Category Archives: American republic

A Kleptomaniac in theWhite House, with a couple of extra thoughts

 

Thank God for SNL–

 

I think this article has to be required reading for anyone concerned about the course of our country under Trump (written by a conservative, by the way….)–

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/

This article immediately reminded me of a book I read years ago, Friendly Fascism by Bertram Gross, which resonates with David Frum’s concept that the autocracy Trump intends to build will not be based on the heavy-handed models of 1930’s fascism, but which will still just as effectively castrate our civil liberties.

Frum’s article has a lot to recommend it, especially how it frames Trump’s main purpose as the creation of a kleptocracy with him and his family at the center, all of which, if unopposed, would be as utterly destructive of our civil liberties as the worst of the Nazi regime.  I am, however, a little cautious about Frum’s assumption that we won’t see the same sort of heavy-handed political and social control as previous fascisms.  If it were left to just Trump, that might be true, but too many of the people around Trump are positively scary, starting with Jeff Sessions and ending up with Steve Bannon, whose white nationalist views are nothing less than apocalyptic.  If Trump leaves much of the actual running of the government in the hands of his aides, as seems likely, then people like Sessions and Bannon will inevitably use that power to further their own agendas– or get us into disastrous situations in foreign lands.  A crook opening a door for worse criminals is nothing new, except, perhaps, in this country.  That the crook is a buffoon doesn’t make the situation any easier.

It’s going to have to come down to people, progressive and conservative, putting aside their differences on issues to join forces to stand up to these people.  The test of Americans as a people will be whether we can do that.

Hang in there.

 

 

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Five songs for the resistance

Some songs for the resistance-

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I am showing my age in that most of these songs are from fifty to sixty years ago, the last time we were in serious need of marching songs.  Perhaps we need a new generation to write the anthems of the new resistance.  Nevertheless, these still speak to me, especially Pete Seeger’s interpretation of We Shall Overcome, which breaks my heart every time I listen to it.  Take heart from this music, and do what you can.

Later.

I want to turn it all off, but I can’t- Frontline’s Divided States of America

I just finished watching the two part Frontline documentary Divided States of America (Part One is here), which recapitulates the history of the Obama administration and the rise of populist rage in this country.  It’s enlightening and difficult at the same time, especially as it is unsparing in its recounting of Obama’s naivete and missteps during his two terms.  On the whole it is balanced and sober.  It is also sobering– it ends on the note that Obama came into office with the idea of bridging divides, and he leaves office with the country more divided than ever.

In the documentary there are talking heads from both sides of the political spectrum, and some of those on the right are quick to blame the president for the divisions.   That is both unfair and typical of the right.  The divisions were there before Obama became president; his presidency, however, laid them bare in ways we did not anticipate when he took office in 2009.

The documentary is very good about outlining the rise of populist anger in this country in the last eight years. What exploded at first as the Tea Party and then the candidacy of Donald Trump has deep roots.  The documentary ties the current populism to that which emerged during the 2008 Republican campaign and which found its focus in Sarah Palin, but of course it goes back decades, to the civil rights era and the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties and the drastic changes in our society and the technology it employs for work and communication.  The absolute (and to progressives, irrational) rage of conservatives who think their country is being stolen by blacks and immigrants, and that Obama was a Muslim socialist bent on destroying white America, is outlined in detail.  The documentary describes the divide in the country as being so profound that it almost amounts to there being two antithetically opposed Americas at war with each other.

That observation resonated with me.  Over the last three decades I have watched this country grow more and more polarized, to the point that we hardly consider those on the other side of the divide from us to be true Americans.  That polarization is what really frightens me, far more than even Trump, because I don’t know how to heal it, and because it is absolutely destructive to our political unity.  I fear this country has gone past some limit without realizing it.  Once this sort of rhetoric gets past a certain point, and people begin to accept it as normal, then there comes a time when your opponents don’t just disagree with you, they are evils that have to fought, in the streets and house-by-house.  In other words, the logical end of this sort of rhetoric is civil war and social dissolution.

And when Trump inevitably spins out of control and crashes, the rage of Trump supporters will not go away.  He did not create it; it created him.  When he’s gone– and I will be surprised if he lasts as much as two years– his supporters will have to find another figurehead to encapsulate their anger.  And what new monstrosity will they create the next time?

I am tired of it all.  I wish I could turn it all off.  But I can’t.  I am not optimistic about America’s chances, but I can’t join a rush to the lifeboats.  Weary and weak as I am, I have to stay and try to do what I can.  I hope you do, too.

But we don’t have to watch the inauguration.  That much, at least, is a relief.

I recommend the Frontline documentary to anyone who wants a good summary of how we got here.

Later.

 

Some pointed questions for 2017

So, lots of people are greeting 2017 with enthusiasm, assuming (or hoping) that is has to be better than 2016.  2016 was, indeed, a dreadful crap-fest.  Terrorist attacks, desperate refugees, the Syrian civil war, and Russian ass-holery were all bad enough, but here in the US we had an election that literally threatens the life of the Republic.  Pretty much everyone whose last name isn’t Trump has ample reason to be happy to see the year in the rear-view mirror.

But, of course, as much as we try to make January 1st into a celebration of newness and renewal, it is nothing of the kind.  Each successive year works out the tensions and conflicts of the preceding, while introducing new ones.  It’s an open question how those tensions and conflicts will work themselves out at this particular moment of history.

So, regardless of its infant state, and with particular reference to the situation here in the US, let’s shove 2017 under a bright light and ask it questions that need answers–

  1. Will Donald Trump live up to his hype and become the rampaging narcissistic tyrant the words he uttered during his campaign promised?  For the sake of the Republic, for the sake of ordinary people, we pray he doesn’t, that he will somehow find it in himself to conduct his presidency in a manner that will help and not harm the lives of Americans and the admittedly imperfect form of government we’ve sacrificed so much for.  We hope and pray, but our expectations are low.
  2. Will Republicans, now that they have control over two out of three branches of the government (and possess a fair prospect of seizing control of the third, in the form of the Supreme Court), find it in themselves to actually govern?   The modern Republican party has so long been an institution of obstruction and denial it is difficult imagining them actually engaging in doing anything positive.
  3. Some folks on the right-wing seem to be set to try to rollback almost every gain America has made in the last eighty years– never mind the Affordable Care Act or Roe v. Wade, these people have their sights set on Social Security.  Will they be allowed to gut the progress of the last three generations of Americans for the sake of ideologies most Americans do not share?
  4. Will the white supremacists and the climate change deniers and the billionaires and the CEO’s who are Trumps advisers and cabinet members actually stand for something other than their fanaticism or their self-interest?
  5. Is anyone in the incoming Congress or administration going to face up to the fact that global warming is real, and is a direct threat to our nation?  This issue, which should be one of science and reasoned response, is another that has become entangled in ideological claptrap.
  6. When Trump violates the Constitution, will the Republican-dominated Congress find it in themselves to apply the Constitutionally-mandated remedy of impeachment?  Or will it roll over and play dead because the guy in the White House is their’s and giving them goodies?
  7. How much suffering lies ahead for the American people?  How much will they have to go through before this irrational poison is flushed from our system?  And what form will the flushing take?

Poor 2017– it can’t answer these questions.  Neither can anyone else.  We are just going to have pray, live these times out and do what we can.  I can’t think of a better way to encapsulate our purpose now than this scene from Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring

None of us who want a better future for our country wanted to find ourselves here.  But these times are upon us, and now we have to decide what to do.  At the very least, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the helpless, and tell tyranny the truth.  We don’t have to row to Mordor; it is upon us.  But one thing is true– we have to do this together.

May God bless us and keep us through what is coming.

Some random thoughts among the ruins

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  1. I still had to balance my checkbook this morning.
  2. Six to twelve months of Trumpism in power, and I predict many of the people who thought they’d like his brand of change will be begging for some of the old order back.
  3. A note to the pollsters and pundits– please get your heads out of your asses.  At the very least this should not have been a surprise.
  4. “Up to three Supreme Court picks” (11/9/2016 ABC News).  With the Senate and House both in Republican hands, this has the potential of locking a right-wing collar around America for at least a generation.
  5. That’s assuming that the economic depression Trump’s asinine monetary policies will cause leaves a country to collar.
  6. I’m just glad Keith Olbermann didn’t blow a complete gasket.  He still calls it pretty good, though.
  7. An ABC News commentator just mentioned that votes are still being counted in California and that Hillary will probably win the national popular vote while losing the Electoral College– only the fifth time that’s happened in our history.  If we needed a clinching argument to do away with the Electoral College, we got one now.
  8. Perhaps the chief moral of this election is that there is a deep, deep reservoir of resentment and fear in this country among certain people who have been generally shafted by the shifts in the economy away from industry toward information and services, left behind by the concentration of too much wealth in the hands of too few, and who don’t see themselves included in an increasingly diverse country.  It was that alienation Trump tapped into.  Like most demagogues, he has no real remedy for these perceived ills, and will doubtless only exacerbate them in the long run.
  9. Trump’s election ties the US to what is clearly an emerging international wave of retrograde nationalism and anti-immigrant feeling (e.g. Brexit) that threatens the world order as we have known it since the end of the Cold War, and maybe since World War II.  Right now, it really sucks to be a Syrian refugee, but given Trump’s waffling on NATO, in the near future it might be even worse to be Estonian or Latvian.  That’s scary– and it’s just the start of the potential horrors.
  10. A note to Mr. Trump– per the Constitution, you are President-elect.  But when you take office, Mr. Trump, expect the people– and there are a lot of us– who see through your bullshit to be watching.  That same Constitution that designates you as President will also provide the mechanism to hold you accountable.  If there is any life left in this Republic, you will find that Presidents are not dictators– at least, please God, not quite yet in this country.
  11. A note to my fellow Democrats– let’s all take a deep breath, take care of the necessary, mundane business of life, and try to think about what’s next.  Keep calm, and persevere.

More thoughts to come…..

Well….

It hasn’t happened yet, here in north Texas, but I’m reasonably sure the sun will come up today.

That’s about all I’m sure of at the moment.

I watched the election results come in last night with a group of increasingly distressed folks in a local pub, who could not believe this was happening.  I finally went home before Wisconsin and Pennsylvania sealed Hillary’s fate, but with the mathematical certainty looming on every TV screen.

It is now evident that are we are entering a time of testing in this country.  It remains to be seen how severe this test will be, but all the signs to point to an acute constitutional crisis in the near future.  Trump has given every indication that he will manipulate and twist the levers of government to suit his own ends, as well as doing things that are strictly illegal.  How much damage will be done before the shaky mechanisms of constitutional checks and balances take hold is unclear.  It’s even unclear whether those mechanisms are up to the task.

Everyone who believes in a future for the US that isn’t some devolved nightmare of racial and nationalistic stupidity, shot through with an economic buffonery that threatens not just the American economy, but the world’s, is going to need dig in and work to save what we can.  In previous posts I suggested the fate of the American Republic was at stake in this election.  That suggestion is now hard reality.  We have elected a demagogue and a fascist to our highest office, a man who would have dismayed Jefferson Davis.  This is a danger inherent in democracy, that sometimes manipulators of a distressed and frightened populace gain power.  When this happens, and it happened last night in this beautiful country, it’s then the duty of all true patriots, however much they disagree with each other, to stand up and resist.

There’s much more to be said, but I will need to say it when I’ve had a chance to get more sleep and to organize my scattered thoughts.

In the meantime, if you pray, pray for this country.

God help the United States of America.  God help the world.

 

Oops, I’ve done it now…a political post…

And here I was swearing up and down that I wasn’t going to let politics into this blog. So much for good intentions. Avert your eyes now if this stuff turns your stomach.

In the wake of last night’s GOP debate, Chuck Wendig has posted a excellent, if pungent (in several senses of the word) post on how our broken presidential electoral system (kinda) works. It’s a great analysis of what is an increasingly bizzaro way of choosing a national leader. It also helped me crystal some of my own thinking.

The truth is, folks, we’re in trouble, and not just in the way we pick our Chief Executive. Example– I heard a story on NPR a few nights ago about how even the ordinary business of confirming ambassadorial nominees has become a political football in Washington. In the past, Senate confirmation of ambassadors was utterly routine, unless serious issues with the nominee’s character or history came to light. The current delay of confirmations has nothing to do with that– it stems from the desire of one party to frustrate the President’s intentions, to deny him a hint of success or legitimacy.

Of course, this is just one example of this sort of thing, which has become the chief mode of operation for one party in Congress. Everything from the budget to the debt-ceiling to ambassadorships has become a means of political obstructionism. At base, this is a frightening development– it means that jamming the mechanism of government has become an accepted tactic of political opposition. In the process, actual governance has gone out the window– at a time when we face serious issues that are getting worse the longer we ignore them.

But the stalemate in Washington is only part of the picture. Frankly, the United States is sliding toward oligarchy. Citizens United and the presence of big money in our politics is killing our democracy. Working people are getting an increasingly tiny share of the pie, while the plutocrats get more golden parachutes and tax breaks. Our gerrymandered electoral distribution currently almost guarantees the return to office, year after year, of the same dunderheads who refuse to accept the fact that the water is rising (literally and figuratively). As others have pointed out, it may not matter who is elected president if Congress remains the hostage of a small clique of know-nothings– the stalemate will continue, unless something changes.

What’s to be done? In some way or another, the American people– including those who live in those tortured, gerrymandered districts designed to secure electoral success for one party only– are going to have to stand up and say “Enough!” It’s not even really a partisan question– there are plenty of issues which threaten everyone, on which we can find common ground– if we can take off our blinders and recognize the danger. Otherwise–

Whew. Enough for now. But I suppose that, over the next year, I will, at least occasionally, have to express an opinion. When you come down to it, it’s called being part of the solution.