Saturday, January 25, 2020

What About Those Gates of Hell?

As the Republicans take their place to defend this craven fraud, this criminal beyond all defense, I am reminded that JFK loved Dante as much as Dr. King. Both cite the poet to remind us that courage takes its stand and that there is no neutrality in the face of evil. This is lesson lost on these debased "leaders."

There is particularly a section in the Inferno that speaks of those who will languish in the hell of their own making. We can only hope that fate befalls these incorrigible toadies as they cast off any last shard of decency and integrity for this small, callow man to whom they bow.

As they enter the gates of their own self-made hell, we must endure their slander and sycophancy because the Republic might only endure if their feckless calumny is plain for all to see. May they burn in their own falsehoods and self-deceptions. And as hard as it is to understand how far they are willing to go into a bottomless hell of imbecility and servility, I think we can let Dante do the rest,

"And I: "What is it, master, that oppresses
these souls, compelling them to wail so loud?"
He answered: "I shall tell you in few words.
Those who are here can place no hope in death,
and their blind life is so abject that they
are envious of every other fate.
The world will let no fame of theirs endure;
both justice and compassion must disdain them;
let us not talk of them, but look and pass.""
---Dante, Canto 3

Friday, January 24, 2020

Realism is Neither Pragmatic nor Revolutionary

I can't condemn everything someone says just because I disagree with them nearly 100% of the time. It was George Will who reminded me once that to be an American means only to dedicate to the proposition---that it is not race, ethnicity, language, or any other criteria that frames the ideal. And it was David Brooks who once said that Americans don't vote who they are but who they wish they were.

Today Brooks writes, "“Politically correct” has become the phrase people use to define those who use cultural power to enforce ideological conformity." Bingo. I think it's used this way both by those who resent the cultural elites---Biden voters? Trumpists for sure. And it is used by the cultural elite leftists who chastise anyone who is less than Bernie or Warren approving. Descriptive definitions work best when they apply as well to contrasts as they do narrowing to specifics.

Fact. No matter who is elected in 2020 we are going to be left in purgatory with a nearly 42-42% situation and some or another form of divided government since it takes 60 (count'em, SIXTY) votes to move legislation through the Senate. That means even with a Democratic landslide and all those seats lost in, say, NC, AZ, that there are still not enough votes to get an agenda passed.

We are looking, for the most part, at a stagnant policy pond (another reason why Obama was actually so accomplished despite far WORSE than a stagnant opposition). There is not going to be any Bernie revolution if he wins. There's not even going to be a left-center or bring along a few Republicans coalition under any claimed "realistic" idea of change, whether that comes from Biden or Klobuchar or Bloomberg. If the Democrats landslide then the only Republicans left will be the worst of the lot. Can they be any worse? Not really, even the "moderates" are McConnell flunkies. 

Basically we are headed into legislative deadlock as far as the eye can see. and that is FAR FAR better than Trump, no comparison, snap out of it, get real, don't fool yerself. So just to STOP TRUMP the Democrats need how to figure out how to win the presidency and maybe, just maybe reverse some of this irreversible damage.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Star Trek and Trump* (*not even kidding)

I was poking around the web looking for signs of the new Star Trek series that's coming called Picard. Yeah, that might sound silly for a man my age but there's a history. On September 8th 1966 when I was 9 years old the first episode of Star Trek aired and everything about the future I could dream seemed part of that world. I never, ever missed an episode. I lived for the next one the way I lived for The Beatles next Ed Sullivan appearance.

There was plenty about the Next Generation that was just as corny and cringeworthy but something about Picard would always make up for that. Here was a character who wasn't the 40s-style heroic rake the likes of Kirk but who was no less heroic and with a more reflective and dare I say deeper soul. Picard was always willing to take a serious look at his shadow in a world devoted to light.

As a lad I needed the predictable maudlin, bathetic endings of this better future, all of which began on the premise that we'd survived WWIII and that First Contact (later revealed to be the Vulcans) had changed everything for everyone.

I was growing up too in the grand malaise of Vietnam, then as a college student in Carter's truth telling, and the rise of the truly vile Reagan---all of which shaped my life because I had a brother and a family deeply mired in this American failure and rather than rise to our occasion we regressed and so began the journey that takes us to Trump. Martin and Bobby were dead. Malcolm never stood a chance. The Beatles broke up.

You might well remember or are you too young? There was that completely phony "morning in America" commercial and then everyone who had a good union job was told that their union was the problem. Next thing you know Democrats sound like Republicans and the fascists make their case again and again. We have a brief shining moment again with Obama but the forces of evil are then more than ever determined to create the future.

There was going to have to be more and I wanted to fast forward to _that_ world, the one Star Trek promised. And marry a nice Vulcan girl. And drift further into space with my logical first mate. Was India supposed to do that? No, that changed everything again but it was the promise of more. Appa could do that. (I finally got it right with the artist version of the Vulcan, which really makes no sense at all. Thank goodness.)
Well, it seems now we might yet have WWIII and I'm wondering if there is going to change. Wondering seriously and not hopeful but apprehensive and genuinely worried. Aren't we all?

Patrick Stewart recently said when it comes to Brexit in the U.K. and Trump in the U.S., “I’m not sure which of us in the most trouble.”
“I think it’s actually the U.K.,” he continued. “I think we’re fucked, completely fucked.” In the U.S., he said, “There is a time limit to your fucked state, which is four years away.”

But will America imagine a better future and then do the most important thing? Rise and act?

Partisans with character fueled by honesty have praised the Democratic Impeachment managers and so has the mainstream press, interested in the truth, mapping out the facts. Republican Senators are forced to sit silently drinking milk and dozing off. I feel confident that nothing will penetrate them. As lucid and as persuasive as the Democrats case, I await Trump's defense and the Republicans' vote. This will be no test of honesty. Neither will there be any display of seriousness or integrity. Rather, those are the qualities that are now testing the American electorate.

Trump will be acquitted and will call it exoneration. November is a long way off in American memory though we can be assured that an "exonerated" Trump will be more vindictive and more committed to using unacceptable power than ever.

Will the people of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Arizona and Michigan, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, and North Carolina show up to end this blight? Will Trump accept the results? We need the results first with numbers presumably beyond dispute. What will America do in 2020 to save America?
We need Picard more than ever.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Moral Crisis of Incorrigibility

The time is upon us. It has been but with impeachment now, it seems to me we have run out of ways to avoid it, again. I'm of the view that when we face the hard truths in life we stand a better chance of living with ourselves. I refuse denial or any of its softenings to make the ugly palatable. I prefer dealing with the diagnosis and the facts and then figuring out how to cope, how to deal, what to do. None of my need for realism makes the world a less beautiful or wondrous place. I insist on both. 

How you face the cruel facts of the world is up to you. Some situations create moral crisis and not every one of those we can reconcile. Somehow we have to carry on. Let's start with a word that should have deep ethical resonance

[ in-kawr-i-juh-buh l, -kor- ] not corrigible; bad beyond correction or reform: incorrigible behavior; an incorrigible liar.impervious to constraints or punishment; willful; unruly; uncontrollable: an incorrigible child; incorrigible hair.firmly fixed; not easily changed: an incorrigible habit.not easily swayed or influenced: an incorrigible optimist. noun a person who is incorrigible.

I've been keeping track of the 538 poll of polls. The Republican Cult has not moved one bit. Nothing will move them. It is a solid 41-42%, never falling out of that range of support. Everyday the evidence accumulates and everyday the situation deepens. It's not just the vile menace, it's a worldview that is coming into real policy and deeply changing people's lives for the worse.
Is there an incorrigible person in your life? I don't know what anyone can do with this situation except understand it. I'm not sure how you cope if there is such a "good" person in your family. What do we do with ourselves and with those who are incorrigible? How do we respect their choices? How do we live with values and ideas that are beyond the pale, not just political disagreements.
I'm not using "incorrigible" as a mere adjective but rather to raise a moral crisis. Without moral crisis there is no reason to doubt one's next choice. That is the Gita's first point. The things these "good" people want are no less vile than the American situation in 1859.

I'm not asking for anything from anyone who has this problem in their lives. If some of those 42% are your family or friends and you insist they are "good people," I know this is hard. I know you love them. But do give thought, as painful as it is, what it could mean that they are "good." They are good _to you_ or in some or another circumstance that suits them. They aren't criminals and they show up when things go wrong---but for whom? What is it to be good when it comes to supporting a worldview that is in fact destroying the planet and ruining lives? What is good about a government that is cruel, no, utterly inhumane and in violation of basic human rights?

Are these "good" people if you are a woman needing healthcare or a person of color or a person whose gender or religion or lifestyle whose very existence demands their control? Let's be honest. These good people are not part of the problem, they are the problem. Because they are going to vote and they support evil. Evil. Does that make them evil? Is complicity in evil enough? Of course it is. That hurts again. What do you do when someone you love is complicit in evil? Perhaps for you love somehow conquers all and you can accept these choices because you care for these persons deeply. Does that implicate you in the evil? Love is a feeling. When is it an excuse?

The only votes that will really matter are in States where these "good" white people will decide for the rest of us if this scourge continues. That may give someone the chance to avoid the incorrigible as a personal issue. If your incorrigible lives in Massachusetts or California or New York, their choices are muted. Does that matter? I merely ask.

I don't have any solution nor much in the way of advice. Frankly, I am sure that I couldn't deal with an incorrigible in my life but to excise the relationship. Truth is, I have done that already. I can't look that person in the eye anymore. I had to walk. I say that because that is my choice but I would not presume to advise nor do I think this should or needs to be your choice. You need to live with yourself. That is the most important thing I can think of. The rest is living. I think what we have is a moral crisis for people of conscience who must suffer an incorrigible. I feel for you, truly. It must be deeply painful to live with it. I wish you well.

Monday, January 20, 2020

On MLK Day Do We Have the Courage to be American?

I hope it's appropriate to begin MLK Day celebrations by also making a connection to our American Founders and to Lincoln. We always need perspective to create a vision.

To fathom what Dr. King was asking of us is to acknowledge the inexcusable failures of our American founding and yet to "conceive in liberty" who we might be, who we want to become. Allow me to start then with Lincoln. Like all great leaders, he was a complicated man. But eventually he put the matter plainly.

Yes, Lincoln was a deeply flawed man. But I believe he tried to tell the truth or come to it; he tried to be a person of integrity and ideals. Yes, I am willing to commend that he _tried_. Lincoln struggled to evolve his values into actions and work within the muddled structure of his politics. Don't we all in some manner struggle and fail to become who we could be? So we might ask, where was his heart?

Lincoln redefined the project of our first failure at America and it's sullied, corrupted first definitions. Lincoln told us that we are Americans when we are "dedicated to a proposition." This simple phrase is itself cause for a day, years, a lifetime of contemplation. Dedication here means not race, creed, language, ethnicity, gender---it means that we are all supposed to be equal before the law and that the law must be just for all. Just how do we do this?

Lincoln told us we needed a new birth of freedom because our founders were corrupted by their racism, sexism, their whiteness, and privilege and as men of their age they were captive of all of these assumptions and value interpretations.

But Lincoln knew that we needed a rebirth their ideals in a radical way. He did not live to show us what he truly had in mind. He knew the path was to justice for all.

It wasn't until Dr. King that we began to learn how to begin that rebirth and what it means to dedicate to this noble proposition of freedom and justice for _all_.

We are in a time in which we need again and again to hear Dr. King's voice, to reflect, to take his charge and his wisdom to heart. Our rebirth of freedom is in serious jeopardy and our dedication to the propositions of justice and freedom will tell all.

This is a critical inflection point and the powerful, soulful, rich message of Martin Luther King, Jr. has never been more important or trenchant.  It is no ordinary time, for we find ourselves in the midst of a second Civil War. This one a "Cold" Civil War. But we have never been so divided since that first tragic confrontation.

King was no perfect saint because there are no such human beings. He was, however, something better than any perfection. He was a voice of true humanity who like Gandhi and Mandela and others had the audacity to speak truth to power and to lead a way forward. He had a dream that we need more than ever.

I hope we learn to to listen to Dr. King now. Right now. We need that dream more than ever I have experienced in my own lifetime.

Who do we want to be?
Who could we be?
What will it take to become Americans?
Are we dedicated to those propositions?
Do we have the courage to create a new birth of freedom?
Today would be a good day, I think, to live in these questions and see what happens in your own heart.

Monday, December 23, 2019

After the Same Rainbow's End

I don't know where to put this thought or exactly how I feel about this comment.
It's a few days before Christmas and I spent the day visiting with my daughter. We made food and laughed and told stories and, as always, played some music and watched some old movies. There was a fine piece today in The New York Times from Pico Iyer, the citation is below. Here's what I'm thinking come the end of this beautiful day together.

One of the more challenging aspects of progress is assigning value to a past that is fraught with troublesome and unacceptable values and behaviors. But it is no simple matter, as I see it, to move forward by rejecting the past wholesale. Pico Iyer makes a go of this problematic situation.
For some more context:

I had a lovely day with my youngest daughter---she's in her early 20s still and is teaching school.  I couldn't be prouder as the papa.  And, as we are want to do, we watched a handful of old movies, ones that she really loves, loves so dearly that she can recite all of the dialogue, the kind that make us both cry, and most are movies with caricatures, stereotypes, sexism, and anachronism that offend contemporary sensibilities. These movies could not, should not be made today. We must be our future selves, not imprisoned by the present even if we are rightly troubled by our past.

We make no excuses, notice them but don't need to point every instance---that are plain to the meanest wit and fail every test of presentism. Would I give up Breakfast at Tiffanys for these offensive portrayals, especially the deeply objectionable way the Japanese landlord is played by Mickey Rooney? What of Inspector Clouseau and all of that sexism and cultural offense? Is it still okay to laugh or to cry, when so much is wrong? To what standard do we hold the past in our present?

Pico Iyer doesn't spend any energy here discussing the frightening and utterly disgraceful revivals of racism and sexism that are important features of white grievance culture's claims we have all become too "politically correct." But this is undoubtedly a feature of the culture wars that will decide 2020 elections as older whites invest in backlash against culture's progress. I have no desire for the "good old days" and no room for this kind of backwardness. We don't and won't make movies like this anymore---at least I hope not.

Like Iyer I don't lament what we are losing but what we would lose if we dismissed or rejected them for their unacceptable anachronisms. I would further agree that we don't have to if we take to heart what was and was is and who we want to be. Somehow can we make room for these pasts? Can we accept Lincoln and his evolution given the world of 1860? Can we live with our grandparents' values that make us deeply embarrassed and troubled? Mine do.

I would disagree with Iyer on several counts---because while our ancestors sometimes wanted to be the best they could be, they weren't and their views and attitudes cannot be condoned---and we _are_ the wiser for it. There's no room in my heart for the sickening nostalgia that is at the center of repugnant Republican bigotry. There aren't good people on both sides. It's not okay to bring this forward even if it is past.

But still, I want to cry all the way through Breakfast at Tiffanys. I still want to make room for the failures of the past and live with some of what was that can no longer be, must no longer be.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Impeachment Makes Democracy Possible

It's being said again again that "impeachment is political" as if this somehow diminishes what is being done that must be done to be a democracy. Impeachment does not substitute for politics; it makes politics possible. Without the rule of law, we are nothing but capricious dictatorship. Like all autocrats, this is precisely what Trump wants: power without accountability. If we cannot impeach in an election year or even after a re-election then we stand for nothing. The king is not the law; the law must be king. It's a simple binary, no matter how complex the issues. Either we survive with the principle of law or we succumb to arbitrary power. You choose.