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Tag Archives: American Politics

Thank You Andrew Sullivan

Last week, after I wrote Stand Up! I retweeted it at Andrew Sullivan and suggested people with a platform and audience like him need to start spreading the message. I have no idea if he read my post, but yesterday he published America, Land of Brutal Binaries in his regular column in New York Magazine.

In his Andrew Sullivan way, much more intellectually presented, he makes the same points I did. His final paragraph is a perfect example of his talents. Drawing in a quote from the past, tying it to the present, and connecting it all to a well-stated conclusion that gets right at the core of the problem.

“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them,” Martin Luther King said, which is why today’s cultural revolutionaries have so little time for him. But he made a huge practical difference in moving everyone forward a little. He made things better by including more. That was also how we won marriage equality, the biggest civil rights victory of my generation. We did it by drawing larger and larger circles, by treating the other side as arguing in good faith, and appealing to a shared humanity, to what we have in common as citizens, rather than what divides us as members of a tribe. Today’s well-intentioned activists — the ones driving much of the conversation around Kavanaugh and, on a much smaller scale, Buruma — in contrast, are drawing an ever smaller, purer, more tightly policed circle, in order to wage a scorched earth war against another, ever-purer, tightly policed circle. And God help anyone who gets in their way.

There is a reason I consider Andrew Sullivan to be one of the best thinkers and writers on our modern society, culture, and politics. This column is another example.

It’s a shame that the progress described in that paragraph is being torn down in record time by a return to virulent tribalism in our country. So much progress being wiped out in the blink of an eye.

Stand Up!

I turned 16 days before Ronald Reagan was first elected President. I don’t remember Vietnam or Watergate, although I have vague memories of Ford pardoning Nixon. My memories of American politics really begin with Jimmy Carter because what American living at that time who was older than a toddler could forget the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

In the late 1970’s ABC started running a late night news program called Nightline. It ran every weeknight at 11:30 p.m. When the Iranians stormed our embassy in Tehran and took hostages, Nightline made its name. A nightly count of the number of days the hostages were held had the nation transfixed. The show was relentless in its daily, rhythmic reminder that Americans were being held by a nation and people that viewed America as the Great Satan and chanted “Death to America” in the streets.

There were other things about Carter I remember … malaise, lust in his heart, an attack rabbit in a pond, the energy crisis. For years, I have had this memory of talking with one of my sisters, who was old enough to vote in 1980, that I would vote for Reagan if I could vote. I no longer know if that memory is accurate. I liked Carter as President … but that hostage situation was such a black mark, in my youth I may have thought he needed to be replaced.

In 1982 when I could register to vote, I registered as a Democrat, and I spent the entirety of the Reagan Presidency opposed to pretty much everything he did. I’m not sure how I could have wanted to vote for him at the tender age of 16 and so immediately switched gears to opposition.

The Reagan Presidency was marked by a lot of partisan strife, as any administration has during the course of our history, but amidst that partisanship, the parties and their leaders could come together and compromise on things that really mattered. Democrats like Edward Kennedy and Tip O’Neill could campaign against Republicans, object to their ideals, and still meet with them and compromise to work towards solutions the nation needed. Similar spirit of cooperative competition existed at the state level as well.

Something has happened since then. The ability to compete and pursue partisan objectives while also finding areas of compromise has pretty much gone the way of the dodo bird. The political parties in the United States have become entities where 100% ideological purity is required, any weakness is met with an uproar of opposition, and the “weak” are drummed out of office.

I’ve always traced the beginning of this trend back to the election of Bill Clinton. After 12 years of Reagan and Bush I in the White House, Republicans came to believe the office was their birthright. (Really, you could argue that the Carter Presidency was just a four year blip in the Republican domination of the Presidency with a Republican in that office 20 out of the previous 24 years.) Add to their birthright claim the predominant view of Clinton as being morally unfit for office and you had a combustible mix of factors.

A few Republican leaders, Newt Gingrich at the forefront, and Republican controlled media like Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and lesser lights who worked primarily behind the scenes like Lee Atwater and other strategists, began a strategy of all out ideological war. The mid-90s was the beginning of ideological purity driven by the more extreme wing of a political party — the Republicans.

It was also a time when the 24 hour news cycle really came into being. CNN started in 1980 but I think it was a relatively sleepy news channel that really did just report the news for a while. The 24 hour news wars didn’t really start until 1996 when Fox News fired up its engines. With this competition, the two heavyweights and other channels began their own war for our attention.

And then the internet and social media came.

George Bush II was elected. While there was a lot of Democratic opposition to him, there was still some ability and interest in compromise. There was plenty of partisanship and Democratic attacks on him and other Republicans, but it wasn’t 100% partisanship all the time.

And social media grew in its omnipresence.

With Barack Obama’s election in 2008, the Republican Party again lit up and nothing has really been the same since. The birth of the Tea Party drove the Republican Party into the arms of its extremists. Moderate Republicans in Congress and across the nation who showed in favor for compromise and cooperation were driven from office, replaced by more ideologically pure Republicans. It became impossible for a Republican to show moderation. As a result, Republican members of Congress refused to cooperate with the Obama administration on pretty much everything.

Social media continued to grow and became a megaphone used by the extremists on both sides of the political aisle.

Then Donald Trump was elected President, primarily through his ability to dominate the news cycle and social media. Say what you want about him, but he has a native intelligence about how to manipulate people, and his actions have furthered the outrage machine and ratcheted up the noise.

How have Democrats reacted to his election — pretty much the same way Republicans reacted to Clinton’s election and Obama’s. With all-out rage and a drive for ideological purity on the left side of the aisle. You can see it in this year’s race for the Senate in California. Diane Feinstein is not liberal enough, not progressive enough, not strong enough against Trump. She simply is not enough and every single moderating step she takes is criticized relentlessly by the megaphone of the far left.

The drivers of the modern Democrat party — identity politics, political correctness, socialism, radical progressives … I could go on — have transcended rational thought. A recent example is the turning of Serena Williams’ tantrum at the U.S. Open into an example of gender and racial discrimination in America. The issue I have with this was that it was immediate and started without any thought at all. Simply because she is an African-American woman and she was disciplined means it is about her gender and her race. Anybody who believes otherwise is shouted down and called a racist and a sexist.

Situations like that are the left-wing equivalent of what the Tea Party has done to the Republican Party over the last ten years. The extremists on both sides, and yes I am calling the identity-driven wing of the Democratic Party extremists because they have lost their way amidst their outrage, are intent on hammering a massive spike into the heart of American political debate. It is simply not enough to have different ideas anymore, you must hate your opponent.

The biggest problem is that our “leaders,” the men and women who are supposed to lead us through their roles as members of Congress, through their holding of offices in statehouses across the nation, are no longer leaders. They are followers. Instead of leading, they follow like sheep along the path set by the loudest, most extreme voices in each political party.

This is what social media has done to our politics. The megaphones used by the extreme right-wing and left-wing are drowning out any rational, bipartisan voices. There is only one noise in America these days — it is the primal scream of those who demand everything and refuse to give an inch on anything. It is the yelling of those who believe politics is a zero-sum game, a black and white world in which you are either absolutely right, or absolutely wrong and there is no gray area in which everybody wins a little and loses a little as well.

It’s a battleground without any peace talks. There is pretty much no chance at an armistice, let alone a peace treaty. On the right-wing blog I read, commenters discuss that we are engaged in a civil war — one that will become much more real if Trump is impeached or otherwise driven from office. While not quite as violently stated, you can see similar comments from the left on Twitter and on left-wing blogs. The intolerance on both sides is stunning and unbounded.

And I’m pretty much done with it. I’ve watched with growing dismay the events of the last two years and I’ve given up hope that either political party will reverse course. I no longer believe our current “leaders” are capable of anything remotely resembling real leadership.

A couple of weeks ago, one of the people I follow on Twitter (@katiedawn3) tweeted a link to t-shirts being sold at teespring.com that include the phrase “United We Stand.”

I recall efforts to adopt this phrase after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and never really liked it. In the circumstances, it was far too jingoistic and “military” for me.

It is, however, a phrase that now makes sense. Reasonable, rational people from both political parties need to unite and stand up. We need to be heard and demand that our leaders start to lead again. They will only do that if they hear from us. We need to start making more noise than the irrational and the outraged.

When somebody on your side of the political debate takes an unreasonable position, or unnecessarily attacks the other side, it’s time to say as loudly as you can “that’s unacceptable.”

When somebody on the other side of the debate says something you agree with, it’s time to say “hey, I agree. what else can we agree on?” and keep that conversation going. See where it leads.

I spoke yesterday with a guy who lives in Texas. He describes himself as a true Texan — a farm, cowboy hats, truck, and all. He’s a Republican who voted for Trump but will not vote for Ted Cruz this year and is disgusted by what Trump is doing. A Texas Republican and a California Democrat had more to agree on than to disagree on. It can happen.

It’s time to make some noise.

Maybe the two major political parties are beyond saving. Maybe it’s time for a new party to rise from the ashes of the fires lit by the outraged. That’s a pretty heavy lift, but fixing the political parties may be even more difficult.

Stand up!

Make your voice heard!

Shout down the intolerant and the irrational! On both sides!

Unite!

It is time for the moderate and the meek to be heard.

Or we all may just fall. I really believe the divide in this nation is that serious.

By the way, I ordered a shirt from Teespring…

2018 United We Stand

Zero Sum

In a recent article, Michael Lewis writes about a whole bunch of interactions he had with the Trump Administration in recent months. He attended a press conference, sat down with Steve Bannon (who interestingly is related as having a thought I’ve pondered for years — America is in decline and the elites don’t care), and a few other things.

But what struck me about the article, is the opening paragraph or three. He writes about how so much of our current dynamic and current political debate is based on a zero-sum approach.

Approaching any aspect of life as a zero-sum game has obvious practical costs: Deals that leave some people better off without making anyone else worse off suddenly don’t get done, because making some people better off now, by definition, makes other people worse off. It also comes with some psychological side effects. It cripples your imagination. It blinds and deafens you, as you sort of know what your adversary is going to do or say before they do or say it. Or, rather, you know how you are going to make sense of it: uncharitably.

This is we are today in America. Any victory for one side is viewed as a loss by the other. In such an imagination-free world, compromise is simply not an option. We are crippled, blind and deaf. Lewis states it perfectly.

I am reminded of a Republican leader’s comment early in Obama’s first term that their goal would be to ensure he was a one-term President. To me, this is when the zero-sum approach took root in American politics. Yes, I’m sure Republicans would claim it started before then. Maybe some time during the second Bush Presidency or back in the Reagan years Democrats did something to oppose a Republican initiative.

But here’s the deal, while some Democrats have opposed all Republican policies, there have been enough Democrats motivated by moving forward that those Republican Presidents have been able to get support from both parties for major initiatives. Think the Iraq War. Think GWB’s expanded Medicaid drug benefit. Think a whole lot of things.

Now, think about the Obama Presidency and ask where any of that collaboration was. I’m open for a discussion on this, but to me at least on the national level, the zero-sum approach began with the Republicans. And even now, Democrats are showing they aren’t entirely enraptured of zero-sum.

I don’t mean for this to be a “blame the Republicans” piece. No, one could argue that in the state where I live, the Democrats have essentially done the same thing. Over the last 25 years, what once was a red state turned to purple and then turned entirely blue — at least in terms of control of statewide elected offices and the Legislature. The truth is that there are still large swaths of red and significant numbers of conservatives, just not in numbers sufficient to achieve any power at the statewide level. And what have the Democrats in power done with that — ignored Republicans and conservatives and stripped them of any input on legislation and policy initiatives.

No, this isn’t just a Republican problem. It isn’t just a Democratic program. It is an American problem. Are we going to continue our American decline as we refuse to listen, to talk, to negotiate, and to compromise? Or will we one day put aside the harshest of our differences and recognize our citizenship is one thing we share and one thing that should unite us?

(Side note: it is exactly this zero-sum approach that has come to dominate American politics that has afforded people like Vladimir Putin the ability to meddle in our elections. Just saying.)

 

Trump & Syria & America

For eight years, I watched a political party come apart at its seams as its members sought to oppose and criticize everything said or done by a President.  As bad as it was from the leadership ranks of that party, it was even worse in the fever swamp of blogs inhabiting that party’s side of the political debate.

If you are a Democrat or a liberal or a progressive, imagine all of the worst things you think about President Trump and Republicans — they lie, they manipulate, they don’t care about America, they’re in the Russians’ pockets, etc. — and all of that was being said about President Obama and Democrats for the eight years of Obama’s Presidency.  Relentless and endless and no quarter given.  The Republican Party was taken over entirely by its right wing fanatics who refused to give an inch and who treated every single thing Obama did as an act of war on America.

I refuse to be that kind of Democrat or liberal.  As much as I cannot stand Trump and his policies and his way of doing things.  As much as I may think he is utterly unprepared and unqualified for the position he now holds.  As much as I fear what he will do to this country, and hell, what he already is doing.  As much as all of that.  I will support him when I think he is right.  Lockstep opposition from our side of the debate is no better than the lockstep opposition Obama faced during his eight years.

At least for one moment, I agree with Trump’s strike on the Syrian airfield following the latest use of chemical weapons by Assad against his people.  Yes, there are all sorts of reasons to question the legitimacy or rationale of the attack.  Maybe he’s doing it to distract from the whole Russia thing.  Maybe not.  Maybe the attack is a meaningless gesture.  Maybe not.  Maybe it is a signal that we are going to be drawn into a greater role and ultimately go back to war in the Middle East.  Maybe not.

All I know, is that for at least that one moment, we did something to signal to Assad that his butchery and treachery has gone too far.  Here is what I wrote on FB the other evening:

This may come as a shock to my friends here on FB, but I applaud President Trump for his statement tonight and his measured action in response to the most recent chemical attack in Syria. There is a lot to be critical of the man, but I also think we should be honest where he gets something right. Or at least as right as it can be. Syria is a mess. But there comes a point when responsible nations have to do something about the horror a government inflicts on its own people. I worry that we’ll get sucked into something that will only be worse. I worry about this particular President’s ability to stay rational and measured. But right now, I feel like he did the right thing. Limited, measured, and relevant. His short statement tonight included some elements I have problems with, but it may well have been the most Presidential thing he has done.

25 years ago I silently screamed for the world to do something about the slaughter going on in the former Yugoslavia. When we finally did, we actually ended the slaughter. That’s what needs to be done now in Syria. It’s what needed to be done a few years ago. It’s a horrible, difficult situation. I waver between my isolationist tendencies and desire that America no longer be the world’s policeman and the recognition that we have such immense power to put a stop to these types of things. I don’t want American lives to be lost. I don’t want any lives to be lost. I tire of paying the price of the world’s wars. But some things just may be worth the cost. The tragedy unfolding in Syria may be one of those times when it is time for us to bear a cost.

 

If we are unwilling to do something about the particular evil that Assad represents, then we are a failure as far as I’m concerned.  There are plenty of risks at play here, but when it comes to evil, sometimes you have to take a risk.

I will continue to keep an open mind and question everything Trump says and does, but when he gets something right, which I believe he did here, I refuse to do what the Republicans did to Obama.  I will not be that kind of Democrat.

 

 

My Final Word

Over on the right-wing blog I read far too much of, there is much crowing and celebrating.  There is a post that suggests that the Republican Party is the American Party now because it not only controls the Presidency and both houses of Congress, but the majority of Statehouses and State Legislatures across the country.

I pointed out the Republican Presidential candidate has received more votes than the Democrat candidate exactly one time since 1988 and that there is no American Party.  And that believing the Republican Party is the American Party is the kind of arrogant thinking that leads the American people to switch gears every few years.  This happens each and every time the Presidency changes parties.

And it is that arrogance that helped defeat the Dems this year.

I think back eight years to when Obama was elected.  He was described as a cautious man.  He would not seek a revolution or dramatic, instant change.  Instead, he believed in incremental change and the long game.  Small steps won gradually would lead to more systemic changes over the long run.  Large leaps forward ran the risk of a revolt against liberal and progressive ideals.

It’s hard to imagine this now but candidate Obama and newly elected President Obama was not publicly in support of same sex marriage.  He did not immediately seek the passage of universal health care and when he did, he ultimately put his weight behind a plan that was Republican before it was his.  There are plenty of other examples of his incremental approach to policy and it was something I appreciated about him.  He was the only adult in the room, recognizing that, for the most part, the American people are not as liberal as us liberals want to believe and neither are they as conservative as the right would like to believe.  Long-term success at making changes that are long-lasting and real rather than flash-in-the-pan tinkering that is turned back with the next election required long-term thinking, and building the foundation.

Only something happened in Obama’s second term.  I thought he saw the end of his Presidency and realized all of that long-term thinking was nice and all but where was the guarantee that any of this would continue beyond his term.  I think he sped things up and got a little arrogant about the idea that the American electorate had changed in some fundamental way.

On foreign policy, he took a softer approach and tried to get other countries to lead some of these efforts.  Not a bad thing, from my perspective, but anathema to the right and some portions of the middle.

On domestic affairs, we went from a very real battle over same sex marriage to suddenly allowing transgender soldiers to openly serve, to forcing transgender bathroom policies on the States from the federal government, and progressives began squawking about free college education for all, and presenting a list of other things that were necessary and right.  I’m not here saying any of this is bad.  I support just about all of on some level but they are anathema to the right and some portions of the middle.

But we liberals and progressives lost sight of some fundamental truths of the American people.  The fundamental truths that haven’t changed in my adult life time.  There are a whole lot of people in this country who don’t want moral behavior pushed on them by the federal government.  Regardless of the “rightness” of the issue, these things need to percolate for a time to achieve permanence.  Think about how long same sex marriage took to achieve.  And it was an effort that really began at the state level — yes, primarily in the more liberal states, but still … at the state level.

Compare that to the whole transgender issue.  Something I don’t recall hearing a lot about until after same sex marriage success was achieved and then all of a sudden, bam, transgender this and transgender that and within a very short time, the federal government was trying to force rules on the States.  This may not be a big deal in your blue bubble, but it is a huge deal in the red swaths of America that absolutely cannot stand that kind of federal supremacy and arrogance.

I really think that liberals and progressives began to believe in the inevitability of “progress” towards their agenda, their version of America.  That America had become a liberal nation, that the Democrat Party had become the American Party.  That a new day had dawned and this tide was going to keep coming in.

Well, we were all wrong.  All completely wrong.  We are still a very, deeply divided nation.  We lost sight of that in the progress made during Obama and thought it inevitable that it could continue for another four or eight years and maybe even more.  Deeply divided.  There is no American Party.  There are only red states and blue states.  The parties are regional and demographic in nature, but neither one of them is national in scope or followers.

The good news?  Republicans are already taking the crown of arrogance for themselves.  Whether it is two or four years from now, if they continue to act with the arrogance they are showing so far, the tide will turn again.  My only hope is that when the inevitable happens, we on the left remember this lesson and accept the long-term view and don’t push for radical change.

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