As politics in America deteriorates to what has been described by some historians as its most tribal and divisive level since the 1850’s, the very idea of facts have come into question.
Cries of “fake news” or “liberal bias” meet every critical analysis of President Donald Trump, no matter how steeped in documentable evidence that analysis may be.
And if Trump popularized the term “fake news” to dismiss criticism or unfavorable analysis of himself, his administration and policies, the idea has been lovingly embraced by a Trump base of support increasingly mired in a cult of power and personality that has been cultivated around him.
Without the blink of an eye, Trump supporters accept notions of “alternate facts”, “which truth?” or even Trump’s assertion that you “cannot believe what you see or read (about the national economy)” but only what you are told by the president or his administration spokespeople.
Which, one might ask, is a greater threat to the American Republic – a president mired in an increasingly apparent web of legal jeopardy and personality disorders triggered into hyper-drive by public scrutiny of that jeopardy, or those who enable and justify his behavior regardless of consequences or facts?
Ah, but that silly little problem – “facts”.
As the end of the second decade of the 21st Century approaches, exactly how are facts determined in American public life?
We may be 34 years past 1984 but we seem to be slipping backward in time toward that ominous George Orwell prediction penned in 1948 of an English-speaking totalitarian state called Oceania where “Big Brother” and his State operatives define reality for its people.
To determine factual content versus non-factual assertions in any sphere from scientific to political analysis, two important intellectual qualities are required – the ability to think critically and to objectively analyze the information present in the equation you are trying to solve.
In the Orwellian world of “1984” such critical, analytical thought is increasingly impossible.
For starters, because it is not tolerated and is violently suppressed in the bowels of the Ministry of Love, the government agency responsible for law and order – but at a deeper level in the world of “1984” the party leader “Big Brother” and his state political apparatus are moving its population toward a variation of its native English language, to “Newspeak” where words and phrases can mean their opposite and where independent or dissident thought has no verbal framework for expression.
How far, one might ask, are some of us in today’s American political landscape from blind acceptance of “Newspeak” principals like “Ignorance is Strength”, “War is Peace” or “Freedom is Slavery”?
Russia collusion; obstruction of justice – “Fake News”
Potential presidential lies to federal investigators – “Which Truth?”
And the recently offered presidential notions that transferring money from a private source to suppress negative stories prior to the election “is not a crime” or that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election on his behalf is “illegal” – “Alternate Facts”
But as noted above, the ability to re-define reality for others can be achieved in multiple ways. For Winston, the Party dissident of “1984”, it was achieved through torture. O’Brien, the party official responsible for Winston’s torture and reintegration into society, begins with a simple exercise in the nature of truth.
“How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?” O’Brien asks.
“Four,” Winston replies.
“And if the Party says that it is not four but five – then how many?”
Winston’s reply of “Four” launches him on a path of pain that will lead to “enlightenment” – enlightenment as it is defined by the State.
Eventually O’Brien explains the intellectual “mistake” that has led Winston to this point, alone and at the mercy of a State that will not and cannot accept a non-sanctioned perception of reality or a truly objective appraisal of facts:
“You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right … But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston.”
O’Brien asks Winston to repeat a Party slogan at the root of their conflict:
“Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”
And eventually after days, weeks, months – Winston was never sure how long he was being tortured in the bowels of the Ministry of Love – and his fateful trip to Room 101, he finally comes to terms with reality as it is defined by the State.
And in that moment of final surrender Winston understands – there is no future other than pain, only worse unendurable pain in his questions about the State and the nature of truth – a “truth” that he was responsible for helping manipulate for the masses in his job at the Ministry of Truth – the government department responsible for dissemination of “news, entertainment, education and the fine arts”.
And in that moment Winston, who had only sought inter-personal love and the objective truth behind the State veil becomes free, a free advocate of Big Brother and the State.
“Slavery is Freedom”
How far from this dark scenario are we allowing ourselves to be placed when without a blink we can accept a presidential order and Ministry of Justice, oops I mean Justice Department decree that children, including infants and toddlers, be ripped from their parents arms on “legal” pretenses in order to deter future immigration and refugee efforts by certain kinds of people from certain parts of the world?
With over 500 children still detained without parental contact for months despite the passing of a court-ordered deadline they be reunited, one might see the State questioning beginning in detention centers out of the public eye, as Winston’s was in the windowless Ministry of Love:
“You want to come to a nation historically known as a beacon of freedom and second chances to the world, parentless child?” – It is a question likely also posed to those children’s now-missing parents prior to State-ordered deportations without their children.
And for both child and parent, the final question posed by State interrogators would be:
“How many fingers do you see pointed in this direction, toward the U.S. border?”
And despite history to the contrary and the still-beckoning hand of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, the correct answer now for those at our southern border can only be, “None”.
I wonder, for how many of U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s political support base does the phrase “Torture is Justice” make perfect sense?
When power for power’s sake becomes the driving force of partisan politics; and when support of one’s political Party rests on a cult of personality and tribal allegiance steeped in ignorance (“I have the most loyal people – where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay, it’s incredible”) and fear (They’re stealing my chance at the American Dream) and negative stereotyping (They’re all rapists and gang members), how far are we from George Orwell’s nightmare vision of the rise of an English-speaking, Western totalitarian State – a State beyond accountability, beyond human compassion, beyond facts?
Never forget, citizens of Oceania – “The Truth is a Lie” and “Ignorance is Strength” …
(This is the opinion of the writer)
OPINION: Michael Cohen is no John Dean
There have been a slew of comments about the so-called “John Dean Moment” when Michael Cohen was set to testify in an open hearing before a House of Representatives Hearing last week. It never happened.
Michael Cohen has now appeared before the House Oversight Committee. It may have been the longest and closest view (via television) that people ever had of Mr. Cohen. This piece does not presume to say whether or not he was being truthful in the Hearing. It does presume to say that there is both a circumstantial and personal difference in the two events and the two people.
When John Dean spoke, the country was already in a crisis which included members of both parties. The very continuation of Richard Nixon’s Presidency began to unravel as a result of Mr. Dean’s appearance and testimony.
When Michael Cohen spoke, there was a strong feeling by one political party that the testimony would portend the end of the Presidency of the other party. This is still far from happening, and Mr. Cohen’s testimony did not affect both political parties – only one.
When Mr. Dean spoke, here was a dignified (although young) lawyer whose testimony was clear and convincing to both parties. There really was no question of whether or not what was said was truthful. Dean emerged as a hero of the Watergate era.
When Mr. Cohen spoke and continues to speak, there is a question about whether or not what is heard is truthful. One political side says “yes” and the other side says “no”. Mr. Cohen is a convicted liar (via his own plea). He is on his way to a 3 year prison term. He may very well be telling the truth, but he clearly does not carry the same presumption of honesty that Dean did.
The issue of a Presidential pardon is the latest twist to this convoluted puzzle. Did Mr. Cohen probe a possible pardon or not?
What will happen next in this Presidential drama we are living through is certainly not clear. What is clear is that there is a world of difference between John Dean and Michael Cohen.
In full disclosure, I am a fellow Georgetown Law graduate and have had occasional contact with John Dean over the years. I have had no contact with Mr. Cohen.
Charles “Chips” Lickson | JD, Ph.D.
Front Royal, Virginia
Former practicing lawyer, mediator, teacher and Associate Professor of Political Science at Shenandoah University. Lickson is the author of eight previous non-fiction books. He is currently finishing a fact-based novel, REFUGE FOR A SCOUNDREL, due out in Fall, 2019.
Disappointment with the Korea summit and the Cohen appearance
Just a few days ago, it seems, I wrote about the irony of seeing Air Force One landing in Hanoi for a summit between President Trump and North Korea Leader Kim Jong-Un. Like many Americans, I was optimistic (perhaps overly so) that something concrete would come from their meeting. Wouldn’t it have been helpful in tamping down the negative rhetoric of both political extremes if we could have seen something positive emerge in Korea? Political critics and supporters alike would have had something they might agree upon – if that summit had been successful.
And at the same time as the summit, Michael Cohen appeared before the House Oversight Committee. It is most unfortunate for all that these two events coincided – tearing apart the media coverage. It turned out the Hearing was also unsuccessful. Did it get at the truth? One side thinks so; the other does not.
After over 50 years in law and conflict resolution, including having taught hundreds of people in the private sector and many government agencies the skills of mediation, and after having written an internationally well-read little book on “Ironing It Out”, I have learned the dynamics of push, pull or dis-engage.
Perhaps this hiatus, as short as it may be, is a good time to dis-engage and think about what has transpired in Hanoi and at the Hearing Table in Washington. Feelings are so strong on both sides of the political-presidential aisle, it is questionable that anyone can really think about what they are doing or saying on Twitter, the press or on television.
It seems we have no choice in the matter if we are going forward and hope to accomplish anything new in Korea, the rest of the world or here at home. Dis-engagement may be working on the China Tariff front. Let’s all see, if we pause and think first, if it can work for these deep divides here at home.
Charles “Chips” Lickson | JD, Ph.D.
Front Royal, Virginia
Former practicing lawyer, mediator, teacher and Associate Professor of Political Science at Shenandoah University. Lickson is currently finishing a fact-based novel, REFUGE FOR A SCOUNDREL, due out in Fall, 2019.
Air Force One in Hanoi, Vietnam
A friend of mine said yesterday that he found it quite ironic when Air Force One bearing the President landed a few days ago in Hanoi, Vietnam. We are all following the “summit” between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un because it portends very good or very bad things in the future for the U.S. and North Korea – and probably the rest of the world.
Some of us are old enough to remember when there were other U.S. Air Force planes in the skies above Hanoi and many other locations in both North and South Vietnam. Some of us were in uniform when soldiers from the U.S. and from North Vietnam were engaged in horrible conflict.
The Vietnam location of talks between the President and North Korea’s “Dear Leader” is significant for many reasons – including the reconciliation between the U.S. and Vietnam. The horrors of war and the suffering of people on both sides in the Vietnam War are proof that no one really wins when it comes to the shooting and the killing. Unfortunately, even as I write, India and Pakistan are learning this lesson. Let’s hope they learn soon.
Let’s also hope that the U.S. President is successful; that something substantial and beneficial for all concerned can come of the meetings in Vietnam.
Another irony is that our President is out of the country at the time, and his own former lawyer is saying unkind things about him on television. Whether all that is said is true or not, he is the President and we should all wish him well.
Let’s also hope that the location of their talks also counts. If so, there will be good news coming out of Hanoi.
Charles “Chips” Lickson
Front Royal, Virginia
Thoughts on the death of Marvin Reifsnyder
We learned of the death of at Hidden Springs Senior Living this past week. We first met Marvin last summer when we were putting up an art exhibit there.
Often, he was sitting outside when the weather was nice and if he was not outside, we probably would find him sitting in the Lobby. Sometimes he would be sitting with other veterans who were living there. If we didn’t see him right away when we arrived at Hidden Springs, he was probably lying down resting in his room or visiting another resident. Whenever, we saw him, he would be proudly wearing his World War II Veterans hat with service ribbons.
Whenever we got to Hidden Springs, we looked for Marvin. He was special not only for his age, but for the stories he would occasionally tell. His military service was also important to us.
We’re both so pleased that now active duty military and veterans of the several wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and other places are given a well-deserved “welcome” and “thank-you” for their service. Chips (who is an Army veteran) recalls that this was not always the case. When Chips (and too many veterans) traveled in uniform during the Vietnam conflict, it did not engender many warm welcomes or thanks.
It was an exhibit of paintings and prints which brought us initially to Hidden Springs… and there was Marvin. Along with Vicky and Daryl Davison, the Principals of Hidden Springs, we always got a warm reception there.
We still plan to go to Hidden Springs on occasion, but we won’t see Marvin. We will be among the many people who will miss him.
Bryane Miller Lickson
Charles “Chips” Lickson
Front Royal, Virginia
Jesus in Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is now upon us, and of course, the central theme is Love. It is the showing of one’s love for someone and being desirous of and asking for another to return such love in a way to say “I love you too”. A proposal, if you will. In this regard, (which involves a suitor) the dictionary defines such as; a man who courts a woman; a wooer. It further defines a wooer as: to seek the love or affection of, especially to marry; to court.
In this respect, allow me to present to you my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. For the greatest act and show of love the world has ever known, let me direct your attention to the figure there on Calvary’s brow: I can only humbly say, behold Him there! For I am not worthy so much as to even approach Him. As you gaze upon him you will see that he is hanging from a cross by nails driven into his hands and feet. He is covered and “bathed” in his own blood, for as the Scriptures say, “…his visage was so marred more than any man”. The result of a savage, brutal, and one might venture to say, demonic beating.
He wasn’t there merely by chance, but because mankind was under the curse of God’s law which says; ” the soul that sinneth shall die.” His agony was so great, that he cried out; “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And thus, being made to be sin for us, He took our sin upon Himself! And now hear the prophecies as detailed in Psalms 22, “…I am a worm and no man …despised of the people …I am poured out like water …and all my bones are out of joint …my heart is like wax …my tongue cleaves to my jaw …am brought down to the dust of death.”
His being there was the fulfillment of his intent and determination to die in our place! This was the price that God himself set for our redemption: God himself had to die; God himself had to shed his very own blood! By saying, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me,” He is doing exactly that on the cross. He is drawing us, asking us, “to come unto me.” Yes, and by asking the Father to, “forgive them for they know not what they do”, He is throwing the door wide open for us while tugging at our hearts. And, one could almost hear him say “Be Mine”.
Be mine and your sin will be forgiven and no longer under the curse; I am reminded of the prophet who said, “though your sins be as scarlet ye shall be white as snow. Be mine for I am going to prepare a dwelling place for you. Be mine and you will never die, for my special gift to you is eternal life; and you will never thirst or hunger, for I will give you both the bread of life and the water of life.”
But what could be the proper response to such a suitor and his appeal or proposal? To learn of the best, and indeed, the only accepted response (a simple I will) we need only to look again at Calvary’s brow and hear the thief on a cross next to our Saviour when he says; “Master, remember me when you cometh into your kingdom.”
In saying “Be Mine”, “come unto me”, and “Whosoever believeth in me shall never die”, isn’t he asking us to consider and look expectantly upon the eternal, heavenly scene. We have the ‘picture’ of a people for whom a pure, white, shining garment has been prepared. And as we stand so arrayed before the very throne of God our hearts are suddenly filled with an overwhelming measure of love, and our eyes are filled with great tears of joy; for we are now aware that He is present! The Lamb of God Himself has stepped forth from the midst of the throne. And, performing the acts and duty as our Groom, places a wedding ring on our fingers; and then presents us to all the holy, righteous hosts of Heaven as his greatly beloved, glorious, precious Bride! The Church! And all the host of Heaven bow down; reverently, lovingly, and adoringly as kings cast their crowns down before Him!
And so, indeed, as the Lord said on the cross, “It Is Finished!” Thus, the message of God written indelibly throughout space and time by his own blood is there for all to see: I love you! Love has conquered!
Rev. Jess Shifflett
Front Royal, VA
A day and night of football in America: Exactly what we needed
I know that Football may be controversial. It is violent, potentially injurious and often played at less than perfect weather times. How could the coming Super Bowl be better than the Championship games played less than 2 weeks ago.
Yet, on football Championship Sunday – 2 weeks ago – from 3PM until almost 10PM (EST), America was transformed from our divided Nation where blame is rampant and people may be suffering into a huge collection of football fans and even non-football people who had to watch TV because someone significant in their lives was glued to the NFL-AFL Championship round.
And were we ever treated to a spectacular display of talent of players and coaches on the football field. There probably never has been in sports history such a day as yesterday. We, who love the sport, were treated to professional football games that will go down in sports history.
So, for close to 7 hours of play and many hours of hype before and after the games, we had to set aside our politics and painful political choices. Instead, so many Americans and people across the world, watched or listened to men and women talking about football – Not the Shutdown, Not who was right or wrong, Not impeachment, Not the Probe, Not the Russians, Not the Leaks, Not the Chinese, Not even the future of this wonderful country.
For this escape from what we are thinking about, and talking about, from wondering what political parties are going to do next, from our concerns about hurting people, from what happens next – to being thankful for the brilliant performances on the two fields of play and for the coaching and TV or radio coverage of two of the best Championship football games ever!
Thank you Los Angeles Rams. Thank you New Orleans Saints. Thank you New England Patriots. Thank you Kansas City Chiefs.
Now, back to the reality of what happens next.
BUT WAIT, we still have the Super Bowl coming this weekend.
Charles P. Lickson
Front Royal, Virginia