Morning Pages: March 28th, 2020

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the D.C. metro region has been in a state of partial lockdown. To alleviate fear and stress, my writer's group has put together a daily "morning pages" get-together on Zoom in order to touch base before starting the day. Here's some of my brief thoughts.

I think in addition to r/aww, there's also r/oddlysatisfying, which is oddly but also extremely satisfying. Like, look at this picture of a perfect lemon:


Have you seen anything as perfect in your whole life? Of course you have, I've been posting pictures of baby animals all week.

Now onto the hard stuff. Don't read if you've already had a bad day.



So I read the rather distressing news today that President Donald Trump is withholding medical supplies from Michigan because the governor is a female Democrat:

After President Donald Trump issued scathing comments about Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, saying she's "not stepping up," and "doesn't know what's going on," she told WWJ 950 the state is having trouble getting the equipment they need to fight the novel coronavirus.

"What I've gotten back is that vendors with whom we've procured contracts -- They're being told not to send stuff to Michigan," Whitmer said live on air. "It's really concerning, I reached out to the White House last night and asked for a phone call with the president, ironically at the time this stuff was going on."

Here's another angle around how President Trump is telling Vice President Pence to not call governors who aren't 'grateful' enough for his efforts:

President Donald Trump said Friday he has asked Vice President Mike Pence not to call governors he says have not been "appreciative" enough of his efforts on coronavirus – a group of critics that included a governor he referred to only by gender,

"Don't call the woman in Michigan," Trump said at a press conference while discussing Pence's work as head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

That governor – Gretchen Whitmer – replied on Twitter that "right now, we all need to be focused on fighting the virus, not each other."

"I’m willing to work with anyone as long as we get the personal protective equipment we need for the people of Michigan," she said.

Here's this story that broke today, people hoped that Democratic congressmen were going to negotiate controls and transparency on corporate bailouts. President Trump signed the bill and immediately afterwards declared he will not follow those same transparency measures he signed, statement here


But a requirement to consult with the Congress regarding executive decision-making, including with respect to the President’s Article II authority to oversee executive branch operations, violates the separation of powers by intruding upon the President’s power and duty to supervise the staffing of the executive branch under Article II, section 1 (vesting the President with the “executive Power”) and Article II, section 3 (instructing the President to “take Care” that the laws are faithfully executed). Accordingly, my Administration will treat this provision as hortatory but not mandatory.


I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the SIGPR to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required by the Take Care Clause, Article II, section 3.


My Administration will make appropriate efforts to notify the relevant committees before taking the specified actions and will accord the recommendations of such committees all appropriate and serious consideration, but it will not treat spending decisions as dependent on prior consultation with or the approval of congressional committees.


Nobody alive has dealt with anything like this. People are picking examples from the 1918 Spanish Flu, and to 1861-1865 Civil War. I think this situation does set a new precedent in U.S. history.

This is nothing compared to what's coming. What I'm writing here is something I've been thinking about for years, and too afraid to publicly admit because I think it'd be too dark and scary for others and because it'd negatively affect my life with little benefit. But now I'm writing it to make sure I think things through.

We're now very much in a "cold civil war" between at least two political parties and at least two geographic regions of the country. More distrubingly, the past month presents the confluence of multiple Black Swan events (Donald Trump's election as the 45th President, and COVID-19 being the respiratory influenza with human-to-human contact, asympotatic transmission, and 1% mortality rate) being chained together and influencing each other.

That's kind of what we've been seeing over the past 30 or so years, ever since the end of the Cold War and the globalization of trade and the monetization of the peace dividend. This was planned, and expected, by many people, politicians and voters alike.

Something only a few (maybe prescient) people realized at the time is benefits of this peace dividend will go to certain sectors of the population more than others, certain states more than others, certain value structures more than others. Keep the old ways, and lose out. Keep the only constant as change, and swim in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.

The "greatest generation" of politicians and voters began dying off, and things like money and power became society's common denominator. It's transparent, reliable and trusted among good and bad alike, and quite immutable (not in inflation-adjusted terms). Peace weakens, and society became brittle. Things like manufacturing surge capacity and emergency management became operational overhead to be cut and streamlined. Peace also corrupts, because humans are falliable. Income inequality isn't just because some people work harder than others, it's also because after some point, you get to write the rules of the game:


Now enter the first Black Swan event, Donald Trump's election. January 20th, 2017, and still ongoing today. One thing interesting about this president is how constant approval and disapproval numbers are. This is a snapshot of FiveThiryEight's poll numbers. I trust Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight more than other poll aggregators because they warned of this black swan back in 2015-2016 when giving the lowest chances of Hillary Clinton winning the 2016 presidential election.


(Sanitizing $FAMOUS_GERMAN_LEADER and $FAMOUS_IDEOLOGY to appear lower in SEO results and hopefully avoid being brigaded and doxxed by neo-Nazis with too much time on their hands)

People compare Trump to $FAMOUS_GERMAN_LEADER all the time (like they compare every president to $FAMOUS_GERMAN_LEADER a la Godwin's Law), and so let's be reminded that $FAMOUS_GERMAN_LEADER won around 35% in 1932 to be able to enact emergency powers and end the Weimar Republic. What people may not realize is how in 1946, after Germany looked like this:

dresden 1945

A shockingly high proportion of Germans supported $FAMOUS_GERMAN_LEADER and $FAMOUS_IDEOLOGY. This is of course an extremely touchy topic, so I went ahead and looked for polls, and sure enough, here's a collation of OMGUS surveys run in the American Occupied Zone in Germany, of which Survey No. 68 stands out (pasted in full below, and on page 171 of the linked PDF):

Report No. 68 (10 October 1947)


Sample: unspecified number, representing a cross-section of the adults in the American Zone and the American and British Sectors of Berlin.

Interviewing dates: between November 1945 and August 1947. (5 pp.)

Despite fluctuations, the percentage of Germans describing $FAMOUS_IDEOLOGY as a good idea badly carried out remained at a fairly high number -- starting at 53 per cent in November 1945, dipping to a low of 42 per cent in July 1946, and rising again to 55 per cent by August 1947. Those regarding it as a bad idea rose from 41 per cent in November 1945 to 48 per cent in July 1946 but dropped once more to 35 per cent in August 1947. Another way of describing this trend is to say that, in the period from November 1945 to July 1946, the average number of people who thought $FAMOUS_IDEOLOGY basically a good idea was 48 per cent; between December 1946 and August 1947 it was 52 per cent.

In July 1947, opinions on this issue were related to attitudes toward democracy, individual liberty as against economic security, and the responsibility of Hitler and his advisers for his acts. People who tended to excuse $FAMOUS_IDEOLOGY were most ready to pick flaws in the working of democracy (42%), to choose security (70%) rather than liberty (22%), and to throw the blame for Hitler's acts on his advisers (32%) rather than on Hitler himself (25%), with another 37 per cent blaming both.

In August 1947, the population groups containing the largest proportions of persons describing $FAMOUS_IDEOLOGY as a good idea badly carried out were persons with eight years of education (60%), those under 30 (68%), Protestants (64%), LDP/DVP party adherents (68%). More West Berliners (62%) held this view than Hessians (61%), residents of Wuerttemberg-Baden (60%), and Bavarians (50%); Bavarians led the list of those who rejected Nazism as a bad idea (38%), followed by West Berliners and Hessians (33%), and residents of Wuerttemberg-Baden (31%).

And this is a critical piece of information, because people naturally think if bad things start happening to you, to the degree of getting bombed back to the Stone Age, you'll naturally dislike your leaders and pivot towards the "right" idea, and that very much isn't the case when voting on matters like identity.

This pandemic will pass. My friends and family in Michigan should be safe, because Michigan itself has vast natural resources and a solid manufacturing base (which is partially due to President Obama's bailout of the auto industry back during the last recession). But now, the possibility of "enemy" agents hostile to state interests based on majority-based political affiliation, and having those agents distributed through all three branches of the federal government, is a very scary proposition. A nation that's been defeated by an enemy can rise back up, but one that crumbles from within is dead forever.

To be very clear, I'm absolutely not advocating for secessionism. Besides the fact that secession is a treasonable offence punishable by death, I'm also a strong federalist and believe in the power of unity over discord. From a laws of power perspective, having the nuclear weapons supply chain, command authority, and launch / delivery facilities and vehicles fractured is a very bad thing for world peace. I don't think we've even found all the suitcase nukes after the collapse of the Soviet Union. But I think we're going to need to sit down and talk about this, because events that have physically happened have forced it already, and I just want to be mentally prepared and to know what I believe in. If something as unthinkable as the country falling apart happens, I will probably choose to die here. My life has been a bet on this country succeeding, I don't think I want to change that, and to be honest I'm not sure if I want to see what happens next.

There's undeniably a strong argument to be made that the Union no longer makes sense for some. I'll give you an example. I became an American citizen in high school. In college, I had my first real-world experiences meeting and interacting with people who came directly from other countries. In those bonds, I found friendship, cameraderie, and many common beliefs.

Now if I ran a thought experiment, and I asked myself, who would I choose to be my neighbor, my friends from college, or a randomly selected person from Oklahoma, I might not choose the person from Oklahoma. I'd probably choose my friend from college. I don't think that's a huge problem. I think the randomly selected person from Oklahoma would also choose his or her friend from college!