The Rule of Law

May 25, 2018

“We are a nation of laws, not of men” has been the bedrock principle of our Country since the very beginning. For generations, the rule of law safeguarded our freedoms during those dark times when the “better angels of our nature” were not apparent. This bedrock principle is under assault today. I am not referring to the stacking of the Courts with corporate shills and ideologues who ignore legal precedent (aka Federalists). The institutions of law have always proven to rise above the men that occupy the positions of power. Dredd-Scott, Segregation, and other Court sanctioned assaults on our freedoms were ultimately corrected. The problem we are facing now is more profound than that. I am referring to the corruption of the legal institutions themselves by the current Administration.

The bending of the Department of Justice to serve the needs of the President instead of the rule of law is beginning to break it. The meeting demanding the disclosure of evidence in a criminal investigation of the person being investigated is unprecedented in our history. And it’s a very bad precedent.

This is rapidly evolving from a national nightmare to an existential threat. When the justice system is used to serve the needs of the President in violate of investigative norms and laws, then we are no longer a democracy. This is not hyperbole. Throughout history it has always been true that the slightest compromise of the rule of law signals the beginning of totalitarian regimes. It’s that simple.

Memorial Day 2018

May 24, 2018

How distressingly ironic that just a few days before the Memorial Day Holiday weekend that a President would suggest that if people don’t stand respectfully during the national anthem they “probably” should not even stay in the Country?

For most Americans these days, Memorial Weekend has lost any meaning beyond the unofficial start of summer. It’s origin and intent were to set aside the time to remember and honor the men and women who died defending our freedom in wars. They didn’t fight to defend the National Anthem or any other symbol. They fought to defend our rights, including the right to free speech and assembly.

The billionaire NFL owners do have the right to tell their employees what they can do or not do while working, so technically and legally, they have the right to tell players (almost all African-Americans) to shut up, stand and salute the way the owners want. Morally… that’s a different argument. The players made it clear that kneeling during the National Anthem was no disrespect to the flag, veterans or the Country. They were calling attention to the real problem of a double standard – a lethal double standard – of law enforcement in the Country. You know… all men are created equal? You could argue that the form of the protest distracted from their intent, but the defense of the principle of equal justice under the law is worth speaking out.

Until now, the idea of a draft dodger questioning the patriotism of the players was absurd on the face of it. He manipulated the issue to divide Americans and distract us from his equating Nazis and people peacefully protesting hate. The defenders of Trump elevate symbolism over substance, and most of the most vocal people attacking the players’ protest have never served the Country in the military or any other way. Their idea of patriotism is limited to showing respect during the National Anthem before a ballgame and attacking people who don’t.

Now, the issue has morphed into the President suggesting that people who don’t stand during the National Anthem should leave the Country. A man who dodged the draft, is suspected of conspiring with foreign powers to affect an election and selling foreign policy to the highest bidder is suggesting that unless you salute the way he tells you to salute and when he tells you to salute then you should leave the country.

No doubt that many of the heroes buried in the ground are rolling over. Shame on us.

Governor of Michigan?

May 17, 2018

Some early observations…

The presumptive nominees for Governor of Michigan are Schuette (GOP) and Whitmer (Democrats). A quick exam of their web sites reveal what one might expect: noble concepts that hardly anyone would disagree with, without any of the details on any plan that will translate rhetoric to reality. Of course, even the best laid plans come to little when the Legislature is controlled by lobbyists. I have to give Ms. Whitmer credit for at least mentioning the problem of big money lobbyists and Gerrymandering, but the same critique on a lack of details on how she will accomplish the goals applies. The reality in Michigan reflects the broader reality in all American politics: once the beauty contest of elections end, big money controls the Legislative agenda no matter who is elected.

Schuette is endorsed by Trump which guarantees that he will reduce taxes for the rich, divide us by class/race politics, eliminate regulations protecting the environment and expand the role of government to intrude into our private lives. Where Ms. Whitmer might decorate the doors to the Capitol with a sign that reads “Lobbyists Must Use Back Door”, Schuette would put up a sign that reads “Everything For Sale”. It’s a cynical comment, I know, but I am waiting to at least hear a hint of something that would be different.

I don’t know either candidate personally. Ms. Whitmer seems like a decent person, Schuette is a known quantity just by virtue of the friends he keeps. There are two basic problems for both Parties with the upcoming election. The first is out-State voters. Trump signs littered Michigan’s rural landscape, where the majority of underemployed, welfare recipients live (most welfare recipients in Michigan are white and live in rural areas). GOP State Legislators recently made a play to harden the atrophied Trump base by promising to give them more welfare benefits and cut welfare to “those people” in Detroit. That could work because to many Michiganders “those people” and “the Democrats” are synonymous and class/race politics is red meat to them.

The second basic problem are Urban voters in Southeast Michigan. If you think the rural Trump voters are atrophied, then Southeast Michigan voters are nearly in contractures. Alienated from the abandonment by the last Democratic Governor and the condescending assumptions of the last Democratic nominee for President, these voters may not be in the mood to vote for another white woman Democrat. The Dems only hope may be the legalization of Marijuana, which is the only tangible benefit of voting for Dems (and many young Republicans).

What we really need is an Independent nominee unfettered by money and political Parties. I only know one person who fits that bill.

Where’s Our Joe Welch?

May 16, 2018

This past weekend you might have heard the last agonal breaths of American decency as we processed the Congressional hearings for the nominee to run the CIA. Ms. Haspel was unapologetic about her role in torturing prisoners and denied responsibility for the destruction of the evidence of the tortures that she controlled. Perhaps the essence of the inquiry was encapsulated in her refusal to condemn the savage torture of human beings as immoral, while at the same time stating that her “moral compass” was strong. Some of the few remaining voices of decency remaining in politics voiced their outrage at the lack of moral decency from the person who will be the face of the CIA to the world. The Trump Administration’s response was to mock one of those moral voices as irrelevant because he was going to die anyway. McCain’s voice had more than principle to deliver – John McCain experienced torture from the hands of North Vietnamese, and refused to bow to the torture. The disabilities resulting from his beatings and other forms of torture still cause him suffering. (A Vietnamese General who was one of the commandants of a POW camp recently said that McCain was revered among Vietnamese because of his honor during that time).

Our national history is pockmarked with shameful episodes of immoral, indecent behavior, but we have always followed these epochs by a national repudiation. During the McCarthy hearings, guided by a lawyer named Roy Cohen, our government lied, smeared and publicly ruined the careers of many Americans under the false pretense of national security. Their methods were more of a threat to our national security than the communist infiltrators they sought out. They were unapologetic and ruthless. At one key moment another attorney representing the U.S. Army, Joe Welch, finally stuck a moral (and mortal) wound to the McCarthy/Cohen reign of terror when he asked “Have you no sense of decency, sir?”. It was an indignant question that finally shook our country out of it’s moral stupor and ended the disgraceful campaign.

We already know the answer to the question as to whether or not the Trump Administration has any sense of decency, but they also apparently lack a sense of shame as well and refuse to condemn their mocking the suffering and imminent death of a real American war hero. Trump once asked where his Roy Cohen was at the Justice Department to sabotage the investigation into the Russia-Trump campaign collusion. Trump was mentored by the very same Roy Cohen, and is just as ruthless and unapologetic as Joe McCarthy. The difference between our response to Welch’s question then and the lack of significant response now, may be even more troubling: perhaps we have become a society that, as a whole lacks decency.

The Trump Voter in Me…

May 1, 2018

If you ask a Trump supporter why they voted for Trump, or why they continue to defend his indefensible actions, it will be an exercise in futility. Facts and reality are irrelevant to otherwise intelligent and decent people. This is not a phenomenon that can be understood intellectually. It is an emotional process, and if you ask the Trump supporter to describe how they feel and why, then you may begin to understand their decision – and quite possibly agree with them.

In Michigan before Trump, the Democratic Party stood for one thing: they stood up for the working people. That ended during the Clinton Administration when they abandoned the core principle of economic justice and put the Party in bed with Wall Street. Repealing Glass-Steagall sowed the seeds of a bitter harvest for everyone except Wall Street. NAFTA was negotiated without regard to the impact on labor. Abandoning economic justice as a core principle was a betrayal of working Americans and opened the floodgates to the corrupting influence of big money.

To disguise their betrayal of working people, Democrats adopted the liberal equivalent of Nixon’s Southern Strategy: identity politics. They divided Americans (and their own constituencies) based on socially defined identity, instead of uniting them on economic justice. The net effect in Michigan was that the Democratic base was fractured, and everyone suffered economically. Identity politics is the reason why otherwise tolerant, decent people are willing to accept Trump’s divisive rhetoric at times – it reassures them that Trump is still “anti-Establishment” – and it has been effective in diverting from the fact that our government (and media) is controlled by a few very rich people and corporations.

The implications of the Trump victory in Michigan is as profound as it is disturbing. The wide-spread belief that money has corrupted all of government and both political parties, and that our present government exists to serve only the richest Americans and Corporations has caused a rejection of the traditional Two-Party system. When decent, hard-working and patriotic Americans have lost any hope that government will serve their needs, then it is the beginning of the angry mob. When Trump fails, and he will, then it will be past the time to worry. It will be time to run for cover. Trump is a demagogue, and demagogues who gain power are a symptom of a malignant process that has historically led to social unrest and violence.

This is the real existential redefining going on: it is us against the government and both Parties. This is how the Trump supporters I know feel, and to my astonishment, it is also how I feel.