Tag Archives: evil

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.

“It Depends”–But Sometimes It Doesn’t

I don’t know who Susan Hennessey is, but I think we are probably what used to be known as “kindred spirits.” The reason I came to that conclusion was the following paragraph from her post at Lawfare:

 “Much of my education has been about grasping nuance, shades of gray. Resisting the urge to oversimplify the complexity of human motivation. This year has taught me that, actually, a lot of what really matters comes down to good people and bad people. And these are bad people.”

For years, I have included some form of the following statement in my courses’ introductory lectures: You will find, during the semester, that I can be an opinionated professor. Your grade in this course absolutely does not depend upon agreeing with me. My goal is not to inculcate policy positions.  I will, however, consider that I have been a success as an instructor if, after you have taken this course, you use two phrases more frequently than you previously did. Those phrases are “It depends” and “It’s more complicated than that.” If you are better able to recognize contingency and complexity after being in this class, I will have done what I set out to do.

I have often criticized Americans’  knee-jerk, “bipolar” approach to issues, the tendency to see every debate in shades of black and white, good versus evil. We live in a world that is largely gray, with complicated problems that don’t lend themselves to solutions by way of  bumper-sticker slogans and rigid ideological mantras.

I continue to understand arguments about policy and governance that way–most of the issues we debate are what lawyers call “fact-sensitive,” dependent upon context, factual distinctions, the art of the possible. But it is getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that not every argument is nuanced, or conducted in good faith, and not every party to our ongoing national debates is honorable.

Not every conflict is between persons of good will who simply see things differently.

There really are bad people. Not people who are simply misguided, not people who just don’t understand the issue, not people who are “coming from a different place.” People who are deeply flawed, and utterly devoid of the qualities thought essential to membership in a civilized and humane society.

The challenge is to tell the difference between the people who simply see things differently and the people who are irredeemably bad. At this point–at least with respect to the gangsters in Washington–I think we have enough evidence to make a determination.

When History is Written…

When the history of the 21st Century is written (assuming there are people alive to research and write it) America’s current decline will be attributed largely to one man–and that man isn’t Donald Trump.

Of course Trump is dangerous. A number of his choices–both personnel and what passes for policy in his childlike worldview–are potentially catastrophic. But he is too delusional and ignorant to qualify as evil.

No, the most evil man in American government, in my humble opinion, is Mitch McConnell.

Trump is simply the result of McConnell’s consistent elevation of partisanship and power over principle. As James Fallows has pointed out, it was McConnell who took the filibuster from a seldom-used mechanism meant to ensure that minority opinions would be heard to a routine method of subverting majority rule. It was McConnell who famously promised to obstruct anything and everything Obama might do, irrespective of whether what was being obstructed was good policy, good for the country, or even if it had originated with his own party.

It was McConnell who, in the  summer of 2016,” put the kibosh on FBI going public with a warning of the Russian interference in the election, which they were already investigating.

And needless to say, it was McConnell who ignored 200+ years of precedent, and simply refused to allow the Senate to do its constitutional duty of advising and consenting to a sitting president’s nominee for the Supreme Court–doing incalculable damage to the rule of law and ultimately, to respect for close decisions that will be handed down by a court that includes a Justice conspicuously occupying a “stolen” seat.

In 2006, as McConnell was about to emerge as the Republican leader in the Senate, Zachary Roth and Cliff Schecter wrote an article for the Washington Monthly titled “Meet the New Boss.”  Here are some excerpts:

McConnell is a staunch conservative and a master of procedure, but no piece of landmark legislation bears his name. Almost the only issue on which he has a national profile is campaign-finance reform, and on that, he’s known as the man who fought it at every turn…

The Senate’s shift toward increased party discipline has been accompanied by a growing willingness to use the legislative process to benefit the Republican Party’s financial backers…

[McConnell is] a master of Senate rules and procedures, and he harbors no presidential aspirations that might distract him from his job. But unlike earlier leaders, he doesn’t keep score by legislative accomplishments. For the first time in recent memory, the Senate will be run by a leader with both the ability and the desire to use the institution entirely for partisan advantage

I’m hardly the only observer who attributes much of  America’s current dysfunction to McConnell. Dana Milbank calls him “The Man Who Broke America.” Milbank starts with one of the many, many examples of McConnell’s hypocrisy and dishonesty:

“No majority leader wants written on his tombstone that he presided over the end of the Senate,” the minority leader said.

He continued: “Breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American. I just hope the majority leader thinks about his legacy, the future of his party, and, most importantly, the future of our country before he acts.”

Are these the words of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the Republican majority changed Senate rules this week to do away with filibusters of Supreme Court nominations?

Actually, they were uttered in 2013, by then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), when Democrats pushed through a similar filibuster change for lesser nominations.

Milbank doesn’t mince words:

No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership, the triumph of tactics in service of short-term power.

Milbank further documents McConnell’s willingness to subvert longstanding Senate culture in service of rabid partisanship, pointing out that by 2013 his unprecedented, frequent use of the filibuster had blocked 79 of Obama’s nominees; that compared with 68 presidential appointments blocked during “the entire previous history of the Republic.”

The primacy of the rule of law was the most basic premise of the American constitution; as John Adams famously proclaimed, the Founders gave us a government of laws, not men. The constitutional architecture, with its three branches of government and a federalist structure leaving significant authority to the states, was an effort to constrain the abuse of power.

Trump doesn’t understand any of that, and he clearly has no idea how to use the rules themselves to evade those constraints. He doesn’t even know what the rules are.

McConnell, unfortunately, does.