Category Archives: Random Blogging

Adults And Children

We’re at the stage of the Mueller investigation when shoes are dropping pretty regularly. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with the plea agreements, the guilty pleas, the additional indictments–not to mention the speculation about where this is all leading that is on offer from this former prosecutor or that former Judge on a daily basis.

You would think his base would begin to catch on (and evidently a few of them are beginning to)…but my Facebook page still shows periodic comments from members of the cult that continues to defend him; most are of the “what about Hillary” and “Obama did stuff I didn’t like” variety. And of course, reminders that no public servant is perfect. That’s certainly true; there has never been a candidate or a President I agreed with 100% of the time.

What the Trump defenders are unwilling to admit is the magnitude of the difference.

“I disagree with the policy positions of the adult who holds this office” is dramatically different from deploring the (ungrammatical) tantrums of a wholly unfit-for-office (or polite society, for that matter) child. But then, as post-election research has pretty conclusively determined, most of the people who hated Obama really couldn’t identify a policy position if they fell over it; what they resented was having a black family in the White House. What they voted for was an undisciplined child willing to say out loud what adults had been socialized to suppress.

I’m surprised Trump hasn’t called someone a poopy-head; given his diction, vocabulary and emotional “maturity,” it would seem entirely in character.

Most sentient Americans have figured out that the people who applaud Trump because “He tells it like it is” are defining bigotry as forthrightness, and racism as honesty. And evidently, having a President express and validate those sentiments is more important to them than having even minimally competent government.

Trump’s jealousy of his predecessor is not only obvious, it explains what passes for his agenda. If Obama promoted it, Trump wants to destroy it. The merits or demerits of the Obama administration’s policies are totally irrelevant to the three-year-old brat who–inconceivable as it still seems to me– occupies the Oval Office.

Obama made mincemeat of Trump at a Correspondent’s dinner, and like the child he is, he thinks undoing Obama’s very real achievements will “show him.” The collateral damage to the country is beyond his childish capacity to understand, and because he is a child, he wouldn’t care if he did understand.

Speaking of Obama–he has been incredibly restrained as Trump has eviscerated important policies he put in place, but as the indictments and the guilty pleas have mounted, he recently took a swipe:

“Not only did I not get indicted, nobody in my administration got indicted,” the former president said at an event in Houston on Tuesday, “which by the way was the only administration in modern history that that can be said about. In fact, nobody came close to being indicted, partly because the people who joined us were there for the right reasons. We were there to serve.”

Adults serve. Children are incapable of understanding the concept of service. Children misbehave–and when they are disciplined, they whine and call other people names.

More shoes please, Mr. Mueller. And ASAP.

 

Points Of Light

I was scrolling through Facebook Sunday afternoon, after my return from Danville, and came across a post by a longtime friend, Chris Douglas. He was commenting on a shared article detailing many truly horrifying things done to African-Americans in the period leading up to the Civil War. Chris pointed out that people inclined to minimize these truly despicable behaviors, discounting evil because it was reflective of the “culture of the times,” are simply wrong.

Good people then knew better, and they were doing more than protesting.

Let us note that at the very same time, Hoosier Levi Coffin was among leaders organizing an illegal Underground Railroad (in which the David Douglas family participated); Calvin Fletcher was providing legal defense to escaping slaves; Central Christian Church of Downtown Indianapolis (Disciples of Christ) was advocating disobedience of the Fugitive Slave Act; Hoosier Ovid Butler was providing racially integrated college education; and Hoosier Abraham Lincoln (moved on to Illinois) was speaking against slavery.

I was especially struck by the truth of this reminder, because I had just returned from giving a guest speech at the Danville Unitarian Church (posted Monday), where I had encountered precisely the sort of Hoosiers Chris was describing.

It was gratifying.

Danville, Indiana is a small town on the western outskirts of Indianapolis.(When I say small, I mean it; the town has a population of around 9800.) The church is in the middle of Danville’s small downtown, and I would estimate that somewhere between 40-45 congregants were at the service.

This was the second time I’ve spoken at this particular church, and both times I’ve been really impressed by members expressing a welcoming and decidedly non-prescriptive theology. (The core of Unitarianism is a genuine respect for each individual’s search for his or her own truth.)

This was most definitely not a collection of fundamentalist/Nationalist Christians. (I especially loved one of the songs: John Prine’s “Your flag decals won’t get you into heaven anymore..”)

The entire service emphasized inclusiveness and service to the community. (There were two offerings; one of food for those in need, and a conventional “pass the plate” to support the congregation.) At times, the small congregation felt more like a supportive family than a gathering of co-religionists.

During the question and answer session that followed my talk, it became clear that this group of people, from a very small town in a very red state, is profoundly worried about the direction of the country. Like the early Hoosiers cited by my friend Chris, they aren’t just complaining about the problems they see; the email asking me to speak specified that they wanted suggestions for actions they could take to improve civic knowledge and elevate political conversations.

After the service, one of the congregants proudly shared with me that she had been concerned a year or so ago when a proposal to resettle a Syrian refugee circulated–she’d worried about rightwing resistance and anti-immigrant attitudes. But there had been absolutely no negative response. Her pride was obvious. In small-town red Indiana, the refugee had been welcomed, just as she–a trans woman–had been welcomed by this congregation.

Chris’ point is worth underlining. The tenor of the times and/or the political environment are never an excuse for hatefulness, for bigotry, for brutality. (Ask the Germans who hid Jews from the Nazis.) Fear of social disapproval cannot serve as an excuse for keeping quiet and staying on the sidelines when our fellow human beings are being abused by people engaging in deeply immoral behaviors.

Harming people simply because they are different is always objectively wrong.

In every era, when bad people do bad things, good people stand up to them. And good people are everywhere–including churches in small towns in bright red states.

I always feel better after being with Unitarians.

 

 

 

Someone To Blame

One of my all-time favorite movies was 1995’s “The American President.” I loved its full-throated defense of the ACLU, its “rom-com” elements, and the excellent acting, but most of all, I loved the part where the President, played by Michael Douglas, turned to his antagonist–a slimy, political “dirty tricks politician” named Bob Rumson (played by Richard Dreyfuss)– during a press conference  and said

I’ve known Bob Rumson for years, and I’ve been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn’t get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob’s problem isn’t that he doesn’t get it. Bob’s problem is that he can’t sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

Making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. A perfect description of Donald Trump and his despicable tribe.

As political scientists have continued to amass data in an effort to explain the 2016 election and figure out why any sentient American would cast a vote for Donald Trump, that scene looks more and more prescient.

As Paul Krugman noted in a recent column, there is little if any support in voting data for the notion that “economic anxiety” drove people to vote for Trump. The data pretty clearly shows that what distinguished Trump voters wasn’t financial hardship but “attitudes related to race and ethnicity.”

Those attitudes tend to manifest themselves largely, although certainly not uniformly, in the more rural parts of the country–in areas Krugman identifies as economically “lagging.”

Yet these attitudes aren’t divorced from economic change. Even if they’re personally doing well, many voters in lagging regions have a sense of grievance, a feeling that they’re being disrespected by the glittering elites of superstar cities; this sense of grievance all too easily turns into racial antagonism. Conversely, however, the transformation of the G.O.P. into a white nationalist party alienates voters — even white voters — in those big, successful metropolitan areas.

I remember attending a session at an American Political Science Association conference several years ago, and being fascinated by the presentation of research analyzing the role of “dissing” in (primarily teenage) violence. As I recall (and my recall, unfortunately, isn’t so hot in my dotage), the feeling of being “dissed,” or disrespected, was the single most important factor triggering rage in teenaged boys and in members of socially marginalized groups.

In parts of the country where young people are increasingly leaving for cities offering better job and social opportunities, where small farms and mom and pop enterprises are overwhelmed by corporate enterprises, where main street shop windows continue to be boarded up and the grandkids who moved to the city not only have friends who don’t look, love and pray like they do, but hold and express opinions that would once have been considered scandalous, it’s entirely understandable that many of those remaining would feel disoriented, discounted and left behind, even if their own finances are secure.

These are people who fear losing the America they thought they knew, people who are angry and resentful at what they see as a lack of respect, a “dissing,” from those in the nation’s growing and affluent cities.

Fox News and Trump’s GOP feed that fear, and tell them who’s to blame: people of color, Jews, Muslims, uppity women, smarty-pants intellectuals and self-satisfied “experts.”

And of course, Democrats.

“The American President” was ahead of its time.

Power And Glory And Memory Lane

The Limeliters were one of my all-time favorite musical groups. (My musical tastes definitely mirror those of my generation– the “get off my lawn” category of elderly curmudgeons. If the music is subsequent to the Rat Pack or 60’s folk, I’m probably unfamiliar with it.) Thanks to modern technologies like Pandora, I can stream my embarrassingly old-fashioned choices through my car radio, and the other day, as I was driving to the office, I was listening to the Limeliters–and was struck by the contemporary relevance of the lyrics in  their rendition of Phil Och’s “Power and Glory.”

When I got to work, I Googled those lyrics:

Come and take a walk with me thru this green and growing land
Walk thru the meadows and the mountains and the sand
Walk thru the valleys and the rivers and the plains
Walk thru the sun and walk thru the rain

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all (on us all)

From Colorado, Kansas, and the Carolinas too
Virginia and Alaska, from the old to the new
Texas and Ohio and the California shore
Tell me, who could ask for more?

Yet she’s only as rich as the poorest of her poor
Only as free as the padlocked prison door
Only as strong as our love for this land
Only as tall as we stand

But our land is still troubled by men who have to hate
They twist away our freedom & they twist away our fate
Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry
We can stop them if we try.

Only as rich as the poorest of the poor” resonates today as a reproach to the growing gap between the 1% and the rest of us, to the GOP’s persistent efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare, to deny access to basic medical care to those who cannot afford it by defunding Planned Parenthood and restricting Medicaid, and by heaping punitive restrictions on all manner of public assistance.

Only as free as the padlocked prison door”...Not only does our frequently unjust criminal justice system incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country, the Trump Administration is “padlocking” the border, engaging in crimes against humanity for blatantly political purposes. The other day, in one of his fact-and-logic-free rants, Trump made clear his belief that he benefits politically from the crises he instigates along the border.

“Those pictures are very bad for the Democrats,” he told The [Washington] Post on Tuesday, referring to recent images of migrants.

If he is correct–if the photos of American soldiers gassing refugee women and children are indeed “bad for Democrats” and viewed positively by large numbers of Americans– then we have not only lost any claim to “power and glory,” we have lost any claim to morality or simple humanity.

Fear is their weapon and treason is their cry” could hardly be more contemporary or relevant. The men “who have to hate” still live among us, still vote their fears and hatreds.

Given the age of the song, one thing is clear: evil people aren’t a new problem, and the tools they employ–fear and accusations of treason leveled at critics–aren’t new either.

The songwriter says “we can stop them if we try.”

A lot of us are trying; I sure hope we “stand tall” enough.

After H.W., Bush League

George H.W. Bush died Friday, and watching the various valedictories and retrospectives of his life and Presidency has provided a jarring contrast between our 41st President and the embarrassing, ignorant buffoon who currently sits in the Oval Office.

H.W. was the last President to have served in the armed forces; he was a decorated Navy pilot, shot down in the Pacific in 1944. (I can just hear Trump proclaiming that he prefers people who weren’t shot down…)

Evidently, H.W. didn’t have bone spurs…

Our 41st President was a skilled bureaucrat and diplomat, credited with (as the NYTimes put it) “a nuanced handling of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Eastern Europe.”

I seriously doubt Trump could either spell or define “nuance,” and “skill” is a term that I’ve not ever seen applied to him (or for that matter, to anyone in his cabinet).

H.W. was far from a perfect President, but he was elected at a time when most Americans still valued relevant experience and admired, rather than disdained, knowledge and intellectual capacity. I met him once, during his Presidency, when he came to Indianapolis and met with then-Mayor Bill Hudnut and a small group of his advisors in the Mayor’s conference room.  Bush had no advance notice of the issues we would raise in our discussion, or the questions we would pose, but he fielded all of them with informed, thoughtful (and grammatical! and coherent!) answers. He was impressive–another word unlikely ever to be attached to Trump.

By far the greatest contrast, however– the greatest distance between the two–involves that ineffable quality we call “class.” H.W. was classy; Obama was classy. (Clinton was charismatic, and as often noted, George W. seemed like a guy some people –not I– would like to have a beer with, but neither displayed much class.)

Perhaps the best example of H.W.’s classiness and grace–and the most telling contrast between him and the petulant brat who currently holds office–was the letter he left for Bill Clinton, who had just defeated him, depriving him of a second term in a hard-fought political campaign.

Dear Bill,

When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.

I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.

There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.

You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.

Good luck—

George

The word “class” has fallen into disrepute, mostly because it has come to be connected only to class conflict, class warfare, and classism, but we would be well-advised to remember its other meaning, as a term denoting grace, maturity and human decency.

As I watched the various news shows discussing 41’s life and his Presidency, it was impossible to escape the contrast being drawn (in several cases, deliberately) between the good man we’d just lost and the pathetic, narcissistic wannabe who is defecating daily on our nation’s ideals.

Trump is bush league–but not remotely in H.W. Bush’s league.