Saturday, February 04, 2017

Gaslighter In Chief

Aberdeen Times:

Hi! I’m J.D. Rhoades, and I’ll be (hopefully) entertaining you here at the Aberdeen Times every Sunday. Some of you may know me and my work already, some may not. If you don’t, let me tell you a little bit about myself.
I was born and raised here in the Sandhills, and I’m the result of a one night stand between then-president John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, who JFK snuck down and stashed for an evening of romance at the old Charlton Motel on U.S. Highway 1. After Ms. Monroe delivered me at the old Moore Memorial Hospital, I was raised by a kindly pharmacist and his beautiful wife until the age of 12, where my inherent genius was noticed by Harvard University, who arranged for my entry on a full scholarship. I graduated Harvard in two years and completed Yale Law School in one. Since my graduation and admission to the bars of seven states, I’ve made a living arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. At one point, my brief in a case involving a water rights dispute between Nevada and Colorado actually reduced Justice William Brennan to tears. “It’s so beautiful,” he sobbed. In my spare time I’ve amused myself by writing several New York Times bestsellers, two of which have been nominated for both the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes.
What’s that you say? That sounds like a pack of outrageous and easily refuted lies? Pshaw. That’s pre-Donald Trump thinking. As of January 20th, we live in the world of “alternative facts.” That’s the term Trump spokesgoblin Kellyanne Conway used when NBC’s Chuck Todd used his newly acquired backbone to point out that claims by press secretary Sean Spicer that the turnout for President Tweety’s inauguration was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period” were refuted by photographs, counts by the DC Metro system of people traveling into DC, and pretty much every source connected with objective reality. The claims were, in fact, lies.
But Ms. Conway scoffed at any suggestion of the “l” word. Don’t be so dramatic, she chided Todd. Spicer had “alternative facts.”
Now, the rest of us don’t get to claim the use of “alternative facts.” If I get popped by the Highway Patrol for going 75 miles per hour in a 35 mile an hour school zone, I don’t get to stand in court and say “The alternative facts, your honor, are that I was driving a perfectly legal speed, and besides, I was actually on the German Autobahn.” If I come home at 3 AM stinking of rum and cigarettes and covered in stripper glitter, I don’t get to claim “alternative facts” that it’s only 9 PM, that smell is chamomile tea, and I’ve been at Bible study.
The Trump camp’s tactic very closely resembles a sinister game played in interpersonal relationships known as “gaslighting.” It’s named for the classic 1944 suspense film “Gas Light” in which Charles Boyer attempts to convince his spouse, played by Ingrid Bergman, that she’s going insane.

 A number of odd things happen (such as the sudden random dimming of the gas lighting in their home), which Boyer insists to Bergman are all figments of her imagination. Gaslighting is a favorite tactic of sociopaths and spousal abusers, who’ll try to create “alternative facts” (“I didn’t hit you, I never threatened you, you’re making it up because you’re crazy”) to keep their victims off-balance and in line.
You have to wonder how many times Donald Trump has seen that movie, because he seems to be basing a lot of his communication strategy around it:

• “I never mocked a disabled reporter, you’re making it up because you’re trying to discredit me.”
• “Three to five million people voted illegally. Everybody knows it. You know it. You don’t need evidence. You’re just denying it because you’re partisan.”
• “I never compared the intelligence services to Nazis. I love the intelligence services. You’re just saying otherwise for political gain.”
• “I had the biggest inaugural turnout ever. Who are you going to believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?”
The wingnuts spent years falsely dubbing Barack Obama “Liar in Chief”. So who do they elect to replace him? A man who, along with his henchpeople, will lie to your face about things that can be easily disproved, then call you crazy or partisan for standing up for reality. Donald Trump has become, in the space of one short week, America’s Gaslighter in Chief.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Post the Pilot Newspaper Didn't Want You To See

After 20 years writing a column with pretty much total editorial independence (and winning two NC Press Association Awards for it), The Pilot Newspaper of Southern Pines, NC decided that the column below might make too many Republicans mad. "David is getting tired of people saying they're cancelling their subscription," I was told. The opinion editor, Steve Bouser, demanded a "more hopeful" one (on  Thursday morning, no less).

 I declined, since to do so would have been to write something  I do not believe in. They spiked  it and ran a "let's all give Trump a chance" column in its place.  So I have ended my association with the Pilot as a columnist.

If you're as concerned as I am about dissenting opinions being stifled because of Republican bullying, please contact the publisher at, or the opinion editor at Now here's the column they didn't want you to see:

Dear Mr. Trump:

Well, the day has finally come and gone. You’ve risen to the top of the list, a-number-one, king of the hill, all that stuff. You’ve achieved an honor few men can claim. And in that ascension, you’ve helped to set Americans free. Well, some of them at least.

Oh, you think I’m talking about the Presidency? Well, I suppose that’s neat, too. But this week, according to the Twitter feed of your son (and 80’s movie villain) Eric, you’ve also garnered laurels from Golf Digest, who has raised you to lofty heights by proclaiming you “Golfer-In-Chief.” According to the G.D. story, “Sixteen of the past 19 presidents have played golf, but Trump is the best and most passionate golfer among them.”

Now, I remember when “Golfer In Chief” was used as a sneer to question the work ethic of President Barack Obama. I remember it because it was still happening this week.

But, as you’ve taken great pains to make us aware, Donald J. Trump is a great man. Too great to be fettered by little things like consistency or principle. How else would the man who once spent six years questioning the legitimacy and American citizenship of a sitting president get to be all indignant because a Congressman questioned his own legitimacy? How else could the man who tweeted after Barack Obama’s 2012 election that "We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!" later call Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement, a hypocrite for not attending his inauguration? How else could a man who harshly slams companies for sending jobs overseas nominate a man who’s done just that for Commerce Secretary?

Consistency? Principle? Pshaw. Those are for the little people, not a transformative figure like Trump, son of Trump.

And make no mistake, Mr. Trump, you are a transformative figure. You’ve already done so much to free us from the bonds of “political correctness.” Why, just this past week, Christopher vonKeyserling, a 71-year-old Republican politician from Greenwich, Connecticut, resolved a political argument with a female town employee by following the woman into her office and, according to a criminal warrant filed later by the woman, “reach[ing] between her legs from behind and pinch[ing] her in the groin area.” According to both the Washington Post and the fact-checking website, von Keyserling had earlier crowed that “it’s a new world now. I no longer have to be politically correct.” He also reportedly told police that the pinch, which lesser beings might call a sexual assault, was what he called a “gig,” the type he often used to “embarrass his teenaged granddaughter.”

Yes, Mr. Trump, you have truly changed the world, even before taking office. By your example and your disdain for political correctness, you’ve made 71 year old men feel free to openly grab—sorry, “gig”- not only adult women with whom they disagree, but their teenaged female relatives, by a certain body part.

Finally, you’ve set your party free. No longer do the Republicans have to pretend that they care about things like small government, free markets, and the Constitution--unless, by “small government” you mean having the whole thing shrunk to one person who makes all the decisions, like your BFF Vladimir Putin. No longer do they have to pretend to care about accountability in government, since they were willing to trash the congressional ethics office (until they got caught at it) and perfectly willing to hold sham hearings on your nominees before their ethics reviews are even done. Oh, people like the guy you called “Little Marco” still feel like they need to put up token resistance to your Russian-owned Secretary of State nominee. But we all know he’ll get over it.

 Be proud, Mr. Trump. Your election has transformed the Republican Party by freeing them from pretending they have any actual principles, conservative or otherwise. Just look at the standard response to any criticism of policy or even denial of your awesomeness: “We won. Trump is your President. Suck it up, buttercup.”

That’s the response of someone with no moral center whatsoever, to whom the only thing that matters is raw power and the exercise of it. It’s the response of the kind of bully who reads or hears George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian future—“imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever,” and thinks “hey, that sounds pretty cool.” 

This is the world you’ve already made, Mr. Trump. And you’ve just begun. God help us all.

Dusty Rhoades lives, writes, and practices law in Carthage, North Carolina.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Pack of Little Yappy Car Chasing Dogs

Opinion |

A few years ago, I lived on a street in Southern Pines, near the airport. One of my neighbors on that street owned a feisty little dog who would chase my car down the street every day, barking his fool head off.
One day, I slammed on the brakes, looked out the car window, and told the baffled pooch “OK, pal, you caught it! Now what are you gonna do with it?”
Needless to say, he didn’t have an answer.
I’ve been thinking about that dog a lot as I watch the new Republican Congress members try to follow through on the promise they and Russian-backed President-elect Donald Trump made to “repeal and replace Obamacare on Day One.”
You may not have noticed, what with the New Year and all, but Day One has come and gone, and, well, they’re still trying to figure out how to do it.
They’ve whipped up a “budget resolution” that says, in effect, “Yessiree, we’re sure ’nuff going to repeal that nasty Obamacare, just you wait and see,” but how it’s going to be done, and what will replace it, remain as much a mystery as why McDonald’s keeps bringing back the awful McRib sandwich or why “Dating Naked” is an actual TV show.
Meanwhile, Comrade Trumpovitch took a break from his busy schedule of writing thank-you notes to Vladimir Putin and throwing online shade at Meryl Streep to let the Congress know that delays would be unacceptable, and he wants both repeal and replace right now, dang it. He told The New York Times he wants a repeal vote “next week” and a replacement bill “very quickly or simultaneously.”
Trump demanded that no more than “a few weeks” must pass before an entirely new health care bill must be plucked from out of the vast roaring void that is the Republican source of health care ideas. Then it has to pass through the legislative process and be voted on.
Oh, and according to Trump’s prior fiats, it has to keep the things that Americans like, like the prohibition against denying insurance because of pre-existing conditions and letting people keep their offspring on their family health plan until they’re 26. And it has to bring costs down. So let it be written, so let it be done.
Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from New York and a member of Trump’s transition team, fell back on what’s become a standard Trump response: The guy whose supporters love him because he says what he means doesn’t really mean what he says. Collins told CNN that “I'm not reading it literally literally” when Trump says he wants it done right away.
He’s a CEO, Collins Trumpsplained, and he’s “using that mindset.” Perhaps my favorite bit of Trumpsplaining comes from Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidey: “I think (Trump) speaks in concepts, and I accept his concept.”
OK, let me just say right now, I am totally stealing “speaks in concepts.” I can see it now: “Sure, honey, I said I’d be home by 11 and it’s 3 a.m., but, you know, I was just speaking in concepts. You should know not to take me literally literally.” I could also use it at work: “Your Honor, I know I said I’d have that order to you by Friday, but I was, you know, speaking in concepts.”
In any case, the actual timeline for full “repeal and replace” (which, unlike a simple budget resolution, will most likely take some Democratic votes in the Senate), could take months. If they keep the promise made by House GOP Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who said, “Let me be clear: No one who has coverage because of Obamacare today will lose that coverage,” the timeline might stretch out even further, as in “never.”
In that case, one can only imagine the Twitter storm to follow. It’ll be like that famous and often-parodied scene in the movie “Downfall,” in which a certain German dictator goes completely berserk when told that the units he’s ordering into brilliant counterattacks against the encroaching Allies don’t exist anymore. Except from Trump it’ll be 140 characters at a time.
But don’t worry, Congress. Before long, Alec Baldwin or a Dixie Chick will say something President Tweety doesn’t like and he’ll get distracted and leave you alone while he goes off on them, and you can get back to failing at your jobs. Once again, the Republicans have shown that while they can win elections, they’re incapable of doing the actual work of governing.

Advice for Our New (Involuntary) Tar Heels

Opinion |

When we entered a new year at midnight on Jan. 1, a lot of things changed here in North Carolina.
Our new governor, Roy Cooper, was officially sworn in. Numerous changes in laws ranging from foster care to sales taxes to road tolls kicked in. And, in one fell swoop, we got a bunch of new residents from South Carolina.
The new residents of the Tar Heel State came to us as part of the resolution of a long-standing question as to exactly where the border between North and South Carolina is.
It seems that, back in 1735, when the original survey party was sent out to map the border, they got as far as the mosquito-infested swamps and dense woods that covered what’s now York County, south of Charlotte, and decided, “You know what? We are not getting paid nearly enough for this.”
According to The New York Times, they simply “drove a stake into the ground 12 miles too far to the south and went home.”
Subsequent efforts to fix the border only compounded the problem, especially since there’s apparently some sort of “magnetic anomaly” west of Charlotte that’s been mapped by the U.S. Geological Survey and which throws off compasses.
(I feel like somebody really should have looked into this a long time ago. Is there some sort of meteorite buried there? An alien monolith? Gov. Cooper, please get on this ASAP.)
Anyway, it eventually occurred to people that we really needed to get this whole thing settled, and thanks to the miracle of GPS satellites, now we can.
Some wrangling inevitably ensued, however, since the people in the contested borderlands weren’t all that eager to switch states. Eventually, however, compromises were hammered out.
For instance, the Lake Wylie Mini Mart, although suddenly finding itself in North Carolina, can still sell fireworks, and it can keep selling alcohol and gasoline using South Carolina’s lower tax rates. Kids whose state of residence has suddenly changed can get in-state tuition in either state for the next 10 years. And so on.
It’s not clear how many new North Carolinians there are. The South Carolina magazine The State says it’s only 16 (while three families are being shifted to South Carolina), but WRAL’s website pegs the total at “50 homeowners.” Whether it’s 16 or 50, however, we here in the Old North State bid you folks a warm welcome! Now, here are some things you’ll need to know:
First, you’re going to need to pick a North Carolina ACC team to root for. I know some of you former Clemson fans are going to find this traumatic, but that’s just the way it is. The choices are UNC (the Tar Heels), NC State (the Wolfpack), and Wake Forest (the Demon Deacons, a name which we can all agree makes no flippin’ sense whatsoever).
Oh, and some school from Durham. The Blue Meanies or some such nonsense. It’s a school that’s mostly attended by Yankee transplants who aren’t even going to stay here when they graduate, so forget those guys. The choice, of course, is up to you, but I would observe that your new home, North Carolina, is known as the “Tar Heel State.” Just sayin’.
A more emotionally fraught choice involves barbecue. I hear that what South Carolina regards as “barbecue” involves some kind of mustard-based sauce. To which I can only say: I’m so glad we got to you in time. North Carolina ’cue is either Western or “Lexington” style, which usually uses the shoulder of the pig and a tomato-ey sauce, while Eastern, or “the best” style, uses the whole hog, cooked slowly for hours over a wood fire, and a delicious, tangy sauce made of vinegar and pepper.
As I’ve gotten older, my feelings toward Western style have moderated somewhat, which means I no longer consider it an abomination before God. Just no mustard. Please.
Oh, and for the time being, you’re going to have to have your birth certificate handy when you use a public restroom. Don’t ask why, because the answer’s stupid, and we hope we can remedy it soon. But it is what it is.
So, again, welcome to our new North Carolinians, and we hope that, in the words of our State Toast, your weak go strong, and your strong grow great! Just know that they’re never going to do it cheering on some lame team from Durham and eating nasty mustard-based barbecue.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

2017: The Year in Preview

Opinion |

Once again, as everyone else looks back, this column looks forward. Therefore, here’s the Year in Preview:
JANUARY: Frustrated by their inability to secure A-list performers for the inauguration of Donald Trump, the inauguration committee is saved at the last minute when Vladimir Putin sends a delegation consisting of the remaining members of the Red Army Chorus, the Bolshoi Ballet, and pop groups Plazma and Code Red. “Is least Putin could do,” the Russian president announces over Twitter, “considering.”
FEBRUARY: Former Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton emerges from seclusion on Feb. 2, sees her shadow and retreats again, thus signaling that we will have at least six more weeks of winter.
MARCH: After the sudden and unexpected retirement of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Trump announces his nomination for her replacement: former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin immediately announces her support of overruling not only Roe v. Wade, but also New York Times v. Sullivan, Marbury vs. Madison, and Kramer v. Kramer. When reporters point out that the last one is actually a fictional 1979 movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, Palin angrily tells them that “real Bible-readin’ gun-clingin’ Americans are tired of your coastal-elitin’ fake-newsin’ p.c. flibberdefloo, always talkin’ about your so-called Hollywood facts, you betcha.” Palin’s confirmation hearing is delayed as the Senate searches frantically for a translator.
APRIL: House Speaker Paul Ryan announces his plans for Medicare reform. Controversy ensues when it’s discovered that the bill mostly consists of funding to put the ailing elderly on ice floes in the Arctic and letting them drift away to die. Ryan defends the plan by saying, “The American people are tired of political correctness and want bold solutions to the Medicare crisis, so long as those solutions involve more tax cuts for wealthy people. This plan accomplishes that.”
MAY: President Trump announces that he’s canceling plans to put abolitionist heroine Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill. Instead, Trump promises a “big, beautiful new currency” with the face of his daughter Ivanka on the 20, sons Eric, Donald Junior and little Barron on the 5, 10 and 50 respectively, wife Melania on the 100, and daughter Tiffany on the quarter. The visage of Trump himself will be on the newly announced $3 bill. The motto on the back of the bills will be changed from “In God We Trust” to “Suck It Up, Buttercup.”
JUNE: Energy Secretary Rick Perry announces that the Department of Energy has been disbanded. “I’m not sure how it happened, but I showed up for work yesterday and it was gone. Yay me.” Later, it’s revealed that Perry had actually just forgotten where the department was and gone to the wrong building.
JULY: Speaker Ryan’s Medicare plan is derailed when scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are unable to locate any Arctic ice floes due to global warming. Congress responds by banning the use of the words “global warming” and any mention of “ice floes” in official documents before leaving town for their summer recess.
AUGUST: Unable to come up with a plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act that doesn’t cause 20 million Americans to lose insurance coverage, President Trump announces via Twitter that “Obamacare is gone. It’s called Trumpcare from now on. Problem solved. Trump = awesome!”
SEPTEMBER: Undaunted by the failure of his Medicare reform plan, Speaker Ryan unveils his plan to reform Medicaid in a bill titled “The Let the Poor Die Act of 2017.” Ryan responds to criticism with a terse statement: “Political correctness. Bold solutions. Tax cuts for the wealthy.”
OCTOBER: Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway is appointed head of a new government agency called “Department of Truth.” She issues a statement that “Obamacare never existed. Also, there were never any promises by President Trump to build a wall, lock up Hillary Clinton, or drain any swamp. Any and all evidence to the contrary is hereby declared ‘fake news’ from the ‘unfair liberal media’ and should be ignored.” Unprecedented Earth tremors in the area of Oxfordshire, England, are investigated by geologists and found to be the result of writer George Orwell spinning like a turbine in his grave.
NOVEMBER: Trump takes to Twitter to proclaim, “We should all give thanks that we can say ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ again. Go Trump!” Puzzled Americans note that we never stopped.
DECEMBER: In accordance with ancient prophecy, the Elder God Cthulhu arises from his resting place beneath the sea to begin his millennia-long reign of madness, chaos and violence. He takes one look at the world, goes “Dang, looks like you folks beat me to it,” and goes back to sleep beneath the waves.
Buckle up, buttercups. It’s gonna be another weird one.
Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas 'Round the World

Opinion |

So here it is, Christmas Day. All the halls are decked, all the chestnuts roasted, and all the eggs nogged. If you have kids, your home is no doubt filled with the cheerful din of the little ones doing their level best to completely destroy the toys Santa brought. It’s tradition.
There are lots of traditions at Christmas. There are the big, widely shared ones, like the tree and the pretty lights. But it should surprise no one that, around the world, people celebrate the holidays in ways that are, shall we say, a little different.
In Japan, for example, nothing says “Christmas” like KFC.
While the birth of Jesus isn’t a national holiday in the Land of the Rising Sun, a combination of clever marketing and a craving for holiday fowl among homesick expatriates has caused Colonel Sanders to be as much an icon as Santa Claus this time of year in Japan.
The chain sells an estimated 240,000 “party barrels” of chicken, chocolate cake and wine every holiday. Better get your order in early, though. They often sell out months in advance (My wife, by the way, heartily approves of this tradition).
The folks in Greenland enjoy some more traditional (at least for them) delicacies at Christmastime. There’s “mattiak,” which is a strip of whale skin with blubber inside. It’s reputed to be somewhat chewy.
Or if you’re not into seafood, there’s “kiviak,” which is the flesh of 500 or so auks (a tiny Arctic bird), packed inside a sealskin, which is then sewn up and allowed to ferment for about seven months before the sealskin is opened and what must be a truly indescribable mess is consumed.
Yum! After contemplating that, fruitcake doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?
For truly odd Christmas treats, however, you have to go to the Catalan region of Spain, where one of the iconic figures of the season is the “Tió de Nadal,” or Christmas Log — a hollowed-out piece of wood with a happy face and little wooden legs on one end and the other end open.
Starting Dec. 8, it’s the children’s job to “feed” Tió de Nadal by stuffing him with candies, nuts and other foodstuffs. On Christmas Eve, it’s time for the little guy to earn his other name: Caga Tió, which, politely translated, means “poop log.”
The children beat the log with sticks to make the goodies fall out, while chanting the traditional song that goes, “Poop, log! Poop nougats, hazelnuts and cheese! Poop well, or I’ll beat you with a stick!”
This goes to show you one thing that binds all humanity together: Whatever their nationality, little kids find poop jokes hilarious. When the poor, put-upon log is finally “emptied,” he’s tossed into the fire and burned, which hardly seems fair, really.
And yes, the kids do eat the candy.
The people of Venezuela haven’t had a lot to celebrate recently. But let’s hope they’ve kept one great Christmas tradition alive, by which I mean the tradition of roller-skating to Christmas Mass.
According to MSN, “vehicular access to Caracas is blocked off in many areas before 8 a.m. to allow this unconventional commute to take place, and the night before, children will tie one end of string to their big toe and hang the other out of the window — allowing the passing roller skaters to offer a friendly tug as they pass in the morning.”
All of the above seem somewhat whimsical and light hearted. But in the Netherlands, they seem to have gone out of their way to discover the dark side of Christmas.
For one thing, “Sinterklass,” their version of jolly old St. Nick, doesn’t live with his wife at the North Pole. He lives in Spain, surrounded by a group of dark-skinned assistants (possibly slaves) known as “Zwarte Pieten” (“Black Peters”).
The Zwarte Pieten are sort of like Santa’s enforcers; they’re tasked with beating naughty children with sticks and stuffing the really bad ones into sacks to be dragged off to slavery in Spain. The Zwarte Pieten, played by guys in dark makeup and curly-haired wigs, are a fixture at every public appearance of Sinterklaas, because, after all, what would the joy of Christmas be without the dread of black guys coming to your house, beating you senseless, then dragging you off in a sack?
To their credit, some in the Netherlands have begun questioning whether the idea of scaring little kids with violent guys in blackface is a little bit racist. It’s a debate we’ll leave for another time, because hey, it’s Christmas.
Whatever your Christmas tradition, even if it involves roller skates, KFC, pooping logs or scary black elves, I hope it brings you joy and peace.