’s new simply because it is new.

Like many ultra-conservatives, ultra-liberals also tend to be condescending, and occasionally even hostile, toward those with whom they disagree.

Far too many ultra-liberals believe that there is an optimal and universally applicable solution to any problem, if only the conservatives wouldn’t stand in their way, when in fact, no technology or system has ever worked optimally for everyone. The choice is always between a system that works for most people, and which will fail or screw a minority, or the use of multiple systems, with the corresponding requirement for more funding and resources [and even then, people being people, some will fail or be screwed]. The liberal “compromise” is often underfunding both.

Liberals also seem to have a fascination with degrees, rather than actual expertise, and often fail to understand the difference. Combined with their fondness for “positive” curricula and their horror at any form of educational consequences, the result has been a dumbed-down and educational system at all levels. Yet they fail to recognize either the cause of this situation or the future economic and societal consequences.

The ultra-liberal voter enthusiastically and uncritically backs almost anything with the term “environmental” attached to it, especially touting solar power and “renewable energy” as being the most “environmentally clean power,” despite the fact that no such thing exists or ever will. The only questions are which power system has (1) the least adverse impact on the environment in the locale in which it is situated and (2) the lowest global environmental impact. Ultra-liberals often reject this position.

Right now, ultra-liberals are backing greater diversity as a solution to everything involved with cultural and racial problems. It isn’t. Lack of diversity in professional occupations, higher education, political office, etc., is a symptom of far deeper economic and societal problems. Focusing on diversity is a simplistic attack on the symptom and diverts attention and resources from the fundamental underlying problems.

But then, that’s the continuing basic problem with the far left, seizing on one simplistic and superficial answer to far larger problems, throwing money at it, and then going on to yet another superficial approach… and yet another.

The “Trump” Voter

Obviously, there’s no absolute template for the voters who back Trump and/or the Republican Party unconditionally, but there is a range of beliefs and attitudes which are far more common to such individuals than they are to those who are less than enamored of Trump or of the Republican Party.

One trait is a belief that Democrats/Liberals have debased the American system as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. More conservative voters have a greater tendency to reject various changes to our system as un-American or unconstitutional, despite the fact that the Founding Fathers specifically provided for a method of changing the system.

Another trait is a belief that the United States should “protect” and enshrine in law “traditional” religious beliefs, even going so far as trying to legislate one set of religious beliefs into law while fulminating against others and against other nations that have enshrined a different set of beliefs into law. They tend to ignore the Founding Fathers’ express desire to separate church and state, by claiming that the framers of the Constitution always meant “freedom of religion” only so long as that religion was some form of Christianity, although that was certainly not written into the Constitution… or even the Federalist papers.

From what I’ve observed, many Trump voters are angry about social and economic changes that they believe have left them in a poorer position. They also believe that government programs have unfairly elevated others, particularly minorities and recent immigrants, and that too much federal spending goes to the undeserving, which they label as socialism, but they tend to ignore the benefits of government that accrue to them. In general, they tend to view any government program that does not benefit them directly as wasteful and unnecessary.

A significant percentage of Trump and hardcore Republican voters are strong, if not fanatical, believers in the right to bear arms of any sort that an individual can carry, and oppose any restriction on what they see as an unconditional Constitutional right.

Despite the fact that every single person on the North American continent is either an immigrant or a descendent of immigrants, pro-Trump voters tend to be far more skeptical and critical of immigrants. They also tend to favor a more isolationist U.S. position in the world.

From what I’ve seen and heard, Trump voters and ultra-conservatives tend to believe the best times are behind the U.S. and generally oppose change, unless that change is to undo previous governmental action. They’re also more for economic growth, regardless of whether that growth creates enormous environmental degradation.

Those are the most obvious tendencies and traits that I’ve observed over the years, and there may be others as well. I’m not saying that the more liberal Democrats also don’t have identifiable traits as well, but that’s another post.


One commenter requested that I give my best shot at describing the “Trump” voter. Then I got to thinking that, if I was tackling one extreme, I ought to do both.
So there are two posts. One right after the other.

But before getting to the posts, I have to offer a disclaimer. I am not a psychologist nor a professional pollster. I am someone who spent twenty years professionally in the world of national politics, serving in the legislative and executive branches [as a Republican under Republicans] and working in the private business sector for a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. I’ve also spent the last decade or so in the “reddest” state in the U.S.; so I’m not speaking/writing from a “blue/liberal” enclave.

The Denial Campaign

After requiring supplemental oxygen at least twice, and getting three different treatments for Covid-19, Trump is now declaring, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.” That’s fine for someone who has an entire staff of doctors looking out for him on a minute-to-minute basis, but most Americans don’t have that kind of healthcare, as should be obvious from the more than seven million cases and over 210,000 deaths recorded so far.

The most blatant denial of the danger of Covid-19 was when Trump, still sick and contagious, ordered his Secret Service detail to drive him around so that he could wave to supporters. Just how many more people did he endanger by that stunt? Especially after the unmasked Rose Garden ceremony a week ago that resulted in passing on Covid-19 to at least two senators and a number of Trump staffers.

But that’s just the beginning. Trump’s entire Presidency has been one of denial. He denied that white supremacist groups were evil and a danger. He denied that air pollution was a danger by rolling back air quality standards. He’s denied the reality of climate change and the significant contribution to it by human caused emissions, and then pushed for less regulation of dirty coal-fired power plants. He’s denied the heritage of immigration – and the fact that almost half of the important patents that have led to U.S. dominance were issued to immigrants. He’s denied police brutality. He’s denied the right to affordable health care. He’s the first president in modern times to deny a look at his tax returns. He’s denied that there was and is foreign interference in our elections, and at the same tine denied the safety of mail-in ballots, a denial of statements by his own FBI that there’s no evidence of wide-scale fraud in any form of U.S. voting, including the mail-in ballots used by ten states. Even before Trump was President, he denied that President Obama was a U.S. citizen.

And all the time, he’s made impossible promises that he never followed through on… and likely never intended to.

Rules Are For Suckers

Trump agreed with the rules for the first Presidential debate, including one that stated that he would not interrupt while Biden was speaking. He almost immediately broke that rule.

In one sense, that should tell everyone who and what he is. He’ll only follow rules, or laws, when he physically has to, or when they’re to his benefit, and even then he’ll twist them to his advantage, like when he paid his daughter something like $70,000 for consulting services – when she was already on the payroll. You can’t be both an employee and an independent contractor for a company at the same time, but that clearly didn’t faze the Donald.

For the Donald, rules are for suckers, just as dying for your country is for losers and suckers, and that’s why someone paid off a doctor to find the Donald unfit for the military because of bone spurs. That’s why he’s stiffed contractors.

He’s been in office for more than three and a half years, and he’s promised a better health plan since even before he was elected. He also promised a massive infrastructure program. So far, there’s no sign of either even having been drafted. He also promised that Mexico would pay for his wall. Mexico didn’t and won’t. Those are just the most obvious examples, but his failure to keep promises is because keeping promises is also for suckers.

He pushed through a tax bill that gave most of the population a short-term tiny tax cut and the millionaires and billionaires a huge tax cut, which dramatically increased the deficit and made it harder to fund existing government programs, and then he lied about what he’d actually done.

The Donald isn’t ever going to change. He is what he is.

What bothers me is that so many people not only don’t see that, but that they also don’t see that any successful society runs on rules, usually called laws. When people don’t obey the rules voluntarily, society goes downhill. When that occurs, three things can happen. Society can collapse into revolution or anarchy. Or an authoritarian strongman can take over, which is becoming more and more common in today’s world. Or people can decide that it’s better to do the right thing and obey the rules, and work cooperatively to make things better so that bad rules/laws are changed.

The real suckers are those people who believe rules are for suckers… because in the end, rules accepted by the majority are the only thing that holds a successful and free society together, and abiding by those rules and, where necessary, peacefully cooperating to improve them are the only way to remain free. And that’s something that the Donald will never accept… or understand, not surprisingly, since he wants to reintroduce the divine rights of kings, or in his case, the divine right of dictators.