Category Archives: politics

The Rubicon – Trump and what must be done

Looked at from a certain perspective, the course of the Trump administration so far could be depicted as a series of moments best characterized by people’s reactions to them– summarized perhaps as “OMG!” or “WTF?” or “ROFLMAO!”  The last might be more common, I think, if most of the stuff this incompetent buffoon puts out did not have so many serious implications.  His ludicrous imposition of tariffs on our allies (Canada?  CANADA?) is just the most recent example.

Unfortunately, any humor we might have found in the gyrations of a president unhindered by such mundane virtues as truthfulness and an allegiance to facts is fast becoming impossible.  His clownishness has begun to have real world impacts, to the point that some think the Western political and economic order as we know it is in danger.

More than that, closer to home the implications of Trump’s attitudes and actions are crowding in on our domestic political life.  To put it succinctly, we are now effectively living through a constitutional crisis.  To put it more informally, this shit is getting real.

The Mueller investigation may be approaching a climax.  Certainly, Trump’s hysteria over it continues to grow.  This past week, it reached a gobsmacking peak when Trump asserted the idea that he can pardon himself in the event of any indictment.

Please, roll that one around in your brain for a minute.  What Trump is saying, effectively, is that he is above the law.  That he can commit crimes and then escape any consequences for those crimes.  This is, essentially, the assertion of an absolutist privilege, something never countenanced in the Constitution or among the Founding Fathers.  This would be a major cornerstone for an authoritarian regime.

I take some comfort in the fact that most people, aside from Rudy Giuliani and a few of the more servile Trumpist lackeys in Congress, think the idea either laughable or unacceptable or both.  Any attempt by Trump to pardon himself, most agree, would swiftly bring impeachment down on his head.  It’s so obviously a threat to our republican form of government that even hard-shelled right-wing GOP congressmen would have to reject it.  As a possibility, it probably exists on in Trump’s own deluded imagination.

But to me the fact that Trump is even willing to broach the idea publicly means we must have crossed some sort of Rubicon last week.  To anyone other than a true believer, there can be now no doubt as to how Trump sees himself, and himself in relation to the Republic.  This man has been a threat, is a threat, and will be threat, to that republic until he has been removed from office.

Now, a reality check.  It’s so easy to type the words, “remove from office”, but not at all easy to carry out in fact.  Under our Constitution, removal of a president by impeachment has to meet a high bar–that of “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors”.  This was intended by the Founders to prevent presidents from being removed for mere political disagreements.  This requirement is right and proper, and has helped keep the United States from the sort of governmental chaos that other nations have all-too-often known.  But it means that removing a president, even one that deserves removal, is not easily done.  Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were both acquitted in their Senate trials, and Richard Nixon resigned before the articles of impeachment against him could be completed.  Removing a president by impeachment, in other words, has never actually been done.

To remove a president from office means that matters of evidence have to be presented to the Senate in a trial.  If we want to remain a nation of laws– which is really what this is all about– that means we can’t impeach a president just because we dislike him or disagree with him.  This is essentially what they tried with Bill Clinton and the effort fell flat, as it should have.

Evidence is what the Mueller investigation is about.  At this point in time, however, we don’t know what, if anything, Mueller has uncovered, beyond the indictments that have already been made public.  There is plenty of gossip, supposition and rumor about what Mueller is finding, but we really don’t know.

In the end, he may not find anything, especially around the charges of collusion with the Russians.  It may be all smoke and no fire.  Despite the overheated nature of press speculation around the investigation, there may yet be nothing there.

If that happens, then we have one problem– how to deal with the incompetent, narcissistic clown occupying the White House.  Because, quite aside from alleged criminality, Trump is still horrifyingly unqualified to be president, intellectually, morally, and in terms of skills.  He is already causing damage to the reputation of the United States, our ties with our closest allies (Canada, come back!), and our diplomatic efforts to make the world safer and more free.  He has no policy other than his whims and what he thinks will please his base.  And the Constitution makes no provision for the dismissal of a president for incompetence– otherwise, our history would look very different, perhaps for good, but far more likely, for ill.

In the case of Trump remaining in office, then for the sake of the country he will need to be legislatively quarantined.  That would mean Congress would have to act to reduce his power and hedge him about with legislation that will limit the damage he can do.  To a certain degree, this needs to happen, anyway– the powers of the presidency have grown outlandishly over the last seventy or eighty years, in large part because the successive crises this country has faced that required a strong executive power.  With Trump as chief executive this realignment of the executive branch of the government becomes an emergency priority.

This would not be easy.  Among other things, Congress would have to act in a bipartisan manner that’s almost a myth nowadays.  This is where the paralyzed, sclerotic state of our national government would come back to bite us.  An incompetent president, blundering around like a drunken Godzilla and destroying the functionality of government, our alliances, our economic ties with other countries, and on and on, should be a matter of urgency for all Americans, regardless of political stripe.  Instead, we see a Republican congressional leadership, in both the House and the Senate, who have been willing to hold their nose and lend their lip-service to Trump, in the cynical hope that he will further their agenda before he topples.  If Congress continues to be controlled by these sort of opportunists then there is little hope of reining in Trump, unless and until he commits some blunder so horrifying– getting us into a shooting war with North Korea, for example– that even the Republican leadership could not ignore it.  But by then, the damage will be done, and millions could suffer for the GOP’s lack of courage.

If, on the other hand, the Mueller investigation does turn up evidence of an impeachable offense– well, then we have the same problem.  Impeachment would require votes in the House pass the articles; the trial in the Senate would require a two-thirds vote to convict.  It’s an open question whether the current majority party in either house has the patriotism and the spine to follow through with an impeachment and trial, even if a plethora of smoking guns are lined up in a row in front of them.  In Watergate Republicans were among the leaders who helped force Nixon out of office.  In a Trump impeachment, it seems doubtful that more than a handful of honorable GOP members would even show up.

As an aside, there used to be something called the Republican Party in this country– the party that produced Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower.  That party is, sadly, long, long gone.

Whether it is to contain a chaos-producing president or to impeach a criminal one, it seems unlikely that Congress in its current form will have the will or the ability to do what is needed.  The only remedy then will be to change the composition of Congress in the next midterm election.

Note– this is not a partisan call for Democrats to swarm the polls.  This is a call for everyone who cares about their country to vote for people who will do what is needed to contain Trump, or bring him to justice, regardless of partisan label.  At this point I don’t care if you call yourself Democratic, Republican, Socialist, Tea Party, Green, Independent or People for the Restoration of High Button Shoes, if you recognize the danger Trump poses and are willing to act to counter it, we need you.  Like yesterday.

After that, if Trump is still in office in 2020, he needs to be voted out.  Period.  End of sentence, and slam the door.

After Trump, however his administration ends, it will then be the patriotic duty of all Americans to start picking up the pieces and putting things to right.  At that point, we will need to address the systemic problems of our political system that allowed this waste of mortal matter to gain the highest office in the land in the first place.

But that’s another post, for another time.

Later.

 

 

 

 

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The state we are in– January 27th, 2018

In a word, we are in a state.  And I’m not sure where we’re headed.

I haven’t written much in the last year about the US political situation, or the ongoing tragedy/farce/horror show that is the Trump administration.  Partly this was because of a preoccupation with many personal issues, and partly because every time I thought I had a good topic upon which to dilate, Trump would do something even more outrageous and send me back to the drawing board.

But things seem to be coming to a head.

The Mueller investigation may be closing in on final conclusions.  It’s not yet clear whether the President is actually suspected of wrong-doing by the investigation, but you wouldn’t know it from the way Trump and his surrogates act.  But this is more than people acting guilty– Trump, his minions in Congress, and Fox News, are actively, and transparently, engaged in an effort to discredit the Mueller investigation, the FBI and the Department of Justice.  I hope people understand just how scary that is– a faction in our government and media has essentially declared war on an agency of our government.  It is (so far) a war of words, but the rhetoric is all-or-nothing– “secret societies”, “conspiracy”, “purges”, as if the DOJ were the enemy of the people, not their instrument.  It is cynical, it is false, and it is destructive, and it undermines our very democracy.  I doubt that Devin Nunes and his ilk are bright enough to understand what they are doing, but that doesn’t make their actions any less destructive.

People worry about the country sliding into a constitutional crisis when Mueller releases his findings.  For my money we’re in a constitutional crisis now.  We have an unfit, dangerous president who is actively attempting to impede a Department of Justice investigation, and has, in the process, effectively asserted (if not in so many words) the concept that he is above the law.  This crisis, of course, will become acute if and when Mueller lays out evidence that our chief executive has violated the law.  That is when we will see if there is any courage and backbone left in the other branches of government, specifically Congress, to do what it needs to do to preserve the rule of law and a government of the people.  If Mueller sets out evidence that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors”, and the Republican-dominated Congress does nothing, then our constitution will be well on its way to becoming a dead letter, and the door opened to a sort of autocracy never before seen in this country.

Having said that, let me take a step back for a moment.  At the moment we are faced with a particular crisis revolving around an unfit chief executive, and that is distressing and dangerous, but this whole affair is just the latest manifestation of a comprehensive breakdown of American political life that has been gathering speed for at least a generation, if not longer.  We in this country have just about lost all sense of being fellow Americans with each other.  We are increasingly divided into ideological silos, between which there is little communication and understanding.  Everything is polarized, everything is divided, usually with bitter rancor, and our government itself increasingly cannot function as it should because of that division.  The very mechanisms of government are, time and again, hijacked to punish political opponents.  You have only to remember the Gethsemane of Barack Obama’s eight years in office, in which the not-so-loyal opposition determined from the start to deny him legislative success, not because they had a better plan, but because obstruction was the only thing they could think to do, to understand what I am talking about.

The point is, whatever the outcome of our current difficulties, we live in the midst of a more deeply-seated crisis that will persist after Trump is gone, and to which, personally, I do not see an easy solution.  Trump is really just a symptom of this deeper, and widening, division.  It may be that the last time we were this divided was the 1850’s, and that should scare everyone who cares about this country.  At the end of that decade, with a little help from John Brown, our country split wide open, and we tumbled into the worst war this country has ever known– the one in which we killed each other wholesale.  A latter-day John Brown just might have the same effect now.

As an aid to understanding how we got to this pass, I recommend watching Robert Reich’s brilliant cartoon summary of the last 70 years of American socioeconomic history.  He has a clear idea of where we should end up; I hope it’s just my lack of imagination that fails to see how we summon up the collective political will to get there.

In the meantime, we all need to buckle up and hold on– the ride is about to get really bumpy.

Later.

Remember John Brown

A snippet from Morning Joe regarding Trump’s declaration that the media is the “enemy of the American people”–

 

The commentators are right about the danger of what Trump is saying, but equally important, I think, is the point John Heilemann makes at about the 7:35 mark, that Trump’s language is an incitement to terrorist acts such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, still the worst domestic act of terror in our history.  It’s a point that I think needs to be repeated over and over again– we are in dangerous waters, and it may take just one latter-day John Brown to set the ship on fire.  The danger exists from both the left and the right– the respective ends of our political spectrum are overheated, and it’s possible some fanatic or deluded individual will do something so awful that our political discourse, or what’s left of it, will completely disintegrate.  What happens then, God alone knows.

Pray.  Stand up for the helpless.  And don’t let anybody, left or right, blather about doing something radical, even if you’re sure they’re not serious.  At this moment we just do not need more gasoline on the fire.

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.

 

 

And immediately, sunlight….

No honeymoon for Il Duce

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/people-across-world-rally-womens-rights/

http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/inauguration-2017/women-s-march-washington-echoed-cities-around-world-n710156

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/worldwide-people-rally-in-support-of-women%E2%80%99s-march-on-washington/ar-AAm5Ltx?li=BBnb7Kz

Note to self: yo, numb-nuts, you missed out on joining the local march because you weren’t paying attention.  Keep a better ear to the ground in the future, nimrod, because this is exactly the sort of thing I want to add my two cents to.

But this put a smile on my face after yesterday’s gloom.  We are a very large and noisy conglomeration of people, and that’s exactly what we need right now.

The state we’re in– further political thoughts, August 8, 2016

In a  previous blog post I made the case that Donald Trump is basically a megalomaniacal con-man who is exploiting the real hurts of average people to promote his brand, which is himself.  He has no a real plan to redeem the country, or even run it with reasonable competence.  His ideas are not merely unworkable (“We’ll build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!”), they are actually dangerous.

The sad truth, however, is that Trump is in no way the cause of the division this country is experiencing at the moment.  He’s merely using it to his advantage.  Our division into mutually antagonistic ideological camps has been going on for decades.

There has always been social and political tension and contention in this country.  This is inevitable in a society made up of many different groups holding a variety of beliefs.  The Founding Fathers actually recognized that faction was inevitable and took it into account when formulating the Constitution.  Americans have long had a genius for weaving contentious groups together into a, if not completely harmonious, then at least reasonably unified consensus.

Sometimes, however, this consensus breaks down.  The most obvious example, of course, is the Civil War.  Americans in the middle of the Nineteenth Century found themselves unable to continue to paper over the chasm between free state and slave state, between an agrarian South focused on social hierarchy and chattel labor and an industrializing North focused on an open society with free labor.  All attempts at compromise failed and Americans divided themselves into antagonistic camps which, in the end, could find no way to resolve their disagreements other than by force of arms.  The war quite literally destroyed the old Union and birthed a new political order, a new United States.  If that new society was any more just and free than the old, the price paid for it was undeniably high.

We live in another era of partisan division.  Many have remarked on how people are living more and more in “ideological silos”, in which they interact only with people who largely agree with them.  The Pew Research Center has done statistical analyses of this fact that are worth reading.  One of the interesting aspects of these analyses is the finding that those who are more political involved tend to have the most consistently liberal or conservative ideologies.  As these studies put it, centrists largely “…remain on the edges of the political playing field….”

The reasons for this bifurcation are numerous and go back decades– the upheaval of the Sixties, the rise of a vocal and uncompromising conservatism, the culture wars of the Eighties and Nineties, the advent of largely conservative media that has been less interested in journalistic fairness than in demonizing those who hold contrarian opinions (although liberals are hardly innocent of this sort of thing), the contested presidential election in 2000, 9-11, the Iraq war, and the growing threat of terrorism.  People have a profound sense that their government is more and more the creature of plutocrats and money-men.  On top of all of this, the nation is going through demographic and social changes which leave some people feeling alienated from their own country– the United States is well on its way to no longer being majority white, nor normatively heterosexual, nor largely Christian (I personally doubt we were ever really that Christian as a society, but that’s another post).

We are increasingly a nation divided against itself.  We have lost much of our sense of common purpose and identity as Americans– or rather, we spend a great deal of time telling ourselves that people who think differently from us or who look different are not real Americans.  This partisan division has been reflected in the operation of our government, or perhaps rather, its non-operation.  In recent years ‘legislative action’ has too often consisted of using the mechanism of government to deny your opponents legitimacy and anything resembling policy success.  When you see this sort of thing becoming common, it is a sure sign that the established mechanisms of governance have begun to break down, and that new mechanisms and a new consensus need to be created.

Unfortunately, at the moment no one seems to have a clear understanding of how to achieve this new consensus.  At the same time, many people seem to want to restore the America they think they’ve lost, or to bring in someone who will take positive action– whether or not it’s constitutional– to ‘protect’ us.  Hence, Trump.

The essential point is that, even if Trump loses this election, the forces he is exploiting– or that, in another sense, brought him into being– will still be seething with resentment and misplaced rage, doubtless looking for the next man on a white horse. This is almost unprecedented in our history.  The only analogous situation I can immediately call to mind is Huey Long in the Thirties, who was another demagogue who exploited populist discontent.  There was a reason Franklin Delano Roosevelt considered Long one of the most dangerous people in the country.

Personally, I have no ready remedy in mind to heal this rift and soothe the minds and hearts of those who are looking for– let’s not mince words– a dictator.  The rhetoric has become too heated, the divisions too deep for an easy solution.  Possibly all we need to tip us over the edge into some sort of authoritarianism is for some latter-day John Brown— domestic or foreign– to do something appalling (a terrorist nuke on America soil would do the job, if an example is needed) and the American people might just select a Trump-figure to lead them.  We are in dangerous waters.

The only thing I know for sure that we must do is speak the truth, protect the rights of everyone– even if they wear a hijab or have Mexican grandparents– and vote as if the future of the Republic is on the line.

Because it is.

 

 

Once more, thank you, Jon Stewart

Once more, Jon Stewart has a clear-eyed perspective on all the craziness that’s going down right now in our national political space.  This is an extended discussion with Dave Axelrod at the University of Chicago on May 9th.  The whole conversation is worth listening to, but the first thirteen or so minutes are particularly on point, and are excerpted here.

Stewart connects the rise of Trump to the increasingly vitriolic and even apocalyptic narrative that has for years been the daily meat-and-potatoes of right-wing talk radio in particular, and the conservative mindset in general.  He’s not the first commentator to link Republican exploitation of white and particularly male anger at the social changes of the last two generations (aka “the Southern Strategy”) to the rise of a nasty, know-nothing populism (see Sarah Palin as a Trump forerunner), but he does so here in terms that make it hard to argue with his premise. Trump is, quite simply, a monster created by the Republican Party that is now running amok, out of their control, tearing through the heart of our body-politic like Godzilla with bad hair.

Frankly, this is how democracies die.  People get afraid or angry and disgusted with the existing political process– and it’s simply a non-partisan truth that at the moment there’s plenty to be disgusted with about how our government is working, or not working– a figure on a white horse appears who promises to make the bad stuff go away, while spouting slogans such as “make the nation great again” or “regain our national honor”, and the people hand the government over to the horseman.  These strongmen are frequently strong only in their rhetoric, and absolute disasters as heads of state.  Trump shows every sign of having just such feet of political clay.

We cannot, cannot, cannot allow this man even close to the levers of power in this country.  The stakes are just too high.

 

 

 

Now it’s serious– a few political thoughts, May 4th, 2016

In the 2012 HBO movie Game Change about the 2008 US presidential election, John McCain (Ed Harris) makes an observation about the populist anger he encountered in his town halls and rallies late in the campaign.  This is not a direct quote, but I think it captures the gist– “There is a dark side to American populism, and there are some politicians who are willing to exploit that dark side for their own advantage.”  It was an apt observation at the time, encapsulating the building political rage that would culminate in the Tea Party, and the politicians who have been willing to pander to it.  Unfortunately, it is even more apt eight years later.

Donald Trump is now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.  Every other conventional or semi-conventional candidate flamed out and fell short, even the hard right conservative– in fact, dangerously theocratic— Ted Cruz.  Against all conventional wisdom, Trump has tapped into the boiling rage of people on the right who feel disenfranchised and left out.

Ironically, their sense of dislocation is not wholly without foundation.  People in this country across the political spectrum sense that the system is rigged, benefiting an elite rather than the greater mass of citizens, with a ossified governmental apparatus and economic forces that are grinding the middle class into non-existence.  This has found expression on the left first in the Occupy movement, and then in Bernie Sanders’ insurgent campaign.  The right-wing expression of this rage, unfortunately, is larded with racist memes and scary nativism.  The Tea Party and their allies are not wrong in saying that they’re being screwed, but they go wrong with their proposed solutions.

And now all this populist anger on the right has found a spokesman in Donald Trump.  People looking for an outsider who says what he thinks have elevated him to the status of someone who can right everything they see as wrong with our current system.  And Trump is an excellent salesman, who has proven adept at selling himself as the one person who can right the ship of state– no matter what it takes.

In other times and places this sort of person has been called ‘a man on a white horse’.

I don’t believe I am engaging in hyperbole.  Many autocratic or fascist strongmen have gained power not through a coup or a revolution, but by exploiting populist grievances to achieve office through established constitutional paths– and that list includes Adolf Hitler.  We have now reached a very scary moment in the life of our nation.

By all the evidence I can see, Donald Trump has no actual plan for America, and no guiding principle other than his megalomaniacal self-importance.  On the other hand, I see no evidence that his stated concern about working people is genuine.  It appears to be mere shtick.  His proposed policies are horrifying when they’re not just plain ludicrous.  His whole campaign has been about him, and the promotion of his ‘brand’.  He is clearly unfit for high office, and even conservatives recognize this.  And yet, the base of the Republican party has anointed this man as their chosen one.  You would think they’ve all gone dotty at once, except that Trump is actually the logical result of decades of Republican pandering to the dark side of the American right.  I can do no better than to quote John Scalzi on this point–

“Again, Trump has been leading the GOP polls almost without interruption for months. He’s not an outlier. He’s there for a reason. The reason is that the GOP has made space in their party for race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots, and has done so for years by conscious and intentional strategy. Trump did not bring his supporters into the GOP. They were already there…..The GOP wasn’t always the party of race-baiting xenophobic religious bigots — there’s a reason the term was “Dixiecrat” and not “Republidixies” — but they took possession of them 50 years ago and have been banking on them ever since.

The GOP’s problem is that Trump is the distillation of every political strategy they’ve honed over the last several decades, and particularly ramped up over the last two. Lionizing the “political outsider”? Check! Fawning over billionaires? Check! Ratcheting up political rhetoric so that everyone who opposes you is the enemy and sick and awful? Check! Scaring the crap out of not-young white conservative Christians with the image of lawless racial and religious minorities? Check! Valorizing the tribalism of white conservative Christianity over the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States? Check!

There’s a reason why the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s executive director wants GOP candidates to “be like Trump” even as [Lindsey] Graham bleats that Trump doesn’t represent the party. Lindsey Graham, are you shitting me? Trump doesn’t just represent your party. He’s the goddamn Platonic ideal of it. You can’t spend decades preparing the way for someone like Donald Trump and then pretend to be shocked, shocked when he roars down the field, flawlessly executing your playbook.”

So here we are, facing a choice between (mostly likely) a flawed but competent Democratic candidate, and a man who should not be allowed within ten miles of the levers of constitutional power, never mind the nuclear launch codes.  Voting for this man in the general election would be a vote for anarchy and, quite possibly, the end of the Republic.  I can’t put it any simpler than that.

Everyone who gives a damn about this country needs to oppose this man.  Even if you can’t bring yourself to vote for Hillary, please, please don’t vote for Trump.  Support your preferred down-ticket candidates if you wish, but do not cast a vote for this man.  A vote for him is a bullet loaded into a revolver and aimed at the whole country.  Period.

 

 

Democracy– untidy and beautiful

I took part in the Washington State Democratic caucuses today.  It was a special day in more than one way– not only are the stakes in this election extremely high, but it was the first caucus in which my daughter was able to participate.  This simultaneously made me extremely proud and reminded me of my age.  Just a little while ago my daughter was far, far more interested in crayons and her dolls than politics…

Our district caucus was held at one of our local high schools.  We arrived early, but not early enough– the school parking lot was jammed, and street parking was quickly filling up.  I dropped my wife and daughter off, and then had to find parking seven blocks away.  This made my hike back to the high school a bit of a chore, as I am nursing a sprained knee (and a possible meniscus tear– medical assessment in progress).

But I wasn’t going to miss this caucus.

The caucus was wall-to-wall with people– quite probably the largest number of people I have ever seen at a caucus in this state.  People congregated by precinct, and the subsequent discussion was passionate, but generally respectful.  In the end Bernie Sanders took three-quarters of our precinct vote, Hilary Clinton one quarter, which, at the moment, roughly matches the proportion of the vote state-wide.

It was good, face-to-face grass-roots democracy, and nobody called anybody names, and nobody got into a fistfight.  It gives me hope, seeing so many people engaged and looking for change.

Because, frankly, in this country we need hope, and we need change.  There is a real sense that our essential democracy is slipping away.  Working people are getting profoundly shafted, and our republic is in danger of becoming a plutocratic oligarchy.  I am convinced that if certain people from the other party become president (by which I mean all of them, but some more than others) the danger to the country will move from chronic to acute.  We need a political revolution in this country to restore our democracy, and to point the US toward a future that includes everyone.

The problem is that there are a lot of people whose dreams for this country are quite different, far, far too many of whom are threatened by the changes the country is going through, and who are looking for scapegoats for their sense of dislocation.  Certain politicians are pandering to that fear and paranoia and dislocation, offering up empty promises of ‘restored greatness’.  Others are ideologues spouting doctrines that are seriously disconnected from verifiable reality, such as denying global warming in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.  And all of this is wrapped up in a political polarization that is destroying our sense of all being Americans together.

So I’m hopeful, and I’m worried.  It’s seven-plus months to the general election, which is very long time in American politics, and will be even more so in this election, which has been off-the-wall whacked-out and off the charts.  All we can do is buckle up, hang on and keep working toward what we believe is right, while remembering that while one election is not going to automatically make everything better, that one election could also put us in serious danger.

At minimum, I can do two things for my country at the moment– pray and vote.  To my mind, that’s a pretty powerful combination.

Later.

 

The fix we’re in….

WARNING!– Political post! You have thirty seconds to reach minimum safe distance!

I wasn’t originally going to post about the mid-term election. There didn’t seem to be much to say about it others hadn’t already said, and I didn’t want to assign the election more weight than it deserves– mid-term elections in this country tend to skew toward the base (aka the committed, or, depending on your point of view, the whack-jobs), and the incumbent party usually takes a beating. It’s painful to watch know-nothings crowing about their “electoral mandate”, but this sort thing of thing usually passes, and the wheel comes around again.

Then I read this piece by Nicholas Kristoff, who seems to crystallize the larger issue we’re facing in the US. Democracy is ailing in this country, ailing badly, and the mechanism of government is jammed with partisan game playing. Kristoff contrasts people in other countries, such as China and Ukraine, who have fought and died for democracy, with us, the inheritors of a democratic tradition, who are failing, and it is a painful contrast.

At one point in the last years of the Roman Republic one of Julius Caesar’s political opponents refused to take the auguries required to conduct a certain piece of business, not because the gods were angry, but because doing so would have allowed Caesar to look productive and useful to the state. In ancient Rome you didn’t twitch a political eyebrow without checking the auspices (from which we get the term ‘auspicious’), and thus Caesar’s opponents were able to manipulate the machinery of government to stymie him.

If this sounds familiar, it should– it’s exactly where we are in this country, at this moment. And that is a thought that should scare everyone, because the Roman Republic lost the consensus it needed to maintain itself, dissolved in civil war and then devolved into an imperial monarchy. If that is probably not the exact path the US will follow (actually, I’m afraid it could turn out worse), it should be self-evident that if the political class is more interested in frustrating its opponents than in actual governance, the whole country is bound to suffer.

I have another book on my short list to read, Chris Matthew’s Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Having lived through the ’80’s, and remembering the partisan sniping of the time, it is sobering to see someone looking back on the relationship betwween President Reagan and Tip O’Neill, Speaker of the House, as an example of politics that worked. It’s a measure of how bad things have actually gotten.

Perhaps we all need to remember that partisan differences do not inevitably mean all-out ideological warfare, with no prisoners taken and the ‘victors’ inheriting only ruins. Because that’s where we’re headed, folks.