A Day to Remember Leaders and Leadership

June 11, 2018

June 6th is one of those dates when so much history was made that it causes us to pause. The anniversary of D-Day is really the anniversary of the beginning of the American Century. American-led forces were tasked with the most difficult beaches to take in Normandy and then spearheaded the breakout into France and eventually into Germany. General Eisenhower had managed for two years to keep a coalition of allies united and focused on the goal of winning the war. He put out dozens of inter-Nicene fights, and he faced constant personal and professional attacks from politicians from half a dozen countries and the not infrequent back stabbing from his own allied staff. It was an historic display of real leadership – political as well as military. He managed it through his strength of character: determination, humility that put cause before ego, tireless work and a willingness to listen and change his mind. He famously wrote a letter in the event the invasion failed taking all the blame.

Eisenhower’s character remained in evidence even after he was elected President. On the anniversary of D-Day, President Eisenhower would retreat to Camp David and refuse media interviews because he said he wanted the credit for the victory to be focused on the men who fought and died on the beaches.

June 6this also the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. He also had a strength of character that allowed him to be an historic leader. He had the same quality of humility as Eisenhower as well. A humility that allowed him to listen to opponents and to change his views that created a remarkable ability to make a difference. His courage was another attribute that he shared with Eisenhower and other historic leaders. He chose to deliver a speech in South Africa against Apartheid, and to face a crowd with people prepared to riot and announced the death of Martin Luther King Jr. He single handedly prevented a riot, showing the power of real leadership to make a difference.

Both men spent their entire adult lives serving the country – in the military and in politics. Both men proved their leadership by uniting people for a common purpose.

They are a remarkable contrast to the current President who shamefully displayed his lack of leadership on the front lawn of the White House yesterday. A man who dodged the draft to avoid service to the Country, using a fake reason to divide Americans and hiding behind the flag. He didn’t even know the words to “God Bless America”! A man who can never admit a mistake, let alone take responsibility for his actions, Trump is in may ways the anti-leader – a man who holds power by dividing people.

How would Ike and Bobby handled the day (other than never generate a fake controversy in the first place)? My guess is that they would have had a meeting with the players, listened to the concerns they had, solicit solutions for a way forward. Leaders unite people and solve problems.


Roseanne and “Teaching Moments”

June 6, 2018

Many historians, sociologists, academics and many Americans consider slavery to be our “Original Sin”. Slavery and the legacy of slavery has certainly been a chronic problem and enduring stain on our national conscience. It has left generations of Americans with a reflexive and mostly unconscious racism. We see it every day in the form of people crossing the street to avoid a group of black teens, suspicion of a black person who seems “out of place”. We hear about in in the news when the police are called to investigate a black family barbequing in a public park, or moving into their own apartment or sleeping in a college dorm common area.

Unconscious racism is an enduring problem, we have to work at recognizing it and feel embarrassed when we do it. What we are seeing now in the Trump era is an unapologetic racism. Roseanne Barr’s Tweet was vile and overtly racist, but she is only the most recent example. Trump’s own speech is racist and unapologetic and anyone attending a Trump rally will hear dozens of comments that would make Roseanne blush.

Not all Trump supporters are racist, but apparently all Trump supporters tolerate racism, because I have yet to ever hear one criticize him for any bigoted rant or action. All racism is rooted in fear and expressed with hate. There are different levels of racism, and certainly unconscious biases while hurtful are not hateful. Overt racism is hateful – and dangerous. If we fail to speak out against the overt racism encouraged by Trump then we enable and encourage hatred. This is a truth that all Trump supporters should recognize.

SpyGate or Delusions?

June 4, 2018

The President continues to spin conspiracy theories with no evidence to support them. The latest, “greatest scandal of all time” suggested by the President is that President Obama (or Hillary, or FBI or whoever) had placed a “spy” in his campaign in an attempt to undermine his campaign. The recent briefing from every agency that may have had anything to say on the matter revealed there was no evidence of a “spy”. Many pundits believe this is an obvious effort to destroy our confidence in the justice system, and/or illegally obtain information on the evidence the Prosecutors have on him. This would be a serious assault on our Democracy, if true. I have a different theory.

I think that resident Trump is mentally ill and delusional when under stress. Consider a few of the more paranoid delusions in the long list of delusions he has voiced in the last decade:

  1. President Obama was not an American citizen.
  2. President Obama “bugged” Trump Tower.
  3. His Inaugural Speech was the most attended of any Inauguration and the clouds parted and the sun came out when he began to speak.
  4. There is a secret society in government called the “Deep State” trying to destroy his Presidency.
  5. A secret group of FBI and CIA leaders conspired to throw the election to Hillary.
  6. The FBI (under Republican leadership) conspired with Federal judges (appointed by Republican Presidents) to obtain illegal warrants against his campaign staff.

All of these delusions have been proven to be nothing more than delusions. He certainly meets every criteria for a personality disorder called “Malignant Narcissism”.  The symptoms include anti-social traits (such as refusing to pay legitimate bills), grandiosity, the need for power, a penchant for creating chaos and disorder to serve his needs, surrounding himself only with loyal sycophants, Using every occasion to self-promote, and pathological lying (believing his own lies) and an inability to admit any mistake. People who suffer from this mental illness decompensate when under a lot of pressure. One of the more pertinent symptoms of this illness is the use of projection as a defense mechanism. How often can we turn Trump’s accusations into something he actually has done (pay for play, abuse of women, etc.)?

Other Presidents have been disabled while in office. Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke, Ronald Reagan developed Dimentia… but no President has occupied the White House disabled by a mental illness or Personality Disorder, at least not this profound.

Whether Trump’s continuing delusions are a strategy to destroy our trust in the legal system and in government in general or just a natural result of his mental illness, the implications could be much more profound if we ever have a true crisis.

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.