Monday, December 2, 2019

A Loss of Dignity.

Recently there has been much written about the polarization of America.  Francis Fukuyama, the noted political theorist has written a book on the subject, " Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment."  Brilliantly conceived, Fukuyama deals with the reasons the politics of identity has struck so discordant a note in our present national conversation.  

Since I have not completed the book, I can only deal with what I have read so far, but at this point, I cannot resist in remarking how prescient a work it is and the subject of why we have seemed to have sunk so deeply into selecting leadership that is so viscerally repugnant.

Donald Trump is a master of mining the depths of the inherent contradictions in the psyches of his followers.  By using dog whistles, he plays to both the fears and the desires of those who consider themselves forgotten by the elites--the loss of their perceived respect and dignity.  Their invisibility.

The American middle class, despite its station in the world compared to other nations, has suffered, Fukuyama says, from a loss of their self-esteem because they have become invisible to the elites of both the government and those residing on the coasts.  This invisibility is worse than being regarded as rubes, yokels and rednecks.
Since deindustrialization, they have lost their place in society.  They have lost the meaning of their work and thus their claim to respect and dignity.

Fukuyama alludes to philosophers who have dealt with this subject, Aristotle, Kant, Rousseau, who all have different takes on how we regard ourselves and our relation to the world in both a political and psychological sense.  But the essence is a human quest for dignity and respect.

Fukuyama analogizes, moreover, that losing something of value is more important than gaining something of value.  For example if one makes $1000, the self-satisfaction of doing so is more easily dismissed than losing $1000 through theft or a lost wallet.   A sense of loss, therefore, outweighs a sense of gain, because one regards the event with a diminution of self-esteem.   For another example, the loss of jobs in the industrial Midwest among auto workers is a devastating blow to people who worked hard and earned $47 an hour but now earn $15 an hour working just as hard.  This is fertile ground, for manipulative demagoguery, converting the rust belt into fertile ground for hucksterism, for a pied piper of mendacity and illusory dreams.

That is what, Fukuyama argues, has happened to American workers as well as to workers in other countries suffering from the effects of deindustrialization and technological displacement who have found themselves in the netherworld of lost aspirations.

The result of all this is the place provided for increased demagoguery.   This has happened in our history before.  During the great depression of the 1930s, people who had lost their jobs suffered more from the loss of dignity than from the loss of employment.   Along came Father Coughlin, Huey Long and other charlatans, to fuel the sense of displacement and valuelessness among their followers and to increase the credibility of their own populism.

People who have lost their place on the auto assembly line, the steel mill, the farmer, have flocked to a flim-flam man who promised them that their jobs would be restored when he really knew they would not. 
The expression of the dignity of work is not lost on us.  People who think that Andrew Yang's offer of a guaranteed annual income is not the sinecure that its advocates might think.  Whether people really want something for nothing is open to question.   Most people do not want handouts; they want to earn their keep not only for their own pocket books but also for their dignity.  Many of the benefits of a welfare state are an anathema to most Americans and even among those of us who believe that government has an obligation to help the less fortunate among us.

In addition, social media has exacerbated this phenomenon by emphasizing  the shrinking of the middle class, the income of which has exponentially spiraled down in the obverse exponential growth of corporate profits, and executive compensation with FOX news propaganda  mouthing administration lies about how "great" the economy is doing and how coal miners jobs will be restored, if only we could keep America away from intruding immigrants.

Happy Holidays   

Sunday, October 27, 2019

After Trump, What?

As the political process, and make no mistake about it, impeachment is a political process, seems to be finally grinding exceedingly fine against a man who really did not want to govern in the first place, Americans need to consider what lies ahead.

While the president thinks that the “phony emoluments clause,” is not what Alexander Hamilton and James Madison had in mind for pretenders to despotism, it is exactly what they had in mind. Both Hamilton and Madison feared an “unfit usurper with despotic tendencies” by writing into the constitution Article II impeachment provisions, and  In the Federalist papers, expressing deep concern about “unfit magistrates,” drawing upon sanguinary English history for the definitions of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The argument that Trump is simply a blaggard rings exponentially truer.  His thinning congressional apologists fear that his candidacy in 2020 will potentially bring them down in a cascade of voter outrage. 
Even immoderate Republicans sense the danger, worrying what will come next.   Will they all lose their jobs? Will the Democrats get carte blanche to correct the continuous train wreck of impulsive ineptitude?   Or, is Trumpian politics the new normal?

I think not.  The debates among Democrats so far has been civil; we suppose that a conscious decision has been made to follow Ronald Regan’s directive of not speaking badly of one’s fellow party members, even opponents aggressively vying for a win.

The damage done so far to American foreign policy,  betrayal of our allies,  ignorance of governance, the skeleton staff at the White House, and  uncertainty of world leaders should abate once the president is ignominiously shuttled to jail or to his golden tower, perhaps sporting a GPS ankle bracelet, railing how the system victimized him.  His twitter followers and congressional enablers will have to wait until the next opportunity.  But Trump will probably fade away, a small man, made smaller by his vindictiveness, vulgarity, and “victimhood,” his ignorance, hubris and mendacity.   

One of the key aspects of a democracy is forbearance and respect for other’s perspectives. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt of Harvard argue in “How Democracies Die,” illustrate how democratically elected leaders, become intolerant of their opponents by attacking them and a free press.  This tactic will ultimately fail in America.  It did not fail in Weimar Germany, but we are not Teutonic militarists, emerging from a great depression.

Profound ideals of freedom are expounded in our constitution by the founding fathers, a brilliant constellation of leaders who emerged at just the right time.  Flawed though it was (slavery) our constitution has provided a framework for both the left and for the right, for conservative and progressive, a document for the ages.

It is that document that now threatens the authoritarian demagoguery of Donald J. Trump.  The perversion of the presidency will not last, nor should it.  We will get through this aberration, this assault on American values. 

America, granted, is under challenge from technological displacement, by the rise of illiberalism, by Russian revanchism.
by stagnant wages, by inequality, by climate change.

Americans have a great opportunity now to cleave together, as we did in World War II, as we would have if Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, and racist Andrew Johnson allowed the confederacy to win the peace after 700,000 Americans lay dead at Antietam, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, the Wilderness, Chickamauga, Vicksburg, and Fredericksburg to preserve the Union and free the slaves.   After Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with the help of Eleanor Roosevelt who resigned her place in the Daughters of the American Revolution when racism did not allow the great soprano to sing. And After Dr. King marched on Washington awakening our Republic from its sleepwalking through segregation, lynching and racial injustice.

At the same time, the Constitution provides an escape from the road to totalitarianism. From the would-be intolerance and autocrat-admiring Donald Trump.  It is the lynchpin of freedom in America, not because it is hermetically sealed in the national archives, but because the people of this county believe in it.   It is in that belief, in that faith in the American ideal, that weathers the storm of malign Trumpism.  It is the belief in the “better angels of our nature,” that America will regain its bearings, like a sailing ship as expressed in the verse of Longfellow.   “Sail on, oh ship of state, sail on, oh Union strong and great; humanity with all its fears, with all its hopes of future years, is hanging breathless on thy fate.”

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A cultural war rages in America.

An increasingly minoritizing white America are struggling with the past of a nation substantially built on the backs of imported slaves, their sweltering sub-decks populated by a degraded humanity, forced to lie in their own urine and feces. The first twenty slaves arrived in British America in 1619, according to Jill Lepore, author of a new history of the United States.  The sorry institution exploded in the colonies after the invention, in 1793, of the cotton gin, an impetus for profitable manufacturing of cottons and linens and for the necessity of an exponential increase in chattel slavery in all of the thirteen colonies.

The consequences of this institution led to the American Civil War, being, as most wars, driven by economic forces, further justified by the rationalization of preserving a “way of life, and individual liberty” (of white men). Perpetuation of that puissance expanded the number of slave states as the American Union spread over the continent, through the victimizing doctrine of “manifest destiny,” enabling theft of the lands of native Americans, Mexicans, and others, including Hispanics in the great American West. Frighteningly, Hitler conceived the idea of lebensraumfrom the American model, writing about it in Mein Kampf.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost.  The stain on our history, through knowledge of the past has caused a dissolution of MAGA 1950s equilibrium of America.  The whiteness of “Leave it to Beaver,” and “Father Knows Best,” is reluctantly surrendering to the political realities of a woke generation.   The dispossessed, the robbed, the abused portion of the American polity are demanding reparations for the backbreaking servitude and social discrimination they were obliged to endure through much of the history of the Republic but also creating much of our wealth and infrastructure. Predicated on economic servitude’s malevolent benefits and the building of America through economically indentured generations since the Civil War, there is currency to the argument that America owes a monetary debt to the descendants of slaves, not merely those who lived in the 19thcentury.

Current white nationalist backlash is no different than the traitorous Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest’s (KKK founder)  defending the Southern aristocracy perpetuating itself on the treasure created by negro slaves, continuing unabated through an aborted reconstruction fulminated by the impeached, but not convicted, racist Andrew Johnson, and the resegregation of the South and the military by the former president of Princeton University and of the United States, who believed that black men were inferior to whites, the heroic Woodrow Wilson, who envisioned a peaceful world order and campaigned unsuccessfully for a league of nations and gained a Nobel Peace Prize for his  failed effort. 

White racist men such as the current president and his base of white supremacists will not succeed in suppressing demands for economic equality, immigration justice, and more American diversity. Finally, after centuries of struggle, the world of white dominance of our country is being dragged kicking and screaming into a more diversified American 21stcentury ethos. Despite the last gasps of an anachronistic, aberrational president, a disenfranchised minority is beginning to define its own future.    Republican gerrymandered voter suppression occurring in the heartland is being challenged not only by a new generation of Americans, but also by many white people who are beginning to understand the economic disparities created by racial prejudice and economic deprivation and an electoral system engineered to perpetuate the status quo of voter suppression and rural overrepresentation. We are a national entity--a people, not geographical state boundaries alone.   Although our economic and federal system ensures more freedom, it also provokes more economic disparities and even tribalism, the ultimate enemy of a free republic.   The electoral college is the single most undemocratic institution in our federal system, allowing states like North Dakota two senators for 500,000 people and California with its 39,000,000 the same two senators. It must go the way of the proverbial horse and buggy. It was a successful compromise among disparate states not yet a country to ratify a new constitution.  Now it must be put to pasture.  The middle class is beginning to realize that it is not immigrants causing employment loss, it is unparalleled technological change creating the disorder. 80% of the jobs lost are because of it, not scapegoated immigrants and minorities. 

All this unhinging is happening very rapidly, almost like the recent California earthquake. Trump’s America is trembling beneath his feet, despite Twitter rages, petulant ad hominem attacks on adversaries, and the chaos of an indelibly incompetent administration that thinks that climate change is a hoax, and that “a new and better health plan” (that does not exist) will help our country by ejecting 30 million people from their insurance.  And yes, that people of color who criticize him or his policies “go back,” an old Strom Thurmond trope.

The technological forces pushing major international corporations and the uber-wealthy to new, gilded age disparities between them and the middle class is becoming increasingly self-evident as a threat to our republic.     Equally, the thinly veiled disguise of whites being abused by the descendants of slaves or immigrants no less a hoax than PT Barnum’s appeal in the carnival midway of a horrible freak show.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

July 4, 2019

July 4, 2019, the 243rdbirthday of the United States of America      

Born of revolution against the mightiest superpower of the 18thcentury;
Borne by steely revolutionary men whose beliefs in liberty,
Produced a victory in a fraught war of independence;
Fought in the hills and battlegrounds and cities of Concord, Lexington, Princeton, Yorktown, New York, Delaware, New Jersey, and Virginia;

A people nurtured by a will to live without unjust taxation and with a paucity of representation; and by great statesmen.

A nation blessed with a statesman-first president who refused to be addressed “Your excellency” and stepped down voluntarily even having been offered a Kingship.

A nation blessed with statesmen who assembled in the heat of a Philadelphia summer to birth a constitution, a compromise among the different states, who, despite their inherent differences and efforts, almost a hundred years later, gave rise to a sanguinary war, a war of brother against brother, father against son, state against state;
Tearing the imperfect Union asunder, saturating the land with corpses and mangled bodies so numerous and throughout the battlegrounds of Vicksburg, Chattanooga, Gettysburg, Manassas, Fredericksburg, Cold Harbor.

A war that, although originally not so intended, eventually eradicated the sin of slavery,
And resulted in the martyrdom of our greatest President,
Who had given a race of people a new birth of freedom;
Only to suffer the indignities of continued and unbridled racism and economic servitude;

A nation that perpetuated second class citizenry to its former slaves, and upon whose backs our nation grew;
A nation that owes much of its existence to the backbreaking servitude of slaves.

A nation that fought two great world wars to kill authoritarianism, while still many of its citizens use racial animus, segregation and hate to assuage their fears;
And a president who thrives upon such fears; 

A nation that turned away immigrants who, as a result were condemned to their deaths in the flames of Europe.
A nation that dispossessed and stole the native inhabitants of their land, sending them on a trail of tears.
A nation that separates child from parent, mother from son, father from daughter, and sees, yet cannot control its malevolent leaders and cries in anguish in its own imprisonment.

A nation with the generosity of spirit and independence that still stands as a testament to liberty, with its flaws in full sight and under the scrutiny of a free press;
A nation upon which the world depends for its economic security;
A nation with an independent judiciary, guarding  against the misfeasance of politicians.

Yet a nation with entrenched minority rule;

A nation that has suffered and is still suffering through incompetents and demagogues;
A nation that will surely expose such bkaggards after being victimized by them;

A nation still imperfect, of immigrants, both recent and past, of people fleeing from the injustice of their native lands, bringing children, bringing their hearts and souls, seeking to enter the golden door.

A nation increasingly diversified, traversing the challenges of a new technological era, of change of climate, of new frontiers of medicine, energy production and the will to meet the challenge.

A nation still striving to perfect its union and make it more perfect.  A more perfect union,
Still seeking liberty and justice for all.

Friday, June 21, 2019

War with Iran?

War with Iran?

During the 1930s Japan was busy invading China, committing racial atrocities in a rampage broadening their economic and political empire.  The rape of Nanking in 1937 by the Imperial Japanese army (the then Chinese capital) was a huge horror preceding the unspeakable horrors following Pearl Harbor both in Europe and in the Pacific theatres of war.   Estimates of dead in that Nanking massacre range from 50,000 to 300,000.

The United States imposed crushing sanctions on Japan, including an oil embargo and rubber from Dutch and British possessions in the South Pacific.  The United States had also demanded that Japan withdraw from China, under which the Japanese were busy renaming Manchuria to Manchukuo, a province of Japan.  This embargo was an existential threat to the Japanese, choked their economy, poaching their territorial and imperial ambitions.

The Japanese then initiated war against the United States by surprise attack on December 7, 1941.  President Roosevelt’s administration knew what they were doing preceding Pearl Harbor, wanting to snip the Japanese wings, joined by the British ostensibly, to protect their empire, upon which the “sun never set.”

Now why this history?  

Well, because Iran is fomenting terror throughout the Middle East.  It is supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. It wishes to achieve hegemony through military and political action.  This enrages the Saudis, Egyptians, and Israel.  Although the US has withdrawn from the Iran nuclear deal, the Europeans are under pressure from the US to shut down the Iranian economy. Inflation is 50% and unemployment 25%. They are succeeding.  Iran is suffering, and pressured.  Unable to produce sufficient revenues to keep the country going,  the theocrats in charge are becoming desperate, escalating tensions in the straits of Hormuz through which much of the world’s oil traffic must traverses.  So the militants have decided to shoot down a US asset and bomb two ships.  Trump says the drone was in international waters, but who believes him?  Today he called off a retaliatory strike, and that may be a clue to where the drone was actually located—over Iran or International waters.

John Bolton is a known bellicose national security advisor, and Mike Pompeo a known hawk.  Next to the word “cunning’” in the dictionary is Bolton’s photo.   And Pompeo? He loves war.  Bolton and Pompeo want regime change in Iran. Bolton and Pompeo want regime change in Iran.  Bolton aggressively supported the Iraq war, and we know how that turned out when George W. Bush decided to avenge his dad’s attempted assassination. 

Trump does not even know what he said the day after he said it and may, arguably, have beginning dementia.  He is a feckless ignoramus, hardly able to stand up to a foreign policy crisis.  He is busy conducting reality show rallies in, of all places, Orlando where most of his Floridian supporters live.  His base does not care about anything except their religion—Trump.  And all Trump cares about is getting reelected, to continue his pursuit of illicit riches for himself and his family.  People, he said he was opposed to all wars, “America First,” but that was only when Democrats were in power.  And when President Obama was not born in the United States.  Does anyone believe that this narcissist will tell us the truth or manage a gathering storm?

Of this, wars are born, old men sending young men and women to die.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Political Expediency versus Political Morality

A dilemma now stares at an increasingly divided Democratic party, having now been handed by Robert Mueller, a road map for impeachment of Donald Trump, a bible, if you will, of misfeasance and lawlessness, Nancy Pelosi and her minions must now decide which route to take--the dreaded "I" word or a substantive campaign for electoral victory.

On the one hand, many advocates for impeachment, including Elizabeth Warren, argue that it is the constitutional duty of the congress to protect our democracy from an unfit president by introducing a bill of impeachment.   Nancy Pelosi believes that it is too soon to decide, knowing full well that the election is only 18 short (or long) months away, depending upon one’s point of view, and that impeachment hearings will create a distraction, paralyzing government, playing into Trump’s wheelhouse exacerbating his victimhood.   He still holds his 40% approval among his base, many of whom believe in the Trumpian ability to shoot someone on 5th avenue, and suffer no consequence, possibly Nancy Pelosi or an undocumented immigrant, take your pick.

Moreover, the two-thirds vote for removal in the polarized senate is probably not possible, magnifying the arduous, Sisyphean moral imperative of how congress should act under present circumstances.

Others believe that this President is dangerous and is capable, through his masterful control of his base, able to manipulate public opinion escalating his “poor Donald” into another term.  Nothing frightens Democrats more.

Watergate-like hearings take time.   The parade of inevitable witnesses creates boardrooms full of fulminating cable network executives exalting over the volume of pharma medications they can sell to old people, watching 24/7.  On the other hand, a full examination of the facts and testimony might very well convince many voters to vote against the president even if a bill of impeachment is not passed in the house or that he is not removed by the senate.

A currency to the moral obligation of congress quickly to proceed now with impeachment is persuasive.  There is clarity to removing a president who, many think, has no regard for our institutions, the law or the consequences of his narcissistic fulminations.  Mueller’s argument that DOJ regulations prohibit the indictment of a sitting president, because he would not be able to “clear his name” through a trial, resonates to some. Therefore, the only remedy is a trial in the Senate through impeachment.

Machiavelli proposed that governments do not function well on morality.  Abraham Lincoln suspended the right of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, and after Pearl Harbor Franklin Roosevelt interned loyal Japanese Americans in camps, ripping families apart and from their homes without judicial process.  Clearly, these two actions violated the Constitution, but saving the Union or national security was the imperative, not historical rectitude.  That came much later as would many questions about the stains of the American past, including slavery.

Legions of governments in the world modeled their constitutions after ours, and the lack of forbearance among the polity effectively abnegated the paper document, allowing the rise of totalitarianism.  In our country, argue Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt in a new book, How Democracies Die, argue that our institutions are under threat by the loss of forbearance in our polarized society.  The more polarization results in less forbearance, increasing the threat to our institutions.  The tolerance needed to listen to others with whom we disagree is the foundation of our democracy, not a paper document alone, they argue. That tolerance has lately disappeared, to our detriment.

So, what is Congress to do?   Bringing a bill of impeachment now, many think, poses a political risk to the Democrats but not bringing it poses a risk to the Republic by leaving an unfit president more time to erode our institutions, the very ones congress is charged to protect.  Democrats must think long and hard whether the moral choice will ultimately lead to a more perfect union or whether it will lead to more disunion.  A long and nasty impeachment resulting in the removal of this president might provide more fodder for his base than a resounding loss at the polls a mere 18 months from now.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cruel and Unusual

Cruel and Unusual.

At 3am Friday, April 12, the Supreme Court of the United States contributed to our national voyage towards injustice and perhaps even totalitarianism.

The court ruled that a prisoner who chose to die by nitrogen hypoxia, more or less proven to be painless, was trying to delay his execution because he had not chosen this methodology in a timely fashion.  The court ruled 5-4 along predictable lines, that the inmate, granted, a brutal murderer, did not, within the time limits imposed by the state, and therefore for procedural reasons, would have had to wait for a new death warrant to be signed.  So, the court vacated the stay of execution of the lower court so that there would be no further delay in putting him to death.   As though he would not be available for such purpose 30 days later.

The court did not even allow for Justice Bryers’s request to wait for a court conference the following morning in order to discuss the issue.  The stay was vacated at 3am.

Recently, I visited London.  A very knowledgeable guide told me and my grandsons how the English executed people in the 15th century as we traversed the innards of a venerable Westminster Abbey.   First, they hanged them until almost dead.   Then, they disemboweled them, burning their intestines in front of them, whilst they attached their limbs to four horses to draw and quarter them.  Now, that is a real deterrent for stealing or treason or murder.  My youngest grandson 11, his eyes wide open dropped his jaw.  He will remember that tour, surely.

Now the Supreme Court of the United States is debating the efficacy of lethal injection or nitrogen hypoxia as the lesser of what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” as a definition of what the Constitution proscribes.   In fact, the practices as described in the previous paragraph is what prompted that prohibitory language in our constitution.

Arguably, the guillotine is a more humane form of punishment than the painful three-drug cocktail as utilized in the progressive state of Alabama, which only 70 years ago, preferred lynching as a methodology for enforcing its cultural ethos. 

More crucially, capital punishment itself should be reexamined under the “evolving standards of decency” criteria as set forth by Chief Justice Earl Warren in Trop v. Dulles (1958), a case that articulated what punishment the courts may impose upon a defendant.

In Furman v. Georgia (1972) capital punishment was constituted as cruel and unusual in and of itself, leading to a 4-year moratorium on the medieval practice, until regressive state legislatures struggled to overcome the shortcomings of the system and Gregg v. Georgia (1976) effectively reinstated it by addressing the shortcomings of the system in Furman.   Space does not here allow an extensive discussion here, but the reader is invited, if interested, to read the history of this sordid abuse of state power.

In his dissent in Dunn v. Alabama (2019) Justice Breyer, clearly upset, argued the priorities of the court as being skewed.  And it is indubitable that capital punishment has no place in the pantheon of criminal justice in the 21st century.   The idea that the state takes a life and that the highest court in the land, decides life or death based upon a procedural technicality, ludicrous in itself, strikes at the heart of our democracy.  The murderer dies, the victim is not restored to life, the vengeful family gains nothing, deterrence is not effectuated, and the poor suffer the penalty disproportionately.  More importantly, our societal humanity suffers a damaging blow.

The very idea that the Supreme Court of the United States occupies its time deliberating the timeliness of death appeals while scrutinizing the finality of execution and whether the condemned should die by hanging, firing squad, three-drug cocktail, nitrogen gas and the uncertainty of pain inflicted by the methodology in the context of the Constitution as it should be 2019, appeals only to the ghoulish instincts of people like Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and even Clarence Thomas,  all products of a crypto-masochistic society that refuses to change the interpretation of an 18th century document.  Chief Justice Roberts, who has recently shown some reason has joined in this charade, to his discredit.

Totalitarian states traditionally employ capital punishment as a method for keeping dissent under control as well as for apostacy, stealing bread, homosexuality, and other crimes not really eligible in the US for this most extreme of penalties.  Other methods include torture, and in the case recently of Saudi Arabia, dismemberment by bone saw. This was clearly an act of state murder, and hard to distinguish from what is still happening in our country, differing only in pretext.  As Justice Blackmun wrote in 1994, that he would “no longer tinker with the machinery of death,” so should the present Supreme Court no longer do so.

We sit with Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, and other totalitarian states in our employment of this barbarity, which is still applied unfairly against racial minorities, and the poor.