IS AMERICA READY TO COME BACK?

Despite the GSA finally “ascertaining that Joe Biden was the apparent winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election”, thus allowing the formal transition process to begin, what remains unchanged is that after four years of a Trump presidency, whatever America was before, it is not that anymore. And whatever “American Exceptionalism” might have meant in the past, it does not mean that anymore, either – certainly not to the world-at-large, which once looked to America as we kids once looked to Super Man in the 1950s, you know, “fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”

Four years of Donald Trump was all the kryptonite needed to debilitate an image that had taken two centuries to build by the likes of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy. It is a testament to how fragile the structure of democracy is. 

And though Trump lost his bid for re-election, 74 million Americans still voted as if the last four years supported another four, which speaks to the lingering effect Trumpism will have going forward.

The elections of 2016 and 2020 have confirmed that if you inject enough fear and greed into a system, group-think will take hold and that it will be impervious to logic and rationality, as feelings trump facts, and no argument, no matter how concise, will be able to shake it.

Americans, it turns out,  are no different than any other human beings on the planet. The past means nothing if the future is threatened by one’s adherence to it. 

No, Trump 2016 was not a one-term aberration, a civic crie de coeur from a disenfranchised segment of the population for whom globalization wasn’t a boon but a bust. Instead, even after watching the 45th president trample every norm, upset every alliance, embrace every authoritarian, some 74 million good Americans still chose to see in him a savior rather than a lazy, ill-prepared, selfish saboteur. 

Facts, it turns out, are quite mutable in this current America where fear is regnant and comeuppance due. 

Continue reading “IS AMERICA READY TO COME BACK?”

LEARNING FROM de TOCQUEVILLE IN 2020

Remember it was the French diplomat and political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville who first extolled the vibrancy of America’s civil society in his two-volume Democracy in America (1835 and 1840).  Forty-six years later the French people affirmed de Tocqueville when they gifted America with the Statue of Liberty (dedicated October 28, 1886).

In other words, it wasn’t us blowing our own horn, rather an outsider who saw in us something new and laudatory within the family of nations.

Historically, what made America so appealing is the same thing that made Babe Ruth so appealing. We were big and strong, but fun-loving, good-natured, and out-going, too, and maybe, endearingly, a little naive. Though originally blind to the damage done by our slave-owning past and roughshod Manifest Destiny striving, overall, America was a smile and a clap on the back, a nation less cynical than the older European societies that preceded us. And within that spirit was a readiness to lend a hand to those in need, another reflexive, Ruthian trait.

We didn’t play up our size or our might. Instead, we were ‘aw-shucks’ humble in our strength, embracing in our openness, and generous in our spirit.

What happened to that America? Continue reading “LEARNING FROM de TOCQUEVILLE IN 2020”

AMERICA IN THE BALANCE

Both political parties have staged their virtual conventions, both have set off their fireworks displays, and both have warned against the existential threat to America posed by voting for their opponent. And that is the scratch line behind which we stand in the race for the White House in 2020. Perhaps the overriding question before us is: Irrespective of the outcome, can there be anything approaching a victory given such a divergent matchup?

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Pressured by a polarizing presidency, a viral pandemic – along the economic crisis that attends it – and street protests erupting against a backdrop of police brutalities committed against unarmed black people (like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks), America is once again searching for those elusive ties that bind at a time when there’s money and political capital to be made by the forces of denial, distrust, and opposition.

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC  poll (June 7, 2020) found that 80% of the public believes the country is out of control, while only 15% view it as being guided by a steady hand.

If we break that WSJ/NBC poll down, it is likely that we will find a wide gap in the understanding of how the nation became so polarized and what we might do to correct it, if anything.

Gadsden Flag

But the sense here, and it’s an ironic one, is that the Gadsden Flag’s “Don’t Tread On Me” brand of staunchly American individualism and anti-government sentiment that earmarked our nation as something new and revolutionary at its founding, the same individualism that helped create the American pioneering and entrepreneurial spirits that proved to be such a strength within a more widely spread homogenous population, has now become the very quality that keeps us from being able to unite in a time of crisis in a more tightly packed, yet heterogeneous society.

Imagine that, our greatest strength now part of what is working to keep us apart. So much so, that the concept of “We, the people” no longer seems applicable some 244 years after our founding. Continue reading “AMERICA IN THE BALANCE”

THE TRUMP COMEUPPANCE

“We need to make this an aberration, not our reality,“ said historian Jon Meacham when asked what he took from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s insider account of the Trump presidency, The Room Where It Happened. Yes, call 2017-2021 the Trump interregnum, a one-term crie de coeur from a long-suffering segment of the American population that Trump pandered to and then exploited for his own gain. 

But while the world-at-large is being tested by a deadly novel pathogen, with some nations passing that test better than others, I have a sneaking suspicion that America’s 2020 triple whammy of Coronavirus, Donald Trump, and the Black Lives Matter movement is just old-fashioned karma finally come a-calling on the US of A. And that one day we may come to know that combination as the Trump Comeuppance.

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Lawmakers and the judiciary often point to Original Intent as the Northstar that guides our path forward as a nation. But you have to wonder how sincere our Founders’ declaration “all men are created equal“ really was if after 244 years we still can’t make it apply universally. And so, after a long and, to date, blemished record in color-coordinated democratic self-rule, America has finally seen the Fates step up.

New Mount Rushmore

In a fit of 21st-century pique, the Fates presented America with a Brioni suit-wearing Apprentice President, one over-ripened with vacuous self-confidence and a truly imbecilic understanding of government and history – “everything will be simple and done quickly”, right? Then taxed him with a raging pandemic, a nuanced foreign field of play, and a long-simmering domestic social injustice brought to a boil, and let nature take its course.

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You never know what might be the catalyst for historic change. In a different time, at a different place, today’s catalyst would be just another average tragedy added to the long list of previous tragedies, like the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, for instance. Horrible to see, yes, but just chalk it up as another brown man killed for being brown, wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seen it before, will see it again.

But the quickly following slow-motion kneel-lynching of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the jaw-dropping case of Breonna Taylor, killed in her own home by Louisville police who busted into the wrong house they were tasked to serve and protect, was enough to break the lockdown dam. The newly witnessed killing of Rayshard Brooks by Atlanta police just added volume to the already rushing current.

And that’s all after the Fates had given us a mulligan or two when we first got started. Continue reading “THE TRUMP COMEUPPANCE”

THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD

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If you didn’t actually see him say it yourself, you wouldn’t believe anybody who told you about it later.

“No, he didn’t. Stop it. Nobody would suggest injecting disinfectant to treat anything. What am I, an idiot?  You must’ve heard wrong.”

Uh…actually he did.

On Thursday, April 23, Mr. Trump stood behind the lectern in the White House press room at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing and mused aloud whether medical experts should study injecting disinfectant into people to kill the virus.  But that was only the half of it. That jaw-dropper followed his original corrective suggestion of subjecting the human body to heat and light as a possible cure.

These witless wanderings followed a presentation from William Bryan, undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, who presented results of a study showing how the coronavirus deteriorates on surfaces and in the air more quickly when subjected to higher temperatures and humidity.  He also said his office was studying how certain disinfectants might kill the virus more effectively than others, referencing isopropyl alcohol and bleach.

Seizing on a connection that doesn’t exist – between humans and Formica – that nobody over three would ever make, Trump began inquiring about using light and heat as part of a potential cure.

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said to Bryan who was sitting next to Dr. Deborah Birx, medical coordinator of the White House Task Force who was experiencing a belief meltdown internally. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.”

Deluded into believing he was onto something, and with rhetorical bit now firmly in his teeth, the President next floated the head-spinning theory about the potential use of disinfectants on Covid-19 patients. Continue reading “THE MADNESS OF KING DONALD”

BYE-BYE BERNIE

Even as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency today (Wednesday, 8 April 2020), he seemed to understand that he had found himself in the wrong election cycle – again.

Vt. Senator Bernie Sanders bids adieu to 2020 campaign (WireFax News)

In his 2016 campaign, a then 74-year-old Bernie was beaten not so much by eventual standard-bearer Hillary Clinton as by the Democratic Party itself, which had engineered a Super Delegates head start for Hillary that Bernie could never overcome.

This year, after a dead-heat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses, Bernie followed up with convincing wins in the first two primary state elections. But then, like in `16, Sanders came up against the Democrat Party machine, this time in South Carolina where, with the endorsement of Congressman James Clyburn, former VP Joe Biden began his run to the top of the Democratic ticket.

Ever since, Biden has gone on a winning streak, piling up delegates even as people reached out to Senator Sanders saying, ‘we believe in your cause’ and ‘we believe in what you’re projecting, but we think Biden is the man to beat Trump this November’.

Thus, Bernie’s call for a progressive revolution led by a government-run universal healthcare system hasn’t been repudiated per se, but instead maybe just been postponed, just like the Boston and London Marathons have been put off in the face of the coronavirus crisis, as in “now is not the time”. Continue reading “BYE-BYE BERNIE”

WHO TO BELIEVE DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU STAND

“The world is talking about coronavirus,” read a public service announcement from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). “But it’s hard to know what to listen to.”

That states the case pretty plainly, I believe. But why is it so hard to know who to listen to in this time when it would seem so important to be acting from a base of consensus understanding? Sadly, I think it’s rather simple and can be traced to a decision made 33 years ago. 

What was known as the fairness doctrine was a policy introduced by the Federal Communications Commission(FCC) in 1949 when television was in its infancy. It was a policy that required the holders of broadcast licenses to not only present controversial issues of public importance to the public, but to do so in a way that was—in the FCC’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced. But in 1987 the FCC eliminated the fairness doctrine and then removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in 2011.

The elimination of the fairness doctrine began an inexorable separation of news outlets into partisan camps while turning the public airwaves into revenue generating profit centers rather than balanced loss-leader information hubs. This evolution of TV news was further accelerated by the subsequent expansion of choice and competition in the form of cable news outlets.

But even as the news was being commercialized and politicized, on a parallel track we saw the continuing loss of respect for and confidence in our major social institutions.

First to remove the scales from our eyes was government due to Vietnam and Watergate. More recently the church came into question via TV hucksterism and the Catholic priest scandals, and then higher education lost faith with its ever-expanding costs and increasingly dogmatic rigidity.

This erosion in our institutions coupled with the lack of a balanced media landscape left the nation with no consensus arbiter of truth.

Today, everyone believes in their own experts. Thus is climate change simultaneously seen as the greatest threat to mankind and an overblown anti-business left-wing hoax. So, too, is the coronavirus either a pandemic so severe that it must be treated with even economically draconian measures, or just a blown-up flu that threatens “a tsunami of economic destruction”.  And what and who you believe depends completely on which side of the idealogical spectrum you stand.

Continue reading “WHO TO BELIEVE DEPENDS ON WHERE YOU STAND”

RUSHMORE NO MORE

Think about it for a second. Let it linger on the mind. We have all been vulnerable, all been in need at some point in our life. Yes, we all know how it feels to be unmoored.

That in mind, tell Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the neophyte president of Ukraine, a man who has the fate of his young nation hanging in the balance that he was under no pressure.

New Mount Rushmore?

Now look back to America, that beacon of freedom and equality shining its light to guide Ukraine away from the benighted ways of a Soviet past and a menacing Russian future.

“Light the way ahead, America. Show us the way forward.”

Now ask yourself how you would react if the President of the United States sent over his private lawyer saying one thing – like pony up those investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election if you want our help – while U.S. State Department representatives were presenting something else altogether – like keep your nose clean and stay out of domestic U.S. matters if you expect our help? What would you do caught in that pincer movement?  Probably react just like the Ukrainians did, by becoming increasingly confused and then just plain scared.

Defenders of our president say there was not only no quid pro quo suggested during his July 25th call to the Ukraine president, but that there was no pressure applied at all. And that President Zelenskiy agreed when asked.  But you get down on the ground and bring out the political barometer and you’ll feel plenty of pressure. Because when Ukraine is hanging on by its fingernails as a new democracy with an emasculated former empire on its border anxious to reanimate that past glory at your expense, and the USA is ostensibly your new big bro protector who suddenly seems to be looking in the other direction, man, if that isn’t pressure please tell me what is. Continue reading “RUSHMORE NO MORE”

POLARIZATION – THE REAL HEALTHCARE ISSUE

As a genuine outpouring of bipartisan sadness attends the passing of Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md) – laid to rest in Baltimore on 25 October – perhaps this is the proper time for America to address the number one healthcare issue confronting its citizenry in this its 243rd year. 

Partisan rancor grows more heated with each passing day, starting in the embattled White House where Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham defended the president’s tweet attacking his critics as “human scum”.  “People Who Don’t Like Trump ‘Deserve’ To Be Called Scum.”

Trump followers and haters alike have long since come to define our national interests in more apocalyptic terms even as a crowded field of Democratic hopefuls searches for supporters in the run up to the 2020 election.

As I take in these troubling symptoms, I can’t help but recall my travels to Rwanda this past June (2019) where the central East African nation was commemorating the 25th anniversary of its 1994 genocide during which one million people were slaughtered in a scant three months time.

Travel is almost always instructive, not just for the perspective one gains IN another place, but FROM that distance as well. Continue reading “POLARIZATION – THE REAL HEALTHCARE ISSUE”

JONI MITCHELL AT 75

Joni Mitchell in November 2018 at age 75

Yesterday, November 8th, was Joni Mitchell’s 75th birthday, an occasion celebrated by friends and well-wishers at a concert in  L.A.  The iconoclastic Canadian singer-songwriter did not perform, gone mostly silent since suffering a brain aneurysm in 2015.  Yet throughout her legendary career, Ms. Mitchell penned words and sang notes that spoke to the human condition like few before or since.  

In one of her most acclaimed songs, Both Sides Now, she sang how she’d “looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions, I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.”

While clouds were Mitchell’s metaphor for both life and love, she was equally perceptive with “something’s lost but something’s gained in living every day” as even in acquiring experience we lose time in the exchange. 

Yet if the ethereal Ms. Mitchell is to be fully appreciated, it is in the realization that only those who have the capacity to see both sides, who can stand, at times only fleetingly, in the shoes of another, who may one day comprehend their own illusions as carefully constructed mechanisms meant to help navigate the great yawning maw that confronts each of us everyday. 

It is only when we can see beyond our own narrow self-interest that can we come to grips with our humanity such that it might dovetail with the illusions of others, and thus acknowledge life as a pitching current in which we all move inexorably to the see (sic).   Continue reading “JONI MITCHELL AT 75”