For anyone who’s curious

The WaPo has a piece on how to track your mail-in ballot. You can find state-specific voting and ballot-tracking information here.

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Be on guard, but don’t freak out

Michelle Goldberg points out Trump threatening to steal the election is bluster, not power: “Trump may be behaving like a strongman, but he is weaker than he’d like us all to believe. Autocrats who actually have the power to fix elections don’t announce their plans to do it; they just pretend to have gotten 99 percent of the vote.” That’s not to say declaring he’ll stay in power is acceptable or that he won’t try to cheat, just that we shouldn’t be intimidated. More discussion on Twitter why installing puppet electors probably won’t work.

Of course the Wall Street Journal thinks the real problem is Democrats will challenge any Trump efforts to steal the election — and that’s anti-democracy. Sen. Rick Scott is worried too, as he’s proposing a last-minute rule change that all ballots must be counted within 48 hours of election day, even absentee ballots.  QAnon crackpot DeAnna Lorraine shores up her appeal to the right-wing by saying women should vote like they were picking a boyfriend — wouldn’t you want Trump, the alpha male? Yeah, I’m sure women love the idea of picking a rapist and adulterer as their dream man (I’m also amused by her claim Trump is compassionate).

Trump keeps pretending he’s going to give us better than Obamacare coverage. He lies.

“A fight over the fate of the Supreme Court is weighty enough, but beneath the surface of this conflict is an even fiercer struggle about what the Constitution means, one taking place in the context of minority rule and incipient democratic failure.” — Jamelle Boiue on the sad and dysfunctional state of our democracy.

Speaking of which, here’s one look at what Amy Coney Barrett’s probable appointment means for women. Even though a majority of Americans are pro the old Equal Rights Amendment, the sexist minority is getting its way. She made what to me is an alarming declaration in one campus rape case that the college was predisposed to believe the alleged victim because she’s a woman (that would be … unusual), though it seems the college’s handling of the case did have problems.

LGM looks at Breonna Taylor’s death and the terrible idea of no-knock warrants with several good links to other pieces (while I usually despise everything David French writes, his piece at one of the links actually makes sense). Radley Balko clears up some bullshit on this topic.

Michelle Bachman claims equal rights for gays translates into oppression for Christians. And AG William Barr whines because we’re not a theocracy.

The advantage of being a white supremacist bullshit artist: Tucker Carlson beat a defamation lawsuit on the grounds nobody believes what he says.

A biracial couple got a higher home appraisal when they made it appear they were both white.

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Hollywood, half magic and geopolitics: books read

THE RKO STORY by Richard B. Jewell is one of a series of coffee-table studio histories that came out several decades ago, giving the behind-the-scenes stuff along with a year-by-year, film-by-film account of production. Those films includes King Kong, Bringing up Baby, The Best Years of Lives and the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals, along with the Saint film series and far more forgettable series (comic duo Wheeler and Woolsey, Dr. Christian and the homespun philosopher Scattergood). Behind the scenes was constant turmoil with studio and production heads moving in and out, then Howard Hughes taking over the studio. This proved a disaster as Hughes demanded absolute micromanagement of everything but was never available when a quick decision had to be made, leading to RKO expiring in the 1950s. A fun book to browse, and easier if I were doing research than trying to work through IMDB or Wikipedia.

VISIONS OF THE MAID: Joan of Arc in American Film and Culture by Robin Blaetz is more limited than I expected, with a focus on the 20th century from WW I through the 1950s; Blaetz’ interest is how America handled the iconography of a woman warrior in a time when women weren’t supposed to be fighters (she does discuss movies up through the end of the century and the appendix looks at the previous several centuries of Joan’s legend). In WW I Joan was held up as a symbol of patriotism and heroic self-sacrifice, but as women exerted more independence in the world she became a warning against female independence or a vague template for movies such as Joan of Paris and Joan of Arkansas. Blaetz does a good job showing how Joan’s remarkable life story makes it possible to celebrate her as Catholic martyr, anti-Catholic rebel, anti-English martyr French national icon, delusional lunatic, mighty hero and naive innocent. Interesting.

HALF-MAGIC was the first of seven delightful children’s fantasies by Edward Eager, writing in the 1950s in the spirit of the British writer E. Nesbit (whom the children mention as a favorite in an early chapter). Four kids in the 1920s discover a magical wishing talisman which grants half of anything you ask for: they wish for the cat to talk but it babbles nonsense, they wish to visit a desert island and end up in the desert, etc. Despite which everything works out well for them and their widowed mother in a tale as charming as I remember it (though the stereotypical Evil Arab in one scene I could have done without).

PRISONERS OF GEOGRAPHY: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall was a local book clubs selection for September, explaining how geopolitics is really just geography: Russia is aggressively expansionist to shore up the weak spot in the terrain walling it off, China covets Tibet as a vulnerable spot, American geography makes it natural to build one nation where European natural features made them fragmented. Unfortunately I don’t think this makes a lick of sense; if the U.S. is one nation because of geography, why didn’t it have the same effect of uniting the hundreds of Native tribes? Why does Marshall spend so much time covering religion in the Middle East, or China’s aggressive military posture, neither of which really relate to the topic? A waste of time that I wound up skimming in several spots.

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From Tudor England to alien/human miscegenation; movies

C\Charles Laughton netted an Oscar for Alexander Korda’s THE PRIVATE LIFE OF HENRY VIII (1935) which skips over Catherine of Aragon (the opening text tells us “She wasn’t interesting as she was a respectable woman.”) to start on the day of Anne’s (Merle Oberon) execution for adultery, leaving the king free to remarry (“If you want to be happy, marry a stupid woman.”) before moving on to Elsa Lanchester as the smart but sexually naive Anne of Cleves, Binnie Barnes as True Love Katherine Howard (who’s shown being involved with the king even during Anne Boleyn’s tenure, though torn between Henry Tudor and Robert Donat) before finally settling down with Everley Gregg as nagging widow Catherine Parr. This is about as faithful to history as Six: The Musical, but fun, with Laughton pulling off the role of Henry as a guy who wants True Love almost as much as he wants an heir. “Love is drunkenness when you’re young; at my age, it’s wisdom.”

The Russian documentary SPACE DOGS (2019) is a frustrating failure in which about one-third deals with Laika, the Russian stray dog turned cosmonaut, and the program that launched her, two-thirds to cinema verité footage of modern Moscow strays which lacks any point or interest. I got interested in this because the description talked about the ghost of Laika walking the streets of Moscow but while that may be a genuine Russian legend, it’s not part of the movie. “After weeks in stifling darkness, only a few dogs returned to Earth alive.”

Now, moving on to movies for Alien Visitors (some more thoughts later this week).  VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) does a remarkably good job adapting The Midwich Cuckoos, though the opening makes no sense: the aliens apparently impregnate the women by some kind of energy beam rather than physically so why do they need to put everyone to sleep (apparently getting graphic about what was happening made everyone uncomfortable)? This focuses primarily on the family unit of affable scientist George Sanders who’s thrilled he’s put a bun in wife Barbara Shelley’s oven; even when it turns out to be creepy Martin Stephens, Sanders hopes the child’s intelligence can be made a force for good. Despite its flaws (which I’ll discuss in more detail in the book), a first-rate movie all around. “A great deal has been said about the power of these children but nothing about the nature of that power.”

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964) claims to be a sequel but feels more like a reboot: six super-intelligent mute children with telepathic abilities show up in London where their various governments scheme to exploit their genius for the Cold War, but the kids have other ideas… This has some bright moments, such as one character pointing out even if the kids are homo superior (though given the unlikelihood of six parthenogenetic mutant births by chance, I assume it’s still aliens at work) that doesn’t mean they’re going to turn genocidal, but mostly it’s a muddled mess; the kids are supposed to be friendly but pressured (government uses force, they use force) but in the opening their leader sends his shrewish mother walking into traffic almost to her death — how is he a good guy? And why do they coerce one woman into serving as their voice when it turns out they can speak after all? “Suppose all they want to be is poets, or lovers or tramps?”

Charlize Theron is THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE (1999) who begins to suspect that during the two minutes hubby Johnny Depp was cut off from Earth Something Happened — but that plot is buried by the slow pace and tedious detail with far too slow a build. The presence of Joe Morton and Blair Brown can’t save this one. “That’s what they taught us at NASA — always have a backup system.”

I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE (1958) has Gloria Talbot realize that hubby Tom Tryon is no longer the man she fell in love with, then discover it’s because he’s been replaced by an alien invader testing whether his womanless race can reproduce using human females. Sexist (I get into that in the upcoming post) but certainly effective, despite some cliches (Tryon’s race are emotionless but with her he’s beginning to understand love!). “I know where we can find men — human men!”

I MARRIED A MONSTER (1998) is all around a much inferior production, following the plot with slight changes but without any sense of style or inspiration, or really any good reason to be a remake.

John Carpenter’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995) is a better remake but not a particularly good remake: inferior actors, particularly among the children (nobody with Stephens’ creepy presence), more graphic violence and several changes that either make no sense (why does one of the kids kill her mother early on?) or don’t work (one of the kids develops emotions).

I was surprised by the things it doesn’t change from the first film — why not go back to the novel and establish the aliens are physically there impregnating women, for instance (the closest we get is Christopher Reeve hearing Strange Whispering before the Dayout), or include the lesbian couple shown in the book? This version does give more time to the women (though the woman who gets the largest role is the one who saves her son) but most of the other changes, such as David developing emotions, are bad ones (and why does Mara kill her mother? I find myself wondering if that reflects the opening of CHILDREN). This also suffers from the lack of Martin Stephens who can pull off the Evil Kid roles. “First they knocked them out, then they knocked them up.”

Despite it’s title, SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED (2019) has no connection with Wyndham or with aliens — the kids here are government-created psis using their powers to impose Order on a British grammar school (presumably as a test run for something bigger). Adequate acting, confusing, meandering plot and excess gore, so I don’t recommend it. “I tried to stop the deaths — I’m thinking of the bigger picture.”

THE ASTRONAUT’S WIFE (1999) stars Charlize Theron as yes, an astronaut’s wife worrying husband Johnny Depp has changed since coming back from a space trip where NASA briefly lost contact. And slowly — very, very, very, very slowly — the movie gets around to revealing just how much he’s changed. A dull drama, though Theron gives a solid performance (Depp’s Southern accent is annoying); Blair Brown and Joe Morton have supporting roles.“I’m the one who gave you a reason to breathe.”

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Yesterday, I played hooky

I had to drive to the doctor Thursday morning for my flu shot. I combined that with dropping off library books and running an errand for TYG. By the time I got back I just didn’t feel like working, so I stopped. I didn’t even attempt to justify it with anything productive, I just sat and read the rest of the day. Felt good, even though it meant I once again got nothing done on Questionable Minds.

Well in fairness that’s not just because of yesterday. The dogs have been getting fidgety in the middle afternoon, so I take custody from TYG. Unfortunately they were consistently too fidgety — maybe because of confinement? — and I couldn’t get any of the little odds and ends done that I schedule for late afternoon (extra work on Questionable Minds, checking footnotes for Undead Sexist Cliches). If it keeps happening next week I may just stop work and resume in the evening.

That said, I did finish Chapter Eight of Undead Sexist Cliches, and I got a lot of work done on the Alien Pregnancy chapter of Alien Visitors. I will have to watch myself, though — it would be very easy to just fill up my writing time with watching movies even though this book is supposed to be less labor-intensive than my previous ones.

And of course, I got my Leaf work in, and blogged at Atomic Junkshop about Joe Simon’s bizarro 1970s series Prez (a rewritten version of an earlier post here).And now the weekend! Even if I’m not going anywhere or really doing much, it feels good to get here.

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Wisp in repose

So Wisp is now comfortable sleeping next to me on the couch while I work, at least some of the time.

She is not, however, comfortable with my exercise routine. Tuesday, I decided to complete my morning exercises while Wisp was eating breakfast, and she stopped and stared. Even when I did ones that didn’t jar the floor like the jumping jacks do, the unexpected behavior made her very uneasy so she went to the door and waited to be let out. A challenge, as she’s going to have to get used to our antics to be comfortable as an inside or inside/outside cat.Now that she’s eating a lot of breakfast inside, I realize she stalks it. Crouches down and skulks over from being petted as if the food was going to get up and run if it saw her. It’s most amusing.

As for the dogs, Plushie is recovering well. In fact, he’s reached the point where he thinks he’s fine and wants to run around and be a regular healthy dog again. We are restricting that, at least until his appointment next week. He doesn’t approve. Trixie’s itching and the corresponding self-chewing have resurfaced; apparently the shot she got in early August wore off and the dermaquin ain’t fixing the problem. We’ll take her in when Plushie gets his checkup and have them give her another anti-itch shot. In the meantime she’s stuck in the collar of shame. It’s the only way she won’t chew herself, which may have something to do with why she got an upset tummy Thursday — lord knows what she’s chewing off her feet.

The collars we use are stiffened fabric which works very well. It’s less jarring than the hard plastic ones when they bump into anything and the narrowed field of vision seems to calm them a lot. Still, I hope we can remove them soon.#SFWApro. Photos are mine.

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Links for the ongoing storm

Sen. Mitt Romney has unsurprisingly come around to backing a pre-election replacement for RBG. And of course Thom “Trump Toady” Tillis, who supported denying Obama a seat in 2016 now explains everything is different so he’ll vote yes on the nominee. One of our local papers vents about it.

As Scott Lemieux points out, even without a ninth justice, RBG’s death means the lawsuit to destroy the ACA will probably succeed. Which would be a disastrous move if the Republicans had to actually win the election, but they’re betting with a solidly right-wing Supreme Court they can steal it.

Danielle Pletka, an Iraq war supporter who by her own admission never once questioned Iraqis might not immediately build a Democratic society, recently published a WaPo op-ed explaining how she doesn’t like a lot of what Trump does, but gosh darn it, a Biden presidency might do something unspecified that’s much worse. Interviewer Isaac Chotiner nails her to the wall. She repeats the standard right-wing talking point (Senator Thom Tillis has made it several times) that Congress voting to pass the Affordable Care Act just like any other bill was undemocratic because … reasons? Scott Lemieux points out this is bullshit.

Of course Republicans have the advantage of branding. As Josh Marshall says, “the most flagrant GOP lawlessness and rules breaking is **expected**. Democrats even suggesting responding something like in kind is ‘total war.‘”

And some Democrats still want to play nice and pretend we can be civilized. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has declared she won’t support killing the filibuster.

Wanting to prevent panic is a standard rationale for cover-ups and lies — but this article argues most people don’t panic outside of movies.

I doubt William Barr’s in a panic, he just thinks calling New York, Chicago and Portland anarchist cities will justify cutting off federal funds to them.

Trump’s probably wetting his pants about his chances, which is why he’s joking/not joking about stopping Biden from being elected with an executive order. At the link, Ted Cruz dog-whistles they need a conservative judge who’ll vote for Trump if whatever ginnied up lawsuit they file makes it to the Supreme Court. Trump’s saying it too.

Scientific American doesn’t endorse presidents. This year, they’re endorsing Biden.

QAnon is coming for your yoga class. Sometimes believers just try to run people over. Fred Clark points out this kind of paranoia is not a new thing: the 1790s were obsessed with the Illuminati subverting America and a few decades later it was the Catholic Church (” global organization kidnaps children and teens (especially young girls) to have sex with power-hungry men in secret locations, men who are also involved in a traitorous plot to undermine democracy.”).

Speaking of conspiracy theories, one of my high school friends is cheerfully spreading George Soros conspiracy bullshit, then jumped on to insisting the Rothschilds were just as bad and just as much a threat. But she’s totally not an anti-semite!

The Pentagon took money intended for the fight against the Trump Virus and spent it on jet engines.

I don’t know how good any of the proposals are but it’s a good sign Democrats in the House are thinking about restrictions on the Executive Branch.

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Doctor Who: Jodie Whittaker has lived before!

Fair warning, this post on the 2020 season of Doctor Who contains massive spoilers for the main story arc of Jodie Whittaker’s second season. It has a great twist midway through but culminates in a reveal that fails to satisfy.The series opens with the two-part story Skyfall, in which Prime Minister Stephen Frye and spymaster O (Sacha Dawan) ask the Doctor and her companions to stop an alien threat involving a tech entrepreneur and his search engine. With UNIT and Torchwood gone, they’ve got nobody else; the British government has also stopped believing alien invasions are even real, which makes no sense (even in the new series, we’ve had several). Fighting the uninspired threat (we’re way past the point where Big Tech violating our privacy is a shcoking reveal), the Doctor discovers O is the latest regeneration of the Master, a smirking, mocking psycho reminiscent of John Simms’s Master from a few seasons back. The Master reveals everything the Doctor knows about Gallifrey is wrong (never a good sign for me) and that their world is built on the lie of … the Timeless Child! What does that mean? Stay tuned.

Orphan 55 has the TARDIS gang relax on the eponymous paradise planet, which like all SF resorts turns out to be more dangerous than it appears. The real secret here worked for me even though it’s corny as hell, and this was an enjoyable, fast-moving run-from-the-monsters story, though the character arcs for the guest cast were lacking. Next came Nikolai Tesla’s Night of Terror in which the cast become embroiled in a struggle between Tesla and alien invaders, with Edison kibbitzing, This one was competent, but very heavy on the Tesla-idolatry.

Then comes the twist. In Fugitive of the Judoon, the alien rhino-men show up in Gloucester hunting for someone. Local tour-guide Ruth (Jo Martin) has a husband who looks a little suspicious but it turns out she’s the target for some reason. The Doctor figures it out when they travel to Ruth’s family home and in her parents’ grave find … a Tardis. Not just a Tardis, but the Tardis. The Doctor’s target. Yet neither Ruth nor the Doctor remembers an incarnation as the other, so how is that possible? We end the episode without an answer. Oh, it also includes the return of John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, warning the Doctor that the Lone Cyberman is coming. Under no circumstances should he get what he wants!

Then comes another competent one, Praxeus; heavy on the environmental preaching but I like the supporting cast. Can You Hear Me? was very good, with some good backstory on Yaz and an entity from the same race as the First Doctor’s Celestial Toymaker. The Haunting of Villa Diodati has the Tardis team crash the night in Italy Mary Shelley came up with Frankenstein, only to discover the night is not proceeding as it’s supposed to. Then the Lone Cyberman shows up, seeking the cyberium, a liquid metal supercomputer hidden in one of the bodies there. It embodies all the strategic knowledge of the Cybermen; in his time they’re defeated but now, things will turn around. I enjoyed this one but the Lone Cyberman’s visuals — he’s only partially converted — make him less intimidating despite his ruthlessness. And the Doctor’s Vulcan mind-meld powers here annoy me, though previous incarnations have shown equally implausible powers.

As the Doctor gives up the cyberium, she then has to travel to the future to stop The Ascension of the Cybermen, though the cyberium doesn’t really make much difference — it’s not as if the Lone Cybermen becomes a better strategist than previous iterations of his kind. Interspersed with this is a strange story about an Irish police officer who discovers he’s unkillable, then has his superiors wipe his memory (““Thank you for your service — a shame you won’t remember it.”). The Master shows up again, striking a deal with the Cybermen, even while mocking them (“You’re driven by hate and loathing for everything that you are — talk about your internal conflicts!”). His pitch: take the floating battleship stuffed with Cybermen to now-dead Gallifrey where they can rebuild themselves with immortal Time Lord bodies and conquer the universe. Quite aside from technical issues (the Cybermen accomplish the changeover impossibly fast) this doesn’t work anywhere near as well as it might, partly because the Master apparently has no agenda other than trolling the Doctor (Roger Delgado’s Master would be embarrassed).

And then there’s the reveal. It turns out that long before the era of the Time Lords, a Gallifreyan woman adopted an alien child, then discovered he regenerated every time he died. Studying him, she discovered how this worked and incorporated it into Gallifreyan DNA, though limiting the potentially infinite regenerations to twelve. The “timeless child” (why the episode is called Timeless Children I know not) then goes into service for Gallifrey’s intelligence division; upon retirement he gets a mindwipe to conceal some of the secrets he’s learned. And years later, he becomes William Hartnell, steals a Type 40 Tardis and a legend is born. Yep. The Doctor herself is the source of Gallifreyan immortality. And she has god knows how many incarnations she no longer remembers.

This is certainly a shocker in terms of the Doctor’s personal history, but in terms of a Dark Gallifrey Secret it’s not actually as Dark as the buildup indicated. It’s also confusing — is Ruth an incarnation post-Hartnell or did he have the Tardis all along and his memories are fake? For a lot of people, the reveal the Doctor has undisclosed incarnations wasn’t the problem but the reveal she is not just a Time Lord but the most special, most remarkable of all Time Lords. I have some sympathy for that view; I didn’t hate it that much but I didn’t care for it much either. The hook with Ruth intrigued me; the reveal fell flat.

But of course, I’ll be back whenever the pandemic lets us have more.

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Comic and pulp covers for Tuesday

First Jack Kirby —Then Virgil Finlay, for a creepy thriller by Joseph Payne Brennan.A Gil Kane actioner with a female Robin Hood in the old west.I don’t know the artist, but that’s a title that gives a good feel for what you’re getting into.One by John Romita catching an awkward romantic moment.A whimsical image by Hannes Bok—An eerie one by Boris Dolgov, though C. Hall Thompson’s work is third-rate Lovecraft.And one by J. Allen St. John to finish with.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holder.

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Reclaiming their country

So a friend of mine had one of those long rants on FB about how liberals are forcing her to vote for Trump by all the terrible things they’re doing. In the discussion that followed, someone pulled the “bless your heart” card on me and recommended I seek professional help — I’m going to feel so miserable after Trump voters take their country back and fix everything we liberals have been doing.

My response was to point out that it isn’t “their” country any more than it is mine. It’s our country — all of us. Christian, Jewish or atheist. Black, white, Latino or Asian. Straight or gay. Descended from the founding fathers or a fresh-off-the-boat newly minted citizens. But that, of course, is what drives them crazy. They don’t want to share equally with people who aren’t straight WASP men; they don’t believe other people have the same right to America as they do. Even if it doesn’t affect their lives at all, it spoils their lives to know they’re not the alphas any more.

It’s not just status. As a quote at Lawyers, Guns and Money puts it,  “White Christian folks really did think they were the country,” he says. “So if you take that really seriously, [as] something they believed to the core of their being, then what’s becoming abundantly clear is that that is not true. But that is a foundational piece of their self-understanding. To fight tooth and nail for something that is going to actually undermine your basic identity is not too surprising. It runs just that deep.”

And that’s why, as I pointed out to the other commenter, they’ll be miserable even if they do win in November (or December, or January …). The past four years have been a triumph for Republicans (obligatory note, not all Republicans): two justices on the Supreme Court, one of them an accused rapist (the feminazis tried to take him down but they failed! Praise Jesus!), tax cuts for the rich, environmental laws gutted, Muslim immigration and travel bans, ACA badly damaged, cops emboldened to shoot black Americans, racism and misogyny openly aired without having to hide behind dog whistles.

Guess what? They’re still miserable. The FB post that started the discussion dripped with misery: they’re sick and tired of being criticized (as the LGM post puts it, they have a “set of views that has gone largely unchallenged for most of their lives, and upon which they honestly believe this country is based” and now people are saying they’re wrong!). They’re sick and tired of Trump being criticized! They hate being told America has a history of racism and that people of color and women suffer from discrimination! Even if nobody’s ever criticized them personally, someone out there thinks it about them!

Short of a total fascist shut down on free speech, we’re going to continue criticziing them. Gay people will keep on being openly gay. Women will keep on not being 1950s housewives submitting to their man (unless they want to). Black people, Muslims, Jews, atheists, etc. will still keep asserting their right to equality. The government will still pass laws Republicans don’t like, or fail to pass policies they embrace. They’ll have a rush of joy when Trump wins, but then they’ll notice the swamp — meaning us — isn’t drained — and they’ll go back to sulking about having to share “their” country with the Others, who are now a majority.

“This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas’ new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us” — Abraham Lincoln

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