Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Impeach or not impeach: that is the question

November 10, 2018

No president — probably no public official — has ever merited impeachment more than Trump. That’s even before Mueller’s report.

If our civic system were working properly, he would be impeached and removed, almost unanimously. If it were working properly, no such monster of depravity would have been elected. There’s the problem.

Removing a president takes 67 Senate votes. Nixon was forced to resign when told responsible Republican senators would vote with Democrats to remove him. Today there are almost no such responsible Republican senators. They are hostages to their voting base of implacable Trump tribalists. Not just in primaries; on Tuesday they didn’t come out for Republicans of insufficient Trumpist faith, many of whom lost (as Trump himself so nastily crowed).

We keep hearing the words “Constitutional crisis.” Trump’s actions vis-a-vis the Justice Department and Mueller investigation may indeed become so egregious as to make impeachment almost inescapable. But without Republican support it would backfire. Just intensifying the scorched-earth political climate, while in the end actually handing Trump a win, with Republican senators cravenly voting against his removal. Even making it seem as though he’s finally been acquitted, exonerated, the slate of all his misdeeds wiped clean.

The verdict should come not from compromised senators, but from citizens. Democrats should forswear impeachment, instead relying on voters in 2020, summoning the better angels of our nature. And if it’s our worst demons that prevail, then we will know America is lost.

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What the election means

November 7, 2018

Jones

CNN commentator Van Jones said you’d think America’s “antibodies would kick in,” against the disgusting onslaught of lies, hate, bigotry, divisiveness and fear that was Trump’s campaign. But it worked, at least to a sad degree. This vile virus incurably infects a big chunk of America’s electorate. At best we can hope to quarantine them.

So Trump is undaunted; he’s even claiming victory. And there were a lot of disappointments. But at least there is some limit to the creepiness even Republicans can stomach; as in the case of Roy Moore; this time it was Kris Kobach losing the governorship in deep-red Kansas. (Kobach was the epicenter of the Republican “vote fraud” fraud.) Yet, another major creep, Brian Kemp, probably succeeded in stealing Georgia’s governorship.

Republicans did gain in the Senate. But that was largely thanks to the happenstance that the great majority of seats coming up this year were defended by Democrats. And the Senate battle took place largely in Trump country. Whereas the battle for the House of Representatives was nationwide.

And there Democrats did do thumpingly well, overcoming the stacked deck of Republican gerrymandering, to gain a substantial majority. That was the one superveningly important thing at stake, to break total Republican control and subject the Trump administration to some accountability. To literally save the country from it. And it shows this is, overall, a Democratic country. They were more than nine percentage points ahead of Republicans nationally. That’s a blue “wave.”

Antonio Delgado, victor over Faso

I pumped my fist last night when hearing of Congressman Faso’s defeat. I used to think so highly of him. But his campaign was a racist disgrace. And Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-Russia) lost too.

** MAJOR PROJECTION: Republicans will never again control the House.

Even if Trump wins in 2020, it won’t be by much, and won’t flip the House back. After that, a lot of Republican gerrymandering will be undone. Several states passed referenda doing so, while Democrats gained at least seven governorships, and hundreds of state legislative seats. They will also roll back some Republican vote suppression. Furthermore, demographic trends will inexorably erode white nationalism.

And the Republican party is now basically, totally, just a white nationalist party. It was the least Trumpy Republicans who left the House or were beaten*; while in the Senate, the increased Republican majority renders irrelevant so-called moderates like Susan Collins, their votes no longer needed.

Republicans will also never again control any legislative house in New York. They lost the Senate and will be gerrymandered out of existence. New York is now a one-party state. That’s bad, but Republicans had ceased to be a legitimate opposition.

The Democratic House majority will be heavily flavored by female military vets. Kind of ironic when Trump (who never served) and the Republicans (mostly ditto) are the ones who drool over the military.

Can the House Democrats now, finally, get hold of Trump’s tax returns? Really amazing he’s managed to keep them from scrutiny this long. Not that anything in them, no matter how slimy, will shake the faith of Republicans. The NY Times recently ran a huge in-depth factual report on how Trump totally lied about how he built his business empire, it was really through massive cheating and tax fraud. Did that move any Republicans? Nope. You can’t fight tribal religion with facts.

Trump will spend the next 18 months demonizing Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats. If they were smart they’d ditch her. She’s a great insider operator, but useless at countering Trump’s shitstorm.

A big lesson from the election is that the idea of Democrats going whole-hog “progressive” was a failure. Never mind Ocasio-Cortez in her ethnic New York City enclave. Look at Florida, where the ideological Andrew Gillum unexpectedly won the gubernatorial primary, and then proceeded to lose an election Democrats really ought to have won. It was a similar story elsewhere. There simply is not a majority in this country for hard left ideology. Democrats who won did so by appealing to the mushy middle, where elections are usually decided.

Landrieu

In 2020 the presidency will be decided by whether Democrats take back Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. And they can: all three elected Democratic governors. A candidate like Mitch Landrieu, Joe Biden, or Chris Murphy will win. One like Elizabeth Warren will not. Democrats must rein in their leftwing romanticism and pick a nominee pragmatically, to end the Trumpist nightmare before it totally ruins the country.

But there’s a difference between being hard left and hard anti-Trump. Democrats must stand clearly and forthrightly for a return to the fundamental American values Trump trashes. That must be the issue of 2020.

A frequent commenter on the Times-Union version of my blog constantly belabors that my words are just MY opinion, as if I’m smarter than everyone else and even seek to impose my views on them. Well, Albert, I am smarter than you. I can see reality; the difference between truth and lies; and know right from wrong. Unlike Republican Christians.

*UPDATE 12:12 PM — Trump in his “victory” speech named and sneered nastily at Republicans who didn’t “embrace” him and lost. How gracious.

What American nationalism should be

November 5, 2018

Trump now, defiantly, calls himself a “nationalist.” For lefties it’s a dirty word. Some dream of “one world” uniting all humanity. John Lennon sang “imagine there’s no countries . . . nothing to kill or die for.” (But imagine what a united world’s politics and governance would be like, dominated by backward ideas of Russians, Chinese, Indians, and Turks.)

Disagreement about nationalism is part of our own cultural divide. Some say Americans have nothing to be proud of; our history a litany of crimes, our present a cesspool of racism, inequality, exploitation, oppression, and corruption. That’s epitomized by Howard Zinn’s book, A People’s History of the United States. Should have been titled A Cynic’s History. Zinn condemned America because it was not a perfect egalitarian utopia from Day One, flaying every social ill that ever existed here. With nary a word of recognition that any progress was ever achieved on any of it.

Thus some friends questioned why my house flew the flag. But I was indeed proud to be an American — a supportive member of what, despite its flaws, is as good a society as human beings had yet succeeded in creating. I flew the flag to honor the principles, values, and ideals America at its best stood for.

The progress Zinn refused to acknowledge is this nation’s central story. We are imperfect beings in an imperfect world, but strove “to form a more perfect union.” A society that could and did rise toward its highest ideals.

That is what our nationalism should embody. Not blood-and-soil but goodwill, civility, generosity, courage. Not truculence toward others but truth, reason, progress, and justice under rule of law. All people created equal, endowed with inalienable rights: to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. E pluribus unum — out of many, one.

I once stood on a corner, passed by a Muslim woman in a headscarf, then a black man, a turbaned Sikh, an Hispanic, an Indian lady in a sari, a Chinese girl, and, yes, a Caucasian too. This was in Westchester. Nobody batted an eye. This is America’s greatness. E pluribus unum. A place where all kinds of people can make homes, be welcomed, and thrive. This is humanity transcending its boundaries and limits.

Our Declaration of Independence was truly revolutionary when, as Rousseau put it, mankind was “everywhere in chains.” We lit a beacon light in the darkness, guiding countless millions of others to liberation. And as America grew more prosperous and powerful (thanks to its ideals), we took on an ever greater role as the vanguard of global efforts to expand freedom and prosperity and combat the forces that would hold people down. That U.S. world leadership has been noble. But also, it recognized that other countries becoming more democratic, and richer — and the resulting peace — are good for America itself.

These then are the values and ideals that made America great, and make for an American nationalism worth holding to. A nationalism not of ethnicity but of principles. Alas, Trump’s us-against-them “America First” nationalism is the antithesis of those values and ideals. Their evil twin, throwing them under the bus.

That is why, on November 9, 2016, I furled my flag. I look forward to — I burn for — the day when I can fly it once more.

The caravan and the craven

November 1, 2018

Democrats make health care the main issue of this election. For Trump it’s the “caravan.” Labeling it an “invasion” of criminals, “bad people,” Islamic terrorists; they’ve been literally called lepers.

These are lies. Trump has even lied that Democrats, or George Soros, are funding the caravan. Does anyone actually swallow such crap? Apparently Republicans. Blind to how cynically they’re being manipulated. It’s all to rev up fear, playing like a violin voters so insecure they see refugees as threats. It’s been Trump’s shtick from Day One when he called Mexicans rapists.

The “caravan” consists of fellow human beings. Victims of such hardships and horrors they’re on a desperately risky, pain-filled journey trying to escape them. People who have nothing, weary and hungry, sleeping on the ground, mothers and children, preyed upon at every step; that’s why they band together.

And what will America greet them with? Guns and bayonets. More soldiers than we’ve got fighting ISIS.

This is how we make America great again? Great like in 1939 when it turned away the St. Louis, a ship carrying 900 Jewish refugees, forcing them back to the Nazis who murdered them?

Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Another Trump applause line is “law and order.” Yet he now proposes to shred the Constitution with an illegal executive order revoking its birthright citizenship clause. He claims legal scholars endorse this.* Another lie. He said no other country has birthright citizenship. Another lie; at least thirty do.

More cynical pandering to hatred for immigrants. But if being born here doesn’t confer automatic citizenship, what makes your citizenship secure?

The Fourteenth Amendment unequivocally says anyone born here is a citizen. Only a constitutional amendment can change that. It was enacted to make clear that the ex-slaves (freed by the Thirteenth) would now be citizens, with equal protection of the law. The Fifteenth Amendment gave them the vote. The noble generosity of spirit in these amendments is breathtaking. Slaves had been the most despised of people, forced to suffer the utmost degradation. Lifting them up, and embracing them as equal fellow citizens, America showed its supreme humanity.

Trump and Republicans show supreme inhumanity. They call themselves Christians. Where did Christ say poor suffering refugees are to be repulsed with guns? These Republicans, professing to love the Ten Commandments, violate the first of them by worshipping a false god, immolating on his altar every Christian principle. For their great sin they deserve the fires of Hell.

I lift my bayonet beside the golden door.

* When Paul Ryan disagreed, Trump slammed him, saying he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Ryan deserves whatever he gets from Trump.

Make America America Again

October 29, 2018

When I wrote recently about the coming elections, I didn’t mention “health care.” Which Democrats pitch as their main issue. (Republicans respond by lying about their record.)

Columnist David Brooks thinks Democrats are missing the boat. In the remote past (pre-2016), health care might have been a great issue for them. They continue to think in materialist, transactional terms, trying to offer voters good policy. But Democrats could never fathom why many people voted against (what Dems saw as) their economic interests. And today, more than ever, many are voting not their wallets but their values, their souls.

This election is indeed not about material issues like health care. It’s about America’s soul.

In two ways. First, Trump offers a story: that America has been screwed by foreigners, both immigrants and other nations, and by corrupt elites. He offers an appeal to cultural identity; a raw nationalism, both economic (however misguided) and ethnic. Not all Trump supporters are racists; but all racists are Trump supporters. And now, gender chauvinism is added to the stew, as Trump bangs the Kavanaugh drum.

All this, as Brooks notes, reflects how today’s core ideological divide is no longer between traditional left and right, but between open and closed societal visions. Thus, on the international stage, Trump says he rejects “the ideology of globalism.” This has profound implications; a go-it-alone policy will produce a world America will find much less comfortable to live in. China’s outlook, notably, is the opposite, in terms of global engagement.

Secondly, as Brooks puts it, Trump has “overturned the traditional moral standards for how leaders are supposed to behave. He’s challenged basic norms of honesty, decency, compassion and moral conduct. He unabashedly exploits rifts in American society.”

Many Republicans say they don’t like Trump’s behavior but like his policies. Never mind how wrong they are about much of the policy picture. What they fail to grasp is how Trump’s conduct is of the essence. Especially the war on truth. He is methodically degrading our civic society, not just morally, but really destroying its whole underpinnings. We can’t have a democracy with debate unmoored from factual reality, and refusal to accept each other’s political legitimacy. This matters more than any particular policies.

All of this is why America’s soul really is on the line. As Brooks says, Trump and the Republicans have “thrown down a cultural, moral and ideological gauntlet.”

And Democrats respond with: better health insurance?

That’s not entirely fair. Many Democrats do push back against everything Trumpism represents. But not in a coherent, focused way, that really meets and answers the Trumpist threat with an alternative big-picture story. Part of the problem, according to Brooks, is that Democrats’ moral vision is of the “social justice warrior” sort, targeting how societal structures marginalize certain segments (the poor, women, blacks, gays). But “if your basic logic is that distinct identity groups are under threat from an oppressive society, it’s very hard to then turn around and defend that society from an authoritarian attack, or to articulate any notion of what even unites that society.”

It doesn’t help that Democrats don’t speak with a single voice, but a gaggle of them, that cannot really get heard in answering the huge Trump shout-a-thon. In 2016, the news media (far from working against him as Trump claims) gave him billions in free air time to blast his message. And they’re still doing it, having failed to learn their lesson, continuing to broadcast his every rally and tweet, becoming his enabler in spreading his poison. Indeed, by presenting it as news, they even give it a patina of legitimacy.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate must focus on articulating an American cultural identity different and better than what Trump appeals to. One that re-embraces the principles, ideals, and values that made America great. A vision of this nation as an open, confident and optimistic society, where all people are accorded equal dignity. A nation strengthened by its diversity. A nation that engages in the world to make it a better place, for our own benefit as well as others. In sum, an appeal (like Abraham Lincoln’s) to the better angels of our nature.

And at their convention let them reprise proudly the song they played in 1988 — what a different country it seems! — Neil Diamond’s They’re Coming to America.

The Midterms: Exterminate Republicans

October 21, 2018

I was a devoted conservative Republican for 53 years. Today’s Republican party must be exterminated (electorally). It’s in thrall to a cruel monster of depravity, making war on truth, rule of law, human decency, and every principle and value America used to stand for.

The country is ruinously divided. Our president should try, at least, to unify us. Trump does the opposite. Cynically, evilly, intentionally stoking division. I just listened to a Massachusetts senate debate where the Republican banged on about “poisonous politics.” I thought, how dare you? This from a Trump lover and constant defender.

Fools will always be suckers for demagogues and con artists. Those cheering the poison Trump spews at his rallies are a disgusting spectacle. He’s encouraged them to beat up protesters — and flattered Nazi demonstrators in Charlottesville, where one of them killed a woman — yet he calls Democrats an “angry mob.” And “divisive.” Perhaps fortunately, caring not a fig for the rest of us, he makes no effort to gain broader support.

This is not “conservatism.” Conservatism is not blowing up the budget deficit and national debt. Not trade wars and protectionism that screw the many to benefit a few. Not betraying America to a Russian dictator. Not abandoning our hard-won global leadership. Not abandoning human rights and democracy. Not breaking up families. Not enflaming divisiveness. Not tolerating corruption. Conservatism is not denying reality (like about climate change). Dishonesty is not conservative. It’s not tearing down our law enforcement agencies with lies. Not degrading the nation with swinish behavior. Conservatism is not xenophobia and racism. It’s not misogyny. Conservatives don’t call Nazis “very fine people.”

The Republicans are the party backed by Russia, our enemy, which subverted our 2016 election to put them in power — because Putin knew how bad Trump would be for America.

Are Democrats perfect and without sin? Tell me about it, I opposed Democrats for half a century. And if I see things through a partisan lens, it’s still really one shaped by my decades of Republicanism. But it’s the lens of an open eye, not blinded by partisanship. Now, eyes open, I see no comparison between the parties.

And worse is yet to come, when Trump’s criminality is fully exposed by the Mueller investigation, sending into overdrive the Republican war on America’s civic soul.

So decent, responsible Americans must vote, everywhere, against Republicans (with few exceptions, like for New York governor). I used to think highly of local GOP Congress members Stefanik and Faso; I endorsed Faso in 2016. But Republican control of Congress must end.

With all the attention on that battle, the importance of the other 35 governors’ races may be overlooked. But they are indeed critical, because those governors will be in office during the next redistricting after the 2020 census. Last time around, in 2010, Republicans specially targeted state legislatures, and got control of most, enabling them to gerrymander the bejesus out of the electoral maps to perpetuate their power. Democrats have since been getting more votes than Republicans, yet Republicans snare more seats thanks to gerrymandering.

Republicans have also become masters of vote suppression, imposing ID requirements, reducing early voting, closing polling stations, and purging voter rolls, all cunningly targeted against non-white, elderly, and poorer voters likely to back Democrats. Stopping them from voting. For example, North Dakota has passed a law requiring a street address for voting. Indian reservations — guess what? — don’t have street addresses. This will probably mean defeat for Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Meantime, such vile voter disenfranchisement tactics may well have made the difference in three key states Trump narrowly won in 2016, giving him the presidency. (And they have the chutzpah to talk about “election fraud.”)

Democratic governors can veto Republican gerrymandering and vote suppression schemes. One noteworthy governor’s race is Georgia’s where Stacy Abrams, a black woman with a tremendous background of accomplishment, faces a cringeworthy Trump sycophant flaunting his almost sexual love for guns. He’s also the Georgia secretary of state overseeing the election (refusing to recuse himself) and trying to keep as many blacks from voting as possible. He’s canceled more than a million voter registrations, including 50,000 new ones — mostly by blacks. To steal the election.

“Disenfranchisement” was an overused buzzword some years back. But now it’s a huge reality, with the Supreme Court having eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act; it even upheld North Dakota’s atrocity.

There’s yet another card Republicans are playing from the bottom of the deck. Exploiting their control of the federal government, they’re gaming the 2020 census, by underfunding it and adding a citizenship question to scare off Hispanic respondents (and lying about it), with the aim of undercounting areas where Democrats tend to concentrate. So there will be fewer legislative seats for those areas; and fewer electoral votes for those states.

And as election day nears, watch out for a blitzkrieg of disinformation, dirty tricks, lies, and smears, targeted against Democrats wherever they have a chance of winning, not only from Russia, but financed by tens or hundreds of millions in Republican dark money. There’s a great film detailing how it was done in one state, Montana.

In all these ways Republicans are destroying our democracy, destroying everything that made America great. They must be stopped and never allowed to have power again. That will probably be assured by demographic trends, should they lose in 2020. And if the country remains divided — with Republicans a permanent disgruntled minority — so be it. They’ve forefeited all legitimacy.

This blog post might sound hyperbolic. At one time, not long ago, I would have strongly condemned such extreme rhetoric. But so far has this country fallen that now I consider it accurate and necessary. I never imagined politics could become so black and white. I am heartsick.

I know I won’t persuade any Republicans. Tribal partisanship blinds them. My intent instead is to impress upon others what the stakes are.

If younger citizens vote in equal proportion to oldsters, Republicans would be annihilated. And the election’s results will affect younger people for a longer time. Yet most don’t vote. Why? Like everything about politics, it’s cultural. Young people are not being acculturated to voting. It’s so Twentieth Century; something their dowdy parents do, not their buddies. The effect is to drop out of our collective civic life. As though politics has nothing to do with them. They will find out too late how wrong that is.

Vote. Vote as if our future depends on it. Because it does.

 

Now it really begins: the end of our democracy

October 14, 2018

The National Park Service is proposing to charge protesters for demonstrating in the nation’s capital.

You read that right: a fee, levied by the government, upon free speech. In the nation formerly known as America.

Recently, here in Albany, there was a demonstration by The Poor People’s Campaign. Which was then handed a $1400+ bill, by the city, for the cost of police keeping order at the event.

I wrote to Mayor Kathy Sheehan, expressing outrage. I am not a supporter of the The Poor People’s Campaign. But the idea of government charging anybody for exercising freedom of speech is an insult to the First Amendment. Free speech is not free if there’s a charge for it! I pointed out that keeping order at public demonstrations is a normal police function, that’s part of why we pay taxes to have a police force.

Sadly, I got no reply.

Now the Trump administration aims to apply the same idea to protests in the capital (for starters). Perhaps predictably, with Trump calling the opposition party an “angry mob.” Demonstrators will now have to pay the cost of police keeping order. The bills will be sizable; the obvious intent is fewer protests. (Maybe people should be charged too for 911 calls, to keep down their numbers also.) And how nice it would be if the regime, I mean the government, could go about its work without pesky citizens getting in the way with annoying protests. How nice if newspapers and screens were not filled with images of “angry mobs” making their opinions known. Criticizing the president and everything.

This is how democracy is snuffed out.

Click here to sign an ACLU petition against the Park Service proposal. And click here to submit a comment directly to the Park Service, until the close of business Monday.

There is no charge for such public comments. Yet.

Religion, politics, and abortion

October 7, 2018

A piece by “writer and consultant” Jacob Lupfer on my local paper’s “Faith & Values” page talked mainly about political independents. But this got my attention:

“For decades, scholars and practitioners agreed that religion was the causal factor that shaped political behavior. New research upends that assumption: Partisanship affects religiosity. It is a foundational social identity, driving rather than flowing from values and attitudes . . . people bring their religious beliefs in line with their party . . . Instead of assuming that Christianity is their primary loyalty, we should see evangelicals as Republicans first who toss religious values aside to accommodate their Trump support.”

I have previously written of polling research showing that political tribalism has become the salient one in shaping felt personal identity in today’s America, even more powerful than religious tribalism. But that doesn’t mean the former drives the latter. As though being a Republican Trumpeter causes you to be an evangelical Christian. I still think the causation runs the other way, even if the resulting political identity does turn out to be the more powerful.

But that’s not to say, either, that their Republicanism mirrors their religious values. That might have been more true in past times, when what the Republican party represented did align better with what Christianity supposedly stands for. However, Trump has shattered that correspondence, representing, really, the antithesis of traditional Christian values. Yet he retains their allegiance; indeed more strongly than any previous Republican leader.

Why? Because today, again, it’s the political tribal identity that rules as never before. Even superseding the actual content of the beliefs. What Trump and Trumpism actually represent do not, in the final analysis, matter that much. It transcends that sort of rationality. It’s more simply us-against-them.

So how does one get sucked into such a tribe in the first place? I increasingly think it’s more psychological than political or ideological, having a lot to do with self-image. How guys see themselves. In a word, macho. There’s a notion that Democrats are the party of weakness, Republicans the strong party. Democrats the party of snowflakes and pussies; Trump’s the party of pussy grabbing. Even some women voters are susceptible to such attitudes. This partly explains why “grab them by the pussy” didn’t destroy Trump’s candidacy. The macho factor outweighed the ewww factor.

Hillary’s gender didn’t help; it fed into the idea of Democrats as the girlie party. And the Kavanaugh drama was in part about men pushing back against what some of them see as an emasculating war upon them.

And, of course, there’s also the white tribe against the browns.

But religious affiliation does play a big role too. Fundamentalist Christians, by and large, were fundamentalist Christians before they were Republicans; and certainly before they were Trumpers. And if you are deeply embedded in a social milieu full of fellow fundamentalists, most of whom are also Republican tribalists, that will naturally be your tribe too.

In this way, the religious and political tribal identities reinforce each other. They meld together into one overall outlook upon the world. Never mind any internal contradictions (don’t ask WWJD about separating immigrant children from parents). Rationality is again dispensable. It’s the tribe uber alles.

And there is this consistency: the ability to seal oneself off from reality and inhabit instead a make-believe world. One created 6,000 years ago, ruled by a benevolent God, wherein evolution didn’t happen but Noah’s flood did (don’t ask why so many innocent people and animals were drowned), with final justice administered in Heaven and Hell. If you believe all that, it’s but a small further step into the world of Fox News, where Trump is a truth-telling champion of Christian values, making America great again in the face of a deep state conspiracy witch hunt.

Yet the political behavior of fundamentalists might seem rational in relation to one big issue: abortion. Their final line in the sand, after having irretrievably lost on a wide range of social issues, like gay marriage. And on abortion they might actually now be close to a big victory, rolling back Roe v. Wade. But what shall it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?

They see abortion as a key moral issue. But it’s become such an obsession, fogging their minds, that they lose sight of the bigger picture. Even if they were right about abortion (and they do have a point, albeit carried too far) — with everything else going on in today’s huge complex fraught world — is abortion really the number one issue? Many seem more concerned for the potential human life in a fertilized egg than the lives of actual living human beings (like the 30,000+ Americans killed annually by guns). As if “right to life” is only for the unborn.

And there really is a much bigger moral issue than abortion. Is winning on abortion worth the price of damaging the Supreme Court as a pillar of our civic life, our bastion of impartial justice, sullying it with a stink of political and religious partiality (not to mention of beer and attempted rape)? Worth handing the leadership of the nation to a monster of depravity? Worth complicity in his assault upon truth, decency, and everything good and great about America? Worth blinding yourself to it all? Worth losing your soul?

(Cartoon by Matson. Pillars labeled “Gorsuch” & “Kavanaugh”

Thomas Friedman’s latest column warns that scorched earth politics is heading us toward literal civil war. He says a Rubicon was crossed when Republicans trashed norms of democratic governance by stealing a Supreme Court seat. Yet that didn’t stop their shamelessly vilifying Democrats for holding up the Kavanaugh nomination. Our tribe’s always right; the other evil.

They vaunt the “right to bear arms,” as supposed protection against tyrannical government. What will unfold in 2020 if they lose power — and believe that somehow illegitimate?

The Anti-Trump Albany Book Festival

October 4, 2018

This event, put on by the wonderful New York State Writers Institute, was not really political. But nobody would read this if I just titled it “Albany Book Festival.” And in fact it says a lot about our times how politics did inevitably color these proceedings. There’s no escaping America’s current crisis of the soul.

The kickoff was a reception installing Colson Whitehead as the New York State Author and Alicia Ostriker as State Poet. Both were introduced by former State Comptroller H. Carl McCall, who did an admirable job talking about their work.

Whitehead, author of The Underground Railroad, drolly previewed his plans for his first hundred days as State Author. Ostriker read some of her poems which didn’t seem very poetic to me. But she also read from a great one: Emma Lazarus’s The New Colossus. That choice was obviously timely, with the golden door being slammed shut.

As is customary for Writers Institute events, the munchies were superb: little cakes, a chocolate fudge & whipped cream confection, cookies, fruit, etc. (A thankyou to Paul Grondahl, the Institute’s dynamic leader.)

Broderick

A legion of local authors manned individual tables showcasing their work. Noteworthy among them was poet Therese L. Broderick, author of the acclaimed Breath Debt. (My wife.)

And a legion of other great literary luminaries spoke to packed audiences. Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of our leading historians, and talked about her new book, Leadership in Troubled Times. It focuses on the lessons from four presidencies: Lincoln, TR, FDR, and LBJ.

Goodwin

Goodwin’s theme was that character, above all, is what matters. She ticked off a list of key traits: humility, empathy, valuing diverse opinions, ability to connect with all manner of people, controlling negative impulses, and keeping one’s word. In sum, emotional intelligence. Goodwin’s rundown here elicited loud laughter from the audience, for the obvious reason that our current “leader” is so glaringly devoid of all these virtues.

Hegel

I next listened to a panel of four other historians. One noteworthy discussion reminded me of Hegel’s concept of thesis and antithesis cycling to synthesis. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, ending legalized racial segregation, produced a big backlash among white southerners, resisting it, sometimes violently. But that in turn energized its own backlash, in the civil rights movement, eventual civil rights and voting rights legislation, and, one might say, the eventual election of an African-American as president. Which in turn generated another big backlash culminating in the election of a very different sort of president. Which in turn has energized civic engagement against what that represents (very much in evidence in the responses of attendees at this book festival).

SPOS

I don’t know that we’re near Hegel’s final synthesis. I’m hopeful that Trumpism is a doomed last gasp, and that America will flush its toilet for good in 2020. But experience with my own bathroom suggests a different outcome is possible.

Next I went to Marion Roach Smith’s talk on memoir writing. The room was not ideal; her husband, Times-Union editor Rex Smith, had to kneel by her side manning the computer with her power-point presentation, advancing the slides every time she signaled.

Smith

Though sometimes he misinterpreted her gesturing. But it was an excellent talk applicable not just to memoirists, but to writing in general. Her key theme: focus on what the piece of writing is really about; what its argument is. A memoir’s reader is not interested in the details of what may have occurred but, rather, in gaining some insight on a human issue.

William Kennedy is Albany’s leading literary light, who founded the Writers Institute, and recently turned 90. He’s a literary energizer bunny who just keeps going, premiering a new book at the festival.

Kennedy

His talk was a meditation on writing and the writing life. I particularly relished his discussion of Faulkner, probably my own favorite. He adverted to the idea that Faulkner’s work is uplifting. “This uplift business baffled me,” Kennedy said. Faulkner certainly depicts the worst human behavior. Yet Kennedy said he was uplifted after all, “exalted,” by writing that reaches into a person’s heart. (I have written about Faulkner on this blog, with a somewhat similar take. In fact, it was a Faulkner quote I used as the epigraph for my Rational Optimism book.)

The final event was a panel titled “The New Americans” — a group of authors born elsewhere. Again, a theme with particular resonance in today’s political environment.

Iftin

One panelist was Abdi Nor Iftin, who I got to meet and chat with at the previous night’s reception. He was the Somali guy whose tribulations getting to America were told on NPR’s This American Life. Hearing that story so moved me that I wrote a poem (previously posted here), and sent him something. He now has a book out, Call Me American. What a thrill it was for me to connect with Abdi in person.

Khan

Another panelist was Khizr Khan, whom I’ve also written about (here, and here). It was likewise a thrill to shake his hand and tell him what a privilege that was. Khan continues to remind us how our Declaration of Independence and Constitution enshrine human dignity. He said no other country’s constitution rivals ours in that regard — and that he’s actually read them all! He also said that in over 200 appearances, in connection with his book, he has everywhere found Americans wanting to hold onto these values, and hopeful not only for America but for America as “a source of light” for the rest of the world.

We must not allow that light to go out.

An hysterical Republican message

October 3, 2018

Because I once contributed, I still get Republican fundraising emails. It’s a revealing — and scary — window into their world. (Click here for one parroting Trump’s despicable “spygate” lie.)

A message I received Monday was hysterical — in both senses of the word. I literally burst out laughing. It’s from a PAC called “GreatAgain.org.” Here’s how it begins:

Frank:

The Democrats have struck a blow to President Trump’s

Supreme Court Nominee—Brett Kavanaugh.

They spent nearly 2 weeks trashing his reputation

and insinuating he’s a rapist.

Now they’re delaying a Constitutionally required

UP OR DOWN VOTE!

Umm . . . Merrick Garland?? Whose Supreme Court seat Republicans stole by refusing to vote at all — denying it was “Constitutionally required?”

That’s what made me laugh out loud. The shameless hypocrisy is beyond hysterical. But it isn’t funny that these creeps are actually in power in America.

In addition to asking (of course) for money, “GreatAgain” urged calling three wavering senators to “demand” a vote for Kavanaugh, helpfully listing their numbers:

Call these Senators and tell them:

“We’re not playing this game.”

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine (R-ME)      (202) 224-2523

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA)                   (202) 224-3954

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska (R-AK)   (202) 224-6665

So, thanks to GreatAgain, I did contact the three: urging a vote AGAINST Kavanaugh, who’s crucially lied about his position on Roe v. Wade, if nothing else; who plenty of evidence shows was a nasty drunk; and whose out-of-control partisan rant before the Judiciary Committee renders him totally unfit for the nation’s highest court.

Last night we had some people over. We don’t drink beer, but my wife filled the fridge with 6-packs. “What,” I said to her, “were you expecting Kavanaugh?”