A call to allies

One of the two best things I learned from watching the major political parties’ national conventions was that a four-night-long television mini-series with no drama about who will win the competition is much better when you concede that the live action in the hall doesn’t matter, so just producing it as a TV show works fine.  Probably better.  The second is that there’s a law called the Hatch Act that was designed to protect government workers from undue pressure and threat to their jobs from political parties and their operatives, but it also prohibits government facilities and workers who are on the clock from being used for partisan political purposes.

Truth is I actually knew that one before.  What I learned last week is that it’s just one more time-honored political tradition that President Trump and his party dumped on because, well, they are who they are.

I watched both major parties’ political conventions because I always do, because I thought I ought to so I’d have first-hand knowledge of what happened, and because I wanted to see what they would do since they couldn’t gather tens of thousands of people together in close quarters during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There was, shall we say, a distinct difference with respect to the medically-accepted protocols on how to fight the spread of a virus that is still killing a thousand Americans a day.

If you needed another opportunity to see the president give a rambling speech that focused on his many personal grievances, you got that.  If you are confused about how the incumbent president could offer a catalog of problems facing our country today—problems that started during his term or which became worse during that time—and try to scare you into believing those things are Joe Biden’s fault and will get worse if Trump loses the election, well, I’m with you on that one.  If you’re wondering how Joe Biden (or anyone, for that matter) could abolish the suburbs, I do not know.

For a faster and more entertaining version of the highlights of those lies, CNN’s Daniel Dale has it nailed.

Facing re-election is when most politicians take time to consider how to broaden their appeal and improve their chances.  Safe to say we can all agree that Donald Trump is not most politicians.  He is not trying to broaden his appeal.  He is counting on frightening those of our fellow citizens who supported him four years ago into doing so again, while taking actions which he thinks will make it harder for those who oppose him to vote at all.  And he’s hoping that his supporters will just overlook the fact that during his three and a half years in office he has weakened if not poisoned our relationships with international allies while sucking up to dictators, that he started trade wars that hurt American businesses and farmers, that his see-no-evil response to the pandemic is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and the cratering economy that was a direct result of our effort to protect ourselves from the virus, that he and his family businesses have siphoned off millions of tax dollars, that he overtly supports and encourages racists while never expressing concern for their actions (should we give him credit for honesty, for not pretending to care?), that he thumbs his nose at the laws of the land when they would inconvenience him and dares anyone to stop him.

To ignore the fact that so many of “the best people” he hired for his administration have ended up guilty of crimes committed in thrall to Trump and have served or are still serving time.  That he was impeached for trying to bribe another country to damage a political opponent.  That he lies to us every day in such an obvious way that it would embarrass a four year old.

Please don’t ignore this: former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, now a professor of international studies at Stanford, outlines the signs and symbols from last week’s Republican National Convention that identify Trump as an autocrat in the making:

Are you like me, do you read that list and hear the ring of truth?

For those who want to treat this election in a more traditional way and focus on “the issues,” I found a nice website that will help you with that.  It’s keepamericagreat.com and we’re all for that, right; here’s what you will find:

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The cool thing is it lays out what Trump promised four years ago in areas such as the economy and jobs, immigration, foreign policy and more, and reports whether he made good on those promises or not.  (Hint: they say he did not.)  The hilarious thing is the site, sponsored by the Biden campaign, snatched up the URL of a variant of Trump’s mantra because, well, the Trumpsters apparently didn’t think to do it themselves.

I am encouraged to read of many Republicans coming out publicly against Trump…too bad there are so few Republicans in federal office who are doing the same.  I sympathize with people like life-long Republican William Treadway, a West Point graduate who swore an oath (as did Trump himself!) to protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic.

Well, we have met the enemy, and he is a bigoted, failed businessman whose primary use of the American presidency has been to dodge accountability for his own misdeeds, to distract from ongoing Russian attacks on both our election systems and our soldiers, and of course, to line his pockets with money squeezed from the blood and sweat and suffering of Americans nationwide.

He has even sent federal agents, dressed like my soldiers were in Afghanistan, to a city near you with the prime goal of beating, assaulting and abducting women, veterans, and others exercising their First Amendment rights as part of a program of unconstitutional “proactive arrests.” (Never has a more Stalinist term been uttered in this decade.)

Trump is an existential threat to the United States. That is not hyperbole. Many Republican friends will say that they, too, understand that fact, and find his behavior abhorrent. Yet, when it comes to considering Joe Biden, the struggle remains very real.

Their solution instead is to pick a third party, write-in Captain America or simply not cast a ballot at all.

This would be an evasion of civic responsibility. The right to vote is sacred and hard-earned, and to waste it on what amounts to abstention is an insult to those who have given their lives to protect that privilege. (emphasis added)

The only powers we citizens have against such a reckless and cruel administration as Trump’s are the voice and the vote. While one voice and one vote may seem too minimal to have any impact against a government so powerful, if we all join in chorus, a nationwide roar, we can reclaim our America from under the boot of an abusive, corrupt and shameful administration.

Staying home this fall or voting for a write-in under these conditions would be a gutless act. The two-century experiment in self-government that’s given us all so much is in need of just one thing to keep from withering: A sensible vote from responsible citizens.

In the face of a national leader so toxic to the Republic and her people as Trump, the policy goals of his opponent become irrelevant next to the preservation of the Union. What we need right now more than anything is stable, honest leadership and serious accountability for those who’ve wronged this nation and her people. We need a President Joe Biden.

(snip)

I’m willing to announce it, openly and proudly, because while it may not align with my policy goals, it aligns perfectly with my oath to protect this nation from danger. I understand that others cannot take that position publicly. But when you fill out your ballot, whether you do it at home or in a voting booth, remember: I’m on your side, and always have been.

We’ll be secret allies for now, and later, when our country has healed, we will take pride together, knowing that we did our part to save it.

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.

Equal protection: it’s what we do here at the ol’ USA

The first time I wrote about gay marriage rights here was more than four and half years ago  (“Equal justice for all: the gay rights tide has turned,” Oct. 15, 2010) and the kernel of the argument was already formed:

We can proclaim not to understand why people are homosexual, or embrace a religious belief that homosexual activity is a sin, but none of that matters in a tolerant, secular, civil society.  The experts can’t say why a person is sexually attracted to one gender or the other.  And it violates the rights of due process and free speech guaranteed to each American in the Constitution to treat someone differently because of their sexual orientation just as it would to treat them differently because of their gender or their ancestry.

(snip)

You don’t have to “understand” gay people any more than you have to “understand” people of a different race or a different religion.  You only have to understand that these people are Americans like you, who believe in American rights like you do, who want to enjoy American freedoms like you do…

This week, history: a 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court of the United States in Obergefell v Hopkins takes its place alongside the great civil rights and civil liberties decisions of American jurisprudence.  The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of all Americans to civil marriage, and all its advantages and protections, be they heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual.  As far as the civil law is concerned this isn’t about sex: it’s about equal treatment under the law.

Homosexual conduct is no longer a civil crime in this country, and thus is no reason to withhold the full rights and exercise of citizenship from homosexuals.  Homosexual conduct is objectionable within many organized religions, to be sure, and virtually all of the opposition to extending the right to marry to gays and lesbians has come on religious grounds.  For the most part I don’t question the sincerity of that religious belief (although it would be prudent to account for the cynical exploiters, primarily from the political realm).

But that’s beside the crucial point, which is that, in this country, civil law is not answerable to religious law.  The First Amendment guarantees that we each and all get the freedom to practice our religions, but also guarantees that none of those religions wields authority directly over civil society.  The Constitution protects us from any majority that would try to force one or another religious doctrine onto everyone—because the Constitution takes religious liberty for all just that seriously—and guarantees that all men and women deserve equal treatment under law.  Despite the nearly hysterical dissenting opinions of some of his colleagues, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision didn’t create a new right; it reminded us about a right that’s been there all along…and my friend Mr. Jefferson recognized the rationale by which Kennedy connected the dots (and Peter Foster of the Daily Telegraph reminded via the Twitterverse) long ago:

Obergefell does not mean that First Amendment protections of religious liberties are at risk, despite what you’ve heard.  Some of that reaction is well-intentioned misinformation; most is hot air from right-wing politicians and conservative religious extremists who need a boogieman to scare their supporters into donating money.  (I’m looking at you, Governor Abbott—thanks, Evan Smith for the Tweet-tip.)  In either case, they are wrong.  Religious organizations are exempt from this ruling, as they are exempt from many other laws, like, say, tax laws.  As Lisa Falkenberg put it in this morning’s Houston Chronicle, this ruling has no applicability to individuals in their private lives or to private religious institutions: “It does not keep anyone from judging, or hating, or even just politely refusing to acknowledge gay people.  No court ruling has ever told a pastor whose wedding he or she can bless.  That hasn’t changed.”

It is possible to believe in the religious sacrament of marriage and still accept this court’s decision on civil marriage rights for homosexuals.  Michigan Representative Justin Amash, a Tea Party/Libertarian/Republican, made the point quite nicely this week on Facebook:

Throughout history, different cultures have defined marriage according to their own customs and practices. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, and atheists do not share identical views on marriage. In fact, significant differences regarding marriage exist even within Christianity.

What makes marriage traditional is not its adherence to a universal definition but rather that it is defined by personal faith, not by government. For thousands of years, marriage flourished without a universal definition and without government intervention. Then came licensing of marriage. In recent decades, we’ve seen state legislatures and ballot initiatives define marriage, putting government improperly at the helm of this sacred institution.

Those who care about liberty should not be satisfied with the current situation. Government intervention in marriage presents new threats to religious freedom and provides no advantages, for gay or straight couples, over unlicensed (i.e., traditional) marriage. But we shouldn’t blame the Supreme Court for where things stand.

To the extent that Americans across the political spectrum view government marriage as authoritative and unlicensed marriage as quaint, our laws must treat marriage—and the corresponding legal benefits that attach—as they would any other government institution. So, while today’s Supreme Court opinion rests upon the false premise that government licensure is necessary to validate the intimate relationships of consenting adults, I applaud the important principle enshrined in this opinion: that government may not violate the equal rights of individuals in any area in which it asserts authority. (emphasis added)

The civil right of marriage is open to all Americans.  We must be diligent about making sure that the implementation of this decision protects the First Amendment rights of those with a religious objection to same-sex marriage, keeping in mind that it doesn’t give them the right to ignore the law.  And while we’re at it we should work on getting rid of the laws which still permit discrimination against gay Americans in the areas of housing and hiring and other aspects of day to day life, and any other laws that violate anyone’s right to equal treatment.  Because we’re Americans, and that’s what we do.

Get yer red-hot SCOTUS arguments, right here!

The briefs and the arguments for today’s Supreme Court of the United States hearing on the same-sex marriage case are available…go have a read and a listen, and we can all join the High Nine in deciding the case!

This is the stuff of history, kids…don’t miss it.

It’s a good news/bad news Friday

The good news comes from the Supreme Court of the United States, which has decided that it will hear arguments on whether or not same-sex couples have a right to marry. This New York Times story summarizes the cases from Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky that are at the heart of an appeal of a decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit which the High Nine have now agreed to consider.

The court said it will hear two and a half hours of argument, probably in the last week of April. The first 90 minutes will be devoted to the question of whether the Constitution requires states “to license a marriage between two people of the same sex.”

The last hour will concern a question that will be moot if the answer to the The first one is yes: whether states must “recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state.”

This is very exciting: within just a few months we’ll have a ruling from the country’s highest court on whether same-sex marriage is to be permitted in all 50 states, not just the 36 states and the District of Columbia where it is legal now.

Now, the bad news: the Southern Education Foundation believes that “For the first time in at least 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students come from low-income families.”  The Washington Post has a good summary of the report.

Half of all public school students in America are poor?  Half?!  (More than half in 21 states; Mississippi at 71% has the highest percentage.)  I find myself surprised by this confirmation of how far the abandonment of our public schools has gone by those who can afford other options.  (Full disclosure: although most of my education was in public schools, I attended and graduated from a private high school.)  A free public education for all was a great example of America’s commitment to a society where everyone has an opportunity to succeed.  We all paid our share for public schools, even those who sent their kids to private school or whose kids had finished school or who never had any kids at all, because it meant a better-educated society and that was a benefit for all of us.

But more and more, people became unhappy with their public school systems.  When the quality of the education declined people got upset that their kids were being cheated out of their futures; in some cases it was court-ordered desegregation that made people unhappy with their public schools.  Many of those who could afford to moved to suburban school districts and took their tax money with them, leaving the city schools with less and less money to spend on teachers and books and buildings.  Which meant even poorer quality education, which prompted more parents to flee, and the cycle continued.

Today people are trying to get voucher laws passed that will in effect allow their school tax money to pay for their kid’s education in private schools, taking even more money out of the system that is the only resort for the poor, the students whose families can’t afford private schools or charter schools or anything other than the old school down the street.

I understand that parents want the best for their children; I get it that despite recent improvements our economy isn’t as strong as it once was and a lot of people don’t have the jobs and income they want and deserve.  Still, I’m saddened at how many people seem to feel that abandoning the greater good for American society—the education of everyone else’s children—is the best way for them to take care of their own.