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”

A REMEMBRANCE OF 9/11

 It has been 17 years since that fateful day. To a growing number of young people, 17 years is a lifetime, and the day itself no more than a history lesson, or a museum exhibit. But for those old enough to have experienced it, 9/11 is a day etched into our collective consciousness never to be forgotten.  

Today, as memorial services take place in Lower Manhattan, at the Pentagon in Alexandria, Virginia and an open field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I offer one from the world of running first posted in September 2011. 

Continue reading “A REMEMBRANCE OF 9/11”

ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA – THE WHAT IF MAN

6 Sept. 2018 – How’s this for being on the horns of a dilemma?   Either stay with a duly elected but “amoral” president who “continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic”, or go with an unelected cabal made up of “many of the senior officials in his own administration who are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations”?  

Oh, my!

The blame, dear friends, lies not with the one called Trump, though he is the locus of the dilemma.  No, he is who he is, who he has been for many, many decades. No surprises there. Nor can blame be apportioned to the wide enough swath of America that got him elected in November 2016. 

They didn’t love him (OK, some did), they just hated you, the Washington establishment. Hated you for your mindless disregard that left them without a sense of their traditional homes, jobs, infrastructure, affordable education, etc. Trump wasn’t their guy so much as he just wasn’t yours. He was  the cudgel you gave them to say NO with and they swung it enthusiastically.

No, this erratic, unfit executive belongs to the Republican Party and its cynical leaders who sought to ride the raging bull long enough to pass tax cuts, strip away regulations, and pack the judiciary before the beast would need to be put down.

“Why are we putting so many resources in South Korea?” Trump wonders aloud. 

“To avoid WW3!” says SecDef James Mattis in utter disbelief. 

Amorality aside, he just doesn’t know any better. Studying was never his thing. Making stuff up on the fly is what got him this far in the family business. Do not expect him to change now because the responsibilities are exponentially greater.

Unfortunately for us, that leaves him particularly unprepared for the task at hand, like a TV actor after the writers have left. This is a president without Mark Burnett to produce the Reality TV show.

But as Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell told Brett Baier on Fox News, “In the last 100 years, the Republican party has held the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives in only 20 of those years. And we are not going to squander that opportunity.”

That’s the key understanding. “We are not going to have this very long, so let’s make the most of it.”

There’s is purely a transactional relationship. Regardless of his qualifications, let’s ride this guy until he implodes, gambling that we can get what we want before the country gets what it deserves. 

In a binary world of Trump v Clinton, where one choice will impact the Supreme Court for a generation in your favor, the choice is a no-brainer (just like their president). So hold your nose, say your prayers,  and pull that voting lever.

Of course, in for a dime, in for a dollar. So when insiders lay open the sucking chest-wound of an administration led by a virtual child, Mitch McConnell has nothing to say about the scathing New York Times Op-Ed from a senior White House official talking about resistance within the administration to many of the dangerous inclinations of the amoral president. This is realpolitik in its purest form. Continue reading “ON THE HORNS OF A DILEMMA – THE WHAT IF MAN”