The Sham, Shame and Real Purpose of a Senate Committee

The Sham, the Shame, and the Real Purpose of a Senate Committee

 

In the end it wasn’t what “she said, he said.”  It was what she did, what he did.

She gave moving, credible testimony. He rambled and raged. She was composed and coherent. He was defiant and disrespectful. She was polite and dignified. He was rude and belligerent. She was calm. He dissembled, putting to rest the myth of female hysteria. She was quietly self-assured. He threw a self-pitying, tearful tantrum.  She told the truth. He lied.

The world watched as Dr. Christine Blasey Ford told her riveting and difficult story with grace and courage. Then it watched, cringing, as Judge Brett Kavanaugh stumbled his way to self-aggrandizement and entitlement, unleashing a dangerous temper unsuited to service on the Supreme Court.

They witnessed a Senate Judiciary Committee in shambles as Republican members, all white men, reprised behavior familiar from the vile verbiage visited upon Anita Hill in 1991, including by two senators who were on the committee when she testified.

The contrast between the morning hearings when Dr. Ford gave her difficult opening statement and the afternoon when Kavanaugh simpered his Trumpian opening remarks couldn’t have been starker. The morning was civil and respectful. The female prosecutor hired to ask Republicans’ questions, while interrogating Dr. Ford as if it were a trial, said nothing overtly offensive.

Later, the civility ended when Republican committee members reverted to form, Senator Lindsay Graham spewing invectives at his Democratic colleagues while exonerating Kavanaugh.  It was then that the prosecutor, who’d been assigned to ask Republicans’ questions, disappeared, fired midstream when she asked something Republicans found dangerous.

Could anything make clearer what Republican men on the committee think of women?  Could they have treated Dr. Ford, Senator Dianne Feinstein, or the prosecutor with more contempt?

What was happening as we watched the fiasco? What is the real issue?

It’s sexism. Misogyny. Male privilege and male sense of entitlement. It’s the patriarchal power struggle grounded in robbing women of agency, autonomy – even over their own bodies - and a place in the public square. And it’s gone on forever.

Aristophanes understood that in 411 BC when he wrote Lysistrata, a play about women using their sexual power to stop war. Susan B. Anthony and the women at the 1848 women’s convention faced it when they fought for women’s suffrage. Contemporary women recognized it when Anita Hill was trashed. We know it now as we continue to fight for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment and the right to privacy and decision-making in our reproductive lives.

We live in a culture where male privilege and power are embedded, entrenched in every sector of society, from corporations and churches to academia, entertainment and news organizations, sports, science, and medicine. It’s a culture in which females are admonished to nurture and ensure the comfort of males while at the same time, we are reminded to protect ourselves from the uncontrollable sexual excesses of males because they can’t help themselves and can’t take responsibility for their behavior. We are taught to be good girls who dress properly, remain abstinent and restrained, who never go anywhere, not even the bathroom, alone. We are trained to be silent.

When women found the courage to tell Sigmund Freud about their sexual abuse he labeled their stories fantasies. Anita Hill was told that too. That’s why women don’t tell their stories. “No one will believe me,” they say.

Now that’s changing. In the last month calls to sexual abuse hotlines have spiked by 200 percent. Friends are telling friends. Wives are telling husbands and partners. Girls are telling parents. And women like Ana Marie Archilla and Maria Gallagher, the two brave women who demanded that Senator Jeff Flake look at them when they were talking to him, are putting politicians on notice: We are not going to be invisible or quiet or silent any longer. We matter!

As Rebecca Traister wrote in a New York Times editorial, and as poet Audre Lord, feminist writer Carolyn Heilbrun, and activists like Tarana Burke, founder of the Me Too Movement, recognize, what has been denied to women until now is anger and expressions of anger. That stops now. We are speaking up, crying out, and refusing to be silenced any longer.  

So, as I write this commentary a cursory, controlled FBI investigation aimed at appeasement is occurring. The outcome of that investigation and what happens subsequently carries deep significance for our political future. But it doesn’t match the importance of what is happening in our culture as we make change and see it coming, however slowly.

It is coming because of courageous women like Anita Hill, Christine Blasey Ford, Ana Maria Archilla, Maria Gallagher, and the multitudes of others who will not be silent  any more in the face of violence perpetrated against them. We will no longer defer to malicious men. We will no longer suffer political rape symbolized by the cry to “plow through” uttered by men in power. We will fight with everything we’ve got until men crawl kicking and screaming toward seeing, hearing, believing and respecting women.

It begins with three simple words: “I believe her.” And “thank you, Christine.”

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Civility and Civil Disobedience: We Need Both

In the recent uproar over civility, it was deeply frustrating to note the absence of civil disobedience in the discussions, and to see the time-honored tradition of leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. being conflated with actions perceived to be rude and unkind.  It was also dangerous, and another sign of the ideology of autocracy being used to quiet resistance when government, and its officials, are doing the wrong thing.

One can argue that shouting at an agency head whose policies are vile to most Americans in a public space is nasty, or counterproductive. But it’s troubling to have that kind of action equated to the quiet, dignified way in which the Red Hen Restaurant asked Press Secretary Sarah Sanders to leave the premises because customers and staff were uncomfortable with her presence.

Civil disobedience is consistent with civility. It is non-violent and never incites harassment or foul language. It simply calls attention to and peacefully protests uncivil and unjust acts and laws. As former Vice President Al Gore noted, “Civil disobedience has an honorable history, and when the urgency and moral clarity cross a certain threshold, … civil disobedience is quite understandable, and it has a role to play.”

Peaceful resistance against oppressive regimes is a characteristic of civil disobedience. It’s meant to confront, expose and end an unruly system being imposed on citizens by the powerful in positions of authority.  It is, as Henry David Thoreau said, “the true foundation of liberty.” Gandhi knew that when he led the famous Salt March in India and Martin Luther King knew it when he and others led the civil rights movement with marches and sit-ins.

The demonstrations against the actions and policies of the Trump Administration, from the historic Women’s March of January 2017 to the protests demanding sensible gun legislation, an end to the Muslim Ban, and now an end to the tragedy of incarcerated children are all examples of legitimate, desperately needed, and constitutionally protected acts of civil disobedience.

All of these actions were carried out by peaceful protesters, as was the protest in Charlottesville, Va. in August 2017, when 32-year old Heather Heyer was killed by white supremacists marching and shouting slogans like ““Jews will not replace us!” Where was the call for civility then? Where is it after any of Mr. Trump’s rallies when he incites vicious verbiage and vile acts?

Where was it when Mr. Trump mimicked a disabled man, or insulted a Gold Star family, or bragged about grabbing women by their genitals?  Where is the demand for civility when Muslims are harassed or attacked or when swastikas are painted on Jewish schools, synagogues and gravestones? Where is the call for civil behavior when police are called because a black person is driving or shopping or simply trying to go home?  What has happened to civil behavior at the borders and in the detention centers (jails) when workers are instructed not to touch or comfort weeping, terrified children?

Why did no talking heads on television or in the mainstream print media insist that civil disobedience be part of the conversation? Surely, at the very least, a debate about where the line should be drawn between civility and appropriate civil disobedience was called for.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The time is always right to do the right thing.”  Now is the time, if ever there was one in this country, to do the right thing, and that includes peacefully protesting evil proclamations, policies and politicians. Autocrats and dictators thrive when they can suppress civil discourse and action, whether by fear and intimidation, trivialization, objectification, or ultimately arrest, all of which have already occurred in “the land of the free and the brave.”

The first step toward oppression and irreversible autocratic control often appears as attempts to silence protest and attack the press. It begins by calling others vermin and labeling protesters and reporters “uncivil” – all while behaving in the most odious and uncivil ways possible. It’s a cruel irony, and a calculated one. And it must be stopped dead in its tracks.

That’s why we must continue to resist by demonstrating peacefully, in the face of others’ terrifying and terrible behavior, the solidarity and strength of good, kind people whose behavior can only be called brave, decent, respectful, and totally representative of civility.   

 

Is America Up to Its Newest Challenge?

We’ve been through a lot for a country with a relatively short history.  Starting with the American revolution against the British, we’ve faced many challenges that could have broken us. There was the Civil War, which cost us more American lives than any other, World War I, World War II, the 1929 stock market crash, the Dust Bowl era and various economic crises, the Vietnam War, political assassinations in the 60s and the 1970 Kent State massacre, race riots that could have divided the country again, the terrorist attack on 9-11, and more.

But what we face now is alarming in unprecedented ways. There have been bad presidents before and governments rife with corruption as well as administrations that lacked skill, compassion, and ethics. In those times, as David Kaiser wrote in TIME Magazine in 2016 after the presidential election, we overcame threats because of “the nation’s ability to come together and embark upon a great enterprise to solve a critical problem.” In the face of our current crisis, we seem unable to muster the spirit of compromise, cohesion, good judgment, and sound governance, not to mention moral compasses.  

As Kaiser wrote in TIME, “Americans are entitled to hope that the new crisis will not end with hostile armies marching through our territory and fighting battles.” He had yet to envision that cyber warfare would eliminate the need for marching troops, nor could he imagine just how disastrous a Trump presidency would be.

In a recent New York Times editorial, Sen. Orrin Hatch is quoted. “This great nation can tolerate a president who makes mistakes, but it cannot tolerate one who makes a mistake and then breaks the law to cover it up.” He was talking about President Clinton in 1999. The senator’s hypocrisy is stunning, and extremely dangerous at a time when the Republican opposition cannot own – and reverse – its behavior, even when our country is faced with monumental threats.

The Times editorial addresses the “growing possibility” that Mr. Trump might attempt to end the ongoing investigation into his campaign, his administration, and his possible obstruction of justice if not overt collusion with the Russians. Should such a moment come, The Times said, we will “suddenly find [ourselves] on the edge of an abyss, with the Constitution in [our] hands.”

If Mr. Trump succeeds in his attempts to shut down the ongoing investigations, he will have destroyed the very foundation of American democracy and rule of law, already fragile by nature because it relies upon tradition, good sense, and strong motivation for the greater good. He will, most awfully, have set himself above the law and effectively become a dictator. 

Should that terrifying scenario come to pass, it will be up to Congress to uphold our laws, maintain the separation of powers established by our founders, and keep intact the constitutional framework that has kept us a government, “of the people, for the people, and by the people” for over 200 years. There will be no time for continuing polarization in the Capital or the public square, no room for vitriol and partisanship, no benefit in clinging to harmful ideologies and hateful rhetoric. We will all be on the sinking ship together, and none of us will be singing to the end.

Everyone paying attention now acknowledges the fact that our democracy is truly threatened. We admit to feeling terrified by what could happen. We openly use the word “fascism,” so long danced around. We talk with a façade of levity about leaving if it gets much worse. We see Facebook posts of what Hitler and Goebbels said and we shudder before sharing. We learn about protesters being arrested, and the Sinclair broadcasting syndicate scripting pro-Trump messages for their many stations.

We join hashtag discussions about police brutality, racial injustice, ICE roundups, anti-Semitic and Muslim hate crimes, pro-natalist positions, abuses in education, the environment, and the interior by functionaries like Betsy DeVos, Scott Pruitt, and Ryan Zinke. We bemoan the fact that the new Secretary of Health and Human Services is a former senior vice president for corporate affairs at Eli Lilly and Co. who served as president of Lilly USA LLC.  We worry about how the State Department can operate without a Secretary or a full staff of seasoned diplomats in a world on the brink of disaster in various parts of the world. 

We stress over the lack of access to safe and effective healthcare, none moreso than women in need of reproductive healthcare. We worry about shrinking consumer protections, reduced regulations that keep our water and air clean, and who will be seated next in our federal and Supreme courts. We fret about voter registration being tampered with, and innocent immigrant children being shipped to countries they’ve never known, and we wonder how long it will take to correct the problems created by this administration if and when we finally elect sane legislators.

But most of all, what we worry about is this:  Will politicians finally put America and its people above any consideration of personal power or benefit, and will they, at long last, have the decency and moral courage to stop the travesties of a Trump administration before it is too late?

In short, can we, together, meet America’s greatest challenge ever, and can we come back again?

 

The Legacy of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas and the Kids Who Would Make Her Proud

They are gay, straight and transgender. They are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. They are black, white and Latino. They are middle-class, affluent, and poor. And together they are doing something we’ve never seen before.  They are connecting the dots – recognizing something we now call “intersectionality,” defined by Merriam Webster as “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalized individuals or groups.”

They are the teens of Parkland, Florida, the kids in DC and Chicago schools, the 11-year old children who spoke so eloquently to the crowds in Washington at the March for Our Lives on March 24th.  Their words were heard around the country and the world by multitudes of people who flowed into the streets of their hometowns to plead in unison that, “Enough is enough.” Together, the voices of millions formed a chorus speaking truth to power as they awakened to the connections being made in the name of universal human rights.

Now, I’m not one for quoting the Bible but I can’t refrain from paraphrasing the Book of Isiah: “And [the children] shall lead them.”

  And not just away from gun violence in schools, movie theaters, malls, clubs, or the horrific violence of police shooting innocent black people and getting away with it.  These future leaders were speaking about the much larger issues that America has failed to address, like poverty, class, race, gender, disability and institutionalized discrimination. They were pleading for the survival of all of us, and for a future defined by unity and not division, love and not hate, compassion and not greed, dignity and not death, whether by commission or omission.  They were demanding that we place values above violence, and they did it with such respect, force, energy, and eloquence that there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd.

They taught us a life lesson and they gave us a reason to hope.

They went beyond “Mi casa es su casa,” because they know that what happens in their casa, their community, their houses of worship, their schools could happen in any one of our houses, neighborhoods, or common spaces, no matter what color we are, how much wealth we have, or how mainstream we may have become.

The root of the youth movement today, so tragically launched by the events of February 14, 2018 in a school in Florida, is what empowers students of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and the others now joining them. Its foundation is what they understand about the “realpolitik.” They are defining and now representing a new generation that is not only unique but vital, because these “kids” truly get it that together we stand, divided we fall. 

Additionally, they know how to bring their vision and their message to voters, to so-called leaders, and to those whose political futures are at stake. Strategically, these emerging adults are nothing short of brilliant. They understand how to use social media and they have a natural proclivity for using the methods of media advocacy, which means they put a human face on their issue, they tell stories to humanize statistics, they include action steps in their message – Register, Educate, Vote! – and they repeat tag lines that are pithy, powerful, and easily repeated.

The woman for whom the now well-known school was named, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, would be so proud of these students. A journalist and author, women's suffrage advocate, and conservation activist, she was every bit as feisty and politically astute as the students who attend the school that bears her name.  Her influential book The Everglades: River of Grass, published in 1947, redefined the popular conception that the Everglades were nothing more than a worthless swamp. It has been compared to Rachel Carson's important book Silent Spring.

According to her Wikipedia profile, Douglas was “outspoken and politically conscious, defending the women's suffrage and civil rights movements.” She undertook her work to protect the Everglades when she was nearly 80 years old and she lived nearly 30 years beyond that, working to the end.

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’s spirit and legacy are now being felt not only by students who went to school one day as youngsters and came out (if they were lucky) as young adults creating a new kind of leadership. It is being realized by Americans and others who may never have thought of themselves as “political” but who will be forever changed by what happened that fateful day, and the movement it spawned.

For that, we can all be grateful.

Beware the Growing Demise of Democracy Globally

With each passing day, a question rises to the top of my troubled thoughts: Why don’t more people seem to get it? Why don’t they sound concerned about what pundits dub the death of our experiment with democracy? Why can’t they grasp that autocracies are rapidly flourishing?  Why doesn’t that scare us into greater vigilance, and more sensible votes?

Democracy becomes threatened in many ways. While violent power grabs are increasingly rare, the number of elected officials subverting the very processes that led them to power – a global phenomenon - is alarming.

In most cases, plutocracy, or oligarchy, means governments ruled by the rich for personal gain. As analysts have noted, with the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, which allowed unlimited amounts of money to flow to politicians, “the wealthy are getting the democracy they pay for” in America.

In order for autocrats to hold onto power, voting rights are threatened or removed. Recent examples in the U.S. are the purging of voter registration rolls in Republican controlled states, and restrictions that make it harder for Blacks and Latinos to vote. At the same time, the media is positioned as an “enemy of the state,” not to be trusted with information, and facts, they share.

Another threat to democracy exists when voters are apathetic and take the rights they enjoy for granted. We have notoriously low voter turnout rates, although this year that may change. But when people feel they can’t do anything that will make a difference, they stop paying attention, and don’t go to the polls.

Carol Anderson, a history professor at Emory University, sounded this alarm recently. “Bringing an independent judiciary and investigative branch under the domination of the executive is one of the first moves of regimes that do not respect the rule of law.” She cites Pinochet’s Chile, Nazi Germany, and Putin’s Russia as examples. “The rationale is simple,” she says. “Besides the military, the judiciary and law enforcements branches are the most powerful in a state. Control and politicization of that wing allows rulers to criminalize opponents … when in fact they are really defenders of a more viable, democratic nation.”

It’s not just what’s happening in America because of the Trump administration.  Examples of threats to democracy around the world are frightening, and they matter. Civilization is once again threatened by regimes that quickly, effectively, and surreptitiously bring down democracy. As a collective movement, those regimes are again creating the resurgence of totalitarianism, with unimaginable results because nations of the world no longer live isolated from each other, politically, socially, or economically. 

Here are examples of what is happening elsewhere. In July, people in Poland marched to protest “the impending death of democracy” under the Law and Justice Party. Parliament had passed a bill giving the government the power to remove all Supreme Court judges through forced retirement. The president also announced he would sign a bill making it illegal to discuss Poland’s role in the Holocaust. (There were good Poles who resisted, but Poland also committed atrocities; denying them is denying historical fact.)

In Hungary, the right-wing party won sweeping political power in its national elections. Under Viktor Orban, the political climate is one of “a political greenhouse for an odd kind of soft autocracy, combining crony capitalism and far-right rhetoric with a single-party culture,” as Patrick Kingley put it in The New York Times. Orhan has instituted financial penalties for groups that help migrants, changed the electoral system, assaulted the country’s Constitution, curbed the media along with the country’s checks and balances, made homelessness a crime, and diverted huge sums of money to his loyalists. He is now influencing other Central and Eastern European countries like Romania.

In Egypt and Turkey, things are not going well either. Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi pushed his most serious opponents out of scheduled elections. Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy says the country is “caught between an American-style Sisi and an Egyptian-style Putin.” Yet Sisi enjoys the support of Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Rex Tillerson.

Meanwhile, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, is dismantling democracy in his country and turning it into an autocracy divided by ethnic and religious factors. In the name of “stability,” Erdogan has concentrated power in his office. As of next year, he can appoint the cabinet and a number of vice-presidents without parliamentary approval, and he can select or remove senior civil servants at will.  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish Republic, must be turning in his grave.

The problem of dissolving democracies doesn’t stop in Europe or the Middle East. Latin America has had its destructive experiences and so have African countries. In Kenya, people are worried that their democracy is disappearing. Television stations have been shut down by the government, opposition politicians are under arrest and journalists have been threated with jail under President Kenyatta.

The rise of authoritarianism is real, dangerous, and on our doorstep. Nationalism, polarization and tribalism are being used to centralize power, destroy institutions of democracy, and lay the groundwork for re-writing rules that have been the foundation of democracy.

The question is, will we allow enemies of freedom to kill the democratic safety nets we have come to take for granted, or will we resist mightily at the ballot box and beyond?

 

Think It Can't Happen Here? Think Again

 

They were kids at summer camp, passing hot days in routine activity and comradery. They were also learning to speak German, singing German songs, practicing military drills and greeting superiors with Hitler salutes. Wearing Nazi-style uniforms, the children marched, took rifle practice, and raised Hitler Youth banners. There were 16 locally organized camps like this one in the 1930s.

The campers’ parents belonged to the German American Bund, people of German ancestry who formed citizens groups in many countries extolling “German virtues” and lobbying for causes helpful to Nazi Party goals. The German American Bund formed in 1936 as “an organization of patriotic Americans of German stock,” according to Alan Taylor writing in The Atlantic in June, 2017. The U.S. Bund soon boasted tens of thousands of members across 70 regional divisions.

In 1939, the Bund held an “Americanization” rally in New York’s Madison Square Garden to denounce Jewish conspiracies, FDR and others. Attended by 20,000 supporters, the 27 photos of the rally, and the children’s camps, included in Taylor’s Atlantic piece, are chilling.

As WWII began the Bund was disbanded, its leader arrested for embezzlement and deported to Germany.  But the American Bund happened.  Right here in the U.S. we had a large, active, hate-filled Nazi group training its youth to be brown-shirts. It was our own Third Reich.

Arne Bernstein, author of Swastika Nation, learned about American Nazis first-hand as a young man when a neo-fascist group threatened his Jewish neighborhood. “In the 1930s, 1940s and beyond,” he wrote on The History Reader blog in 2013, “fascism and Nazi loyalty was as American as a proverbial apple pie.”

Bernstein says the German-American Bund eventually boasted a following of 200,000 nationwide. The FBI put the number at somewhere between 6,000 to 8,000 while an American Legion study found over 25,000 members. Whatever the actual number of American Nazis, there were enough of them to develop “a nationwide system of family retreats, businesses, publications” and Americanized versions of Hitler Youth and SS squadrons. Among those who didn’t seem to have a problem with the Bund were Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, along with the 15,000 members of The Silver Legion of America.

In 1935 Sinclair Lewis published a novel called It Can’t Happen Here.  Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s making a comeback now. Lewis’s novel is a cautionary, alarming and seemingly prescient tale, about the fragility of democracy. It tells the story of an elected authoritarian president who becomes a dictator in the time of the Great Depression. The country’s new president wants to save America from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press, as the jacket cover says. Sound familiar?

Upon publication, the book originally resonated for Americans worried about the possibility of a fascist regime in this country, and the growth of such regimes abroad – think Hitler, Mussolini, and now right-wing factions rising in Europe, again in times of political upheaval and economic turmoil.

Lewis wasn’t the only one writing about the threat of fascism as American angst grew. Articles proliferated, one by Walter Lippman, who noted that the country had “come to a period of discouragement,” as Michael Meyer noted in his introduction to the novel’s new edition. Myer points out that America had its fair share of right-wing polemicists then as now. William Randolph Hearst proclaimed, for example, that “whenever you hear a prominent American called a ‘Fascist,’ you can usually make up your mind that the man is simply a loyal citizen who stands for Americanism.”

By page two of Lewis’s novel, readers know what’s coming, foreshadowing a chilling sense of our own time, when a general rhapsodizes on the idea of nationalism. “Our highest ambition is to be let alone … We must be prepared to defend our shores against all the alien gangs of international racketeers that call themselves ‘governments.’ …A great nation must go on arming itself more and more…for peace….” And on goes the diatribe about isolationism, military strength, alien gangs and other perceived threats to thunderously affirming applause.

Lewis’s novel is full of fiery speeches, proselytizing pastors and politicians, simplistic rhetorical proclamations, and bizarre claims that grow more fervent as the noose tightens on a nation. While the story moves all the way to executions and concentration camps – scenarios we are not ready to imagine possible – it is still a cautionary tale, one that ends with the liberal journalist and leader of the resistance fleeing to Canada “where quiet men awaited news of freedom.”

The leader has realized too late that “the tyranny of this dictatorship isn’t primarily the fault of Big Business, nor of the demagogues who do their dirty work. It’s the fault of … all the conscientious, respectable, lazy-minded [liberals] who have let the demagogues wriggle in, without fierce enough protest.”

That’s an analysis worthy of our attention, as Lewis’s novel is a book worth reading in these troubling times. Because it really can happen here. It already has.

Is the Democratic Party Disappearing?

 

Ever worry about this? “What if we gave a party and no one came?”  Right now, I’m worried that many of us are invited to support a party that we don’t really want to be part of and don’t feel good about voting for, and the disturbing thing is the problem is of their own making.

 

When Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and others blathered about “A Better Deal” recently I, and I’m sure others, despaired. It’s not just about the economy, Stupid! I wanted to tell them. It’s not just about the middle class and working (white) people! It’s not about more of the same blah, blah, blah we’ve heard since the 1990s. And I’m not sure who’s writing their copy, but what were they doing using a Trump-loaded word like “Deal”?

 

At a time when the Democrats should be about to launch a vigorous, inspired campaign designed for a major takeover of Congress, why are they poised for self-defeat yet again?

When will the leadership realize who their constituents are and understand how they are failing them?  Where is the vision for a better future, not a better deal? To put it another way, where is our next “Yes We Can” moment? Without a bit of inspiration, how can the majority of us come together as a nation that can feel proud of itself again as we regain our stature in the world?

 

To illustrate just how pathetic the Democratic party is right now, consider this. An extensive online search for “Democratic Party platform” yielded the campaign rhetoric and plan for 2016! It’s 2017 and we’re heading into a crucial election year. Where are you, Mr. Perez, Mr. Ellison, Nancy, Chuck, et al? Enough with the continuous calls for contributions. It’s time to tell people of color, people explained in the book Hillbilly Elegy, people terrified of losing their health care, the LBGT community, women and others who once trusted you what you stand for and what you’re going to do to insure that their futures are healthy, safe, and yes, economically sound while also ensuring that their Constitutionally protected rights are not going to be snatched from them behind closed doors by a creeping and creepy autocracy.

 

Speaking of creepy, how could any Democrat in leadership possibly dare to violate women’s right to control their own bodies by endorsing anti-abortion candidates?  Are they really ready to throw women under the bus for a few votes?  And what’s next – embracing racist candidates? Homophobic candidates? Islamophobic candidates? I doubt it, which underscores the point that betraying a major constituency is, in this case, tantamount to political pimping.

 

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” according to Rep. Ben Lujan (D-N.M.) who declared that “we need to have Democrats that can win in districts across America.”  Yes, Mr. Lujan, there is a litmus test – or there once was. It was meant to ensure that all Democrats would stand for the principles and values for which they were once known and trusted.  

 

So, sorry, Nancy Pelosi, the fact that you grew up in a “very devout Catholic family” whom you loved should have absolutely nothing to do with your political position on women’s health, reproductive rights and choices.

 

Bernie Sanders?  Sorry, but backing Heath Mello to serve as a mayor is not okay given his anti-choice legislative background.  Such endorsements represent political prostitution and showcase misogyny writ large, which the Democratic party and its frontrunners may realize as contributions dip dramatically and polls become troubling because many former supporters understand what a huge betrayal the leadership just handed us.

 

Yes, “raising wages and incomes of American workers and creating millions of good-paying jobs” is important. So is lowering the cost of living “for families,” but let’s not forget the multitudes of young and single people out there, or women heads of household, or disenfranchised, appropriately angry and afraid minorities.  Yes, “lower prescription drug prices, crack down on monopolies and the concentration of economic power.” But where is campaign finance reform?  Where is climate change, environmental integrity vs. oil drilling in treasured national parks and polluted waters, the urgency of infrastructure, support for science and research, a viable, well-articulated health policy that fixes the flaws in the ACA? Where is the commitment to ensure safety nets like social security and Medicare/Medicaid? Where are women in your plans?  In other words, where is your 2017-18 policy platform?

 

Writing in The Guardian recently, columnist Jamie Peck said, “the Democrats seem more determined than ever to bungle their comeback from 2016’s humiliating defeat. From small-thinking policy proposals…and slogans that read like satire…to their quixotic obsession with wooing ‘moderate’ Republicans and the rich to the detriment of progressives and the poor, their strategy is, at best a wet fart. At worst, it’s a plan to sell out everything they once stood for.”

 

I’m with Jamie Peck and other thinking Dems who’ve simply had enough. At this point, who among us can say we’re still coming to the party? The question now is, what are Democrats going to do about it?

Stunning Signs of Anti-Semitism in the Trump White House

By now it should be perfectly clear that, despite having a Jewish son-in-law for whom his daughter Ivanka converted, and three Jewish grandchildren, Donald Trump has a real problem with Jews and Jewish history.

He first revealed his distaste for all things Jewish when he released a notorious Holocaust Remembrance Day statement that didn’t even mention Jews, although he did manage to say the Trump team grieved for “all of those who suffered.”

And of course, he brought Steve Bannon into the White House, a man who openly abhors Jews and opened the floodgates of racism, white nationalism and anti-Semitism in America - along with his protégé Stephen Miller, who was photographed signaling white supremacists before being removed from public view for his vitriol.

Most recently, Trump managed to offend Jews again when the White House posted a ridiculous and insulting picture of what they called a Passover Seder.  It looked more like a casting call for Lubavitch Jews from Brooklyn.  And where were Melania and Donald? Where were the children and grandchildren? The staff? Personal friends?

Seder, one of Judaism’s most sacred holidays, is a time of tradition. It’s a time when family and friends gather to tell the story of the Exodus, and to remember Jewish oppression along with all people who suffer exile, solitude, and sadness. It is a time of renewal as we welcome the beauty of spring. It is a time of special foods and storytelling and warmth, not a time to sit at a barren table void of a host.

The tradition of Seder goes back many years at the White House and when properly done, it looks like this: [photo of Obama Seder dinner removed]

For further evidence that all is not well for Jews at the White House, fast forward to Sean Spicer trying to apologize for his hideous remarks about the use of gas to kill people.

“I mistakenly made an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which there is no comparison.”

No, Mr. Press Secretary, it was not simply an insensitive reference to the Holocaust. It was a disgusting, despicable thing to say that Adolf Hitler was better than Syria’s dictator, because he “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.,” on his own people.

It was also grossly and historically inaccurate. To be clear: Hitler used Zyklon B in gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps, killing millions of people, many of them German, and most of them Jews. Sarin gas was discovered and weaponized by Nazi scientists.

No one serving in high office and representing the president of the United States, least of all someone employed to provide honest, accurate information and assumed to know the basic facts of history, should be allowed to remain in his post because he mustered an apology for his stupidity and painfully poor taste.

There can be no doubt about sentiments regarding Jews coming from a White House that refers to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers.”  No doubt at all when advisors include people like Sebastian Gorka, whose father was openly aligned with the Nazi Party, or Steve Bannon, accused of anti-Semitism by his ex-wife, who testified under oath that Bannon didn’t want his children to attend schools with Jews, whom he openly and frequently stereotypes. No doubt when acts of anti-Jewish vandalism go unnoticed by the nation’s so-called leader.

The fact is that the White House is the People’s House, as wiser, kinder presidents have understood. It is meant to be a place where American values and traditions are enshrined, or at least symbolized, and where the people who live and work there are worthy of our trust and respect. It is time we restored that House to its rightful place in American history. That means that it’s time for the present occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the people they insist on surrounding themselves with, to leave.

Author Note: Several photos that make this piece stronger were disallowed - for an emailed copy: eclift@vermontel.net

The Horror of Detention Centers is Making a Comeback

I can’t get the pictures out of my mind. The barracks. The women with babies and bundles disembarking from buses. The guards. The packed dining halls and inadequate living quarters. The sons in US military uniform.

They are, of course, the pictures of Japanese Americans interned at Manzanar and other internment camps during WWII, many of them now on display at the Smithsonian’s national Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Seventy-five years ago, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed an executive order authorizing the imprisonment of Japanese Americans, about 120,000 of them – men, women, children, elders - were held in ten camps across the country where appalling conditions prevailed. Toilets lacked privacy, barracks were filled with rows of cots, guards with rifles patrolled from towers, barbed wire surrounded the desolate landscape, and fear was ever-present.

“It was like Nazi Germany concentration camps,” recalls a woman who was interned at the age of seven. “We were constantly under threat if we went near the barbed wire fences.”

Today many people are rightly worried that the growth of “detention centers” to be run by large private corporations that profit hugely from operating such centers will be used as holding camps for immigrants awaiting deportation. They have every reason to be afraid following Donald Trump’s recent executive order and his promise to remove “bad duded” quickly and completely.

And anyone who thinks the recent roundups aimed at capturing undocumented immigrants aren’t an escalation needs to think again.  Recently, passengers on a domestic flight arriving at JFK airport in New York were not allowed to disembark before showing their IDs.  An undocumented immigrant diagnosed with a brain tumor while in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody was forcibly returned to a detention center from her hospital bed in Texas. She told reporters her ankles and wrists were tied as she complained of severe pain. Neither her family nor her lawyers were allowed to communicate with her. It’s pure Kafka.

According to the ACLU, the U.S. immigration detention system locks hundreds of thousands of immigrants away unnecessarily every year. These detainees are subject to brutal and inhumane conditions, confined sometimes indefinitely, at huge costs to American taxpayers. Mothers and children are torn from each other in many cases. No regulations or enforceable standards are in place so that medical and mental health treatment, access to telephones, access to legal services, and even to religious services are denied. And many of the people trapped in such Draconian settings are lawful permanent residents and asylum seekers.

Such detention centers have grown exponentially in recent years and more are planned as ICE turns to contracted facilities such as for-profit prison corporations. These facilities operate outside the purview of public oversight and accountability and they have limited, often untrained staff, which translates into poor care and treatment of inmates, in order to maximize shareholder returns. They have, ACLU says, “a particularly grisly record of detainee abuse and neglect.”

Human Rights Watch Reports that indefinite detention of asylum-seeking mothers and their children takes a severe psychological toll. Many of them report serious depression, suicidal thoughts, and other symptoms of major psychological trauma.

Detention of innocent people is not new in America as we know from the Japanese American experience. In another example, after 9-11, several innocent men who had overstayed their visas were detained, abused, and otherwise badly mistreated because they were suspected of being radical Muslims. Several of these men who had been detained for months or in some cases years sued the Justice Department’s Attorney General (John Ashcroft), the FBI director (Robert Mueller) and several other government officials for violation of their fourth amendment rights. In January of this year, their case reached the Supreme Court. With Justices Kagan and Sotomayor having to recuse themselves, only six justices, four of them right-leaning, will decide the case.

It’s a case that brings together the Muslim Ban, the increasingly brutal roundups of immigrants and asylum-seekers, the issues surrounding private “detention” centers, and the role of the courts in addressing and ending law enforcement transgressions, especially in a Trump administration. Let’s hope the courts, at every level, get it right. The very future of our nation, which prides itself on being dedicated to freedom and human rights, depends on nothing more vital than a sound, well-reasoned, compassionate and moral judicial system.

 

 

Stay Awake, America! We're Heading for the Abyss

Right after the election of Donald Trump, I was anxious in a cerebral way.  I experienced a level of anxiety, disbelief and grave concern that can be energizing and I jumped into the resistance movement full steam ahead, full of adrenalin produced by stress.

Now I find myself in a state of deep, visceral anxiety. I am truly afraid – of lots of things. Anti-Semitism and white supremacists. A Muslim ban and immigration policy that have barely begun to reveal their terrible consequences.  The threat of being too late to save the planet from the effects of climate change and global warming. The threat of nuclear war. The idea of millions of people dying for lack of health care. The demise of public education and necessary regulation. The disasters waiting to happen if we don’t fix our failing roads, rails, bridges, tunnels and airports.

But even worse than that, I’m afraid because I can see truth dying in this country and because I think the freedoms we take for granted will be next. I’m afraid because conspiracy theories designed to destroy our trust in the institutions that have existed to keep us “free and the brave” are giving way to an alternative reality. I’m afraid because we are rapidly descending into a state of nationalism in which a few madmen will kill our system of checks and balances, ignore our justice system, attempt mind control by denying media legitimacy as they spew lies that people begin to believe because they are repeated so often.

Think that’s going too far?  Why, then, have agencies been rapidly dismantled, their senior staff fired, so that no institutional memory or proven expertise prevails? Why have government agencies been silenced? Why has critical information been removed from agency websites? Why are Alt-Right media being credentialed while mainstream reporters are denigrated and denied access? Why are so many clearly corrupt, unqualified people now in charge?

When all these egregious, undemocratic actions began occurring, we cautioned against “normalizing” what was happening. Now we are beginning to hear a new word: “Destabilization.”  That’s a serious word, one that we can no longer ignore or make nervous jokes about.  Our collective fear is not subliminal now; it has grown into overt, overwhelming anxiety because we are staring at the real possibility of witnessing the demise of democracy in the face of rising fascism. 

The idea that our future is in the hands of a few deranged demagogues is nothing short of terrifying.  Our president is not the leader of the free world; he is the emperor with no clothes and he is madly marching toward the abyss, dragging us behind him.

So, my question is: Why are we so powerless to stop him and his cronies? How do we move beyond hand-wringing and bearing witness before it’s too late? (And there comes a time when it is too late.) We are, of course, up against a Congress largely devoid of compassion and intellect, but we must bring enough pressure to bear on our legislators that we deny the encroaching evil. It falls to us, concerned constituents, to ensure such evil does not prevail. It falls to us to see that America does not die for lack of goodness.

As Rabbi Hillel once asked, “If not now, when? If not me, who?”

Every day social media and mainstream news reveal more Russian collusion, more heinous decisions emanating from the West Wing asylum, more lies, more Draconian travesties from Donald Trump’s henchmen. They simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Nor can the Mar a Lago madman in the attic. We cannot think that reason will ultimately rid us of his scourge . Reason alone will not stem the tidal wave of his hate or rid us of his putrid swamp, full of predators snapping at our feet.

We have heard already the language of “purges” and women as “hosts,” both terms reeking of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale.  We’ve seen good people, like TSA agents, airline personnel and border patrol, do bad things. We’ve seen bad people do bad things, like deface synagogues, burn down mosques, march in favor of killing people or forcing them to abandon the country of their birth.

We can’t wait for a dramatic disaster to understand that the time has come to reclaim our country and to take back its values. We can’t allow ourselves to be sucked into the irreversible vortex of Bannon’s nationalism or Putin’s agenda or Trump’s narcissism.

And so I ask again, as Rabbi Hillel did: If not now, when? If not us, who? And if not now, and not us, will we be forced, sooner than we think, to ask how it happened?

Marching with the Multitudes to Make the World Sane Again

MARCHING WITH THE MULTITUDES TO MAKE THE WORLD SANE AGAIN

As the old adage goes, “you had to be there.” There could have been lots of places in the U.S. and abroad because women’s marches took place the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration on every continent and in at least 700 locations around the world.   The turnout and global solidarity was unprecedented, and deeply important: It signaled a turning point and a resistance movement that could well save democracy here and internationally.

The idea for a march began a week after Donald Trump shocked the world by winning the presidency, not by popular vote but because of an antiquated Electoral College that has prevailed since the 18th century. A Hawaiian woman named Teresa Shook thought there ought to be a march so she posted the idea on Facebook. The post went viral – and helped make history as it mounted global resistance toward all that a Trump administration represented.

The global marches weren’t just a rebuke of Donald Trump’s agenda or tactics, nor were they a call solely for women’s rights, a point largely missed. In addition to women’s rights as human rights, the marches focused on issues like immigration, climate change, healthcare, economic stability, LBGT rights, education, political representation and safety. As one New Zealand organizer put it, “This movement is about inclusion and solidarity [after an election that] insulted, demonized, and threatened many people. … The marches are an expression of the millions of people around the world who stand up for those who were vilified during [Trump’s] campaign.”

As soon as I learned about the DC march, I knew I had to be there along with the anticipated 250,000 people expected. So did my daughter. We drove to DC from New York. At a stop on the New Jersey Turnpike it was clear that everyone there was on their way too. “Pussy Wagon” one van said. “Nasty Women” and “2017 March on Washington” were scrawled on other vehicles. People high-fived each other and gave thumbs up as they smiled broadly at each other. Traffic was terrible but no one got upset. Instead, they waved at each other from their cars and waited patiently for their turn to pass through toll booths. It was like a block party on an Interstate.

On the morning of the march the excitement for us began as we headed toward the mall amidst a growing stream of knitted pink hats. The atmosphere was one of energy, community, and hope. On the mall, prolific signs, some serious and many hilarious, gave rise to cheers and photo opps.  “We Shall Overcomb!”  “You can’t comb over climate change!” “I wish my uterus shot bullets so it wouldn’t be regulated!” “Exercise Respect or Expect Resistance!”  “Immigrants Make America Great!” “I can’t believe I Have to March Again about this stuff!” “I’ve seen better cabinets at IKEA!” “Tinkler, Traitor, Groper, Spy.”

 People continued arriving, most on foot, some with walkers or in wheelchairs, little ones in strollers, elders in bicycle rickshaws. As more and more people converged, I was reminded of Gandhi’s Salt March in India. Then as now, people flowed like rivers joining a swelling sea of humanity.  The crowd grew larger and larger. Strangers hugged each other, laughed together, shared knowing smiles, all of us touched by the kindness and courtesy of the crowd. It felt like one big family reunion.  

Many of us gravitated toward 14th Street where the march would continue from Independence Avenue. Soon we heard the sounds and saw the banners. Then they came – and came and came and came -- for hours. By this time an estimated million-plus people were either marching or cheering marchers on. Periodically a chant would rise up or a banner would elicit a collective roar that swept across the city like a tsunami sound wave. 

“I hope Trump is looking out his window at the White House and takes a hint,” a man who had come with his young daughter told me. “It’s hard enough to be a teacher, but now?” a young woman said. An older woman stood silently holding a sign that said simply, “Nyet,” the Washington Monument looming large behind her.

At about 3.30 in the afternoon people who’d been on their feet for hours began peeling away from the continuing parade to make their way toward Pennsylvania Avenue where they hoped the march would pass by the White House. Overwhelmed security personnel began trying to clear a path in the road, red lights flashing and sirens wailing. But the street filled again with a river of people after they’d passed. Then police blocked access to Pennsylvania Avenue and began turning people back. Multitudes kept coming, unaware that they would be caught in a morass of marchers. Still, calm prevailed despite the crush of bodies.

At this point, being claustrophobic, the pangs of panic began rising in my chest. My daughter told a benevolent but seemingly befuddled officer that she had to get me out of there, and he allowed us to cross a barrier so that we could move toward the Ellipse and Constitution Avenue.  From there we walked until we could hail a cab back to our friend’s house.

The entire day, in a word, was awesome. One of the most amazing things about the largest protest march in U.S. history is that not one arrest occurred and no one was hurt despite the huge turnout. In place of anxiety or unanticipated consequences a palpable spirit of friendship, solidarity, commitment and hope prevailed. Even when the density of the crowd became potentially alarming and an organizer instructed participants through a megaphone not to move, calm prevailed as participants waited patiently for directions on how to leave.

After it was all over we heard some wonderful stories. A woman from Vermont said that when her bus made a pit stop at a Walmart’s en route to Washington, the workers applauded.  At the end of the march, a DC Metro driver asked over the loudspeaker, “You ladies have a good day?” A roar of approval went up. Then the driver said, “Thank you for what you are doing for all of us.”  And a Southwest Airlines jet had all its interior lights shining pink. We also learned that all the discarded signs from the march would find their way to various museums, this being such an historic event.

My daughter and I had marched together for reproductive rights in 1989. Here we were nearly thirty years later doing it again. I asked her what she thought the real significance of the day was. She hesitated thoughtfully and then said, “Progressivism is the future. Young people know it and want to build and sustain that future. Historically, many others around the world know from experience – or from older relatives – what it’s like to live under dictatorships or autocracies.  They look at the US as a beacon of hope, a symbol of democracy and freedom.  The US still promises this vision. It’s part of what they were marching for, what we were all marching for. We can’t let go of that.”

I think she hit the nail on the head. Somewhere between the rhetoric and the reality of America resides the hope she spoke of. The multitude of marchers we were part of still believe in that hope and promise, even as they fear it is slipping away.

That’s why we were all there: We can’t, and we won’t, let go of that hope. That was the promise we made to each other, and to the world, on the day of the marches.   It’s one we will not break, which is why the marches continue even as I write this piece. We are resilient, resourceful and determined. As women said in Beijing at the 1995 4th World Conference of Women: “We are here. We are there. We are everywhere. And we are not going away!” We are your mothers, your wives, your sisters, your daughters, your granddaughters, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues. We roar and we vote. And we are not going back.

Note: Unable to post pictures with this piece, not sure why!

Resisting Recklessness in the New Administration

I get many comments when I publish commentary or post an opinion piece to a blog. It’s great to hear from readers, especially when they are validating fans who counter the crueler responses I’m now used to receiving. People write  with thoughtful agreement and with shocking vitriol. But no one has asked me for help – until now.

Recently a reader wrote via my website after reading a column in which I made the case that we need to be vigilant and active in the unprecedented age of a tweeting president who seems not to grasp the gravity of his new position, or to understand that good governance requires not only in-depth knowledge of complex issues, but frequent briefings, good relations with Congress and the media, and more than 40 character communiques. It also includes trusting experienced advisers and proven experts.

The reader wanted to know how she “could make a difference” in the troubling times we are facing. I thought about her important question and then sent several suggestions. In a “thank you” email, she said, “You should make this a column.”  So I thought more, did some research, and came up with these suggestions for resisting the dangerous recklessness that Mr. Trump continues to exhibit.

My first piece of advice is to check out the guide “Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda,” written by volunteers, all of whom have worked as congressional staffers. (www.IndivisibleGuide.com)  These people know what they’re talking about. They drew many of the lessons they share from the success of the Tea Party, when activists “took on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress.” They point out that the Tea Party came out of nowhere quickly, organized locally and then convinced their members of Congress to reject the Obama agenda. “Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism – and they won,” the authors of the guide note. They believe, rightly so I think (along with Bernie Sanders), that we need to build a similar grassroots resistance movement to defeat Mr. Trump’s dangerous agenda. And it’s already happening.

The Women’s March in Washington, DC is a great example. As I write this, at least 250,000 women and men are expected to be in the nation’s capital the day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, to remind him and the Republican Congress that we refuse to go backwards when it comes to women’s rights, human rights, gay rights, voting rights, privacy, affordable health care, and more.  The March wasn’t organized by large, notable organizations like NOW or NARAL Pro-Choice, or Planned Parenthood, all of whom will be in attendance. It was launched by a few women who felt they had to do something. So they put up a Facebook page inviting people to come to DC for the march, and the next morning found that 10,000 people had signed on. It grew from there and numerous cities across the country will be holding similar, simultaneous marches.

Here’s another example. In record time, activists all over shut down the Republican attempt to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. Phones on Capitol Hill rang off the hook, petitions flew, threats of being voted out of office abounded, and within two hours of announcing the changes the right wing wanted to establish, they had recanted. Pure people power!

Those accounts are meant to inspire. These ideas call for action.

Hold the media’s feet to the fire.  When CNN, MSNBC or mainstream media don't cover an important issue with sufficient depth or urgency, or if they don’t insist on getting their questions answered specifically, call them on it. If they give too much time to the bad guys or normalize Mr. Trump's madness, call them – literally! As MSNBC host Chris Hayes has said, “The media is about to face a litmus test to see which reporters have the guts to scrutinize Trump, to expose his scandals, and to call out his lies for being lies…” He also suggests “posting their cowardice on Facebook.”

Write or call your Congresspeople, whether they are left or right. They listen to how constituents feel and they count calls to use numbers in their arguments on the floor. Remember, members of Congress want to get re-elected so they want their voters to like them! Also, localize your response to a particular piece of legislation. Remind them that Johnny (a real person) who lives in your town is likely to die if he is denied a medication or treatment. Tell them that you really don’t want to have to go to the press with the story. Indivisible advises that if you visit your Senator or Representative in DC or in their home office, prepare questions ahead of time, record and/or videotape the visit, and send a report to local media. If your Congressional representatives won’t see you, tell the press.

 Write letters to newspaper editors specific to something that has broken in the news or is being proposed. Big or small issues, big or small papers. Use what is known as “creative epidemiology” in health communications: Instead of saying a million people will suffer, say how many jumbo jets those people would fill. Be sure to follow the paper’s guidelines.

Sign petitions – online or otherwise. They often make a difference, especially if they come from a large, respected group like MoveOn.org, Planned Parenthood, or Human Rights Watch. Share them on social media. Also, speak up and out on issues that matter to you, whether with a friend or in appropriate gatherings. Be armed with facts, stay calm and polite!  Then ask everyone you know to do the same!                

“Protecting our values, our neighbors, and ourselves will require mounting resistance to the Trump Agenda,” the Indivisible Guide says. “Together, we have the power to win [like the Tea Party did].” I would add that this is no time for complacency, no time to normalize our threatened future, no time to be too tired to act. It is time to resist.              

When Acceptance is Not a Virtue

“We should give him a chance.”  “Once he’s in office things may well change.” “America prides itself on ensuring a smooth, orderly transition.”

No! No, no, no!

You don't give plutocrats, oligarchs, or insipient fascists a chance. They don’t change when they win, they only grow bolder, tell more lies, expand and tighten control, find more enemies to attack. That’s why we must call them out every chance we get, right from the get-go!

It’s only mid-December as I write this commentary and there's already enough going on in the so-called presidential transition phase that speaks volumes about what's happening to our democracy, a system of government that is inherently fragile but which we’ve come to assume is immune to dangerous mutation or worse.

What will it take to stop the madness from overcoming us? Why are we being so passive in the face of impending disaster?

As a Facebook friend of mine posted recently, “What would be happening right now if Donald Trump had won more than three million more votes than Hillary Clinton, but Clinton prevailed in the Electoral College? Would he, his supporters, and prominent Republicans have said, “We don’t like the outcome, but that’s how the system works”? Of course not. They’d be screaming bloody murder, they’d be preparing articles of impeachment to file on the day Clinton was inaugurated, they’d be charging that the vote was stolen, they’d be filing lawsuits to overturn (not just recount) the results in every swing state, and Trump would be telling his supporters to use any means necessary to achieve justice.”

Let’s be clear then. It is not acceptable to ignore or diminish the potential impact of the greatest threat this country has ever faced. As Rob Reiner put it on a Sunday morning talk show, "We have a hostile foreign power that has invaded our country. This is enormous and the fact that people aren’t screaming about this, I don’t understand it.” Bombs didn’t fall, Reiner said. No buildings collapsed. “But this [Russian hack] is an invasion of that magnitude. Was Trump colluding with Russian agencies?”

It is not acceptable that the president-elect is threatening to end daily press briefings and to muzzle journalists who write things he doesn’t like. His Barbie-bimbo spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway went to far as to suggest pretty explicitly that there would be retaliation against naysayers.

It is also unacceptable for a president to own his own media company or to be a media executive, to fail to relinquish his business interests, to try to get around nepotism laws so that his children – who are supposedly going to run his not-so-blind trust – can serve as advisors. It should be unacceptable that he has never, and never will, reveal his taxes, or for that matter proper health records.

Speaking of media, it should be totally unacceptable that the mainstream media covered Hillary Clinton’s email server for months but barely touched upon the Russian hacks, or the misdeeds of the FBI director, until they could no longer be ignored. It’s appalling that they never held Donald Trump or his spokespeople’s feet to the fire, but gave him carte blanche when it came to his mass rallies (so reminiscent of those Mussolini like so much) while barely covering his opponent unless she was having a sick day.

It’s also not acceptable that the proposed Trump cabinet is mainly comprised of rich old white men who have no expertise in governance, and in some cases, have publicly vowed to eliminate the agencies they’re being tapped to run. These unqualified people have also denied such realities as climate change and have threatened programs and agencies designed to protect our environment, national parks, health care delivery as well as scientific research and public schools.

It should also be noted that Mr. Trump’s proposed cabinet has more religious bigots, and more generals, than at any other time in modern history. Conversely, it has fewer women or people of color than any administration in recent memory, and no hint of any LBGT or disabled representation.

There are many other commissions, or omissions, one can point to that make what is happening terrifying and unacceptable – among them the possible appointment of an ambassador to Israel who would undoubtedly lead to massive unrest and the growth of ISIS, if not outright war in the Mideast should he succeed in denying a two-state solution and expanding settlements.

This and many other potential disasters should remind us of Elie Wiesel’s idea that there should be an 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not stand idly by.”

So… are we going to practice acceptance until there is no longer a way out? Or are we up for some real organized resistance? For example, will we all identify as Muslim if they are forced to register? Are we prepared to launch national strikes, especially by government workers, teachers, and the like? Can women repeat the strategy of the Greek play, Lysistrata, and refuse to have sex if there is no abortion or birth control available? Do we really mean it when we say, "keep America strong!"

Did we really mean it after the Holocaust when we vowed, “Never again?”

The Archetypal Journey of Hillary Rodham Clinton

Like many other feminists, I tweeted and posted to Facebook at a furious pace after the second presidential debacle that was billed as a debate. “Whether Trump did or did not do what the infamous tape suggested – and I think we all know which is true – the act of celebrating sexual assault as male prerogative and patriarchal power is deplorable,” I wrote. I addressed Trump’s stalking, stuttering and snorting in lieu of substantively addressing policy issues, and I shared my astonishment at his having received good reviews while Hillary Clinton was judged to be off her game for maintaining a calm, polite, focused demeanor in spite of being stalked, verbally abused, threatened with imprisonment, and confronted with the sick stunt perpetrated by her opponent.

Then I read Rebecca Traister’s stunning analysis of the subtext of the debate in New York Magazine and realized how much more there was to consider. Traister, a smart feminist analyst and writer, talked about Donald Trump’s loathing for any woman who might defeat him, and his hideous ways of showing that hatred, including being verbally and physically threatening.  “The worldview that Trump affirmed over and over again, during decades in the public eye, is one in which women are show horses, sexual trophies, and baby machines, and therefore, their agency, consent and participation don’t matter,” she wrote.

Traister continued, condemning Republicans as “a party that has been covert in its cohesion around the very biases that Trump makes course and plain,” referring to their anti-woman legislative agenda, including its attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood and much worse in some states. She pointed out that Republican legislation aimed at disempowering women, and the Republican response to Trump’s gutter talk, reveals a “fundamental lack of recognition of women as full human beings,” not simply mothers, daughters and wives, as they insisted when disavowing their candidate. In the end, Traister said, the weapons of choice among misogynists for beating powerful women are humiliation, objectification, shaming and sexualization. That couldn’t have been made more explicit than by how Donald Trump behaved toward Hillary Clinton during the debate.

No sooner had I finished reading Traister’s compelling article when my daughter called to make another stunning point. “I think Hillary is on an archetypal journey,” she said. “She has to go into that dark place and emerge on the other side intact.”

It was a brilliant observation. Think about it. Women have traditionally been denied The Quest or journey to enlightenment. Locked in their castles birthing future kings, or in convents, where they spent the better part of their lives invisible beyond the cloister gardens, they were denied their hunger for a wider world, their intelligence and courage continually hidden from sight and declared non-existent or illegitimate. Almost the same can be said of women relegated to post-war suburban isolation even though they were, in many cases, well-educated. Many of them who dared to seek a larger role than wife and mother were quickly admonished to go home and make babies when they bravely sought careers.

Two of the most easily recognized female archetypes are the Nurturing Mother and the Temptress. The nurturing mother sustains the warrior on his journey, while the temptress tries to seduce him away from his quest through her sexuality. But now, in Hillary, we have a new female archetype – a warrior woman equal to, and in this case surpassing her male counterpart. She is a warrior capable of undertaking the quest, and emerging intact to win the Golden Fleece.

Another key element of the archetypal journal involves entering into and surviving the Underworld, often a dark cave.  Hillary Clinton has had to survive the darkest of caves in an underworld full of deranged men and incipient violence. A good many male warriors might have given up in comparable circumstances, but she persevered, intent on making it back to the light. Luckily, along the way she has had good Mentors to help her overcome the ever-present obstacles of the arduous journey she has undertaken.

Among the many symbols of the classic Archetypal Journey are mountains, water, serpents and rainbows. Hillary Clinton still has some murky waters to wade through, waters that are home to snakes continually lashing out at her. But when she finally gets to the other side of the river and ascends the mountain there is likely to be a rainbow of colors there. Many of us will be standing with her, relieved and hopeful once more, able to see the world as a place of safety and beauty again.

We will all be changed by the experience. Sometimes that’s all it takes to reach a more enlightened way of being.

 

Marching Toward Dystopia

Marching Toward Dystopia

 

It’s hard to believe, given Donald Trump’s constant and egregious lies, his frequent name-calling and hate speech, his puerile tongue lashings, his visible ineptitude, and his recent debate performance, that he can be viewed as a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s election in November. Issues and behavior that would have brought down any other candidate, ranging from imitating a disabled reporter to insulting a Gold Star family to being involved in three serious lawsuits, to refusing to reveal his taxes or professional health reports should have stopped him long ago. So should his inability to discuss policy priorities with any depth and his pugilistic, pro-Putin posturing. Yet, here we are as I write this commentary, nail-biting our way through every new poll and prediction, scratching our heads about how this looming disaster could possibly be happening.

Whatever the inevitable political and psychological post-mortems reveal, one thing is frighteningly real: Donald Trump has exposed and unleashed the underbelly of American society, releasing into the ether rampant racism, virulent anti-Semitism, overt hatred of “the Other,” including Muslims, and frightening violence borne by those whose world view he represents - people so full of animus toward human beings who don’t look, think or act like themselves that Hillary Clinton was honest enough to call them “deplorable,” a descriptor verified by polls questioning any standard of decency among other Americans.

Noted political commentator Rebecca Traister saw trouble coming during the Republican convention. She wrote,” What we have seen … is the Republican Party offering its stage and its imprimatur to speakers who have not appeared reluctant or conflicted, but rather buoyed and energized by the way in which Trump’s candidacy has allowed them to come out as inciters of sexist, racist, violent mob action and xenophobic fearmongering. What’s more, by framing their hateful rhetoric in terms of patriotism, they are reminding us that much of the poison in this country runs deep.”

The kind of indecency and poison that Trump spawns and encourages is all too clear when his son says we should be “firing up the ovens.” It is clear when white supremacists pride themselves on finally being legitimate within the public arena while wearing white hoods and waving Nazi or confederate flags. It is more than clear when a 69-year old woman on oxygen is physically assaulted at a Trump rally by one of his supporters.  

The examples of hate-filled rhetoric and behavior among Trump supporters abound in social media, if not in most of the mainstream press, which has been woefully inadequate in its coverage of Trump’s mania. Even should he lose the election “the message of hatred and paranoia that is inciting millions of voters will outlast the messenger [and] the toxic effects of Trumpism will have to be addressed,” a New York Times editorial noted. Those effects include documented increases in bullying in schools and increases in anti-Semitic and other hate crimes. 

Analogies drawn between Trump and Hitler, considered in bad taste and reluctantly shared to make clear similarities in terms of their political strategies, may still be useful. To quote Robert Paxton, an authority on fascism, in Slate.com recently, “The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. ‘Making the country great again’ sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately … . That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline [is] another one. Then, there’s a second level, [one] of style and technique. … [he is] like Mussolini … the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.” 

In light of the terrifying specter before us should Trump prevail, the challenge for those who understand how close we could be to a dystopian future is convincing people who don’t like Hillary that they have to vote for her anyway. I’ve tried and it’s not easy. Some of them don’t get that democracy resides in participation and that without voting they are colluding with a possible Trump win that could mean we enter into an inconceivable Draconian age. Some of them think he’s not as bad as the show he puts on. Some of them just don’t seem to care.

How did so many people whose very interests and futures are at stake become so apathetic and deluded? That is perhaps a question for another time.

Right now what matters urgently is that as many people as possible vote, which means that all of us experiencing cold sweats ratchet up the dialogue, knock on doors, argue with our right-leaning friends, do whatever it takes to shine light on what the options are: Either we vote smart and elect Hillary, or we dig in our heels and hope to survive years of dictatorial disaster. 

Want to know what that feels like? Ask anyone whose lived under Saddam Hussein, Assad, Romania’s Ceaușescu, and now Mr. Erdogan of Turkey.  It’s not a pretty picture. As Trump would say, “Believe me.”

                                                       

 

 

   

The Political Power of Narrative

Years ago, when I was working in the women’s health movement, I was fortunate enough to attend the last of the three UN Decade for Women conferences in Nairobi, Kenya. Ten years later I also attended the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. During the intervening years I was present at various other fora where women spoke, often giving testimony about their life experiences and sharing the challenges they had faced and overcome. 

Bearing witness to those moving testimonials was an unforgettable and moving experience. Whether through individual conversation or a particularly compelling speech, the impact of the stories those women told is still with me, and while I don’t recall many individual stories now, I still remember the profound effect of listening to those collective voices from courageous women bringing their reality to life for all the world to hear.

Their first-person accounts, painful as they often were to hear, gave me, and all who heard them, a far greater understanding, and a deeper empathy, than any speeches riddled with statistics could ever have done. One woman talking about her own experience with female genital cutting because of patriarchal-driven custom, or one woman relating her experience of spousal abuse or rape during war, sears itself into your soul as no official document can.

I thought about those conferences and about the importance and power of story, particularly as a writer, while watching the Democratic convention. The video of Humayun Khan, the brave soldier who died in America’s war, and the now-famous appearance of his parents at the convention, as well as Michelle Obama’s reflections on how she and her husband raised their daughters during the White House years, and other memories shared by speakers in the course of their remarks, all served to remind me of how compelling personal narratives are and of their importance in political discourse.

We all have stories to tell. And those stories are important. They matter – to us, and for others. As a British faith-based organization called Stethelburgas put it on their website, “Hearing the stories of others breaks down the fears that underlie prejudice, and opens us up to the perspectives of others. Through story we see more easily the unique challenges of every individual, and how their beliefs and attitudes make sense within the context of their own experience. We may still disagree with a particular perspective but begin to see how that view makes sense within the story of that person’s life. As a result, we tend not to argue with story as we might with opinion. Stories change the ‘contract’ with the listener.”

I can think of so many narratives, often shared through extraordinary oratory, that changed the contract with listeners.  Sojourner Truth, an illiterate slave who was a small woman with a huge heart and a big voice, told a story when she asked of her all white, male audience, “And ain’t I a Woman?” Martin Luther King, Jr. did it when he said to the world, “I have a dream.” Gandhi inspired his followers when he admonished, “be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Alice Paul, who fought so hard for women’s right to vote, shared a bit of political poetry and wisdom when she said, “When you put your hand to the plow, you can’t put it down until you get to the end of the row.”

Vivian Gornick understood the central role narration – story - plays from a writer’s perspective. In her book The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative she points out that memoirists always explore a situation through the story embedded in it. “The situation is the context or circumstance; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has come to say.” And she adds, “The memoirist must engage with the world…must convince readers they have some wisdom, and are writing as honestly as possible to arrive at what they know.”

Gornick’s words, it seems to me, are relevant for speakers and listeners as much as for readers, never more so than within a political context, especially during this unprecedented election.  The stories, and the oral narrative within which they reside, afford us an opportunity to break down fear, to open up to others, to truly listen, and to see the unique challenges ahead of us in new ways, ways that no doctrinaire speechmaking or facile sound bite can. 

The truth is we are all hungry for story, child and elder alike. The love of a good tale never leaves us, especially when it’s about someone’s dreams, the reclaiming of our better natures, or striving together for “the golden fleece” promise of a positive future. 

Whether those stories come to us by way of books, visual narratives or spoken words, we owe it to ourselves as never before to be paying attention to them, and to be seeking their gifts in this time of challenging governance.  

                                   

Thoughts From a Disillusioned Democrat

It’s hard being a news junkie and something of a political activist, especially in an election year. Despite my daily resolutions to divert from rehashed polls reported ad nauseam on CNN and MSNBC to the pleasures of Turner Classics, or recordings of Jon Oliver’s brilliant show Last Week Tonight, I still can’t resist channel surfing back to presidential pundit-speak and crawlers, which invariably get my dander up.

One thing that drives me bonkers is the frequency with which major news stories from here and abroad are totally overlooked, or texted in crawlers by American networks and cable news outlets. You’d think there was no world out there. With Aljazeera America gone, there’s only the BBC to turn to, and often their coverage is questionable.

Here’s an example of something that unnerves me when I click on the news, which segues with my disillusionment with Democrats. A crawler reads, “Toddler kills mother with handgun.” The next day it’s “Four-year old shoots two-year old sister.” Gun violence is a major crisis and an urgent public health issue in this country. So why aren’t the Dems – and media’s talking heads – addressing the issue more urgently? Why haven’t interviewers held Bernie’s feet to the fire on the matter? We already know he has a D- rating with the NRA. That’s irrelevant to the question of why his voting record on gun legislation is so inadequate, nor does it tell us what he plans to do to address gun violence if elected.

Why, too, does Bernie keep harking back to Hillary’s Wall Street speeches along with other redundancies? How about they cut a deal: she releases her speeches when he releases his tax records, so we can all move on to the really important issues. (According to Facebook, Jane Sandersproposed this idea last month, putting the onus on Hillary first.)

And where was Bernie’s condemnation of his spokesperson’s term “Democratic whores”? Or his strong statement admonishing supporters for throwing dollar bills at his opponent? Given that his adversary is a woman, these were particularly insulting and troubling terms and actions; they smacked of the kind of misogyny Hillary Rodham Clinton is routinely subjected to and they should be roundly rejected by anyone vying for leadership.  It is not going too far, I think, to suggest that such language and actions smack of Trump tactics.

Hillary Clinton also has some explaining to do to this Democrat. Why, for example, did she make no mention of Israel’s responsibility toward peace in the Middle East when she addressed – or pandered to – AIPAC? It’s one thing to be a supporter of or an ally to Israel, but surely their government should be called out by ours for continuing to build illegal settlements, and for their brutal behavior toward Arabs living in ghettos in Gaza and the West Bank.

Further, according to many of her supporters, she has donated her Goldman Sachs speaking fees. Why then has she not been able to say that during the debates? If it’s true I’d also like to know to whom funds were donated. And while I agree that it’s important to support “down stream Democratic candidates,” how smart was it to hold a Hollywood fundraiser in primary season that cost over $300,000 to sponsor and over $30,000 to attend?  Could you shout “one percent” any louder?

The escalating negativity and hostility on display during recent Democratic debates was also deeply troubling. What ever happened to the promises of civility and mutual respect that both candidates promised and deserve? I’m tired of sandbox politics overall, but I’m especially distressed to see two people I respect in my party behaving like children throwing temper tantrums, being on the shady side of the truth, making false or hyperbolized accusations, and generally acting as if they are willing to win at the cost of their own integrity.

This election is, I believe, one of the most important ones we will have faced in our lifetimes. Its outcome matters deeply, dramatically and for the long term. Nothing illustrates that more than the Democracy Spring movement that emerged following the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements.

Something is happening in America, as in other countries that will shape our individual and collective futures in ways we have yet to realize.  Not since the Populist movement that followed the Gilded Age have Americans seen such a frenzied plea for social justice and social change.

 It is the responsibility of all politicians, but especially Democrats – as well as the media – to hear what is being articulated by the 99 percent, to understand the critical underpinnings of their call for meaningful reform, and to respond to such calls with intelligence, compassion, clarity, honesty, strategy, and the sense of urgency the message demands.  There are vital connections to be made with respect to class, race, gender, poverty and more.  That leaves no time or taste for nasty attacks, minimalist crawlers, or meaningless and repetitive banter.

The time for mean-spirited exchange, empty slogans, and dumbed-down discourse is over. It’s time for civility and sensible action.  The question is: Can the Democrats, and the news media, rise to it? 

 

A Frightening Move to the Right in the US and Elsewhere

Anyone who saw Donald Trump asking for a Hitler-like salute to accompany a vote pledge from his supporters, or watched an angry follower elbow-punch a protester in the face, should realize that if he were to take the White House, we would all be in deep trouble. Trump’s behavior, ideas and political rants are outrageous and alarming.

But make no mistake: we’d be in trouble if any Republican candidate were to win the election. Trump’s opponents espouse much of the same policy claptrap when pressed; they just use softer language and forego violently throwing protesters out of the room with the Stalinist vigor of the frontrunner. The party of the right has helped fuel the escalation in violence and vitriol we are experiencing. They’ve done nothing to put a lid on what’s happening and they continue to support Trump in the election. They have never disavowed his accusations about the President’s birthplace. They’ve refused to pass legislation the president proposes and they have never treated Mr. Obama with respect.

Even more worrying than the fascist machinations of the authoritarian Republican poll leader is the numbers of people flocking to his events cheering on his stereotypical scapegoating.  The hate inherent in Trump supporters is a scary reminder that a lot of Americans stand on shaky ground.

We are not alone in the fact that about half our population is dangerously right wing.

Recently Spain’s conservative government strengthened laws originally aimed at controlling separatists. The laws resulted in the arrest of puppeteers who used a political play on words at a Carnival show and the prosecution of a musician and a poet whose work suggested criticism of the government, all in the name of fighting terrorism. Maximum prison sentences for such infractions have been increased and a new “gag law” penalizes unauthorized public demonstrations.

Even before the Paris attacks in November last year France reinforced a similar gag law to punishes statements deemed to be inciting terrorism. Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, French authorities have moved to enforce the law and have been accused of rushing to convict people who may have spoken provocatively outside the realm of terrorism.

Other European nations, both east and west, have also enacting broad and troubling laws, some aimed at maintaining a leader’s control, others at limiting political speech as fears of Islamic extremism rise. Germany, for example, is showing serious signs of moving right in view of the Merkel government’s welcoming of refugees.

In Turkey, the Erdogan government recently seized the largest circulation newspaper in the country which had been critical of his leadership. Within 48 hours it was publishing pro-Erdogan propaganda. In shutting down the press police acted after a court in Istanbul placed the paper under the administration of selected Trustees without explanation. The editor of the paper was fired and Turkish sources reported that the paper’s online archive was being eradicated. This action is just the latest move by the authoritarian Erdogan, who has imprisoned critics, jailed journalists, and gone back to war with the Kurds. Oh, and it’s now illegal to insult Mr. Erdogan. Nearly 2,000 cases for that crime were filed over the last year and a half.

The New York Times, in reporting events in Turkey, noted that “it is unsettling that the US and Europe have responded so meekly to Mr. Erdogan’s trampling of a free press.” It’s also unsettling that EU countries are not willing to bear any responsibility for trapped refugees. The challenges of resettlement are huge, of course, but part of the reason no country wants to help the teaming masses is an almost hysterical fear of terrorism, which seems to have trumped (no pun intended) human rights and compassion.

In Poland, the ultra-conservative government has cleared the way for hard line legal changes, including a likely total ban on abortion and further curbs on gender and human rights. Their constitutional tribunal, the country’s highest legislative court, is losing its independence thanks to the Law and Justice Party’s win last year – a Party aligned with hostility toward migrants.

Meanwhile, Israel continues its trek right. A Pew Research Center report issued in March found that almost half of all Israeli Jews want to see the transfer or expulsion of the country’s Palestinian population. For the past decade or more racist ideas have gained power in Israel, scholars point out, powered by ultra-Orthodox rabbis and other fundamentalists. This attitude has led to attacks on Palestinians as well as women and gay activists, some of which have resulted in barely punished homicides. And still the illegal building of settlements continues, basically assuring that a two-state solution can never prevail.

As we grapple with our current political landscape as well as the debate over First Amendment rights vs. national security spawned by Apple’s refusal to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, we need to be mindful of the full picture, and the real threats, surrounding civil rights here and elsewhere. Never has it been truer that “no man [or country] is an island.” The shift right in so many countries, possibly including ours, is perhaps the most important issue we will be forced to grapple with in coming days. Let’s not think, as many Germans did, “It could never happen here.”  It could. And it well might if we are not both vigilant and smart.  

 

                                               

Overcoming the Politics of fear

 

Sometimes when I am contemplating a commentary events conspire to help me reflect more deeply on the subject at hand. Such was the case when, after Donald Trump’s outrageous suggestion that Muslims in America should be registered and no more Muslims should be allowed to enter the country, I began to write about the politics of fear. 

I first recalled what Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans during World War II: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” the president said. He was cautioning a frightened population against fear-induced paralysis. It was an especially important message given that considered, decisive action and not passivity was urgently needed to defeat evildoers like Hitler. Perhaps he was also warning us not to cower in the face of demagogues and not to yield to unacceptable language that serves to fuel heinous deeds. Quite possibly he was also cautioning against becoming inured to a kind of evil that can invade our collective psyche so that seemingly innocuous words like “normal,” “necessary “and “needed”  begin to justify a nation’s dangerous, destructive, shameful behavior.

While I was thinking about this I happened to be reading an extraordinary novel by the Russian-born writer Paul Goldberg. The Yid is about Stalinism, anti-Semitism, racism and more in 1950s Russia and it struck me as incredibly relevant. Goldberg’s protagonist, for example, compares political purges to epidemics that “start out with a small, concentrated population, then expand their reach nationally, even globally.” Epidemics of infectious diseases, he says, “can reach a peak” before inevitably receding. He concludes that Fascism is an infectious disease and Stalinism is a plague. Neither can survive, but in their long brutality many people suffer and die.

I can’t be the only one to read this book and think of Donald Trump’s vicious talk and insidious proposals when it comes to Muslims or immigrants and refugees.

Goldberg’s character was right to say that epidemics – even political ones - can become global. The growth of France’s right wing party or for that matter the far right voters in the UK, Poland, and elsewhere demonstrate that. Never has there been a more urgent time to ask ourselves, as Goldberg does, “What are we dealing with? Is this outburst of ignorance and hatred akin to systemic disease? What if you could find a way to intervene and neutralize it?”

Then something else happened as I was tossing all of this around in my mind.  I attended an amazing non-denominational religious service in which a gifted minister spoke about fear and what it can do to us. Without ever mentioning refugees, immigrants, Republicans, or Muslims, and using only Good Samaritan stories to make his point, this good, compassionate, intelligent man hit the nail on the head. 

Fear, he said, leads to hate and hate leads to demonizing people who may be different than we are. We need to see past those differences. We must be global citizens and good neighbors. We must recall and reclaim our national shame in remembering what America did to Native Americans, to Japanese Americans during the war, to the Jews we turned away when they were desperate to escape Nazi atrocities, to the multitudes of Black Americans who died hanging from trees or attacked by dogs when they fought for civil rights, to HIV/AIDS or Ebola victims – all because we saw these human beings as “they,” The Other, the Outsider, the threat that fueled our fear. We need also to reclaim our own Good Samaritan stories if we are to survive, the minister reminded us. We must reject the fearmongering of Biblical literalists who often forget that to be human is to behave humanely.

So, no more polemicists like Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson who preach fear and hatred from their pulpits.  No more demonizing of others by right-wing zealots in Congress or elsewhere. No more Trump travesties or political poison born of bigotry. No more foul-mouthed, unfounded accusations. No more letting fear dominate our decisions and behavior. No more fear defining our national character so that other nations no longer want to engage with us.

The time for proclaiming with our voices and our vote that we are not going to do it anymore is now. The time is here to say clearly that we reject fear as our future. Instead, let us see past challenging times in order to survive as a unified, dignified nation. Let us be a country whole and healthy. Let the fearmongers slink away and find their own place in the world, but let it not be ours.    

He Said, She Said: An Election Dilemma

Like a lot of other politically active liberal Democrats, I’m in a pre-primary quandary. Hillary or Bernie? One day I’m for one candidate, the next I’m leaning toward their contender. Both make a lot of sense to me and represent my world view. But both have done things (or not) that make me wonder about their ability to lead the country (and the world) in a way that makes me feel totally comfortable and confident.  

I’d love to see a woman president in my lifetime, but I voted for Barack Obama the last time Hillary ran because I have reservations about her that persist, and I don’t like political dynasties. And I like what Bernie stands for, but he’s troubled me on a few issues, and I wonder if he has the personality, patience and negotiation skills required to get things done on the Hill and around the world, progressive ideology notwithstanding.

The Democratic candidate who emerges will have my full and active support. I will go to the mat to ensure that whichever Republican is nominated has no chance of wreaking the havoc each of them has promised. But here are some things I need to see in a Democratic frontrunner in order to be a proud American again, and to feel that there is hope for the future of our country, our world, and our planet.

First, at the national level, I need to know that serious, enforceable gun control legislation will be among the new president’s priorities.  I need to stop seeing daily reports of senseless gun deaths, reports so ubiquitous that we are no longer shocked by them because they are as common as a bad weather report. We have become our own killing field and an enigma to the civilized world. It’s time to understand the 18th century intent of the Second Amendment and to question its relevance today. It’s time to tell the NRA to take a hike.

I also need to see reforms within our justice system, our prison-industrial complex and our approach to incarceration overall. Enough of people like Carlos Mercado, a 45-year old diabetic man who died after 15 hours at New York’s notorious Rikers Island for lack of medical attention as guards stepped over him as he lay dying. Enough of women like Sandra Bland dying in prison for not using a turn signal. Enough of white- collar criminals walking away while black boys and men waste away in lockup. Enough of the torture of solitary confinement and of innocent people incarcerated for years and sometimes put to death by the state. Enough of police brutality, bad lawyering, powermongering parole boards, and judicial corruption. Enough of swat teams in place of community-based policing and sufficient mental health services.

I need to see serious attention being given to rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure before it literally falls down around us. Whether its endangered bridges, potholed roads, a ridiculous Amtrak system instead of high speed rail and mass transit like the rest of the developed world has, or up-to-date air traffic control technology, it’s time we stopped gluing ourselves back together, or ignoring altogether disasters waiting to happen. Instead of building walls to keep people away or devising ways to take a one-way trip to outer space perhaps we could make life safer and more comfortable for folks moving around in our own neighborhoods and cities.

With a view to the wider world, I need to know that the next president grasps the reality and urgency of climate change. It’s imperative that he or she gets the fact – the indisputable fact - that we are on the cusp of extraordinary, irreversible disaster if we don’t act now to save our planet. Reports by multiple, credible scientists of sea changes and weather events driven by global warming - including water shortages that could result in insufficient food, new migrations and conflicts over water - are already here. What will it take for naysayers to get the severity of the issue? One answer is a president who prioritizes climate change and acts responsibly along with other global leaders.

Clearly, anyone in the Oval Office needs to be absolutely dedicated to human rights – which include women’s right to agency over their own bodies and lives – and to making such dedication clear and operational.  That means ensuring that quality health care and education is accessible and affordable for everyone. It means having a viable strategy for helping the world’s refugees, people of color, and those from other ethnic or religious backgrounds to feel safe and to live dignified lives.

Finally, I need the president to be absolutely savvy about foreign affairs and to have the kind of experience, advisors, and negotiating skills that give all of us the best chance of living in a world in which armed conflict is reduced and terrorism is eliminated without the slaughter of innocents.

It’s a tall order. But Hillary and Bernie have a year in which to convince me which one of them is up to the job. Until then, I’ll just have to live with uncertainty.