Jeremy Sherman

The founders tried to guard against con artist tyrants — but our democratic republic may end anyway

Our founding fathers were of an era when slavery and colonization were a direct extension of the "t'was ever thus" of history. To fault them for their failures to live by our current standards (by which they fail miserably) is to miss the point.

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If Trump wins, all of our past war victories are reversed

The Right has mastered preemptive wolf-crying.  Calling Obama Hitler got us up in arms about hyperbole, which opened the way for right to shift us toward Nazism with us reluctant to call it by its true name because, after all, we said Hitlerizing is hyperbole.

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This is the rhetorical trick most likely to cause our species’ extinction

For all the invective we throw and recycle at the MAGA cult, we have yet to put a finger on, let alone driven a stake through that cult’s mindless, heartlessness. Our invective is at most therapeutic for us with little effect on them.

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The re-emergence of totalitarianism -- and why some extremists prevail

“News” means two things, what’s happening and what’s surprising. In information theory, it means surprise. It’s not news that you still have air to breathe or that millions live in poverty. More of the same is not news because it’s not surprising.

By information theory’s standard, it’s no surprise that news reporting is all about surprise, shock and the extreme versions of everything. Extremist trolls are surprising and therefore newsworthy, dominating subtler interpretations of what’s going on.

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How to beat a trumpbot

Throughout history people have fallen for an easy way out of life’s complications by just pretending that they can do no wrong. Moment to moment, challenge to challenge they find trumped-up rationalizations that they pretend trump all challenges to their absolute authority.

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History shows Trump’s house of cards will eventually fall — and reality itself with get the last word

Trump has overlearned one life lesson: Impulse trumps deliberation. There have been gaps in its success but overall, it has worked beautifully. His impulsivity now reliably outwits any wit.

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How to take down a cult leader

Do you focus on shaming them for the damage they’re doing? Do you try to expose their lies and hypocrisies? Do you remind them of our common values? Do you try to prevail with your values? Do you try to prove that they’re factually incorrect? Do you curse them for being bad people?

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Conspicuous presumption: Blatant hypocrisy isn’t just a moral outrage — it’s a status symbol

The king has everything; the peasants have nothing. He eats 15 course meals while the peasants starve. Rebels yell and the king laughs, ignoring or suppressing them effortlessly.

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Why Trump uses this psychological trick to appeal to his followers — and the media keeps falling for it

We spent the Obama administration’s first months monitoring attempts to cap the source of BP’s toxic oil spill. We have spent all of Trump’s administration trying to cap the source of his toxic spill. We fret and rail over the damage it's causing, the many ways it's weakening everything in its path, especially the resistance.

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Frustrated by politics? Try your hand at psycho-proctology

Everyone has a project. For about 20 years, mine has been mission to find an objective definition of total jerks. See, I believe that in a free society you don’t get to tell people how to live but you still have to stop total jerks or it won’t remain a free society which stirs two questions: What distinguishes total jerks since they can’t just be everyone who jerks you around? And how do you stop total jerks without becoming one?

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Here's how to feel better about the mess you’re in

You wake up most mornings wondering whether you took a wrong turn somewhere back. You expected a smoother path than this.

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Here is the psychological condition that best explains Trump's twisted worldview

Trump’s ghostwriter put these words in the president’s mouth: "Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game."

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Here's how some people become just awful

It starts simply enough, people doing what any and all of us do. We’re cruising along and something gets in our way. So we sidestep it. If we can’t, we brush it aside. If we can’t, we shove it aside and continue cruising along.

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Here's why Trump is a great gift to America

Assuming he goes down in flames before he causes us to; assuming that what’s left of our democracy ends him before he ends what’s left of our democracy, Trump will have been the best thing that ever happened to America, indeed, among the best for our global survival imperative – figuring out how to spot and thwart the asshole impulse in human nature.

You can’t thwart what you can’t spot. Even with all our experience with the asshole impulse, we’re still lousy at spotting it.

Trump is the absolute best, the greatest, the most tremendous negative role model we could ask for. He is the e-z reader of sleazy leaders, the large print edition, the 1st grader’s Where’s Waldo or word finder puzzle for spotting assholes.

Sure we’ve had other asshole leaders before. But even the worst, the ones who killed the most people and lasted the longest could be mistaken for their ideology. Stalin could be mistaken for a Communist. Hitler for a Nationalist. Assholes wear camouflage. They dress up their tyranny in poser principles.

Trump is different. He’s generic. He has no ideology to distract us. He’s essence of asshole, authoritarian distillate. He’s pure, uncut, unalloyed, unadulterated by any tinge of cover-story ideology. Eau de asshole.

People the world over cry out for room to live their lives the way they want. Even the strictest fundamentalists want their freedom to demand a closed society. Everyone wants to have their way, and to the extent possible, we should let em. Live and let live. Freedom of speech, freedom of association, but of course, not unlimited freedom.

In a free society you don’t get to commandeer other people’s lives. You don’t get to tell people how to live but you still  need to spot and thwart the assholes or it doesn’t remain a free society.

If humanity is to survive, we therefore, need to know how to spot an asshole, an authoritarian who will end free society. It’s no good getting distracted by this or that asshole’s style or platform. We need to be able to spot assholes from any corner no matter how they’re camouflaged. We need to be able to recognize essence of asshole.

It’s hard.

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Troll Model: Trump Takeaways For the Hard Art of Naming and Taming Total Jerks

Watch him go, this psychopathic, gaslighting, brat, preening, pious-posing, egomaniac idiot of a president. Some of us watch in awe, plenty of us in disgust.

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Here's How the Hallucinogen Ayahuasca Taught Me a Valuable, Old-School Republican Lesson

Ayahuasca, a Peruvian hallucinogen, is on people’s minds these days, in part with Michael Pollan’s best-selling book How to Change Your Mind.1 I’d been meaning to try it and my opportunity came up recently.

I was told to bring to the ritual ceremony a question to ask the “medicine.” Most people bring personal questions but since my life is feeling about as good as can be these days, I didn’t have one.

So instead I brought one related to my work as a psycho-proctologist, probing the nature of total jerk behavior and how to undermine it—in other words, how do you undermine people who will stop at nothing to undermine anyone who disagrees with them?

Such people can show up for any cause or no cause at all, since the cause is just window dressing. I had read Pollan’s book and did not find credible his subtle implication that the medicine exposes us to some absolute truth that it knows, a truth that he suggested was that we can and should become somehow egoless as though ego just gets in the way. I trust that that’s what he took away from his experiences. Half my time goes into work on the origin and nature of living beings, so the idea that one can become selfless doesn’t fly with me. We become selfless at death. In the meantime, even under the influence of the medicine, we are still here.

When I mentioned my critique of Pollan to a friend, she thought I was overly dismissive and began to talk as though she hoped I’d learn my lesson from the medicine. That annoyed me, too.

The ceremony I attended did not imply an ego-liberating message from the medicine or for that matter, any message. It was agnostic about what you might glean from the medicine. I liked that right away.

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Republicans Can't Tell the Difference Between Honesty and Truth - And They're Putting Us in Danger

Honesty: Expressing your feelings and opinions accurately.
Truth: Accurate representation of reality.

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This Isn't a Culture War - But a Patriotic Defense Against All Cults

If you still think this is just a fight between left and right, you’re not keeping up. It hasn’t been for a long time if it ever was. It’s patriotic Americans defending the country against a cult that has gotten way out of hand in large part because we treated it as just another battle between left and right.

To pretend that it’s left vs. right enables the cult. That’s what it would have us believe. It’s how they keep their cult members enthralled. Every time we fight for leftist causes, it bolsters their sense that their cultish mission is imperative.

This cult, like all cults, is a self-winding movement. No matter how you shake it, it winds itself up. Affirm it and they say “see, that proves that we’re heroes, right about everything.” When you challenge it, they say “see, that proves that we’re victims, right about everything.” The object of a cult – any cult – is to pretend to be right about everything.

Trump ­­– this cult’s current craven, graven-image demigod panders however he can, often with as much lip service to traditional leftist causes as right wing ones. Freedom, liberty, looking out for the downtrodden and small businesses, draining the swamp, healthcare that will “take care of everybody,” local autonomy and even making America great again. He panders with right wing causes too, white supremacy, Evangelicalism, deregulation, non-intervention.

If we’re whipsawed by the cult’s pandering, we miss its point – pandering by whatever means that keep cult followers faithful and hopeful.

A large portion of the cult’s members are otherwise honest decent people who know that Trump is a terrible person. Some believe his pandering; others recognize that it’s just pandering but they admire him for being open about it. They’re prone to mistake honesty about one’s unrealistic opinions for realism, which is like saying someone is realistic because he speaks his mind when declaring that we should all move to the moon because it’s made of green cheese.

Those of us on the left who remain vigilant aren’t taken in by Trump’s pandering but we pay most attention to his hard swing to the right. It would be easy for us to ignore the central point:

This is a cult, a mass sociopathy, otherwise decent Americans failing in their patriotic duty to defend the country from the inside or out against cults of personality. Instead, they have fallen for the cult of personality but not just for Trump’s personality, for the way joining a cult revitalizes their confidence in their own personalities.

They have discovered a way to escape Jeffersonian self-doubt. They play god themselves, crusader’s for their cult. Out of frustration, desperation and/or ignorance, they have escaped into a fantasy that about, politics and morality they are infallible, invincible and unassailable, godlike, on God’s side, on Trump’s side.

For us, this suggests a crucial reframing. This is not so much a culture war as a war against cults in general, a patriotic defense against any cult’s tyranny, a cause all Americans should feel it is their patriotic duty to join.

We are not just leftists resisting the right’s assent. We are patriotic Americans of all persuasions opposed to all pandering cults, focused on this one for now because it’s gained so much ground, but as resistant to any cult should it swell like this.

We would oppose a pandering cult even if it were on our side. If there were a liberal or leftist Donald Trump, his pandering perfectly aligned with our heartfelt values, we would defend against him with as much vigor as we defend against the Trump cult. Opposition to cults is the definition of patriotism in America.

Now really, would we oppose a pandering cult after our own hearts? It’s  a hypothetical assertion. Is it credible? If there were a cult dedicated to preventing further climate crisis and risk of nuclear escalation, would we actually resist it or is that just easy talk?

As leftists we would welcome powerful leadership on our side. Many of us wish we had just that, for example, that more liberal and leftist politicians were able to pierce the news cycle, making headlines with soundbites as sharp as those on relentless cycle from the right.
But would we support a left-pandering cult? Perhaps some of us ­would – those most distressed by left-wing setbacks, those who just aren’t keeping up, and those who are lured into playing left-leaning gods (there are some in every crowd).

But most of us, no. We hear the tinny ping of pandering. We’ve seen it on the left plenty throughout history and even today. Venezuela fell to a left-wing cult leader. Mao and Ortega started as heartfelt leftist revolutionaries but soon became pandering cult leaders, dictators to replace the dictators they overthrew.

The majority of Americans would oppose cults attacking from any direction. The different flavors of pandering are beside the point. The sharpest among us recognize that.

All cults end up in the same place, detached from reality, followers led by the nose, lured in by that heady fantasy that they have achieved godlike political mastery, the lure that they too can enlist for last-word status as infallible, invincible and unassailable with godlike omniscience, omnipotence, and moral purity.

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Here Are 16 New Tips for Shaming and Harassing Trump's Goon Squad – Relatives, Friends, Trolls – Anywhere You Can, While You Still Can

To state the obvious, this is just another run-of-the-mill, catastrophic trump-card cult, people playing god for self-love and/or money. 

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Has the Republican Party Become a Trump Cult?

Experimental psychologist, John Gottman's Love Lab research demonstrates that in order to sustain a romantic partnership you need five good interactions to offset every bad one. Apparently, we're so much more sensitive to discouragement that we need five encouraging experiences to dilute one disappointing exchange.

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Don't Be Afraid to Go Low - And 12 Other New Strategies for Dealing with Right-Wing Trolls

The US is rapidly becoming just another Hypocracy, a state ruled by absolute hypocrites – no self-aggrandizing hypocrisy they won’t perpetuate. Hypocrisy tends to corrupt; absolute hypocrisy corrupts absolutely.

We’re way better educated, smarter and more articulate than these absolute hypocrites, so why do they have us on the run?

Because we’re way more conscientious than they are. We fight with our fighting hands tied behind our backs for out-of-touch moral reasons, reasons that did make sense out of civic loyalty but not anymore.

We try to stay receptive and therefore responsive to their challenges. We empathize with them and then automatically feel charitable toward them. We operate by self-contradictory moral principles – you shouldn’t be judgmental (which is a judgment), don’t be negative (which is negative) and be intolerant of intolerance (which is intolerant).

When we cut that out, we’ll be able to dance circles around them.

You may think that it’s best not to feed the trolls, but it’s too late for that. We have to feed their flame whatever will dampen them whatever dampens their flame, anything that makes their trolling cost more than it’s worth.

Voting, getting out the vote, building a more strategic opposition, imposing what’s left of our rule of law – all of that is essential. But to succeed at those challenges, we’re going to have to learn to thwart trolls from the top to the bottom of their cult, the media getting sharper at confronting the pundits, and you getting smarter at disappointing the trolls you engage with.

Trolls are one-trick phonies, same as every other cult in world history. Though the “doctrines” change from cult to cult, it’s just costume anyway. They’re know-it-all gloataholics in whatever ideological clothing happens to fit their lifestyle.

Their one trick which excites them as though they invented it rather than rediscovering it, is fake infallibility through unconstrained hypocrisy. It gives them a hard-on to fantasize that without any effort other than learning their simple formula, they can take on and beat all comers.

They can’t. They just think they can because we keep coming at them in predictable, hands-tied ways.

Here’s how to mess with a troll in ways they don’t expect, ways that are perfectly suited to your wits and potential repertoire but that you haven’t let yourself use until now. Now is the time. We have entered an era when it’s moral to be immoral to the goon squads and immoral not to – immoral because if we continue to let them run roughshod America is as good as over or at best destined for the bloody civil war these goons have been arming for.

Though trolling employs a simple formula, there’s no simple formula for thwarting them. It’s mix and match, trial and error. The suggestions below are only suggestions some of many things worth trying.

Still, there is one overarching rule: Don’t try to prove your integrity to someone who shows you none. Limber up. Be inconsistent and don’t fret when these masters of inconsistency call you on it. They’re leeches whose sustenance comes from calling other people on their inconsistencies as though it proves they’ve got integrity.

Oh, and another: Keep your eyes on the prize – thwarting them. Nothing else matters. If you think you can do that by getting your yayas out, venting at them, darting in to give them a piece of your mind and then darting out, you’re wrong. Anything you just blurt and spew at them, they count that as just one more self-titillating “like.” Thwarting requires strategic engagement.

OK, some tips:

Leave your angst, disgust, outrage, fury and moralizing the hell out of it: If you’ve got sensitive skin in the game, you’re doomed. Feel all those things on your own time. Treat troll-baiting the way a surgeon treats surgery, a criminologist treats crime, a military strategist treats strategy, or a mixed-martial artist treats the ring. Your emotions, however justified, are only going to get you tangled up.

Have fun: You’re tooling up, adding to your repertoire behaviors you never had or that went dormant in more civilized times. These are street fighting skills you not only need, but can enjoy. Imagine how much fun you could have learning combat in preparation for war. Not much fun? I get that. This is more fun and a way to keep from having to learn combat in preparation for war.

If you make a bet that you’re dealing with a troll, stick with it: You may, in fact, be wrong about them. Expect some error while trying to minimize it. There’s only one thing worse than disrespecting the respectable. It’s showing respecting those undeserving of your respect. It’s like having trust and faith in a rapist. There’s a serenity prayer in here: Grant me the generosity to engage the receptive, the aggressiveness to thwart the unreceptive, and the wisdom to know the difference. You’ll fail some on both fronts, being generous with the unreceptive and aggressive with the receptive. At this point though, the right is flooded with unreceptive hypocrites. Don’t be giving right-wingers much benefit of the doubt.

Troll-proof your bet:  A troll will pretend you’re off your meds for messing with them. They’ll act shocked and say in so many words, “Hey, you don’t know that I’m troll” Say “You’re right I don’t,” and leave it at that. It’s true. You don’t. It’s your bet and having made it, you’re going to stick with it, no need defend it.

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A Psychologist Explains How to Battle America's Online Epidemic of Right-Wing 'Fake News' - And Avoid Civil War

There are lots of things to try in our pressing mission to tool up quickly to disappoint trolls.

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How to Fight Right-Wing Trolls and Actually Win

The right has become an epidemic of exhibitionists. Right-wing trolls sidle up to people on TV, the internet and in person pretending that they want a reasoned discussion. When they’ve got your attention, they open their trench coats to show off their firm pointy little “truths,” anticipating your reaction. It gets them excited to see you respond in predictable ways. They have themselves a little trollgasm, proving to themselves once again that they’ve found the formula for flummoxing everyone always.

We react predictably, either with tolerance in the name of civility, gut fury, or by walking away in disgust. The troll exhibitionists are prepared for everything we serve up. That’s what their formula is all about. They pretend it’s about high-minded principles and policy but, of course it isn’t.

It’s a formula for faking invincibility, the same bag of cheap tricks Trump uses. They’re Trump wannabes. Watching right wing pundits and leaders is what first turned them on to the exhibitionist game. Now they play it every chance they get. However decent they are in everyday life, in this sport of theirs they’re just gloataholics addicted to trollgasms.

When they go low, should you go high or low? Either way is fine with them. They know they’ll beat you any predictable way you turn. When you go high, they pretend to go higher, playing moral authority entitled not just to declare what’s true but to play last-word referee deciding what’s permissible in your “discussion” and issuing final rulings always in their favor. They control the debate, steering always to where they can prove to themselves that they’re invincible.

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How the Right Wing Uses This Psychological Trick to Galvanize Its Base

True righteousness, like true bravery or true love, will cost you. You have to put risky, expensive effort into it or else it’s just lip service.  We each have limited effort to expend. How we expend it is the true expression of our priorities.

But between true righteousness and mere lip-service there’s a bargain alternative: Token righteousness. Pick some easy, trivial issue and crusade on it pretending that it’s the highest priority, the most epic concern. With token righteousness, you can pose as if your bravely, lovingly saving the world without having to prioritize the truly daunting threats to it.

You can collect a whole charm bracelet of trinket issues to make yourself feel like you’re covering all the marks of righteousness. Here’s one for justice, one for care, one for compassion, one for bravery. Collect enough and you can pretend you’re world-encompassing.

Movements have to grow to stay newsworthy and formidable. Movements often overcount their membership or offer trinket premiums for joining – a tote-bag, a magazine subscription.

For recruitment, the right wing offers charm bracelets of trinket causes as their membership premium, a collection of easy, low priorities that they inflate to existential status. Members tinkle their little charm bracelets as if tolling the bells of epic righteousness.

Some of the current trinkets:

For bravery: Defending the second amendment.
For civil rights: LGBT bathrooms.
For national defense: Barring immigration.
For care: Anti-abortion.
For defending tradition: Anti-gay.
For fiscal responsibility: Anti-welfare to others (they’d like to keep their own).
For compassion: Devotion to Christ and care for fellow members of their self-righteous exceptionalist cults.
For Truth: Faith in the bible.
For freedom: Corporate libertarianism.
For patriotism: Upholding the flag and opposing the bended knee.
For global concern: Anti-Islam, anti-communism.
For justice: Lock her up.

The charm bracelets give right-wingers the impression that they’ve covered all bases and therefore must be prioritizing. Of course, they aren’t. Standing against abortion, they feel free to ignore all of the deathly havoc their causes cause.

Compassion and care? Prioritizing would put climate crisis and nuclear threat at the top of the list. Not for the trinket jinglers. For them, it’s the anti-abortion fight, compassion for the torture of Christ and generosity for fellow cult members.

They’re doing what psychologist Otto Rank called “partializing,” making their little something everything. It’s telling that the right choose to call being anti-abortion being pro-life as though protecting fertilized eggs is all it takes to protect life.

That’s the point. Armed with their mighty trinket charm bracelet, they never have to think beyond their trivial causes. They use their trinkets to pivot debate. You bring up a priority and they shake their wrists at you at you saying “yeah, but what about this?!” pointing to one of their misplaced token priorities.

Trinketing is a form of threat displacement: Rather than facing a formidable threat, you dissociate and self-sooth by obsessing about some more manageable threat. Rather than facing your own complicity, you project it on to others. They’re the real criminals. Lock. Them. Up!

As teens, many of us started caring about the world’s woes by witnessing one injustice or another. More seasoned activist recognize in teens a certain naivete, puppy care much like puppy love, falling hard for the first one you met. The teens will soon grow out of it. Some of us stay single issue forever but most of us grow out of it. Teens who wake up to the woes of the world through a single issue eventually come to see it as one of many.

Some begin to prioritize. Others balk and walk away learning how not to care. Real prioritizing is hard, that has always been the left’s problem and a source of our inability to galvanize and focus for long.

Of course, some of us found our issues through direct threat to ourselves and our loved ones, for example, #MeToo movement, #MarchforOurLives movement or the Vietnam war for older generations. You’ll notice that the right’s trinket issues are not a source of direct threat to those wearing the charm bracelets. They don’t have the moral equivalent of legal standing on most of these issues. They’re not directly or indirectly oppressed by any of the threats they jingle. They have to exaggerate the threat to them personally to gain any credibility. That’s why you get this perverse argument that their right to not be offended is a higher priority than a gay person’s right to marry.

Trinketing is a powerful way to galvanize the right’s token righteousness even if it has nothing to do with addressing the world’s true woes.

Jerks Can Be Found Wherever There Is Intelligent Life -  And We Need to Stop Them

Astrobiology, the study of extra-terrestrial life seeks to discover the essential features common to life anywhere in the universe, and especially “intelligent life,” organisms anywhere that can communicate with language. 

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America’s Patriotic Fervor is an Epidemic Problem -- Supported by the GOP

“The True Believers” is a psychology classic, a study undertaken by Eric Hoffer, a longshoreman moonlighting as a psycho-philosopher shortly after WWII. It profiles the characteristics of an authoritarian fanatics, the kind we see falling for ISIS and here at home, for Trumpism or Evangelicalism.

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America is Suffering an Epidemic of 'Dishonest Fake Belief' - Promoted by the People Who Took Over the GOP

“The True Believers” is a psychology classic, a study undertaken by Eric Hoffer, a longshoreman moonlighting as a psycho-philosopher shortly after WWII. It profiles the characteristics of an authoritarian fanatics, the kind we see falling for ISIS and here at home, for Trumpism or Evangelicalism.

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Stuck In a Rut? Here's How to Get Out of It

They got fed up with each other and divorced, confident that they would each find better partners. They found new partners but in the end, no real improvement.

She was raised devout Catholic and broke free into new age spirituality which she practiced as dogmatically as a Catholic.

They were sick of the government swamp and voted for a conman who said he would drain it, only to end up with a worse swamp.

He rebelled against convention’s straitjacket, committing himself to anarchy which he now practices with the same orthodoxy he rebelled against.

He was a heroic rebel leader who overthrew the dictator, then becoming the next dictator.

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Here's Why Self-Indulgent Libertarian Hypocrisy Knows No Bounds

I once had a conversation with a libertarian friend who insisted that freedom was the answer to everything, ironic since he was getting married the following week.

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