Don’t Stop Believing

In their comprehensive tome, The Sopranos Sessions, Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz write the following:

“We all know David Chase’s view of human nature is bleak. The Sopranos is set in a universe where good and evil have renamed themselves, principle and instinct. Animals are not known for their inclination to act on principle. Nearly every significant scene enacts the same basic struggle, pitting the self-preservation instinct against the influence of what Abraham Lincoln called, the better angels of our nature. These angels have glass jaws.”

Dumbing it down to Little Carmine’s intellect, the recurring theme in every episode of The Sopranos is the same. Given a choice, Tony and all humans in his orbit will never, ever do the right thing. They will always yield to their darker impulses.

This theme, hammered home with the blunt force of a baseball bat, alternately whispered in soft, sub textual tones of the demon on your other shoulder, is impossible to miss. Over seven seasons, 86 episodes and eight years, Humanity sucks! Capitalism sucks! America sucks! Depression sucks! No one on The Sopranos escapes without either being killed, emotionally broken or otherwise crushed in the giant maw of the great big nothing. The only survivors are able to do so by becoming willfully blind to their toxic reality.

I’ve written about The Sopranos before and I’ve said that I believe that David Chase is a miserable prick of a human being. If the old adage, misery loves company, is true, then Mr. Chase has a legion of companions. Like the garbage dumps along Tony’s routes, Chase loves to spread his noxious refuse far and wide, polluting the perfect landscape of what he views as willful human denial with his version of the truth. If that truth causes further emotional rot, so be it. That’s the price we all deserve to pay for our steadfast refusal to see the big picture.

There is no question that The Sopranos was groundbreaking for its time. It took a character who would have been treated as an antagonist in any former TV show and made him a protagonist. Furthermore, all crime shows that came after Tony Soprano carried the essence of his genes. Some offspring were worthy, such as The Shield and Breaking Bad, while others like Sons of Anarchy and Ozark were little more than sad, bastard children. Even other shows outside the crime genre such as Lost, 24 and Mad Men owed their success to The Sopranos. All of this may be my opinion, but it should be factual.

Last year, I was excited when I learned that The Sopranos had finally been offered with audio description. I waited for it to come out and have spent the past two months watching the show. I have finally come to the end and I can tell you two things.

The first is that the series still holds up after 15 years being off the air. The writing, acting and production values are supreme.

The second is that the show is an exhausting, dispiriting, ultimately redundant slog to get through. Even the complexity of the show is still predictably formulaic. Every season, Tony confronts new challenges in both his personal and professional lives. Every season, he prevails, but he doesn’t, all while dragging everyone around him down on his sinking pleasure barge of hedonistic misery. Tony Soprano never changes. No one in his world ever changes. Human nature is static.

This is a starkly conservative concept, so it should be comforting to me. Somehow, it’s not. That leads me to an inescapable question. Have I changed? I don’t hold the deep and abiding love of The Sopranos that I used to. I like the show. I respect the show. But I don’t love the show.

So what is different about me? Is it my age? Is it my emotional state? My physical state? The world around me? Jesus! If there’s anything to validate David Chase’s shitty view of humanity, it should be the current state of things. So why do I come to the great black screen of ambiguity at the end of the series and not rub my hands together in glee and say, ahhh, brilliant! Kylie, lets run it again! What’s more, why do I find myself contemptuous of Mr. Chase, rather than figuratively sitting at his feet in pure reverence?

Why haven’t I written in this blog in a while? Maybe, like Tony and his motley crew, I worry that my writing is reflective of a man in stasis. Why pass that misery on to others? If this world is steeped in bitter bile, why add to it? Why pass it off as artistic brilliance when it’s really just tepid mediocrity? Have I run out of source material? Are all of my themes exhausted? Am I dying a slow death of the soul that James Gandolfini might have undergone while inhabiting the vacuum that was Tony Soprano?

David Chase seems to be trapped in a paradox. On the one hand, he seems to be saying that humans can’t change. On the other, he displays repeated contempt for the whole of humanity for being unable to change. Am I incapable of change? Have I slowly, gradually changed and have just been unaware of it? Obviously, I’m older. I’m heavier. My ankles hurt more than they used to. I’m now a pet owner and I love Kylie dearly. I have a job that brings me immense pleasure on a daily basis. I love the surface pleasures like food, cigars, beer, music, a rainy thunderstorm, a good book or TV show, old-time radio, clocks, a stimulating conversation and swimming. My greatest pleasure in life is sex, which of course has proven to be elusive over the past few years.

But what else is there? As Tony Soprano muttered when he was trapped in his Kevin Finnerty coma dream, “Who am I? Where am I goin’?” I am now 47 years old, which coincidently was the same age Tony was when the show ended. What will I leave behind when the black screen finally comes up for me? Will I be Tony, trapped in an endless wheel of doom, or will I be someone else? If I had my druthers, I’d be more like Hank Schrader, able to do the right thing in spite of my flaws. But who knows. There’s the role we write for ourselves, and then there’s the role that we actually play.

I’m still trying to answer that elusive question. But I’ll tell you this… I’d rather be surrounded by a group of people who traffic in vapid inanities, but who are content with themselves, rather than to be accompanied by one deep thinker who wallows in syndical existentialism, all the while going about in pity for himself.

Or, maybe I’m just cloaking writers block in philosophical argle-bargle?

The End of Roe v. Wade

I never thought I would live to see the day when Roe v. Wade was overturned. Yesterday, when my phone blew up with the news, I was quietly thankful. I believe that the RVW decision was wrongfully resolved and was an abomination on legal, moral, constitutional and scientific grounds.

I was thankful, but I did not celebrate.

One of my biggest reasons for opposing legal abortion is due to its origins in eugenics. That point was driven home to me yesterday as I browsed the predictably angry tweet storm from the left. More than a few justified the need for abortion based on the notion that the disabled cannot have quality of life. Implicit in their arguments is the real notion that those who are deemed as the caretakers of the disabled cannot have true quality of life. This idea should send chills down the spines of everyone who claims to champion diversity, equity and inclusion. In particular, it should give serious pause to everyone in the disabled community. Yet, in this great paradoxical age in which we now live, I don’t expect much introspection along those lines.

I am glad to see the end of RVW. Yet, two people whom I consider to be good friends are not glad. They are angry. I believe their deep feelings of anger, sadness and betrayal come from a place of good faith. One is a gay woman who is fearful that the reversal of RVW foreshadows the eventual overturning of gay marriage. The other woman has her own personal reasons for championing the rights of women to have autonomy over their own bodies. I will not lord this victory over them (or anyone) using the popular Trumpian tactic of, “Owning the libs.” It is a time for quiet reflection and preparation as the battle over abortion now comes back to the states.

My final point is simple, but not simplistic. Whoever sheds the first blood in the name of political righteousness will lose the battle for public opinion. Mark these words well. The first dead judge, or politician, or clinic worker, or feminist activist will take your side back to the days of the bombing of abortion clinics and dead doctors that retarded the cause of the pro-life movement in the public consciousness for decades. I firmly condemn the violence of political extremism, just as I have condemned the muted violence of abortion.

The Mob

The Mob
By
Elliott Lange

The mob kills
The mob destroys.
Bringers of terror
Fire and noise.
The mob is a monster
With thousands of heads
Ranting and chanting
Palpable dread.

The mob is a black man
Dead on a rope
The mob is a mother
just buying some soap
The mob is a cop
with blood on her face
The mob is a screen
in your office space.

Clamoring, yammering
Pointing a finger.
Smashing and grabbing
Too quick to linger.
Bullies and cowards
Having their moment.
Thundering, blundering
Thriving on torment.

Shrieking young students
shouting him down
An innocent seamstress
Her head on the ground
Luminous text
Typing while nameless
Another job canceled
Faceless and shameless.

Another store looted
“It’s all just things”
Storming the capitol
“Of thee I sing.”
Courthouses, cop cars
Awash in hot flame
“It’s all about justice”
“C’mon! Say his name!”

Better stay silent
Better go hide.
Turn up the music
simmer inside
The fear holds us tightly
an icy, steel grip
For what if the mob has
my name on its lips?

Plain Cake Square

The plain cake square sits before me on the desk and speaks.

“Ryan,” it says. “Eat me.”

And what if I don’t, I ponder.

Refracting my thoughts, the plain cake square says, “Consider the alternative. Flat, expansive, empty, yawning vacuum.”

Absent, what, I wonder mutely.

“You know. You’ve always been aware, even though your senses are tuned to a lower frequency than you may believe, like a bat with a haywire radar. You can still feel the hum, even if you can’t hear it,” the cake says. “I know. I know. I know I know I KNOW!!! I saw Queenie in the hall outside of the women’s restroom taking an ungodly amount of gumballs from the vending machine and she knew that I know. Her large, shark-like teeth gnawed the wad in time with some vague Electric Light Orchestra song that you heard in your head in that gray borderland between wake and sleep, with lightning crackling like an electronic Muppet in the middle distance.

I know.”

A gumball drops. “Tink!”

“The busy, buzzy drones at the front desk know. They know too! They only seem as if they are animated shells operating within the vacuous vacuum of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy laden with alive but dead carrion. The bureaucracy a great tomb of damned souls crying over the eternity of lost thought and action in the expanse of time, their waling chorus like a dirge to the fallen and bleeding parents in war-torn countries in Europe that will never know a safe space.

I know.”

A gumball drops. “Kla-tink!”

“So much time! So little time! Time to consider. Time to plan. Time to try to sleep, only to lightly doze with the shadow of looming nightmares over the snow-covered horizon. Nightmares that lumber and clumber like a coming juggernaut. Nightmares of an arpeggio of cries…sobs…laments of the unsaid. A night flight of echoing refrains.

I know.”

“Kliddle-tink!”

“Time enough at last! Isn’t that what Burgess Meredith once said before he was The Penguin? Before he was Rocky’s doomed coach? Time enough at last! I whisper to you. I implore you. I beseech you! I shriek at you like your psycho neighbor who doesn’t believe that black lives matter. I howl like the werewolf in the closet of the house in Cypress Canyon. TIME ENOUGH AT LAST!!! Time enough to make sense of the hum. Of the dirge. Of the cacophony of Kafka. Truths whirl and flail in truly arabesque fashion when they are truly truths.

I know.”

“Klakl-tink!”

“I tried to warn you! When you stole the Fisher Price plastic apple from Shane’s office, I tried to warn you. I jingled and tingled and sing-songled at you behind a thousand warnings and you shunned them like a classist clam shuns an oyster…”

You mean, shucks…

“DO NOT PRESUME TO TELL ME WHAT I MEAN!!! I tried to warn you, but you left the musical apple somewhere in the catacombs of Denver. The yawning, gnawing maw of Denver. That is your oversight. That was your failure!

Be cool, Cal. I know.”

“Phut!”

“There’s a gumball on the floor. You wanna pick it up. Queenie not here to direct your hand.”

My throat feels as if it is coated with caramelized sugar. I…I…can’t accept it.

“Well then… There’s always frosting.”

The plain cake square flicks its tail, shakes its ears and slinks from the room in search of more springy, sinewy prey, leaving nary a tell-tale crumb in its wake.

Slow Joe

In reaction to President Biden’s State of the Union address, many of those on the right have addressed his increasing tendency to speak in a garbled, mush-mouthed style. This is an obvious avenue of attack. Some, particularly those in the disabled community, take offense. The sentiments are best expressed by a young woman who commented on a friend’s Facebook thread in response to several people who were mocking Biden’s verbal mishaps at the podium:

“FYI, laughing at someone’s speech issues is ableist and stupid. Say what you will about his politics, but the man is trying. Speech impairments are real and don’t downgrade someone’s intelligence. Grow up!”

The poster of this comment is 20 years old. She was born just after the time that George W. Bush became president. I was 25 when GWB was elected and 33 when he left office. I remember well the field day that the press, Democrats, comedians and my personal friends (many of them disabled) had with President Bush’s flagrant malapropisms, spoonerisms, stutters and other verbal blunders at the microphone. None of them had any compunction about taking shots at everything from Bush’s IQ to his heritage to his personal appearance.

The difference between 2001 and now is the size of the stage. The internet was still up and coming and social media was not woven into the fabric of our lives. Now, all of you SJW types have a much bigger church in which to profess your beliefs on Sunday, while quietly sinning the other six days of the week. Your outrage is performative in public, carefully designed to check all the right boxes for professional and social capital. You guys are the new family values Republican coalition, mouthing all the right words in front of the cameras in the Congressional chambers, while meeting your mistress at midnight. It’s all well and good to defend Slow Joe, but you’ll take your shots at whomever the GOP nominee will be in 2024 and anything and everything will be fair game in the name of justice, right? After all, politics is the ultimate contact sport.

As for Biden, the notion that he is a victim of a childhood speaking malady as abject horseshit! All you need do is search out his public speeches (both prepared and extemporaneous) from several years ago to see that his speech patterns have degraded of late. He is very likely a victim of old age. So, you’ll likely switch to your next tactic. “Ryan, knock off the ageist bullshit!” I was also 33 years old when John McCain ran against Barack Obama for president. Did any of you leftist snipers care about ageism then? If you answer with any word other than, “Nope,” then heaven bless you for a little fibber. I wonder if any of my disabled friends were outraged when Vice-president Biden told a guy in a wheelchair to stand up. Or did you choose to memory hole that episode as President Biden memory holed Afghanistan the other night?

The reality of the situation is that Joe Biden is a tepid leader who would not have been well suited to the presidency at 40, let alone at 79. His one function was to insure that Donald Trump was voted out of office. He succeeded. All of the rest of this drama is a ridiculous holding pattern while we wait for 2024.

In the meantime, I have no sympathy for President Biden on any front. All I have to do is rerun his Vice-Presidential debate with Paul Ryan in 2012 and watch Biden’s treatment of Ryan to remind myself of what a mean, nasty shithead Uncle Joe really is.

So, bring on the partisan ableism, ageism and all of the other isms, and please do me the courtesy of foregoing the finger-wagging and speak to me with your true voices. I prefer unvarnished honesty to the fraud of performative politics.

Betrayal: Part Two

I get it.

There’s a reason why I pasted Erick Erickson’s letter in this blog. It resonated. You live with something for years until it becomes part of you. Every day, it stares back at you from the depths of the mirror, but you’re so used to it that you can’t see it. You don’t know when it became a part of you. You don’t know when you learned to live with it. But you know it’s there. Kind of like being fat. One day, you put your pants on and your belt is tighter and you have to go up a notch. You don’t know when it happened, but you know why it happened.

It feels as if the last six years of my life have been rife with betrayal. In 2015, I was a Republican. I held a certain set of conservative beliefs that informed my world view. My daily enmeshment in a hostile work environment where my beliefs were constantly challenged, assaulted and ridiculed only strengthened them. Those who identified as liberals and progressives in my life acted predictably. The derisive barbs, the clumsy baiting in the break room, the pointedly unsubtle conversations within earshot, the mocking laughter were all true to form for leftists. At some point, I stopped arguing, recognizing the futility of any attempt at constructive dialogue. Mike Rosen and conservative allies on social media were my quiet workplace refuge.

It was one thing to be assailed by liberals. It was quite another when the party I believed in slowly surrendered to a hostile external force that sought not to change it for the better, but to erode it for the sole purpose of self-glorification.

In April of 2016, I attended the Colorado state Republican convention in Colorado Springs. I heard a lot of dialogue during that day. Most of it was healthy and respectful. Some of it was unhealthy and toxic. All of it was robust. I had no inkling that five years later, the GOP would be transformed into a monoculture of personality held hostage to the ego of one man.

I didn’t leave the GOP after Trump was elected. I recognized that most of the people who voted for him did so for reasons of pragmatism. He wasn’t their first choice in the primaries and they were stuck with him. Trump was not the final straw for me. That honor belonged to Roy D. Moore, a senatorial candidate in Alabama who had quite apparently sexually harassed a number of women. The GOP didn’t care and happily endorsed him. Apparent electoral victories had blinded them to reality. That was when I walked away.

That was over four years ago. Nothing the Republicans have done in the interval have made me regret my decision to leave. On the contrary, their subsequent words and deeds, particularly after Election Day, 2020 have only shown me that I made the right choice in walking away. The putrid resolution passed a week ago censuring Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, while simultaneously labeling January 6th as, “Legitimate political discourse,” proves to me that the GOP party I once knew is now an alien wasteland.

But worse than the betrayal of a national party populated by figures I don’t know is the sudden and radical metamorphosis of people I do know. Relatives and friends who once championed the same conservative values as I do (the value of honesty in politics, respectful discourse, the value in the rule of law), now make sad excuses when leaders like Trump take every rule we’ve ever lived by, wipes his ass with it and flushes it down the crapper. It makes me wonder if these people, some of whom were moral mentors, ever really believed what they preached to me, or if they were always lying. Sadly, they can’t see the changes within themselves. They think everyone else has changed while they have remained static. But this isn’t true. Their refusal to see what they have become while deflecting their role in it is tantamount to betrayal.

One person who was fundamental in the shaping of my conservative values literally got in my face when he learned that I wouldn’t vote for Trump in 2016. “Ryan, your problem is that you’re unseasoned!” he said.

Unseasoned? I participated in two separate Republican primaries as a delegate in Colorado. I’ve visited Washington D.C. three times and been to Capitol Hill as a member of the National Federation of the Blind. I was even involved in student government at UNL for two years when I went to college there. I think it’s safe to say that I am the member of my family who is the most seasoned when it comes to politics. Another mentor, a man who is a devout Christian, characterized the attack on the capitol as, “Civil disobedience.” Sadly, this style of argument has only become more commonplace during the reign of Trump and after.

I’ve never been accosted while peeing in a public bathroom, but I have been bullied, hectored and guilt tripped by people who took my descent from the common Republican ethos very personally. They acted as if I was the traitor. I’ve even had idiots on Facebook call me a traitor, as if my refusal to bend the knee to one man embodied the betrayal of my basic patriotism and love of America. Yet, this is their warped view. This is where we stand today.

As bad as things are in the mainstream political realm, it’s worse as a blind guy. In 2015, I was a solid member of the National Federation of the Blind. My journey with the Federation had been a rocky one. As I stated in my resignation letter, my level of involvement with the organization has fluctuated over the years. When I first became involved, I was deep in the movement. By the time I moved to Colorado, I was on the periphery. By 2015, I had worked at the CCB as a summer youth counselor and was an elected officer in the Denver chapter. It felt good to be home again. When I moved to Omaha, I was quickly elected as Second Vice-President. I agreed to serve despite a growing reservation about the changing direction of the organization. This was solidified in December of 2020 when the #MarchingTogether Movement took root.

I won’t go back over my journey in detail. One can read my past blog entries on the subject if one wishes to chart my progress. I will simply write of two separate incidents that happened that proved to me that it was time to head for the exit.

The first occurred on July 31, 2021 during a contentious state board meeting of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska. The subject of the suspension of Fred Schroeder came up. Naturally, much volatile discussion ensued. One member who was a participant at the meeting, though not elected to the board, began to defend Schroeder, claiming that he should not be judged solely on his transgressions. He worried that Schroeder’s accomplishments would be overshadowed by these accusations that some leaders felt were a result of a, “Kangaroo court.” I argued vociferously that the punishment of Schroeder did not go far enough. His retort to me was, “Ryan, you don’t know what you’re talking about!”

This was a man who identifies as a Republican and a conservative. This was a man who sat with me in a Village Inn in 1998 over green chili and peanut butter pie and argued passionately that Bill Clinton should be impeached for his conduct in the Oval Office. This was a man who argued vehemently that character matters in our leaders. Yet, I’m the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about!?

While this verbal tumult was occurring, the people who should have had the most to say sat silent. That includes the state president, who also serves as a member of the national board. She largely stayed out of the conflict. She might have weighed in and given us a clue as to the happenings behind the scenes that went into the decision-making process, but this isn’t how Federation soldiers are trained. They don’t go off script, they don’t contradict the national leadership and they always refer questions (particularly those born of descent) up the chain of command to the message factory in Baltimore. In other words, she was doing her duty as a Federationist, all while neglecting the needs of the membership on a local level.

Eight days after the board meeting from hell, I sat alone in my recliner with a cold beer in my hand and listened to a podcast featuring Wayne Pearcy’s story of abuse suffered at the hands of a camp counselor during his time as a summer student at the Colorado Center for the Blind in 2004. Wayne never named his abuser, but it was clear that he was talking about Brent Batron.

Brent Batron, a one-time mentor and friend to me and to dozens of other students and counselors. Brent Batron, who had espoused the paramount virtues of positive role modeling at seminars, chapter meetings and in private conversations. Brent Batron, who had resigned abruptly from the CCB eight months before the podcast dropped. The Nebraska board meeting was bad, but this was infinitely worse.

I worked for Brent for three months in the summer of 2014. I loved the guy. I respected the guy. Hell, I even hoped that when the time came for Julie Deden to finally step down, Brent would take the reins as the Executive Director of the CCB. Brent was smart, but not intellectually imperious as are so many leaders in the NFB upper crust. He was relatable in a blue collar, down-to-earth way. He was a family man who appeared to be faithful to his wife and kids. He was a born teacher who made you want to be better at your job. He was funny, good natured, friendly and approachable. He was also a predator. When Wayne dropped his revelations, I instantly knew they were true. I didn’t have any direct knowledge. I’d heard a lot of names whispered throughout my time in the NFB. Brent’s was not one of them. I don’t know how I knew. I just fucking did.

It is impossible to explain the pain this harsh truth wrought without explaining the role my time at the CCB played upon my psyche. Looking back, I view my job at the CCB in the Dickensian sense. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” I was a guy doing God’s work, showing blind youth how to live as independent, self-reliant blind people. I was also a guy in over my head, teaching teenagers skills that I was never fully sure of within myself. I always felt as if I were running in quicksand, never certain if I was serving as a positive or negative example as a competent blind adult. The constant weight of responsibilities for the welfare of someone else’s kids after years of bachelorhood took a toll. I found myself sleeping in fits and starts, jerking awake suddenly in the night wondering if one of my boys had snuck out to smoke pot. I would stand in the shower in the early morning wondering how to face another day guiding a kid with obvious cognitive impairments, hoping he could just get himself dressed. I would go through another day dead sure that I was facing harsh judgments from my fellow counselors. There were even a few times when I thought of just quitting and going back to my quiet life, but I stayed for the kids and for Brent. If I could just stay on Brent’s good side, I knew I was doing something right.

By the end of the summer, I was burned out, exhausted and in a black hole of despair. I felt like an utter failure. I had planned to get certified in O&M instruction, but honestly, it was a relief when the job at AIN became available and I could change course. Being responsible for other people was too soul-crushing to be endured for an intractable period of time. Now, years later, I discover that I spent the best parts of myself worrying about what affect I was having on the young and impressionable, all in service to a sexual predator and his enablers! Days and weeks of partial insomnia and self-torment while others who were guilty of actual sins slept soundly? Nights of sweating bullets wondering how I would get through the next day without making another mistake while our leader drew his designs on one of our boys!? Fuck! That!

Sidebar: Karma can be a royal bitch or it can be kind. If not for my time at AIN, I never would have ended up at Radio Talking Book, which proved to be the best job I’ve ever had. God bless Jane and Bekah. They both shepherded me through a lot of heart healing.

Last August was when I stood in front of the mirror and saw betrayal staring me in the face. That was when I knew with absolute clarity that it was time to leave. Now, I am a man who is politically homeless and philosophically destitute. I still have my conservative principles, but the betrayal from the NFB cuts far deeper. The Republican Party was merely an apparatus that I would play a minuscule role in in hopes of furthering political change, but the NFB was my community. They were my kindred spirits in the world of blindness. They wrought a kind of betrayal that inflicts the most grievous wounds of all… The betrayal of family.

There is no betrayal more deeply personal. And I don’t mean to get all emo on you guys here, but it hurts. It hurts like a mutherfucker. That’s all I’m saying. The pain is fuckin’ real. And this kind of pain…all I’m saying is…I don’t know when the fuck it’s gonna go away.

Betrayal: Part One

This newsletter from Erick Erickson is worth keeping. It begins in the realm of politics, but shifts to the realm of the church by the end. Yet, the themes he addresses are universal, even as the examples he sites are rooted in the moment. I will address the theme of betrayal in a subsequent post.

If you want to learn more about Erick Erickson, you can find podcasts of his daily radio show on any major platform. Even Spotify. If you want to read more of his writings, check him out on Substack.

Here is Mr. Erickson.

__On Betrayal and Screedalism
Erick-Woods Erickson
Feb 8

In the Spring of 2016, three men showed up on my front porch. I had written that I would not support Donald Trump for President in 2016. I’d go third party. They were angry with me and their anger led them to my front porch.
Their faces were mean. Their voices were tense. But they were there for my sake. They wanted me to know if I didn’t support Trump, they’d get me fired from radio. I needed to think about my family. I needed to think about my health insurance. I needed to think about my income. I needed to think about my future.
I did. I doubled down.
My children were chased through a store by a man yelling at them that their father was destroying the country. A woman at our church told my wife, after my wife announced she had cancer, that the woman wanted to hit me. I got accosted going from our Sunday School class into church one day. My kids got bullied at school and lost their friends. My son got shoved into the dirt. The school was no help. We wound up having to move our kids to a new school.
More than once, I got yelled at in the airport while peeing. I’m not making that up. I use the stall now. It’s one of the reasons I covet private jets. On multiple occasions, men followed me into the airport to lecture me while I was peeing. Once, at a Chick-fil-A in north Atlanta, an old man came in and did that too. Each of these were by people who vehemently disagreed with me about stuff, mostly Trump, and thought they could correct me. I had a woman come up to me in a restaurant with friends and start berating me for having ridiculed Trump’s “Mexico will pay for it” claim on the border wall.
I had betrayed the fans.
Now, the silver lining here is that it forced me to be a better radio show host. My ratings not only went up, but for the last two radio quarters on my flagship station, they have actually been higher than Rush’s ratings at the height of the 2020 presidential election.
But to this day, I get angry hatemail and email and Facebook comments from people who were once diehard fans who felt a great sense of betrayal. I had been their boy. Now I am a traitor.
We’re in an Age of Betrayal.
We know fewer people personally. We connect to people online. We become “friends” with the person on Instagram and obsess about their lives. All we know is what they show us on social media. When it turns out they have views diametrically opposed to ours, we hate them. They betray us. We’ve created our connection, to a degree, in our heads by extrapolating ancillary information to what is presented. When they provide the actual ancillary information and it does not match that which we conjured in our heads, we feel betrayed.
Celebrity culture, even in the church, can do that. In politics, we spend time in battles with people fighting alongside us. Then one day we find ourselves on opposite sides and feel betrayed. More often than not, we cannot agree to disagree. We must be aggrieved and launch subtweets.
It’s why the left is so angry at Dave Chappelle and Joe Rogan.
Chappelle hasn’t been saying anything different about transgendered people. He’s been making these jokes for a while. Back in 2019, he got the Mark Twain award and they showed a clip of one of his trans jokes and everybody laughed.
But now…now some wonder if he really is on their side as he says or does he not like them. They’re hyper-sensitive to begin with and they feel betrayed. They have to attack because they laughed with him and now they think he was actually getting them to laugh at themselves. They are not just betrayed, but the butt of jokes they laughed about. He must pay.
Joe Rogan is a pot-smoking, pro-gay rights, Bernie Sanders supporter. But Rogan frequently dares to have conversations with people with whom he disagrees. He is not combative. He is not disagreeable. In an age of COVID where progressives are Henny Penny expecting the sky to fall, Rogan interviewing people who don’t believe the sky is falling is a great betrayal. This is the comedian, MMA guy, Fear Factor guy who just talks to people. It’s a betrayal now that he talks to people the left already thinks are betraying them, their lives, and their world view. Rogan must pay.
Betrayal is hard because it is premised on a goodbye we did not control or agree to. The root of betrayal translates to “thoroughly handed over” or “thoroughly traded away.”
When one is thoroughly handed over, that person is separated from us painfully largely because they thoroughly handed themselves over. That pain manifests itself in showing up at a house to issue threats or heading to the New York Times to give the tell-all expose on the sins of those you left behind.
It ends in cancellation.
We live in an Age of Betrayal. We don’t have to know our immediate neighbors. We construct communities of like-minded people on social media who we don’t really know. When one then turns out to not be who we presumed or utters heterodox opinions, we thoroughly hand them over to our opponents. We don’t exercise grace or give room to disagree.
I like Beth Moore a lot. We don’t always agree on stuff. But I like her tremendously. I’ve gotten to hang out with her a bit once. She’s sent encouraging Biblical materials to my daughter. She has, through her writings, ministered to my wife. You will note please that Beth Moore, though mentioned in the David Brooks piece in the New York Times that has nursed everybody’s senses of betrayal, did not participate in it.
I get more angry text messages from friends for defending Beth Moore and Tim Keller than any other topic these days. I can openly disagree or praise any politician and might get one or two text messages. If I say anything at all nice about or defend Moore or Keller, I might as well turn off my phone.
People who once loved them feel betrayed by them. Frankly, Beth Moore has way more reason to feel betrayed by people than people have reason to feel betrayed by her. But you don’t see her out there on the attack. People expect grace and don’t want to show it and for reasons, mostly political, it turns out Beth Moore is not who they imagined in their head. Honestly, though, she’s way cooler.
Tim Keller is another one. There is an entire cottage industry on Twitter to nitpick Keller’s tweets, mostly by people who crave his prominence and will never have it. Keller is largely above it all. He has bigger battles to fight these days. But there’s a concerted effort to write him out of evangelicalism instead of recognizing Jesus had twelve Apostles and all of them approached the gospel differently. Only one of them betrayed the gospel. And if you think Keller is Judas, you might need to repent.
But you feel betrayed.
I got a lot of stern emails about my piece last week on envagelicals needing to cool it. One person told me I came across as inauthentic. The person doesn’t know me at all so has no way to calibrate my authenticity to determine the inauthenticity. Another said I didn’t want to give up some perceived insider status so straddled the fence.
No, I made it pretty clear what I thought. You just didn’t like it. I’m not one of those people who thinks if I piss off every side I must be doing it right. Sometimes, when you do that, you’re just a jackass. But here, I just happen to think the people who are friends who feel the need to fix evangelicalism by ratting it out to the New York Times are doing more harm than good. And aligning with the Jesus and John Wayne lady, who is openly hostile to Biblical orthodoxy, not just evangelicalism, is a big way of saying you don’t want to fix things, but burn things down.
But I also think a lot of friends who feel betrayed by these friends of mine don’t appreciate how betrayed those friends feel from their treatment for daring to think differently mostly about politics. In other words, I have a lot of friends who feel betrayed by each other and expect them all to feel betrayed by me for not picking a side.
Betrayal is in us these days. The only way out is to work to not thoroughly hand over those we love to those we hate. It requires making an effort to get to know one another far better than we can know them on social media and when that’s impossible, to simply offer them more grace than we think they’d ever offer us. In environments where we create friendships now online, it requires more effort to maintain those friendships and make them real instead of binary.
Everybody wants to be a victim these days. Everyone wants to complain about someone hurting their soul. Christians on social media want to be Screedal Christians, writing screeds to denounce the ones thoroughly handed over to something, they’re not quite sure what, but they know it is bad.
If I’m betraying you for saying all of this, I’m sorry.
But y’all, I’ve been lectured while peeing by people who feel betrayed. I know what I’m talking about and I’ve just learned to move on and not burn bridges recklessly. It’s okay to disagree without feeling betrayed. And often, when you think you’re the butt of the joke, you just lack a sense of humor.

Golems

In the wake of the Parkland school shooting four years ago, a new slogan began to emerge on social media. “Journalism is activism.” Michael Blanding crystallized the premise in an August 21, 2018 article for the Washington Post. Blanding posed the question, “Where does journalism end and activism begin?”

In reading the article, it was no surprise to see a generational split on the question. Older journalists believed that a healthy distance should be kept between the activist class and the newsroom, while younger journalists and journalism students believed the opposite.

The Post painted a sexy picture of Rebecca Schneid, editor of the Parkland High newspaper for her belief that journalism is, in fact, activism. Who would dare argue the point in the wake of yet another mass school shooting? In fact, the point seemed to resonate with many moderates and leftists as basic common sense in the wake of then President Trump’s relentless attacks on a non-compliant media.

In the years since, activist journalism has only become more popular with burgeoning issues such as the #MeToo Movement, the resurrection of Black Lives Matter, talk of election fraud and a quickly transforming international landscape. With social justice causes now at the forefront of our collective consciousness, who could possibly argue that activism doesn’t have a place in journalism? And we’re not talking about mere political punditry, but hard news reporting akin to the Washington Post, the New York Times and digital publications like Slate and the Huffington Post.

The finer point amongst the younger journo/activist class is that not every issue has two sides that deserve exploration or nuance. LGBTQ rights, racial justice, climate change and a host of other progressive causes really only have one side, and that side is the truth. Yet, how easily that mindset can carry us down a slippery slope. COVID-19 is the glaring contemporary example. As Joe Rogan, a podcaster who has recently come under fire explained, things that we accept as basic truths in a given issue have a way of changing over time.

When young people and committed progressives thing of activist journalism, they probably hold a certain image of it in their heads. An idealistic reporter fighting for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the marginalized. Avatars of truth and justice speaking truth to power, given voice to the voiceless, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. As it is in any other facet of life, the story may start out that way, but as it passes through the conveyer belt of humanity with all of its complexities and imperfections, the end result is usually radically transformed from the initial idea.

Exhibit A: Fox News

Roger Ailes died three months after Donald Trump assumed the presidency, but by then, the Frankenstein monster he had created had reached full strength. Ailes created Fox News in the mid 1990’s as an answer to a media whom conservatives rightly believed were biased against them. Talk radio flamethrowers like Rush Limbaugh to introspective thinkers at the National Review all reached the same conclusion. That is why Fox News found a climate in which it was able to flourish.

FNC grew in stature during the Bush years in a post 9/11 world. Some predicted its demise once Obama took office, but Fox proved to be indomitable now that it had a nemesis in the White House against whom it could chafe. What Ailes didn’t fully realize was how the monster of populism that he was fostering would turn on him at the slightest hint of descent. He found out when Donald Trump came down the escalator on June 15, 2015.

Trump didn’t take long to lash out at Fox. His attacks were leveled against Fox anchor Megyn Kelly, who asked him a question that displeased him at a presidential primary debate. According to Kelley’s book, Ailes was in between the proverbial rock and a hard place. He wanted to defend his employees, but he also didn’t want to alienate Trump. As it turned out, he managed to ingratiate himself to The Donald, while Megyn soon left Fox.

Roger Ailes unceremoniously left Fox News on July 21, 2016, over a year before the birth of the #MeToo Movement. Yet, he was a harbinger of things to come. He left due to a series of sexual harassment scandals that plagued the company. His departure did nothing to stop the juggernaut that was Trump. The dye was already cast. Trump won the election and throughout his presidency, he heaped favorable praise on Fox News, particularly on Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and the Fox Morning hosts.

When Trump lost to Biden in 2020, the folks at the Fox News Decision Desk got into a lot of trouble with viewers because they called Arizona for Joe Biden early. Even though they were proven correct, many fans never forgave them. No one was more infuriated than Trump. It was a dispiriting surprise when Trump went unpunished for his actions that lead to the attack on our nation’s capital, but it was no surprise that people like Chris Stirewalt were let go from Fox due to his role on election night, 2020. Few of us who paid attention were surprised when we recently learned that text messages were flying back and forth between White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and various Fox hosts including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade on January 6. Even though they are opinion makers, they are the faces of Fox News. Fox detractors and casual viewers don’t associate Fox with the hard news wing, represented by quality journalists such as Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Jennifer Griffin. In the wake of the departure of Bill O’Reilly, Tucker Carlson has taken the place as Fox’s number one spokesman. Carlson has progressively become more and more unhinged over the years. His crowning achievement has been a documentary on Fox Nation, a private platform outside of the cable news channel, which floats the conspiracy trial balloon that January 6th was instigated by the FBI. This is likely the reason why Chris Wallace abruptly departed from Fox and defected to CNN.

How will that work out for him?

Exhibit B: CNN

CNN, once a prestigious and trusted source of news throughout the ‘90’s, is now viewed as the anti-Trump network. From all outward appearances, they have embraced this image. It is no coincidence that their ratings sored during Trump’s presidency, even as their various prime time hosts railed against Trump and all of his excesses. It is also not a coincidence that their ratings plummeted once he left office and lost his Twitter account. To watch CNN, you might think that they didn’t play a significant role in the rise of Trump. Yet, if you think back to the election cycle of 2016, they covered as many Trump campaign rally events as did Fox. They merely took a different angle in their approach, feigning outrage on camera while gleefully watching the uptick in the ratings numbers behind the scenes.

Trump aside, CNN, along with many other mainstream outlets, fawned over New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shortly after the outbreak of the pandemic in March, 2020. Cuomo was painted as, “America’s governor,” keeping a steady hand at the helm even as President Trump went crazy at his daily press conferences. No one outside of Fox News and a few other conservative sources talked about Cuomo’s scandalous behavior with respect to his shady book deal, his shunting of patients to New York nursing homes and his fudging of the death numbers once investigators became suspicious. No one on or off CNN cared that Cuomo was holding syrupy conversations with his brother Chris, an employee and prominent on-screen presence at CNN. When a woman came forward and accused Cuomo of sexual harassment in December, 2020, it was barely a blip on the media radar.

On August 24, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned after a series of claims of sexual harassment were lodged against him. The story was broken by the New York Times, not CNN, and only after the scandal was too big to be ignored.

On December 4, 2021, Chris Cuomo was fired from CNN after an internal investigation showed that he was using his media contacts to dig up dirt on his brother Andrew’s accusers.

On February 2, 2022, Jeff Zucker abruptly resigned as the president of CNN. He claimed that he was engaged in a consensual romantic relationship with an executive and had failed to disclose it in a timely manner. The executive of which he spoke turned out to be Allison Gollust, Vice-President of Chief Marketing Officer at CNN. She also happened to be a former Communications Director for Governor Andrew Cuomo. In light of a lawsuit brought against CNN by Chris Cuomo, we can be sure that many more facts will be unearthed in this case, but it’s not hard to guess where the trail will lead. Zucker, Gollust and Chris Cuomo did their best to use CNN to lionize Andrew Cuomo in the hopes of aiding him to sell more books and possibly to further his future political career.

The handwringing of CNN’s public faces such as Don Lemon, Brian Stelter and Jim Acosta has been predictable and predictably self-indulgent. They claim that Chris Cuomo is the real villain and that the termination of Zucker is a punishment that did not fit the crime. Again, I suspect that there is much to the story that will come to light in the coming months. But more to the point, the unctuous outrage pouring forth from the CNN talking heads is reminiscent of the performative anger that spewed forth from loyal Fox News stalwarts such as Hannity, O’Reilly and Ingraham in the wake of Ailes’ departure. In both cases, it is doubtful that those who trumpeted their disapproval didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes despite their protests of good faith ignorance.

At this point, all two of you who read this may be saying, so what, RyanO? These are two old white guys who misbehaved themselves, got caught and got canned. What does that have to do with the search for truth and justice? If the point isn’t obvious, I can’t do anything for ya.

Both Ailes and Zucker didn’t start out as men in charge of news empires. They started out as young, hungry warriors who wanted to bring their own brand of activism to the marketplace of ideas. They quickly realized that activism starts in grass roots, but real change is brought about through legislation. Legislation is authored by politicians. Politicians are influenced by lobbyists, who are merely professional activists who are lucky enough to profit from their idealism. Politicians are flawed, imperfect human beings who can easily be tempered by a multitude of dark forces. Many of those dark forces are journalists who serve as conduits through which flow mutated ideologies. Often times, that ideology starts out in pure form, but no matter which side of the political spectrum it springs from, it is corrupted by base human drives; greed, lust and envy. One day, these activists suddenly realize that they are sitting atop a major platform with millions of loyal followers. They then realize that said platform can be used to elevate preferred politicians to higher office.

That’s how we find ourselves with living golems like President Trump and Governor Cuomo. A good deal of their success can be laid at the doorstep of activist journalism. When journalism proves popular and results in ever increasing ratings and clicks, it feeds the beast. That beast results in corporate executives crawling into bed with the very politicians against whom they are supposed to be the watchdogs. When certain personalities prove too successful for the suits upstairs to control, you get Tucker Carlson and Chris Cuomo. The journalistic organs they purport to serve are mere extensions of political parties or figures.

If you think I’m engaging in hyperbole, ask yourself why you haven’t heard about the latest kerfuffle involving Black Lives Matter? Did any of you know that the California Attorney General has formally warned the group that they are delinquent in the registration of charitable contributions totaling millions of dollars from 2020? Did you know that other states are launching inquiries into the fundraising practices of BLM? Did any of you notice that the BLM fundraising page has been suspended? If you don’t read the Washington Examiner, a conservative alternative to the Washington Post in the D.C. Beltway, you wouldn’t know it.

Is the investigation of BLM activist journalism, or is it mere hackery? If it is the latter, what constitutes the former? Is there a good kind of activist journalism and a bad kind? My educated guess is that the answer would depend upon which side of the political divide you get your news from. If you hail from the right side of the spectrum, you likely believe that the most successful non-profit advocacy organization currently in existence should account for all of its assets. You probably believe that the public has a right to know what BLM is doing with their money. If you hail from the left side of the spectrum…white privilege, systems of oppression, systemic racism, etc. Yet, if you were to substitute the NRA for BLM, you would see that very spectrum engage in a teeter-totter effect.

“Democracy dies in darkness,” indeed. I’m sure the Uyghurs would agree.

Activism starts with a specific narrative. This is fine as far as it goes. Activists are human beings whose experiences drive them to push for change in the public square. But personal experiences can also result in viewpoint bias, blinding people to all of the variables at play. Good journalists who are interested in fairness and balance should be able to weight those variables in the reporting of a story. When it’s done well, you get quality newshounds like Jake Tapper, Maggie Haberman, Jonathan Karl, Jennifer Griffin and the good folks over at The Dispatch. When it goes wrong, you get Dan Rather and Mary Mapes.

If you’re the right kind of reader, you’ll judge Dan Rather on his entire body of work. If you’re the wrong, kind, you’re one of those suckers who thinks that Robert Redford was convincing in Truth.

Suppress This, Muthafuckas!

One of the reasons I am leaving the National Federation of the Blind is due to its entrance into mainstream partisan politics with the passage of Resolution 2021-02. If you honestly hold a good faith belief that voeter suppression exists on a grand national scale, and that Republicans are actively engaging in it through election reforms in various red and purple states, then you likely are in favor of the NFB’s position.

If, like me, you believe that all of the talk from President Biden and the Democrat party about voter suppression amounts to self-serving political rhetoric, then you likely find the passage of Resolution 2021-02 to be a dubious proposition. If you are in the former camp, you will likely not find the following newsletter from Jonah Goldberg to be persuasive.

I am pasting it here as another snapshot in time. A day after Biden’s shameful speech in Georgia, and on the week when I will make my official exit from the National Federation of the Blind after 27 years of service, I will offer this series of arguments from a man who can articulate them far better than I ever could. I am offering them as an illustration, not only of why the grandios claims of voter suppression are bogus, but also as an illustration of how such spurious claims are used for rank partisan purposes.

If you find this newsletter to be useful, please consider subscribing to The Dispatch for thoughtful news and analysis from a conservative perspective. Here it is.

About That Speech …
As his presidency spirals downward, Joe Biden lashes out.

Jonah Goldberg

Jan 12

Hey,
I’m going to try to not lose my temper, but I make no promises.
This is from Joe Biden’s inaugural address, which is eight days shy of exactly a year ago.
We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature. For without unity there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge, and unity is the path forward. And we must meet this moment as the United States of America. If we do that, I guarantee you we will not fail. We have never ever, ever, failed in America when we’ve acted together.
This is from his speech in Georgia yesterday:
So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered? At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?
So, what changed? To listen to Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, most Democrats, and a whole bunch of journalists, what changed was an existential threat to democracy. “Voter suppression” is a plague sweeping across the land that literally threatens to end democracy in America. Biden & Co. base this grave appraisal on three distinct claims.
The first is that there has been an epidemic of laws “making it harder to vote.”
The second is that Georgia is at the bleeding edge of this effort with voter suppression laws so heinous that they, by themselves, represent “Jim Crow 2.0.”
Last is that Trump loyalists are in the process of rigging the 2024 presidential election by preparing an end run on legitimate vote counts.
So, here’s my grading of these claims: The first is very, very weak. The second is shameful, demagogic, ahistorical garbage. The third is incomplete.
Restricting the right to vote.
So let’s start with the first claim. It comes almost entirely from an accounting by the Brennan Center for Justice.
As Joe Biden said yesterday, “Last year alone, 19 states not [only] proposed but enacted 34 laws attacking voting rights.”
Here’s how the Brennan Center put it October:
In all but seven states, regular legislative sessions are now over. Between January 1 and September 27, at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote. At the same time, lawmakers in many states responded to Americans’ eagerness to vote by making it easier for eligible voters to cast their ballots. Between January 1 and September 27, at least 25 states enacted 62 laws with provisions that expand voting access.
I don’t know which state got in a restrictive law to bump up the tally to 34, but it doesn’t matter. As you can see, nearly twice as many laws enacted expanded voting as restricted it.
Now, the Brennan folks make a perfectly fine point that not all voting rights laws are equal. If, for example, a state banned absentee voting—which hasn’t happened—that wouldn’t cancel out a state expanding absentee voting by another week.
But here’s the first problem. Many of these laws essentially repealed the changes made to account for the pandemic. A reasonable person can argue that they should all be made permanent, I suppose. But a reasonable person cannot plausibly argue that returning our voting practices to those in effect in 2018—when Democrats had sweeping victories—is proof that democracy is on the cusp of being eliminated and that anyone who supports the status quo ante of 2018 is taking the side of Jefferson Davis and Bull Connor. (Heck, voter laws were much more restrictive across the country a decade earlier, according to the criteria pushed by Democrats. Does that mean Barack Obama was elected our first black president in a Jim Crow country? Big, if true.)
Now, some laws went further than that, and I am entirely open to arguments that some of those changes were ill-advised. Heck, I agree that some were ill-advised and unnecessary. But none of these changes amount to “Jim Crow 2.0.” One reason I know this is because nobody—including Joe Biden—has been able to point to a single example of a law that comes within miles of Jim Crow restrictions. If they had such an example, you can be sure they wouldn’t be keeping it secret.
Consider voter ID laws, which are constantly cited as part of this racist, undemocratic tsunami. Tightening voter ID laws may or may not be a good idea. Personally, I think they’re fine in principle. But let’s concede that they’re bad. You know who else thinks they’re fine? A very large majority of Americans, including a majority of black Americans. A Monmouth poll this year found that 80 percent of Americans support voter ID requirements and only 18 percent oppose them. That’s not a new finding. In 2016, Gallup also found that 4 in 5 Americans support voter ID requirements, including 77 percent of nonwhite voters.
Again, are the majority of Americans siding with Jefferson Davis? Really?
And just to be clear, not all of the laws expanding the “right to vote” are good. Democrats have been pushing to make ballot harvesting (allowing individuals to collect ballots from others and drop them off at polling locations or early-voting drop boxes) easier. I think that’s wrong. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. But if you think that makes me a racist, my response is, “Go to Hell.”
Georgia, out of their minds.
More on that in a moment. Let’s move on to Georgia, which, we are told over and over again, is slipping back into Jim Crow because of an election law, SB 202, passed in March. The next day Biden called the law “un-American” and “Jim Crow 2.0.” Again, I don’t think the law was necessary and there are parts of it that I think are bad, but there are also parts of it that are good. Or, more to the point, good from the perspective of making it easier to vote. It expanded early voting to 17 days, including two Saturdays. It did tighten the window to get an absentee ballot in the first place to … 67 days prior to the election. The horror.
A lot has been made of the law’s “ban” on bringing food and water to people waiting in line to vote. But it does allow for polling places to provide water and says this restriction applies only: “(1) Within 150 feet of the outer edge of any building within which a polling place is established; (2) Within any polling place; or (3) Within 25 feet of any voter standing in line to vote at any polling place.” More horror.
By the way, the average wait time to vote in 2020 was less than three minutes.
Again, reasonable people can disagree about all of these provisions. But Biden is trying to bully reasonable people, especially reasonable Democratic senators, with accusations of racism. That’s grotesque.
Jim, what now?
Let’s pause to talk about Jim Crow for a moment. When assessing the very real evils of Jim Crow, restrictions on voting are pretty low on the list. I’m not saying they weren’t evil, but the root of their evil was that they were a means to an end to secure far greater evils—like the ability to beat or lynch blacks, often with impunity. Jim Crow impoverished generations of blacks by preventing them from participating in the economy, traveling, or utilizing their constitutional and God-given rights. Jim Crow was a form of apartheid.
If Georgia has been moving toward Jim Crow 2.0, one has to wonder: Why are so many blacks moving there, never mind staying there? The black population of Georgia nearly doubled from 1990 to 2019. Whatever you think about their right to vote, a lot of them voted with their feet to live in Georgia—and disproportionately from states like Chuck Schumer’s New York, where voting is notoriously difficult compared to places like … Georgia. Again, Georgia has 17 days of early voting. New York? Nine. Georgia allows “no excuse” absentee voting. In 2020, Andrew Cuomo signed a bill allowing people to use COVID as an excuse. A ballot initiative to allow “no excuse” voting failed by a healthy margin in 2021, a state where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 2 to 1.
They come from below.
Okay, let’s move briefly to the third claim: that Trump loyalists are positioning to ignore the will of the people by ignoring legitimate votes. These claims take two forms: 1) Some “Big Lie” Trump loyal Republicans are running for office and can’t be trusted to follow the rules, and 2) Some states have passed laws that put partisan officials in charge of the election process (or empower them to overrule apolitical state officials).
Obviously, I would prefer such people not run for office. But to date, they haven’t done anything yet, and so I don’t understand what people think can be done about it. Surely people have a right to run for office and, more importantly, if voters elect such candidates, the self-styled saviors of democracy can’t really be arguing that the will of the voters must be ignored.
As for the second problem, I think those changes to state laws were unnecessary, unhelpful, and in some cases indefensible. But again, if duly elected officials change laws within the boundaries of the Constitution, I’m at a loss to see how that is, in itself, undemocratic. It’d be one thing if they were enacting Jim Crow style laws. That would be undemocratic. But. They’re. Not.
Dividing America.
Okay, I think I’ve been remarkably restrained. So let me speak a bit more freely now. Biden’s speech yesterday, and this whole project, is shameful, dangerous, stupid, and profoundly hypocritical.
Because the wheels are coming off his presidency, Biden has decided to divide Americans in ways he vowed he would not. Now, I don’t have any problem per se with politicians “dividing Americans.” Democracy is about disagreement, not unity. Unity is Biden’s bag and, as I pointed out at the time, I thought Biden’s unity schtick was clichéd nonsense. I’ve spent the better part of two decades ranting about the “cult of unity.”
But I do have a problem with a president dividing Americans by casting people he disagrees with as evil racists bent on destroying democracy—particularly when it’s not true (and when Biden himself played footsie with the very segregationists he’s now associating with his political opponents). Even worse, his lies are intended to sow even more distrust in our elections purely for partisan gain.
And let me just say right now that if any readers come at me with, “But what about Trump?” their arguments will find no purchase. I’ll stack my record of criticizing Trump for spewing hateful lies against pretty much anyone. But Biden staked his entire presidency on taking the high road; on not being like Trump. He vowed in his inaugural address, “I will be a president for all Americans. I will fight as hard for those who did not support me as for those who did.” He cribs Obama’s better rhetoric about there not being red states and blue states but the United States all the time. And he threw it all away yesterday.
And for what? I could go on about how the legislation he wants would make our electoral system worse in myriad ways, but that misses a crucial point. This legislation almost surely won’t pass, and probably the only way it can pass is by getting rid of the filibuster (even then it’s unlikely). If Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi actually cared about saving democracy and thwarting the Trumpist threat from below, or the joys of unity and bipartisanship, they’d focus on reforming the Electoral Count Act or writing a bill that could attract the votes of people like Mitt Romney. Instead, they’d rather cast Romney—who, as Sarah Isgur notes, was the first senator in American history to vote to impeach a president of his own party—as a partisan hack in league with Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis. If he cared about letting the “will of majority” prevail in the Senate as he claims, he’d work to craft legislation that a majority of the Senate could support. Instead, he’s saying they have to swallow policies that have been on the shelf for years or be guilty of racism.
That’s cynical and shameful—but it’s also so incredibly stupid. If this thing doesn’t pass, Biden will be the second president in a row to tell voters in Georgia there’s no point in voting because the system is rigged. If it does pass, thanks to a successful effort of abolishing the filibuster, these idiot demagogues will still probably lose the House and Senate in 2022. And if they lose the presidency in 2024—a reasonable bet—they might see all of these “reforms” repealed by Republicans. And Democrats would be powerless to stop them without the filibuster.
Biden’s presidency is spiraling into abject failure. Calling tens of millions of Americans racists to change the subject isn’t just bad politics and bad policy, it’s immoral, and it deserves to put him on the wrong side of history he keeps prattling about.

Resignation

Dear Fellow Federationists:

It has been my pleasure to serve as your president for the past year. However, I am writing to let you know that I will not seek, nor will I accept the nomination as President of the Omaha Chapter in January, 2022. Once my term has concluded, I will be leaving the National Federation of the Blind. The following letter will explain my reasons.

I have been a member of the NFB for 27 years. There have been times when I have stood at the periphery of the organization, particularly during my first several years living in Colorado. Yet, I could never fully bring myself to part from the movement that has played such a central role in shaping me as a blind adult. But now, I feel the time has come for me to take my leave.

I have many reasons for choosing to exit at this time. Some are personal, some are professional and some are political. The biggest reason involves the scandals that have erupted across the movement over the past year. When a number of women came forward with their stories of survival in December, 2020, I instantly believed them. I did so because of things I witnessed while serving in various leadership roles in the Nebraska affiliate, as well as working for and being involved with the Colorado Center for the Blind. Though I was tempted to leave the organization at the end of 2020, I decided to give our national leaders one more year to see how they would respond to the allegations brought forth by the survivors. I also wanted to take proper stock of the efforts of the #MarchingTogether Movement, spearheaded by our erstwhile state colleague, Stacy Cervenka. Though I did take exception to some of Stacy’s tactics and messaging, I felt that her core mission to hold the leadership to account for the crimes of certain leaders within the movement was a valid one.

After a year, the view from the trenches appears to be that little below the surface has changed. The collective of survivors appears to have gone silent and the leadership of the NFB, while mouthing all of the right words, does not appear intent upon real, substantive reform. While I applaud the formation of a survivor-lead task force, I question how much influence they have upon the leadership, or in which direction their influence might flow. I also take note that not a single person in a leadership role at the National Center, or at any of our three training centers, has appeared to have been punished for their active or passive complicity in the crimes of their subordinates. The one high-profile ejection, that of Fred Schroeder, does not go far enough in my view. Schroeder was given a five-year suspension from the organization with the option to return if certain conditions are met. I find this decision to be unfathomable, particularly when President Riccobono claims to possess empathy and compassion for victims of sexual misconduct. It is incomprehensible to me why permanent, irreversible expulsion would not be warranted.

The recent revelations published by David Gilbert in the Colorado Sun about the CCB, particularly those involving Brent Batron, a man for whom I directly worked and for whom I once held immense respect, serve as the final straw. If you have not yet read the piece, I urge you to do so and form your own conclusions. It is lengthy, but worth your time. For me, it served as one heartbreak too many. This, plus the recent election of Jessica Beecham as president of the Colorado State Affiliate, tell me that nothing has or will change in Colorado. My past observations lead me to believe that, as the Colorado affiliate goes, so goes the national movement.

Another reason I feel my time has come is due to the recent passage of Resolution 2021-02. During my entire tenure within this movement, I have taken heart at the notion that the NFB has been non-partisan in its mission. We will work with leaders of both political parties and will not endorse or adopt any political message from either camp. With the recent rise of more vocal elements of the woke left in the upper ranks of our organization, this position appears to be shifting. The NFB has now taken the position that voter suppression exists and that the blind are victims of it. I realize that many (perhaps all of you) might feel that this is a valid viewpoint, but you must be aware that it is certainly a partisan view that is often espoused by political leaders on both sides of the aisle who are more interested in servicing their own political agendas than in serious voting integrity. Since the electoral structure in the Federation at the national level is not set up for any meaningful challenges to the current leadership, and given the recent encroachment of leftist politics into our national messaging, I have no real reason to believe that any attempts at a substantive contest of ideas would be successful. I have no interest in lending any more of my time, energy or finances to an organization that trumpets progressive notions of diversity, equity and inclusion, all while doing less than its utmost to vindicate survivors of sexual assault within our ranks.

If you compare the history of open societies in the western world with those of more dictatorial, oppressive cultures, what you will find is that valid elections are the ultimate method of self-cleansing and self-correction. Said elections must be transparent and open to all citizens without fear of implicit or explicit consequence for each individual vote. Right now, we don’t have that at the top. If you doubt me, ask yourself when we’ve ever seen a national contest for president, or any other board position of import. I dare say that you will be hard-pressed to think of one. Moreover, if you will examine the plight of other organizations grappling with the issue of sexual misconduct, you will find that groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention are engaging in a more open, honest struggle with the issue. Those of you who may be apt to dismiss the SBC as a bunch of maga-loving, bible-thumping rednecks would do well to research the firestorm that erupted last summer. Then compare it to the recent history of the Catholic Church, where sexual predation is still a recurring problem, and where power flows to and from a very few at the top. Then compare the power structure and culture of top-down leadership within the Catholic Church to that of the NFB. I think the similarities will strike you.

I suspect that my decision will come as a disappointment to some of you. I humbly apologize for this. I have made many wonderful friends during my time in the NFB, both in Nebraska and in Colorado. I have also learned that many so-called friendships are transitory and transactional, dependent upon one’s status within the organization. These have been painful but necessary lessons for me to learn in the journey of my life.

This is why I genuinely feel that a clean and total break from the NFB is the best thing that I can do for myself emotionally, spiritually and professionally. It was not an easy decision, but it is telling that, as I was putting the final touches on this letter today, I happened to glance at the Braille Monitor and saw a quote from Ibram X. Kendi that was offered without critique or balance. This served as assurance that my decision is the correct one.

I will chair the January meeting, thus fulfilling my obligations to the chapter. After that, I am leaving and my decision will be final. My exit from the NFB will be a quiet one. I will not trash talk on social media or flame specific leaders. If asked, I will offer honest criticism and praise to the NFB, but I will not seek strife or confrontation without provocation. I do not intend to be a crusader for reform. I will simply follow the path of many of my friends who have circumspectly departed from the movement, carrying on with their own quiet lives and leaving the NFB to its ultimate fate. Nor will I join the ranks of any other national blindness organization that hangs its hat on anti-Federationism. That is not why I am doing this. I will just go quietly into that good night without fanfare or drama, this letter serving as the closing remarks to this long, circuitous chapter in my life.

Thank you to all of my friends for your steadfast love and support. Thank you to those few good and decent leaders who role modeled positive behavior for me.

Merry Christmas.

Sincerely,

Ryan Osentowski