You Better Start Swimming Or You’ll Sink Like A Stone

Friday, 7 September 2018, 19:19 | Category : Politics
Tags :

Many years ago, I was driving through the Mississippi Delta right after a storm front that dropped several inches of rain over a large area. Flood waters had risen along both sides of US 49. I came upon one farm where the cattle had been forced onto the few raised areas, far too small to be called hills. As the water continued to rise, the cows were forced closer and closer together as the dry land shrank. There were tightly-packed groups scattered across the fields.

I thought about those cows this week after hearing about Bob Woodward’s new book, and reading the anonymous op/ed in the New York Times. Like the cows, Trump’s supporters are being forced into a smaller and smaller island of thought. They can simply choose the route of disbelief, placing their faith in the idea that the media lies, that the Democrats are obstructing, that there are conspiracies to keep Trump from succeeding. But now the claims of Trump’s unfitness for the job, his erratic behavior, his inherent temperamental incompatibility with the requirements of the Presidency, are coming from within his own administration. His supporters are steadfast, taking comfort in their shared belief. But the waters keep rising, and they have to exist in an ever-shrinking intellectual space. They’ve had to discard the idea that personal morality matters, that sexual transgressions are wrong, that truth is important, that mocking the disabled is wrong, that deficits are bad, that relations with traditional allies mean something. The road behind Trump’s supporters is littered with the discarded truths that they once proclaimed so intensely. Now they have to choose again: are these stories all made up, or have some of those close to Trump suddenly become conspirators against him? Because past experience says that the one thing they won’t do is decide that he actually is unfit to be President.

I Hate Republicans

Thursday, 12 July 2018, 18:39 | Category : Politics
Tags :

I hate Republicans. I used to say I didn’t really hate all Republicans, because there were some good people among them that I just disagreed with on political issues. But that was before they decided that the only thing that mattered was blind support of Donald Trump. Events like today’s hearing reveal people like Trey Gowdy for the complete tool that they are, willing to toss away any shred of integrity they might still have to push the Trump support topic of the day. There is no Republican party any more, just a Donald Trump personality cult. And they’re willing to destroy the country to support him.

Donald Trump In The China Shop

Wednesday, 11 July 2018, 6:29 | Category : History, Politics
Tags :

I read recently that the objective of the Cold War was to defeat the Soviet Union, but the achievement was to build the West. We’ve lived with the concept of “the West” so long we’ve forgotten that, prior to 1945, there was no such concept. The geopolitical paradigm was very much the Old World and the New, with fleeting acknowledgement of China and, to a lesser extent, Japan. Russia was part of Europe, even as it moved deeper into Communism. The United States, after World War I, retreated into isolationism to atone for it’s mistake in joining a “European” war. World War II forced America to rejoin the world, but even in the victory-infused days of late 1945 there was no clear understanding of what that world would be. Europe was devastated by six years of modern total warfare. China as it had been viewed in 1940 had been revealed to be en empty shell. Japan, even in defeat, had ironically become the most significant Asian nation. There were two centers of power in the world, the United States and the Soviet Union, separated by a world laid waste. There was concern about what Stalin’s Soviet Union would do, but there was no concept of “the West”. There was only the concept of the Allies, which mostly meant the United States and the Soviet Union, with Britain as effectively a junior partner and France, Italy, and the other European allies almost auxiliary members. Britain and France hadn’t yet accepted that their time as colonial powers was over. Germany was being disassembled piece by piece. There was concern about what the Soviet Union would do, and as it became obvious that Stalin was going to assert Soviet domination over Eastern Europe, the remaining Allied countries realized that the pre-war relationships would not be effective counters, especially after the Soviets began to isolate eastern Germany. Militarily, Britain, France, and the other European allies were too exhausted to offer any resistance should Stalin decide to move west. Thus NATO was born, first as a political association, and later, after the Korean War, as a standing military alliance. From the European perspective, the purpose was “to keep the Soviet Union out, the Americans in, and Germany down”. Above all, they wanted to avoid a third war. And so, America joined the Old World, or more accurately, the Old World joined America, and the concept of the West was born.

From roughly 1950 until the fall of the Soviet Union, that was the world in which we lived, the West vs. the Communist bloc. Early on, “West” lost its geographical meaning – the addition of Japan was enough to demonstrate that – and attained a geopolitical meaning that far exceeded anything prewar Europe had defined. The United States dominated the directions taken by the West, whether militarily, economically, or even culturally. As the economies of other countries recovered from World War II, the economic dominance of America began to wain, as Japan and Germany especially grew their economies while the US was dealing with Reagan’s increase in defense spending, instability in the oil markets, and a recession. But the West was still cohesive, and remained so through conflicts in Iraq, and Afghanistan, and Syria, at least initially. NATO gave the world 70 years of peace at a time when the weapons of war could easily end civilization as we know it. In 1949, few on either side of the Iron Curtain could have foreseen that.

Into this world came the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States. And in the eighteen months since his inauguration, he has confused, antagonized, and insulted our NATO allies over and over, while praising Vladimir Putin and taking every opportunity to cozy up to his authoritarian rule. With his limited grasp of history and geopolitics, he has become the classic bull in a china shop, except that he seems to be doing the damage deliberately, like a child who destroys something without knowing or caring what it does. Under Donald Trump, the United States is retreating from the world, creating vacuums which other nations – China and Russia in particular – will eagerly rush to fill. The damage he is doing to our international standing will take many, many years to repair, if indeed it can ever be done.

On September 12, 2001, the French newspaper Le Monde’s headline read “Nous sommes tous Américains” – “We are all Americans”. For the first time in its history, NATO invoked Article 5, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on all. At a time when America was as badly shaken as it as ever been, NATO – those same European allies that Donald Trump insults – rushed to make it clear that they stood with us. You have to wonder if they will do it the next time.

Please Don’t Stop Trying

Tuesday, 3 October 2017, 10:58 | Category : Life, Politics
Tags :

When I was in Belfast 10 days ago, I saw the “peace wall” and got depressed. The progress I thought they had made really isn’t there. Basically, they’ve stopped killing each other, which is good, for sure, but you just get the feeling that it could all come crashing down with one incident. Our cab driver (we took the Black Cab Tour, which was great, BTW) told us he didn’t think that would happen, because they’ve come too far, but still…

But as I was reading the messages written on the wall, some good, some mundane, some just typical graffiti garbage, one small phrase near the ground jumped out at me:

“Please don’t stop trying”.

If I could find whoever wrote that, I would give them an enormous bear hug. It kept the spark from going out. Today, 5000 miles away, we need to write that message again.

“Please don’t stop trying”

When maniacs kill dozens of people with guns that are adored by the NRA and their gun-worshiping sheep, and they tell us new laws won’t stop it – please don’t stop trying.

When the president lies about everything, and his supporters stay with him regardless, and you think there is no hope for sanity in our political system – please don’t stop trying.

When it seems like the social progress we’ve made over the past fifty years is suddenly rolling back – please don’t stop trying.

Please don’t stop trying.

Senate Pondering

Thursday, 30 October 2014, 14:39 | Category : Politics
Tags :

With just a few days left before election day, it’s getting more and more difficult to see a way that Democrats retain control of the Senate. In Montana and South Dakota, the Democratic candidate has essentially no chance. In Arkansas and Iowa, slim chances appear to be slipping away. Colorado, somewhat surprisingly, is moving in favor of Cory Gardner (R), even though Mark Udall seems to be a fairly popular incumbent. Mary Landrieu in Louisiana looks increasingly like a losing candidate. Lose those six states with no offsetting Democratic gains, and the Republicans take control of the Senate, 51-49. Of those, Colorado looks like the best chance for Democrats to hold on, but if the polls are correct, that chance is fading. And there are other states where Democrats could well lose their seats – Alaska, North Carolina, New Hampshire. Kay Hagan appeared to have stabilized her race in North Carolina, but the past few days have seen her lead shrinking. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is a couple of points behind in most polls, but Alaska polls are notoriously inaccurate, so nobody can really say what’s happening there. Jeanne Shaheen looks like she’s ahead in New Hampshire, but the race is tight. On the Republican side, two races that should be safe are surprisingly not, and the most surprising is in Kentucky, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in a very tight race with Allison Lundergan Grimes. Georgia, a red state that is beginning to trend purple, wasn’t expected to be a problem for Republicans, but David Perdue (R) and Michelle Nunn (D) are probably headed to a January runoff. And then there’s Kansas, which will either re-elect a very unpopular Republican (Pat Roberts) or elect an independent (Greg Orman) who isn’t saying which party he would caucus with.

What’s the likely worst case for Democrats? Losing all six of the states where they’re in the most trouble, and adding one or more losses in North Carolina/New Hampshire/Alaska would put Republicans in control with somewhere between a 51-49 advantage and a 54-46 advantage. And given the factors lined up against Democrats – President Obama’s unpopularity, traditional mid-term losses by the President’s party in the mid-term of his last term, and the lack of gaffe-prone Republican candidates this time around – the most likely outcome is a Senate that ends up with 52 or 53 Republicans. But if Democrats somehow manage to hold on to their expected wins, and salvage victories in a couple of their endangered seats – say, Colorado and Iowa – or pull off upsets in Kentucky or Georgia, then they could retain control with 50 or 51 seats (a 50-50 tie keeps Democrats in charge with Vice-President Biden casting the tie-breaking vote). That would be a shocker, however. And given the advantages for Republicans this time around, a Senate still controlled by Democrats would be a crushing defeat for Republicans.

Why? Because 2016 could be a strong year for Senate Democrats. 23 Republicans will be up for re-election, compared to only 10 Democrats. And among those 23 Republicans are a number in traditionally blue states: Illinois, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. John McCain (Arizona) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) could well retire. And if a Republican Senate majority following 2014 starts playing hard to the Tea Party faction, they could turn many moderates against them. So a Republican win in 2014, while painful for Democrats, may be a short-lived pain, and could actually enhance Democratic prospects in both the 2016 Senate and Presidential races.