Turning mourning in America into the dawn of a better day

George Bush himself would not countenance that we grieve so long or loudly for him, just another citizen on the same journey as the rest of us.  But I sense he wouldn’t disagree with those who use the occasion of his death to grieve for the temporary loss of that which his life symbolized.  Leonard Pitts catches that well in his column in the Miami Herald today, in which he jumps off from Bush’s efforts to inspire with calls for a kinder, gentler country that could generate a thousand points of light

Presidents – and those who want to be president – have always sought to weave poetry from the prose of our daily lives, to ennoble our strivings and speak to what another Republican once called “the better angels of our nature.”

That’s what statesmen did once upon a time. But America has seldom seemed further from statesmanship – or from the vision Bush articulated – than it does now as the 41st president passes from the scene.

He died just days after the United States used teargas against asylum seekers, including children in diapers, after a handful of boys and men threw rocks at a border checkpoint in San Diego.

He was eulogized in Washington as lame duck Republican legislator[s] in Wisconsin brazenly strong-armed democracy and lifted a middle finger to the will of the people, voting to strip power from the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general.

He was memorialized in Texas as investigators in North Carolina probed an alleged scheme in which an operative working for a GOP candidate collected absentee ballots from voters in Democratic areas and diverted them from the ballot box.

These are the kinds of things that seem to happen every day in the thugocracy America has become. And that speaks to how thoroughly America rejected the vision of itself Bush offered 30 years ago.

(snip)

…the successes and failures of his public life have little to do with the very particular sense of loss some of us feel as the last president of the Greatest Generation takes his leave. There is always a sense of moment when a president dies. But the death of this president, this decent man, seems to close one of the few remaining doors between us and that time when presidents made poetry of our prose and you didn’t wake up every day to some new thugocratic outrage.

“Some have said this is an end of an era,” Bush’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Russell Jones Levenson, Jr., said during his eulogy in Washington. “But it doesn’t have to be. Perhaps this is an invitation to fill the void that has been left behind.”

No, it doesn’t have to be the end, and we don’t have to give up hope that the system Bush cherished and served will revive, and survive.

There’s other news today that I choose to take as a positive sign that the body politic’s natural antibodies are turning the tide in the on-going fight against the invaders: in court papers filed in the cases against Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, federal prosecutors reveal evidence of legal violations they claim were committed by Donald Trump.  And with hints of more to come.  As Democrats are poised to take control from Republicans in one house of Congress with the hope that they will fulfill the constitutional mandate of checks and balances that Paul Ryan’s House never did.

A thousand points of light are just the beginnings of a new dawn.

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Almost halfway

Two years…really?  Is that an eternity, or does it seem like no time at all?  It seems like…it seems like I’ve been on a merry-go-round that not only hasn’t slowed down in almost two years but occasionally cranks up to “dizzying,” and it feels like we all could use a rest.

Let’s see how smart I was two years ago (“Eyes Open, moving ahead” Nov. 11, 2016): I said, we owe it to the new president to give him a chance to perform in office, to get up to speed and be the best he can be and live up to the responsibilities of the office, blah blah blah…something like that.  I still think that was the only right attitude to take at the time; so, where are we now?

Well, the only real “important legislation” I can think of that this president has passed was the ill-considered December 2017 tax cut, and last month it was reported that it has contributed to the fact that today we have a $779 billion federal budget deficit, exactly the thing Republicans used to cry about—when Democrats were in power. (Now, not so much?  Nope; now, not at all.  E.J. Dionne likens today’s GOP “tax policy” to an artful scam pulled by some high-end grifters.)  Anything more recent?

BFD Trump (big freakin’ dealmaker), who campaigned on stopping the bleeding in the American car industry and promised to save the steel industry, has pretty much watched dumbfounded as there’s been no resurrection in steel and, this week, General Motors announced plans for plant closings and more than 14,000 layoffs to prepare for the future in sight of a present in which Trump tariffs have raised its costs.  (Yours and mine, too.)  And when he talked to the Wall Street Journal, long-time friend to Republican presidents, Trump demonstrated he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

(That extends beyond economics: he displayed the breadth of his ignorance warped view of the world when he talked to the Washington Post on several topics, including his pals in Russia and Saudi Arabia and his own Fed chairman.)

Thirteen federal government agencies released the latest report on the on-going investigation into climate change, in which they find many previously-predicted negative results of the climate changes that have already resulted from human activity are coming true and warn of “a profound threat to Americans’ well being.”  But Trump says he doesn’t believe the report, so, that’s that—nothing to worry about here, everybody, go about your business.

(Not so fast, conservatives: S.E. Cupp writes that it’s “both willfully ignorant and negligent not to acknowledge that there is in fact a scientific consensus that the Earth is warming and man is responsible for much of it” and suggests we get about doing something.)

Of course, there’s endless amusement in watching Trump twist helplessly in the wind waiting for another shoe to drop in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which has been moving along pretty briskly, thank you very much.  It just secured a second guilty plea from Trump’s former personal and business attorney, Michael Cohen, who now admits he lied to Congress about the ongoing effort of the Trump Organization to arrange a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow, an effort (he now concedes) that was still active even during the latter stages of the 2016 presidential campaign—a time during which the candidate himself repeatedly denied he had any business dealings with the Russian government or Russian businessmen, because, you know, people would have frowned at that.

(The Mueller investigation is not a witch hunt, unless you count as witches all the people on the list of “Trump people who have admitted criminal activity.”  Also, I read an interesting piece in Wired that argues the Mueller investigation could be close to an end, and has been leaving its conclusions strewn along the way in various court filings that no hack political appointee acting attorney general can ever hide from us even if he succeeds in firing Mueller himself.)

Wow.  And all of that…all of that is just some of what has happened in the past week.  Doesn’t even touch on the constant and inveterate lying from Trump and his press secretary and other subordinates and acolytes.  Gotta tell you, I know that what he says matters since he’s the president of the USA and all, but I don’t understand why anyone ever believes anything that comes out of his mouth.  He says what he wants to be true, or needs to be true, at the time he’s saying it; there’s seems to be no positive correlation between any statement made and discernible factual truth, nor any need even for niggling and inconvenient consistency between what he said today and anything he said before.  Ever.

I look forward to a beginning of some checks and balances of the Executive branch from the House of Representatives in the new year, and I will say that I hope the Republicans who serve in the current Congress are ashamed of the way they have blown off their constitutional responsibility and rolled over for this guy.  I have no doubt that Trump is deserving of being removed from office, but I don’t know that in the current circumstance that an impeachment effort would be worthwhile, what with Republicans still controlling the Senate and the alternate-facts-Fox-universe unlikely to see the light.  But Democrats could take a lesson from history:

The president of the United States was both a racist and a very difficult man to get along with.

He routinely called blacks inferior. He bluntly stated that no matter how much progress they made, they must remain so. He openly called critics disloyal, even treasonous. He liberally threw insults like candy during public speeches. He rudely ignored answers he didn’t like. He regularly put other people into positions they didn’t want to be in, then blamed them when things went sour. His own bodyguard later called him “destined to conflict,” a man who “found it impossible to conciliate or temporize.”

But the nation’s politicians simply had to interact with Andrew Johnson, for he had become the legitimate, constitutionally ordained chief executive upon Abraham Lincoln’s death by assassination.

Their path for managing this choleric man reveals that a president need not be kicked out of office to be removed from holding a firm grip on the reins of power. It also shows that people around the president, from Congress to the Cabinet, have many more tools at their disposal than, say, writing an anonymous New York Times op-ed to stop a leader they consider reckless or dangerous.

Read how they did it in this terrific piece by David Priess in Politico.  And get ready for the second half.

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Submitted for your consideration

The Congressional election just two weeks away will lead us down one of only a few possible paths.  If the Republicans who control the House and the Senate maintain their majorities in both chambers, there’s no reason to think that they will then choose to start exerting more constitutional authority as a counterweight to President Trump’s apparent on-going violations of constitutionally-mandated behavior of a government official, or have any new political reason to begin to seriously challenge or even oppose their party’s leader.  If they lose control of both houses, the Democrats would take command of the constitutional machinery that could restrict the president’s future activities and investigate or prosecute some of his apparent past crimes.  If the GOP loses control of just one chamber, life will get more confusing…more confusing than it already is, and that’s saying something.  Despite polling which shows less than half of the country approves of the president’s performance in office, the outcome for November 6 is unclear.

It’s no great pronouncement to say that American politics is polarized today, which by the way is not the same as having two major political parties with different opinions about the means to achieve goals…or which have completely different goals.  As they say on the Internet, I’m old enough to remember when having opposing beliefs or values from other people did not mean that I was good and pure and true and a Real Loyal Patriotic American and that they were stupid and evil and dishonest and corrupt and traitorous.  How’d we get from there to here?

Submitted for your consideration: the October 25th edition of The Daily, the podcast of the New York Times, which explores the premise that the 1994 midterm elections—in which the Republicans gained 54 seats in the House of Representatives to take control for the first time in 40 years—holds the seeds to the political divisiveness that rules the day today.  Give it a listen: host Michael Barbaro talks with opinion writer Jennifer Senior about the 1994 midterm elections, which she covered as a reporter, and she interviews former congressman Vin Weber, a Republican from Minnesota who left Congress in 1993 but whose friendship and political alliance with Newt Gingrich made him a behind-the-scenes force in the 1994 elections which resulted in Gingrich becoming speaker of the House.

Without question, Gingrich and the GOP played a clever political game to maximize the party’s gain of seats beyond what is usual for the party out of the White House.  They focused on wedge issues—they created the term “wedge issues,” I think—which were successful that day, and which have been driving wedges in our lives ever since.  Whether or not the politicians were sincere in their stated belief in the positions they advocated can be argued, but as a tactic it worked beyond their expectations.

Was it a good thing to have done?  Did Republicans of 1994 do the country a disservice in opening a rift in civil society that’s only gotten worse in the years since?  Good questions to consider, I think…

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To accuse is not proof of the truth

The flurry of accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and the attendant surge in the past few days of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport hashtags has resurfaced for me a topic I’ve wanted to discuss, and on this day I’m happy to say that it is a topic which has nothing to do, at least not directly, with the president we cannot shake from the headlines for even one stinking day.  (Today he had to suffer the indignity of having the United Nations General Assembly laugh at him; I admit I enjoyed that very much.)  I’ve had this thought in the past year or so as events have forced the issue of sexual violence against women into public discussion, which is for the good, but now I’m hearing a drumbeat more loudly, more certain and more forcefully stated: the belief that all right-thinking Americans must accept all accusations by women of sexual harassment or sexual assault or rape at face value, without exception and without the need of corroborating evidence.  I’ve got a problem with that.  Let me risk stirring up multiple hornet’s nests all at once.

I have no problem with the protesters who argue Black Lives Matter, because I think I understand what they mean.  They do not mean black lives matter more than white lives (or the lives of any other color), despite the counterargument from some mostly disingenuous people who are trying to diminish the BLM effort.  The protesters are trying to persuade their fellow Americans that despite our country’s clear history of treating black people as less than people—even writing it into our Constitution—an inequitable, ignorant, hateful behavior that continues today, they are appealing to our better angels to persuade us that black lives matter, too.  At least that’s how I understand it.

They’re not saying that white lives don’t matter; they’re not saying that white lives matter less than black lives.  They’re calling attention to the recent string of deaths of black people, mostly young black men, at the hands of law enforcement across the country, in questionable circumstances, to try to make us all see the unfairness which they recognize as part of their daily lives.  The protests grow out of their personal experience, and they’re arguing for a commitment on behalf of all of us to the American ideal of fair treatment for all.  That’s also what the athletes are saying when they demonstrate during the national anthem: they aren’t protesting the song, or the flag, or the military, or the country in general, despite what you hear from the president (listen instead to the many many veterans who acknowledge that the right to this protest is exactly the thing they went to war to protect).  The players are taking advantage of their position in the public eye at that moment to do the thoroughly American thing of exercising their freedom of speech.  We each of us is free to disagree with their methods if we choose.

Now, I’m not saying that women in America have been treated the same way that black people have been treated.  (To any commenters who would criticize me for saying just such a thing, I refer you now to the previous sentence where I say quite plainly that I am not saying that.)  But I think it’s clear that women have been, and still are, treated differently from men in American society—there’s a Constitution thing there, too, of course—and that today they are making another push on behalf of their equality as Americans.  Specifically, they are speaking up on the subject of how, historically and contemporaneously, they have been and still are the victims of sexual violence.

In a society devised primarily by men with laws written primarily by men, in a society in which women were not considered equal citizens to the men, it should not be surprising that the men in charge protected themselves from accusations of sexual assault by women.  We can be ashamed of it, but not surprised.  Women were treated as property, as live-in baby-makers and babysitters and household help, and as “things” to be used by a man for his pleasure.  The men of those times turned a deaf ear to any woman’s protest of mistreatment, knowing that the woman would not be taken seriously and that even if her complaint were believed, well, so what.  The women of the time came to know the likely result of speaking up, and so they didn’t.

In more modern times we like to think that we’ve become enlightened enough not to behave in that way toward women; recent examples abound that prove how wrong we have been to think that.  Even as women became more financially independent of the men in their lives and more able to sustain a public accusation, they knew that the default response of male-dominated society remained to disbelieve and to dismiss accusations, and to find ways to punish the accusers for having accused.

What is changing now—for the good, I believe—is that the public airing of accusations of sexual assault has caused the scales to fall from more men’s eyes, for us all to recognize that this is real and pervasive, and to feel at least a little sick to our stomachs that we’ve closed our eyes to this reality for so long and allowed the women in our lives to suffer.  We’re coming around, as a society, to having our default response to these accusations be to search for the truth rather than to dismiss the charge out of hand.  Yea, America!

What concerns me is those who are filled with the fervor of the rising tide of righteousness who go a step too far and treat any accusation of sexual assault as proof of the truth of the charge.  It’s the right response to take an accusation seriously, and to investigate as we do when any crime is alleged; but it’s not right to assess a guilty verdict and hand out punishment solely on the basis of an unproved accusation.

Some of the accusations of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh seem more believable than others; inasmuch as they are being made against a nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court of the United States, who proclaims his innocence of the charges, they deserve to be investigated to try to determine if they are true or false, and to learn what we can about the nominee in the process.  (BTW, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee: that’s exactly what the FBI does; that’s what it’s there for…put it to work).   Let the system work; there is no reason to rush a vote on this nomination…well, no good reason, anyway.  The GOP proved quite clearly, thank you, when refusing to take any action at all on the nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, that the Supreme Court can get along nicely with one seat vacant.

America’s growing recognition of the ways in which our country has not lived up to the lofty goals of our Founders, and our continuing efforts to make those wrongs right, must continue.  Reaching the ideals of equal treatment under the law and providing a level playing field for all Americans, of being the open and welcoming society of our dreams, will take longer than we would like it to but we’ve got to keep going, keep our eyes on the prize.  But we won’t get there by trashing our belief in innocence until proven otherwise.

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Try this at home, it’s fun

I didn’t mean for it to happen, I swear…but I was driving home and had the radio on—yes, terrestrial radio; sue me—and before I could think to change the station or to flip over to the music on my phone, there it was.  Like a regularly scheduled feature, I became conscious to the news report on what I think of as the president’s outrage of the day: the thing about which the president is feigning outrage and saying words that clankle off the ear as one tries to parse sense from nonsense.  In today’s case he was accusing Google and other Internet sites of intentionally skewing their search results to feature news articles which cast him in a negative light.  (It’s what we old guys in the news business would refer to as “bad news” from his point of view, and something that most people who live in the public eye know is coming their way, can’t be avoided entirely; Trump refers to this as “fake news” or sometimes “Fake News” or some other times “FAKE NEWS!”)  What’s more, he was promising to “address the situation without providing evidence or giving details of action he might take.”  Put that down as the shock of the day, right?

And it occurred to me, what would I find if I Googled “what the hell did Trump say today” and so when I got home I did just that.

I haven’t been keeping track of all of the surprising, strange, unusual, odd, bewildering, outrageous, incorrect, untrue, misleading, ridiculous, self-centered, tone deaf, racist, ill-intentioned things he has said…initially it didn’t seem like it was something that would happen very frequently, but then because I got so woefully behind the curve so goddamn fast it was pointless to try to catch up.  But I don’t have to, because Matt Kiser’s already doing it.  When I Googled “what the hell did Trump say today” the first entry returned was a link to What the Fuck Just Happened Today?, a selection of news headlines from Trump’s America with links to the source stories.  (Click on the audio embed at the top of that page today and listen to a bit of Shep Smith’s incredulosity on the “Google story” du jour.)

Other fun stuff for sharing today:

…and this, which isn’t fun but is important to pass around to as many as we all can, since we live in Trump’s America:

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