Sunday News: From the Editorial pages


BIDEN WON. IT'S TIME FOR THE DENIERS TO DECLARE IT, TOO: It is time, well past time really, that our members of Congress – particularly those representing North Carolina who have been arguing otherwise – declare that Joe Biden got the most legally cast popular votes and got the most properly assigned Electoral College votes. He is the constitutionally elected president of the United States. No one is asking anyone that they must be happy with the results. No one is asking anyone that they must agree with all the duly elected president stands for or says. Just state simply that Biden won the election fair and square. The theft that is going on – and needs to stop – is how Murphy, Rouzer (along with other fellow Republicans the North Carolina delegation Dan Bishop, Ted Budd, Madison Cawthorn, Virginia Foxx and Richard Hudson) are stealing the nation’s faith in democracy and the integrity of our elections – the cleanest, most transparent and fairest in the world.

THE TRUTH AND HOPE OF AMANDA GORMAN'S POEM DEFINES AND RENEWS AMERICA: Perhaps it’s no surprise that in recent decades the most remarkable tribunes of the American promise have been African-Americans. The brutal transgression reveals the centrality of the commitment. The exacting weight of violation illuminates the yawning breach of the covenant. The burden of accustomed hypocrisy wounds, and stirs, the heart. Martin Luther King, John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Maya Angelou, Barack Obama, William Barber, Amanda Gorman. Beginning, grounded in the truth of our damaged times, Gorman acknowledged: “When day comes, we ask ourselves Where can we find light in this never-ending shade?” Echoing Lincoln and perhaps even matching him, she lodged a response in her country’s meaning: “A nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished…" Then the young poet lifted our struggles for democracy and brotherhood – in the face of disease, death, dishonesty, demoralization, exhaustion, hatred, bigotry and greed – to a plane that most of us (certainly me) have been unable to muster. She saw victory where we couldn’t always identify it. Virtue in contest. Strength in perseverance. In the openness of locked arms. In the generosity, and mercy, of justice. She defined us in a moment that had seemed to almost all as if it had overwhelmed our long-claimed commitment and destiny. She defined us in the face of a scarred Capitol, an insurrection of seditionists and cowardly enablers, and a president bereft and dismissive of our public character. She defined us, clear-eyed, marked by both hideous infringement and world-changing, humanity-enlarging aspiration. She defined us, undaunted, by the errors and cynicism and weaknesses of her elders. She defined us, I’m guessing, as only the young and fearless can manage.

WE BORROW THIS PLANET FROM OUR KIDS, WE MUSTN'T SCREW IT UP: As we argued about the reality of climate change, America’s radiator over-heated. The year 2020 became the hottest year on record and set new benchmarks for forest fires and hurricanes. For many of us, the country’s GPS also failed, causing us to lose our sense of direction in science and education. And just when we thought nothing else could go wrong, millions of passengers in that 2020 jalopy were frightened when the steering failed causing it to careen into guard rails on the far-right side of the road. A few weeks ago, on January 6, that lemon ended up in the ditch. I left the building last Tuesday with renewed understanding that democracy and the natural world to which I am drawn have much in common. Each is complex and fragile at the same time. To function efficiently, all parts must work together. In salt marshes, mountain bogs, piedmont streams and longleaf pine savannas, all living things — plants, animals, and even fungi — must be available to perform essential services for the whole system to survive and thrive. The way we view the world has everything to do with the way we care for the planet and the living things around us: Are we stewards or controllers? Do we give back or extract? Are we inclined to conquer, fight, and fear nature?

IT SEEMED THE GOP MIGHT SHOW SOME SELF-RESPECT. NOW IT'S CRAWLING BACK TO TRUMP: FOR A moment, it seemed as if the Republican Party might exorcise former president Donald Trump. After four years of submission, GOP leaders were telling the truth. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared that Mr. Trump had “provoked” the Jan. 6 Capitol invasion, having “fed lies” to the rioters. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Mr. Trump “bears responsibility” for refusing to calm the insurrectionists. There was talk that enough GOP senators might be willing to join Democrats to convict the former president in an impeachment trial. Days later, the era of glasnost seems to be ending. Senior Republicans are crawling back to Mr. Trump. The big lie of election fraud lives on. It is a sad turn for a once great party. Barely three weeks after Mr. Trump’s mob stormed the Capitol, Mr. McCarthy traveled on Thursday to Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida home, to kiss the ring. The apparent goal was to patch up his relationship with Mr. Trump following Mr. McCarthy’s mild acknowledgment of Mr. Trump’s guilt. The visit caps an apology tour in which the House minority leader walked back his criticism of Mr. Trump, at one point absurdly remarking that not just the former president but “everybody across this country” bears some responsibility for the Capitol riot. Mr. McConnell has avoided such a pathetic spectacle. He told reporters that he had not been in contact with the former president since mid-December, and he reportedly has no desire to speak again with Mr. Trump. But on Tuesday he defied indications that he might vote to convict the former president in the Senate’s coming impeachment trial — indeed, he sent the message that he did not think it should be happening at all. The Senate minority leader voted to force a debate on whether trying Mr. Trump after he has left office is constitutional. Republican senators have raised this question to avoid taking a firm stand on whether Mr. Trump’s wrongs deserve the punishment of conviction. Mr. McConnell has now blessed that dodge. Far from detaching the Republican Party from Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell proved how GOP senators still fear him.

IT'S TIME FOR THE POLICE TO STOP LYING TO SUSPECTS: Most Americans don’t know this, but police officers in the United States are permitted by law to outright lie about evidence to suspects they interrogate in pursuit of a confession. Of all forms of subterfuge they deploy — like feigning sympathy and suggesting that a suspect’s confession might bring leniency — this one is particularly dangerous. In Frazier v. Cupp (1969), the Supreme Court made it lawful for the police to present false evidence. “The victim’s blood was found on your pillow,” “You failed the polygraph,” “Your fingerprints were on the knife” and “Your friend said she wasn’t with you like you said” are some common but brazen lies told. There is almost no limit to the type or magnitude of deception permitted — one lie or many; small lies and whoppers; lies aimed at adults or anxious and unwary teenagers. In the United States and elsewhere, confession evidence serves an important function in the administration of criminal justice. Yet the history of wrongful convictions points to countless innocent people induced to confess to crimes they did not commit. Consider what happened to 17-year-old Martin Tankleff. In 1988, he woke up early one morning to find his mother lying in her bloodied bed and his father slumped in his bloodied study chair, gurgling air but unconscious. Mr. Tankleff called 911. Although he had no cuts or bruises and no history of violence, he was separated from family members and interrogated. After hours of accusations and denials, the lead detective launched into a series of lies about evidence, culminating in a staged phone call to the hospital. He returned with good news and bad. The good news, he told Mr. Tankleff, was that his father had regained consciousness. The bad news was that his father had said Mr. Tankleff was his attacker. Both statements were untrue (his father had been in a coma and died shortly thereafter). Mr. Tankleff became disoriented and lost his grip on reality. My father never lies, he thought. If he said I did it, I must have. Mr. Tankleff broke down and confessed, then almost immediately recanted, after which he was tried and convicted. Eighteen years later, his conviction was vacated. He is now a New York-based lawyer and criminal justice reform advocate.


HENRY JARRETT: RALEIGH IS GOING BACKWARDS ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING: It seemed a strange coincidence to read Jan. 26 about two opposite events in Raleigh when it comes to affordable housing: demolition of an island of affordable homes off Oberlin Road and developer John Kane’s latest North Hills highrise. For all the talk about affordable housing, it seems Raleigh is heading in the wrong direction. I too favor density development, but only if there are guardrails included. For far too long low- and medium-price housing has gotten bulldozed in favor of higher priced housing. It seems the city has never met a developer it did not like. Is the plan for affordable housing sending folks to Wendell, Knightdale and Zebulon? Where are city workers supposed to live? These are questions to ponder for city elections coming up this fall.

LISA ROWDEN: REPUBLICANS WHO TRIED TO OVERTURN ELECTION SHOULD BE PUNISHED: Efforts by North Carolina Republican leaders to discredit and reject the votes of Americans were an affront to our democracy and should not go unpunished. These representatives, Dan Bishop (District 9), Ted Budd (District 13), Madison Cawthorn (District 11), Virginia Foxx (District 5), Richard Hudson (District 8), Gregory Murphy (District 3) and David Rouzer (District 7), are among the long list of Republican leaders that have incited this mob attack through their attempts to overturn the will of the people. These seditious seven, along with Trump, broke their sacred oath of office, violated the U.S. Constitution and failed democracy. In short, they have violated their commitment to the people of North Carolina. I am a constituent of Rep. Budd. He lied to his constituents and pushed falsehoods about the election, which turned out to be a deadly choice. They can call for unity now, but just a week ago they were stoking division through unsubstantiated claims. We as a nation have learned that is dangerous; has Rep. Budd? I believe that Rep. Budd and all those that refused to acknowledge the will of the people should either resign or be removed from office. Our votes and our democracy should count. So should our safety.

MAARTEN OOSTEN: THE MYTH OF TRUMP'S "SUCCESSES": Regarding “Americans shouldn’t forget Trump’s successes,” (Jan. 22 Opinion): If President Trump’s administration was an economic success, then why is our economy more government dependent than in it has been for decades? Even pre-COVID, the federal budget went up significantly mostly due to government handouts to industry, such as the immense farm subsidies, which became necessary due to a trade war that Trump initiated. As a businessman Trump gathered a fortune by exploiting loopholes in our economic system. As president he transferred that acumen to our political system. He exploited the vulnerabilities of our political system. Instead of exploiting these problems, we need a president who addresses them. Indeed, Americans should not forget that.



It wasn't just an act

As we emerge from the scourge of the Trump Presidency, I think it’s important to evaluate what happened, and how we can (try to) ensure it never happens again. Some myths need to be addressed before we can even hope to do that, and one has to do with Trump’s psychological state. Several people I know (and respect) have posited that Trump’s behavior was merely an act, designed to accomplish specific political goals. That is only partially correct:

Do you think Trump is truly exhibiting delusional or psychotic behavior? Or is he simply behaving like an autocrat making a bald-faced attempt to hold onto his power?

I believe it is both. He is certainly of an autocratic disposition because his extreme narcissism does not allow for equality with other human beings, as democracy requires. Psychiatrists generally assess delusions through personal examination, but there is other evidence of their likelihood. First, delusions are more infectious than strategic lies, and so we see, from their sheer spread, that Trump likely truly believes them. Second, his emotional fragility, manifested in extreme intolerance of realities that do not fit his wishful view of the world, predispose him to psychotic spirals. Third, his public record includes numerous hours of interviews and interactions with other people—such as the hour-long one with the Georgia secretary of state—that very nearly confirm delusion, as my colleague and I discovered in a systematic analysis.

Understand, acknowledging that he is genuinely mentally ill is not an effort to minimize his behavior, or provide any excuses. In fact, it is even more damning of our electoral processes that he was allowed to succeed, given his obvious…challenges. Just ask yourself this: Would you be more comfortable having a charlatan run the country, or a delusional narcissist prone to psychotic episodes? The former is a hell of a lot less dangerous than the latter, which may be why a lot of people wanted to believe it.

But let’s move on to the issue that is still haunting us, the sheer number of apparently delusional Trump supporters. We’re not just talking QAnon, or Proud Boys, or Oath Keepers, although their affinity for violence is very disturbing. We’re also talking about the 70% of Republicans who believe the election was rife with fraud, even in the absence of any genuine evidence to back that up. It’s somewhere between a shared delusion and a shared psychosis:

Where does the hatred some of his supporters display come from? And what can we do to promote healing?

In Profile of a Nation, I outline the many causes that create his followership. But there is important psychological injury that arises from relative—not absolute—socioeconomic deprivation. Yes, there is great injury, anger and redirectable energy for hatred, which Trump harnessed and stoked for his manipulation and use. The emotional bonds he has created facilitate shared psychosis at a massive scale. It is a natural consequence of the conditions we have set up. For healing, I usually recommend three steps: (1) Removal of the offending agent (the influential person with severe symptoms). (2) Dismantling systems of thought control—common in advertising but now also heavily adopted by politics. And (3) fixing the socioeconomic conditions that give rise to poor collective mental health in the first place.

Not that I’m qualified to do so, but I’m going to replace “relative” with “perceived” in that second sentence above. Trump’s following is not purely (or even mostly) relegated to those on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, they’re from all classes. He’s not really a “Populist” politician in the grain of a Hugo Chavez, his appeal has a lot more to do with Nationalism and White Supremacy than social powerlessness or economic despair.

Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for equality and equity in our society, we just need to face the ugly fact that racism persists in America, and may have actually grown worse since the mid-20th Century. And the fact that our schools have been drifting back towards segregation is not a coincidence, it is likely a major contributing factor to this problem.

If you want a good place to start in combating Trumpism, there you go. Teach your children well, because their parent’s hell is a selfish delusion. And that delusion manifests itself plainly and clearly in the school choice movement. Yes, there are charter schools that serve black children as well as their white counterparts. But by and large, those schools are majority black children, just as the white schools remain lily-white.

And now we're arguing about social studies curriculum, still trying to hide our ancient and not-so-ancient dirty underwear from our children. One conservative on the (state) school board said we need to teach children America is the greatest country on the planet. That's a subjective evaluation that should be left up to the students to conclude (or not) after an honest exposition of our history.

Here's my message to those conservatives: If you don't like the way the country's character is portrayed to students, then change that character. The portrayal will evolve along with that change, and it won't need to be whitewashed anymore.