It’s all Greek to me

greek alphabet

It is a sickness which somehow comes with every tyranny: to place no trust in friends. Aeschylus, “Prometheus Bound

 

Maybe it was a case of too much feasting during the Thanksgiving break. It could have something to do with overdosing on football. And there’s the desire to find somewhere else to be rather than listen to another family argument over whether it’s “stuffing” or “dressing”. Whatever the cause, I found myself searching Google for any little distraction that could help clear my mind of the holiday blahs.

How I ended up skimming through obscure ancient Greek tragedies is anybody’s guess, but that’s where I found the quote that begins this column. Strangely enough, it seems to fit nicely with recent headlines. 

They have eyes, but…

As the impeachment of President Trump heats up, the speculation intensifies. Will Democrats in the House be able to make a convincing argument? Is there a single Republican in Congress who is willing to put Country ahead of Party? Could the entire process work to Trump’s advantage, giving him the inside track toward a successful re-election? It’s impossible to guess, so I encourage you to avoid betting on the outcome. But there are a few things we know for sure.

We know that it was a team of Russians – NOT Ukraine –  that orchestrated a social media campaign designed to interfere in the 2016 election, working to mislead the American public with false propaganda. We know that Russian hackers managed to gain access to voter databases and political playbooks. And we know that all this was done with the approval of and under the watchful eye of long-time KGB agent Vladimir Putin.  We know what happened because our intelligence agencies told us what happened. Their overwhelming conclusion that Russia was responsible cannot be ignored. These are Americans who take their work – and our lives and security – seriously. You might be able to argue a point here, a point there. But when non-partisan, seasoned professionals bring the facts by the truckload, it’s time for you to set aside the Facebook rumors and show them some respect.

But that’s not where we are, America. We no longer can count on the average American putting trust in the facts. Instead, millions of otherwise practical adults are forfeiting their common sense, turning their minds over to whichever loud and flashy internet meme is the latest to capture their attention.

Or, whichever loud politician in an ill-fitted suit is shouting into the nearest microphone.

Have we no shame?

I find it embarrassing that so many people continue to stand behind this president. He may appeal to their deeply-held prejudices and fear, or they just might be so disengaged that they just don’t care if Trump is lying to them on a daily basis. But I just can’t understand how they can allow some of his most egregious actions to go unchallenged.

This president not only refuses to believe evidence of Russia’s malfeasance as provided by seventeen intelligence agencies, he bends over backwards to give Putin special favors. 

Trump works against the advice of military leaders, putting our service members and allies in grave danger and effectively handing control over to tyrants.

He publicly degrades our legal system, granting pardons to some and dangling a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in front of others.

The president can’t deal with the honest testimony of Americans in Congressional hearings, so instead he and his closest supporters falsely attack the integrity and loyalty of those who dare to come forward. I’m guessing that the Ghost of Joe McCarthy is giving Trump a thumbs up.

He has even used the pardon of a convicted Navy SEAL as a means of claiming his support of the armed services, even though that decision throws the entire military justice system under the bus.

And still, his followers think he can do no wrong. 

Once upon a time, the Republican Party claimed to stand for law & order and unending loyalty to our troops. If that were still the case, then our president would consider our intelligence agencies and military to be his bestest friends. But as Trump continues to quack like a tyrannical duck, Aeschylus’ quote seems to be more accurate with each passing day. 

What good will come of this?

It looks now that the House is just days away from voting on assorted articles of impeachment, sending the case to the Senate for a possible trial. As I’ve said many times before, there is no chance that Mitch McConnell and the Republican-controlled Senate will vote to convict the president, no matter how strong the argument and evidence. But wrapping up the impeachment proceedings quickly actually works to the benefit of Democrats running for congressional seats, if not also those seeking the White House. By forcing Republicans to go on the record and give the president a free pass, voters will be encouraged to take out their frustrations at the ballot box. Democrats will make the argument that Republicans can’t be trusted to stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law. 

It’s a risky strategy that just might work. But I’m not willing to bet the farm on it. Not yet, at least.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald December 5, 2019.)

All for one?

penny

E pluribus unum. Even if you never studied Latin, that fairly simple phrase is probably very familiar. You may have only a passing interest in American history, but those words surely stand out. As one of the traditional mottos of the United States, it says so much about our nation. Directly translated, it means “Out of many, one.” It represents the union that formed when the original thirteen colonies became a cohesive single nation. 

What e pluribus unum says to me is: we are all Americans. We can have different philosophies and opinions, but at the end of the day we can look around and say that each one of us is a building block that, when brought together, form a unique and successful nation. We are individuals, sure. But we are also the flesh and blood of what we proudly declare to be the greatest country on the planet.

And yet, many among us seem to take great pleasure in pushing us apart.

Opinions are like…well, you know

In most presidential elections, we are handed a mixed bag of candidates. Some stand out as possessing leadership skills while others appear to be in the race just to become famous. With a combination of creative speechmaking, expensive advertising, and the good fortune to make fewer mistakes than the opponents, one candidate eventually outlasts the pack and is nominated by the Party to lead the ticket going into the Big Show. Since the USA’s political structure is not that much different than our love of competitive sports, the choice comes down to a head-to-head matchup of one Democrat and one Republican. And then, the real fight begins. 

But it’s not limited to the two main opponents. The primary system may in theory be a means of separating the best from the rest, but hard feelings can and do get in the way. By pledging support to an individual candidate early on, some voters just can’t bring themselves to maintain that excitement when their choice doesn’t survive the process. And that lack of enthusiasm can create just the opening that gives the troublemakers the opportunity to make a little political mischief.

We saw that in the 2016 campaign, coming at us from across the nation and from nefarious global interests. We can expect much more in the next election. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a liar or a fool. More likely, both.

 I’m sick and tired of…

The nastiness comes at you from all directions. From the president on down, our elected officials can capture your attention with a personal appearance, a featured interview, or a handful of (often misspelled) words in a tweet. The politicians do a mighty fine job of confusing the masses.

Complicating the mess are the millions of pundits, professional and amateur, who find a way to get their message to you. Nationally-distributed TV and radio shows, websites, social media, newspaper columns… all are fertile territory for political discussions. Full disclosure: yours truly is one of that multitude, with this column (and blog site) mostly devoted to providing my two cents on the subject. 

I like to think that I provide a fact-supported viewpoint, though I’m not so naive to think that everyone will agree. But I would hope that my readers can see that I present an opinion without resorting to the childishness that is so easily found on pages just like this one.

Our current political climate seems to depend heavily on misinformation and name-calling. Distorting (or simply ignoring) the facts is a given, as are verbal attacks of an increasingly dangerous level. For many, it’s not enough to just disagree when faced with a contrasting opinion. The very notion that someone has a totally different way of thinking is all it takes to cause otherwise rational adults to toss aside any sense of civility. 

Our nation’s editorial pages are flooded with letters and opinion pieces that serve no purpose except to question the intelligence and patriotism of others. The writers take great pleasure in finding new ways to say the same hateful things. But what they seem to miss is this obvious fact: When you have nothing to say in defense of your candidate or position except to attack the other side, you really have nothing to say.

…being sick and tired

Is there a solution? Can we mend the wounds that all this divisiveness has inflicted upon our fellow Americans? Sadly, the answer may be “no”. Or, at least, “not yet”. The brokenness that we live in can’t be repaired with one hand. As long as it is more satisfying to draw attention to the things that separate us than to embrace the ideals that bring us together, we cannot expect to heal.

Clearly, some among us have no use for unity. They thrive on bitterness and will do and say whatever is necessary to keep us at each others’ throats. It is up to mature, thinking Americans to reject the bullies and blowhards. Are we up to the challenge?

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald November 7, 2019.)

The time has come

steampunk-wall-clock

Benjamin Franklin was quite a character. He was a statesman, a writer, a ladies’ man, an inventor, and a word thief. You may remember old Ben’s famous quote, “..in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” That was part of a letter in 1789 in which Franklin was summing up his thoughts about our nation’s then-new Constitution, but in doing so he borrowed that now-famous quote from the author of “Robinson Crusoe”. Daniel Defoe penned the phrase, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believ’d,” in 1726, but even he was not afraid of stealing a good line when he saw one. A few years before Defoe included that thought in “The Political History of the Devil,” it was Christopher Bullock who wrote, “’Tis impossible to be sure of any thing but Death and Taxes,”

We can argue about original thoughts – and 18th Century plagiarism – but this much is clear: Bullock, Defoe and Franklin were each very sure that some things are inevitable.

And now, so is the other “I” word.

 

Im-Peachy Keen

I’m not alone in thinking the Democrats in Congress would never get to this stage. When it comes to using the powers granted to them in the Constitution, the current majority party has been dragging its feet like it was a child unwilling to leave the house on the first day of school. Obviously, their hands were somewhat tied for two years as the Republicans controlled the House as well as the Senate. But in the wake of the 2018 midterms, the Democrats found themselves back in the driver’s seat and once more had the ability to convene hearings and issue subpoenas. (More on that later.)

 

And so here we are. Most Democrats in Congress have now decided that impeachment of President Trump is the logical, necessary next step. While impeachment is indeed a political act, it is also the formal process established by our nation’s founders to investigate possible wrongdoing of the president and, if the evidence is convincing, to remove him from office. While I don’t see it going that far (not with Republicans firmly in control in the Senate), I also had doubts that Democrats would summon the courage to do more than hold the occasional hearing and generate soundbites for the evening news.

 

Reading is fundamental

There are many people who are telling us that the entire idea of impeaching Donald Trump is a waste of time and money. They point to the Mueller report and make ludicrous claims of “total exoneration” and “no collusion”, but these feeble arguments have no foundation. Anyone who has actually read the report knows that Robert Mueller and his team drew no conclusions about collusion since that is not a legal term and by itself carries no true significance. What Mueller did find was conclusive evidence that the president and others within the administration were involved in a multi-layered scheme of obstructing justice. Don’t just take my word for it. It’s all right there in black and white if you’re willing to read it

Yet the Democrats should have known that the investigation would never lead to an early end of the Trump presidency. Mueller’s hands were tied by a Department of Justice policy that prevents the indictment of a sitting president no matter how serious is the crime. Yes, the president really could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not be arrested. (At least, not while in office.) Besides, how could anyone expect much from an investigation in which the Attorney General, who was hand-picked by the president, has final say?

But while Mueller’s findings may not provide the meat and potatoes that many Americans hoped for, the new whistleblower revelations just might. It’s too early to determine what might unfold, but I’ll say this: if the accusations that have already been revealed are not true (which is the argument by the president and his supporters), then why is Mr. Trump sending the Attorney General and others around the globe seeking the influence of other countries in our own system of government and our elections? That kind of panicked response is not what you would expect from an innocent man.

 

Don’t look for a Battle Royale

So the Democrats will convene impeachment hearings and issue subpoenas. At the time this column was coming together, President Trump’s personal attorney Rudi Giuliani was named in three subpoenas from House committees. But don’t expect much to come from that. Although he is always happy to appear on camera and spout utter nonsense, Giuliani is likely to simply ignore those Congressional edicts. He won’t provide documents and probably won’t show up to testify. It’s up to the Democrats to decide if they’re willing to use their Constitutional enforcement powers or if the administration will be allowed to continue to thumb its nose at the process. 

Here’s what we know: we are living in disturbing times. Too many people have decided that they’d rather ignore the obvious than give any credence to any facts that run counter to their own deeply-held convictions. In the end, there will always be those who refuse to be convinced. Admitting that they were wrong, that they were so easily deceived by a career con man, is more than they can accept.

 

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald October 3, 2019.)

Sympathy for the devil

Charlottesville

There are no good Nazis. Period. Full stop. Our parents and grandparents, those who made up what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation, joined forces with allies around the globe to defeat Hitler’s rampage. We pay tribute to those who sacrificed everything and we salute those who made it back home, each one of them a part of the greatest military force ever seen on this planet.

So I’ll say it again: there are no good Nazis. I’ll also go on record as saying there are no good KKK members.

And yet…

When Nazis, white supremacists, Klansmen, and other organizations with similar goals and desires came together last month in Charlottesville, their purpose was to voice their objection to the removal of statues and monuments that pay tribute to Robert E Lee and other notable figures of the Confederacy. Of course, it was much more than that.

With chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” coming from the tiki torch-bearing crowd, it was clear that the protest was about much more than Southern heritage.

This gathering of angry white men — many of whom wearing what appears to be the unofficial uniform of white supremacists, white polo shirts and khaki pants — apparently feel more emboldened than their predecessors who hid their identities beneath white sheets and hoods. That’s not surprising, considering that so many Americans still can’t handle the fact that a black man was elected to serve two terms in the White House.

They feel bold because, even after their protest march turned violent and resulted in a young woman’s death, President Trump could offer only a lackluster condemnation while also referring to some of the protestors as “fine people”. They feel rewarded by political pundits who, like Trump, engage in a “both sides” argument. Commentators took to radio and television, Facebook and Twitter, and newspapers large and small, taking great care to point out that the neo-Nazis were the ones with permits and First Amendment rights. We were told that everything would have been just fine if only the counter-protestors — those “liberals” and “leftists” — had not stepped in and caused trouble.

I wasn’t anywhere near Charlottesville that weekend but I have no problem saying this: if you were voluntarily marching in a crowd filled with people giving Nazi salutes and spitting out bigoted chants, you can’t expect us to consider you an example of “fine people”.  Our Constitution may allow groups to organize such events and protect even the most vile hate speech, but that treasured document doesn’t tell us we have to praise them for doing so.

The Rule of Law

The Constitution grants many protections besides free speech, of course. We all take for granted our ability to worship as we please, to lawfully own guns, and our protections in matters of criminal court cases. But not everyone agrees.

Arizona’s Joe Arpaio, the notorious former sheriff, stomped on the Constitutional rights of many Americans. Specifically, he was found to have violated the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures. Ordered to stop his actions, Arpaio not only continued his abuses, he bragged about his exploits. Found guilty of contempt and facing a possible jail sentence, Arpaio was instead pardoned by President Trump, whom the sheriff had vigorously endorsed during the 2016 campaign. The message couldn’t be more clear: when it comes to protecting his friends or the rest of us, Trump will side with those who do him favors.

Where’s the outrage?

You’d think that such blatant abuse of presidential power would cause Trump’s supporters to sour on him. You’d be wrong.

Remember those stories that flooded talk radio and social media in recent years? The ones that said President Obama was going to cancel the 2012 election? Or the ones that said he would cancel the 2016 election, giving himself a third term? Those stories were not just silly, they were incredibly irrational.

We don’t have national elections. We don’t have a singular presidential election. We have thousands of presidential elections. Every state, every county, every individual precinct. They’re not operated by the federal government, and they’re not controlled by the president. In order to cancel a presidential election, you would have to convince every polling place to refuse to print ballots and power up the voting machines.

It would take absolute agreement of the election boards in every one of those communities to stop our electoral process. Since we’re not living in a dictatorship or in some science fiction novel, you can surely see that it is impossible.

And yet, over half of Republicans said they support cancelling the 2020 election if President Trump proposed it. If congressional Republicans joined the president’s call, the number of Republicans who would approve climbs even higher.

The people who were practically tearing their hair out at the notion that President Obama would somehow circumvent the laws of this nation are now willing to allow President Trump to do just that.

Defending Nazis. Violating basic Constitutional rights. Making a mockery of our elections. I would ask, “What’s next?”, but I don’t think I want to know.

Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald September 7, 2017.)

True colors?

Trump WaPost

It amazes me that the President of the United States of America said this today:

“George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down—excuse me—are we going to take down—are we going to take down statues to George Washington? What about Thomas Jefferson?”

That is what a Klansman would say to defend himself, by making comparisons to our Founding Fathers, many of whom were slave owners.

Trump is a dangerous man. He stands for the ideals of the extremists of the white nationalists, and that’s not what America stands for.

Words that never were true

…just spoken to help nobody but you.

word cloud

In our 24/7/365 news cycle, there’s never a moment when the world stands still and gives us a chance to get caught up on the events of the day. For a newspaper columnist the challenge is to try to keep up, knowing that the next blockbuster headline is just around the corner. So, while they are fresh in our minds, let’s explore some recent events.

Seeing is believing?

After much speculation, we now know that members of the Trump presidential campaign were in direct talks with Russian contacts who were seeking to influence the 2016 election. This isn’t speculation. All parties who attended, including Donald Trump Jr., have come forward to admit that the meeting occurred, though there have been conflicting stories about the topics that were discussed.

Now, in a normal world, you’d think that we could agree on most of the facts. But since last November, it’s not as easy to call things ‘normal’. Take for example this excerpt from the results of a recent survey by Public Policy Polling. (This is insane.)

“On Russia related issues we find a certain degree of willful ignorance among Trump voters that can possibly best be summarized by this finding: only 45% of Trump voters believe Donald Trump Jr. had a meeting with Russians about information that might be harmful to Hillary Clinton…even though Trump Jr. admitted it. 32% say the meeting didn’t happen and 24% say they’re not sure.”

Notice that? Junior admitted that the meeting occurred, and he even released the emails that prove his intention was to obtain materials from the Russians that supposed would be harmful to Sec. Clinton’s chances in the presidential race.

Nearly a third of Trump voters deny the meeting occurred… EVEN THOUGH JUNIOR SAID IT DID. The facts are undeniable, yet most Trump voters can’t allow themselves to see the truth that’s right before their eyes. That’s much more than willful ignorance. That’s self-imposed destructive stupidity.

It’s not the crime, it’s the…

Even more mind-boggling than the average Trump voter’s inability to grasp reality is the public’s quick and easy acceptance of any wrongdoing by the president’s inner circles. Part of Donald Junior’s rotating fairy tales about his secret chat was an effort to make it seem like it was all about trying to help Americans adopt Russian children. Now we know that President Trump dictated Junior’s official statement, trying to give it a spin of innocence. Does the elder Trump have no trust in his oldest son’s ability to speak for himself, or is twisting the story part of a plan to hide something nefarious?

By taking charge and re-directing the narrative, President Trump took the lead role in an attempted cover-up. This could be the opening special counsel Robert Mueller needs in his investigation into the Putin-ordered hacking and other efforts to help win the election for Trump.

Maverick? Meh.

As one of three Republican senators who voted against an Obamacare-killing bill, John McCain has been hailed as a hero by many on the political left. But let’s not rush into that. Senator McCain may have been standing up for what he thinks is right, although he’s not shown any previous love for the Affordable Care Act, so I doubt he’s suddenly decided that President Obama’s big achievement is worthy of his support.

It could be that McCain truly wants to see Congress return to the days of bi-partisanship on major issues, and thinks that his vote will convince others to regain a bit of sensibility. Then again, McCain may just have wanted to deny President Trump a victory.

For me, I have strong doubts that Senator McCain can be seen as an advocate for expanded health insurance coverage. That would take much more political courage than I’ve seen from him in many years. Now, if he were to go on Meet the Press and apologize to the American people for making Sarah Palin famous, then I might be convinced that he has honorable intentions.

How much is too much?

One final thought: as President Trump wrapped up his first six months in office, his administration saw many internal shake ups. His press secretary resigned under pressure, his newly-named communications director was hired and fired in just eleven days, his Chief of Staff was replaced, and numerous attorneys and spokespeople have come and gone. You have to wonder if the well will run dry. I was asked, “How long until Trump has alienated a critical mass?” That is, will we reach the point where no one else will work for him?

I think not. Considering the players that have been members of this administration so far, I’d say this:

There’s plenty of evil, untalented fish in the ocean.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald August 3, 2017.)

And the winner loses all

loser

Imagine you’re watching the Super Bowl. It’s the New England Patriots taking on the Dallas Cowboys. Although it’s an exciting game, it’s a bit one-sided. Dallas scores one touchdown in each of the first three quarters while limiting the Patriots to a single field goal in each stanza. At the end of three quarters, the Cowboys hold a 21-9 lead. The fourth quarter, however, is a different story. While the Cowboys’ offense seems to have run out of gas, Tom Brady is suddenly able to pick apart the Cowboys secondary, leading his Patriots down the field again and again. Final score: New England 37, Dallas 21. The Patriots are the champs of the NFL.

Well, not exactly.

You see, the league decided that the actual score isn’t the best way to decide the winner. Instead, the team that outscores the opponent in each quarter is awarded one gold star, and whoever racks up the most stars is declared the winner.  So, since the Cowboys managed to score more points in each of the first three quarters, Dallas has three gold stars and the Patriots, who dominated the fourth quarter, have just one. Despite the final score, under the established rules the Cowboys are declared the winning team.

That, my friends, is how we elect the President of the United States.

As I was preparing to submit this column to the editor, Sec. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote (the actual votes cast) was a bit more than 2.3 million. That’s roughly equivalent to the population – every man, woman, and child – living in the city of Houston, Texas. In other words, if we simply counted how many people voted for which candidate and used that method for selecting our nation’s chief executive, we would not have a President-elect Donald Trump. But Hillary Clinton’s votes were concentrated in a few states, while Trump was able to claim victory in more, though less-populated, states. And, by nature of the point system that is the Electoral College, Trump earned the win even though he was out-scored.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the top vote-getter failed to grab the brass ring. It was just 16 years ago that George W Bush received less votes than Al Gore. Bush’s advantage in the Electoral College, however, was the determining factor of his success. Three other presidential races also ended with the keys to the White House handed to the candidate who fell short in the vote tally: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B Hayes in 1876, and Benjamin Harrison in 1888.

And now, barring a monumental recount that would flip the results in a handful of states — not likely — Donald Trump will take the oath of office next month.

As we prepare for our country’s first Reality Television President, we need to take a serious look at what to expect. Or rather, what not to expect.

First, there will be no wall on our southern border. Sure, Trump promised he’d build one. He bragged that it would be very tall and very beautiful… and that Mexico would pay for it. But in the first few days after the election, Trump was already backpedalling. Interviewed on “60 Minutes”, Trump admitted that the ‘wall’ will probably be more of a fence. Not exactly the impenetrable masterpiece his fans expected, is it?

Candidate Trump also pledged to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. President-elect Trump, on the other hand, told the Wall Street Journal that he likes several provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and is interested in leaving large parts of it in place.

When running his campaign, Trump led chants of “Drain the Swamp”, saying that he wanted to get the special interests out of government. But when you look at the people he’s likely to add to his administration, that’s just another broken promise. A Goldman Sachs banker with deep ties to Wall Street as Treasury Secretary? An Education Secretary who not only promotes for-profit corporate schools but also sits on the board of an organization — headed by Jeb Bush — that supports Common Core?

And while we’re on the subject of the Trump Cabinet, let’s not forget that he has considered naming Gen. David Petraeus to head the State Department. This is the guy who, while serving as CIA Director, shared classified information with his mistress.

But considering that Trump has spent more time on Twitter than he has on learning how to be president — avoiding important things like security briefings — it is clear that he lacks the desire to put in the hard work necessary for the job. I think that he also lacks the ability to learn, preferring instead to shove the hard stuff into somebody else’s hands.

Trump the candidate talked big. Trump the president has to live up to that talk. I don’t think he will, because I don’t think he can.

In a few weeks, he’ll have the chance to prove me wrong.

(Originally published in the Morrisons Cove Herald December 1, 2016.)