Monday, October 29, 2018

After a "news week from hell," Americans must wonder what the world is coming to; our experiences of recent vintage paint a picture that is disturbing, unnerving

Accused mail bomber Cesar Sayoc
(Note: Legal Schnauzer needs your help. Loyal readers have sustained this blog for years, and support is urgently needed now that my wife, Carol, is recovering from a fainting spell, which led to a broken arm last week. The healing process has started for Carol, but her doctors indicate this likely was fallout from political thugs cheating both of us out of our jobs [and health insurance] in Birmingham -- and the stress of dealing with financial wreckage that comes with being targeted for right-wing attacks. 

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We have been through one of the most horrific news weeks in modern American history, and it all has a Groundhog Day quality here at Legal Schnauzer. That's because many of today's headline-grabbing stories include elements that we have experienced in our battles against courtroom and political corruption over more than 18 years in two states -- Alabama and Missouri.

In a 72-hour period on the domestic landscape, we've had: (1) A mass shooting, targeting Jews and killing 11, at a Pittsburgh synagogue; (2) The arrest of a mail bomber, who sent suspicious packages to individuals and organizations he apparently considered to be enemies of Donald Trump; and (3) The deadly shooting of two black customers at a Kentucky grocery store, after the shooter failed to break into a black church.

All of that does not include the abduction, torture, murder, and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was attacked at the Saudi consulate in Turkey while trying to obtain documents related to his impending marriage. The Khashoggi killing could be labeled an international incident, but he worked for The Washington Post and apparently was targeted for opinions he expressed in that U.S. newspaper.

The trail of trauma probably has many Americans asking, "What's the world coming to?" We don't have a tidy answer to that question, but we do know the alarming trends did not just manifest in the past week or so. We've seen them brewing for years, as we have fought mostly far-right corruption in the Deep South and Midwestern Ozarks. Consider some comparisons:

Attacking the free press

The Khashoggi killing and the mail-bombing campaign, for which a Florida man named Cesar Sayoc is charged, involved attacks on a free press. Khashoggi expressed critical opinions about Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and paid for it with his life. Sayoc's targets apparently included the CNN building in New York City.

Legal Schnauzer has been attacked because of our
journalism, and I have the mugshot to prove it.
But attacking journalists in the U.S. is not new; I have first-hand experience with that. In October 2013, I was the target of an unlawful arrest and five-month incarceration in Shelby County, Alabama, all connected to a 100-percent civil matter with no hint of criminal allegations. And it came after unflattering and accurate reports here on a number of GOP thugs -- including Karl Rove, Bill Pryor, Rob Riley, Liberty Duke, Luther Strange, and Jessica Medeiros Garrison. None of my posts ever has been found defamatory, as a matter of law, in court.

This was five years ago, long before hardly anyone imagined that Donald Trump might wind up in the White House.

Criminality and causation

Cesar Sayoc, the accused mail bomber, has an extensive criminal record, with nine previous arrests. We can identify with that. Our legal travails started when an individual named Mike McGarity moved next door to us, and after proving that he was a bully and a threat-maker who was impervious to reason, we learned he has a criminal record, with at least eight convictions (including sex- and violence-related offenses).

McGarity long has worked at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, and it remains unclear how he slipped through the cracks of a company that, as a federal Medicare contractor, is supposed to conduct extensive background checks on potential employees.

Mental illness and family dysfunction

Gregory Bush, charged with the Kentucky shootings, has a history of mental illness, according to press reports. Mail-bombing suspect Cesar Sayoc was enraged at his mother and driven to support Trump because of that, according to a report at the Daily Beast.

Scene of Saturday's Pittsburgh synagogue shooting
Mike McGarity, our former neighbor, is the product of a dysfunctional family, where all four boys have criminal records -- and we have documented that in multiple posts. (See here, here, and here.)

Tribalism and democracy

Earlier this month, a research group released a report about growing tribalism in the age of Trump. From The Atlantic's George Packer, in his analysis on the rise of tribal thinking:

We live in a time of tribes. Not of ideologies, parties, groups, or beliefs—these don’t convey the same impregnability of political fortifications, or the yawning chasms between them. American politics today requires a word as primal as “tribe” to get at the blind allegiances and huge passions of partisan affiliation. Tribes demand loyalty, and in return they confer the security of belonging. They’re badges of identity, not of thought. In a way, they make thinking unnecessary, because they do it for you, and may punish you if you try to do it for yourself. To get along without a tribe makes you a fool. To give an inch to the other tribe makes you a sucker.

We noticed this trend in summer 2016 and used two terms, "The New Confederacy and "Conservative Tribalism," to describe it. (Also see here.) Our reports centered on the criminal trial of former Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard, and here is how we described the disturbed mindsets that were on display:

[The Hubbard trial] was about the kind of mindset that has come to hold back many areas of the Deep South, not to mention other states where Southern thinking tends to hold sway. We are thinking of Great Plains or Midwest states, such as Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah.

What is this mindset all about? We have broken it into two parts -- one called "The New Confederacy," and the other called "Conservative Tribalism." Both were on display in the Mike Hubbard trial.

"The New Confederacy" includes individuals who tend to self-identify as "patriots," even though they reject fundamental tenets of the U.S. Constitution. These modern-day confederates tend to especially reject the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection, which became part of America's constitutional landscape after the Civil War.

From 1866 to 1868, Southern states bitterly opposed ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Hubbard trial showed that many Southerners, especially elites, still despise the principles of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Here is more from our 2016 posts:

Conservative Tribalism, to a great extent, is at the heart of the legal difficulties that my wife, Carol, and I have experienced . . . and gave rise to this blog.

What do we mean by tribalism? Here is one of the most useful definitions I've seen:

Tribalism is the state of being organized in, or advocating for, a tribe or tribes. In terms of conformity, tribalism may also refer in popular cultural terms to a way of thinking or behaving in which people are more loyal to their tribe than to their friends, their country, or any other social group.

For our purposes, the key element is this: Members of a tribe are more loyal to that unit than to most anything else, including their country and its laws, constitutions, and governing concepts. In our experience, tribalism has been particularly evident among those who identify as conservative. But I have little doubt that liberal and moderate tribes are out there as well.

How is this for irony? George W. Bush, our most recent "conservative" president, led us into wars in two countries -- Afghanistan and Iraq -- that have been dysfunctional for decades (centuries?) largely because of tribalism. Bush supposedly tried to bring democracy to countries where it had almost no chance to thrive -- because tribalism was likely to keep it from taking root.

Tribalism, in fact, might be the single greatest threat to American democracy, and we will have more on this subject in an upcoming post.

(To be continued)

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