Peaceful Sightseers at the Capitol!

W.J. Astore

The Fight Over the January 6th Riots

Yoda, the Jedi Master, once told Luke Skywalker that the future is difficult to see because it’s always in motion.

So too is the past. Always in motion it is. Its meaning. We can’t and don’t remember everything even as we construct narratives of meaning out of those things we can or choose to remember.

William Faulkner famously said the past isn’t dead — it’s not even past. That’s most certainly true of the now-infamous Capitol riot in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s defeat in November 2020.

America is yet again fighting for control over the past with respect to the January 6th riot in 2021. This week at Fox News, Tucker Carlson suggested the rioters were mostly peaceful respectful sightseers. They revered the Capitol! They took cheerful selfies! They even queued in neat little lines! 

Insurrectionist goons, or peaceful protesters who revere the Capitol?

Even Republicans like Mitch McConnell have gone on record to denounce Carlson’s cherrypicking of the video evidence. Here’s what McConnell had to say: “It was a mistake, in my view, for Fox News to depict this in a way that’s completely at variance with what our chief law enforcement official here at the Capitol thinks.” McConnell cited a letter by the US Capitol Police that described Carlson’s program as being “filled with offensive and misleading conclusions about the January 6th attack.”

To state the obvious: On controversial and politicized issues like this, the past doesn’t speak with one voice. Opportunists seek to polarize the past. To exploit it for their own purposes. This is true of Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump. It’s also true of many Democrats.

The January 6th riots were not an insurrection. They were not a coup. They were akin to mob violence. They most definitely were a collective temper tantrum incited by Trump that led to considerable chaos and violence. The person most responsible for them should be punished. That person, Donald Trump, walked away scot-free. 

My immediate reaction to the Capitol riots (written on January 7th) still holds true, I think:

Once again, America will likely take the wrong lessons from these riots. The Capitol police will likely call for more money, more resources, more officers, more guns, more security cameras, more barricades, etc. There are already calls for more Internet censorship. Homeland Security funding will surely get a boost. And certain people will dismiss too easily the alienation and indignation of Trump supporters.

What I mean is this: Americans are upset. Angry. Alienated. Confused. And rightly so. And until our government serves the people instead of corporate, financial, and similar lobbyists and special interests, the potential for future mobs will remain. Donald Trump is a total buffoon, a shell of a man, a narcissist with ambitions centered always on himself and his self-image. But imagine a more skilled manipulator, one less narrowly focused on himself, one with a stronger work ethic, one with boundless ambition for power. Such a person could truly lead an insurrection or coup, and yesterday’s scenes suggest such a takeover would be easier than we think.

Predictably, in the aftermath of the riots, the Capitol police did indeed get more money and resources, with House Democrats approving $1.9 billion for added security. Democrats under Joe Biden now sell themselves as the party of law and order, of expanded police forces (along with exploding Pentagon budgets and unanimous support of war-related aid to Ukraine in excess of $100 billion). They paint Republicans as dangerous, as undemocratic, even as an enemy within. Trump, most recently at CPAC, gleefully returns the favor, using similar inflammatory rhetoric.

Meanwhile, as Trump angles and preens for another presidential run, supporters of his who bought the big lie of a stolen election and protested at the Capitol on January 6th are being hounded by prosecutors. Yes, some of the rioters were violent, broke laws, and merit prosecution and punishment. But in many cases the federal pursuit and prosecution of these “deplorables” has been over-the-top, notes Chris Hedges. Their punishment has been grossly disproportionate to their crimes.

This may help the Democrats politically, but it is unhealthy for our democracy, notes Hedges:

The cheerleading, or at best indifference, by Democratic Party supporters and much of the left to these show trials will come back to haunt them. We are exacerbating the growing tribalism and political antagonisms that will increasingly express themselves through violence. We are complicit, once again, of using the courts to carry out vendettas. We are corroding democratic institutions. We are hardening the ideology and rage of the far-right. We are turning those being hounded to prison into political prisoners and martyrs. We are moving ever closer towards tyranny.

Hedges is right here. The Democrats and Republicans have been twisting, manipulating, and polarizing the past for their own purposes. Two diametrically opposed versions of the January 6th riots have been presented to the American people, and they are both self-serving and dishonest.

Clearly, Trump was the inciter-in-chief of mob violence from which he casually walked away. The Congress impeached him but otherwise refused to act. The Capitol police profited from its ineptitude even as the “deplorables,” Trump’s foot-soldiers, paid the price for his lies and tantrums. And so the past is warped and twisted, bludgeoned and misused, to serve the needs of the already powerful.

Against the Dark Side of American politics and “justice,” even Yoda might lose hope.

East Palestine, Ohio and the Oblivious Democrats

W.J. Astore

When Trump Shows More Empathy, You Know You’re In Trouble

The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3rd that led to a “controlled” explosion of toxic chemicals that’s now causing sickness among residents there was preventable. Both the Obama and Trump administrations made compromises driven by rail industry lobbyists that contributed to the disaster, which isn’t surprising, given the corporate capture of the U.S. government. The disaster represents a bipartisan failure, yet somehow it’s the Democrats who’ve emerged as the party most out of touch with the suffering of the people of East Palestine.

Nothing to see here, no reason to visit. A “controlled” chemical explosion after the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio

This week, former President Donald Trump visited East Palestine, handing out water bottles emblazoned with the Trump name, looking like a natural as he visited the local fire department and McDonald’s. Alleged billionaire Donald Trump: man of the people! Meanwhile, President Joe Biden announced he has no plans to visit East Palestine. Instead, after Trump had already stolen the spotlight, Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, was sent in the next day, robotically trying to show concern when it was obvious he had little to show.

Trump visits East Palestine. Senator J.D. Vance stands to Trump’s right and Trent Conaway, mayor of East Palestine (purple shirt) stands to Trump’s left

It’s been a corporate-made disaster for East Palestine residents who have to live with the aftermath of this toxic chemical spill and explosion: let’s not lose sight of that. But it’s also been a total public relations disaster for Joe Biden, “Mayor Pete,” and the Democratic Party, showcasing an obtuseness that borders on obliviousness.

What should have happened? Buttigieg, as Transportation Secretary, should have been on the ground in Ohio within days of the accident. The government should have clearly announced that the rail company would be held responsible, that government aid would be provided, and that Ohioans would be given all the help they need to recover from this disaster. If Biden was unavailable, Kamala Harris should have joined Buttigieg, because that’s what Vice Presidents are for.

Buttigieg and Harris could have seized control of the narrative. They could have admitted that members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, were responsible, but that the Trump administration was arguably most responsible in its relaxation of rules regarding safety brakes. They could have admitted as well that Ohioans had legitimate concerns about the safety of their air and water, and that the federal government would do everything in its power to assist state government authorities with the cleanup and the investigation.

Pete Buttigieg (far left) finally visits East Palestine. He looks more than a little out of place

Instead, the Democrats have allowed Trump and the Republicans to appear to be more concerned about, more in touch with, the plight of ordinary Americans.

Recently, Trump has released videos in which he’s warned of World War III, advocated for peace and a negotiated end to the Russia-Ukraine War, while promoting the idea (yet again) of putting Americans first. If he stays with this message, and if Democrats allow Trump to pose as the champion of peace as well as the champion of regular guys and gals (and all gender pronouns in between), there’s a good chance we’ll be looking at four more years of Trump beginning in 2025.

If so, Trump’s victory will be the ultimate proof of how oblivious Democrats have become.

Are Biden and Trump Too Old to Run Again?

W.J. Astore

Corporate Capture of Government, not Age, Is the Problem

In honor of Presidents’ Day, let’s look ahead to the 2024 presidential election.

Right now, Joe Biden and Donald Trump are the leading candidates of their respective parties for the 2024 election. Biden will be 82 if reelected; Trump will be 78. Are they simply too old to serve?

Another battle of aging white men wearing red power ties?

The short answer is “no.” Sixty is allegedly the new forty, so I suppose eighty is the new sixty. Seriously, age alone isn’t the issue. Many people are mentally alert and physically vigorous well into their eighties and beyond. But many people aren’t; age does take its toll, we do age unequally, so it’s best to take this case by case, person by person.

Trump’s problem isn’t that he’s too old; he’s simply too much of a con man and a narcissist. Even as a businessman, he was largely a loser. When you go bankrupt running casinos, where the odds are stacked in your favor, you truly are incompetent. Trump wants to be president again because he lost and hates to lose. He lacks a positive plan for America, which isn’t surprising, as he has no empathy for others. He’s not too old; he’s just supremely focused on himself. 

Biden isn’t too old, in theory. But more so than Trump, he does appear to be in physical and cognitive decline. At the British Guardian, Margaret Sullivan wrote that:

“Of course, I wish Biden were 20 years younger; I wish he didn’t stumble over his words and sometimes make inexplicable mistakes. I worry about his cognitive decline and physical frailty. But right now, he looks like the best bet to stave off a likely-disastrous Republican presidency and his record, while not flawless, is impressive.”

Her argument is simple: Biden is the best bet to defeat Trump (or DeSantis), so ignore his faults and frailties. It’s OK for a president to stumble over his words, to make inexplicable mistakes, even to exhibit signs of cognitive decline and physical frailty. Why? Because Democrats apparently have no other viable candidate to defeat the Republicans.

The willingness of the mainstream media and so many otherwise sensible people to dismiss obvious signs of Biden’s decline inadvertently points to a larger truth: Biden, if reelected, won’t be running the country anyway, so why worry about his physical and mental health?

As Chris Hedges and others have argued, America isn’t a democracy. Presidents aren’t public servants. America is an oligarchy, and presidents largely answer to the oligarchs. A corporate coup d’etat enacted over the last half-century ensures the real rulers of America are on Wall Street, in big finance, and with the national security state and similar powerful interests. 

So, which figurehead do you want, Trump or Biden? That seems to be America’s “choice” for 2024, making this Presidents’ Day grimmer than it should be.

Show me a candidate who wants to fight against the corporate capture of the U.S. government, and I’ll joyfully vote for that person irrespective of their age.

(A coda: Speaking of age, can you imagine two women the ages of Biden and Trump contesting for the presidency in America? I can’t. They’d be dismissed by too many as “old hags,” obviously well past their prime, as Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley was recently described by CNN host Don Lemon, and Ms. Haley is only 51! Yet again, America has a “choice” between aging white men wearing red power ties, each with serious flaws. Democracy!)

Democrats Keep Control of the Senate

W.J. Astore

Democracy Is Saved!

I woke up today to the news the Democrats will keep control of the Senate through 2024. Democracy is saved! I guess the Russian bots didn’t steal the election this time around, nor did election deniers mount a coup against democracy. The status quo prevails in America. What great news for all workers, all those who are struggling to make ends meet, to learn that nothing has fundamentally changed in the best of all possible countries.

Heck, it’s even good news that Republicans are likely to gain a narrow majority in the House, thereby demoting Nancy Pelosi to House Minority Leader. I can look forward to House impeachment proceedings against various Democrats, because such proceedings are truly what working-class Americans want and need from their government.

President Biden promised to take action to codify Roe v Wade into law if the Democrats won, so I suppose he’ll weasel his way out of this promise if the House tips Republican. Not that his action was going to change anything, since Biden refuses to touch the Senate filibuster.

What we can look forward to is two more years of divided, do-nothing government in Washington, DC, with politics being dominated by Donald Trump’s new run for the presidency against Sleepy Joe and Giggles Harris. Happy days are here again!

Of course, a “divided” Congress will still come together to support massive Pentagon spending and a blank check of military aid to Ukraine. Nothing unites Democrats and Republicans like weapons and wars.

What you won’t see, of course, is a higher federal minimum wage, single-payer health care, or anything else the working classes could truly use. America, of course, is an oligarchy and Congress and the President serve the oligarchs. As George Carlin memorably said: “You have no rights” — and no say.

Ready for a depressing repeat?

One clear result from this election is Joe Biden’s commitment to run again in 2024, when he’ll be 82 years old. Truly, anyone can be president in America, as long as the oligarchs sign off on you. Biden running again reminds me of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the early 1930s, when Paul von Hindenburg, also in his eighties, ran against and defeated a certain Adolf Hitler in 1932. Of Hindenburg it was said that the men around him “shoved him — with dignity.” And I suppose the operatives around Biden will also shove him about, with (or without) dignity, as age takes its inevitable toll on him. 

Biden will likely keep Kamala Harris as his vice president, not wanting to admit his mistake in picking her. Put charitably, Harris has been a non-entity as VP, so she’s perfect for the job, but if Biden runs and wins in 2024, there’s a decent chance she could become president during Biden’s second term. Of course, the oligarchy vetted and picked her exactly because she’s predictable and obedient to power. But some people will crow about how amazing it is to have a Black Asian female president when her views and allegiances are almost exactly the same as a white Catholic male president like Biden. But, you know, diversity!

So it’s two more years of hearing Democracy is in peril because Trump is running again when we all know or sense that whatever democracy we had ended in America decades ago, and most certainly by 1980. (Of course, America was founded as a republic by a bunch of privileged white guys, who weren’t exactly trusting of democracy, seeing it as mob rule.) Still, I like to think there’s hope in America, because more and more people are waking up to the harsh realities we face as a people. Don’t tell me I’m wrong about this; I’d like to keep a scintilla of hope, if only to preserve my own sanity, which will be sorely tested in the run up to the 2024 election.

So here’s to another two years of “democracy,” American-style, meaning no democracy at all. I wonder why an obvious con man like Trump gains so much traction here in the land of the not-so-free?

Joe Biden’s Red-Tinged Speech

W.J. Astore

President Joe Biden denounced “extreme MAGA ideology” at a recent speech at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. I’ve been to Independence Hall, but never did I picture it like this, lit in a garish red light:

Readers here know I’m critical of Biden and Donald Trump. I don’t want either man to get a second term. And MAGA, as in make America great again, is a movement that has cult-like elements in the way it elevates Trump as some kind of leader/savior figure. Being critical of MAGA is one thing, but Biden’s speech had all the subtlety of the red-tinged image above.

Having watched too many episodes of “Star Trek,” what I think of here is Red Alert. But painting all Trump supporters with the same red brush only aggravates tension and division.

Sorry, I don’t see my MAGA neighbor as my enemy. He or she is a fellow American, probably one who’s frustrated with the system as it exists today and is seeking an alternative to politics as usual. The shameful thing is our country’s political duopoly, which offers only two choices, Biden or a Biden clone versus Trump or a Trump clone. Maybe the “enemy within” is the duopoly itself?

Biden’s speech was disheartening. The way to win people over is not to paint your rival in red. Give people hope. Give them meaningful reforms. A $15 federal minimum wage. Affordable health care. Higher education that doesn’t lead to huge personal debt. Environmental policies that preserve the earth and address climate change. An end to gargantuan military budgets and overseas wars. Heck, I’ll settle for potable drinking water in Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan.

Railing against an “enemy” is easy. Sharing the fruits of America equitably among all Americans is the real challenge. Biden pushed a big red “easy” button that placed his followers on red alert against the MAGA foe, as if they weren’t our fellow Americans but a quasi-Klingon empire of aliens out to attack and conquer. It’s a move both wrong and wrongheaded. It’s also yet one more reminder that America needs new political parties and a new direction.

Are Joe Biden and Donald Trump Too Old to Serve?

W.J. Astore

President Joe Biden turns 80 this year. If he chooses to run and is reelected in 2024, he’ll be 82 and will serve as president until he’s 86. His Republican rival, Donald Trump, will be 78 in 2024 and is overweight and perhaps obese. Biden, meanwhile, is moving more slowly and appears to be experiencing signs of age-related cognitive decline. Leaving aside their politics and policies and personalities, are either of these men truly fit to be president?

We all age differently, of course. But it used to be said that being POTUS was the toughest job in the world. Younger men like Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush aged noticeably in office due to the strains of the job. Yet pointing out the rigors of the presidency, and raising questions about whether men in their 80s are truly capable of handling such rigors, exposes one to claims of bias based on age.

A lot of jobs have mandatory retirement ages. My dad was a firefighter and he had to retire at 65. While we don’t expect the POTUS to climb ladders or charge into burning buildings or carry bodies, there’s still something to be said for the difficulty of men in the twilight of their lives serving as the “leader of the free world.”

(I say men here because women live longer and often age more gracefully. But I think it’s also true in the U.S. that a woman “pushing 80” would be dismissed out of hand as too old for the presidency; societal bias against older women still exists, though of course older women can cling to power with the same tenacity as men: just look at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.)

I remember the bad old days of the Cold War when Soviet leaders were mocked in the U.S. as a gerontocracy of sorts. So when Leonid Brezhnev died at the age of 75, he was briefly succeeded by Yuri Andropov (died at 69) and Konstantin Chernenko (died at 74 after serving for just over a year as General Secretary). Then the much younger Mikhail Gorbachev took over at age 54 and more than anyone helped to revolutionize U.S.-Soviet relations.

In a way, Joe Biden is the U.S. equivalent of Andropov and Chernenko, a time-server who was elevated by his party as a caretaker. “Nothing will fundamentally change,” Biden said of his administration, a promise he has indeed kept. Those same words could have come from Andropov and Chernenko.

The problem for the Democrats is that there’s no clear younger heir-apparent to Biden. Harris? Mayor Pete? Gavin Newsom? (Newsom, like Mitt Romney, has presidential hair but little else.) Where is the Democratic equivalent to Mikhail Gorbachev?

The Republicans have their own issues, the main one being the cult of personality surrounding Donald J. Trump. But what really empowers Trump, besides his own craftiness at cons and culture wars, is the weakness and hypocrisy of the Democrats. When your most likely opponent is a “no hope, no change” figurehead in his early 80s, even Trump appears by comparison to be a change agent of sorts.

America truly needs fundamental change, someone like Mikhail Gorbachev, a leader willing to face facts and tell harsh truths. Someone with a fresh perspective and the energy to convey it. Both Biden and Trump are too old, if not in their bodies, then in their thinking, to be the reformer America so desperately needs.

Raid on Trump!

W.J. Astore

So the FBI has raided Donald Trump’s compound in Mar-a-Lago, where Trump allegedly had classified material squirreled away. Apparently, Trump is being hounded under the Espionage Act passed by Woodrow Wilson during World War I more than a century ago.

Was Trump holding classified material? Was he being careless with this information, perhaps to the extent of endangering national security? I doubt that very much. A few boxes of files (mis)appropriated by Trump, perhaps in his usual careless manner, hardly pose a threat to America’s existence.

I’m much more concerned about the heavy-handed use of the Espionage Act against a former president, even a president I think was a chimp, and the precedent it sets for the future. Are we now going to see the FBI and other law enforcement agencies sent against political opponents in openly partisan attacks? If the Biden Justice Department can openly sic the FBI on the previous president, and Biden’s most likely challenger in 2024, then shouldn’t we expect Trump or some future Republican do the same to Biden? Or Kamala Harris? And on and on?

I can’t help but think this raid on Trump’s home will only help Trump in 2024. This only seems to confirm what Trump always says: that the Deep State is after him, and that only he can take it on, because only he is on your side against big government and its many abuses of power.

Ironically, the Espionage Act is typically used against honorable whistleblowers. People like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale, and Julian Assange. To think that Donald Trump’s name might be linked to these principled people, however tangentially, beggars belief. Trump’s name shouldn’t be mentioned in the same galactic breath as these truth-tellers, but now it can be, impossible as that seemed a few days ago.

I don’t get it. Trump is a nincompoop who shouldn’t have been president, but this kind of politically motivated raid can only generate sympathy for him among so many people who are tired of a government that pays virtually no attention to their real needs and real security.

It’s safe to say that if Trump runs in 2024, he almost certainly will win (again), because of the stupidity of establishment Democrats who seem to think the only way they can beat him is to turn him into a pariah. Their actions, however, are much more likely turn him into a martyr. And few people deserve that status less than con-man Trump.

Trump and the January 6th Hearings

W.J. Astore

The other day, a friend asked if I was watching the January 6th hearings about Donald Trump’s role in the Capitol riot. I had to admit I wasn’t.

I’m really not interested in what Trump did or didn’t do on January 6th. I already know he’s guilty.

Guilty of what, you may ask. Guilty of being a colossal narcissist. Guilty of being a sore loser. Guilty of putting himself and his ego before country and comity. Guilty of throwing his own obsequiously loyal Vice President under the bus. Guilty of promulgating the big lie that the election was stolen from him and that, if all the votes were counted, he would have won. Guilty of poor judgment, of meddling. Most of all, guilty of acting liked a spoiled brat who throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.

In short, he’s guilty of being unqualified by personality and temperament for any public position of trust, let alone of the highest public position in America.

The January 6th hearings aren’t going to teach me anything new here.

Saying all this about Trump doesn’t make me a Joe Biden fan, of course. As I argued before Biden was elected in 2020, he was too much of an establishment tool, too deeply compromised by special interests, and, to be blunt, too old to be president. But people keep telling me he’s the lesser of two evils and that I must vote for him again if he runs in 2024 because Trump or DeSantis or some other Republican is likely to be far worse.

I don’t want to see the January 6th hearings in “prime time” on TV. I want to see what Congress and the President are doing for people struggling to pay their bills, to find affordable housing, to get the medical care they need. What are we doing to control inflation? To raise wages? To make prescription drugs more affordable? To rein in a militaristic empire that is spending wildly on wars and weapons?

What are they doing to bring Americans together? That’s what I want to hear. I don’t need to hear more about Trump. I already know he’s a loser.

America!

Weapons as “Gamechangers”

W.J. Astore

Americans have a remarkable faith in weapons as “gamechangers,” as simple panaceas to complex problems.

Yesterday, Donald Trump addressed the NRA convention in Houston, offering guns as a panacea to mass shootings. Once again, Trump said that “highly trained” teachers should be allowed to carry concealed guns in the classroom. Apparently, teachers should now be the equivalent of Special Forces warriors, ready to confront shooters with assault weapons at a moment’s notice. When he was president, Trump suggested these warrior-teachers might even see a small bump in pay for their willingness to carry guns and to serve as quasi-SWAT team members at schools. What generosity!

Just as many Americans see more guns as the answer to domestic violence like mass shootings, yet bigger guns and missiles are seen as “game changers” for complex foreign issues like the Russia-Ukraine War. According to CNN, the U.S. government is considering sending the MLRS (multiple launch rocket system) to Ukraine, which has a range of up to 300 miles, to counter Russian troops. One Congressman in particular thinks it’s a dandy idea:

Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, who was part of a congressional delegation trip to Kyiv earlier this month, told CNN he believes the systems could help Ukraine gain significant momentum against Russia. 

“I think it could be a gamechanger, to be honest with you,” Crow said, not only for offensive attacks but also for defense. He explained that Russian conventional artillery, which has a range of about 50km, “would not get close” to Ukrainian urban centers if MLRS systems were positioned there. “So it would take away their siege tactics,” he said of the Russians.

Where to begin? Are Ukrainian troops trained on such a system? How do you get the system into Ukraine to begin with? What if the system is used to strike targets inside of Russian territory? What about Russian warnings that such a system could lead to reprisals against European or American assets? What if less-than-well-trained Ukrainian troops fire a bunch of missiles that end up killing dozens, even hundreds, of innocent people?

No matter. The “answer” is always more guns, more howitzers, more missiles. They’re “gamechangers”!

Indeed, they just may be. Just not in the way that Trump imagines, or Congressman Crow.

Finally, that word: “gamechanger.” It’s a common practice in America to talk about war as if it’s a sport, a game. Call it the triumph of dumbass thinking. War is neither sport nor game, and you’re not going to “game-change” the Russia-Ukraine War, as in turning the tide so Ukraine wins, just by sending the MLRS, just as you’re not going to decrease mass shootings in schools by arming teachers with guns.

On Censorship and Disinformation

W.J. Astore

The best way to combat disinformation is with more and better information.  Censorship isn’t the answer.

The Biden administration has reached a different conclusion, creating a “Disinformation Governance Board” under the Department of Homeland Security. This “board” is headed by Nina Jankowicz, an unelected official and an apparent partisan hack. One example: she dismissed the infamous Hunter Biden laptop story as a “fairy tale” involving a “laptop repair shop”; it’s now been confirmed that Hunter’s laptop was real, and so too was that repair shop.

Democrats, of course, don’t have exclusive rights to censorship. Republicans always seem to be calling for books to be banned or education to be policed. But the real problem is much larger than partisan hackery and bickering. Efforts at censorship are all around us, couched as a way of protecting us from harmful lies and other forms of disinformation. Yet, as the comedian Jimmy Dore points out, the government isn’t that concerned about protecting you from lies; it is, however, deeply concerned with denying you access to certain truths, truths that undermine governmental authority and the dominant narrative.

As a retired U.S. military officer and as a historian, the most insidious lies and disinformation I’ve encountered have come from the government. Consider the lies revealed by Daniel Ellsberg and his leak of the Pentagon Papers. Consider the war crimes revealed by Chelsea Manning, aided by Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Consider the lies revealed in the recent Afghan War Papers. Consider the lies about the presence of WMD in Iraq, lies that were used to justify the disastrous Iraq War. The government, in short, is a center of lies and disinformation, which is precisely why we need an adversarial media, one that is willing to ferret out truth. Instead, we’re being offered a governmental Ministry of Truth in the form of a “Disinformation Governance Board.”

All things being equal, a democratic society thrives best when speech is as free as possible, trusting in the people to sort fact from fiction, and sound theories from blatant propaganda. And there’s the rub: trusting in the people. Because the government doesn’t trust us (remember Hillary Clinton’s comment about all those irredeemable deplorables), even as the government is often at pains to mislead and misinform us. As maverick journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone said, all governments lie. It’s truly nonsensical, then, to allow the government to police what is true and what is “disinformation.”

But don’t we need some censorship in the name of safety or security or mental health or whatever? Sorry: censorship is rarely about safety, and it most certainly doesn’t serve the needs of the vulnerable. Instead, it serves the needs of the powerful, those who already possess the loudest megaphones in the public square.

But doesn’t someone like Donald Trump deserve to be censored because he spreads disinformation? Which is the bigger problem: Trump or censorship? I happen to think Trump is a divisive con man, but it was a bad precedent for Twitter to have banned him from tweeting. The bigger problem wasn’t Trump’s tweets but the media’s obsessive coverage of them in pursuit of ratings. The way to combat a blowhard like Trump is to ignore him, and to correct him when needed. To combat his lies with the truth. We don’t need a governmental Ministry of Truth to police the tweets of a former president. Not when the government is often the biggest liar.

The solution isn’t censorship but an active, engaged, and informed citizenry, assisted by a fourth estate, the press, that is truly independent and adversarial to power. But the weakening of education in America, combined with a fourth estate that is deeply compromised by the powerful and often in bed with the government, means that these democratic checks on power are less and less effective. Hence calls for quick yet dangerous “solutions” like censorship, where the censors (governmental boards, private corporations) are opaque and almost completely unaccountable to the people.

Unless your goal is to give the already powerful a monopoly on speech, censorship is not the answer.