The Fight for the American Soul

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Early voting in Georgia draws long lines and record numbers for a midterm

On November 6th Americans will vote in a midterm election in what could be record numbers.  In the last midterm election, 2014, 36.6% of the population voted, about 82 million.  The modern record is 49% turnout in 1966 – by comparison the Presidential turnout in 2016 was 58%.   Early voting is hinting at a turnout that far exceeds that of 2014, and this year’s vote could bypass the 1966 total.  Turnout is high among both parties, independents, and in all demographic groups.   In fact, there are indications that young people and “infrequent” voters are going to the polls more than they have in the past.  Americans are engaged in this election.

This election will tell us a lot about our country.   Are we a country afraid of immigrants, willing to support angry and even violent rhetoric out of fear that our national identity is under threat?  Are we a country willing to embrace diversity and welcome both change and people fleeing poverty and strife?   It is literally a battle between fear and hope, between hate and love.

Most people, of course, fall in the middle.  Yes, accept change, legal immigration is fine, but there are legitimate concerns.   Most people recognize that national identity is not monolithic.   And yet this election forces them to make a choice – support President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda by voting for Republicans, or send a message of resistance by voting Democratic.

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In a sign of desperation the GOP is attacking Iraq war vet and Democratic House candidate Jared Golden with over the top claims about how much he’ll raise taxes. Golden accuses Representative Bruce Poloquin of being in bed with special interests, but also has positive ads, including one with him sharing a beer with a prominent Republican who endorses Golden as able to compromise and work across the aisle.

For many, this is not an easy decision.   Many Republicans and Independents who are pro-life, fear higher taxes, and hate government regulations will find it anathema to vote Democratic.  Indeed, the ads in the House race here is full of rhetoric saying that the Democratic candidate Jared Golden will massively increase taxes and that he’s “too liberal for Maine.”   Republicans skeptical of Trump hope to hold a majority in the Senate and House by pounding on those themes.

Yet on the campaign trail, the President is pounding the immigration theme, saying he’ll send 15,000 troops to the border to protect against a “caravan” of Honduran immigrants now deep in southern Mexico.  It’s unlikely many will make it to the US border, but that’s irrelevant – the President wants to stoke fear of foreigners, betting that will help his party keep control of Congress.  He doubled down yesterday, saying that if any immigrants throw stones, the military will open fire – he’s betting that Americans love the idea of shooting unarmed brown people.

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President Trump doubling down and saying that stones are thrown at American soldiers at the border, he’ll order the troops to fire.

That’s why this election is so important.  With all due respect to principled Republicans who don’t want Democrats in the majority, this midterm is really a referendum on President Trump – including his rhetoric, style and tactics.   His bravado, numerous false claims (the media has documented thousands), and embrace of hyper-partisan politics is unique in recent political history.   Presidents once elected usually strive to show themselves to be President to all Americans, and don’t engage in slash and burn partisan rhetoric.  Trump makes it clear he’s President for his base, and the goal is to win – to defeat the other side, labeling the media and Democrats as “enemies of the people.”

If Americans vote on November 6th to keep the Republicans in power, it’ll be a sign that our country is willing to tolerate rhetoric that borders on (and sometimes cross the line into) racism and xenophobia.  His threat to “erase” the category of “transgender” is an open appeal to bigotry and fear of the other.   In history this has parallels to the tactics of the National Socialists in Germany when they came to power, or the KKK here.

It will be a sign that America is giving up on its long tradition of tolerance, compromise, and unity – it’s not ‘united we stand,’ but ‘divided we fight.’   That will put us on a path to weakness and decline.  Who knows what atrocities might down the line come from such a decision.

If Americans vote to give both the House and the Senate to Democrats, it won’t be a victory for “liberal principles” or Democratic party ideals.  It will be a rejection of the hate and fear being propagated by the President.  It will show Republicans that they have to reject nationalism and bigotry as being symbolic of their party, and re-establish their traditional focus on freedom and concern about government becoming too powerful.  While a Democratic Congress can thwart Trump, it can’t implement new policies thanks to the power of the Presidential veto.  The GOP can win it all back if it corrects course and chooses a competent leader to run for President in 2020.

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Past Republican leaders – the last two GOP Presidents and two candidates for the Presidency – have publicly condemned Trump. The GOP needs to listen to these leaders and reject what Trump is doing to their party – and the country.

If Americans reject Trumpism, it will be a victory for decency, a sense that we are above the anger and hatred that can arouse emotions, but also drive people to send pipe bombs or shoot up a synagogue.   It will send a message that we are still a country that believes we are better off when we work together, compromise, and recognize our common ideals, then when we demonize, attack and lie.

I don’t know what the state of the country is in 2018.   The news has been surreal, even absurd.   Rhetoric I never thought I’d here in this country is now common place.  On November 6th, we’ll know more about this country and its future.  A victory of the Democrats in the House but not the Senate will push the issue off until 2020, indicating that the fight for the American soul continues.

But know this: this isn’t a fight to see if the American soul is liberal or conservative – both reflect the best of American values.  The fight is whether we want to demonize each other or if we want to embrace our common belief in freedom and individual rights, and build a future together, compromising and respecting each other.

 

 

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When I was 15

I have something in common with Christine Ford.  When I was 15 a man tried to rape me, just as Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her.

It was, of course, different.  I’m male and it wasn’t at a party.  My Grandma lived in downtown Mankato, Minnesota, and I liked walking around the streets at night, seeing the downtown lights and action.

It was about 10:30 and I saw a man in by a doorway.  “Oh my God,” he said, “I need some help.  Can you help me?”  The man was black, so not wanting to seem racist I went over to him.  He grabbed and before I knew it I was in his apartment.

“I just want to play chess,” he said.   I agreed…scared, but not knowing what else to do, I sat down at table with a chess set.  I think we each made a move before he said, “You’re going to sleep with me.”

I jumped up and headed to the door, but he tackled me (turned out he had played football for Mankato State).  He grabbed me and took off my belt as he pushed me onto the bed.  I tried to move, but he then took off my shoes.   “Just relax, it won’t be as bad as you think,” he said, trying to be soothing.

I then lost it.  I started kicking, flailing, screaming.  He finally said “OK, this is all a mistake.”  He gave me my belt, which I put back on.  I got my shoes on.  He was very polite, “I’m sorry, this was a misunderstanding.”  I said, “OK, no problem, have a good night.”  I then ran to my Grandma’s apartment.

My Grandma and my cousin Richard (who died young, unfortunately) heard my story.  My Grandma wanted to call the police.  Richard took out a knife and wanted to go cut the guy up.  I said no.  Nothing happened.  I got away.  Let’s just let it be.  Then it’s over – reporting it or trying to strike back keeps it alive.

Later my Grandma sent me a newspaper clipping.  James, the attempted rapist, had been sentenced to life in prison for murder.  He killed someone resisting him.  He was then himself killed in prison.

If I had the courage to come forward, maybe he would not have murdered someone.  But I don’t feel guilty about it – I did what was best for me, making the situation go away.

So when I think of Christine Ford, having a good life and having overcome the trauma of that attempt, I admire the fact she is willing to do her civic duty to come forward.  She’s getting death threats and her family is in hiding.  This is real for her again.  But maybe she can save us from having a predator on the court.

I can still picture his apartment perfectly.  The blue walls, the quilt on his bed, the chess set, it’s vivid in my memory.  That’s why I know Christine Ford can remember that night Kavanaugh attempted to rape her. Those memories stay strong.

This isn’t the same situation but I can’t help but empathize with another 15 year old who was a victim of attempted rape, but who got away.  I believe her.

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Shameful

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Republican reactions to the allegation made by Christine Ford have been shameful.

First, this isn’t about politics.  I thought the Democrats should approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court because I thought he was qualified, had an excellent character, and though I disagree with his legal philosophy, the President has the right to pick a Justice.  However, once the allegation came out that at the age of 17 he tried to rape a 15 year old girl, everything changed.

First, it’s not OK to say “boys will be boys” and “that’s a long time ago.”   If this gets dismissed in that way, it’s a signal to every 15 year old girl (and 17 year old boy) that if a guy tries to rip off your clothes or rape you, well, it’s OK.  No, that is not OK.   One reason this issue has to be taken seriously is the message it sends to teens out there.  Does no really mean no, or doesn’t it matter?

Second, it’s not OK to say “well, Clinton did bad things, or Ellison was accused of something.”  This is the Supreme Court.   More than any elected position (for which the voters can choose not to keep someone in office), this position requires people of only the most upstanding character.   These nine positions are to be given not as a “right” to someone who “hasn’t been proven guilty,” but as a privilege to only those of the highest integrity.

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Kavanaugh’s denial does not seem credible, and denying this shows an on going lack of character.

Beyond that, President Trump’s effort to make Kavanaugh out to be the victim is extremely disgusting.   Even if he withdraws his nomination, he’s wealthy, has his pick of good jobs, and will not suffer any real harm.   However, from all accounts, the young girl he tormented was traumatized by the event, and it took years of therapy and help to get her back on track.

It is especially disgusting to say “she should have brought this up sooner.”   She’d have been subjecting herself to abuse and ridicule, with the likelihood that in the end he would not be punished.  Wealthy parents hire lawyers who as a tactic will do everything they can to paint an accuser out to be a slut or “asking for it.”   The idea is to damage her credibility enough so a jury has “reasonable doubt.”  It works almost all the time, that’s why so many rapists, especially young wealthy males, go free.   Most victims don’t report rape because they know they’ll likely be hurt more than the perpetrator.   That’s true now, 35 years ago the culture was even more tolerant of rape.

This isn’t about politics, but it appears that many people are treating it as such.   No one should be given a life time appointment at the top of what may be the most important branch of government if there just the credible possibility of a blemish like this.   It is a sign that his moral character is questionable or lacking.

If he did it, he’s lying now when he denies it, and that shows that he absolutely lacks an ethical core.   But if he didn’t do it, given the credibility of the accuser, the honorable thing for him to do is say, “The role of Supreme Court Justice requires the highest levels of integrity, with the trust of the American people.   In this case, there is sufficient question about my character that it would be wrong to accept the appointment to the Court.  I hearby withdraw my nomination.”

To do that, however, would require character.

 

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The Surreal Summit

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When Barack Obama was running for the Presidency in 2008 he said he might agree to meet with America’s foes, like Kim Jong Un of North Korea or (at that time) Ahmad Ahmadinejad of Iran.  He was trounced on by Republican hawks for weakness – these are our enemies, why give them stature by talking with them?  In the end, Obama did not, though he did use massive international pressure to force Iran to a verifiable nuclear arms agreement.

President Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea is astounding in what it did and did not do.  It did not yield any kind of verifiable agreement – or any kind of agreement at all – for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons.  The US made concessions, North Korea made none.  Most importantly, the US gave North Korea a propaganda coup – Kim is on stage as a world leader, called “talented” by the US President.  Indeed, Trump praised Kim’s leadership saying that when he talks “his people” are at full attention, listening to him.  “I wish my people would do that,” Trump noted wistfully.

That is surreal enough – that an American President would give North Korea so much in return for so little, and with right wing Republicans cheering it on.   Trump makes Neville Chamberlain look savvy and skeptical.

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“I blame him,” Trump is likely saying!

But it gets worse.  President Trump, and top members of his administration, lambasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being – understandably and justifiably – angry about US tariffs put on Canadian goods for “national security” reasons.

One aide said there was “a special place in hell” for “back stabbers” like Trudeau.   Trump attacked him via twitter.  Yet polls show most Americans back Trudeau over Trump in this spat.

So the US President praises the dictator of the most ruthless country in the planet, one dead last in human rights, despite not getting anything in return.   Way to negotiate, Donny!   Then he attacks our most important ally with vicious condemnation, even though Trudeau is a democratically elected leader with an excellent human rights record.  What gives?

It’s not that the meeting with Kim did any good for the US.   Indeed, China and Russia benefit most from this racheting down of pressure in exchange for, well, nothing.  If Trump really was a Russian plant, this is exactly the kind of thing he’d be doing.

Indeed, not only is he giving gifts to cold blooded Communist dictators, but he’s undermining the American led free trade regime put in place after World War II with the Bretton Woods system and GATT (now the WTO).   The US has consistently promoted free trade and warned against tariffs and trade wars – Trump is blowing that all up, putting millions of jobs at risk.

It gets even worse.  Given high US debt and deficit spending, if foreign countries decided to punish the US by not buying our bonds (or dumping those they have), it could be a disaster – perhaps a collapse of the dollar.  The US deficit had been going down steadily under Obama.  Trump’s tax cuts to the wealthy, not likely to help the economy, have ballooned the deficit to record numbers.  We need other country’s money just to pay our bills – even as we alienate those same countries.

This is surreal, it’s like a farce, a bizarre twist of reality that can’t really be happening…but it is.   A President banging out inane Twitter insults, attacking American institutions, and preening for dictators, all while working to undermine global economic stability.

I can imagine Trump meeting with Putin down the line.   “Mission accomplished,” he’ll say, as we watch the western economy lurch into crisis.   Then Trump will jet to North Korea and party with Kim, sipping cognac with a man he can relate to, and who has loyalty from his own people that Trump craves.  Perverse.

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Is Trump Near the End?

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No, I don’t mean the end of the world, the end of American democracy or the other dire predictions of many who fear Trump.  I seriously believe that we may be seeing the Trump Presidency moving into it’s final stage.  Moreover, there’s a good chance he’ll be done in by those who have tolerated him up until now:  the Republican establishment in Washington.

Since I posted my last post on Trump, critical stories have broke.  Most dramatic, but perhaps least important, is the James Comey book that rips Trump and paints him to be a rather pathetic fool.  More important is the raid on the personal attorney of the President, Michael Cohen.   This could be a game changer.

Cohen is Trump’s “fixer.”  The guy who comes in and makes problems go away – such as by paying Stormy Daniels $130,000, then perhaps having her threatened (though he denies being involved in that).  More ominously for Trump, Cohen’s services reach into Trump’s business world, a world that many believe often operates on the wrong side of the law.   At the very least, Cohen could be involved with dubious deals and pay outs, all of which might put Trump Enterprises at legal risk.

Moreover, this is not an investigation that Trump can stop by firing Rosenstein or Mueller.  Insiders in the White House acknowledge that the Cohen case may be far more dangerous to the President than anything Mueller is looking at (though the Mueller case was instrumental in bringing Cohen’s misdeeds to light).

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Secret trips to Prague, dubious deals in the former Soviet Republics, who knows what will be uncovered in the Cohen investigation.

Reports from sources close to the White House claim that the President is “increasingly unhinged,” angry, fuming, “ready to blow.”  He’s feeling persecuted, mistreated, and threatened in ways he is not used to.  As a wealthy private citizen he could use his money and attorneys to cover up, threaten, manipulate and control.  As President everything he touches is under public scrutiny, and his usual tools (threatening law suits, etc.) are unavailable.   By assuming this job, he has endangered himself and his business in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

He tweeted that raiding Cohen’s house is an “attack on America” even though legal rules were followed to the letter.   He realizes that all of this is out of his control, and instead of being the “boss” like he imagined, he’s more liked a caged animal.  To be sure, it’s a gilded cage, but all the tweets and Presidential perks won’t stop the relentless investigation into Trump, Cohen, and their business dealings.

So what’s the end game?   I suspect Republicans in DC are in meetings, trying to figure out the best way to get them out of this mess.  The end of Trump’s Presidency would be a disaster for Trump, but not for the GOP.   Many believe a President Pence could be in position to win in 2020, and perhaps turn around the poisonous atmosphere Republicans face in the mid terms.   They’ve tolerated Trump, few actually support him.

If Trump starts looking less like a successful businessman and more like a figurehead atop a operation run by his lawyer, Donald Jr. and even Ivanka, then charges of corruption and bribery in his businesses could destroy whatever reputation Donald has as a clever deal maker.  That could be an opening for the GOP to themselves cut a deal – perhaps Pence will pardon him if he agrees to resign, or maybe Trump will himself decide that the job is not worth it.

Of course, investigations take time, and Trump could resist all efforts to push him aside.  Yet somehow the revelations of the past week feel different – the legal problems facing the President have morphed from being a nuisance to being a real threat to his Presidency.  We’re entering a new and perhaps final stage of this administration.

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Republicans in Crisis

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House Speaker Paul Ryan announces his retirement after this term, the latest evidence of a Republican party in crisis

In 2016 the Republican party had a chance to put in place their agenda of less government spending, lower taxes, an embrace of freer trade, and economic competence.  Part of it was good timing – the recession’s impact had waned, and the economy looked to do well regardless of who was in charge.  Also, many saw Hillary Clinton as burdened by the past.  A good number of Americans felt it was time to give the GOP a chance.

An undercurrent of all this, of course, was the seething discontent of the lower middle class.  These are people harmed by out-sourcing, earning less than their parents, and seeing few opportunities.  For twenty years this class has grown.  Disproportionately white and uneducated, they had done well in the post-WWII economy.    After 1945 life was good for well trained professionals, business leaders, and uneducated workers willing to put in the effort.  Indeed income disparities became less from 1945 to 1980, as unions represented the interests of these workers.

Since 1980 the economy has shifted against the working class.  Unions have dissipated, hated by even those whom they served.  The educated “elite” – professionals at all levels – have managed to maintain their standard of living.  Working class folk have not; jobs have left the country and despite low cost goods from China, a kind of hopelessness has spread.   The Republicans hoped they could be the solution.

The argument:  Democrats no longer represent the workers.  Instead they represent special interests – minorities, immigrants who take the few jobs remaining, and the professional elite of educators, bureaucrats and white color workers.   The GOP would now be the party of the workers by bringing back jobs, and shifting power away from the professionals and back to the workers.  It was a seductive message, inducing many long time Democratic voters in places like Michigan and Wisconsin to shift their allegiances.

Donald Trump seemed a flawed but effective face of this movement, speaking to working class concerns while eschewing the angst of politically correct discourse.  He’d be crude and offensive, but that was what the masses wanted – someone to thumb their nose at the way in which the culture had shifted in the last 30 years.   Republicans like Jeff Sessions of Alabama saw in Trump a vehicle to undermine the culture shift of the past generation, to wrestle power from the professional elite and give it back to both workers and the conservative base of the GOP.   Sure, Trump would have to be controlled, but he represented the kind of change that mainstream Republicans had been unable to generate.

That now lays in tatters.

The marriage of Republican policy to working class concerns was always a stretch.  While talking the talk of defending workers, the party has historically sided with big business and big money.  Trump, like Pat Buchanan twenty years earlier, shifted the rhetoric, but couldn’t shift the party.

The Trump Presidency, however, has proven deadly to the Republican party.   Unless something changes they could lose their majority in both houses (no small feat, given how few Republicans are up for re-election in the Senate) and set up a 2020 election that might be a tidal shift to the Democrats.  What happened?

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Simply: Donald Trump proved be far more volatile, uncontrollable and erratic than most Republicans expected.   They thought that the “never-Trump” rhetoric was a bit over the top, that once in office the desire to succeed would lead Trump to listen and follow their lead.   Instead, he battled from the beginning with his own party, including early supporters like Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Instead of being a Ronald Reagan like icon of a new era of GOP activism, Trump became poison even to the GOP agenda.  Free trade was replaced by tariffs, tax cuts were not accompanied by spending cuts, creating a massive increase in the federal deficit.  Obamacare was neither repealed nor replaced, and as we head to the 2018 election the news of of scandals – collusion with Russia, affairs (including one with a porn star while his child was young) – fly about.   Add to this a drama about the future of the special prosecutor which finds Democrats gleefully watching as Republicans attack each other, and no one can say the GOP is in good shape.

Paul Ryan’s retirement is more than a canary in a coal mine.   It is a screeching alarm.

Unless the Republican party decides to exorcise this failed President from their party, they will go down with him, and the hope of showing Americans a new path based on limited government and fiscal responsibility will be seen as a rhetorical pipe-dream.  Sure, they ran on that, but they never intended to do it.   Unless the Republican party rises up against their leader – who is really an usurper damaging the GOP as well as the country – the Democrats look set to have two of their best election cycles ever.

Since I tend to support Democrats, one might think that this would please me.  It doesn’t.  We need two strong parties with viable differences to allow us to debate, discuss, experiment and compromise.   When one party’s best visions are blighted by an incompetent leader, it hurts all of us.

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Gov. Le Page to Assume UMF Presidency


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Governor LePage announces plan to resign the Governorship in order to take over the UMF Presidency as of July 1.

Maine’s political landscape received a shock Sunday as Governor Paul LePage held a rare early morning press conference to announce his plan to assume the Presidency of the University of Maine at Farmington when President Kate Foster leaves this summer.

Dr. James Melcher, a political scientist at UMF, said he was originally annoyed when he was called on to come to Farmington for the morning announcement.  “It’s Easter, I was supposed to be in Church.   Why would I be called in on Easter Sunday?”

LePage defended the timing, saying that he wanted to avoid the news coming out through the rumor mill.

At 10:00 AM the Governor addressed a small crowd out on the warm spring morning.  “It’s the first of April, the start of a new month, and a new era for UMF and for me,” LePage noted.  “I have accomplished everything I set out to do as Governor, despite some treason within my own party.  If Republicans in the state house had stood 100% behind me, we could have done much more.

“However, with elections coming up in November, I’m already a lame duck.  I don’t enjoy that.  When I heard about the opening at UMF – Congratulations to President Foster, on her appointment as President of the University of New Jersey.   I’ll make sure to introduce her to my good friend Chris Christie – I realized that I could still make a difference by helping young people get a quality education.

“My priorities at UMF are simple.  First, we’ll ditch the ‘liberal arts education’ thing.  Yeah, I know ‘liberal’ here isn’t meant politically, but it’s a loaded term.  Rural Maine is working class Maine, and we’ll promote ‘working class education,’ with an emphasis on things that will get you a job.  We’ll be looking to make cuts in non-essential programs like the Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts.  And with all due to respect to Professor Melcher, who has worked closely with Amy Fried, one of the most biased and dishonest voices in the Maine Media, to write on a book that mocked me and other ‘tea party’ governors, well, Political Science is an oxymoron.  It doesn’t belong as a subject of study.  Also the name ‘UMF’ needs to go.”

Chancellor James Page, reached by phone, was brief.  “I’m about to have my Easter dinner,” he said.  “The Governor has the power to name himself – it’s a little known and never used part of the University of Maine system charter.   I’ll have more to say next week.  Happy Easter,” Page stated, sighing heavily before hanging up.

Sabine Klein, President of AFUM, the NEA-affiliated union representing faculty, said LePage will be in for a fight if he tries to disrupt UMF.  “The faculty are unified, and ready to strike,” she said.  Faculty President Scott Erb, standing next to her, took a more conciliatory tone, “well, we’ll see what happens…I have a sabbatical next spring and I don’t want anything to mess that up.”  An annoyed Klein walked away muttering, “what a selfish asshole.”

Student response was muted.   “Everyone is just sick,” one student noted.   A reporter responded with the question “Because of Le Page coming to UMF?”

“Huh?  No, no, no…Those of us not going home for Easter had a huge party last night, smoked a lot of weed and drink mass quantities of cheap vodka.   We’re literally, like, throwing up all over the place.   Excuse me….” The student, who did not want her name to be used, ran away holding her hand over her mouth.

“Students will like me,” Le Page said.  “Yeah, I’ll clamp down on marijuana use – it’s still a federal crime – and students will have to work.  I’m going to lay off the custodial staff – students can clean their own dorms and class rooms.  We’ll save a lot of money and tuition will drop dramatically.”

Farmington firebrand and ideologue Pency Norter was beside herself with joy.  “Finally, we’ll get those stuck up academics put in their place.  Governor Le Page won’t put up with that horseshit.   Cut their salaries, and make students do their assignments in cursive.   These spoiled snowflakes are too dependent on technology.  Make them work!”

Le Page finished his comments with thoughts on the future, “I’m looking forward to making UMF a model university, showing that instead of ridiculous ivory tower bullshit like ‘literary criticism, deconstruction, and constructivism,’ we’ll be focusing on business and science.  We’ll also have zero tolerance of any political speech on campus.   There will be no safe zones, if someone is ‘transgendered,’ we’ll just call them confused idiots.  Damn snowflakes need a dose of reality, if they’re acting like spoiled pricks that’s what we’ll call them! And…” Le Page smiled, laughing slightly, “oh, man, I have a surprise that will thrill everyone.  My friend, President Donald Trump, has agreed to come speak at graduation.   It’ll be a great introduction to the new TUF campus – Trump University at Farmington!”

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