On June 17, 1858, Abraham Lincoln accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination for a seat in the U.S. Senate. In his acceptance speech, he famously said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure … half slave and half free.”
Racism had enabled Whites, apparently guilt-free, to enslave other human beings. More than 150 years later, with racism still a force in America, we’ve come to another critical divide, not as cruel, not as inhumane, but dangerous for us all. That’s the divide between illusion and reality.
This democracy cannot survive, half crazed and half sane.
Republican senators had two opportunities to join their Democratic colleagues in convicting an inept, corrupt president after he was impeached by the Democratically-controlled House. Hostage to Trump, Republican senators refused.
They then could have joined their Democratic colleagues in creating an independent panel to investigate the unprecedented (and, until the age of Trump, unimaginable) attack on the Capitol on January 6th. Hostage to Trump, again they refused.
That’s head-in-the-sand insane. The Republican party has been hijacked. It lives in the world of Donald Trump's illusion.
Meanwhile, while Trump continues to hawk the notion that the Dems "stole" the election, a video surfaces in which the Texas attorney general happily takes credit for Trump's win there. He simply blocked the distribution of mail-in ballots in selected areas, he tells us. Then there's also the inconvenient fact that federal judges rejected or declined to hear 61 of the 62 lawsuits in which Trump attempted to overturn election results in states Joe Biden won.
The Time of Magical Thinking
Analyzing stages of child development, Jean Piaget, 20th century Swiss psychologist, identified early childhood as a time of magical thinking, a time in which a child believes that what he or she wishes will affect actual events. Piaget theorized that most children emerge from that stage around the age of 10.
But as Trump continues to claim he’ll be “reinstated” as president soon, I wonder: Is Trump stuck in this stage, the time of magical thinking? And is this “stuckness” reinforced by a Republican party that has taken him to heights that, by any objective is beyond his scope? Do Republicans truly believe their only power comes from a guy
whose support depends entirely upon their surrendering independent thought and action?
If so, they become powerful, ironically, only by becoming powerless.
Think of the consequences …
What Motivates Voters?
Still, there’s the question of what motivates the voters to cast their ballots for such a transparently selfish and unprepared man.
Science journalist Tanya Lewis, writing in Scientific American, says “What attracts people to Trump? … The reasons are multiple and varied, but … developmental wounds … make the leader-follower relationship magnetically attractive. The leader, hungry for adulation to compensate for an inner lack of self-worth, projects grandiose omnipotence—while the followers, rendered needy by societal stress or developmental injury, yearn for a parental figure. … When a highly symptomatic individual is placed in an influential position, the person’s symptoms can spread through the population through emotional bonds, heightening existing pathologies and inducing delusions, paranoia and propensity for violence—even in previously healthy individuals.”
In Plain English ...
In other words (and more crassly), it’s akin to the relationship between Jim Jones and the 900-plus members of his cult who “drank the kool-aid” in a mass suicide in Jonestown in 1978.
It should come as no surprise that Trump’s hunger for adulation is driving him to resume prematurely his “rallies.” I suppose they fill a need for a man once characterized by an interviewer as having achieved something remarkable: “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.”
* In Arizona, this has been done by a private company called Cyber Ninjas. I can’t help myself: Did you know a ninja is “a person trained in ancient Japanese martial arts and employed especially for espionage and assassinations”? (Merriam-Webster)
** To visit her Facebook page, click here
*** For information on contacting your Representative, click here
For information on contacting your Senator, click here
**** To see the video, click here
Elections have consequences. Some affect millions in ways both trivial and profound; others affect only a few, but for those few, the consequences can be life-changing.
Such is the situation in Jones v. Mississippi. In that case, by a vote of 6-3, the Supreme Court recently overturned precedent to uphold the life sentence without possibility of parole of Brett Jones, a juvenile offender, who was 15 at the time of his offense.
Over the past 16 years, the court had limited the use of the harshest penalties for juveniles, first striking down the juvenile death penalty and later restricting life imprisonment without possibility of parole to those whom a trial court had found to be “permanently incorrigible.” Such a finding had not been made in the Jones case.
What does all this have to do with elections? Well, look at the Supreme Court vote. The justices in the majority were Republican appointees, all: Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.* Opposed were the Democratic appointees Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Elections have consequences.
Brett Jones, the plaintiff in question, was 15 in 2004 when he stabbed his grandfather to death in an altercation about young Brett’s girlfriend. Irony abounds. The court’s majority opinion was written by Brett Kavanaugh. In a Washington Post opinion piece Ruth Marcus writes, “Brett Kavanaugh upheld Brett Jones’s sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing his grandfather just 23 days after his 15th birthday. (And, yes, let us pause here to note a certain irony in the fact that the opinion was written by a justice whose confirmation hearings featured discussion about how people can change after high school.)”
In arguing against the majority ruling, Justice Sotomayor pointed out that, while Jones is white, 70 percent of juvenile offenders sentenced to die in prison are children of color. She further noted that in Louisiana, where a finding of incorrigibility is not required, a life sentence without the possibility of parole has been imposed on 57 percent of eligible juvenile offenders. In Pennsylvania, where a finding of incorrigibility is required, fewer than 2 percent have received such a sentence.
There is no judicial recourse from a Supreme Court decision.
The timing of this decision is striking: A 15-year-old, in the heat of the moment, stabbed and killed his grandfather and is serving a lifetime in prison. His appeal from this sentence fails. This, on the heels of the conviction of Derek Chauvin, who spent 9 minutes and 29 seconds—plenty of time to reflect and change his behavior—choking the life out of George Floyd. Although Chauvin has not yet been sentenced, it is expected it will fall far short of the 40 years which could be imposed.
*And just think of this: Of the six, three were appointed by presidents whose last name was Bush (Thomas by George H.W. Bush, Roberts and Alito by George W. Bush) and three were appointed by Trump ( Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Comey). Just sayin’.
*Interestingly, the aforementioned trip to the nation's Capitol occurred in the last millennium. Apparently, the boxcar problem remained unsolved for a long time. I googled "boxcars on sidings" and found several newspaper articles complaining about the boxcar problem. They were published in newspapers in 2009. Click here to see the Wall Street Journal coverage.
Traveling in the Balkans a few years ago, I took a city tour with a local guide. I’m embarrassed to say now that I can’t be sure which country I was in at the time, though I believe it was Montenegro. Such is life on a cruise with way-too-brief shore excursions crammed into way-too-few days. Our city guide met us dockside, introduced herself and told us briefly about her background.
“I’ve never moved,” she said, “but I’ve lived in three different countries.” Thus she described life where unrest and fighting sometimes results in an area being taken over by another nation, which then imposes a new name and a new regime on the land in question.
Here, in my lifetime, we’ve had none of that. But still … though the land where I’ve lived my entire life hasn’t changed its name nor its political structure, for the last four years I’ve often felt as though I’m living in another country. But then, a couple of months ago, we had an election. I started to breathe again as I looked forward to sane, experienced leadership and—belatedly—for the first time, a woman (yay!) in the second highest office in the land. It felt like a homecoming.
But then … but then … the self-absorbed occupant of the most expensive government housing in the country decided he wanted to stay—the constitution, the law, and the time-honored tradition of the peaceful transfer of power be damned. And that, the peaceful transfer of power, never breached, is the keystone of this democratic republic.
As I write, I persist in believing that we’ll stave off this threat from the most ignorant and self-absorbed president ever to sully the oval office. I'd be even more optimistic if Republicans would follow the lead of their colleagues in Georgia. There, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger handled a one-hour phone call with the grace and aplomb of a diplomat as Trump demanded that he "find 11,780 votes" to put Trump over the top in that state. Later, Gabriel Sterling, Georgia voting systems implementation manager, offered up a detailed televised answer to all the accusations of voting irregularities.
I do worry about the Republican party as a whole, however. They brought us here and many of them are more than eager, even at this eleventh hour, when they should be ushering the wannabe tyrant out, to support him in his quest to overturn a free and fair election. The disregard for themselves, their constituents, and their constitutional duties is mind-boggling. Who do they see when they look in the mirror?
The first so-called Presidential debate of 2020 wasn’t a debate at all. It was an exercise in bully-ism, nationally televised evidence that some people truly never grow up, and redundant proof that a child-man lives in the White House. It confirmed once more the wisdom of Maya Angelou's admonition: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” We all know who Trump is. I naively believed, however, that being on public display with a competitor clearly his superior would temper Trump's behavior. Au contraire! He displayed even more immaturity, more rudeness, more ugliness than I anticipated. … And my expectations were lower than a lizard’s belly.
The “debate” was a contest between barbarism and civility. At first blush, it might appear that barbarism won. I didn't count the words, but I'm sure, if the win had been based on word count, the barbarian would have been the victor. After all, he used his own allotted time and some of Biden's, too. The agreement had been that each candidate would give a two-minute, uninterrupted response to the initial question in each of the six segments of the program. Those statements were to be followed by a few minutes of discussion--as in "give and take." You might be familiar with the concept; in debates of yore, this would have seen one candidate speaking at a time. Not so now.
Was anyone surprised when Trump jumped in to talk over both Joe Biden and moderator Chris Wallace as they spoke? Shortly, the event became a free-for-all, Trump performing with all the grace of a grizzly at a tailgate party and Biden treading a fine line: respond in kind or let the bully rant? It was a no-win choice. Meanwhile, Trump lied, bragged, dodged, and attacked the Biden family. Did we know any more about his policies at the end of the night than we did at the beginning? (Does he have any policies? That's a question for another time. His "party." you know has no platform.)
The winner was not the guy who spewed out the most words. The winner was Joe Biden. While Trump confirmed his immature, bull-in-the-china-shop ignorance; Biden showed us his capacity for empathy, his love of family, and his concern for those who are suffering health and economic devastation brought on by the coronavirus. He was as presidential as a guy can be while in the sights of a run-away bulldozer.
The absence of a policy discussion was a plus for Trump. With no party platform and no plan of his own, Trump goes wherever his impulses take him. A serious discussion of policies would have been such an inconvenient handicap.
I can't help myself. I thought the best line of the night was uttered by CNN's Anderson Cooper in the “post-game” analysis when he described Donald Trump as “obesely immoral.” I’m not sure what that means, but as one of my educator colleagues used to say, “It communicates.”
There’s no point in further debates unless the moderator—or another designated person—is given a “kill” switch which would enable them to turn off the microphone of the person not designated to speak. Some have even proposed putting the candidates in sound-proof booths like those used in high stakes game shows. Unless some kind of controlling measures are instituted, the debates are an exercise in futility, of no value except for the purpose of highlighting the differences between an ignorant bully and an experienced, empathic leader. But we already knew about that.
In these chaotic times, get your day off to an equilibrious start, by reading the work of Heather Cox Richardson on Facebook. She describes herself as “a political historian who uses facts and history to make observations about contemporary American politics.” She posts a column nearly every day. They're always rational and cogent and deal with major events in the news.
Many years ago, our first-born, then three years old, accidentally knocked over a full glass of milk as the dinner hour began. Fortunately for him, the milk flowed across the table, whereupon we—the grown-ups in the room and those most affected by the spillage—jumped up and did what grown-ups do. Finishing the clean-up, we noticed Kevin had continued to eat through it all, only mildly interested in the commotion and certainly feeling no responsibility for what had happened.
I thought of this incident while watching footage of Trump golfing recently as the pandemic roared, federal agents wreaked havoc on the streets of Portland, millions worried about eviction, hunger, and health, and children faced an uncertain school year and even more uncertain prospects for a productive future.
Meanwhile, there was a grinning Trump in “thumbs up” pose as a photographer took a shot to memorialize the golfers’ happy day.
Yes, what I’m saying is that Trump has the maturity of a three-year-old. More than 150,000 deaths in this country alone, health care workers hammered, businesses collapsed, no coherent plans for educating kids, and an obsession with creating doubts about the validity of an election which hasn’t even occurred yet: All that, and oblivious to the suffering of millions, the most powerful man in the country, the one who could—if he would—do more to address our multiple catastrophes than anyone else in the country … golfs.
This is leadership? A struggling reader (witness the halting, expressionless rendition of his “prepared” remarks and speeches), Trump has only a distant relationship with the U.S. Constitution. His knowledge of history is limited, and a constricted vocabulary leaves him without the tools needed to think critically and analyze complex situations.
Cocooned by a feckless party that embraces the most ignorant and irresponsible person ever to occupy the White House, Trump flails his way from crisis to crisis.
Legend has it that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Trump golfs.
No matter who the Democratic nominee is, Trump is obligingly providing all the raw material the party will need for the inevitable parade of attack ads.
He waffles wildly. Regarding the coronavirus, for instance …
Oh my! Trump lives in his own reality, untethered from Planet Earth and us earthbound earthlings hindered by our old-fashioned commitment to empiricism.
Either that—or he lies. Take your pick.
Then there’s the boasting. Childlike, he hasn’t yet figured out the sun doesn’t rise and set with him. The universe has other business to attend to. I’m waiting for the day when the long-suffering press corps (how much of this can they take?) rises up, holding signs above their heads, saying, “THIS ISN’T ABOUT YOU!”
But that’s a topic for another time.
The Democratic Party is fast becoming the poster child for the Alfred Adler theory that “neurotic safeguarding always gets you what you don’t want.” Those may not have been Adler’s exact words (he was, after all, Austrian, a psychiatrist in the late 19th-early 20th century), but I’m afraid it may be an accurate diagnosis of the Dems’ dilemma.
I’m hard-pressed to understand the swift winnowing of an excitingly diverse roster of candidates to a slate of two old, straight, white-guy pols. (I can say that because I’m old myself--and there are several old white guys among my favorite people.) There were many other entries in this race, and while both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are experienced and qualified, this feels like recycling when what we need a fresh new product.
Think back: In the 2016 election, when many voters longed for a disrupter, someone who would tackle rampant income inequality, unaffordable health care, wage stagnation, and unbridled corporate greed, the Dems decided to run a moneyed candidate with long, deep ties to corporate powerhouses and super PACs, one who struggled to connect with voters on a personal level and who proposed little in the way of novel solutions to deep-seated problems. Yes, that candidate was Hillary Clinton, and perhaps the Dems thought selecting a woman made that a bold choice, but it didn’t.
Back then, their other viable option was the aforementioned Mr. Sanders. Like Clinton, he was far from warm and fuzzy. Unlike Clinton, he proclaimed himself a socialist (not the smartest thing he’s ever done) and ran to the left of almost everybody. But he did have ideas about addressing rampant income inequality, unaffordable health care, wage stagnation, and unbridled corporate greed. The Dems rejected him.
Fast forward to 2020. This year … this year, we thought, would be different. In addition to Joe and Bernie, the Dems were offered a field of diverse candidates, including one who not only proposed fresh solutions to persistent problems—and had plans for carrying them out—but who also had what often seemed to be a nearly-sacrificial personal touch. How many little girls did she engage in the “pinky swear” to let them know they could be anything they chose? How many hours did she stay after rallies so everyone who wanted one could get a “selfie?” How many personal stories did she listen to on cold Midwestern nights?
Assertive, caring, smart, inspiring, Elizabeth Warren is the whole package. So why, on Super Tuesday, was she pushed out of contention by voters who swung to the two males now left in the race? Were they so traumatized by the disaster of 2016 that they believed no woman could win against our gender’s arch nemesis Trump? Could they not see the enormous difference between the two women in question?
Maybe. But this seems like the coward’s way out. It seems like neurotic safeguarding which—remember—always gets you what you don’t want. I hope I’m wrong.
There are bright spots. Few and far between, they burst from the quagmire of our capital and illuminate the landscape like late-night lightning in a thunderstorm.
Adam Schiff, the unassuming congressman from California and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, lit up the political landscape with lightning clarity last week—especially in closing remarks as he wrapped up the House floor managers’ presentations in support of the impeachment of Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, after a day in which the House managers provided detail after detail supporting the charges against Trump, Schiff spoke about the courage of the career diplomats who risked their futures by coming forward to testify. He challenged Republicans to display the same kind of daring.
“Why is it that Col. Vindman, who worked for Fiona Hill, who worked for John Bolton and Dr. Kupperman, why is it that they were willing to stick their necks out and answer lawful subpoenas when their bosses wouldn’t? … I think this is some form of cosmic justice—that this ambassador [Marie Yovanovitch] that was so ruthlessly smeared is now a hero for her courage. There is justice in that. But what really vindicates that leap of faith that she took is if we show the same courage. They risked everything, their careers. And yes, I know what you’re asked to decide may risk yours, too. But if they can show the courage, so can we.”
The following day, Schiff closed his final statement by appealing to listeners’ sense of what is right.
“The American people deserve a president they can count on to put their interest first,” Schiff said. “… if right doesn’t matter … it doesn’t matter how good or bad our advocacy in this trial is. It doesn’t matter how well written the oath of impartiality is. If right doesn’t matter, we’re lost. If truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. The framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves if right and truth don’t matter.
“And you know that what he [Trump] did was not right. … here right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us. Right doesn’t matter anymore and you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now, he’s done it before, he’ll do it for the next several months, he’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why, if you find him guilty, you must find that he must be removed. Because right matters. Right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise we are lost.”
Republicans, are you listening? Are you thinking? Are you taking the long view?
Would the people who raised you be proud?
Drifting Into Danger
*The Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological condition in which hostages identify with their captors and come to see them in a positive light
**In the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court ruled that campaign expenditures by corporations and unions are protected under the First (free speech) Amendment and not subject to restriction by the government.
***Albright, secretary of state during the Clinton administration, warned of a drift towards fascism in the U.S. and other western democracies in her book Fascism: A Warning.
Wacky? Ignorant? Cruel? Trump
Give Trump the Attention He Deserves _______________________________________________________________
The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.
What are the Democrats thinking? Actually, I think the real question is this: Are the Democrats thinking?
In March, Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), announced the committee was barring Fox News from hosting or even televising any of the Dems’ debates leading up to next year’s primaries.
At the time, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s stupid.” Where will you find a higher concentration of Trump-leaning voters than in the living rooms where Fox News is standard fare? What better way to reach the millions who’ve followed the Pied Piper down the path towards their own destruction?
Passing up an easy opportunity to introduce the diverse and thoughtful field of Democratic hopefuls (an embarrassment of riches if ever there was one) to people who voted for Trump in the last election is like turning down a million in cash because the bills are a little rumpled.
Recently, you may remember, Bernie Sanders appeared at a Fox News town hall. The questions asked were intelligent and pertinent and gave Sanders ample opportunity to explain where he stands on many vital issues. The audience occasionally cheered Sanders and booed (gently) the two Fox moderators. It was a civil event, as “fair and balanced” as the town halls on any other national network.
Now, more Dems are exploring the possibility of Fox town hall appearances. Even after Sanders garnered nearly twice as many viewers on Fox as he had for an earlier event on CNN, however, Perez has not changed his stance. To paraphrase a well-known meme, nevertheless he persisted.
The Democratic Party made fatal gaffes in the runup to the election of 2016 and the outcome wasn't good. Under current leadership, it seems they may be in danger of shooting themselves in the foot (okay, feet) once again.
Really, Dems? Play smarter. Please!
The Republican Way: Hit 'Em While They're Down _______________________________________________________________
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”