…but don’t forget what you know

Since I wrote last week about the need to give Donald Trump a chance to act as president, I’ve read about more mass protests and more people lamenting the end of days for our republic.  So I want to clarify and expand: giving Trump a chance to govern does not mean wiping the slate clean and forgetting everything we know about our new leader.

You don’t have to pretend that none of the last year and a half ever happened, or forget everything you’ve ever heard or read about Donald Trump the New York real estate tycoon and TV star, to give the man a chance to do the job to which he was elected.  We can’t undo the election, and out of a sense of fair play if nothing else we owe him an open mind as he takes over.  But that “taking over” is already underway, so it’s fair to start keeping score, with things such as recognizing the conflict of interest that will result from having his children, who he says will take over running his business interests rather than have them be put into a blind trust (the business interests, not the children), be part of the team that will choose the members of the new administration.  To say nothing of the potential financial conflicts of interest we suspect Trump has with foreign banks, but can’t know about for sure since he never released his tax returns.  (Wonder if starting in late January he can get the IRS to speed up the audit?)

The point was made elegantly by David Frum in a Tweet storm yesterday taking off from a comment that it is time for a fresh start in Washington (thanks to Dan Solovay for Storify-ing it, for ease of display); a few examples:

There is another interesting compilation, by Frum’s colleague at The Atlantic James Fallows.  He created a time capsule, a list of things that happened during the campaign.  The posting explains itself this way: “People will look back on this era in our history to see what was known about Donald Trump while Americans were deciding whether to choose him as president. Here’s a running chronicle from James Fallows on the evidence available to voters as they make their choice, and of how Trump has broken the norms that applied to previous major-party candidates.”  It’s worth taking a look, and keeping it as a reference.

I also think it’s important that we’ve got to keep our perspective and our sense of humor, so I offer this

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Eyes open, moving ahead

To be an American and believe in the American system is to respect the outcome of elections, especially when your side loses or, in this case, when the side you especially fear and detest wins.  The right to vote does not come with a guarantee that the majority will make a good decision, but I believe we have to give the winners their chance.

Let’s start by giving the Donald Trump voters the benefit of the doubt, and assume that most of them are people with legitimate concerns about how our government has operated in recent years, who have worries about the dysfunctionality of our system that many of us share; that they are people who voted their conscience for a positive change.  You may feel, as I do, that they made a poor choice of candidate, but the truth is they won and they get their turn at bat.

Trump won the election fair and square; there was no rigging, or at least, none beyond the whole Electoral College thing for which we have the founders themselves to thank.  Congratulations, Mr. President-elect; I join with President Obama’s sentiment that “We now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.”  To me, that means starting with whatever common ground we share and all working together to make changes we agree on; next, we discuss the issues where we do not agree, and work toward a resolution we can all stand behind.  I’m not saying that Trump deserves to be immune to criticism or opposition to his statements or actions, but that we judge him on his actions as president and president-elect; give him a chance in the new job.

He started on Thursday with a pretty low-key trip to Washington to start the transition of power, and I got the impression that he was a little in awe with the realization that this all is real.  Right after that he reminded us of his proclivity to a lack of restraint when it comes to any criticism.  In light of the large protests of his victory the past couple of days, the “real” Trump returned to Twitter Thursday evening:

Of course the best part of this is that the protests we’ve seen this week are exactly the thing Trump called for four years ago:

The totally unsurprising irony, though, is that Trump himself called for a march on Washington in the wake of President Obama’s 2012 win.

“We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our nation is totally divided!”

He also tweeted, “He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!”

Trump finished the full hypocrisy circle nine hours later (degree of difficulty, apparently: zero):

And it took four more hours after that before he tweeted a perfunctory Veteran’s Day message.  S.E. Cupp summarizes:

…in Trumpland, there are no consequences for rank hypocrisy. This is the total lack of self-consciousness that was once disturbing and now only merely amusing. Remember, Hillary Clinton would make a great President, he once said, until she deserved to go to jail.

The Republican primary was rigged, until he won it. FBI director James Comey was a Clinton hack, until he was very fair and professional. Trump would contest the election results, unless he won. It’s impossible to keep up with Trump’s in-the-moment justifications and hyperactive moral relativism.

But, we must try.  It’s our job as Americans to participate in our own governance; that includes working together for common goals and the general welfare, and calling bullshit on our leaders when it’s deserved, and Trump needs to learn that.  Religion scholar William Martin put it this way in Texas Monthly in 2007: “Whether in Mormons or Methodists, prophets or presidents, distaste for dissent and opposition to open inquiry are not admirable qualities and do not foster freedom.”

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What you can do for your country

Let’s please just get this over with.

The good news is that a ton of people have already voted: here in Texas it’s reported 30% of the 15 million registered voters have already cast their ballots; there are an estimated 4000 people in line in Cincinnati right now waiting to vote.  When you add in all the people planning to vote on Tuesday (including me) we could be looking at a(n) historic voter turnout, and while I think that’s good in a general sense—more of us should take our responsibility as citizens more seriously—it also would lessen the chances that Donald Trump will win…and there’s nothing that could be better than Trump not becoming president.

That is not to say that I’m looking forward to four years of Hillary Clinton as president; the truth is, I can’t believe she even won the nomination.  In mid-2015 when candidates were starting to be serious about the primaries, I felt confident that the Democrats wouldn’t be so blindered to reality as to nominate Clinton.  To a large segment of the country she is the personification of all things evil; I don’t share their irrational hatred of her, but surely, I thought, the Democrats wouldn’t handicap their attempt to maintain control of the presidency by choosing a candidate who had no chance at all of winning support among Republicans.  After two terms from Obama, Democrats would pick another fresh face from that generation, someone without Clinton’s political baggage who could generate some excitement.

And Republicans?  Well, I didn’t (and still don’t) have much confidence in that organization.  In winning the White House in 1980 with Ronald Reagan it sold its soul to the social conservative, vaguely racist, radical Christian evangelical wing that meant to use the political system to institutionalize its religious agenda.  They have the old fiscal conservatives—the old Bush types, the Rockefeller Republicans—so whipped into submission that there was no reason for me to suspect they’d pick someone I’d like, but they might choose someone I could support.  I’ll repeat what I’ve said many times: though I disagree with their goals I recognize and applaud the radical conservatives for working the system as it’s designed.

I did not think both parties would select such polarizing candidates.  If the Republicans had picked a more mainstream candidate than Trump, I don’t doubt that that person would beat Clinton handily, and if the Democrats had selected anyone other than the historically unpopular candidate that they did that person would probably be pounding Trump in the dust.  Now we’re left to pick from between two really bad options.  Yes, there are third party and independent candidates on the ballot, and a protest vote for one of them was feeling like the right way to go…until you consider just how ungodly awful Trump really is, and think about the kind of damage he could do to our country if we gave him the keys.

That’s always the bottom line in a presidential race.  But never before in my experience (my first vote for president was 1976) has one of the choices been so irresponsible and frightening.  I sympathize with people who are fed up with the state of our politics, and the glaring inability of our representatives to do their jobs, and who want to throw all the bastards out and start over.  But this isn’t the way.  This option is too dangerous to the future of our country.

If you haven’t done so, please take a few minutes to read David Frum’s essay in The Atlantic in which he thoughtfully explains why he chose to vote for Clinton, and think about what you can do for your country.

Those attempting to rally reluctant Republicans to Trump seldom waste words on the affirmative case for the blowhard businessman. What is there to say in favor of a candidate who would lie even about his (non) support for a charity for children with AIDS?

Instead, the case for Trump swiftly shifts to a fervid case against Hillary Clinton.

(snip)

Demonology aside, most conservatives and Republicans—and yes, many non-conservatives and non-Republicans—will recognize many of the factual predicates of the critiques of Hillary Clinton’s methods and character. The Clintons sold access to a present secretary of state and a potential future president in pursuit of personal wealth. Hillary Clinton does indeed seem a suspicious and vindictive personality. For sure, a President Clinton will want to spend and regulate even more than the Obama administration has done.

Like Henny Youngman, however, the voter must always ask: compared to what?

One of only two people on earth will win the American presidency on November 8. Hillary Clinton is one of those two possibilities. Donald Trump is the only other.

Yes, I fear Clinton’s grudge-holding. Should I fear it so much that I rally to a candidate who has already explicitly promised to deploy antitrust and libel law against his critics and opponents? Who incited violence at his rallies? Who ejects reporters from his events if he objects to their coverage? Who told a huge audience in Australia that his top life advice was: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it”? Who idealizes Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, and the butchers of Tiananmen as strong leaders to be admired and emulated?

(snip)

To vote for Trump as a protest against Clinton’s faults would be like amputating a leg because of a sliver in the toe; cutting one’s throat to lower one’s blood pressure.

I more or less agree with Trump on his signature issue, immigration. Two years ago, I would have rated immigration as one of the very most important issues in this election. But that was before Trump expanded the debate to include such questions as: “Should America honor its NATO commitments?” “Are American elections real or fake?” “Is it OK for a president to use the office to promote his family business?” “Are handicapped people comical?”  

(snip)

We don’t have to analogize Donald Trump to any of the lurid tyrants of world history to recognize in him the most anti-constitutional personality ever to gain a major-party nomination for the U.S. presidency. I cannot predict whether Trump would succeed in elevating himself “on the ruins of public liberty.” The outcome would greatly depend on the resolve, integrity, and courage of other leaders and other institutions, especially the Republican leaders in Congress. To date, their record has not been reassuring, but who knows: Maybe they would discover more courage and independence after they bestowed the awesome powers of the presidency than they did while Trump was merely a party nominee. Or maybe not.

(snip)

The lesson Trump has taught is not only that certain Republican dogmas have passed out of date, but that American democracy itself is much more vulnerable than anyone would have believed only 24 months ago. Incredibly, a country that—through wars and depression—so magnificently resisted the authoritarian temptations of the mid-20th century has half-yielded to a more farcical version of that same threat without any of the same excuse. The hungry and houseless Americans of the Great Depression sustained a constitutional republic. How shameful that the Americans of today—so vastly better off in so many ways, despite their undoubted problems—have done so much less well.

I have no illusions about Hillary Clinton. I expect policies that will seem to me at best counter-productive, at worst actively harmful. America needs more private-market competition in healthcare, not less; lighter regulation of enterprise, not heavier; reduced immigration, not expanded; lower taxes, not higher. On almost every domestic issue, I stand on one side; she stands on the other. I do not imagine that she will meet me, or those who think like me, anywhere within a country mile of half-way.

But she is a patriot. She will uphold the sovereignty and independence of the United States. She will defend allies. She will execute the laws with reasonable impartiality. She may bend some rules for her own and her supporters’ advantage. She will not outright defy legality altogether. Above all, she can govern herself; the first indispensable qualification for governing others.

So I will vote for the candidate who rejects my preferences and offends my opinions. (In fact, I already have voted for her.) Previous generations accepted infinitely heavier sacrifices and more dangerous duties to defend democracy. I’ll miss the tax cut I’d get from united Republican government. But there will be other elections, other chances to vote for what I regard as more sensible policies. My party will recover to counter her agenda in Congress, moderate her nominations to the courts, and defeat her bid for re-election in 2020. I look forward to supporting Republican recovery and renewal.

(snip)

I am voting to defend Americans’ profoundest shared commitment: a commitment to norms and rules that today protect my rights under a president I don’t favor, and that will tomorrow do the same service for you.

Vote the wrong way in November, and those norms and rules will shudder and shake in a way unequaled since the Union won the Civil War.

I appreciate that Donald Trump is too slovenly and incompetent to qualify as a true dictator. This country is not so broken as to allow a President Trump to arrest opponents or silence the media. Trump is a man without political ideas. Trump’s main interest has been and will continue to be self-enrichment by any means, no matter how crooked. His next interest after that is never to be criticized by anybody for any reason, no matter how justified—maybe most especially when justified. Yet Trump does not need to achieve a dictatorship to subvert democracy. This is the age of “illiberal democracy,” as Fareed Zakaria calls it, and across the world we’ve seen formally elected leaders corrode democratic systems from within. Surely the American system of government is more robust than the Turkish or Hungarian or Polish or Malaysian or Italian systems. But that is not automatically true. It is true because of the active vigilance of freedom-loving citizens who put country first, party second. Not in many decades has that vigilance been required as it is required now.

Your hand may hesitate to put a mark beside the name, Hillary Clinton. You’re not doing it for her. The vote you cast is for the republic and the Constitution.

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Finally, an answer that makes sense

DC102116-1000

“That explains so much.”

Thanks, The New Yorker

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Are we there yet?

It was a very busy weekend in the presidential election, and I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up with the developments.  But when the New York Times details how Donald Trump probably (we don’t know for sure—still no tax returns!) managed to legally avoid a big income tax bill on money his investors lost in his casinos (still wondering, how do you lose a bundle on a freaking casino?) and that fails to register as the top story because the director of the FBI pops off to let the nation know that there might (or might not) be some new email evidence that’s pertinent to the Hillary Clinton private email server case, evidence found while investigating an unrelated case (although that case is related to an investigation of Hillary Clinton’s top aide’s estranged husband), at the same time that there are new and dubious stories alleging Trump’s connection to top levels of Vladimir Putin’s government, then I’ve about reached my limit of good news.

It’s only a week until the election and I need some help synthesizing.  That’s the point of commentary, and today in The Atlantic Conor Friedersdorf made a nice contribution in reminding that an apples-to-apples comparison of the faults of Clinton and Trump doesn’t do enough.  The FBI/email news is big big big right now mostly because it is new; we’ve all seen how developments that seemed insurmountable have dwindled to near nothingness as this campaign has dragged on and on and on.

It is proper for journalists to keep informing the public about [Clinton’s] misdeeds as new information becomes available, whether it concerns her emails or her family’s nonprofit foundation and its donors. There are so many politicians, many Republicans among them, that I would rather have as America’s president. If not for Trump, I would not even consider voting for her.  And yet, strikingly, Clinton’s behavior doesn’t come close to the depths of awfulness displayed by her opponent. He isn’t just a little bit worse. He is orders of magnitude worse, and would do irrevocable damage to the country in ways totally unrelated to his preferred policies.

You can get a good reminder of the details in this May story from David Frum that finds seven “guardrails” in American political life that Trump plowed through to bring us to this point; things like, our presumption of restraint and honesty in a candidate, and even a basic knowledge of public affairs.

But the most moving thing I found today was in a clip trending on YouTube from Sunday’s “Last Week Tonight” in which John Oliver sums up my feelings nicely:

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