Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Understanding history’s meaning

February 26, 2021

(My Black History Month essay)

America is a divided country — two sides seeing things very differently. Naturally enough that includes history. Interpreting the past shapes one’s current perspective.

One side focuses on correcting what it considers a sanitizing of American history. Thus “The 1619 Project,” emphasizing the centrality of slavery. There’s also genocidal mistreatment of Native Americans, and much else, to portray a history of infamy. The other side deems this unpatriotic, and seeks to restore a positive narrative, epitomized by Trump’s 1776 Commission and Mount Rushmore hagiology. To defend the “nobility of the American character” (said the most ignoble character in U.S. history). But such voices too often centralize whiteness and Christianity, sacrificing for that all other values — and our history’s true meaning.

The divergent viewpoints were discussed in a Washington Post essay by aptly named history teacher Daniel Immerwahr (German for “always true”). Regarding whether students should learn of America’s virtues or its shortcomings, he ended by saying the aim of teaching history isn’t for them to love or loathe their country, it’s to prepare them to live in it. 

That should include civic engagement, for which an understanding of history is indeed essential. And seeing both virtues and blemishes enables properly grasping the full picture. We cannot know where we’re going without knowing where we’ve been, and how we got where we are now. Thus Immerwahr describes “1619ers” as pushing us to live up to our ideals. Loving or hating America isn’t the issue. It’s how we go forward.

Some do talk as though slavery was our deep dark secret, hidden somehow like Mr. Rochester’s madwoman in the attic. But that history has always been very much in our faces. We fought our bloodiest war over it; and its literal descendants live among us.

So, yes, we did have slavery, and Indian atrocities, and WWII Japanese internment, and more. But are there countries whose histories read like fairy stories? It’s hard to think of any. Maybe Norway? Then again, a million Norwegians fled for the greener pastures of . . . America.

Immerwahr cites Howard Zinn’s infamous book, A People’s History of the United States. Which saw America as conceived in sin because we did not, immediately in 1787, abolish slavery, establish universal suffrage, liberate women, empower labor unions, and so forth. The book chronicled generations of Americans who battled for progress on all such fronts. While studiously omitting mention of any success. (Zinn did acknowledge women finally gained the vote, but dismissed that, saying they just voted like their husbands.) 

But America has indeed progressed tremendously, becoming fairer and better. Look at gay marriage. Something Zinn neglected to gripe about. Because in 1980, when he wrote, nobody imagined it possible.

Such progress is America’s true central story. While much was wrong in the past, we established a system that, not set in stone, was conducive to positive change through citizen action. And it is in our national character to achieve that, with an ethos of democratic openness and dynamism. A character shaped by generations of people uprooting themselves to come here for their own betterment, like those Norwegians, thus infusing positive attitudes into our very DNA.

This is why I love and take pride in America. And America is really the best exemplar of a character imbuing all humanity. Here too cynics and pessimists press their indictments. But talk about sanitizing history — the “good old days” were squalid, even our prehistoric past no Garden of Eden. Ever since, we’ve made epic efforts toward improvement, with a degree of success once unimaginable. While bringing our worst instincts, too, progressively under control. This is history’s central story. Also filling me with love and pride. 

End the filibuster

February 19, 2021

I previously wrote that Democrats, in power, should refrain from exercising it in ways that might look illegitimate — that is, like Republicans have. Even though turnabout might seem fair play, we must try to de-escalate tribalistic partisan warfare. Nevertheless, it’s time to end the Senate filibuster. It’s something very doable, and would help significantly to fix what’s wrong with today’s America.

President Biden did pledge to try to work with Republicans. But it’s becoming clear that most of the GOP, rather than recovering from Trump insanity, is burrowing deeper into it. Incapable of cooperating rationally in the national interest, they have forfeited their seat at the table. We’ll have to work around them.

We venerate our Constitution. It was trailblazing in 1787 and has stood the test of time, not only maintaining our democracy, but enabling us to progressively broaden it. Even through a civil war; and Trump. Yet it’s actually ill-suited to our modern reality and now in many ways has become an obstacle not only to continued progress but even to basic democratic values.

One factor is the difficulty of amending it, which requires agreement by three-quarters of states. Almost inconceivable today for anything controversial, given our partisan divisions. We’re now pretty much stuck with the Constitution we’ve got.

It established the two houses of congress differently, the House of Representatives apportioned by population, while in the Senate all states are represented equally. (In fact, that’s the one thing the Constitution explicitly says cannot be changed by amendment.) This was to allay small-state fears that the big ones would be too powerful. The founders probably didn’t foresee how that would play out in a fifty-state union with many small states. Size might not matter much if it didn’t correlate with other characteristics. But the big states are big because they have big cities; small states don’t, tending to be more rural. And whiter.

And with two senators each, those small rural ones are way overrepresented. Problem enough if the Senate worked by majority rule. But the filibuster rule means it normally takes 60 out of 100 votes to pass a bill. That magnifies small state clout even more; 41 senators representing an even smaller fraction of the population can stymie the other 59. And given such partisan division that neither party can hope to have 60 senators, the result is the gridlock and government paralysis we’ve come to expect.

It wasn’t always like this. The filibuster rule is not in the Constitution. Originally both houses of Congress had unlimited debate. That soon became unworkable in the House of Representatives, having so many members, so they limited debate. The smaller Senate — only 26 members at the start — saw itself as a more collegial, deliberative body.

Not until the 1850s did “filibustering” become a thing — Senators preventing a bill’s passage by keeping debate going. But that was rare. Only in 1917 was it deemed necessary to institute a way to end debate — called “cloture,” it was considered an extraordinary measure, and hence required a two-thirds vote. But such situations were still rare, until the 1950s when southerners filibustered to block civil rights legislation.

It was of course hard to get 67 Senate votes for anything. Finally, in 1975, they reduced the requirement to 60 votes, thinking to make cloture, and bringing bills to a vote, easier.

But the result, perversely, was the opposite. It would never have seemed reasonable to effectively require 67 votes for every bill. But 60 felt different. Another factor: in the past, a filibuster meant you actually had to keep debating. Strom Thurmond set the record in 1957, holding the floor talking for 24 straight hours. Now, however, it became a given that every major piece of legislation would require cloture with 60 votes; the actual speechifying dispensed with. Thus giving a minority an effortless automatic veto over everything.

Again, none of this was required by the Constitution; but it became a hardened status quo. Changing the filibuster rule was called the “nuclear option,” as if tantamount to an act of war. But during the Obama administration, Republicans were using the rule to block his judicial nominations, so Majority Leader Harry Reid went for a limited nuclear option, scrapping the 60-vote rule just for those nominations. Then, when Republicans got control of the Senate, they extended this to Supreme Court nominations, to keep Democrats from blocking Trump appointments.

What all this shows is that the 60-vote rule is by no means sacrosanct. Its resultant minority veto is a major factor undermining the health of our body politic. And it’s one that actually has an easy fix: the Senate can change the rule by a simple majority vote. For that, 60 votes are not needed!

And once that’s done, a lot of other problems can be tackled effectively. A big one is immigration. Desperately needed reform has been stymied for decades by the filibuster rule. Without it, immigration reform should happen quickly. Another priority is election reform. We need to set national standards, to allay concerns about fairness and fraud. But particularly to outlaw all the ways Republicans use to make voting harder. We should also make DC and Puerto Rico states, likely adding four Democratic senators and reducing the perverse Republican small state advantage.

Yes, they will howl bloody murder, accusing Democrats of a power grab. That will dominate talking heads and internet blowhards for, oh, maybe two or three days. Then will be forgotten as we move on to something else. After all, the Senate being able to pass a bill by majority vote shouldn’t seem very radical. We’ll quickly get used to it, and if we think of it at all, will wonder why the previous bizarre rule wasn’t junked long before.

Biden’s “Buy American” mistake

February 15, 2021

Trumpers persist in caricaturing President Biden as some kind of mentally defective fool. One Facebook graphic even denying that such a man could have gotten 81 million legitimate votes. While in the real world, Biden demonstrates what strong, sound, intelligent, honest, competent, sane and humanly decent leadership looks like, moving briskly to tackle unprecedented challenges and repair much of his predecessor’s damage to America. 

But Bidenism is not a cult like Trumpism. I don’t support his every stance.

For one thing, far too much of the $1.9 trillion Covid relief plan is earmarked for checks to people not really needy. Maybe that’s considered the price of political support for the rest. But I’d rather see more money going to those hurting most.

President Biden also proposes expanding regulations privileging American suppliers over foreign ones. That might seem like apple pie. But it runs up against World Trade Organization rules targeting discriminatory practices (against foreign vendors), to make trade free and fair. Trump, in his “America First” folly, tried to weaken the WTO. Not understanding how promoting free and fair trade globally benefits all countries, America included. 

A “buy American” policy sounds good for U.S. jobs. But The Economist recently explained that “by locking firms out of global supply chains and shielding them from competition it promotes inefficiency, destroying more employment than it creates.” The magazine cites one estimate that we actually lose 300,000 jobs. 

How so? Simple, really. If another country can make something cheaper (or better) than we can, we’re better off buying it from them and having our own workers instead make those things wecan make better or cheaper. That’s what economist David Ricardo called “comparative advantage.” Focusing our investment on our strengths, not our weaknesses. That makes us richer. 

Yes, buying cheap Chinese goods means fewer Americans employed making those things. But the savings to U.S. consumers enables them to buy more of other things — and that creates more U.S. jobs. And the trade also makes China richer, enabling Chinese to buy more stuff we export — creating yet more American jobs. Win-win. The beauty of global free trade.

President Biden (like others before him) seems bedazzled by the dream of “bringing back U.S. manufacturing jobs.” That’s so twentieth-century. In fact we manufacture as much as ever — but we do it with a lot less labor. That’s a good thing. U.S. jobs are not being lost to foreign countries so much as to improving automation and other technological advancements. That is, rising productivity.

At one time, almost the entire workforce was needed on farms just to feed everyone. Improved agricultural productivity freed most of us up, to work in factories instead. Thus we could produce food andmanufactured goods, making us richer. Now, another wave of productivity advancement similarly liberates us from factories, so more can be employed elsewhere, like in services. So we can produce food and manufactured goods and services. Another wealth gain. 

America’s future prosperity does not lie with metal-bashing smokestack factories, but high tech and services.

None of this is the economics equivalent of rocket science. “Buy American” is tired old-line Democratic stuff that reminds me why I used to be a Republican. But tragically that Republican party, with actual principles, that actually made sense, is long gone. At least Democrats are sane and sincere, not disingenuous and deranged. 

The Trial

February 12, 2021

In Kafka’s novel The Trial, Josef K is charged with a crime no one ever specifies. It ends with his execution.

Trump’s trial is the inverse. His crime obvious. It ends with his exoneration.

Hearing his lawyers’ arguments almost made my head explode. It was indeed Kafkaesque — set on a planet far, far away, where black is white and up is down.

With table-pounding indignation they denounced the trial as an assault upon democracy. When that’s the very thing their client is guilty of. They decried the trial as divisive. After four years of the most divisive president in history.

They portrayed Democrats as pursuing a vendetta against him. As if a baseless prejudice unconnected to Trump’s behavior. The lawyers even bizarrrely played a recorded medley of numerous Democrats calling for impeachment. As if somehow proving their unjustified malice. When in the real world those impeachment calls highlighted his crimes. But in Trumpworld white is black.

I previously thought Trump mentally incapable of a serious January 6 coup plan. But the trial evidence makes clear he actually did plot out siccing a mob of supporters on Congress, intending for them to overthrow the election and keep him in office. The insurrectionists believed they were following his marching orders. And it wasn’t just his January 6 speech. He’d been working toward this long in advance, stoking them with his lies, preparing the ground.

The lawyers also insisted his freedom of speech is being denied. Well, maybe a president does have a right to lie. But not a constitutional right to violate his oath to protect the constitution; a right to instigate its overthrow. And regardless of whether Trump did incite the insurrection, his refusal throughout those ghastly hours to do anything to stop it was surely the gravest conceivable violation of his presidential oath.

Could it have succeeded? How close did it come? Most of those rampaging fools didn’t really understand what they were doing. But some, we’re learning, did. And brought weapons. It seems almost miraculous now that no elected officials were killed. Pence, Pelosi, and others were targeted and had narrow escapes. (Officer Brian Sicknick less lucky.)

So after four years of Pence’s slavish loyalty, Trump launches a mob to literally hang him. And just when it’s hot after Pence, Trump — instead of sending help — releases a tweet denouncing him again. Trump loyalty goes in only one direction. He’s a black hole that sucks in and destroys anyone venturing too close. Yet still some haven’t learned this.

Like his hapless lawyers in this impeachment trial. Trump reportedly enraged at them for their performance. But enragement is his daily norm; “treated very unfairly” a constant mantra. His psychologist niece’s book defined his underlying pathology — knowing he’s a fraud, he’s terrified of exposure. Thus his constant state of infuriated aggrievement.

How has this guy not had a heart attack or stroke?

A friend on Facebook posted “stolen election” particulars. One jurisdiction where thousands more mail ballots were received than had been sent out. Another where thousands more people voted than were registered. And so forth. As if such things could really happen, let alone without making headlines. But my friend was furious that mainstream news media don’t report these stories. And why don’t they? Because they’re lies. Somebody somewhere on the internet simply made them up. But my friend believes such nameless nobodies rather than NPR or PBS or CNN.

Of course there’s also the (former) president of the United States. Whose veracity record is unmatched. Thirty thousand documented lies.

Even before the election (fearing he’d lose), Trump was preemptively calling it a giant fraud, but without ever actually explaining how so. And if there were any truth to those “facts” my Facebook friend invoked, surely Trump’s 62 lawsuits would have brought them forward. They did not. And all were thrown out — many by judges he appointed — including his three Supreme Court picks.

He’s out of office and out of his mind, but not out of our minds, and we’re not out of the woods. Many millions still worship Trump, marinated in his cesspool of lies, fancying themselves “patriots” battling for righteousness against a corrupt criminal communistic conspiracy. Endorsing violence, even fetishizing it. Seeing us already in a civil war.

This evil abroad in our land will be turbocharged by the Senate acquitting Trump, re-empowering his wickedness. Leaving unpunished the most despicable of assaults upon our democracy. Republican senators so voting are traitors to America and everything it ever stood for.

That’s not too strong a word. Traitors.

Lessons from Myanmar’s coup

February 10, 2021

Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 book, The End of History, heralded liberal democracy’s apparent final triumph, fulfilling basic human aspirations. But alas, bad people also have aspirations — and often guns.

Cheerleading for democracy is frustrating. Hopes often raised, then betrayed. Visiting a democratic Russia — shortly after Fukuyama wrote — was thrilling. Then history returned. The story repeats again and again. As in the Arab Spring. In Thailand, and Sri Lanka, and elsewhere. Now Myanmar (formerly Burma).

The problem isn’t just guns. It’s also voters. Too few have read Fukuyama to understand how democracy serves them. Too many foolishly fall for strongmen. (America saved by its would-be strongman being himself a fool.)

Myanmar’s voters, though, understood fully. Overwhelmingly choosing democracy over military rule. Perhaps a no-brainer, given their military’s remarkable vileness. As evidenced by its brazen power grab, claiming “election fraud.” (Sound familiar?) And no one was deluded that the army acted benevolently with the people’s interests at heart. They ruled by the gun, as Al Capone in Chicago, a criminal gang doing it for their own power and (importantly) profit.

The army had ruled since 1962. Democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest. She’d been heroic; her book, Freedom From Fear, an inspiration. Then, in 2012, a new military president, Thein Sein, initiated a transition to democracy. It seemed for real, aiming at the nation’s progress. Suu’s party won elections and she became Myanmar’s top leader. But the military still retained much power.

Suu’s luster dimmed when she refused to criticize, and even defended, the army’s savage genocide of rape and murder against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. (Buddhist pacifism?) Admittedly her tense relationship with the army circumscribed Suu’s power and authority; but she had some; and what good are they if you’re afraid to use them? Freedom from fear?

Mao famously said power comes from the barrel of a gun. He knew whereof he spoke. In past epochs it was the “divine right” of kings. Few today (apart from Republicans) can be persuaded that God chose someone to rule. Instead we do it ourselves, by voting. But Mao had a point — bullets can trump ballots.

The paradigm of an army using its guns to rule is so familiar it seems inevitable, like the weather. How to keep soldiers in their barracks is a perennial conundrum. Yet few question why a country like Myanmar even has an army in the first place.

Armies originated in a world where might made right. Your city-state needed one because others had them and would use them to pillage yours otherwise. Russia’s Ukraine depredation was a throwback to that kind of world, no longer customary. By and large that just doesn’t happen any more. Most national armies, especially for small countries, are anachronistic holdovers from past history. The idea of a country like Myanmar needing to defend against invasion by some neighbor is basically just ridiculous.

Myanmar does have internal conflicts, with regional/ethnic insurgencies, that its army battles. That sort of thing is what mainly occupies modern militaries — to the extent they do any actual military stuff at all. But query what would obtain absent a national army. The aggressiveness of Myanmar’s toward those regional elements is itself a major instigator of bloodshed. Without its army, the country would likely work through such conflicts politically, and peacefully.

What’s suggested here is not some utopian pacifist fantasy. Naturally, disbanding any army faces much opposition, not least from that army itself; which, after all, has guns to back up its resistance. (Myanmar’s proved unwilling even to coexist with a civilian government.) Yet a few countries have succeeded in abolishing national armies. Costa Rica, for example, did so back in 1948, after a civil war. It has not since experienced another, nor an invasion — nor, of course, a military coup. Its democracy thrives unmolested.

And for countries that still feel an itch for military defense, here’s another proposal: the U.S. can sell invasion insurance. For an annual premium payment, we’d promise to defend a nation against foreign invasion. (Russia’s neighbors would pay a surcharge.) But their cost would be far less than for maintaining national armies. This would be good for America; the payments would help defray our own defense budget. Which could be reduced even further because armed conflicts would be fewer, as more nations join the plan. A more orderly world like that would be more prosperous too, further serving our national interests.

This is a practical path toward the pacifist dream of a world without war.

Understanding the China problem

February 1, 2021

Henry Kissinger wrote a 624-page book, On China. Here’s a shorter take.

China’s imperial dynasty was overthrown in 1911. Violent turmoil followed as warlords, Communists, and a government led by Chiang Kai-shek all battled for power. Then Japan’s 1930s invasion ravaged the country. Finally in 1949 Mao’s Communists triumphed; Chiang and his Nationalists decamping to Taiwan. Which became prosperous and democratic; de facto independent, though China insists it’s theirs.

Poverty always afflicted China. Mao’s harebrained economic policies didn’t help. The 1958-62 “Great Leap Forward” left tens of millions dead. The country was convulsed yet again in 1966 by the madcap “Cultural Revolution” Mao launched to consolidate his control. Destroying much cultural heritage, and many more lives. Ending only with Mao’s 1976 death.

That history of traumatization shapes China’s psyche. Mere domestic order seems a great blessing. Chinese also keenly feel past humiliation, seeing a century of Western bullying and exploitation. Making them truculently nationalistic, with chips on their shoulders, something to prove, swaggeringly aggressive.

Deng Xiaoping succeeded Mao, jettisoning his craziness and most communist dogma, opening up the economy. While big state-owned enterprises endure, they accompany a private sector actually epitomizing “unfettered laissez faire capitalism.” Producing four decades of spectacular economic growth, eliminating most Chinese poverty and creating a vast middle class. For which they also thank the regime.

Younger people, especially, wanted a freer society too. But that dream died with the 1989 Tiananmen bloodbath. All memory of which the party has striven to scrub out. The basic deal it offers is rising prosperity in exchange for total political control.

Corruption and dishonesty have long characterized China’s culture. In 2012 Xi Jinping became leader, gaining plaudits for an anti-corruption campaign. But it was mainly a way to amass more personal power than anyone since Mao. China actually remains deeply corrupt. While Xi has suppressed all dissension or debate, deploying pervasive propaganda and an Orwellian surveillance state. Thus China’s repression in Tibet, then Xinjiang, then Hong Kong. A million Xinjiang Uighurs are in concentration camps, an effort to pretty much stamp out their Muslim religion.

Today the idea of democracy has scant traction. What freedom Chinese do want is economic, which they’ve got. Politically most seem happy with dictatorship, if (as they believe) it manages the country well. In fact, they take pride in their system’s achievements, rejecting “Western” values like rule of law or press freedom, and feeling superior to democratic nations as dysfunctional, disordered, and declining. They support crushing Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations. Some social liberalism does surface mainly among the young, for causes like women’s equality, LGBT rights, and the environment. But most Chinese are more into consumerism and other personal stuff than public affairs. And remember that China has no historical ethos of individualism like ours, conformism being more the rule.

Also greatly shaping Chinese society is the one-child policy, harshly enforced between 1980 and 2016, to prevent overpopulation. It succeeded too well, causing a shortage of working age people. While a traditional preference for boys meant many girls aborted, with lone boys raised as spoiled princelings, and not enough females for them to marry. Add in desperate competition for university slots and housing costs becoming unaffordable, another damper on marrying.

Many millions had migrated from farms to cities for better pay, but the “hukou” system prevents their registry as official residents there, making them second class citizens. A deep social division. Meantime sweatshop factory jobs are disappearing, moving to even lower wage countries. Now many Chinese feel they’re in a rat race with “996” office jobs — 9 AM to 9 PM, six days a week.

There’d been hopes that an increasingly prosperous and secure China would become a well-behaved member of an interconnected global community. But clearly today’s China thinks differently. If Trump was right to see China more adversarially, unfortunately he followed up brainlessly, subverting our own interests. Not just with self-harming tariffs, but trying to decouple our economy from China’s, dividing the world into two economic ghettoes with separate supply chains, to our detriment. Particularly idiotic was confronting China alone, blowing off our allies who could have been marshaled into a united front.

But this needn’t be a new cold war. Whereas Soviets wanted the whole world Communist, China has no such agenda, being “Communist” in name only. Seeking instead just national aggrandizement. Mere cost-free kowtowing could actually help assuage that. What we really have is not combat but competition, and there’s a big difference. Competition among economic actors is always the way of the world, and should be, it’s the essence of our own free market system. The world is not zero-sum with China’s gain necessarily being our loss. They don’t stupidly imagine destroying America would be advantageous. We have to manage our competition for mutual advantage.

Of course that doesn’t mean overlooking China’s intellectual property theft and other unfair tactics. Just as we enforce rules within our own economy and punish violators but don’t seek to put them out of business. Nor do China’s human rights violations make it our enemy. That too we must call out, and mitigate whatever way possible; but again, that needn’t mean blowing up what’s mutually beneficial in our economic relationship.

Impeachment: to vote or not to vote

January 30, 2021

Republicans call the impeachment unconstitutional because Trump’s already out of office. They’re wrong. He was impeached while still president; and the Constitution prescribes two penalties: removal from office, and future disqualification from office. The former is now moot but the latter is not. And there is precedent for impeaching an official (William Belknap) who’s left office.

Note also that the 14th Amendment disqualifies from office anyone guilty of insurrection. That was aimed at ex-Confederates but should apply to Trump.

Some Republican senators say he didn’t really incite insurrection. Seriously? Maybe you can parse his words to argue they nuzzled the line without crossing it. Yet his mob was certainly incited. And when it stormed the Capitol — looking to hang his vice president — Trump watched on TV with glee, refusing to lift a finger. It was finally Pence who called in the national guard.

If Trump’s conduct wasn’t an impeachable offense, violating his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” nothing ever could be.

And his insurrection and attempt to overthrow the election, indeed the government itself, even while failing, did lasting damage. His big “stolen election” lie undermines public confidence in our election integrity and our government’s very legitimacy, exacerbating the partisan divisions tearing America apart. Very great crimes.

Yet Republicans denounce the impeachment itself as “partisan” and “divisive.” These dishonest hypocrites throw around such words to shirk responsibility for their own actions. As if it’s “partisan” to prosecute incitement to insurrection. As if their efforts to overturn a legitimate election weren’t the most divisive thing any party’s ever done.

With the first impeachment, I said that if Republican senators were smart, they’d band together and take the opportunity to be rid of Trump. They didn’t. That was, of course, cynicism and cowardice. But worse, most seemed to have actually drunk the Kool-Aid, becoming Trump cult true believers. Now they have a second chance. Will they take it? No.

Some expected, with Trump out of office (and off Twitter), a soul-searching among Republicans, a reckoning, a return to sanity. Especially after the January 6 insurrection, which you’d think finally made Trump insupportable. And that was a tipping point for a few Republicans. Most, however, are actually doubling down, tunneling deeper into their black hole.

If there’s a reckoning, it’s to purge those few (notably Liz Cheney) who aren’t totally gaga Trumpists. And the party is doing nothing to dissociate from its violent element, which the FBI now unsurprisingly warns is our biggest terrorism threat. Most Republicans may give lip service to condemning the January 6 insurrection — while continuing to pump the “stolen election” lie that provoked it. They won’t even dissociate from QAnon lunacy (now spouted by at least two GOP Congress members).

At the heart of it all is race. The party long exploited white racial anxiety, but under Trump that became its core raison d’etre. That’s what Trump represents, and it explains the fanatical devotion to him. The Capitol rioters weren’t actuated by abstract “conservative” principles. Those, if they even exist any more, are a transparent veneer upon today’s Republican white nationalist heart and soul. That’s also what their flaunted Confederate flag represents. January 6 was an attempted white putsch. And they’re not done; seeing it as the “Lexington and Concord” of their revolution.

THIS  is what’s really tearing the country apart.

In a rational universe a Senate impeachment trial could help lance this boil. But that’s not the world we live in. There won’t be the needed 17 Republican votes to convict. Meantime, the House’s impeachment already gave Trump’s conduct the needed stamp of ignominy. That would only be negated by Senate acquittal. Enabling Trump to again crow vindication, as though wiping the slate clean. Re-empowering him. Bad for the country.

Instead, the Senate should simply not hold a trial and vote. Remember how McConnell specialized in not holding votes? Now Democrats control the Senate and should do likewise on impeachment. Never bring it to conclusion. Let it hang around Trump’s neck, unresolved, forever.

(Senator Kaine has proposed a deal with Republicans to censure Trump rather than vote on impeachment. A censure would need just a simple majority. It would do little or nothing to puncture Trump worship, but if that avoids an impeachment acquittal, then fine.)

American democracy and the Big Lie

January 28, 2021

In November 1918, Germany’s military situation had become hopeless. Support for the Kaiser collapsed, he fled, and a new democratic government came in and signed the armistice ending the war. There was no alternative. But those democrats — including liberals, socialists, and especially Jews — were demonized for it. Blamed for supposedly somehow stabbing Germany’s army in the back.

That was a lie, cynically and knowingly cooked up to serve a political agenda. But it was widely believed by Germans unwilling to accept the humiliation of military defeat. The “stab in the back” myth loomed over the democratic Weimar Republic and corroded its perceived legitimacy; was exploited by Hitler in his rise to power.

This history was discussed recently on NPR. Why? Today America has the “stolen election” myth. The parallels are obvious and scary.

The January 6 insurrectionists cast themselves as battling for democracy, against an election steal. In fact they were accessories to an attempted one.

Trump had long made clear he’d falsely claim fraud to avoid accepting election defeat. But I didn’t realize what legs that lie would acquire. With most Republicans, a third of Americans, believing it as gospel. Like post-WWI Germans, rather than face up to defeat, they prefer to believe a lie that they were cheated of victory.*

The nativist right — for all its patriotism sanctimony — harbors a deep disaffection from the America they actually inhabit. As distinguished from their fantasy country, that they wanted to “make great again.” Actually, make white again, a key focus of their disaffection. And that disaffection is broadened and intensified by the “stolen election” lie. Convincing them that our government is illegitimate, the whole system rotten.

Trump’s trying to overthrow an election and inciting insurrection were crimes enough. But his greater crime was introducing into our body politic this toxic poison of the “stolen election” myth. It will plague us for years to come. Making it all the harder to restore some semblance of — well, not even unity, but just some comity, so we can at least manage to live together.

*        *        *

The age-old fear was democracy degenerating into mob rule. We got a taste on January 6. The other pitfall, seen in many countries, is one voting mistake giving you dictatorship, hard to undo. We’ve now had our own close shave with that as well.

As President Biden declared, our democracy did prevail. Our constitutional system a bulwark against both mobocracy and tyranny. But I keep saying — that’s not ordained by God. Democracy is not just a system but a culture. It cannot be sustained absent a citizenry with baked in democratic values. Which requires understanding those values, and too few Americans today really do.

Those who stormed the Capitol, invoking “the people’s will,” actually had their own understanding of that concept. What they really meant was their will. It wasn’t about who truly got the most votes. Only theirs were legitimate, others not. Especially Black ones. As Isabel Wilkerson suggested in Caste, many Americans want not a democratic country now so much as a white one.

* One more time: while Trumpers cite a raft of supposed “irregularities,” there’s zero evidence for anything that could have changed the outcome. None of Trump’s 60 lawsuits provided any. Even his toady Attorney General Barr agreed. Many election officials involved were Republicans. It all came from a man whose record of lies, if each were a mile, would circle the Earth. And why refuse to believe so lousy a candidate actually lost?

Trump’s great new idea: the Patriot Party

January 24, 2021

QAnoners called it “The Storm.” The long-awaited gotterdammerung when heroic Trump would at last spring his trap and destroy the insidious Satanic deep-state cabal of baby-eaters. Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, Obama, and all their ilk would be arrested, shipped off to Gitmo, and the rightful god-emperor would reign in glory.

Right up till noon on the 20th they sat before their TVs, in their millions, readying celebratory popcorn, all psyched up, certain their dream must surely now, at this final hour, play out. And then President Biden calmly took the oath. What? How could that possibly be allowed to happen? The whole inauguration day indeed going off without a hitch, without a murmur of tribulation, in fact awesome, puissant, and beautiful. Quickly restoring the America of grace and dignity we used to take for granted. Instead of Biden’s arrest, it’s hundreds of January 6’s QAnon and allied white supremacist insurrectionists being rounded up.

There’s flummoxed consternation in Trumpian La-La Land that “The Storm” didn’t happen. Some true believers, like those crackpot preachers who schedule the world’s end, will now simply change their storyline. Set a new date. Fret not, the plan’s all still good. Be assured Trump is playing four-dimensional chess. Others, however, are shaken in their faith. Feeling played for fools. Some now actually denouncing Trump as . . . wait for it . . . weak. And some even dare whisper that maybe, just maybe, he was all along only a con man in it for himself.

Gee, ya think?

It’s easy to laugh, but it’s really no joke that millions of Americans have such a tortured relationship with reality. It doesn’t take many of them to pose a huge ongoing terrorism threat. And even with Trump and Parler banned from the internet, the inflammatory messages continue. There’s still Fox — indeed, intensifying its demented bilge-spewing in an effort to outflank new rivals even more extreme. Fox’s creep squad has been cursing out those Congressional Republicans who retained a sufficient vestige of responsibility to refuse to support the overthrow of American democracy based on an insane traitor’s lies.

But Trump reportedly may have a new plan: start his own political party. To which I say: Great idea! Go for it — please!

He’ll call it the Patriot Party. His cultists do fancy themselves the ultimate in patriotism. Even while flaunting the flag of a country that made war against America (the Confederacy). The party’s symbol would be a lion. A perfect, perhaps Freudian choice: The Lyin’ Party.

Actually, the logic is baffling. As if the Republican party isn’t Trumpy enough for him. What can he gain? But rationality has never been his hallmark.

Anyhow, Donald will of course be the Patriot Party’s 2024 candidate. Or, if the Senate can muster the sanity to disqualify him, then Donald Junior. The old Republican party will stagger on. With their nationwide vote thusly split, Trump (whichever one) will carry West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama. GOP nominee Rubio might carry Florida. Harris all the rest.

Let the “Patriots” also run candidates in every Senate race, every House district — heck, for all state offices too. Dividing the Republican vote everywhere, annihilating themselves. Then Democrats, reigning totally, can undo all the voter suppression, and persecution of immigrants, and much else that Trump “achieved.” Maybe reform the filibuster and the Supreme Court. And amend the Constitution to finally get rid of the blood-soaked Second Amendment. And of course the undemocratic electoral college. So Republicans (or their spin-offs) can never get power again.

Now that would be a storm. Trump may be deranged enough to bring it on. Let’s hope.

January 20: America’s light rekindled

January 20, 2021

The only presidential inauguration I ever got an engraved invitation to was Nixon’s in 1969. I didn’t go. Covid sidelining Biden’s was a big disappointment. I’d considered flying down nevertheless, just to stand witness, but even that was discouraged, for safety’s sake. And then came January 6.

A sea of flags planted on the mall represented the absent crowd. One was mine.

Four years ago the incoming president spoke of forgotten Americans, forgotten no longer. Last night, forgotten no longer were the 400,000 Americans who died on his watch.

The election had palpably lifted my emotional baseline. Though until today I still felt much anxiety, for obvious reasons. Watching the inauguration was a sublime moment of cathartic culmination and deliverance — intensified by mindfulness of my own contribution. This, more than anyone ever, is my president.

Of course, now comes the hard part. President Biden bears a weight of responsibility no human should ever be asked to carry. But we couldn’t have found a better person to lead us. A president we can be proud of, reflecting not America’s worst but its best. Though I don’t expect to approve of everything — after all, I was a conservative Republican for half a century.

So playing defense will be a lot less fun than criticizing. And normalcy and sanity will seem boring after the last four years. I’ll likely, strangely, miss the tumult.

It’s a truism of human psychology that hate can be more powerful than love, indignation stronger than approval, opposition more emotionally satisfying than supportiveness. Trump lovers were defined by their hatreds, which he channels. Writing about politics sure got my juices flowing. But I don’t actually expect that will end.

* * *

Long at the core of my being was belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity, advancing through rationality. With a democratic America standing as the great embodiment of those ideals. We’ve even had a stamp proclaiming, “America’s light fueled by truth and reason.” A picture of it adorns my wall.

But for the last four years, it’s been a painful daily reminder of loss. That light seemed to have failed.

Today, at last, it shines once more with truth and reason.

This is a good day. My heart is full.