The nature (and portrayal) of evil.

Is evil relative?

I ask that question after engaging in a debate of the subject with a couple of fellow writers. They insisted that, yes, evil is relative, and writings that portray certain subjects in a positive light should not be censored.

One writer insisted that, at least at first, the Nazi’s weren’t evil. Another insisted that, because many surviving Nazi’s still view what they did in a positive light, then the actions of that regime were not evil.

Personally, I thought both of them were insane.

The first, who styled themselves as a historian, insisted that the German government didn’t really ‘go bad’ until after the war started. They also said that, because the other European powers failed to intervene, they were either complicit in what happened, of at least initially, agreed with what happened.

I remembered history differently.

I remember the violence the Nazi’s used to gain power, and the swift expansion and increasing brutality of that violence once they had achieved power. I know that they moved swiftly to crush any and all opposition parties. I remember how they rounded up those who opposed them. I also remember that they imprisoned people in existing prisons long before the first purpose-built concentration camps opened in 1933. In short, I remember that the Nazi’s were born evil, and were never anything but evil.

The other person, who insisted that because surviving Nazi’s remember their actions in a positive light, they could not have been evil I found to be laughably naive. Mass murderers, from the ‘Son of Sam’ to John Wayne Gacy, rarely if ever speak of what they did as evil. They also pulled out the “Star Wars” card, quoting Obi-Wan Kenobi’s famous ‘from a certain point of view’ line as proof that evil is all in the eyes of the beholder. This person, btw, was a woman, and I was strongly tempted to ask her how she react to a story that portrayed a woman being raped in a positive light.

Perhaps I am old, but I think there are some things that are simply evil, and that they should never, ever be portrayed as anything else. What subject I feel should be regarded that way is a long list. Mass executions. Genocide. The rounding up of large numbers of people for no other reason than to silence opposition/please a fanatical leader’s ego. Torture for any reason. Sexual violence against anyone. There are a few others, but I write this to ask all of you, the readers, what you think?

How do you feel?

Are there subjects that should not be portrayed in a positive light, or is it ‘anything goes’ and be damned to what happens after?

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When they came for….

I had a big glass of cold sun tea to my lips when both the front and back doors slammed open. Oh well, you knew this day was coming. The thought flickered through my mind as booted feet thundered through my house, closing on where I sat at my desk. I took a long sip, letting the chill liquid slide down my throat as a group of men in dark coveralls and full tactical equipment pushed into the small space with me. One, a man a little shorter and a lot thicker around the waist than the rest, stepped forward.

“Allen Tanner, I am here to arrest you on the charge of treason. I would advise you to come peacefully.”

A few of the men behind him stared at me, and I saw nothing but hate in the eyes that met mine. A few grinned openly, like they were hoping for an excuse to shoot me. I refused to give them one. I pushed back from the desk slowly, raising my hands as I did so.

“So, you’re here to arrest me for treason. Will you tell me the details of my supposed high crime?”

One of the smiling ones lost his grin. Stepping forward and lowering his automatic weapon to point at my chest, he snarled. “We don’t have to tell a traitor anything, Captain. Let’s drag his ass out of here, and if he keeps delaying us, let’s just shoot him and spare the taxpayers the cost of his trial.”

Fat Man (for that was how I thought of him now) put a hand in front of the angry young man. He gave me a smile that went nowhere near his eyes as he answered. “No, Corporal Renton, he’s right. Someone facing a charge of treason is entitled to know the details of the crime they’re being charged with. Very well, Mr. Tanner. You are charged with communicating with an enemy nation. You are also charged with sending information to, and receiving information from, said nation. You are also accused of, by undertaking these communications, offering aid and comfort to said enemy. Does that make the nature of the charges you face sufficiently clear to you, Mr. Tanner?”

I favored him with a smile. “Actually, no, it doesn’t. You accuse me of sending information to an enemy nation. Would you tell me precisely what information I am supposed to have sent?”

The smile disappeared. “I have to tell you what you did, not the details of the prosecution’s case. Now, I advise you to stand up, so we can properly restrain you.”

“So I can’t know what information I supposedly sent. Can I at least know how I supposedly sent it? Am I accused of sending it in an email to someone? Did I drop a folded piece of paper with the information on it in an inconspicuous corner of my local park? Am I accuse of sending it via smoke signals when I burned my leaves?”

Fat Man’s jaw clenched. “You know perfectly well how you sent the information!” He didn’t quite bellow, but he came as close as his fat body allowed. “You communicated the information in the comments section of a web site run by and from the foreign government in question.”

So either they’ve managed to get the NSA to sic their supercomputers on my VPN communications, or they’ve got someone monitoring the comments section of that site. Neither possibility was impossible. It made no difference how they knew, because they clearly did. Hell, I’m dead anyway, might as well make this clown squirm as much as I can. “So, Captain….”

“MacMurray, James MacMurray, if it’s any of your business.”

I gave him a smile. “I’d think it’s the business of any American to know the name of the men who’re helping crush freedom.”

MacMurry flushed. “I am not crushing freedom, I’m defending it! Don’t try to push your sins off on me, sir!”

I let myself laugh, and the change clearly upset MacMurray. He sputtered and in that moment of inarticulate near silence, I drove my point home. “But you are. I know the communications you speak of. I posted a reply to a story on the BBC’s web site, correcting some facts they got wrong about the protest march in DC, the one that was fired upon by private security forces working for the President.”

“That wasn’t a ‘protest’, it was a riot by traitors, and they got what they deserved!”

“No, Captain MacMurray, there was no riot. If he wants to push that lie, your boss should have jammed cell coverage. He didn’t, and plenty of folks streamed what happened live. He did manage to keep those live streams from getting out of the US, but plenty of folks here saw what happened. Those people were peacefully marching to protest the suspension of elections, and the private security contractors opened fire on them without provocation.”

MacMurray’s anger so overcame him, his words came out in a storm of spittle. “They were traitors! The President suspended elections because he couldn’t be sure the vote would be secure.”

“He suspended elections three years ago. What’s he done to secure the process? When, precisely, does he intend to let Americans vote?”

I caught a blur of motion just before something slammed into my head. Pain exploded, then was amplified as my back caromed off the desk. I hit the floor, and a boot came down in my right hand hard enough that I felt bones break. I didn’t try to keep the scream of pain in. Then I felt something cold pressing against the back of my head.

“Those fuckin’ socialist bastards got what they deserved, and you’re gonna get what you deserve too, you worthless traitor!”

It didn’t surprise me that the voice was Renton’s, and I knew without looking that what I felt was the barrel of his gun pressed against my skull, ready to fire. I swallowed my cries of pain and forced myself to lie still. MacMurray spoke into the silence I made, and I could almost hear the smile in his voice.

“Now, Corporal Renton, don’t shoot him. If we drag him out of here dead, his neighbors might think him some sort of martyr. We’re likely to have to come back here as it is, what with none of them reporting his traitorous behavior. No, let them see him come out as he is, a battered and beaten traitor being taken to his trial. Let them watch as he’s given a fair trial, then given a fair sentence of death for his crimes. After that, any of them who might think to speak ill of our glorious President will think twice.”

The barrel pressed harder on my skull for a moment, then the pressure vanished. I rolled over, looking into the eyes of the young man who’d struck me and smiled. “He’s right, I’ll get a ‘fair’ show trial, then I’ll be executed by someone just like you. You just need to wonder how long it will be before your beloved President sends someone like you for you. After all, a good dictator never leaves witnesses around to talk about the crimes he’s committed.”

Renton’s mouth hardened, and the rifle centered on my face…then I saw his eyes dart about, taking in the men around him. I knew I’d made my point, that he couldn’t trust them. Another man came forward to roll me over before handcuffing me. It wasn’t a lot, but if I could spread doubt to a man like him, my death wouldn’t be for nothing.

On the 4th of July

Since seeing the French parade their military during the 2017 Bastille Day celebration, Donald Trump has talked of doing the same thing. Initially, he wanted to recreate the same pageantry on a larger scale in Washington, DC, complete with tanks rolling down the streets, while soldiers marched behind and military aircraft flew past overhead.

Those plans came to a screeching halt when the city government pointed out that tanks would render the roads they drove over unusable for days, and that they would expect the full cost of repairing said roads to be borne by the federal government. Even Trump’s own military advisers advised against such a parade, saying it would not be the best use of precious military resources. Most important, nobody seemed to know where the money to cover such a display would come from.

This year, however, it seems all the restraining voices have been silenced, and Mr. Trump intends to have his pageant. Things have been scaled back. No longer does he expect Abrahams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles to pass in review. No, now they are to be ‘parked’ in ‘prominent spots’. And while no surging mass of service members will be required to parade past him, a large contingent of service members will be taking part. And he will get his military fly-over, courtesy of the Navy’s Blue Angels.

Mr. Trump calls this a ‘Salute to America’. Yet those attending will be separated, with ‘VIP’ tickets being issued by the Republican Party. And while funding to pay for the review stands, podium and all the other associated work to stage this event is still largely kept from the taxpayers who are paying for it, the Park Service has already admitted that over two million dollars of it’s funds will go towards paying for this. That money, by the way, came from admission fees charged to enter national parks, and was originally intended to cover maintenance and upkeep of our national parks.

What is most disturbing about this ‘Salute to America’ is the fact that it does nothing to actually salute this nation. Unlike France and many other European nations, America has no history of parading our military services through the street. We honor not the various services, but the brave men and women who step forward to serve in them. And while I have not read, nor heard, what Mr. Trump will say in front of the Lincoln Memorial, I will stake a fair amount of money that much of it will be not about the courage of those who volunteer to service, nor will it be about this nation as a whole. No, it will mostly be about Donald Trump.

And if that happens, it means this expenditure of our tax dollars is paying for nothing less than a publicly-funded campaign rally…and that should worry every American.

A particular shade of green

Green.

She remembered the first time she saw that damnable shade of green.

Kate had just turned ten, and rather than risk buying something she would hate, Laura had taken her out to buy that important gift. That was how the two of them had ended up standing in front of the display case. Laura pointed out the gift she thought would be ideal, but her Kate had fixed on what she wanted before her mother could finish raising her hand.

“I want this one, Mom!”

What Kate was pointing at was….green. Not a calm green, or a dark green, but a green close to mint. A green so aggressive that it could almost be called violent. Laura motioned towards the item she’d chosen.

“Isn’t this one better? It’s just the same, and you won’t have to worry about it clashing with your clothing.”

“But Mom, I like this color! Besides, you said I could chose what I wanted, and I want this.”

“But sweetie, will you like it next year? Or even next week?”

“Then I’ll get another.”

Laura decided it was time to put her foot down. “No, you won’t. Remember, this is your birthday present, and I am not going to buy you a replacement just because you changed your mind.”

Kate faced her, feet planted, and showed she was her mother’s daughter by matching stubbornness with stubbornness. “Fine, Mom. Then I promise if you buy this for me, I won’t ask you to replace it.”

Laura looked at the green again and shuddered. “Fine, but you can be sure I’ll remind you of that promise.” And with that, the decision what gun to buy her daughter was made.

Laura also remembered how Kate had stood in front of her, gun pointing at her mother’s face. “Mom, I told you I’m going out with Harry, and that’s that.”

“Harry’s trouble, sweetie. He’s been arrested, and he’s….”

Laura had seen her daughter’s finger tighten on the trigger and stopped talking. “Mom, I don’t care. I love him, and that’s all that’s important.”

“And what will you do if he decides to turn violent on you, shoot him?”

“Mom, he’d never do something like that!”

Now Laura stood over her daughter’s still form, and that vile green gun lay nearby, in Harry’s dead hand. Her daughter had called her just twenty minutes ago. Harry was high again, on something that made him violent. Kate said she was going to try to talk him down, as she had so many times before, and nothing Laura could say would dissuade her from trying.

The three red holes in her daughter’s chest told Laura how the effort had turned out. Harry had had the grace to kill himself, and Laura found herself fighting the desire to kick his lifeless form. But she knew Harry was just the end of the story. As the police screamed up in front of the apartment building, Laura feel to her knees beside her daughter.

“Why did I buy you that stupid gun? Why did everyone insist you needed a gun? Why?

Fun at the polls

What?”

Paul hadn’t intended to yell, but the poll watcher’s statement that he wasn’t on the voter roll was unbelievable. He’d been voting since he turned 18, and hadn’t missed an election since then. He also knew he’d sent his registration form back in plenty of time for the county recorder’s office to have processed it and renew his registration. The elderly woman in front of him shrank away from his yell, but she looked away as she answered.

“It’s like I said, sir, your name isn’t on the roll. I also can’t let you cast a provisional ballot without at least two federally-recognized pieces of identification. I’m sorry, but that’s the law now.”

Paul struggled to keep his temper in check, but even to his ears, the sarcasm in his question was clear. “So what counts as a ‘federally-recognized’ ID?”

“Well, your drivers license counts, so does a firearms owner ID. Or a passport, or any other photo ID the government approves.”

“But I’ve never been out of the US, so I don’t have a passport, and I don’t own a gun, so I don’t have one of those ID cards either. About all I have is my license, isn’t that enough?”

Paul caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and saw a bulky red-headed man move to stand beside him. He faced the man in time to see his eyes sweep up and down Paul once before he turned to the poll watcher. “This guy giving you trouble?”

“No, he was just asking…” Paul interrupted her. “No, I’m not giving her trouble, she’s giving me trouble. I’ve been voting for almost forty years now, and voting at this polling place for about half that time, yet she says I’m not on the rolls.”

Red-head turned full-on to face Paul. “I don’t give a damn if you been votin’ here since Noah came over. If you ain’t on the rolls, then you don’t get to vote, got it Pedro?”

“The name’s Paul, Paul Sanchez, and who died and named you god?”

Red-head was nearly a head taller than Paul, and he leaned down to make that size advantage inescapable. “Paul, Pedro, I don’t care what your name is. You aren’t on the roll, so get outta here before I decide you’re ‘disturbing the peace’ and call the cops to arrest your worthless ass. Understand, or should I get someone to interpret that for you?”

That was it. “What are you going to ‘interpret’, stupidity? I understand that real well, thanks. I’m just wondering why the renewal form I sent in for my voter ID doesn’t seem to have been processed, and I don’t think you know the answer to that question, do you?”

Paul had expected the big man in front of him to get angry at being challenged, but rather than snarl, he laughed. “Well, if you don’t know the answer to that question, it’s you who needs help with stupidity. It’s cause of the Working to Assure a Secure Poll Act, that’s why.”

Paul knew the law. Passed in the wake of repeated claims of fraudulent voting, it was being challenged in the courts, but was still on the books. But he’d never heard anything about it barring people who’d been living in the US since the day they were born their right to vote. “What the hell do you mean? I was born here! How am I not allowed to vote?”

Red smirked at Paul. “Yeah, but what about your parents? Were they born here?”

“Hell yeah! My Dad’s family has been in Texas since it declared independence from Mexico, and my Mom’s family has been in America since the 1920’s.”

Red leaned down again, bringing his face close enough to Paul’s that their noses almost touched. The smirk spread, became a wicked grin. “Yeah, and you got proof that both their families came into the US legally? Cause if you don’t, then they was here illegally, and that means you’re not a citizen, got it?”

“How the hell am I supposed to get proof of something than happened a hundred, two hundred or more years ago?”

“Ain’t my problem, and it ain’t the problem of these poll watchers either. Now get out.”

“What about you, Red? Have you got proof your ancestors came to the US legally?”

“Name’s Sean, asshole, and yeah, my parents people all came over from Ireland at some point…and all of them went through Ellis Island too.”

“And who gave them the okay to come here?”

“Are you thick? Like I said, they came through Ellis Island.”

“Yeah, but who said the federal government had the right to decide who came to the US?”

That got a laugh out of Sean. “You really are one stupid bean, aren’t you? Did you sleep through civics, or didn’t they teach it in your school?”

Now Paul gave Sean a smirk. “Yeah, but who said the federal government has any real authority? Didn’t the first Europeans find people here already, people with their own governments? Did those Europeans ask permission to come here? Did they get approval from those governments to settle in America?”

“Hey, that was different!”
“How? Weren’t the Founding Fathers just the descendants of a bunch of illegal aliens?”

“Watch your mouth, bean! Those were the greatest people in the world!”
“Why, because they stole a continent by killing off the rightful owners? Weren’t they just a bunch of violent thugs who took what they wanted at gun point?”

Sean’s face went nearly as red as his hair as he started to shout. “Okay, that does it! You just earned yourself a trip to jail, big-mouth.” He brought his cell out and raised it to his ear. “911? Yeah, I’m at the Fifth Precinct polling station, and we’ve got a trouble maker here. Doesn’t have proper ID, refuses to leave, and he’s making threatening statements too. I need an officer to come take out the garbage.” A moment’s pause, and Sean smiled. “Thanks, officer. I’ll be waiting by the door so I can point the guy out.” He tapped the screen before continuing to address Paul. “So the cops are on their way, Pedro. Maybe you can get away if you make a run for it.”

Paul gave him a smile, because for the first, he felt cheerful. “I’m not running anywhere, you brainless fuck. If I’ve got to go to jail to challenge this stupid law, then I’ll do it gladly.” he let his smile morph into a sneer. “It is kind of funny, you calling the cops. For all your swagger, you have to have the police deal with someone who’s smaller than you.”

The remark had the effect Paul had hoped it would. Sean’s face went scarlet as he threw a roundhouse right that Paul dodged without effort. Paul’s fist connected with the bigger man’s stomach, and he folded with a gasp. “And that’s another reason I should be voting, ten years, US Marines, Recon. Don’t ever call me ‘bean’ again, you asshole, or they’ll need a wet-vac to clean up what’s left over after I get done with you.” Paul lifted his eyes to sweep over the poll watchers. “I take it you all saw his throw the first punch, and me do nothing more than defend myself?” When everyone nodded, Paul stepped back, clasped his hands behind his back, and went into the parade rest his body still remembered. The cops would be there soon, but the Marines had taught him there was nothing he couldn’t overcome if he put his mind to it.

“W.A.S.P. Act, this Marine’s coming for your ass.”

The Protest

Mayor James whacked his gavel down, hard, but the sound of its impact could barely be heard above the growl of angry voices that filled the city council chambers. The space wasn’t packed, but the crowd’s indignation gave it a presence far larger than its numbers. Matt McClaine watched his face turn red with anger at being ignored. Keith James had been mayor of Carswell’s Corner for nearly a decade, and like most men in such a position, his sense of self-importance had grown with his time in office. Matt had seen it far too many times in his years as a reporter, the way some people took getting elected to even as insignificant an office as mayor of a small town like Carswell’s Corner as a sign that they were somehow above the norm. Mayor James leaned towards the mic in front of him, and tried to use his control of the rooms sound system to gain control of the situation.

“This meeting of the Planning Commission is hereby adjourned!”

He didn’t quite shout the words, but the margin between a shout and the volume he used was small. It didn’t calm the crowd. No, it had precisely the opposite effect. Several members of the crowd openly shouted back.

“What do you mean? We haven’t even been given a chance to speak!”

“What about wanting ‘public’ comments? I came here to have my say!”

“We’re going to be heard! You can’t just….”

Mayor James’ face went from red to full-on purple with rage as his shouted response drown out everyone.

“I said this meeting is adjourned! And if I need to, I will have call for the security officers to clear this room.”

Talk about throwing a match into a pool of gasoline…now, even those who had patiently, politely waiting for their chance to speak rose to join the chorus of protest.

“You can’t do this! We have a right to express our opinions at hearings!”

“Yeah! You can’t just shut people up!”

Matt looked towards the main exit, and saw the two police officers who nominally served as security for the meeting had their eyes fixed on the front of the room. They weren’t worried about the crowd, they knew they could bully them out of the room if called upon to do so. They were just waiting for the signal from the mayor to start shoving people around. It was something they had plenty of experience with.

Like most small towns, Carswell’s Corner maintained all the proper forms, looked and acted like a democracy…but in reality, it only keep those forms in place to give the citizens the illusion that their voices mattered. The real decisions were made quietly, behind the scenes, when the proper people got the proper ‘incentives’ to make the decision some company wanted.

Carswell’s Corner had once had a thriving downtown, and sported four grocery stores ranging in size from a corner mom-and-pop shop to decent-sized chain stores. Then the ‘big box’ had come to town…and corporate management clearly knew how to deal with small-town governments. The land for the store had been bought from a real estate company run by relatives of council members. Most of the city council, who had never bothered advertise their candidacies before, suddenly had money to spend on yard signs and window posters.

And that support had brought further ‘considerations’ from the city government. The mom-and-pop shop suddenly learned that the ‘grandfathered’ lay-out was no longer considered ‘safe’. Not surprisingly, the price of fixing their problems were far too high for them to afford. Then, the property taxes for the bigger stores had suddenly jumped.

The number of groceries dropped until only one remained, at which point the city played its trump card. As the suppliers of electrical power for the whole town, the municipal utility was free to set prices as they saw fit…and they saw fit to increase the rates for ‘commercial’ properties like the last grocery store.

The move might have gone unnoticed if not for the fact that when management posted signs that the store would be holding a ‘going out of business’ sale, they also gave the reason why they were going out of business. People railed about the decision, and Matt’s paper had received a multitude of letters to the editor complaining about the move. The decision to hold a protest at the Planning Commission meeting, which among other things controlled the utility, had gained support quickly.

But like every other town meeting, the Planning Commission operated to the strict guidelines of its agenda; and that agenda was set, in advance, by the members. That agenda included time for the public to speak, but the protest was known, so a small group of ‘public’ commenter’s was in place before the first citizen stepped through the door. Not surprisingly, they occupied most of the seats in the front row, spots that would gain them the first chance to speak.

And oh, did they speak. There was praise for the ‘fiscal responsibility’ of ‘ensuring’ that the utility department was bringing in enough money to cover future expansion. There was a statement in favor of letting the ‘free enterprise system’ determine winners and losers. The dog-and-pony show ended with the manager of the ‘big box’ store announcing plans for a substantial donation to the local park district. And with that, the public comment segment was closed and the meeting had rolled to its foregone conclusion.

Matt checked his notes, made sure the photos he’d snapped were saved to his cloud account, and closed the cover on his tablet. When the protest was announced, he’d known it would fail. He would have his story written up in half an hour of starting, then his editor would go over it to make sure Matt had filtered out his indignation, and that would be the end of it. The whole farce would be duly reported as another glorious example of American democracy, and Matt would collect his paycheck.

He’d been a good mouthpiece for so long that he’d come to accept his own hypocrisy, and even when it was so obviously on display, he did what he always did. He chalked his inaction up to the knowledge that there was nothing he could do. The system had been broken for so long that there was nothing anyone could do. He knew the city politicians would remain in power because the voters would rather have a corrupt government they knew than a clean one they didn’t. It wasn’t exactly a lie, but that small sliver of the honest human he had once been still hated it all.

Where do we go from here? Downward, I fear.

I’m going to do something I don’t like to do in this blog: venture into politics.

A friend of mine on Facebook (yes, I know, Facebook is a total waste of time, no need to remind me) posted a link to a story about Al Franken’s resignation. The story was good, but the telling thing was the discussion about it. People responded at first fell into two camps: those who thought that Franken should leave, and those who thought he was being unfairly forced out.

The latter soon became the more vocal, and the disturbing thing was their reasoning. They blamed the women, claiming they were ‘known political operatives’, that some shadowy person (or persons) had offered financial rewards to those coming forward, etc., etc., etc.

I found these responses disturbing because I also read stories online, and one thread I’d been following was the controversy swirling around Roy Moore. Reading the responses of those defending Moore, I noted a consistent refrain: the women who were motivated by their politics, that they’d been ‘paid’ to come forward, etc., etc., etc.

I was amazed at how similar the responses of the two sides were. How they sought to blame the victims for what was happening to ‘their guy’. What was even more amazing the response I got when I pointed this similarity out to an Al Franken supporter.

I was called a liar.

I ‘couldn’t understand’ what was ‘really’ happening.

There was absolutely no similarity between what they thought and ‘those people’.

Etc.

Etc.

Etc.

What it made me see is that, on both sides of the political spectrum, the mood had become even more strictly “Us versus Them”. That you either blindly support Our Side, or you are The Enemy.

In other words, both sides are locked in a downward spiral, driven not by truth, but by the desire for Power.

Nothing is allowed to stand in the way of achieving Power.

Power to push their political agenda, no matter what.

Power to ‘stick it to’ the Other Side.

Truth? Honor? Justice?

Who cares!

They, of course, see Power as Good.

It will allow them to Do The Right Thing….or at least what their particular ideology tells them is The Right Thing.

And the saddest thing of all is that none of them can see where they are taking America. Where is that? Down a long, dark road that has no good end. A future where one side rules over the other, where ideas like compromise, reason and being able to see any value in those who do not agree with you are considered ‘quaint’, if not dangerous.

And that’s not a future that augers well for ideas like democracy, freedom and liberty…in other words, America.