They Aren’t Really Lies

To the best of my knowledge, virtually every Donald Trump speech and press conference and many of his tweets contain statements of fact which fact-checkers later discover to be partially or completely at odds with real facts.

Though I am naturally a cautious person, this has led me to consider the possibility that our President cannot prevent himself from lying, even when he doesn’t need to.

I had another Trump nightmare last night, but in my dream, I got a clear explanation of why most of the President’s outrageous statements are not really lies.

In my dream I ordered a little device called “the translator.” The device came with simple instructions: “Plug into your computer and type in any statement by Donald Trump.”

The device also came with a background explanation: “The first definition of ‘lie’ as a noun is this: ‘A false statement deliberately presented as being true.’ The President, being wealthy, always had people to read for him, which is why he can’t read and write beyond a fifth-grade level, as exemplified by the grammar, vocabulary, and spelling of his tweets. Because he has so little control of the English language, and because he is used to being rich enough to get people around him to agree with whatever he says, he never deliberately lies — he just uses his limited vocabulary to express a different reality.”

I plugged in the translator and two empty boxes came up on the screen entitled “Trump Statement You Want to Understand” and “In common English, it means…”

I wanted to understand how he could lie — wait, I mean present false information but not deliberately — about such evident things as the terrible federal response to the hurricane in Puerto Rico compared to the excellent federal response to the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. I typed a sentence directly from an Associated Press story into the box:
     “Really nothing short of a miracle,” he [the President] said of the recovery, an assessment at odds with the despair of many still struggling to find water and food outside the capital city in wide swaths of an island where only 5 percent of electricity customers have power back.”

The translator device made some chugging noises, and then this appeared in the explanation box:
     “Really nothing short of a miracle that you got any help at all considering that most of you are brown-skinned people, not white like most of the Texans and Floridians, and considering that although you are U.S. citizens, you aren’t allowed to vote in presidential elections, so not one of you voted for me.”

In my dream, I had to admit that, properly translated, the statement wasn’t a lie. Next I typed in verbatim some of the promises Trump made about the replacement for Obamacare:
     “Our replacement for Obamacare will cover everybody… The premiums will be a lot less… There will be no cuts to Medicaid… People with pre-existing conditions will have coverage and all the protection they have under Obamacare… Nobody will suffer financially because of our bill.”

The translator spit out:
     “I would like our replacement to cover everybody, and cost less and blah, blah, whatever, but I couldn’t get the votes for that and what I really wanted is a win, even if it is the opposite of what I said, so I promised some things (but my fingers were crossed) to keep the public off our backs but it didn’t work, so none of my statements count, because I’m a winner, and only winning counts.”

I typed:
     “That’s a total witch hunt, the whole Russia story. It’s a hoax.”

The translator:
     “The Russian interference in the election, in addition to the hacking, made use of a number of hoaxes including fake Facebook accounts and ads. However, it was for a great and worthy cause, and as some great man said, ‘The end justifies the means.’ Oh wait, that great man was me.”

I typed in the first third of a single sentence from a verbatim transcript of a Trump speech in 2016:
“Look, having nuclear — my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart — you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world — it’s true! — but when you’re a conservative Republican they try — oh, do they do a number — that’s why I always start off: Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune — you know I have to give my like credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged — but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me……”

The translator replied:
“I have so much on my mind, the best mind in history — we have to build the wall so we can stop, what’s his name, Kim Young Jong, and the Democrats who killed my health bill, not mine, the Republican losers, McConnor and Ryan, they aren’t Puerto Ricans, but they praised the best response in history, even Frederick Douglas said so, but I don’t let little details keep me from the big goals, hugest goals ever, I get on them like a bloodhound who never loses the trail and — Squirrel!!”

I woke up refreshed. Translated into non-Trump English, all his statements aren’t really lies. I feel much better now.

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Total Eclipse

Yesterday we stood beside our vehicle on the usually near-deserted highway near Mud Lake, Idaho, and watched the sun disappear. It was just me, brother Steve, friend Gail Kuntz, and many hundreds of our new friends parked along the road in the high desert. The atmosphere was smoky from forest fires in the Idaho wilderness north of us. The human atmosphere was electric.

In the far past, the disappearance of the sun caused great alarm. People gave primal screams of fear. Even after the sun reappeared, people figured they must have done something wrong to anger the gods, and vowed to change whatever it was they had done.

Still other people responded by thinking that what they had done had saved humanity by causing the gods to put the sun back where it belongs, and they vowed never to change what they had done. I think of these opposite beliefs as “the universe is half-empty” and “the universe is half-full.”

We let out our own primal screams when the moon took the first little bite of the sun, as did the people around us, but they were cries of admiration mixed with applause. Steve stated singing, “When the sun meets your eye like a big pizza pie” and those in our immediate vicinity sang or shouted, “That’s amore.”

When the sun finally disappeared like flipping off the light switch, we all shouted again at the incredibly beautiful corona stretching its blue fingers out of the black hole at its center. We didn’t watch it for the full two minutes because we couldn’t help admiring the 360-degree brilliant red sunset on the clouds and fire smoke in every direction. We were all applauding and shouting for joy.

When the light switch flipped back on and the world became instantly bright from just a tiny peep of the sun, Steve said, “It’s coming back. We aren’t going to die after all!” Several people around us took up the cry, “Hurray, we aren’t going to die.” We could have been more respectful, but humor is a big part of the way we deal with sorrow or joy, and everyone here was ecstatically joyful at this awesome event.

We waited until the sun was fully restored an hour later, having conversations like this:
Gail: Isn’t this incredibly odd?
Steve: Yes, and we are the odd coming to see the odd.
Me: That is the definition of an odyssey.

The only way our experience could have been better would have been for Bonnie Tyler to have been on that Idaho highway singing, at exactly the right time, her hit song:

Once upon a time I was falling in love,
But now I’m only falling apart.
And there’s nothing I can do —
A total eclipse of the heart.

This spirit-cleansing eclipse event came immediately after our president made it very clear that he could not blame the white supremacists and neo-Nazis any more than the counter-protesters for the violence at Charlottesville. Surely nobody can be surprised at this. His new and more moderate advisors got him to issue a more presidential statement condemning the KKK and Nazis, but his later tweets took all that back, something he has driven home with statements implying he may pardon the racist Arizona sheriff who targeted people because they were of Hispanic heritage.

As John Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” put it, “It doesn’t get any easier [for a US president] than condemning Nazis.” I think the reason is obvious why he doesn’t. These are his people — every single one of them who voted, voted for him. The groups publicly endorse him and call him one of their own.

As many prominent Republicans sought to distance their views from those of the President, all those connected with the White House either refused to discuss the issue with the press or tried putting a positive spin on the president’s behavior. They missed out on a golden opportunity yesterday to provide an excuse that the public would have accepted.

They should have held a solar eclipse viewing at the White House for the press, and should have booked Bonnie Tyler to sing at the right moment:

Once upon a time I was living in love,
But now I’m only living in pain.
And there’s nothing I can do —
A total eclipse of the brain.


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What Senator Daines Should Have Said

Our Montana Senator Steve Daines raised some hopes that he might be one of the Republican holdouts in the Senate on health care when he made public statements that he was concerned about the secret process for writing the Senate health bill (though it is possible that his real concern was excluding Republican Senators like himself from the closed negotiations).

More importantly, a statement from his office to the Bozeman Chronicle on July 9 indicated that, while he had no position on the bill yet, he would look for three things in the bill: “We need to reduce premiums and make health care more affordable for Montana families, take care of those with pre-existing conditions so that they have access to care, and save and protect Medicaid for who it was originally intended for: the most vulnerable in our society.”

Then, after meeting with President Trump, Sen. Daines announced he would support complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act without replacement. He didn’t state the obvious — rates for tens of millions of Americans would indeed go down because they will lose their insurance altogether. People with pre-existing conditions will once again be unable to get insurance except at exorbitant rates. And Medicaid will eventually disappear if Republicans remain in power.

Perhaps our Senator didn’t have time to think about how that conflicts with his own three-part test, after being wooed by the President. Let me help him out. Here is what he should have said:

“I am proud to be a Republican and I believe in my party’s basic principles. There is no doubt that the Affordable Care Act is flawed. I agreed with our president when he said the House bill was “mean,” and that he wanted a health care act that would cover everyone, reduce premiums and deductibles, protect people with pre-existing conditions, and provide no cuts to Medicare or Medicaid. However, The Senate health care bill did not do that, which is why I would have voted against it.

“When the new proposal came up to repeal Obamacare altogether WITH NO REPLACEMENT, I was flabbergasted. I am a Christian, and most of my Senate colleagues claim they are Christian. No honest person can possibly think that Jesus would support a plan to take away insurance from 18 million people by next year, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and 32 million more by 2026, thereby leaving them to face life-or-bankruptcy decisions if severe illness or accidents occur.

“I have been a loyal Republican, and I want to see us follow our President’s prophetic vision of what health care should be in this country. However, when my president and my party choose a blatantly un-Jesus-like course, I must stand up and resist, otherwise my faith counts for nothing. They will never get my vote until there is a bill to implement the President’s vision to reduce costs and deductibles, increase coverage, protect people with pre-existing conditions, and protect the people — especially the children and the elderly — who rely on Medicaid. As a Christian who takes his faith seriously, I can do no other.”

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Father’s Day

Yesterday my siblings and I discovered a Father’s Day sermon preached by our dad, Rev. George Harper, at our Helena St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in June of 1962. His sermon began:

Something woke me up that night in 1932. A little boy, nine years old, I lay on my bed and tried to focus on just what it was. I could hear somebody talking. Suddenly I realized that Daddy had come home. It was after bedtime, but he had been gone all day, just as he had been gone all day the day before, and the day before that. We didn’t have a car, and no money for street car fare to town and back, so Dad had been walking.

I knew without looking that his leg which carried shrapnel from World War I was swollen twice its normal size, and I sensed without listening really that his news to mother was the same as it had been every day…miles of walking, dozens of doors opened at offices and factories, the same search for a job everywhere, and the same answer at every place: “No, we have nothing new. Sorry, Mr. Harper, we’d like to help you, but you know how it is. Check with us again later. Maybe something will turn up.”

But tonight mother and dad weren’t just talking. They were praying. God heard their prayers, and so did a nine-year-old boy; a father and mother praying not just for their own family, but for the other parents and families who had lost their income in the great depression. With all our family troubles, deeper and more serious than I could understand at the time, a father knelt by his bed and prayed for his neighbors and their troubles. And that prayer became an indelible part of me.

In his sermon, our dad then described his recent trip from Helena to Pensacola, Florida to see his parents. His father was dying. Dad continued:

When the crash of 1929 and the following depression had brought its full effect to Birmingham, Alabama, an industrial center, Dad was in partnership with others in a Metal Products Company. Unable to pay their bills, the other partners took bankruptcy and so cleared their debts from their books, if not from their consciences. But dad refused to do it. He said that he would pay back his creditors if it took the rest of his life to earn the money. In 1946, when I graduated from seminary, he paid back the last of that money.

It worried him that he couldn’t give his children all he would like to have given us in the way of things and spending money. But how much more he gave us he will never know! Because one day after I was a minister, and already a father myself, it struck me that the greatest gift my father could have given me was the one he did give: he made it easy for me to understand what Jesus meant when he called God “our Father.”

In his sermon, dad went on to describe a conversation with a girl at a camp when she described her own selfish, cruel father and why God the Father could not mean anything good to her. Dad knew that insisting on certain metaphors, even ones used by Jesus, as the whole truth about God could be damaging.

As Dad aged, his love of learning and his listening to the powerful women in his life expanded his God metaphors to include God as mother. Because of our mother and father, none of us Harper children had any trouble making that transition. My wife Pat made a feminist out of me, but my parents’ theology laid the groundwork.

Dad’s understanding of God and Jesus continued to evolve, so that by the end of his life, his concept of God was closer to that of Paul Tillich’s “Ground of Being” though I think Dad thought of it more as the “Source of Love.” I like a phrase from a beloved seminary professor and process theologian, John Cobb: “the Call Forward.”

As he neared his own death, our father’s wisdom became simpler, but still mirrored Jesus: love God (how ever you understand that which is beyond us and calls us to the good) and love others as you love yourself. If Father’s Day conjures up images that help you do that, then have a Joyful Father’s Day. If not, let it go and follow the role models and beliefs that make you a more complete and loving and fulfilled person.

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Thank You, Rob and Bonni Quist

Dear Rob and Bonni Quist,

Thank you for running for the U.S. House of Representatives. Thank you for putting your principles and your lives on the line for our state. Thank you for working as hard as you possibly could.

You knew that your good names and the good times you have provided through your music for hundreds of thousands of us would be thoroughly trashed by the millions of dollars from the millionaire opponent and his billionaire friends. Thanks for fighting the good fight and coming darn close, in part by raising so much money from people at $30 per contribution.

We know exactly what you went through with your medical expense troubles. When Pat got breast cancer, she had a good job with supposedly good insurance. The insurance refused to pay most of the costs, saying costs of healthcare in Montana were too high. After over two years of fighting with them, we gave up and settled for about half of what we still owed. On top of this, a family lawyer advised us to get divorced so that Rusty would still have some credit while Pat could declare bankruptcy.

We didn’t, but only because our doctor and her clinic forgave many tens of thousands of dollars of our remaining debt. Later, her clinic closed, we think because of her similar kindness toward many other patients like us.

You know about folks like us because you are one of us. You know that the majority of individual bankruptcies are for medical expenses in this country. You would have only been one voice in the U.S. Congress of Millionaires (for the first time in history a majority are just that), but you would have fought tooth and nail for all of us who are one serious illness away from either bankruptcy or facing the choice of not going to the doctor or receiving treatment because we don’t have good enough insurance.

Yes, you would have fought against the Republican attempts to take away public access to lands owned by all of us, and for women’s rights and civil rights and the environment and just about everything else we believe in. Money buys elections, which is why we middle class folks have fewer and fewer people to represent us in Congress. You would have been great. You would have cared. You would have listened without assaulting anyone.

In a democracy, we voters get what we deserve. We Montanans weren’t smart enough to deserve you, and many of us will pay the price for the heavy consequences.

Thank you for your sacrifice. We refuse to believe that our democracy will continue to be sold to the highest bidder when people like you are willing to put your good name on the line, your car on the road, and your core beliefs on display. Thank you both very much.

We appreciate what you did.

In deep gratitude,
Rusty and Pat Callbeck Harper

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Application for Press Secretary

Mr. President, this is my application to be your third assistant press secretary. If you are seeing this, it means I finally raised enough money to put this ad on Fox and Friends.

I meet or exceed all of your qualifications for the job:
1. I have never done the job so I am not burdened with the concerns of more experienced people such as truth-telling.
2. I want this job for completely selfish reasons. When I retired, I didn’t realize I would have less money than when I was working. I want to make a ton of money, which will not cost you one penny! Not one. In fact, I will be paying part of my own salary, because I pay federal income tax, but you don’t. I am a bargain at twice the normal pay.
3. As an English major, I have always maintained that great fiction contains deep truths that go beyond mere facts. This job is in my wheelhouse.
4. You do not need to fire anyone to give me the job, however much fun that would be. I do not want to be your primary press secretary and therefore available to be skewered by some woman on Saturday Night Live. However, if it did come to that, may I request that Sigourney Weaver play me? I would be honored to have her hold me up to public ridicule.
5. I can assure you that I will be the second greatest press secretary of all time, second only to yourself, sir, if you consider that you have been your own press secretary.
6. I will give you one example of how brilliant I would have been in a press briefing this week, for free, but after this I must be paid big bucks:

Liberal elite press lackey: When your boss, President Trump, arrived in Israel, he told a roomful of Israelis, “We just got back from the Middle East. We were in Saudi Arabia.” Does your boss not know that Israel is in the Middle East, or did he not know he was in Israel?

Me: Of course he knew he was in Israel. You are implying he is stupid, but he is so very smart that he officially withdrew Israel from the Middle East for their protection. He made Israel great again. Take that fake news purveyor. (me to the security guard) Never allow that guy in here again.

Another liberal press rabble-rouser: Your boss said he would replace Obamacare with insurance that would cost less and that would still protect people with pre-existing conditions, but he held a victory party for a bill that will take away the insurance from 23 million people and will remove the cost protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Why did he lie?

Me: (pointing to the woman who asked the question) She is a terrorist! Arrest her! (After she is dragged from the room). President Trump never lies. The people who don’t have insurance will be paying nothing at all in premiums. You can’t get less than that. As for people with pre-existing conditions, they can always make their own decisions about what to do when their insurance costs rise astronomically. They still have all their second amendment rights.

That concludes my application, Mr. President, on Fox as you require. I have only one condition, other than a YUGE salary: My wife will kill me if she finds out I am working for you. I will only take the job if you allow me to use a stage name. I will call myself Greg Gianforte. Reporters will ask questions of me at their own peril.

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In Defense of Whining

Things are heating up in DC. For many of us, it feels like all we can do is whine about the politicians, and, for those of us in Montana, the weather (winter storm warning earlier this week.) We have about the same amount of control over both.

Steve Garnaas Holmes wrote a fine song for the Montana Logging and Ballet Company, the chorus of which went:
We’ve got problems, but that’s just fine,
I don’t won’t to solve them, I just want to whine.

Let me say my own good word in defense of whining. A good word or two, but not a good poem. Don’t complain about it to me.

In Defense of Whining

Each Montana spring is like Seattle showers,
It may last long days or it might be just hours.
But each spring is perfect for manly pursuits,
Like running or fishing in big wading boots,
Drinking beer from a keg, telling off-color jokes,
And buying expensive cigars no one smokes,
Lifting weights in the gym, and the long list goes on —
But never for me, I’m stuck mowing the lawn.

It’s not self-propelled, it’s the kind that you push,
It should make me strong, with a small manly tush.
Instead I’ll be sweaty and winded and sneezing,
And feeling my age with a long bout of wheezing.

“Are you done complaining?” Pat asks, “I must say,
You’d be finished by now, but you wasted the day,
And the grass isn’t cut, so now get up and go.”
—-“Hey, honey, I can’t. Look! It’s starting to snow.”

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Compared to Trump…

I attended the funeral services of two of my heroes a couple of weeks ago. Mignon Waterman and Bob Ream were both spiritual giants who led lives with outsized positive results for the world.

Mignon was a leader for women and children and mental health, and made her mark through politics and leadership in a wide variety of organizations. Bob was a leader in science and the environment, and made his mark through politics and leadership in a wide variety of organizations. The world is a demonstratively better place because of the two of them.

When I compare myself to them, I realize how little I have done with my time on this earth, and how little chance I have of following in their footsteps.

Rather than feeling sorry for myself, I can cheer myself up by comparing me to a billionaire reality TV star who is now the most powerful man in the world. This is an easier comparison. In fact, I am very much like Donald Trump in significant ways:

I am 70 years old.
I was born into a family that had all the money we needed.
I have been the beneficiary of white male privilege in this country.
I have traveled very little outside this country and know almost nothing about other cultures.
I have bad hair, but I don’t care.
World leaders, both friend and foe alike, have complete disdain for my leadership abilities.
Not one of the White House staff respect me.
I have not read a single word of the new bill to gut ObamaCare and don’t intend to, but that does not prevent me from being very sure what Congress should do with it.
I exercise very little.
I believe that I have fooled people into thinking am I better than I know I really am.
Melania Trump does not want to have sex with me. Women who aren’t my wife don’t want to either.
I am sure that I know more than Congress about almost everything, despite my remarkable ignorance.
When I repeat alternative facts, I am not deliberately lying. I am just ignorant.
I have absolutely no desire to be president. It’s too hard.

There, I feel more important now, even though I know I’m just fooling myself.

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Limericks are Still Legal, So Far

Back in the halcyon days of the Montana Logging and Ballet Company — well, okay, the pedestrian days of the MLBC — Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote all of our songs and much of our political satire. Now that he no longer has that creative outlet, he muddles through by preaching in his United Methodist Church in Acton, Massachusetts, and writing a daily spiritual blog (Unfolding Light<>) which has thousands of followers. His blog is usually poetry, sometimes verging on the mystical, and often deeply moving.

He hasn’t lost his MLBC satirical bent, however, as shown by these limericks I stole from his Facebook. Don’t ask me how. I’m not on Facebook myself.

Daredevils that make our hearts pump?
Or horses that gallop and jump?
No, the circus in town’s
Just incompetent clowns:
It’s Barnum and Bailey and Trump.

Every Freudian shrink understands
That the size of the bomb Trump commands
Is the ego at play
Of a man who will slay
To show us the size of his “hands.”

A traveling man was excited
To start on his trip with United.
He was dragged off his flight–
What a horrible sight–
But his luggage was all expedited!

The president met at a diner
To make deals with the leader of China
It was such a success
He came home with no less
Than, um, well, a pair of chopsticks.

Checking Russia out makes Trump get sore,
“Cause he hopes we won’t look any more.
For the news-minded faction
He’ll try a distraction:
“Hey, look guys: I started a war!”

You have to admit, those are their own sort of Zen understanding of our present reality or rather unreality. I got so excited that I tried my hand at the limerick, which is the sincerest form of mockery available to the amateur.

Ms. Kellyanne Conway just said,
“I’m so lucky that I am not dead.”
To prepare for her selfie,
She reached for the shelf, the
Big microwave dropped on her head.

Okay, you see why Steve did most of the writing for us.

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Rebuttal to “A Modest Proposal”

I received a rebuttal to my last week’s modest proposal to make our president more knowledgeable by having his children read to him from the New York Times, a source that does not specialize in the alternative news he prefers.

No, the rebuttal did not come from the White House. They were apparently too busy to reply to me because of the failure of the attempt to replace “ObamaCare” with what I call “RepublicansDon’tCare.” Imagine it. Their plan would have reduced the number of people with insurance and driven up costs substantially for the poor, especially the elderly. It would have been devastating to rural hospitals. In other words, it was a real hit on Trump voters. It did have the usual Republican carrot — huge tax breaks for the wealthy.

In the aftermath of the failure of the Republican effort, I’m guessing that President Trump’s advisors were busy covering for his statement that he never promised to repeal ObamaCare in only 64 days. Technically he was telling the truth, because he never once said that. He did say at almost every campaign stop that he would repeal ObamaCare on Day One of his presidency. Perhaps he isn’t very good at math either.

I hope it is possible that the White House will now consider my proposal favorably. However, a friend from childhood, Peg Herbert, sent a rebuttal. My modest proposal was predicated on the observation that our president is functionally illiterate, which I defined, without a shred of scientific backing, as being unable to read or comprehend beyond the fifth grade level.

In her rebuttal, Peg offered an alternate explanation of Trump’s erratic behavior. I will quote her entire critique and alternate theory:

Fifth grade? Surely you jest! He never made it that far. But the best part is the current investigation of the Russians. Clive Cussler predicted it all in his 1984 novel “Deep Six”. The president is kidnapped by evil Koreans who sell him to the Russians. And the Russians put a chip in his brain that will let them control what he thinks, says and does, and they can listen in during cabinet meetings. So when the President is delivered back to Washington (he said he was fishing), the first thing he orders is to get all the US troops out of NATO. I couldn’t believe I was reading a 40-year old novel! But the good guys win in the end. I’ll try to be optimistic.

Thanks, Peg. I’ll try to be optimistic too.

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