Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A tribute to Matt Biddle, my friend and colleague


Matt with his daughter, Faith, on the occasion of a visit to our home

My friend Matt Biddle died last evening (10 April 2018 - the 39th anniversary of the Red River Valley tornado outbreak), after a long struggle with a host of physical challenges.  I can't detail his entire medical history, but his most recent problem was a heart stoppage, resulting in anoxic brain damage.  When Vickie and I went to see him in the ICU of Mercy Hospital, he was unresponsive and on a ventilator.  His family then decided the best thing would be to take him off of life support.  His passing was peaceful and his family was there at the end.

Matt was saddled with these physical difficulties for the entire time I knew him, but he somehow managed to carry on with his life.  To me, that represents extraordinary courage and determination - those were two of his defining characteristics.  Matt was seriously dedicated to issues that involved people, as a geographer who felt compassion for others and sought to provide mechanisms to reach out and help those with physical handicaps in severe weather situations, even as he had to overcome so many physical problems himself.  His contributions to the University of Oklahoma in terms of storm preparedness were vastly out of proportion with his rewards - both financial and personal.  He was an avid storm chaser and participated in scientific field programs whenever given the opportunity - he supported the science with his full commitment to whatever missions he was given.  He was also a big fan of the Detroit Red Wings.

Matt was an opinionated, argumentative person, so naturally I was drawn to him - so much of what he said and stood for made perfect sense to me.  Of course, I didn't always agree with him about everything, so we argued frequently.  I don't believe he ever took this personally and he gave at least as much as he got.  I always respected what Matt had to say, even if I disagreed at times.  Sadly, Matt wasn't appreciated by academics and management because he spoke his mind clearly and with passion.  Most seemed ready to kick him under the proverbial bus rather than to provide him with opportunities and the means to contribute.  I was able to help Matt obtain his PhD in Geography after Matt had a stroke that left him with aphasia affecting his ability to speak and write his thoughts.  Think about how frustrating it would be to have thoughts but be unable to express them!  Nevertheless, I forced him to do as much as he could without my intervention, so he could feel he "owned" his dissertation.  I was so proud of him and pleased to see him conquer the process and his aphasia on the day he successfully defended his doctoral dissertation.  Unfortunately, even that achievement failed to win him much respect in the professional world.  We tried several times to get funding to do various interdisciplinary projects related to severe storm preparedness, but ... no luck.


Matt's PhD Advisory Committee after his successful dissertation defense

His life during the time I knew him seemed to be a constant roller-coaster ride.  Great joy and satisfaction with his successes, only to be laid low by one physical issue after another.  His greatest and most constant joy was his daughter, Faith, who is pretty and quite bright - she's always done well in school.  I know she looked up to Matt and did things to help him cope with the tough side of his life.  He simply adored her.

I regret not having spent more time with him.  I'm reminded of an occasion when I was chasing with Al Moller in Kansas.  Several of us, including Matt, converged on an Applebee's in Newton, KS for a late supper.  We all jabbered on for a long pleasant interlude before going our separate ways.  A happy memory.  It's also somehow comforting to know that despite all his difficulties, he was able to chase;  it was something he loved doing.

Occasionally, we'd get together for a beer and perhaps a meal, but in retrospect, I wish we had done so much more often.  Matt leaves behind many in the chasing community who held him in high esteem.  If the level of his professional support had been based on the admiration of his friends, he'd have been able to do great things.  His passing is far too soon but the challenges with his body he faced were too much even for his strong will.  Matt may never be cited very often in scholarly circles, but his spirit and his accomplishments live on in the hearts and minds of the many who knew and loved him.  He will be missed by a multitude.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

My de facto brother, Bob Lundeen has died

Last night, we learned that my cousin, Robert Lundeen, died after a protracted battle with Alzheimer's Disease.  Bob was the big brother I never had.  To understand how this came about, I have to acknowledge that my mother and her younger sister, Frances Lundeen (Bob's mother), had a very special closeness.  Thus, it came to pass that I spent my summers on the farm of my Aunt Fran and Uncle Irving for many years.  I was treated just like their two boys, Harlan and Bob.  In addition to my idyllic summers on the farm, we visited them every Christmas, and they visited us most every Thanksgiving.  Their farm was about a 4-hour drive from our house, near Galesburg, IL.


Cousin Bob, in 1998.  That wry smile was a trademark of his.

Being a few years older than I, it was inevitable that I thought of Bob as a role model.  It was also inevitable that he would tease me without mercy.  That's what older brothers do, naturally.  There were times when his teasing would really make me upset, but I eventually learned that if I didn't show him I was upset, he'd quit - teasing's no fun if it has no impact.   That was when I sometimes referred to him as "Sweet Old Bob - or sometimes just the initials"!  Despite all the teasing, Bob was mostly pretty good to me and we did many fun things together, including him taking me to the drag races:  specifically, the World Series of Drag Racing at the dragstrip in Cordova, Illinois.

We had many hours together on the farm, so we sometimes did things that young boys do.  One time, we filled up a pipe welded closed at one end, used to pound metal fence posts into the ground, with about 50 large grasshoppers.  Bob's parents had left us alone on the farm - with Bob, that was an open invitation for boyish deviltry.  After filling the pipe, we threw in a "Silver Salute" firecracker (an M-80) that Bob had obtained somehow.  When it went off, a jet of flame and grasshopper parts sprayed out and splattered pieces of grasshopper all over the north exterior wall of their house.  The pipe itself contained a "soup" of grasshopper parts and the goo of grasshopper guts.  Blech!  I don't know if his parents ever discovered the evidence, which was gradually washed away by rainfall.  We didn't repeat the incident.

I'd already been leaning toward a career in meteorology, and Bob was destined to become a mechanical engineer.  During slack moments on the farm, we would talk about our dreams and hopes for the future.  Bob had a small mirror telescope and we would go out into a field in the evening and use the telescope to see Jupiter and Saturn and the Moon and nebulae and star clusters and so on.  On a warm Illinois evening in the summer, it was an inspirational trip to the planets and stars we made many times.  I always loved the night sky on the farm - the very little light pollution and virtually no haze made the dark sky pop!!  The typical summer rains in Illinois corn country are associated with nocturnal thunderstorms.  Many a night I was awakened, in the room Bob and I shared when I was there, by the thunder and lightning show.  My enjoyment of storms was a foreshadowing of my storm chasing hobby, as well as my career as a scientist.

Bob wanted to get away from the farm, whereas I felt it was a delightful vacation to be part of an American family farm enterprise.  I guessed eventually that living it constantly could give one a different perspective, as opposed to my occasional dabblings in family farm agriculture.  Bob helped me to see how someone might have a different point of view from my own.  He was teaching me a life lesson.  One of many.

When we had both grown up and established in our careers, Bob used to call me on the phone from Idaho and just wanted to talk, sometimes at great length.  I always was happy when he called and so I could hear about what was going on in his life, and share my experiences with him as an equal.  Bob's mechanical engineering career led him to work for the Navy in Idaho Falls; evidently associated with the nuclear machinery in a submarine.  His work was classified so he couldn't say much about it.    Vickie and I finally made it to Idaho Falls on a 2012 vacation trip out West, and it was great to visit with him in the Idaho home where he raised his two boys, Chris and Gregg.  Chris and his wife Cindy have been caring for Bob during the course of his battle with Alzheimer's.

I can't even begin to recount all the ways that Bob has influenced me in positive ways.  His passing leaves an unfillable hole in my life.  He is already profoundly missed.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Spirituality and loss of self

After some discussions with friends over the weekend, I was reminded of very profound events that have occurred during storm chases, and during the pursuit of my scientific understanding of the world.  The essential element in this is what I refer to as "loss of self" that can occur when your ordinary life with its concerns about yourself and your needs or obligations fades away and is replaced by a peaceful surrender to what is happening around you.  Your ego disappears and you experience a feeling of merger with what you are experiencing.

During storm chases, this can happen when you find yourself confronted with something much larger than yourself that's just so awe-inspiring you may be "thunderstruck" (pun intended) - your jaw drops open and you're mesmerized by what you're seeing.  A chaser might well be so absorbed with what she's witnessing that cameras are just hanging in her hand by her side, unraised and unused.  The majesty of what you see can be so overwhelming in its majesty and power, you can become completely absorbed in the event.  The "self" has disappeared, in a flood of astonishment.  Such moments are unpredictable (as are the events that create them) and are always unexpected.  These examples are relatively easy to explain and are understandable to most people.  This part of storm chasing is often described by storm chasers in their accounts of their adventures.  It leads to such adjectives as "incredible", "awesome", "jaw dropping", and so forth - terms that in my opinion are both overused and somewhat misleading.  They seek to describe the triggers for this loss of self.

When Al Moller and I intercepted the 08 June 1995 tornado in Pampa, TX, about halfway through its life cycle, we stopped and got out of our chase vehicle to continue our photography and videography of the tornado.  When the tornado finally dissipated, I discovered that my mouth was completely dry.  Perhaps this was because of adrenaline, or the fact that my jaw had dropped open and stayed that way, or both.  Regardless, it's somewhat amazing I managed to continue operating my video camera during this time of loss of self.  I was transfixed with the spectacle.  It felt like waking up from a dream when the last remnants of the rope-out faded away.

There's another way I've had this loss of self during chasing.  I've developed a serious love affair with the U.S. central and high plains and the people who live there.  In the process of a chase, there can be a certain amount of down time and I often try to use that down time to capture images that convey the emotional content of my feelings toward the plains.  Yes, I'm a hopeless romantic when it comes to those oceans of seemingly empty real estate.  What I see clearly is influenced by the light we encounter (photography can be thought of as "capturing the light"), by the dramatics unfolding in the sky, by the flora and fauna of the plains, by the wistful character of weather-beaten human structures and the stories they can tell, and so on.  When we get out of our cars and walk into the landscapes of the plains, I can find myself in a very spiritual state where my self vanishes.  For instance, many of the beautiful wildflowers of the plains are at the end of relatively long stalks, so they're prone to flailing about from the action of the virtually inevitable plains wind.  To capture what we envision, we may have to wait for that brief moment when the wind calms down and we can capture that moment.  Ordinarily, I can be impatient and not want to spend time essentially doing nothing.  But I find I can call upon something in those moments that lets me wait, silent and immobile, for just that brief instant, for many minutes, if need be.  When my self disappears, I'm able to wait, like a spider, to capture my "prey".  I experience in a first hand way something akin to what that spider in her web experiences.

In becoming totally absorbed in doing my science, the effort to concentrate on what I'm doing becomes easy when I'm so wound up in my work that time and seemingly boring, repetitive simple tasks become important only as the means of reaching my goal of following some new insight.  What might look to someone else as a task both tedious and trivial is, for me, a transcendental experience.  The passage of time is not noticeable.  I can immerse myself in this for hours without difficulty, as I'm so fixated on finishing the work.  Most of science seems boring to non-scientists but in my world, it can be transformed into a deeply spiritual adventure with the potential for something really exciting at the end.

I often tell people that the plains can elicit spiritual experiences, but in order to experience them, you have to slow down, go to quiet places in your mind, stop talking, and focus deeply on what's going on around you.  The light, the wind, the sky, the life of the plains can transport you to a world you can experience at the the deepest levels of your conscious mind.  Such moments can't be summoned on command.  You don't reach them simply by willing them to happen (although you can put yourself in situations that might lead you to them).  They come on without you being aware of their approach until you realize you're in them - a timeless state of union with the world around you and the universe.  As Robinson Jeffers wrote:
 
Integrity is wholeness,
the greatest beauty is
Organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty
of the universe. Love that, not man
Apart from that, or else you will share man's pitiful confusions,
or drown in despair when his days darken. 


Man, a part of that, not man apart from that.  Your self disappears when you have that deep sense of being a small part of the majesty and glory of the natural world.  The feeling that we dwindle to insignificance is by no means negative when we feel we've somehow merged with those majesties.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Boomer Sooner?

I've spent more of my life in Oklahoma than anywhere else.  I like the weather here, given my passion for severe thunderstorms.  I like the physical geography of the state, with its large contrasts from east to west.  I was rather satisfied with the education I received here at the University of Oklahoma (OU) and had some great mentors who were OU faculty and staff.  However, recent postings on social media have raised a point of concern with regard to the University's "mascot" - the Sooners.  The school's fight song is "Boomer Sooner", composed by Fred Waring (!). 

 Many people are unaware of the origin of the term Sooners - it's tied to the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889.  The "Boomers" were settlers who tried to grab parcels of land blatantly in the so-called "unassigned lands" (that was home to Native Americans) before the official starting date of 22 April 1989.  The US Army removed as many of them as they could.  The "Sooners" were people who sneaked into the unassigned lands early but kept a low profile, hoping to make a legal claim after the official starting date.  Both Boomers and Sooners were, effectively, cheaters seeking to grab the land of the Native Americans before they were allowed to do so.  These are not exactly the sort of folks that one would choose as a role model and certainly should be somewhat embarrassing to the University.  But I have my doubts many associated with OU ever give it any thought.

We already have seen a growing chorus of discontent by indigenous people with using Native American-associated terms for sporting team and Universities.  Recently, the 'mascot' of the University of North Dakota was changed from "The Fighting Sioux" to "The Fighting Hawks" in response to many protests by the Sioux tribe.  The controversy there was long and bitter.  There also has been concern about the Kansas City Chiefs, the Florida State Seminoles, the Washington Redskins (!), the Cleveland Indians, the Chicago Blackhawks, and many others.  Not surprisingly, there's been considerable pushback from those who rationalize such uses of these nicknames and logos.  I'm not about to enter the morass of that debate, but I do generally believe that our use of such cultural icons for our own purposes is disrespectful to Native Americans and their cultures.  Obviously, there are those who disagree.

Here at OU, the mascot is even worse than the preceding examples, because it honors those who participated in the plundering of Native American lands by white settlers.  The Boomers and Sooners grabbed their parcels of land by illegal means.  The Native Americans were the ultimate losers, sadly.  The whole of the lower 48 states represents the home of Native Americans who were here long before any white European settlers arrived to claim all those lands (except for reservations of generally worthless land assigned to those Native Americans who were not killed).  The indigenous people of the Americas were subjected to various forms of genocide and destruction of the original environment on which they depended.

Our treatment of indigenous people is shameful and it continues right up to this very day!  Anyone with a conscience should be deeply ashamed of this aspect of our national history.  As usual, the rationale for this history has been based on viewing them as primitive savages who were not even qualified as human beings with unalienable rights.  I have little expectation that OU will be changing their mascot any time soon.  White privilege is alive and thriving here in Oklahoma, and that isn't likely to change in the foreseeable future.  But I don't have to like that situation, and I don't have to support robbing Native Americans of their cultural heritage.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

"Thank you for your service"

On this Veterans Day, I once again have to confront the gulf between combat zone military veterans and those who have never served in a combat zone. Being in the military means that you've accepted the status of being willing to sacrifice anything and everything, including your physical and mental health, right up to and including losing your life. You've given your nation a signed blank check and they can write in the amount.  For those veterans serving in combat zones, and especially those who actually participated in combat, it's difficult to try to communicate their experiences to those who haven't so served. I've described my experiences here.

On one day per year, we see lots of messages of gratitude to our veterans, and that's nice, but what about the other 364 days? What are we doing to provide help to veterans who have returned from combat and been struggling to cope with their endless nightmares? No one who participated in combat ever returns to become the same person they were before. I was extremely fortunate - it only took me a year or so to return to something close to my former self after leaving the military, but even then, I was forever changed by my military experiences.  Some of those changes in my life were positive, and some were negative.  I was blessed with good fortune, for no obvious reason.  It could have turned out very differently.

I really do value the sentiments expressed by those who offer gratitude for my time in service, but I'm concerned for those veterans who need so much more than words from their nation. Our nation should show their gratitude in their actions as well as mere words, when it comes to our combat veterans. Some of our veterans reach a time when they just can't deal with their devils created by the horrible things they've experienced - too many suicides, broken families, homeless vets, drug addictions, etc. I feel unworthy of gratitude for my time in the military, when I think about those who have suffered so much and been unable to find any peace in their minds.  And this says nothing about those who have had life-changing physical injuries to try to overcome.

We ask young people to serve and protect our freedoms, but we sometimes send them to fight in unwinnable wars on foreign soil for no good reason. Vietnam was such a war, and our so-called "war on terrorism" is another example.  How do you win a war against a tactic?  How do you define what is a "win" in such a war?  We had a similar problem in Vietnam - it was a war against an economic and political ideology in a far away land.  We never found a meaningful exit strategy in Vietnam, so we just left and all that followed showed that our involvement in Vietnam was pointless.  Millions died for nothing.  The young men and women serving in combat have to make hard choices about what to do in hostile circumstance and, if they choose incorrectly, we punish them harshly. We're getting better about trying to help veterans with PTSD and such, but we still have a long way to go.

Don't ever thank veterans for their service but then turn around and ask someone else to risk everything without a damned good reason!  Don't be so eager to support military actions to back up political positions.  Don't send our young men and women into combat and then oppose aid for those who manage to survive.  I saw somewhere that about 9,000 Vietnam veterans have committed suicide since they returned - they actually died in Vietnam.  I think their names should be added to the wall at the National Vietnam Memorial as combat fatalities.  They're not on that wall only because their injuries required more time to take their lives.  That raises the Vietnam toll of American combat deaths from 58,000 to 67,000.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Empathy for women, now!

I've long been an advocate for the cessation of discrimination against, and the abuse of, women in our society.  Progress has been made, but there remains a long way to go.  In the past several days, FaceBook has seen numerous posts of "Me, Too" from women, about having been harassed and/or assaulted (including rape).  The sad fact is that most women will be harassed or assaulted at some time in their lives - likely, repeatedly.  The awful part of this is that most of the crimes against women are not reported.  Why not?  Unfortunately, our culture seems all too inclined to blame assault victims for being assaulted!!  And all too inclined to allow the perpetrators to get away with it, either being let off scot-free or given a very mild slap on the wrist.  And all too inclined to provide little or no support for the victims, in terms of helping them seek justice or in terms of providing care for what many women experience as PTSD as a result of these attacks. "Well, the way she was dressed, she was asking for it!"  "Well she should have known better to be in that place at night!"  "It was just boys being boys!"  Bullshit!!  There is no excuse for harassment and rape, and the blame rests solely on the perpetrator, never the victims.  If we want to stop these crimes, we must teach our boys not to commit violence of any sort against women.  "No!" means no, damn it!

It may surprise some that many such incidents also occur to men.  I was molested (raped) by a neighbor when I was a boy.  I was so humiliated and shamed by it, I didn't tell anyone (except for my very best friend at the time), for decades - certainly not my parents!  This pedophile got away with it, as it seems many do.  Rape is not a sexual act - rather, it uses the apparatus of sex as a weapon to degrade and humiliate the victims in what is an act of violence, rather than sex.  Pedophiles - a subset of sexual assaulters - often commit assaults on either boys or girls.  And it often succeeds in silencing its victims, as it did with me. 

My wife tells me that most rapists have committed their crime many, many times, and almost certainly will never stop hunting for new victims unless they're incarcerated ... or die.  The actual frequency of rape is not known, owing to the underreporting issue, but I'm pretty certain it's much higher than the actual numbers will show.  I know of no other rapes by the man who did it to me, but it seems unlikely to have been an isolated event in his life.  His name is Paul Newton, and he lived on our block in my home town in the Chicago suburbs, 3 houses south.  I'm sure it's well beyond the statute of limitations, but I hope some other victim had the strength and courage to report him.  But probably not. 

Another disgusting incident of a different nature occurred when I was working at the National Severe Storms Laboratory.  A very famous and honored meteorologist was invited to be a consulting senior scientist there by the Lab Director, Dr. Jeff Kimpel, and it turns out he was sexually harassing women who worked in the lab.  After I was made aware of his disgusting behavior, I was going to report him, but one of his victims there begged me not to do it.  She felt that reporting him would only make things worse for her!!  Reluctantly, I did as she asked, and never reported the evil bastard.  She was probably right about the outcome, and that makes me very sad when I think about how many women have gone through this, and been powerless to obtain justice.  From everything I've heard during my time there, at that time, the overall treatment of women at NSSL was pretty poor, with an atmosphere of "Boys will be boys" at high levels in the management, despite all the safeguards that had been put into effect.

Fortunately, I've been able to overcome the shame of my molestation and now realize I wasn't to blame in any way.  If there can be said to be a "benefit" to being molested, it's that I've experienced what many women have experienced, so I have a sense of what they must go through.  The "Me, too!" campaign on FaceBook is allowing many people to come forward and say they, too, have been through harassment/assault.  Stories are optional.  Our society has looked the other way for far too long and the time has come to seek justice and provide consistent support for the victims.  It's time to take a stand against the injustices we've inflicted on victims for too long.  If you've never been a victim, just try to imagine how awful it would be.  Then use that understanding to get up and speak out against crimes of sexual violence - against women and men, girls and boys!

Me, too!!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Trump is just a symptom of a greater malaise in America

There's an insidious illness that has infected the USA, causing our culture to evolve in ways that will eventually end badly for us.  It has become widespread and malignant - like a cancer, it comes from within rather than a foreign invasion.  The election of the incompetent, ignorant, narcissistic, racist, misogynist, corrupt clown that only a minority of Americans voted for in last year's November election is but a symptom of the problem.

The founders of this nation, as imperfect as they were, began what is often called "The Great American Experiment in Democracy".  The experimental aspect of how our nation was created by those founders, was expressed eloquently by President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg address:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

The Civil War was a rigorous test of those principles, and the nation managed to stay together, sort of.  Given that the Confederate battle flag known as the "Stars and Bars" has become symbolic of, not just the Confederacy, but more so of the racism that caused the Civil War in the first place.  That racism (not limited to the Southern states), like the HIV virus, clearly lives on to this day within our nation.  It has gained widespread support and its persistence is a poison to the principle of equality for all humans in our nation.

Many of these issues surfaced again during the turbulent era of US involvement in Vietnam.  Similar divisions were present in the 1960s that had been around during the Civil War.  And those same divisions in our society plague us today, without the benefit of the spirit of compromise upon which our nation was founded.  Political parties have become a corrupting influence on us, where party loyalty is more valued than service to the American people.

The founders of our nation fell quite a ways short of living up to their own principles, of course.  That shortfall is still obvious today in many Americans.  Equality for all people actually never has been achieved in America, and we have made at best only slow and erratic progress at making equality a reality for everyone.  Women have been given the vote, but they're still being discriminated against in the workplace (and elsewhere) and subjected to sexual harassment and assault (including rape).  Justice for the perpetrators of harassment and assault against women remains elusive - power and money buy such criminals a free pass, despite our ideals.  Women actually are blamed for these crimes, rather than those committing them.  In the face of such inequality, most of the discrimination and the crimes against women are never reported, and in the rare instances where they are reported, that often backfires on the women, not the perps.

After slavery was abolished, racial inequality remains a fact of life experienced on a daily basis for most non-white Americans.  The police are charged with enforcing the laws of the land, but some of the police are simply brutal thugs, free to attack and even kill without being held accountable.  And the police commit such crimes disproportionately on non-white Americans.  Every black family must have "that conversation" with their children to make them aware that justice isn't equal in America.  The default assumption among many whites is that non-whites match the stereotypes projected on them by white Americans (who live in an invisible "bubble" of white privilege), and so many whites are completely unaware of the reality of discrimination against non-whites.

Non-christians in America are widely despised by the "religious right", especially Muslims and atheists, these days.  Christian notions of morality are being forced on all Americans on a daily basis.  I'm not going to go off on a rant against all religion, but here in America, creeping theocracy is generally associated with conservatives, who yearn to impose a mythical vision of America as they imagine it "used to be" when religious discrimination was not being opposed by those who believe in real freedom, not only of, but also from religion.  The "Establishment Clause" of the 1st Constitutional Amendment is constantly under attack by the religious right.  When people believe their god is on their side, they think that means they can fight for a theocratic USA by any means necessary.

Science and the tools of science - education, logic, evidence - are now widely mistrusted by many Americans.  There is a deep thread of anti-science and anti-intellectual thought that has always existed in America, but it seems to be growing more popular.  Public education is being threatened by siphoning even the diminishing taxpayer support for education into religious schools via the so-called "vouchers".  Too many Americans are monumentally ignorant about science, history, geography, mathematics, civics, and more.  Democracy depends on being supported by educated voters, so the attacks on public education are actually attacks on our democratic principles.  To make voting decisions in the modern world dominated by technology requires people who understand how things in our society work.  Otherwise, they are too easily led astray by would-be dictators.

Many politicians are being corrupted by large corporations pouring vast amounts of money to buy special favors for such companies, at taxpayer expense.  The "Trust Busting" era when Teddy Roosevelt broke the power of the corporations, is little more than a distant memory.  The Republican party has been taken over by the far right wing of their party and now supports tax breaks for big corporations while taking resources away that have been providing support for indigent people who need external help just to survive.  The indigent suffer even as the rich get richer.  Income inequality is a capitalist form of slavery and could eventually result in a violent revolution, with the indigent protests likely to be slaughtered by the very police who have pledged to serve and protect them.  Look at recent events for small-scale examples, such as the protests by the Standing Rock Sioux.

The trainwreck that is the crypto-fascist regime under Trump and his GOP supporters is simply a reflection of the decay from within that is infecting our nation.  Most Americans don't exercise their right to vote, and that tendency is at least part of the reason we have been saddled with this regime.  By not voting, Americans are giving up on the American Experiment and our democracy is being threatened by the drift toward fascism.  The right-wing extremists seem more interested in voting than the moderate center.  What is considered "left-wing extremism" is what used to be considered "liberal" while the true extreme left-wing is left out of the political picture altogether and so is reduced to protests and occasional violence.  No one in America wants it to become Communist, and the Communist threat pretty much disintegrated in 1989.  Disenfranchising Americans (limited predominantly to those who would cast a "liberal" vote) is also a terrible stain on the democratic experiment here, and the GOP has mastered the tactic.

Our current regime has dedicated itself to erasing any remnant of their sworn enemy - Barack Obama - as if all of the vitriol poured on him during his time as our President were actually true.  This is causing the US to lose its role as the world leader.  We are alienating our allies and encouraging our enemies.  And we have a childish psychopath with his finger on the thermonuclear trigger!

We seem to be tending toward going down a road to total collapse of liberal democracy, unlikely to be identical to, but also not unlike, the experiences of the moderate provisional government in Russia before the revolt by the Bolsheviks that put them in power, and that of the moderate Weimar Republic in Germany before the triumphs of the Nazis.  The different ideologies mask the many similarities between the Bolshevk and Nazi dictatorships.  History shows us that extremists can win, even when they only represent a small minority of the people in a nation - and we are not immune from having something like that happen!  The signs of our willingness to slide toward fascism have been apparent from the start of the 2016 election.  Extremists have a clear picture of what they want and are willing to do whatever it takes to "win", no matter how much suffering they create in achieving their cause.  Moderates often are paralyzed with indecision about what to do and how to do it - they talk, while extremists act.  Are we seeing the last days of the Great American Experiment?  American "exceptionalism" is a nationalist myth.  There is nothing inherent in American Democracy that will enable it to survive - the testing of its ability to endure has been ongoing since before the Civil War!!

Now we are engaged in a struggle about whether our nation, so conceived and dedicated to the principle of equality for all its people, can endure as a beacon of democracy and freedom.  It is altogether fitting and proper we should do this.  On this struggle hangs the outcome - whether or not this nation shall have a new birth of freedom so that our government of all its people, by all its people, and for all its people, shall not vanish from this Earth.