On Section 230

Okay, so believe it or not, this post is not about Twitter and Facebook and the other social media companies banning Trump.  Well, it is kinda about that, but only tangentially.

As part of the brouhaha coming from those bans, a lot of articles and stories have been mentioning Section 230.  Heck, Trump himself has ranted about it for months, telling his followers that it should be removed because it causes/leads-to censorship.

Uhh…

Like everything else Trump rants about, that is just stupid.  Let’s backtrack a bit and look at what Section 230 actually does before people decide to assault the Capitol over it.

Section 230 was put in place in the 90’s as a “liability shield” for internet companies.  Although it was enacted in the day of AOL and CompuServe, it is applicable now to far more than just internet providers.  It applies to any company or site that hosts “content” on the internet.

In essence, it says that the site provider cannot be held liable for content on its site if — and only if — they have legitimate content moderation policies in place, and a team to enforce those policies.

Put simply, this blog is hosted on WordPress’s platform.  There is a pretty detailed Terms of Service document to which I had to agree before I could get the blog up and running.  Part of that document spells out the content that is subject to moderation, and the methods WordPress can and will use to enforce that moderation.

If I put up a blog post advocating, say, something violent or repugnant, and one of my readers went out and actually did that, the victims of the crime could sue the shit out of me personally, because of what I wrote.  They could not, however, sue WordPress if WordPress could show that their content policies, and their moderation team, were dealing with the issue.

If, on the other hand, WordPress had no content policies, or no moderation team, then Section 230 would not apply and they could — and would — get sued for every single controversial thing posted on their platform.

Now, let’s apply that to Trump and Twitter.

If you feel that banning Trump from Twitter is unreasonable censorship, then you should NOT be calling for the removal of Section 230 and the protections it provides.  Without those liability protections, the justifiable fear of lawsuits would cause companies to massively restrict the content they would be willing to allow on their platforms.

Actually, if you are worried about Trump’s Twitter ban, you should be fighting to strengthen Section 230.

You can justifiably argue that Twitter and Facebook acted as they did out of politics, but you have to be reasonable here and look at the other side as well — what Trump incited on January 6th could very well have real legal consequences for any internet platform, Twitter in this case, that allowed his rantings without adequate enforcement of content and moderation policies.  Those consequences could be far, far worse if he were to continue to use the same language in an effort to again incite “activity” on January 20th.

Banning Trump can be described as politics, yes, but it can also be described as a common-sense, conservative business decision to protect the company from possible legal action.

Now, the ban may turn out to be the stupidest thing the social media companies could do.  The folks upset about it have a certain amount of right on their side.  But if they — if you — want the freedom to express and read all kinds of viewpoints and opinions on the internet, then the internet companies do need the liability protection of Section 230.  Take away that protection and you create the fear not of governmental or criminal reprisal for content, but the far worse (to any reasonable CEO or CFO) fear of economic and civil reprisal for content.

I am not, in this post, trying to argue for or against the social media ban on Donald J Trump.  I have my own opinion on that, just as you have yours.  As much as I despise Trump, I can most definitely see both sides to the argument.

No, what I’m writing about is the foolish argument about the wrong thing!

The argument, unfortunately, has become this: “the tech companies need Section 230, and we don’t like the tech companies, so take it away!”  That is the best example of cutting off your nose to spite your face that I have seen in a very long time, and it frustrates the living hell out of me.

If you folks on the Trump side — not conservatives, mind you…conservatives are something very different from nationalist-populists — want to pick a fight with the tech companies, do it over something that something that will actually benefit you and your side!

Oh, and one last note — this is NOT a question of censorship in any way, shape or form. True censorship is the use of governmental power to quell or limit free speech. as big as they have become, neither Facebook nor Twitter is the government. They are private companies who have every legal and legitimate right to do business with whomever they choose.

If you believe, for instance, that a cake baker should be allowed to refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding because of his personal and private religious beliefs, then you have no basis to argue that Twitter should be forced to do business with Donald Trump in spite of their beliefs and preferences otherwise.

If you don’t like the choices Facebook and Twitter, then don’t use them. Period. End of story. Welcome to the land of freedom and personal responsibility.

{Edit — okay, so I’ve had the question put to me already in a couple of texts. Just to put the issue to bed, and forestall more of the same question: I more-than despise Trump, I hold him in the utmost contempt…BUT I also think Twitter made a mistake with their total ban. I think Facebook did quite a bit better by suspending him only until after the inauguration. Also…I don’t use either platform. The only “social media” presence I have is this old-school little blog, so the whole argument is less visceral and more intellectual for me.}

What I Couldn’t Manage Yesterday

Apologies for the terse post yesterday.  I had more to say — a great deal more — but I was far too angry and upset to even begin to untangle my thoughts and words from the emotions.  I am still angry and upset as I type this, but with a night’s sleep and a pot of coffee, I am at least going to try…

All of the articles and TV pieces are using one key word to describe the assault on the United States Capitol: sedition.  It is all-too true that the actions of Trump and his mob yesterday fit every single aspect of that crime, but it is not the right word for what went down.

No, to offer the right word, I want to first provide its technical definition under United States Federal law:

“the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R.)

THAT is the definition of what Trump and his thugs did yesterday: terrorism.

Trump’s supporters, then, accomplished what Osama bin Laden could only dream of — they put a terrorist in the Oval Office.  Congratulations.

To my friends and family who served in uniform who still support Trump, I want to offer this reminder:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” 

How can you square that particular oath — given on your honor to support and defend the Constitution of the United States — with acts of terrorism against the United States Congress?  Those who served in the sandbox and rockpile sacrificed incredible amounts of blood, sweat and tears against al’Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS.

In spite of those efforts, in spite of those sacrifices, we still have terrorism here at home.  Sadly, we have that terrorism not from the blood-soaked shores of the Middle East, but from the sociopathic, narcissistic mind of one man: Donald John Trump.  Make your choice, and make it now…you either honor your oath, and the sacrifice and blood of your compatriots — as well as your fathers and grandfathers — to support and defend the Constitution, or you forever make mockery of all that this nation has suffered to be the only democracy* with centuries of peaceful transfer of power.

*Yes, yes, I know…we’re a representative republic, not a “true” democracy — let’s just skip the pointless pedantry, okay?

Why am I writing this, I ask myself, when so many others are doing so in venues much larger than my little blog?  I’m doing so because I have to go on record.  If I do not record my disgust at the events of yesterday, I am complicit through my silence.

Look, I’ve said before that those who want artists (and athletes, and countless others) to just “shut up and sing/act/write/play” are not just foolish, they are in denial of what art truly is.  Art is agency…the agency to take a stand; the agency to praise, and to condemn; the agency to foment change through expression.  Art is, at the core of it, the voice with which you can — you must — express yourself not just on the internal, quiet things, but also on the loudest and most external of things.

Trump — I will not bestow the honor of the title of President on the “man” who not only besmirched the office for four years, but yesterday outright betrayed it — needs to be removed from office, and he needs to removed immediately.  I know that it is, from one perspective, pointless to use either the 25th Amendment or impeachment to remove him with only two weeks left.  But from the greater perspective, there are two reasons:

  1. He is insane.  Plain and simple, his complete mental breakdown makes him by definition unfit for office.  It is foolish in the extreme to risk the kind of damage a madman in the Oval office could do over the next two weeks.
  2. The symbolism matters.  If you advocate for, and outright incite, terrorism against the United States, you don’t get to be President.  Period.  Even if the process takes until five minutes before Joe Biden takes the oath of office, it is vital to our future stability that Trump be recorded as the first — and hopefully only — President to ever be forcibly removed from office.

The words of John Kelly matter, here.  I think his thoughts absolutely nail what the rest of us — those not so lost to thought, morality and maturity that we avoid belonging to a lunatic’s cult, anyway — when he said this morning:

“We need to look infinitely harder at who we elect to any office in our land. At the office seeker’s character, at their morals, at their ethical record, their integrity, their honesty, their flaws, what they have said about women and minorities, why they are asking office in the first place, and only then consider the policies they espouse.”

The emotional, visceral part of me wants to throw the baby out with the bathwater.  “The Republicans should never hold office again!” I, the ex-Republican, want to rage.  “No vote for an R ever again!”

But then I think about it…

Look, as bad as things have been since the election — and as fundamentally insane as they got yesterday — there still were Republicans who stood up when it mattered.  The least of those is Mike Pence.  He was an avid, outright, aggressive enabler of Trump’s insanity, but when it came down the final step, it was a step too far.  Pence, in the end, did the right thing.  He is no hero — you are not a hero for doing the right thing only under the utmost duress — but still he deserves a nod.

But then you have R’s like Sasse and Kinzinger and Romney.  They spoke their consciences throughout the entire four years of Trump’s insanity.  In spite of the prices that Trump and his enablers tried to exact, both personal and political, they stood up for what they believed.  They have earned more than a nod, they have earned respect.

Oh, and to my former home of Maine, I have to give my thanks.  You knew better than the rest of the country when you re-elected Susan Collins.  And to Senator Collins herself, I offer my applause.  She has stood up as well, and earned both the respect she deserves, and the influence she will exert for the next several years.

But the true hero of this not-so-little Shakespearean tragedy?  Raffensperger.  That man put up not just with Trump’s insane attacks, but also literal threats to his life and the lives of his family.  And he never wavered.  He hated the results — he wanted the R’s to win — but throughout the entire thing he did what was right.  He stood up for his oath, for his office, and for his state.  In the end, Brad Raffensperger stood up for the entire country.  He is the person who takes the inner rage I talked about and shows it for the foolishness that it truly is.  Were he to ever run for national office, I would have to give him very, very serious consideration.  Cheers, then, Mr. Raffesnperger, and I will give you the highest of compliments: in the decades to come, your children and grandchildren will be proud of you.

And the children and grandchildren of the villains of this whole thing?  The children of Hawley and Cruz and the antagonist himself, Donald John Trump?  Shame and embarrassment, and an acknowledgment that the sins of today still matter in the coming years and decades.

Musical Note — this was actually a hard one. There are a lot of songs I could use, and finding the right one was proving to be impossible. Then I went back and re-read Trump’s words from yesterday, and watched again the violence that he so wanted, and the song picked itself:

Well, That Didn’t Take Long

One of my unspoken resolutions for this new year was to cuss less, both in my writing and in my real-life habits.  I made that resolution, just like the others, in perfectly good faith.  But, then I kept reading the news…

I kept reading the news…

Are you fucking kidding me?!

Jesus Christ, Trump, can you go any goddamned lower?!

I would add a *sigh* here, but this isn’t worth a sigh.  What Trump and his sycophantic enablers are doing gives rise to indignation and anger, not the passivity of a sigh.

The election is over and Trump lost.  There was no appreciable fraud.  Trump lost.  Votes were not stolen by the hundred of thousands.  Trump lost.  A state official cannot just “recalculate” to give a different electoral outcome.  Trump lost.  Congress cannot override the expressed will of the nation to install whatever candidate they choose.  Trump lost.

TRUMP FREAKING LOST!!

Far too many loons are out there saying, “There’s no way a zero like Biden could have won!  Who would vote for him?”

That answer is easy: I did, as did millions just like me.  Well, I didn’t vote for Biden, I voted — vehemently, aggressively even — against Donald J. Trump.

Those loons love to look at idiots like Cruz and Hawley and say, “They’re just asking questions.  The Dems did it, too, and would do worse if they were in power right now…”

Good Lord, that’s not even an argument, that’s a kindergarten tantrum!  “He got to pee on the carpet, why can’t I?”

Socially I’m pretty moderate-to-liberal, but as far as fiscal, defense and foreign policy go I’m still pretty damned conservative.  I realize there is no one out there who will change their mind at this point, but I’ll link an article here and another here in the hopes that some random MAGA might read it anyway, and rediscover a touch of common sense and decency.

When an aircraft goes into a dive that is too steep, and too fast, it is dead.  Flat out, there is a mathematical curve to any maneuver that defines life or death.  If you stray onto the wrong side of that curve, you will crash.  It doesn’t matter what you do at that point, the capabilities of your airframe and engines determines your fate.  It sounds cold, but “alive” or “dead” really does come down to a simple equation at that point.

Well, what Trump, Cruz and Hawley — and far too many others — are doing is turning our collective political race to the bottom into a dive that is flirting very, very close to the wrong side of that curve.

Oh, their efforts will fail…this time.  No matter what tantrums Trump throws, no matter how insane his slavish followers become, there are enough sane people left to stop them.  This time.

This time.

But in the future?  In 2024 this is all just going to happen again, whether Trump is on the ballot or not.  It doesn’t matter who wins and who loses that election, it is going to come down all of this again.  And again in 2028. And in 2032. And…you get the idea.

Just like that aircraft in the dive,  each time it will go a little deeper, a little faster.  “Hey, nothing bad happened last time…” is perhaps the most dangerous thought-pattern in human history.  In life, that thinking leads to the funny videos and moments captured in the Darwin Awards.  In life, it leads to laughs and little frissons of schadenfreude that at least we ain’t that dumb…

Politically, however, it is nowhere near so harmless.  Politically it leads to ever more extreme actions.  Politically it leads to consequences — most unintended — that all too quickly grow out of control.  Politically it leads to the wrong side of that curve.

The most frequent responses I hear from the die-hard MAGAs nowadays are coded references to “watering the tree of liberty” and “2A solutions.”

Oh, I can dismiss the idiocy of those who roar, “Trump will order out the military to deal with the steal!”  The military is not going to get involved, even if Trump “orders” it.  Yes, there are plenty of MAGAs in the service.  Just as there are plenty of Biden folks.  And plenty of middle grounders, too.  There might be a few loons who dream of being “let loose,” but most take very seriously, and very personally, their oaths to the Constitution (not the President, nor any other individual or body).

No, I don’t worry about the military.  What I do worry about are the idiots running around and screaming at the sky, dreaming that the pistol on their hip can keep a blatant criminal in office.

This has gone far, far beyond politics — as nationalist-populists always have, throughout history.  It has gone beyond even the “cult of personality” I found so distasteful when Trump gained steam in the 2016 primaries.  No, this has entered the stage of outright religion.  We are, if we don’t soon pull out of this dive, looking at the potential for a Trump-driven conflict that will match the bloodiest of religious wars.

I hate being right.

Tribalism

A great deal — if not most — of the flashfiction pieces I create come about through the inspiration or influence of a particular song or lyric.  Similarly, a large number of these blog posts owe their inspiration/influence to something I happen to have read earlier in the morning…

Kinda like today.

The article I read was a screed against the “buy local” movement.  Actually, it is nothing so organized or profound as a movement, it is rather an impulse…almost an instinct, really.

As I write this, I am sitting in a small coffee place owned and operated by a local entrepreneur, staffed by local residents.  The coffee I am drinking was, of course, roasted in the “big city”…the city that is all of an hour away.  The baked goods I try unsuccessfully to resist are made just around the corner from this little shop.

Before I moved to Yellowstone, I lived in the “Napa Valley of beer” in northern Colorado.  The taprooms in which I wrote were owned by local folks who spent their own blood, sweat and tears to get the operations off the ground.  The beer was poured by local residents with rent or mortgages to pay.

At my favorite local place I can play chess on a homemade Star Wars set.  I can lose several (hundred) hands of cribbage to the old guys pretending to teach me.  I can get randomly tackled by a posse of over-familiar great danes.  I can, even, argue economics and politics with guys who will buy me a beer and have my back in any fight that follows.

I would rather have my four bucks for coffee and a bagel go to Anna and Alex and everyone at the Tumbleweed — and my beer money go to Don and the folks at Grimm Brothers — than to any faceless, anonymous outfit worried more about stock prices and investor relations than the personal and financial wellbeing of their staff and customers.  I would rather, in the end, see my friends prosper than go to some bigbox — or go online — in order to save a buck or two.

If you think the urge — and, yes, I will call it the instinct — to “buy local” is somehow nefarious, foolish or wrong…well…then…

God help you, because I can’t.

That article was to me an unfortunate, miserable symptom of the greater condition that is currently killing us.  That condition is the corruption and death of the one thing that truly lies at the heart of civilization and society, the one thing that truly defines, well, us: community.

We have killed community.  We have more than killed it — we have poisoned it, hung it, shot it, burned it, then buried it under the bleachers of the bloody gladiatorial show with which we have replaced it.

The most obvious destruction is of course in our politics.  No longer are the various sides adversaries, opponents even, they are now enemies.  It is no longer about beating an opponent, about one idea and viewpoint taking its (temporary) position at the top.  No, now it is about destroying the enemy.

Politics no longer holds any form of hope or help, it holds only hate and vindictiveness.  That is true for both sides, I should add.

We no longer live in true, natural communities.  We no longer live among neighbors different from us.  We no longer hold dear the fellowship and support of friends who have their own opinions, and their own worth.

No, for far too many of us, “community” has come to mean living and socializing only among those with whom we agree.  We read only the news that reinforces our own beliefs.  We visit only those websites that mirror our views.  We shop only at stores that openly display the “proper” allegiances.

We pay lip service to diversity of thought and opinion, and to the inherent value of those who believe differently…but it is just that, lip service.  Five minutes after saying that all views should be presented, we will send our kids to schools that admit only one viewpoint.  Five minutes after saying that all views should be heard, we will seek to remove a book, or silence a speaker, or walk away from a conversation, because they are “out to destroy us.”

If you admire UC Berkeley and refuse to listen to a Ronald Reagan, or to read a Jonah Goldberg, you are guilty.

If you admire Hillsdale College and refuse to listen to a Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or to read a Noam Chomsky, you too are guilty.

If you throw up your arms and condemn others as worthless or evil or out to destroy, you are guilty.

And, yes, I am just as guilty.

I am guilty of harming our community — of damaging that which should hold us together.  I have thrown up my arms and yelled at the words, both written and spoken, of those who I condemned as idiotic and nefarious and and destructive.  I am guilty of refusing to listen to, and to read, those who I find repugnant and hate-filled.  I am guilty, even, of shying away from interacting with — of sharing community with — those to whom I don’t want to listen.

How do we fix it?

*sigh*

That’s a big question.  No, really, that’s a properly big fucking question.  That’s the kind of question a writer can spend a million words trying to answer, and still not get his arms all the way around the solution.

It is, in part, an answer of faith.  Not of one faith, but of all faiths.  The Christian must learn from the Hindu, the Muslim from the Buddhist, the Jew from the Taoist.

But it is more than that.

It is a thing of hope, of that which which draws us together rather than that which divides us.  We must celebrate those (few) ideas we still have in common.

In the “old days” we shared a common language of entertainment — we shared stories and songs, movies and shows, even teams and sports, that we could all embrace and celebrate.  Now?  Now we have Balkanized into tiny fiefdoms separated by uncrossable chasms.

In the past, we shared holidays and the turning of the seasons in common.  Now, even the calendar causes dissension and anger.

We have to get past that.  We have to get past all of that.  We have to do the hard work of actively looking to find and celebrate the ties that bind, rather than follow the easy path of cultural and political tribalism.  The tribalism I hear in so much of what my friends and family say and do — the tribalism I hear in so much of what I say and do — is going to destroy us.

The cynic in me says the path down to hell is steep.  It says we have fallen so far into the pit, we can climb out only through the blood and death and disaster of war and strife.  The little kid in me, however…

That little kid says we can still change.  That little kid says — hopes, anyway — that we can still listen without screaming “Socialist!” or “Fascist!” at each other.  If we cannot…

If we cannot, that path to hell is one way.