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Respect

At the end of this post, I’ve quoted words that purport to be from Charles Pierce, recently published in Esquire magazine. I say “purport” because I saw it on Facebook and we all know about the problems with the accuracy of things you see there.

I was reminded of it with the passing of George H.W. Bush. The thing about American Presidents is that they are imperfect human beings just like the rest of us. The thing about American Presidents is that the have different political beliefs, different ideologies, different ideas of how to lead.

I rarely agreed with Ronald Reagan. I rarely agreed with George Bush — either one of them. Clinton had his personal failings. Obama made mistakes as well, although not that many from my perspective.

This is the thing about having human leaders. There will be differences.

But even though there are differences, there is one thing that unites them and commands some level of respect. I feel it when one of these leaders passes away. I may have disagreed with George H.W. Bush on most things, but I respected him because he respected his office, he respected the institutions of America, and he respected the American people.

This is the great tragedy of our current President. He has no respect for his office. He has no respect for the democratic institutions of America — instead, he is intent on tearing down every such institution he can. And he has no respect for the American people.

I recently finished reading Harry’s Last Stand, a book written by Harry Leslie Smith, who was born in Great Britain in the mid-20’s. He survived in the Great Depression, living a horrible existence where he went to work at the age of 7 to help his family. He fought in WW II and eventually found love and a family and success of his own.

The book is his case for what must be done in the Western World today. In the post-WW II era, countries and their peoples came together for a common good, intent on creating a society and system that brought everybody up. Smith describes the horrors of his childhood and that after the war, their was a concerted effort to ensure that never happened again.

That effort lasted until Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were elected in their respective countries. Since then, corporate interests have taken over in the West and there are all sorts of efforts to roll back the progress that was made after WW II. I can’t say it better than Harry Leslie Smith did in his book, so go read the book. It’s a very clear statement of the problems we face.

The problem is that everything Smith described in Harry’s Last Stand, which was published in 2014 when he was 90 years old, has been accelerated in the last two years. Donald Trump, our American President, has turned up the flame that is fueling the destruction of the post-World War II common ground — a search for progress for all because the common good is greater than the individual good.

He is intent on doing as much as he can to destroy stability and consensus. His goal is chaos. And those who still support him are sheep — they are lambs waiting to be slaughtered.

It’s a shame. Say what you will about each President we have had over the years, but they have respected their office and the democratic institutions of America. Respect. They had it. Donald Trump does not. He respects only two things. His ego and his desire for a revolution that will only serve him and the few at the top.

By the way, Harry Leslie Smith died last week at the age of 94. Spend a couple of dollars on Harry’s Last Stand. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s a message people need to consider. If you Twitter, you could also go check out @harryslaststand over there. Over the last few week’s Harry’s son has kept his supporters and followers up-to-date as Harry went through his final days. It is a poignant story that unfolds via Twitter. And you can read plenty more about the man through other people’s tweets about him.

 

Poignant and sad words from Charles Pierce in Esquire:
“In my life, I have watched John Kennedy talk on television about missiles in Cuba. I saw Lyndon Johnson look Richard Russell squarely in the eye and and say, “And we shall overcome.” I saw Richard Nixon resign and Gerald Ford tell the Congress that our long national nightmare was over. I saw Jimmy Carter talk about malaise and Ronald Reagan talk about a shining city on a hill. I saw George H.W. Bush deliver the eulogy for the Soviet bloc, and Bill Clinton comfort the survivors of Timothy McVeigh’s madness in Oklahoma City. I saw George W. Bush struggle to make sense of it all on September 11, 2001, and I saw Barack Obama sing “Amazing Grace” in the wounded sanctuary of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
These were the presidents of my lifetime. These were not perfect men. They were not perfect presidents, god knows. Not one of them was that. But they approached the job, and they took to the podium, with all the gravitas they could muster as appropriate to the job. They tried, at least, to reach for something in the presidency that was beyond their grasp as ordinary human beings. They were not all ennobled by the attempt, but they tried nonetheless.
And comes now this hopeless, vicious buffoon, and the audience of equally hopeless and vicious buffoons who laughed and cheered when he made sport of a woman whose lasting memory of the trauma she suffered is the laughter of the perpetrators. Now he comes, a man swathed in scandal, with no interest beyond what he can put in his pocket and what he can put over on a universe of suckers, and he does something like this while occupying an office that we gave him, and while endowed with a public trust that he dishonors every day he wakes up in the White House.
The scion of a multigenerational criminal enterprise, the parameters of which we are only now beginning to comprehend. A vessel for all the worst elements of the American condition. And a cheap, soulless bully besides.
Watch him make fun of the woman again. Watch how a republic dies in the empty eyes of an empty man who feels nothing but his own imaginary greatness, and who cannot find in himself the decency simply to shut the fuck up even when it is in his best interest to do so. Presidents don’t have to be heroes to be good presidents. They just have to realize that their humanity is our common humanity, and that their political commonwealth is our political commonwealth, too.
Watch him again, behind the seal of the President of the United States. Isn’t he a funny man? Isn’t what happened to that lady hilarious? Watch the assembled morons cheer. This is the only story now.”

I Have Never …

My grandmother grew up in Switzerland.  At the age of 18 she came to America, settled in Sacramento and married the man of her dreams.  He died a few years later while she was pregnant with her second child and my grandmother never married.  She had an incredible vegetable garden in her backyard and made great rhubarb sauce and the best garlic bread.  She didn’t like it that my brother and I drank so much milk.

She also cried during the playing of the National Anthem because it meant so much to her.

Me, not so much.  Coming of political age in the era of Reagan-Bush, I had a lot of problems with what our country was doing outside its borders.  While I always stood for the Anthem when it was appropriate, I did so reluctantly and with less than positive thoughts about my country in my head.

Besides the political issues I had back in the 1980s, I have never liked our National Anthem.  It is a song about a war and that a piece of cloth survived the war.  It is not about how beautiful our country is, how wonderful our people are, it is not about anything other than a war and a piece of cloth.  I’d much rather America the Beautiful was our National Anthem and was played before every sporting event, if such a thing has to happen at all.

There was a change a few years ago, where the National Anthem wasn’t as bothersome to me.  A few years ago, I went to a Giants game after some horrible thing had happened and rather than having a singer sing the song, the entire crowd was invited to sign the National Anthem.  It was one of the most moving events I have ever been a part of.

But these things change and so to finish the thought started in the title of this post … I have never wanted to stand for the National Anthem less than I did last night.

I went to the Sacramento Kings game.  The flag went out across the court, the singer was introduced, and I wanted to stay in my seat.  The players on the Kings stood and linked arms.  The visiting team stood as well.  I wanted to kneel.  Why?  Because the President of our country has turned this into such a massive political crapfest, a test of patriotism as defined by him and his lunacy, that I want nothing to do with it.

I love my country, but the flag is a piece of cloth that means virtually nothing to me.  What matters to me vastly more are the rights and principles upon which this country was founded.  The rights to free thought and expression and assembly.  The right to not be forced to think what others think.  Marcus Breton, a columnist for the Sacramento Bee who I regularly disagree with, wrote a piece in today’s edition that pretty much speaks to what I think the problem is.

The leader of our country has decided that he has a right to try to force his brand of patriotism on the rest of the country.  That he has the right in the crudest terms possible to stifle dissent and differing opinions.  Our President, and yes he is our President.  He is not their President, he is not President of only the people who voted for him.  He is our President.  He is seeking to fan the flames of rage and hate and intolerance to further his divisive, vengeful political agenda.

I stood last night because I was surprised at my internal reaction to the idea.  I wasn’t ready for it.  The next time, I won’t.  I will remain in my seat or I will kneel.  I will not stand for the national anthem again as long as this man is our President.  Patriotism is something much deeper than a multi-colored cloth and a song.

One Person’s Extremist is Another’s Moderate

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the political divide that exists in America today. It is a topic I have thought about a lot over the years. It is a thing that keeps getting worse. It is a thing that I see every single day because I read a couple of liberal blogs and a couple of conservative blogs every single day. What I see are two sides of the same coin of clueless, mind-numbing hypocrisy and closed-mindedness.

The latest evidence of this … An op-ed from Leonard Pitts. I don’t necessarily disagree with Pitts’ primary thesis which is that the Republican Party has achieved maximum meltdown. The thing is that it really started when Bill Clinton was elected President. The accusations that the Clintons participated in drug smuggling, killed Vince Foster and Ron Brown among others, and so many other ridiculous conspiracies. All of which still make regular appearances in the right-wing blogosphere. The meltdown continued with the Swift Boaters and other similar conspiracies that failed the basic test of reality and honesty.

Obama’s election sent the Republican Party even deeper into what appears to be a brain freeze like the kind you get when you eat something cold too fast. And Trump’s election has only accelerated the thing.

Do any of you remember this?

This was from the White House Correspondent’s Dinner a few years back. Obama took no small pleasure in poking fun at Trump and watch the video for Trump’s reaction. I’m convinced that we are seeing the most successful act of petty revenge the world has ever seen. Trump ran to destroy the Obama legacy. You see it in his petty tweets attacking anybody who attacks him. He does not let any slight go. He holds a grudge and he seeks to destroy. You see it in all of the things he has done to take whatever action he can to reverse any and every success Obama achieved as President.

And the Republicans are ignoring all of his immaturity, damaging actions and words, and evidence of his incompetence to further their extremist objective of rolling this country backwards about 70 or 80 years.

So, yes Mr. Pitts, the Republican Party has descended into a realm of unimaginable extremism, but for a portion of this country, the Democrats aren’t far behind.

In your op-ed you state the following:

We are not, after all, divided because Americans pulled back from the center and retreated into extremism.

No, we are divided because one party did. And it wasn’t the Democrats.

I say this as a lifelong Democrat, a liberal, somewhat of a progressive. I say this as somebody who hasn’t voted for a Republican since the 1980s. Your center-based policies, isolated by your liberal ivory tower views, are viewed as extremist by millions of Americans. Having the federal government force states and local governments to allow transgender or gender-confused individuals to use the bathroom of their choice is an act of extremism. No matter how much you may believe that is a necessary policy. Providing a free public college education for all may just be viewed as an act of extremism by many Americans. No matter how much you may believe it is a wise idea.

The problem in America these days is that both sides have descended into their own echo chambers and are incapable of seeing their ideas and policies through the eyes of others. They are unwilling to consider that anybody but their chambermates have legitimate ideas. The right believes every liberal lies and hates America. The left believes the right is racist and prone to violence. Each side believes that the other is the extremist.

Mr. Pitts’ op-ed is a perfect example of the problem from the left. Look at all the horrible things the Republican Party is now engaged in! They are juvenile and unhinged and horrible!! Whew, it’s a good thing us Democrats are so reasonable and level-headed.

It’s really just kind of ridiculous as far as I’m concerned. Neither side is entirely right, but they both think they are. Neither side is entirely wrong, but they both think the other is.

Barry Goldwater once famously said that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” He’s right, I think. What the right-wing and left-wing have become, however, are extremists in the battle for every little thing. The result is a frozen democracy incapable of moving forward as any common ground disappears in the endless war they fight with each other.

 

 

 

 

 

So Much To Say

I wrote a little bit ago about how both sides of the political divide live in their own echo chambers.  Let me add to that.  They also live in their own bubbles and liberals have just experienced the consequence of forgetting that there is a whole different world outside their bubble.

Many of us were lulled into a false sense that America had changed over the last eight years.  That somehow the election of Barack Obama and his promised hope and change heralded the dawn of a new and better America.  A post-racial America.  An America where finally people of color and of different religions and different genders and different orientations would no longer experience the horrors of hate and discrimination.

We believed that our liberal views had finally reached that point where there was no turning back.  This was America and the forces of conservatism were on the run.

If only …

What far too many of us forgot was the fundamental nature of our country and our history.  We are a divided nation and there are many, many Republicans and others out there who believe and think fundamentally differently from us.  You don’t think so?  Well, let’s go back in the way-back machine and look at our political history.  Since FDR’s death, with the exception of Carter’s four year term and the combined twelve years of Reagan/Bush I, the party that holds the Presidency has changed every eight years.  Like clockwork.  Like a perfectly tuned Swiss time machine.

It is, to repeat myself, the fundamental nature of modern day America’s politics.  The vast middle can’t decide what it wants to be and it is the vast mushy middle that holds the cards in national elections.  Give ’em eight years of a Democrat and they’re ready for a Republican.  Give ’em eight years of that and they’re ready for a Democrat again.

Which leads to thought number two …

This is what I blame the Democrat Party apparatus and the Clintons for.  A failure to recognize that Hillary Clinton was simply the wrong candidate for this year.  Much like Mitt Romney, who in so many ways represented the very thing that inspired America’s anger at the Great Recession, was the wrong candidate for the Republicans in 2012, Hillary represented just about everything the vast mushy middle didn’t want this year.  She personifies Democratic establishment politics and has been in that mold for decades.  She represented no change, no difference, nothing other than the same old, same old.

See above, rightly or wrongly, every eight years American voters want change.

The Democrats had to offer somebody who could promise the American people an evolution from Obama and they didn’t do it.  Or if it had to be Hillary she had to come up with a message, a theme, anything that could reach American voters who are fatigued by the last eight years. Instead, Hillary and her advisors basically ran on the idea that she would offer another four years of Obama.  (I don’t object to that notion, but I’m not representative of the vast mushy middle you need to win a Presidential election.)

All the while, the Clintons and their team completely refused to recognize the role her weaknesses and her fundamental flaws would play in turning the mushy middle against her.  How decisions she has made and conduct she has engaged in would turn the electorate against her.  Or at least enough of the electorate would turn to any other option that she would lose the election.

It has been suggested that the point of yesterday is how many Americans voted for hate and misogyny, intolerance and ignorance.  I agree that this is a point worth discussing and examining.  However, suggesting that is the only point while ignoring the role the Democrat Party and the Clintons played in making such a vote not only possible but also seem to be reasonable to more than 60,000,000 Americans means that we will never learn the lesson, learn from the mistake that was made this year, and ignores the responsibility the party and the Clintons have for foisting this horrible choice on the American people.

Which leads to my third point …

It has been suggested in a number of places over the course of this election that Hillary will lose, or actually lost, because she is a woman.  Again, this is an effort to avoid responsibility.  To blame this loss on the same old tired identity politics of gender, race, religion, or orientation.  And it is completely wrong.  The very same people who voted for Trump voted for Nikki Haley, the female governor of South Carolina, Jan Brewer, the female former governor of Arizona, Sarah Palin, the female former governor of Alaska and VP candidate with McCain in 2008, Judy Martz, the female former governor of Montana, Mary Fallin, the current female governor of Oklahoma, Susana Martinez, the current female governor of New Mexico.  There are also currently a handful of Republican female U.S. Senators.  To suggest that the people who voted for Trump, or the people who opposed Hillary Clinton, did so because she is a woman is simply to ignore the evidence before us.

Anyway …

Last night I was very unsettled about the election results.  Although I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, I did want her to win given the only other alternative.  I agree that having over 60 million Americans vote for the man says something very ugly about our country.  But that ugliness isn’t new.  It never actually went away.  Barack Obama never snapped his fingers and made it disappear.  It is as basic to our Americanism as it is, unfortunately, basic to the human existence.  There are those who hate.  There will always be.  The way to combat that is to continue to love and to spread our message and to nominate our best.  We didn’t do that this year — we nominated the one person who couldn’t beat an orange clown — and we will suffer the consequences for the next four years.

 

 

Echo Chambers

In which I may just piss off all of my readers … but why have a blog if I can’t say what I think.

According to Wikipedia, the modern day equivalent of Encyclopedia Brittanica, an echo chamber is “a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission and repetition inside an ‘enclosed’ system, where different or competing views are censored, disallowed, or otherwise underrepresented.”

I always wonder if I might be guilty of romanticizing the past when I think about today, but it seems to me that years ago, there was a generally accepted and common narrative that people around which people formed their opinions and political views.  While cities had competing newspapers which may have been written from the “right” and the “left,” the reality is that people still had somewhat of a common set of “facts” and information upon which they relied.  Similarly, with the nightly news there was generally a common narrative.

While there were occasional breaks from that common narrative — Father Coughlin, for instance — the commonality generally dominated how information and news was presented to the masses.  I think the reason is that the old ways of communicating things were difficult to maintain, difficult to reach large masses of people regularly and consistently.  And because the of the time involved in communicating information, people were patient in their opinions.

I don’t want to make this sound like the olden days (don’t you just love that phrase) were something akin to paradise.  People like Father Coughlin were occasionally able to break through the common narrative.  The Red Scare and McCarthyism.  There were times when the common narrative broke down and forces of intolerance and ignorance threatened order and stability.  And most importantly, the constitutional principles this country was founded on.

The internet of all things has changed the dynamic.  We now live in a world where there isn’t a common narrative.  Instead, we have become a world, a nation, of echo chambers.  The internet, which could have been such a powerful force for education and advancement, has instead become a tool for the propagandists among us.  On both sides.  The political discussion has become a dueling battle from silos walled off from each other.

The only variable in that definition of echo chamber that doesn’t exist on the internet is “enclosed.”  Nothing on the internet is enclosed.  It is a free for all.  And everybody has a voice.

The problem is that everybody is gravitating towards the echo chamber that fits what they already think they think.  The right has theirs — National Review, PowerLine, RedState.com, Weekly Standard, Newsmaxx, Fox, and many others.  The left has theirs — Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, Mother Jones, and many others.  The right would suggest that CNN and the rest of the “mainstream media” are a part of the echo chamber on the left.  I’ll leave that particular issue for others to decide.

If you read these websites, in particular the comments, you will see that there is no common narrative.  Instead, there are two different narratives, two different sets of facts that are driving people’s perspectives these days.  And what bothers me about the dynamic is that neither side is willing to give the other any credit, any consideration, any opening to begin a dialogue that can bridge the vast chasm that exists between the echo chambers.  Neither side has any willingness to consider the validity of the other side.  Neither side.

Which brings us to this year’s Presidential election, now just ten days away.  I’m in a somewhat unusual situation.  A lifelong Democrat.  I won’t be voting for my party’s nominee.  I did this once before in 2000.  I couldn’t stand Al Gore.  During the primary he engaged in what I thought was nasty campaigning against Bill Bradley, a man who seemed to be a rare breed — a good and honorable politician.  I’ll never forgive Gore for his actions during that primary season.  I didn’t vote for him.  I didn’t vote for anybody that year.

Once George W. Bush was elected and he did what he did, I swore I would never make that mistake again.  And here I am.  I will not be voting for Donald Trump and I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Here’s what I would like to say to both sides of this discussion.  On the right, I see that you simply cannot understand how anybody could vote for Hillary Clinton.  I get it.  You think she and her husband are part of a criminal syndicate designed to do nothing other than fill their bank accounts.  I get that you think she has late stage Parkinson’s (although you apparently have never bothered to explore the symptoms of late stage Parkinson’s).  I get that you believe Bill is a serial rapist/misogynist, and that Hillary has not only turned a blind eye to that aspect of her husband’s character but also may have helped damage some of his victims.  I get that you believe that the Clintons represent the truest form of political corruption in this country.

To my friends on the left, I hear you.  Donald Trump is the most unqualified candidate in the history of this country.  He assaults women.  He denigrates pretty much everybody.  His business successes are far from it.  He is a charlatan.  A fascist.  A no-nothing blowhard.  Electing Trump would be a catastrophe of epic proportions.  I am right there with you.

But here’s the deal.

The people who occupy the right-wing echo chamber have some valid points.  Not that Trump is the better candidate, and not that Hillary and her husband are the root of all that is evil in the world.  I don’t buy into most of the allegations made about the Clintons over the years, but there is some truth to the overall sense that they are trying to have their cake and eat it too.  No matter the quality of Hillary’s resume, there are other things that matter when electing a President.  Honesty, integrity, character.  I’ve never been convinced since Bill left office that Hillary passes those tests.  The $150 million they personally made giving speeches to special interest, along with the interplay between their Foundation and foreign countries and others that wanted their influence … well, it just stinks, as far as I’m concerned.

My point is this … the idea that Hillary Clinton should not be elected President, just as you believe Trump should not be elected, is actually a real and valid concern.  The complete disregard for the right-wing perspective … is … essentially comparable to their complete disregard for your views on Trump and his unelectability.  Where does this all end?  In complete division and a never-ending cycle of crap thrown by each side at the other.

Get out of your damn echo chamber and listen to the other side.  Consider that the other side may have some valid points.  Find a way to get back to a common narrative, a common set of facts.  Hillary doesn’t have late stage Parkinson’s.  Donald Trump is not the devil incarnate.

 

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