Tag Archives: Jimmy Carter

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Another ‘High Theft’ Item to Protect

We can’t say we haven’t been warned. Every voter in both parties needs to guard their franchise as much as they guard their bank accounts.

It is easy to be shocked by how many thoughtless political activists are willing to disenfranchise their fellow citizens. Taking another person’s legitimate vote is an affront to the idea of democracy. It was true years ago when Georgia Democrats set out to defeat Jimmy Carter during his first ran for the Georgia State Senate. And it now appears that every election features activists, mostly on the insurrectionist right, who would be only too happy to ignore the votes of some. Their pretext is always on some phantom vote irregularities: the alleged offenders voted by mail too late, their precinct was improperly staffed, or they were not registered with the right name or address. As reviews of the 2020 vote demonstrated, Americans can run very clean elections. The few irregularities that do occur are almost always small mistakes or voting machine glitches, not designs to steal an election.

So why the worry? We can’t forget the 147 members of Congress in 2020 tried to toss out the millions of votes in states that did not produce the presidential result they wanted.  It was as audacious a move as the simple-minded statement from Donald Trump that ‘if he lost the election, it was rigged.’ Most eight-year-olds can see through the fallacy of this false “if/then” logic. Luckily, the vote certification that correctly awarded President Biden a win was saved by folks on both sides of the isle–including Vice President Pence–who valued the voting system over disruption by others. More recently, it is alarming to learn that Ginni Thomas, the wife of the Supreme Court Justice, sought to persuade election officials in Arizona to overturn their Presidential tally. Given the Court’s potentially crucial role in an election, as happened with Bush vs Gore in 2000, her move displays a disturbing lack of character.

Attempts to disqualify ballots have become an accepted mode of changing an election result that is not to someone’s liking.

We can’t say we haven’t been warned. Every voter in both parties needs to guard their right to participate as much as they guard their bank accounts. The audacity of previous attempts took many of us by surprise. But it has become a fact that parties and groups awash in unregulated money will bankroll dubious legal help searching for reasons to throw out legitimate ballots. Using the example of a purposefully disruptive Trump, attempts to disqualify ballots have become a common way to challenge any election result that is not to someone’s liking.

Americans can continue to have faith in the integrity of poll workers and the election officials that administer the voting process. These county officials usually take pride in being professionals. And precinct volunteers mostly want to be helpful to neighbors of both parties. Instead, we need to worry about self-styled kingmakers who may try to game the process for a win-at-any-cost.  In particular, curbs on mail-in voting, precinct relocations and other dubious “improvements” seem designed to discourage minority and low income voters.

In short, guard your vote as you would the hard-earned cash that you are careful to protect.

Voting is regulated by the states.  But there are a few simple guidelines to follow. Call your country elections office if you need to indicate a change of address or any other change in status. Do this at least 30 days before an election.  And follow local county guidelines exactly for mail-in ballots, making sure you are registered with your exact name and address. There are also various web sites that easily allow you can check in advance to make sure this information in recorded. A good place to start is


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The Missing Elasticity of Social Relations

In lockdown we have become less able to practice the conversational arts that typically include building common ground. 

The pandemic has shortened our direct contact with others and, as a likely consequence, some of the empathic qualities of everyday discourse as well.  It isn’t that we have stopped meeting strangers in face to face encounters.  It is that the remaining and limited moments of contact can more easily devolve into apathy, rudeness and even verbal hostility.

If we are to believe news reports and videos of people behaving badly in airports, planes, grocery stores, and take-out restaurants, we may be right to conclude that a larger minority are burning short fuses. The sensible precaution of mask-wearing in a public place has sparked any number of confrontations, often leaving overworked clerks to try to calm tantrums of defiance. On a friendliness scale from 0 to 10, a reasonable guess is that many Americans struggle to interact with strangers and stay above six. And especially for  service and mental health providers, the number seems to be heading lower. Short tempers, indifference and impatience rule.

All of this is by way of suggesting that this uneasiness that defines personal relations has been aggravated by our isolation. This is most dramatic in the retail politics that rules the airwaves. What was once more likely to be civil discourse more often devolves into the kinds of rhetorical horror shows, especially at the political margins. The pandemic has meant that there are even fewer contacts happening that might help bridge the gap between disrupters like Donald Trump and more traditional institutionalists.

Of course it is not just the pandemic that feeds this split. Social media have aggravated the problem by enabling political victimization without equally facilitating engagement. To cite one small sign of our isolation, the dining rooms in the Capitol complex where members and staffers used to mix informally are mostly closed; take-out is the order of the day. It’s a reminder that in lockdown we have become less able to practice the conversational and transactional arts that typically help us find common ground.


Have we forgotten how to be kind?

And because listening in our “me” age has never been very good, it follows that our impatience to consider different views has grown. An office or public space is shared with others.  But when the space we occupy is exclusively our own, there may be a natural diminution in the ability to see things from another’s standpoint. In a word, the pandemic has made us less empathetic.

Many of us feel like our worlds have grown small and isolating. That perception is reinforced by overreliance on sadly inadequate media that substitute for direct contact. Kids are rightly tired of remote learning. And their media malaise seems matched by workers still at home. Research suggests that workers generally like the convenience of living over the office, but many have also slipped into a stilted formality with co-workers that can be seen on any number of video platforms. A camera that is on and recording us is a natural intimidation. I doubt that Zoom and its counterparts ever deliver the best versions of ourselves.

We can see our struggle in terms of our increased time in the virtual world. But, interestingly, in 1979 President Jimmy Carter identified the same dynamics of a nation coming apart.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

It may be a coincidence that this unusual “malaise” speech happened in the formative decade for the home computer and the internet. Both would become key escape routes that would allow more remote messaging. Carter thought we had succumbed to the empty desire of “owning things and consuming things” in our search for meaning. But the national “emptiness” he described fits the digital age as well.

Of course, the sources of human behavior are partly unknowable, multi-dimensional and triggered by countless biographical and social origins. But I suspect that many of our political and social standoffs are enabled by technologies and the physical vulnerabilities that have forced us into mediated contact.