In Case You Missed This . . .
(Another History Lesson)
“Impeachment” is an odd term, isn’t it? According to the (online) Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to impeach (transitive verb) means “to charge with a crime or misdemeanor.” The process of impeachment, of course, was written into our Constitution as a means of removing a public official from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” For those who may have slept through their U.S. History class in high school (and I know you are Legion!), let’s take a look at what the Founders debated when drafting this section of our Constitution. Article One, Section 2, Paragraph 5 states: “The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” In Article 2, Section 4 they elucidate: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors. “ (heritage.org) Let’s take a look at how the Founders came to this conclusion.
Law professor Clark D. Cunningham (Georgia State University) wrote on snopes.com:
I’ve found statements made at the Constitutional Convention explaining that the Founders viewed impeachment as a regular practice with three purposes:
Based on that, the Founders saw impeachment as, potentially, a regularly used tool the legislature would employ to ensure the Executive would not engage in criminal or unpatriotic behavior. Let’s hear what delegates at the Constitutional Convention said at the time.
Massachusetts merchant Elbridge Gerry moved that the chief executive “be removable on impeachment and conviction for malpractice or neglect of duty.” Virginia’s George Mason riposted, “No point is of more importance than that of the right of impeachment. Shall any man be above Justice…who can commit the most extensive injustice?” (Harlow Giles Unger, historynewsnetwork.org)
James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution” (and future President) noted:
It is indispensable that some provision be made for defending the community against incapacity, negligence, or perfidy of the chief magistrate. The limitation of the period of his service is not a sufficient security. He might lose his capacity after his appointment. He might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation (to steal or take dishonestly (money, especially public funds, or property entrusted to one's care; embezzle) or oppression. He might betray his trust to foreign powers. (Unger, historynewsnetwork.org – Bold, mine)
Prophetic? Not entirely, as Madison wasn’t the only one at the Constitutional Convention with those concerns. Virginia’s Governor, Edmond Randolph, and New York’s Gouverneur Morris echoed Madison’s concerns.
Randolph called impeachments “a favorite principle with me. Guilt, whenever found, ought to be punished. The executive will have great opportunities of abusing his power, particularly in time of war, when military force and in some respect the public money will be in his hands.” (Unger, historynewsnetwork.org- bold mine)
Morris stated: Our executive may be bribed by a greater interest to betray his trust, and no one would say that we ought to expose ourselves to the danger of seeing the first magistrate in foreign pay without being able to guard against it by displacing it…. The executive ought to be impeachable for treachery; corrupting his electors, and incapacity. He should be punished not as a man but as an officer and punished only by degradation from his office. This Magistrate is not the king! The people are the king!
Wise old Benjamin Franklin, assuming George Washington would be the first President, said: “The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Benjamin Franklin mused to the Constitutional Convention in early June, perhaps winking in Washington’s direction as he said it. But then he added ominously, “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards.” (Gillian Brockell, Washington Post, 09/28/19). Indeed, Alexander Hamilton, writing in Federalist #65 anticipated the world we are living in when he said:
“In many cases [impeachment] will connect itself with the preexisting factions ... and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.”
Washington, in his Farewell Address, had warned about the perniciousness of Political Parties. In September of 1796, anticipating the upcoming election in which he would not run for a third term, he described the importance of keeping the Union together. Beyond his “avoid entangling alliances” foreign policy advice, the first President said this about political “factions:”
the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests. However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion. (owleyes.com – bold, mine)
Jeffrey Engle, the Director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University, discussing how the Founders might view our current proceedings, told the Washington Post:
They say, ‘Well, what if a president works with a foreign power? Well, then of course he should be impeached. What if a president decides to try and make money in office? Well, of course he should be impeached. What if a president lies as part of his campaign? … Well, then of course he should be impeached,’” Engel said, before alleging, “which really is Donald Trump’s biography.” (Brockell, WaPo 09/28/19)
Sean Wilentz (Princeton History Professor) “offered his assessment of how the framers would view the current impeachment-related process in the House. ‘Should the Senate Republican majority refuse to remove Trump on specious grounds, cloaking partisanship, the framers would have concluded that the republic had collapsed.’” (Brockell, WaPo, 09/28/19)
That may well be where we are headed, given Moscow Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate. We may be on the brink of testing Ben Franklin’s famous quote: “A Republic, if you can keep it.” It would be sad, indeed, if we were watching the demise of our Republic at the hands of a craven autocrat who cares only for his personal advancement.
History Echoing in Our Hallway
While the whirlwind of the Impeachment Inquiry swirls around us, it might be interesting (and instructive?) to time-travel back almost a century, to look at the Harding/Coolidge Administrations (1921-1929) and take note of the parallels to our current Administration. To set the context, Warren Gameliel Harding, a Republican, was nominated on the 10th ballot during the 1920 party convention and defeated the Democratic nominee, James M. Cox. The Democrats had held the Presidency from 1913 through 1921, with Woodrow Wilson at the helm. Harding had promised “a return to normalcy” (a word his campaign had created, I believe) and campaigned from his front porch in Marion, Ohio. He was the first seated U.S. Senator to ascend to the Presidency (there’s a Jeopardy fact for you!). Harding appointed some noteworthy Cabinet members (Herbert Hoover, Andrew Mellon, and Charles Evans Hughes) but also several who ultimately ran afoul of the Law (Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall, Attorney General Harry Daugherty). In fact, Harding’s administration is remembered most for scandal, historically (including an extramarital affair!), and for its extreme laissez-faire approach to foreign and domestic policy. The parallels we might find interesting (and instructive?) to what we are witnessing today are related to tariffs, immigration, “socialism,” race, economics, and foreign policy. In other words, almost every aspect of Harding’s (and later Coolidge’s) administration(s) provide what historian Barbara Tuchman once called “a distant mirror.”
As a Republican in the 1920’s Harding (and Coolidge) had some clear goals we can recognize. “The undisputed goal of the Harding administration was to use governmental powers to assist American business and industry to prosper — a trend that had begun during World War I and accelerated during the New Era of the 1920s . In September 1922, Harding enthusiastically signed the Fordney–McCumber Tariff Act. The protectionist legislation . . . The act increased the tariff rates contained in the previous Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act of 1913, to the highest level in the nation's history. Harding became concerned when the agriculture business suffered economic hardship from the high tariffs . . . The high tariffs established under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover have historically been viewed as a contributing factor to the Wall Street Crash of 1929.” (wiki)
Indeed, “As part of Harding's belief in limiting the government's role in the economy, he sought to undercut the power of the regulatory agencies that had been created or strengthened during the Progressive Era. Among the agencies in existence when Harding came to office were the Federal Reserve (charged with regulating banks), the Interstate Commerce Commission (charged with regulating railroads) and the Federal Trade Commission (charged with regulating other business activities, especially trusts). Harding staffed the agencies with individuals sympathetic to business concerns and hostile to regulation.” (wiki – italics, mine) Certainly we are seeing the same basic actions occurring today, not only to benefit business but at the expense of our environment!
We are currently hearing a great deal about the Democratic Party being driven by “socialists” (despite most people not really understanding what a “socialist” is). The use of the term “socialist” and “communist” has been used as a political scare term since the Harding and Coolidge Administrations. This began during Wilson’s administration when the Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, began “raids” to root out (and deport!) “socialists” and “communists.” This concept, the “Red Scare” --- often used for political leverage to disparage opponents --- was resurrected by Joe McCarty in the early 1950’s and later exercised by Nixon and other Republicans, including the current occupant of the White House, who is demonizing Democratic candidates as “socialists” on an almost daily basis. Echoes in the hallway.
Regarding immigration we can see our current situation is very similar to what we saw happen in the United States in the 1920s. Here’s what you could read in Wikipedia:
The Per Centum Act of 1921, signed by Harding on May 19, 1921, reduced the numbers of immigrants to 3 percent of a country's represented population based on the 1910 Census. The act, which had been vetoed by President Wilson in the previous Congress, also allowed unauthorized immigrants to be deported.
The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the Asian Exclusion Act and National Origins Act was a United States federal law that prevented immigration from Asia, set quotas on the number of immigrants from the Eastern Hemisphere, and provided funding and an enforcement mechanism to carry out the longstanding ban on other immigrants.
(The Act) set a total immigration quota of 165,000 for countries outside the Western Hemisphere, an 80% reduction from the pre- World War I average. Quotas for specific countries were based on 2% of the U.S. population from that country as recorded in 1890. As a result, populations poorly represented in 1890 were prevented from immigrating in proportionate numbers—especially affecting Italians, Jews, Greeks, Poles and other Slavs. According to the U.S. (N.B. The Palmer Raids preceded the Immigration Act of 1924, which also targeted Southern European and Eastern Europe immigrants on not just political grounds but also mostly ethnic and racial grounds.)
The current Administration’s demonizing of Muslim-Americans, and attempted ban on all Muslim immigrants, as well as the hideous Southern Border Wall policies are not very far from those 1920s strictures. Hallway echoes.
The final parallel we’ll listen to echoing down that historical hallway has to do with RACISM. Above and beyond the underlying racism of the current administration’s immigration and border policies (not to mention invoking disdain for “shithole” countries), we have heard that there were “good people on both sides” in Charlottesville--- when one of those “sides” was comprised of self-professed White Nationalist Nazis! Back in the 1920s “Harding also disappointed black supporters by not abolishing segregation in federal offices, and through his failure to comment publicly on the Ku Klux Klan.” (wiki) In fact, during the 1920s the KKK flourished under the Harding and Coolidge administrations. According to Wikipedia:
Beginning in 1921, it (the KKK) adopted a modern business system of using full-time paid recruiters and appealed to new members as a fraternal organization, of which many examples were flourishing at the time. At its peak in the mid-1920s, the organization claimed to include about 15% of the nation's eligible population, approximately 4–5 million men.
The second KKK preached "One Hundred Percent Americanism" and demanded the purification of politics, calling for strict morality and better enforcement of Prohibition. Its official rhetoric focused on the threat of the Catholic Church, using anti-Catholicism and nativism. Its appeal was directed exclusively at white Protestants; it opposed Jews, blacks, Catholics, and newly arriving Southern and Eastern European immigrants such as Italians, Russians, and Lithuanians, many of whom were Jewish or Catholics themselves
Certainly we have seen the current President endorse his brand of “100% Americanism” (“Make America Great Again;” “Keep America Great”). The recent revelations of Stephen Miller’s White Nationalist emails clearly illustrate the tenor of the advice Trump is receiving on a daily basis. All things being equal, if you listen carefully, stretching your ability to go back a century, you can hear the Harding/Coolidge legacy echoing in the hallway and, while our economy is rolling along (defying years of Boom/Bust cycles), we can only hope that this Administration does not end on the same note as theirs --- a cascading crash into economic chaos.
YOU Be the Judge
If you watched the hearings yesterday you saw two lifelong public servants testify as to the facts they know about the Trump/Ukraine Extortion plot. Clearly, I have a bias on this topic but I will leave it to you to be the judge.
The Republican attacks on these men (William Taylor and George Kent) by the Republican attack dogs (Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan) made for interesting television and, aside from a blockbuster revelation about a Trump phone call with Gordon Sondland that we didn’t know about, it played out the way most of us anticipated it would. The Democrats stuck to their pursuit of the facts of the case and the Republicans were intent on spinning a fantastical web about “second and third hand” sources (which could easily be remedied if the White House would allow all their people with first-hand knowledge testify!).
Whatever the case, I did a little research on Wikipedia and will simply present my cherry-picked “resumes” of yesterday’s four principal actors.
I’ll admit to being an “elitist” and believe getting an education at West Point or Harvard may indicate you have a bit more on the ball than those who go to Cal Poly and Capital University Law School but, beyond that, we have seen Nunes and Jordan in action before and we know that they will do anything to defend Trump. What stood in high relief yesterday was the unimpeachable integrity of Taylor and Kent. But that’s just my opinion --- you be the judge.
The SUV Metaphor
There was a tragic fatal accident on the Merritt Parkway here in southeastern Connecticut on Sunday night.
According to State Police, (name withheld) was driving southbound in the left lane when her 2004 Ford Explorer came into contact with a 2008 Mercedes E350 traveling in the right lane. Her vehicle lost control, struck the wooden beam guardrail on the right shoulder where it then proceeded across the right and left lanes. Her vehicle then rolled over and “ejected the operator over the median where she came to a final rest on the northbound side of Rt. 15,” the accident report stated. (Connecticut Post, 11/11/19)
There are tragic accidents wherever we live every day, of course, but this one caught my attention because it reinforces an observation I’ve made recently: too many people are driving vehicles that are too big for them to handle! In the last few years we have seen that “The Big Three” automakers in the U.S. have almost stopped making sedans and small (formerly “compact”) cars. According to a story in the January 2019 Detroit News:
It's all trucks and SUVs, as General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler increasingly abandon the sedan and small-car markets for what they see as more profitable, in-demand vehicles. The market for sedans is shrinking.
If you drive around, as I do (I live in a suburb --- do we have any choice?), you see, more and more, the road populated by bigger and bigger SVU’s. The GMC Yukon, the Chevy Suburban, the Ford Excursion, the Cadillac Escalade, the Lincoln Navigator, the Infiniti QX80, the Land Rover/Range Rover Evoque and so on, are not only unapologetic gas guzzlers, they are also HUGE vehicles, requiring skill and strength to safely handle on our roads. It is no wonder, then, we are seeing accidents like the one I started this BLAST with ---- people cannot gauge just how large their vehicles are, particularly on the old narrow parkways that were built in the 1930’s for cars that were not only smaller but also slower. As I reflected on this situation (having been put in jeopardy on a regular basis because of these omnipresent vehicles in southeastern CT) I realized they are an appropriate metaphor for where we find ourselves politically as 2019 winds to a close.
Donald Trump was gifted a (metaphoric) huge SUV by Vladimir Putin in November of 2016. Put in the driver’s seat of our great nation, Trump, like many who get behind the wheel of their SUV’s here in Connecticut, is not capable of handling the vehicle. Frighteningly, we are seat-belted in a careening SUV, watching a driver who not only hasn’t taken time to read the Owner’s Manual (the Constitution) and not only has no experience driving but no idea of how to drive such a large and complex vehicle. As we move into the initial phases of Impeachment we find ourselves in a situation where our “Driver” sees flashing lights in the rearview mirror and, despite the whine of the sirens, refuses to pull over. The danger, for all of us, is that he has no idea of how big and fast the vehicle is, his judgment is clearly impaired, and he thinks he can simply outrun the Law! Worse, there are some people in the vehicle cheering him on, telling him to drive faster and more recklessly (read: Jim Jordan, Mark Meadows, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gomer, et al).
We know that we will probably not crash and burn (air bags?) but the vehicle will undoubtedly be banged up pretty badly and some of the passengers will need serious medical attention. Unlike the crash in Connecticut Sunday night, in which the driver was thrown from the vehicle and suffered fatal injuries, our Driver may well step away relatively unscathed, believing he can simply trade in his 2016 (banged up) model and ask Santa (read: Putin) for a new one in 2020.
I’m hoping, somehow, the police manage to pull him over, remove him from the vehicle, strip him of his license (if he even has one, or if it’s valid), and throw him in the clink for a variety of crimes. Despite his road rage, he’ll no longer be a danger to the rest of us, who are just trying to get from here to there on our local roads.
Here We Go Again
It looks as though Michael Bloomberg is entering the already over-populated Democratic Presidential parade which, to my mind, only throws one more wrench into the Dump Trump possibilities for 2020. While it is still beyond belief that the corrupt, criminal, incompetent, barely literate Trumpglodyte is in the White House, I am genuinely concerned that the Democrats are carefully arranging their circular firing squad to insure “4 More Years” of this Nightmare! It could well be that the final Democratic nominee is not on the Campaign Trail yet (there are Eric Holder rumors circulating this morning, for example) but, whatever the case, let’s take a look at who the candidates are right now, with Election Day 2020 now less than one year away.
To be fair, we’ll look at the current Democratic field alphabetically, considering what kind of a chance they may have to receiving the nomination and what they might bring to the table against the current Tweeter-in-Chief. (based on NY Times, Nov. 7th “Who’s Running” by 5 staff writers)
Michael Bennett. Currently a Senator from Colorado, 54 years old (underwent prostate cancer surgery in April but is “clean” now), focused on issues of infrastructure, economics, and technology. If you’ve had a chance to hear Bennett (which is rare, because he’s not a big “name” candidate) he’s very bright with some clear, sensible ideas. Has zero name recognition and is from a purple state. No chance.
Joe Biden. There are reasons Joe Biden didn’t get the nomination the last two times he ran. While he may be a nice guy, Biden is far from the sharpest knife in the drawer. Unless he runs with Barack or Michelle as his VP candidate, his ability to stick his foot in his mouth makes him a perfect foil for the cruel denizen of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s 76 years old and it’s difficult to say if he’s just not very bright or there is some creeping dementia going on.
Cory Booker. Senator from New Jersey, 50 years old. Obama-Lite. Excellent orator with a great track record (up-by-the-bootstraps kid, Stanford football player and Rhodes Scholar, Mayor of Newark) but he hasn’t been able to gain much traction among Democrats. He could be a longshot or a VP name.
Steve Bullock. The Governor of Montana and former State A.G. 53 years old. Like Bennett, another bright, young guy nobody knows. A Democrat who has prevailed in a deep Red state but governing Montana (population: around 1 million people in the 4th largest state, physically) is not governing the whole country and, despite his bipartisan success in the Big Sky State, he’ll be out of the running after Iowa and New Hampshire. Again, maybe a VP name.
Pete Buttigieg. The 37 year old gay war veteran is the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and running a smart race. He is currently a darling among voters (and the media!), particularly younger people. He is focused on the environment/climate change and economic opportunity, offering himself as a “Moderate” in a field that is split between “Progressives,” “Liberals,” and “Moderates.” He’ll make a splash in Iowa and probably remain in the race through the Spring. However, Democrats, do you think this polarized country is read for a young gay President? (I think not – but I wasn’t sure they’d elect Obama either --- big thank you to Sarah Palin there).
Julian Castro. The 45 year old former Obama Cabinet member has made immigration reform and education key policy issues in his campaign but is failing to gain traction. He might have been a stronger candidate against Ted Cruz than Beto in that 2018 Senate race but clearly was looking at this Presidential run instead. Again, a possible VP but I doubt America is ready for a young Latinx President any more than it is ready for a gay man (or, possibly, a woman!).
John Delaney. 56 former Congressman from Maryland. What? You didn’t know he was still running? Oh, you didn’t know he was ever running? A nice Liberal guy. No chance.
Tulsi Gabbard. The 38 year old Congresswoman from Hawaii and Army National Guard veteran has a history of anti-gay activism and meeting with Syria’s Assad (after he used chemical weapons on his own people!). Fabulous rumors that she is V. Putin’s choice for the Dems. Like Trump, she’s an anti-interventionist American-Firster. Will fade by the time Super Tuesday rolls around.
Kamala Harris. 55 year old Senator from California --- former San Franciso DA and CA AG who’s record on criminal justice reform has become a thorn in her side. A wonderful speaker whose intense questioning of Trump nominees for the Cabinet and the Court regularly makes the nightly news. After a fast start, has steadily lost momentum and, again: will America elect a bi-racial woman? (Sorry, I’m getting more and more skeptical of our electorate).
Amy Klobuchar. The 59 year old Senator from Minnesota and former attorney has focused on appealing to swing state voters as a sensible, Moderate candidate who wants to take on the opioid crisis and prescription drug costs. Kind of a likable Hillary Clinton (policy wise) but probably will fade as the weather gets warmer.
Wayne Messam: I’ll bet you didn’t even know the 45 year old Mayor of Miramar, Florida was even running, right? Well, according to the November 7th NY Times, he’s on the list! The first Black mayor of Miramar, Messam was a member of the 1993 Florida State Seminoles National Champions. Keep moving, people, nothing to see here.
Bernie Sanders. We’re all familiar with the 78 year old heart attack victim who wants Medicare for All. Bernie is a phenomenon, for sure, but does he really have a chance? I know, according to current polls he’s running ahead of Trump --- and that’s great. But he’s a self-professed Socialist who wants Medicare for All (“You’ll be TAXED!” the Republicans will cry) and free college tuition (Who’s paying for that?). And, while I hate to bring this up (and this is true for Bloomberg, too) do we really think the American electorate will elect a Jew? Jack Kennedy barely squeaked by as a Catholic and, while we’d like to believe we’ve come a long way --- we haven’t.
Joe Sestak. 67 year old former Navy Admiral and Congressman from Pennsylvania. Yup, like Wayne Messam, you probably weren’t aware of this guy’s candidacy. Read on.
Tom Steyer. The 62 year old billionaire is listed as a “climate change and impeachment activist.” There’s no doubt Tom Steyer’s heart is in all the right places but can he really get out the Black vote, the white working-class vote, the youth vote? Probably not. He comes across as a stiff business guy who’s trying to do the right thing, which is nice, but he’s not the guy.
Elizabeth Warren. The 70 year old Senator from Massachusetts, former Harvard professor, and champion of the Consumer Protection Agency wants “big, structural change” (NY Times). Attacking income inequality and promoting Medicare-for-All with her “I Have a Plan for That” motto is appealing to a segment of the electorate --- but a “segment” is not going to displace Agent Orange. Like Biden and Sanders, current national polls have her running ahead of Trump but will she swing Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin? Don’t discount how much harder it is for a woman to run for an Executive position.
Marianne Williamson. The 67 year old self-help author and new age lecturer (NY Times) from Planet Xenon is another candidate with her heart in the right place --- but her head? Who knows where that is? How she’s still out there is a miracle, right?
Andrew Yang. The tech millionaire has run on the universal basic income idea, which is one I like and believe might eventually evolve into a viable possibility by the middle of this century, but Yang’s a longshot who will fizzle by Super Tuesday, if not sooner.
As far as Michael Bloomberg is concerned I’ll just say this: New Yorker. Short. Jewish. I won’t belabor how he wouldn’t even negotiate with the New York City Teachers Union the entire time I worked in that system (2008-2014), consigning us (the teachers) to living on 2008’s base salary for six years while all costs of living climbed in NYC and he convinced the City Council to allow him to run for a third term because “only he” could pull NYC out of the 2007-2008 fiscal crisis. Not my favorite candidate, as you might guess.
So, that’s the field. We may seem other saviors emerge over the coming months but I’m afraid what’s shaping up is a Classic Circular Firing Squad, leaving Trump’s re-election a genuine possibility.
“Those who do not remember the past
are condemned to repeat it.”
I do not agree with Santayana’s quote for a several reasons: #1 – other than professors on college campuses and a few (weird?) hobbyists, nobody studies history. We all “take” history courses in high school but only a few students find it even mildly interesting, much less a discipline to invest adult time in studying. #2 – Even if you “remember the past” it makes little difference because those in power don’t and, as a result, history is disturbingly cyclical. Regarding point #1 – as someone who taught history to high school students (or their aspiring teachers) for 42 years, I think it’s obvious why teenagers don’t actually learn history. Simply put, they don’t have history! For an adolescent, “history” is two weeks ago --- and it’s focused on social events or performance activities (sports, drama, band/orchestra, choir, et al). That too many history teachers slog through the past chronologically (starting with pre-history or Christopher Columbus) guarantees teens won’t be along for the ride. But I don’t want to talk about pedagogy and curriculum here, there are bigger fish to fry. Point #2 (history is cyclical because of ignorance) is being played out right before our eyes on a daily basis. Yesterday’s elections, particularly the Governor’s race in Kentucky, where a Democrat (Andy Beshear) defeated the incumbent Republican (Matt Bevin), who was endorsed by Trump on Monday, illustrates the cyclical nature of our politics/history.
Trump endorsed Bevin at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. The venue is named after the legendary University of Kentucky basketball coach who, while becoming the 5th most-winning coach in NCAA history, might best be remembered for the 1966 championship game where his five white starting players (not only there were no Blacks on the Kentucky team but there were none in the entire South Eastern Conference!) lost to Texas Western’s five Black players --- a significant event in the civil rights movement. During his endorsement of Bevin, Trump lashed out at the Democrats as Socialists --- which appears to be one of the major talking points he will use in the 2020 election. This builds on Trump’s February State of the Union address when he said:
Here, in the United States, we are alarmed by new calls to adopt socialism in our country. ... Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.
Reflecting on this strategy brought me back to Harry Truman (President, 1945-53) because he was attacked again and again by the Republican Party as a “socialist.” Truman is a font of “quotable quotes” that proves, in fact, that the citizens of the United States “do not remember the past.”
As a case in point, consider this Truman quote from 1952:
Socialism is a scare word they have hurled at every advance the people have made in the last 20 years. Socialism is what they called public power. Socialism is what they called Social Security. Socialism is what they called farm price supports. Socialism is what they called bank deposit insurance. Socialism is what they called the growth of free and independent labor organizations. Socialism is their name for almost anything that helps all the people.
The fact is, Americans are grossly ignorant regarding their understanding of what “Socialism” is and generally confuse it not only with term “Communism” but also with “totalitarianism.” Some of this is the understandable product of almost a half-century of the Cold War, in which the “free and democratic” United States stood on the barricades against the “godless, Communist” Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). But the modern American Republican Party (until Trump) was built around opposing all things Russian. In the new Trumpist incarnation, Russia, apparently, is “okay” but Socialism (which Russia, now a kleptocratic authoritarian state, is not) is still the “scare word” used to rally the base. “A Trump campaign spokesman said that the rhetoric about socialism ‘resonates’ with the vast majority of hard working Americans who recognize that Trump’s patriotic capitalism is benefiting all Americans nationwide.”
And here, again, Truman had several choice quotes. First, he noted:
Republicans approve of the American farmer, but they are willing to help him go broke. They stand four-square for the American home ---but not for housing. They are strong for labor --- but they are stronger for restricting labor’s rights. They favor minimum-wage – the smaller the minimum wage the better. They endorse educational opportunity for all --- but they won’t spend money for teachers or for schools. They think modern medical care and hospitals are fine---for people who can afford them. They consider electrical power a great blessing --- but only when the private power companies get their rake-off. They think the American standard of living is a fine thing --- so long as it doesn’t spread to all the people. Andy they admire Government of the United States so much that they would like to buy it.
In the Kentucky election Tuesday, the issues of education and medical care were the driving force behind Beshear’s victory, but if we consider the other items Truman addresses, we can see that today’s Trumpublicans fit his quote. Farmers? Screwed by the tariffs. Housing? Ben Carson is Trump’s Cabinet man on that front. Labor and the minimum wage? We know where Republicans stand on those issues, and it’s not with the working person. Electrical power? One word: California. The standard of living? The Wealth Gap is increasing every year! Again, Harry said:
We are fighting with all of our strength to prevent the gluttons of privilege from swallowing up the country. An honest public servant can’t become rich in politics. He can only attain greatness and satisfaction by service.
A reaction to Trump’s view of the country? Seems pretty accurate.
Finally, as regards Trump’s attempts at using the Government to serve his own purposes, his characterization of the free press as an “enemy of the people,” and the demand that the Whistleblower’s identity be revealed, Truman had one more quote.
Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures. Until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.
Trump’s “appeal” to voters is based on authoritarianism and fear --- particularly fear of “the Other” (read nonwhite, non-Christian, etc.). His instincts are clearly undemocratic and he is blatant in his craven desire for wealth and power. Fans of “The Apprentice” do not distinguish the character from that show (a successful businessman --- not Donald J. Trump) with this cartoonish buffoon serving as President. Harry Truman was reacting to the immediate post-World War II America he was navigating and his quotes are prescient --- clearly applying to the world we find ourselves in. Like a bizarre circle of Dante’s Inferno we are, day after day, condemned to repeating the past we have not studied.
(Coming Soon: The Political Spectrum – from Left to Right and Everything In Between!)
Trump’s Reality Show:
Stranger Things Meets The Walking Dead
Before we examine Trump’s Reality Show let’s establish one fact: “private” and “secret” are not the same. The Republicans know full well that the House of Representatives impeachment hearings that are going on are private --- just as the Benghazi hearings were several years ago, when the Republicans ran the House. Their claim that, somehow, we are witnessing a “Soviet Union” style takeover of our government, that secret meetings are taking place are pure and utter bullshit. They know better. 47 Republicans are on the Committees hearing the testimony. “Secret?” But the actions of those 40 or so Republican Congressman yesterday was disingenuous --- some of the Animal House disruption group were actually members of the Committees and have been hearing testimony! Private hearings, yes; secret meetings? Not even close. But their action does reflect how the Trump Reality Show works.
Stranger Things is a science fiction/horror procedural (Netflix) and its first season was released on July 15, 2016 --- right in the middle of the election. For those who are not familiar with the show ,it revolves around people, particularly a group of tweens and the town’s Police Chief, in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. It seems “a portal to an alternate dimension, the Upside Down” (wiki) has been discovered in Hawkins. Without belaboring what goes on in the show, what we should consider is that the United States of America passed through a portal to an alternate “Upside Down” dimension on November 8, 2016. The ascendance of Donald Trump to the Presidency has been, for many of us, our own personal science fiction/horror Reality Show. But Stranger Things is not the only popular program Trump co-opted. No, no, no. He also noticed that The Walking Dead, a post-apocalyptic horror series was wildly popular. The idea of recruiting a Zombie Army (as Charles Blow details in today’s New York Times) would keep him popular enough to make it through his Presidency and, maybe, even gain a second term.
The Ukraine Scandal has disrupted Trump’s show, of course, but I think it’s important for those of us who continue to watch this science fiction/horror show to really look at how and why it manages to survive. As Charles Blow notes in his column (Donald Trump, Life of a Zombie Party, Oct. 23, 2019, NY Times), “Trump is the embodiment of the Republican voter and a personification of their ambitions and fears.” He continues, noting: “Trump (has made) himself into the voodoo doll of conservative politics: Whatever pain he felt, his supporters would feel, and they would object to it in unison.” Indeed, Trump’s recent appeals in his Pep Rallies is as “We,” rather than his usual “I.” As Blow so eloquently puts it: “There is no separation between the Republican Party and Donald Trump. In fact, Trump killed the old Republican Party and now he alone animates the zombie party that lurched forward after its death.” And we know who the villains of the Trump Stranger Things/Walking Dead Reality Show are: “These Democrats --- the women, the minorities, the Jewish, the gay --- are torturing the white man. And he inverted the language of anti-black white supremacist terror (lynching) to make the hollow point of white supremacist patriarchal victimhood.” (Blow, NY Times)
And that’s really where it all starts. When Blow claims Trump is the “personification of their ambitions and fears” the real focal point is fears. A recent Pew Research Study on Race in America provides some valuable insight into how the Trump cancer took root in our Body Politic. When presented with the phrase, “Race relations in the U.S. are generally bad,” 71% of Black people agreed, while only 56% of whites did. When presented with "Trump has made race relations worse” 73% of Blacks agreed, but only 49% of whites. When asked to consider “Our country hasn’t gone far enough in giving blacks equal rights with whites” 78% of Blacks agreed; only 37% of whites did. Those statements --- and the gap between white and black responses --- are at the heart of Trump’s ascendance. White privilege and white supremacy have been severely challenged as our 21st Century has progressed --- particularly with the election of Barack Obama. Trump’s challenge of Obama’s nativity was the gauntlet he threw down and white people, particularly whites who (somehow) believe they are now getting the short end of the stick in American society, have rallied around him.
The Pew Study elaborates the chasm between the political parties. When presented with the statement:
Trump’s posing as a Victim --- particularly as a rich, white, male victim --- is what appeals to his “base.” And Republican legislators are so afraid of losing their seats to a Tweetstorm , they ignore the clear evidence that “high crimes and misdemeanors” have been committed by the President of the United States. Zombie-like, they attack the process, they create their own “Fake News,” they rely on State Media/Fox News to keep their “base” in the dark, and the Trump Stranger Things/Walking Dead Reality Show moves inexorably to its impeachment showdown. How many of the Zombies will fall by the wayside before Trump faces removal (Rudy? Lev and Igor? Rick Perry? Pence?) --- who knows? Just keep your focus on the facts and the actual reality: Trump’s white supremacist appeals to his base and the cowardice of Republican elected officials when faced with their “Profile in Courage” moment are the story, the real show.
The President’s “Lynching” (?),
The Republican Stunt,
Lindsay Graham has Lost his Mind!
What a week! Where to begin? The Tweeter-in-Chief, in another attempt at distracting people from watching his impeachment probe continue, has claimed the process is a “lynching.” Republican members of the House of Representatives stormed a Committee Room today in their attempt to attack the “process” (of impeachment), since they can’t attack the substance of it. And, of course, there’s Lindsay Graham, who, during the 2016 Republican primaries called Trump “crazy,” and a “kook” and “not fit to be President.” When Trump, appallingly, claimed he was being “lynched,” Graham immediately found some microphones to spout off in. Graham claimed “I think it’s pretty well accurate --- this is a shame, this is a joke. This is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American. I’ve never seen a situation in my lifetime as a lawyer where somebody’s accused of a major misconduct who cannot confront the accusers, call witnesses on their behalf, and have the discussion in the light of day so the public can judge.”
Let’s take the measure of Graham’s statement before considering the action of the Republican House members or Trump’s outlandish and offensive (on so many levels) “lynching” claim. If Graham were, in fact, a competent lawyer or legislator, he would (and probably does) know that what’s going on in the Democratic controlled House of Representatives Committee meetings right now is the equivalent of Grand Jury hearings in criminal court. Because Trump’s Attorney General Bill Barr has blatantly ignored his responsibility/obligation to investigate the Ukraine quid pro quo scandal, the House of Representatives is conducting the investigation. The meetings are closed and (somewhat) secretive because you do not want witnesses knowing what other witnesses said --- they shouldn’t be able to coordinate testimony. This “right” to “know his accusers” is pure and utter bullshit. Impeachment is a political process and the codified “rule of law” (which Trump disregards on a daily basis, btw!) does not apply the way it would in a legal proceeding. Graham knows this but, as a Trump butt-boy, he is obligated to obscure the truth as much as possible and do the bidding of the petty Boss in the White House.
The stunt the Republicans pulled Wednesday, disrupting a secure hearing, reinforces that they have nothing of substance to offer in defense of their “Leader,” and can only make impotent gestures, creating a momentary pause in the inexorable progression toward impeachment. As reported by Mark Sumner in The Daily Kos:
Over two dozen Republicans flooded into the closed meeting room where testimony was to be heard. They will certainly be thrown out—but not before they’ve disrupted the hearing, shaken their fists at House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and gotten their five minutes of hate bottled up for display on Fox News. In the process, they also disrupted the morning’s hearings, delaying the testimony of defense official Laura Cooper.
What the Republicans did is absolutely as bad as if outsiders had charged into a conference in a judge’s chambers, it was a violation not just of House rules, but of the foundations of how Congress deals with secure information. Deliberately disrupting a hearing and violating security by bringing cell phones into a posted secure area are egregious violations of House rules. (bold, mine)
Violating House rules means nothing to the “law and order” Republicans who, like Lindsay Graham, are blind to reality and only follow marching orders from the White House. The House Republican stunt was led by the dim-witted Matt Gaetz (just listen to him for a few minutes and it’s clear the man is probably challenged getting dressed each day) and provided a brief distraction. The House Committees will proceed and Trump will be impeached.
As far as Trump goes, his likening his treatment by the House to a “lynching” is beyond offensive and harkens back to Clarence Thomas’s last gasp to save his Supreme Court seat (thanks, Joe Biden, btw!). We know that the President doesn’t read, that he believes Frederick Douglass is doing some “great work” in 2019, and that he genuinely believes each day in Office is a day on the set of The Appresident reality show. That he could so lightly throw out a term that evokes such horror and brutality reflects what we already know about the man’s callous insensitivity.
His blatant appeal to the basest instincts of his voters --- who believe, as a recent Pew Research study indicates, that white people are being discriminated against in our current society --- is par for the course. The Pew Study shows that 56% of Americans believe Trump has “made race relations worse” since taking office and 65% believe “expressing racist or racially insensitive views” has become more common since Trump was sworn in. Certainly, we can see that --- and should also note that Fox News, in particular, has been complicit in beating the drum for white supremacy (“We want to go back to the way it was, when America was ‘great’!”) Trump’s ignorance, combined with his Fox News bullhorn, his Administration’s lackeys, and all the Republican Senators and Representatives who have become Trump butt-boys/girls, will continue to try to salvage this utterly failed Presidency, at the expense of the American people, the Ukrainians, and the Kurd, to name a few. All roads lead to Moscow, of course, with Putin being the one who profits most from the ineptitude we have to watch each day.
2019 N.Y. Yankees: R.I.P.?
Saturday, October 19, 2019
I started writing this on Friday evening, before Game 5 between my beloved New York Yankees and the Astros of Houston at the Big Ballpark. Despite the Yankees victory (4-1) on Friday night, behind a great performance from James Paxton, I am not optimistic about taking two games in Houston over this weekend. And not just because of the team’s performance in their three losses (which was demonstrably miserable). Realistically looking at our roster --- and the pitching staff, in particular --- this team is not “built to win” a World Series. In fact, it is not built to make it to the World Series. The old adage “Great pitching beats great hitting” has been proven time and again --- and we are watching that in both leagues right now. Despite the Kansas City Royals 2016 championship, carried by their bullpen and featuring a relatively undistinguished starting rotation, strong starting pitching is still the key to winning the World Series.
The Washington Nationals, with three stud pitchers (Strasburg, Scherzer, Corbin) and the Astros (with Verlander, Cole, and Greinke) will almost surely be this year’s World Series opponents --- and it should be a great one (though I’ll probably only watch an inning here and an inning there, if the Yanks are out of it). Great pitching beats great hitting. Last year the Astros lost the ALCS because they ran into the Boston Red Sox buzz saw offense combined with two Cy Young Award winning pitchers (David Price, Rick Porcello) and a third perennial Cy Young candidate (Chris Sale). And the Astros also had two Cy Young winners (Verlander and Keuchel) as well as this year’s probable winner, Gerrit Cole.
The last time the Yankees won the World Series, in 2009, they had (the young) C.C. Sabathia, Andy Petitte (best postseason starter ever?), and A.J. Burnett (not great, but more than fine as a third starter). They beat the Phillies in six games (the Phillies, by the way, had Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and rookie-of-the year candidate, J.A.Happ). And this season? James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino --- none of whom is a legitimate #1 Starter a la Verlander, Scherzer (former Detroit Tiger teammates), Strasburg, or Cole. The point here is simple: without stellar starting pitching, something the Yankees have struggled with all season, it is difficult to get to, much less win, the World Series. Despite my great respect for Brian Cashman, he has failed, rather spectacularly, in the area of Starting Pitching. Two years ago, he let Houston trade for Cole (because he would not consider giving up Miguel Andujar and Clint Frazier --- and, yes, hindsight is 20-20 . . . but…..) and last winter he wouldn’t spend money for Corbin (probably this year’s version of A.J. Burnett --- who was 1-1 in the 2009 Series, btw).
Tonight will be a bullpen game for both teams and, with luck, the Yankees will prevail, as they did in Game One in Houston, setting up a Gerrit Cole/Luis Severino showdown in Minute Maid Park on Sunday night. There’s nothing like a Game Seven in a League Championship Series but, at least on paper, the odds are definitely in Houston’s favor (Cole hasn’t lost a game since June or July!). As a diehard fan, I’m still hoping against hope and root/root/rooting for my home team. Should the Yankees pull off the upset/miracle (rather than repeating their 2017 7th game ALCS loss) they then will have to face the Nationals (and their pitchers!) --- but they would have Home Field Advantage (which, of course, they squandered in this Houston series by losing the second game in extra innings, as I see it). Stranger things have happened, greater upsets have occurred but, as they say, that’s why they play the games.
And maybe this winter Cashman will finally nail down some topflight, front line starting pitching.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
You’re A-Toady General
Behind all the sturm und drang of the Trump Presidency --- particularly regarding the impeachment inquiry and the Syrian withdrawal --- we might want to take a closer look at the actions (or inaction) of Attorney General William Barr. The attempt to bury the whistleblower complaint, citing Trump’s criminal phone call to Ukraine President Zelensky, by Barr is just the latest in this Attorney General’s actions that reveal him to perceive his role as the President’s attorney and not the head of the Justice Department. For those of us who opposed Barr’s appointment (despite the complicit Media touting he’s “fair-minded,” etc.) we can see this is totally consistent with Barr’s history --- and explains (for those with short memories) why he was barely appointed by a 54-45 vote (the three Democratic defections were from “purple” states --- Alabama, West Virginia, Arizona --- along with Rand Paul’s “no” and Richard Burr’s “present/no vote.) Earlier this year, Barr gave the Justice Department’s Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service to lawyers who backed Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court --- a confirmation hearing that featured a curtailed investigation by the Justice Department’s FBI! In other words, we are pretty clear where Bill Barr stands regarding Trump, corruption, and criminality.
If you check out Barr’s biography on Wikipedia you’ll find all you need to know about our A-Toady General. He is “a longtime proponent of the unitary executive theory of nearly unfettered presidential authority.” Is it any wonder Trump loves this guy? Regarding his politics, Barr has argued, throughout his career, for increased incarceration rates (his report, drafted during the H.W. Bush administration was used as the primary source for the disastrous Clinton Crime Bill in the mid-1990s). As part of the Catholic-Conservative Complex (with Roberts, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Alito, Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia, to name a few others), “he believed the constitution was not originally intended to create a right to abortion.” (wiki) It should be noted that during his first tenure as AG, under George H.W. Bush, Barr shifted three hundred FBI agents from counterintelligence to investigate gang violence and “violent” crime (leaving the door open for the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993). He manipulated data (using decade intervals rather than 5-year statistics) to justify his “more incarceration” argument, which shouldn’t surprise us after reading his “summary” of the Mueller report --- which was also manipulated to “exonerate” Trump.
Regarding the current scandals, we should note that this is not Barr’s first rodeo, either. He was the Attorney General when the Iran-Contra scandal’s investigation revealed “evidence of a conspiracy among the highest-ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American people.” Former Secretary of Defense Caspar “Weinberger was scheduled to stand trial on felony charges on January 5, 1993” (wiki), with possible testimony that would implicate President GHW Bush as a co-conspirator (when he was Reagan’s VP). “On December 24, 1992, during his final month in office, Bush, on the advice of Barr, pardoned Weinberger.” (wiki – bold/italics mine) Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh made it clear that he considered that move a “cover-up” and William Safire, in The New York Times, referred to Barr as “Coverup-General Barr” (wiki) The past is prologue, dear readers. We should anticipate comparable legal gymnastics from the Coverup-General in the coming months.
Let’s be clear how Barr got to where he is. In 2017 he stated publicly that there was “nothing inherently wrong” with Trump calling on Hillary Clinton to be investigated when they were running for President (even though he did, as you may recall, ask for “Russia, if you’re listening . . . “ to help!). (wiki) Barr even went so far as to claim there was more validity in investigating Clinton’s connection to the Uranium One (non) controversy than in Trump’s Russian collusion. He also supported Trump’s firing of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for her refusal to enforce the Muslim Travel Ban Executive Order. Finally, in “June 2018, Barr sent an unsolicited 20-page memo to senior Justice Department officials, and to members of Trump’s legal team, with some of whom he discussed the memo. . . . Democrats later characterized the memo as Barr’s ‘job application’ for the Attorney General position.” (wiki)
Since his appointment Barr has essentially been a “champion and advocate” for Trump (an Associated Press characterization – wiki). Beyond misrepresenting the Mueller Report (claiming, for instance, that the White House had completely cooperated with the Investigation -- a bald-faced lie), Barr has instructed Justice Department members to not comply with Congressional subpoenas and, as of May 2019, he was held in contempt of Congress. Undeterred, Barr has supported Trump’s claim that the Whistleblower is a “spy” and has pursued the wild conspiracy theory that led to his opening a 3rd investigation (at the request of Trump) into the “origins” of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Regarding other Trump policies, Barr supports “an aggressive ‘law and order’ agenda on immigration,” the death penalty, and has consistently voiced his opinion that “traditional moral norms” have loosened divorce laws, allowed abortion, and promoted gay rights. (wiki) If all that is not enough evidence of where this A-Toady General stands, and why he should be impeached, you should also know that he is, according to his Wikipedia bio, “an avid bagpiper.” That sealed it for me! Trump’s unholy prattle and clatter is bad enough, we don’t need Barr’s bagpipes providing more cacophony in the background.