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”

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”

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”

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”

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”

RIP JOHN MCCAIN

With the passing of Senator John McCain at his home in Sedona, Arizona on August 25, 2018, we find ourselves both a greater nation for having had him amongst us, but now a lesser one for having lost him. Today, the enduring qualities of duty, honor, and country that animated his life, and helped guide the nation through his six decades of public service have lost one of their great champions. This is especially so when compared to the qualities exhibited by the man who currently sits in the Oval Office, or rather, is next up on the 10th tee. 

Perhaps only tangentially apropos, Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden penned an article this past week regarding what he called the mythologizing of football and its over importance in the American psyche. Three things, wrote Layden, led him to his keyboard.

…a young athlete’s death (in Maryland), football fans’ frustration with rule changes designed to damage fewer brains, and a millionaire coach (Ohio State’s Urban Meyer) getting wrist-slapped for apparently ignoring an assistant coach’s repeated abuse against a woman…Each case is part of a football ecosystem in which the game itself is propped up as bigger and more important than anything that stands in its way. 

And since disquieting news comes in threes, last week also saw the Dayton, Ohio school board announce a new academic standard for athletic eligibility, whereby students must now maintain a minimum 1.0 GPA on a scale of 0 to 4 in order to play sports. That’s right, students must achieve a grade level of D to remain eligible, a standard which suggests that athletic eligibility is more important than the education it was once meant to support. 

The passing of Senator McCain with his old-world sense of duty, honor, and country; Tim Layden’s observations about the inflated role of football in today’s America; and Dayton’s new scholastic eligibility regulations are not isolated indicators (Going Soft).  Instead they represent the latest reminders of a troubling erosion in the standards that designed, built, and fortified this nation over the course of two-plus centuries.

As ever, the road before us is twisting and beyond our GPS ability to ascertain. Yet if we come together and remain true to the principles embodied in John McCain, those challenges will be ours to manage and control.  Conversely, if we continue in our headlong rush to split apart, we risk careening off the righteous path bestowed to us by our forefathers while reengineering society’s basic underpinnings and values, values which today already proclaim “I like people who weren’t captured”, “truth is not truth”, and “crime is not crime”.

RIP, John McCain. May your memory continue to light our path and strengthen our resolve in what promise to be troubled times ahead.

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DEBATE: BROTHERS ON ARMS

In the wake of the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida on Valentines Day 2018, I decided to resurrect the following exchange between my brother Marek and me as we join families around the country searching for answers to truly vexing questions.  Our sister, Teresa, added her view while on holiday in Melbourne, Australia. Continue reading “DEBATE: BROTHERS ON ARMS”

BELICHICK, BRADY & KRAFT

Starship Enterprise

Star date 18:20-1 – Maybe in the VFL, the Vulcan Football League, Coach Spock (Bill Belichick) would have traded 40 year-old quarterback Tom Brady and kept 20-something Jimmy Garoppolo without any questions or concerns. Black and white, Xs and Os, all very logical. But Mr. Spock is not the captain of this good ship Enterprise, the New England Patriots. The overly emotional James T. Kirk is. And that’s Robert Kraft, the team owner.

So logic notwithstanding, the owner made an emotional decision to keep his surrogate son Tom Brady, irrespective of his age and the wisdom of his HOF coach. Yes, Kraft seems to be saying, we may take a long term hit by keeping Brady and getting rid of Garoppolo – like the Lakers did signing Kobe Bryant to his final two-year contract. But I’m willing to take that hit for the service that Brady has given to the organization.

Not just the five Super Bowl titles, but the 13-3, potential MVP, season he’s currently having, but for all the times he has taken less than market-value money in order to give general manager Belichick more to work with to improve the team and keep the winning tradition going.

There is something beyond Xs and Os involved here. With his fifth Super Bowl title last year, and in the manner in which it was done, Brady didn’t just confirm his G.O.A.T. status on the field, he transcended the game. Kraft understands that, embraces that, while Belichick isn’t paid to think in such emotional terms.

He might not like Kraft getting involved in player decisions, but if he can’t see the logic in this one case, then he isn’t the Spock we all know him to be.

This may be the one case where both men are right  Now it is up to Brady to make Captain Kraft’s decision look just slightly better.

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