Candidates flailing arms in the air, bent
on talking, one over another Hapless moderators—too many, too
weak to control the mayhem Another Democratic debate, Offering less light than heat Seemingly not laser-focused on our
closeness to the abyss.
In the far too-White House, a lawless
President—unrebuked by his
tarnished party— No-nothingly claims the gathering
pandemic will soon be gone
And helter-skelterly seeks funding only
after a ka-chinging Stock Market dives into waters darkened
by viral uncertainty… Even as he tears away our protective
Intel and Rebukes/replaces experts and judicious
judges, Instead producing pattern-setting
pardons of those justly Convicted of crimes against the State… As back in Russia, Vladimir does his
happy dance with wanton abandon.
When an aroused people stands together Elevating our shared goal beyond our
Change of the most positive nature can
unfold As we become Citizen Activists as never
before: Noting the work ahead, and
enthusiastically signing on
Exercising our right to vote for whoever
we think best—but Not turning away if the nominee is other
than our choice, Determined to banish the unclothed
emperor above all.
In this nation of great promise and
hard history This is our time, finally, to get
In my previous post, I cited the free newsletter by RB Hubbell of California (firstname.lastname@example.org). His February 26, 2020, issue (No. 380) is a treasure trove of action steps we can take, with links to organizations focused on the important issues of voter registration, turnout, and voter protection, among others.
They include several I’d never heard of, such as Changing the Conversation Together (in which volunteers have issue-oriented discussions with people in their homes), Vote Forward (you sign your name to letters on a template sent to under-represented voters), and one I found particularly interesting: Payback Project, dedicated to defeating ten Republican Senators (including Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and Mitch McConnell), and thereby taking back the Senate.
And in today’s newsletter (February 27, 2020, No. 831), Hubbell adds another compelling possibility: Sister District Project, which tries to turn states blue by winning state legislatures, thereby helping to end gerrymandering. The organization says it has teams “across the country.” With the 2020 Census under way, leading to redistricting in 2021, it is vital that we have Democratic Governors and state legislators involved in this effort to ensure that representation is accurately apportioned.
After watching the pre-Nevada caucus Democratic debate, I began writing this post with feelings of frustration approaching despair. There were many things to criticize, and I was emptying my angst onto this page, and thus preparing to send it on to you.
With the latest evidence—which we already knew—from the Intelligence briefing to the House that reiterated Russian meddling in the 2020 election, which was followed by the President’s replacement of the acting intelligence chief with someone with less than zero qualifications for the job, I cannot and will not deny that we are living in increasingly perilous times. See The New York Times article here.
The question I’ve been pondering is this: as we search for someone who is best able to defeat Donald Trump, how do we handle ourselves? And that question makes me feel more closely attuned to my more optimistic, better self—the one that really believes we can find common ground.
What brought me to this more positive place? Meditation helps, but my “recovery” was nurtured by a very calming, cogent newsletter that a friend who had just subscribed to forwarded to me. Its author, RB Hubbell, is based in California. The daily newsletter is free and can be obtained by sending your email address to email@example.com.
A Voice of Reason
I don’t know how large Hubbell’s subscriber list is, but he began his discussion of the aftermath of the debate by saying his inbox had “exploded” with emails that “exhibited a level of angst, anger, and disgust I have not seen before.”
He then said he wanted to share readers’ reactions, because he’s been told that hearing from others helps his readers “ground their feelings and test their own reactions to this crazy mess in which we find ourselves.”
There’s nothing wildly original about Hubbell’s message or his readers’ reactions. Maybe I was just ready to hear his words, but they hit me exactly right. Here’s a sampling:
“Before we get to the details, let’s say the important things first: We must stick together. We are on the same side. If we do not stand together, we will fall together. Whatever passion or disappointment or anger you feel, it cannot cause you to withdraw from the process or give in to feelings of hopelessness or lash out in anger at fellow Democrats. We are facing a grave threat to democracy. Our personal preferences for president are subordinate to the need to ensure the election of the Democratic nominee—whoever he or she is.
“A secondary point is the need to focus on the long-term. Yesterday’s debate was freighted with expectations and led to disappointment. Accept that fact and move on. We can’t freak out every time something bad happens; otherwise, we won’t make it to the Democratic convention in July, much less the general election in November. If ever there was a time in our history when we needed to toughen-up, hunker-down, and keep our eyes on the horizon, now is that moment.”
It’s Okay to Withdraw, But Not for Long
Hubbell’s readers include many people who told him they’d withdrawn from the fray for the sake of their mental health. I can relate to that feeling. My last three posts were about goldfinches and squirrels; solar railways and my carbon BigFootprint, and guidance on comforting the sick and dying.
But I knew I had to return to politics because this is an “all hands on deck” moment.
Interestingly, although Hubbell probably wouldn’t reveal his preferred candidate under any circumstances, he notes that he’s mostly filled out his own ballot for the California primary but has not yet determined which candidate he’ll support.
He concludes in a way that ties in with my primary objective with this post, referencing a Twitter thread by Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics (when there was such a working institution in our government!). A “snippet”:
“ Take Action. Any action. It’s not big things that will save us. It’s persistent small actions carried out by one individual, and another, and another and another across the nation…Make a very small donation, even just a dollar, to something, sign up to volunteer for one hour, go learn how to register voters.”
I wish I could include the entire thread because there’s lots of wisdom there. If you’re on Twitter, go to @waltshaub and you can read through it.
A Valuable Way to Make a Difference
Many of us have been repeatedly sending money to the Presidential candidate(s) of our choice. That’s important. But my action at the moment is to focus our attention on the House of Representatives. We must, must, must maintain the Democratic majority in the House.
All the members of the Class of 2018, those moderates in either swing districts or districts that Trump won, have been targeted for extinction—in good measure because they flipped formerly Republican seats AND had the courage to vote for impeachment. Many won by a single vote.
They are among the more than 50 House members being targeted for defeat by the National Republican Campaign Committee. According to Roll Call, the NRCC Chairman, Tom Emmer of Minnesota, enunciated the slogan the Congressional Republicans plan to run on:
“Freedom or socialism—that’s the choice in 2020.”
These targeted Democrats need our help, as their opposition is often flooded with cash and a revved up base. I’m listing their names, districts, and web sites in the hope that if you feel strongly that it is imperative to retain a Democratic-controlled House, you’ll be able to support their reelections in whatever way you can, including volunteering and importantly by contributing, no matter how small the amount.
In addition to donating to them directly, in most cases you can also go through ActBlue. I’m planning to work my way down the list, eventually giving modest donations to all of them.
Remember: each one of these individuals did what he or she believed was right for this country and upheld that oath—knowing that vote might well end their careers.
Let’s begin with the seven brave souls—all with national security backgrounds—whose OpEd in the Washington Post was instrumental in changing Nancy Pelosi’s mind about the need for an impeachment inquiry. They are:
Note: Jared Golden (ME-02): jaredgoldenforcongress.com has also been targeted by the Republicans, but the Democrats aren’t happy with him either: He voted to impeach the President on Article 1, but not for obstruction of Congress.
Missing from my version of the list are Katie Hill (CA-25), who resigned from Congress due to a personal scandal; and Jeff Van Drew (NJ-02), who switched his party affiliation and is now a Republican.
On this list of valuable legislators, one who has impressed me deeply is Katie Porter of California, who asks the tough questions and seems fearless in speaking truth to power. She is under particularly strong attack. I believe it is extremely important that her voice continues to be heard in Congress; thus, I’ve highlighted her information.
I’ll conclude with RB Hubbell’s closing remarks in the newsletter issue I referred to above:
“We are in the fight of our lives, but we are in it together. That should give us all comfort.”
That fight demands that we act positively and don’t despair. And make sure you’re registered to vote!
In case you didn’t see/hear or read about Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s official Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address, it appears below.
I believe her focus here is the path the Democrats must take to win the Presidency, House, and Senate in November. It was the successful path to retaking the House in 2018, and there are many reasons to believe it will work again.
I’ve added emphases to several points, but I hope you’ll read the entire speech.
Good evening. I’m honored to be here and grateful that you’re tuning in. I’m Gretchen Whitmer, the 49th governor of the great state of Michigan. Tonight, I’m at my daughter Sherry and Sydney’s public school East Lansing high school. We’re here today with families and parents, teachers, and most importantly, students. I want to thank you all for coming.
But tonight I’m going to talk to those of you who are watching at home.
I’d need a lot more than 10 minutes to respond to what the president just said. So instead of talking about what he is saying, I’m going to highlight what Democrats are doing. After all, you can listen to what someone says, but to know the truth, watch what they do.
Michiganders are no different from Americans everywhere. We love our families and want a good life today and a better life tomorrow for our kids.
We work hard, and we expect our government to work hard for us, as well.
We have grit and value loyalty, and we still root for the Detroit Lions.
We and all Americans might be weary of today’s politics, but we must stay engaged. Our country, our democracy, our future demand it. We’re capable of great things when we work together.
We cannot forget that despite the dishonesty and division of the last few years, and that we heard tonight from the President of the United States, together we have boundless potential.
And young Americans are proving that every day by taking action. That’s what I want to focus on tonight.
Monte Scott is 13 years old and lives in Muskegon Heights, Michigan. Monte’s street was covered in potholes. They were ankle deep and he got tired of waiting for them to get fixed, so he grabbed a shovel and a bucket of dirt and filled them in himself.
During my campaign, people told me to fix the damn roads, because blown tires and broken windshields are downright dangerous, and car repairs take money from rent, child care or groceries. And we, the Democrats, are doing something about it.
In Illinois, Governor J. B. Pritzker passed a multibillion dollar plan to rebuild their roads and bridges. Governor Phil Murphy is replacing lead pipes in New Jersey.
All across the country, Democratic leaders are rebuilding bridges, fixing roads, expanding broadband and cleaning up drinking water.
Everyone in this country benefits when we invest in infrastructure. Congressional Democrats have presented proposals to keep us moving forward, but President Trump and the Republicans in the Senate are blocking the path.
When it comes to infrastructure, Monte has tried to do more with a shovel and a pile of dirt than the Republicans in D.C. have with the Oval Office and the U.S. Senate.
Bullying people on Twitter doesn’t fix bridges, it burns them. Our energy should be used to solve problems, and it’s true for health care, too.
For me, for so many Americans, healthcare is personal, not political.
When I was 30, I became a member of the sandwich generation. That means I was sandwiched between two generations of my own family for whom I was the primary caregiver.
I was holding down a new job, caring for my newborn daughter, as well as my mom at the end of her brain cancer battle. I was up all night with a baby, and during the day I had to fight my mom’s insurance company when they wrongly denied her coverage for chemotherapy.
It was hard. It exposed the harsh realities of our workplaces, our health care system, and our child care system.
And it changed me.
I lost patience for people who are just talk and no action. So as a state senator, I worked with a Republican governor and legislature to expand health care coverage to more than 680,000 Michiganders under the Affordable Care Act.
Today, Democrats from Maine to Montana are expanding coverage and lowering costs. In Kansas, Governor Laura Kelly is working across the aisle to bring Medicaid coverage to tens of thousands. In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham enshrined ACA protections into law.
Every Democrat running for president has a plan to expand health care for all Americans. Every one of them has supported the Affordable Care Act with coverage for people with preexisting conditions.
They may have different plans, but the goal is the same. President Trump sadly has a different plan. He’s asking the courts to rip those life-saving protections away. It’s pretty simple. Democrats are trying to make your health care better, Republicans in Washington are trying to take it away.
Think about kids like 17-year-old Blake Carroll from Idaho, who organized a fundraiser to pay for his mom’s colon cancer treatment, or 19-year-old Ebony Meyers from Utah, who sells art to help pay for her own rare genetic disorder treatment.
No one should have to crowdsource their healthcare, not in America.
But the reality is not everyone in America has a job with healthcare and benefits. In fact, many have jobs that don’t even pay enough to cover their monthly expenses.
It doesn’t matter what the President says about the stock market. What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans or prescription drugs.
American workers are hurting. In my own state, our neighbors in Wisconsin and Ohio, Pennsylvania and all over the country, wages have stagnated while CEO pay has skyrocketed.
So when the president says the economy is strong, my question is, strong for whom? Strong for the wealthy who are reaping rewards from tax cuts they don’t need?
The American economy needs to be a different kind of strong. Strong for the science teacher spending her own money to buy supplies for her classroom. Strong for the single mom picking up extra hours so she can afford her daughter’s soccer cleats. Strong for the small business owner who has to make payroll at the end of the month.
Michigan invented the middle class, so we know: if the economy doesn’t work for working people, it just doesn’t work. Who fights for working, hard-working Americans? Democrats do.
In the U.S. House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats passed a landmark bill on equal pay, another bill to give 30 million Americans a raise by increasing the minimum wage, and groundbreaking legislation to finally give Medicare the power to negotiate lower drug prices for America’s seniors and families.
Those three bills and more than 275 other bipartisan bills are just gathering dust on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk. Senator McConnell, America needs you to move those bills.
Meanwhile, Democrats across the country are getting things done. Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf is expanding the right to overtime pay. Michigan is, too. Because if you’re on the clock, you deserve to get paid.
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak and North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper are working to give hardworking teachers a raise. And speaking of the classroom, Wisconsin governor Tony Evers unilaterally increased school funding by $65 million last year.
In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis has enacted free all day kindergarten, and in 29 states, we’ve helped pass minimum wage hikes into law, which will lift people out of poverty and improve lives for families. That’s strength. That’s action.
Democracy takes action, and that’s why I’m so inspired by young people. They respond to mass shootings, demanding policies that make schools safer. They react to a world that’s literally on fire, with fire in their bellies, to push leaders to finally take action on climate change.
They take on a road filled with potholes with a shovel and some dirt. It’s what gives me great confidence in our future, and it’s why sometimes, it feels like they’re the adults in the room. But it shouldn’t have to be that way. It’s not their mess to clean up. It’s ours. The choices we make today create their reality tomorrow.
Young people, I’m talking to you. And your parents and grandparents. Democrats want safe schools. We want everyone to have a path to a good life, whether it’s through a union apprenticeship, a community college, a four-year university, without drowning in debt.
We want your water to be clean. We want you to love who you love, and to live authentically as your true selves. And we want women to have autonomy over our bodies.
We want our country welcoming, and everyone’s vote counted. 2020 is a big year. It’s the year my daughter Sherry will graduate from high school. It’s also the year she’ll cast her first ballot, along with millions of young Americans.
The two things are connected. Because walking across a graduation stage is as important as walking into the voting booth for the first time. Her future, all our kids’ futures, will be determined not just by their dreams, but by our actions.
As we witness the impeachment process in Washington, there are some things each of us, no matter our party, should demand.
The truth matters. Facts matter. And no one should be above the law.
It’s not what those senators say. Tomorrow, it’s about what they do that matters. Remember, listen to what people say but watch what they do. It’s time for action. Generations of Americans are counting on us. Let’s not let them down.
Thank you for listening. God bless America. Good night.
I will note that I do miss the voices of Cory Booker and Julian Castro, reminding us of all the folks who haven’t made it into the middle class.
I just can’t seem to help myself. Pretty soon I’ll get back to happiness and haiku. I’m much more comfortable seeking common ground and expressing optimism—and not preaching against a particular Democrat (or Independent running as a Democrat). After this post, I hope to leave this topic.
But for now, with the President’s awfulness mounting, and the chances of his removal from office practically nil, I feel I must use my little platform to try to help prevent a giant case of Buyer’s Remorse.
I think the evidence is strong that if the Democrats nominate Bernie Sanders, we will see him lose—big time. And with the very nature of our democracy hanging in the balance, that’s a scenario I feel compelled to address.
My overarching goal, like most Democrats and a goodly number of Independents and former or current-but-disgruntled Republicans, is to defeat Donald Trump. But I will vote for whoever wins the Democratic nomination for President—unlike some of the above. And there’s the problem.
In my previous warning about Bernie Sanders, I concluded by saying I hoped the press would do their job. Well, some of them are. You may not be seeing these stories in The New York Times, The Washington Post, or on CNN, but there are writers out there warning us quite clearly.
Here are links to a sampling of the articles, which I encourage you to read in their entirety:
These articles stress that Sanders’ past has never received the scrutiny it will get from Trump, that his present includes some questionable decisions, that most voters aren’t zeroing in on the implications of his socialist plans (as distorted by the Republicans, who call every Democrat a socialist, and now would have a real one to attack), and that the victorious 2018 women elected to Congress show where this election can be won.
In The Atlantic, Frum elaborates on a point that was the focus of the 2016 Newsweekarticle I cited previously.
“Bernie Sanders is a fragile candidate. He has never fought a race in which he had to face serious personal scrutiny. None of his Democratic rivals is subjecting him to such scrutiny in 2020. Hillary Clinton refrained from scrutinizing Sanders in 2016. It did not happen, either, in his many races in Vermont.”
Frum refers to a 2015 Politico profile by Michael Kruse, asserting that Sanders had
“benefited from ‘an unwritten compact between Sanders, his supporters, and local reporters who have steered clear’ of writing about Sanders’s personal history ‘rather than risk lectures about the twisted priorities of the press.’
(That sounds a bit Trumpian, doesn’t it?)
But there will be no such niceties from Trump and his campaign, Frum writes.
“It will hit him with everything it’s got. It will depict him as a Communist in the grip of twisted sexual fantasies, a useless career politician who oversaw a culture of sexual harassment in his 2016 campaign.
“Through 2019, Donald Trump and his proxies hailed Sanders as a true voice of the people, thwarted by the evil machinations of the Hillary Clinton machine.
“They will not pause for a minute before pivoting in 2020 to attack him as a seething stew of toxic masculinity whose vicious online followers martyred the Democratic Party’s first female presidential nominee.”
And if you think Trump won’t get away with such charges because of his own horrendous behavior, you are applying rationality and a sense of justice to a man who has successfully defied both.
That toxic masculinity charge lurks not far beneath the surface: Sanders appears at best to be indifferent to misogyny (a trait that’s fairly apparent in some of the devoted Bernie Bros).
Frum cites the Sanders’ campaign’s video celebrating the endorsement of “the mega-podcaster Joe Rogan,” apparently an icon among white men who are pretty sensitive about their status these days.
The Sanders’ embrace came despite Rogan’s mocking of many of the causes dear to the left, as well as “dancing around conspiratorial thinking of the left and right fringes: 9/11 denialism, Obama birtherism, and speculation about dark deeds concerning Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation.” (emphases mine throughout)
Is this Sanders’ idea of how to reach the Trump voters? If any of his fellow candidates had embraced such an endorsement, would he have simply shrugged and said, “OK, ya gotta do what ya gotta do”? I think not.
And how will that play with the angry white suburban and African-American women who were such an important part of the 2018 Democratic House victory? They won’t vote for Trump, but will they stay home in disgust?
Jonathan Chait notes in New York Magazine,
“the totality of the evidence suggests Sanders is an extremely, perhaps uniquely, risky nominee. His vulnerabilities are enormous and untested. No party nomination, with the possible exception of Barry Goldwater in 1964, has put forth a presidential nominee with the level of downside risk exposure as a Sanders-led ticket would bring.
“To nominate Sanders would be insane.”
He notes that because the socialist label isn’t as unpopular as it had been [especially among young people], “many people have gotten the impression ‘socialism’ is actually popular, which is absolutely not the case.”
Saletan, writing in Slate, makes the same observation, noting that Trump uses the word socialism at every rally to make the Democrats look “radical and scary.” As an avowed Socialist, Sanders is the opponent of Trump’s dreams.
Saletan cites poll after poll in which voters as a whole state their opposition to socialism. In a HarrisX survey asking “Would you ever vote for a Socialist for elected office?,” liberals said they would, but 72 percent of registered voters, including 64 percent of Democrats, said they would not.
The term “Democratic Socialism,” which Bernie espouses, draws fewer negatives (52 percent) but they include 25 percent of Democrats and 29 percent of voters who “lean liberal.”
[I stress here that I personally see the urgent need for greater government intervention to redress our current shameful economic disparities, which are the worst they’ve been since the 1930s.
There were compelling reasons for the New Deal, and too many Americans are hurting today. I do not regard socialism as the incarnation of evil. But I’m looking at the larger picture here, and I strongly believe Trump will persuade enough Americans of that supposed evil to defeat Bernie.]
Chait discusses Sanders’ “web of creepy associations” that will make it easy to depict him as a dangerous radical, reinforcing “attack narratives” that will stick in portraying his world view just as surely as pictures of Dukakis in a tank or Romney’s dismissal of the 47% did for theirs.
“Sanders has never faced an electorate where these vulnerabilities could be used against him. Nor, for that matter, has he had to defend some of his bizarre youthful musings (such as his theory that sexual repression causes breast cancer) or the suspicious finances surrounding his wife’s college.
“Democrats are rightfully concerned about attacks on Hunter Biden’s nepotistic role at Burisma, but Sanders is going to have to defend equally questionable deals, like the $500,000 his wife’s university paid for a woodworking program run by his stepdaughter.”
Interestingly, after my previous Bernie post, a Vermont friend (a progressive who said no one she knows supports Bernie), wondered why there hadn’t been discussion by the media of Jane Sanders’ financial fiasco, which some in Vermont regard as mere stupidity, but others view as fraud.
Most important to me is Chait’s exploration of the 2018 winning of the House. Citing various progressive voices claiming how wrong the Dems were to run the kinds of candidates they did, he notes the following:
“As we now know, it was a good strategy to win the House. Democrats flipped 40 seats. Tellingly, while progressives managed to nominate several candidates in red districts…any one of whose victory they would have cited as proof that left-wing candidates can win Trump districts, not a single one of them prevailed in November.
“Our Revolution went 0–22, Justice Democrats went 0–16, and Brand New Congress went 0–6.* The failed technocratic 26-year-old bourgeoise shills who were doing it wrong somehow accounted for 100 percent of the party’s House gains.”
And here I think Chait makes an interesting observation. If the Democrats hadn’t won the House, their critics on the left would have said they’d been vindicated.
But instead of considering their broad losses in various geographical areas, they focused on the left-wing candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, “who defeated center-left Democrats in deep-blue districts.”
In this effort, they were helped by the conservative media, seeking to make AOC and her small band the face of the Democratic party.
“The fact that the party had just run a field experiment between two factions, and the moderate faction prevailed conclusively, was forgotten.”
Chait emphasizes that:
“Trump has serious weaknesses on issues like health care, corruption, taxes, and the environment, and a majority of the public disapproves of Trump’s performance, but he does enjoy broad approval of his economic management.
“Therefore, his reelection strategy revolves around painting his opponents as radical and dangerous. You may not like me, he will argue, but my opponents are going to turn over the apple cart. A Sanders campaign seems almost designed to play directly into Trump’s message.”
How do we address the electorate, then? Are there lessons we can learn from Bernie that will help elect a more broadly acceptable nominee?
Frum has some important points for the Democrats to consider. The issues that matter most to “highly online and very well-informed anti-Trump voters”—such as preserving our democracy, cleaning out corruption, applying the law to those in power—are easier to focus on when you have good health insurance, a solid middle class job, and the potential that your kids will get a college education.
But millions of Americans lack those things, and they may well decide the election. That’s something that Sanders has recognized and to which he’s given voice. Thus, says Frum:
“If the Oval Office is to be cleansed of Donald Trump, it will not suffice to defeat Sanders’s candidacy.
“The ultimate winner will have to plagiarize from his campaign, copying not Sanders’s literal ideas, but his themes: the practical over the theoretical, the universal over the particular.”
In a nutshell, I think that means stop fighting over whether the key health care issue is improving Obamacare or Medicare for All. Focus instead on how many people who had health insurance have lost it under Trump, and that he wants to take away your protection for pre-existing conditions.
Emphasize that his promises not to cut Medicare and Social Security are now being revealed as questionable. Stress that he never built those roads and improved those bridges. The needs are great; the list is long.
So maybe this time around the operative slogan is not “It’s the economy, stupid.” Rather, it’s “How well are YOU doing, you who are not among the 1 Percent?”
I really, really, wanted to take a break from politics this week. I’d rather be writing about flowers and butterflies and HeroRATs and inspirational people. But I’m writing with a sense of urgency.
After watching the Democrats, led by the brilliant Adam Schiff, weave a compelling case for the President’s guilt—and knowing the impeachment trial will probably result in acquittal—I feel even more strongly that the Democrats must present a unified front if they have any chance of defeating Trump and saving our democracy.
In that regard, Bernie is really, really getting on my nerves and making me worry that he’s increasing the likelihood of a Trump victory. And I hope that the press, which did a poor job of focusing on Hillary’s “damn emails” while giving Trump and his background a pass, will start looking into Bernie’s past.
A lot of it ain’t pretty. In fact, I fear that if he’s the nominee, we’re in for a disaster that could even help the Republicans retake the House.
As I try to practice lovingkindness, I don’t wish Bernie ill. I wish him a long, healthy, productive life—back in Vermont. To me, he has forfeited his right to be the Democratic nominee by once again slashing and burning his competition.
I acknowledge that he’s attracted young people to politics with the Democratic Socialist ideas he has consistently espoused. He probably has the most devoted core of followers of any of the Democratic nominees.
Unfortunately, a portion of the “Bernie Bros” are vindictive, misogynistic young men with so much anger that they have been compared to Trump’s adoring fans.
And though they seem willing to follow Bernie anywhere, they didn’t listen to him when he called for them to vote for Hillary in 2016 (after he did what may have been permanent damage to her electability during the primaries). Instead, many of them voted for the totally unqualified Jill Stein, thereby helping Trump win.
Why am I so upset with Bernie? Because at a time when we need all the Democratic nominees united against Trump, he’s attacking them one by one. While the kerfuffle over whether he told Elizabeth Warren that a woman couldn’t be elected got a lot of play, the fact that his canvassers were badmouthing her door-to-door as an “elitist” received little attention.
“While the news media has been focused on the ‘spat’ between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, something much more serious has been taking place between the Sanders campaign and Joe Biden.
“Not to sugarcoat it: The Sanders campaign has flat-out lied about things Biden said in 2018 about Social Security, and it has refused to admit the falsehood.
“This is bad; it is, indeed, almost Trumpian. The last thing we need is another president who demonizes and lies about anyone who disagrees with him, and can’t admit ever being wrong. Biden deserves an apology, now, and Sanders probably needs to find better aides.” (Emphases mine throughout.)
He’s also attacking Biden on his racial record, telling South Carolina voters, where Biden has a strong lead among African-Americans, that Biden has betrayed them.
I know, I know. Politics ain’t beanbag. And before I go more deeply into Bernie’s past, I agree that we have to give people credit for changing their positions.
Bernie has changed some of his, but he doesn’t give such leeway to others; he’s still castigating those who voted for the Iraq War, insisting his opposition alone makes him the candidate with the best judgment.
As I note subsequently, he’s taken some highly questionable positions on international affairs in the past.
And when Trump has the megaphone, Bernie’s record, I believe, would make him more vulnerable than any other nominee. That’s a risk I don’t think our country can bear.
Writing in The Guardian, Geoffrey Kabaservice begins by saying that although his own politics are center-right, he has a “strange liking” for Bernie—for his authenticity, among other things.
Kabaservice points out that the Democratic Socialism that would have been unthinkable not long ago is now as popular as capitalism among those ages 18-39, which explains Bernie’s popularity with young people. (If you’re struggling financially, free college tuition and college loan forgiveness sound quite attractive.)
But, the author also points out about Sanders:
“The gentle treatment he received in 2016 from the media and the Hillary Clinton campaign (which ran few negative television or media ads against him) means that many Democratic voters haven’t yet learned about the distinctly non-progressive positions he has taken on certain issues throughout his senatorial career.”
What are some of those positions? To appeal to the social conservatives in his home state of Vermont, a largely white, older, pro-hunting population, Bernie has…
—Long opposed gun safety legislation, voting against the Brady bill and legislation to make gun manufacturers accountable for their products’ destructiveness;
—Voted for the “Charleston loophole” by which the killer of nine African Americans in a South Carolina church obtained his weapon;
—Opposed gay marriage until at least 2006;
—Supported the 1994 crime bill that led to mass incarcerations of African Americans;
—Opposed various reforms to assist immigrants on the grounds that they would negatively affect American workers.
And his legislative accomplishments are thin at best, in large part because of his “go-it-alone approach.” In 2018, he got the least number of bills out of committee and to the floor (1 bill).
Similarly, only 1 of his 31 bills and resolutions had a cosponsor from a different party. The Lugar Center’s Bipartisanship Index placed him last among all Senators for the past two Congresses.
So the man sets forth an incredibly ambitious agenda, and tells us that he’ll be able to pass it because of the “political revolution” he’s inspiring.
But his track record doesn’t indicate he’s got the temperament or relationships to do the hard work of enacting such transformative legislation.
Kabaservice calls Bernie’s chances of actually becoming President “close to nil.” He elaborates:
“I say this because in 2016 I got a glimpse of the Republican party’s opposition research book on Sanders, which was so massive it had to be transported on a cart. The Newsweek reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who got to see some of its contents, declared that ‘it was brutal…’”
Of course, I had to check Eichenwald’s 2016 article to see what was so damning.
Myth 1 is that the Democratic National Committee was all-powerful and engineered Hillary’s nomination by being unfair to Bernie. Eichenwald factually demolishes this premise and its implications.
Myth 2: That Sanders Would Have Won Against Trump
“I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans [against Sanders] and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. And while Sanders supporters might delude themselves into believing that they could have defended him against all of this, there is a name for politicians who play defense all the time: losers.”
That comment hit me hard, as we know that one thing Trump and his minions are very good at is going on the attack. I could just picture him at his rallies, dropping one after another of the morsels that Eichenwald described.
“Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men.
“Yes, there is an explanation for it—a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.
“Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped.
“You can just see the words ‘environmental racist’ on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.
“Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system” [to alert the public to help when a child has been abducted].
Eichenwald states that Sanders is also vulnerable for his advocacy of universal health care (now “Medicare for All”) because it was tried in Vermont and failed due to excessive costs.
“Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, ‘Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,’ while President Daniel Ortega condemned ‘state terrorism’ by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was ‘patriotic.’
Eichenwald reported that he knew there were at least four other “damning” videos but didn’t know their content. The folder holding the “oppo“ research was nearly two feet thick.
One piece called Bernie a communist who had ties to Castro, which Eichenwald says would automatically have resulted in the loss of Florida if he were the nominee.
“In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.”
And this stuff doesn’t even take into account all that the Trump crowd will make up about Bernie out of whole cloth. Fake news, doctored videos. None of it’s fair, none of it’s the way we want our politics to work, but we know it will happen.
Sure, the Republicans will dig up dirt and make up stories about whoever is the Democratic nominee. I have my worries that if it’s Biden, the fake corruption involving Ukraine and his son will dominate the campaign.
But I find it telling that even as Trump is pushing those Biden conspiracy theories, he’s also encouraging the “Bernie as victim of the Democratic establishment” motif. He’d love to run against Bernie. If Bernie isn’t the nominee, Trump’s faux sympathy may win points, and votes, from disgruntled Bernie Bros in 2020, just as it did in 2016.
In the meantime, I think every thoughtful person trying to decide who can best beat Trump—and be as effective a President as anyone can be in these polarized times—needs to consider what we really know about these candidates.
I’ll acknowledge at the outset: I know, understand, and accept all of the criticisms of the Iowa caucus.
But I still have a romantic fascination with this singular demonstration of grassroots participation in the electoral process. It seems to me the closest we get to ancient Athens, where the polis, or people, practiced unfettered democracy.
And the fact that Iowans take their role so seriously inspires me, as so many Americans either fail to vote or cast their ballots with indifference or cynicism—even spite. (“If my guy isn’t the nominee, I don’t care what happens; I’ll just vote for some third party candidate who can’t win but can sure gum up the works.”)
Spite—as in voting for Jill Stein in 2016—helped deliver Donald Trump to the White House.I fervently hope those inclined can forgo that negativity this year. (There will be a Republican caucus in Iowa, but the results are preordained.)
Iowans listen, read, think, examine, and weigh carefully before making their decision. Their experiences have made them unlike any other Americans.
One reporter said nowhere else can you go up to an ordinary citizen on the street, ask her a political question, and be told: “Well, speaking off the record…”
Polling in Iowa is all over the place because many Iowans still haven’t made up their minds.
They’re not being wishy-washy; they’re demonstrating their understanding of how high the stakes are in this election and how important the Iowa caucus winners may be in the 2020 election results. (I’ll explain that plural “winners” shortly.)
Because opposition to Iowa’s position as first on the calendar has been growing over the years, there may not be too many more election cycles in which the state plays such a pivotal role.
So I decided to interview (via email) two highly intelligent, involved Democratic caucus attendees.
I had the good fortune of meeting one of them, R., years ago, through my daughter’s excellent choice of a marriage partner—R. is his mother. R. was gracious enough to enlist her friend, J.
Both women were so efficient in responding to my questions that I’ve been able to write this post earlier than intended.
FIRST, SOME BACKGROUND
How did a small rural state achieve such prominence? Although Iowa had always had caucuses (except for one primary), they were held mid-season and controlled by the state party leaders, attracting little attention.
Significant changes began following the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, which was marked by fighting about the Vietnam War both inside and outside the Convention hall.
Furious delegates and others throughout the country demanded that the party adopt national reforms so that voters, rather than party leaders, determined the winning candidate.
By 1972, Iowa had reforms in place: “Winner-take-all” had been changed to proportional representation. As an Iowa PBS program noted:
“That may have been more fair. Equally important, it gave the press the kind of numbers it needs to call a horse race.”
The new process took time, as the results were transferred from precinct to county to congressional district to state. That meant moving the caucuses further and further back—first to March, then to February. Chris Larsen, then party chairman, observed:
“We knew that we were going to be first or one of the first after we thought about it. As I always say, we had a slow mimeograph machine, but we weren’t stupid. We thought [being early in the process] was all right, but when…the national press showed up, we were totally amazed.”
Gary Hart, who managed George McGovern’s Presidential campaign, observed recently that caucuses reward little-known candidates at the grassroots, while primaries reward those who are well known.
Caucuses also give “real people a chance to get close up and personal.” (Hart was interviewed in the five-part Pod Save America podcast on the Iowa caucuses.)
In 1976, someone pointed out, the result was that “Jimmy Who?” became President Jimmy Carter.
New Rules With Uncertain Implications
This year, new rules will make it possible for multiple candidates to “win,” according to the Des Moines Register. Previously, Iowa never released its total popular support numbers.
But in 2016, the close vote between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders led to demands for greater transparency.
The new methodology is complicated and confusing. If you want a preview about how and why several candidates may claim victory by emphasizing how well they did according to one or more of the three different metrics that will be reported, I recommend this article.
Adding to the confusion, there will now be 99 satellite caucuses held throughout the world, thereby complicating the vote tally.
The process had once been referred to as “like trying to plan a wedding reception at 86 locations.” It’s more like 1,678 locations; that’s how many precincts there are.
So the momentum, press coverage, and dollars that normally flow to the winner are going to be part of a considerably more complex picture in 2020.
THE LONG-TIME CAUCUS PARTICIPANTS SHARE THEIR VIEWS
This is a condensed, lightly edited version of my exchanges with R. and J., covering what I felt were the most important points. Both women have been caucusing since 2008.
What is your primary motivation? Is this year any different?
R.: A sense of responsibility to engage in the political process. With all the attention focused on the first-in-the-nation caucuses, it would feel unpatriotic not to take advantage of theopportunity to have an impact.
There is a sense that this is a particularly critical year to caucus and to choose anominee that can defeat Trump.
J.: I feel that as an Iowan, it’s my responsibility to attend the caucus–it’s a part of the democratic process, it matters, and we make history.
This year I am motivated by finding the right candidate who can beat Trump–we must get him out of the White House before he causes even more damage.
Is it fun? Exciting? If so, in what way(s)?
R.: It can be fun, especially after the first vote when people from various camps are trying to woo people from the camps of the unviable candidates (those that didn’t get 15% of the total number in attendance).
Also, it can sometimes be long and boring as well as pretty chaotic. You are usuallypacked in a school gym with a lot of people milling around not quite knowing what to do.
There are multiple votes to make sure of an accurate count. You can be there for hours.
J.: It is fun! I see many of my friends and neighbors, and although we may be supporting different candidates, there is good discussion of why we support our candidate.
And in the end, we are all looking for the Democrat who can win.
How many candidates have you met one-on-one? Under what circumstances?
R.: I can’t say that I have met any of them one-on-one. I think that happens more in smaller communities. I have seen Klobuchar, Warren, and Buttigieg at rallies here…
I could have stayed around last week when Warren was doing her “selfies” but the line was so long and I had already been standing two and a half hours.
The rallies can beexhausting. It makes you wonder how the candidates do it.
J.: I have never met a candidate one-on-one.
How do you respond to those who say it isn’t fair for a small state like Iowa to have so much political clout?
R.: They are right.I think the process would be better if the order in which the statescaucus/vote were rotated among the states. Just because it has been this way for 50years doesn’t mean it always has to be this way.
There needs to be discussion of a better way to start the candidate selection process. The tradition of Iowa going firstevolved accidentally, and I don’t see that there is any good rationale for it.
J.: I’ve been doing some reading about the Iowa caucus and its place as first. I’m inclined to agree that it might be time to change things.
Do you think the up-close, retail nature of Iowa’s caucuses contributes something thatwould be missing if you switched to a traditional primary?
R.: Seeing the candidates up close and personal is definitely an advantage.You can gauge their level of enthusiasm as well as have the opportunity to ask them questions.
Somehow seeing them in person gives you a connection you don’t get watching themon a debate stage.
Certainly, we Iowans would miss our opportunity to get a close-up look at the candidates. But we would then be in the same situation as most of the rest of the nation!
The undue influence of the Iowa caucuses frankly makes me uncomfortable. A primarywould be a fairer and more straightforward process.
J.: I think I get the chance to see many candidates in person because they understand the importance of the Iowa caucus and spend a lot of time in Iowa.
It’s always good to see them in person–they can’t edit their remarks or photo shop their looks.
So many Iowans are still undecided, and they come to the caucus partly to get help making up their minds! The conversations are important, and the caucus is great for that.
Are you concerned about a potential split between the “moderate” and “left” wings of the party—or do you think people will rally around whoever becomes the nominee?
R.: In the end I think most people will rally around whoever is the eventual nominee. IowaDemocrats are as determined to get rid of Trump as the rest of the nation.
I’m not sure about the Independents. Will Independents and moderate Republicans vote for a more “progressive” candidate?I think that is a real concern.
J.: People will rally around the nominee. As I knock on doors and have conversations with people, everyone has said they will support whoever is the nominee, whether it’s who they are supporting now or not.
Do you have any revealing anecdotes/stories about any particular candidate(s)?
R.: No, nothing revealing as I have not met with any of the candidates one-on-one.
I was amazed at how much Elizabeth Warren seemed to relish campaigning when I saw her last weekend. She was so passionate and engaged with what she was saying and looked like she was having great fun.
She was very respectful of the people asking questions, called them by name, and didn’t fudge her answers but got directly to the point.
Amy Klobuchar’s warmth really came through when I saw her in person. She talked a lot about her family and her midwestern roots.
Her emphasis on health care and climate change got big reactions from the crowd.
J.: Just the one [anecdote] that everyone knows, that Elizabeth Warren really will stick around and take a selfie with everyone in line, and she is just so nice and gracious.
To what extent does the President’s handling of the Iranian crisis—and national security issues generally—figure in your thinking re: candidate selection? In your neighbors’ thinking?
R.: The incoherent rationale for the assassination of Suleimani is frightening. It makes it even more evident that we need someone who has some experience at the national level. And someone we can trust to tell the truth and be open and honest with the American people. I’ve ruled out Buttigieg because of his lack of experience even though I find him very bright and like many of his policies.
J.: I want a candidate who will be more level-headed and think about consequences, so I have been following candidates’ responses to the Iranian crisis and what the US is doing in the world. It’s not something I have talked to my neighbors about.
Have you made up your mind whom you’ll vote for? What about most of the people you know?
R.: I plan to caucus for Klobuchar. If she does not get 15% of the vote in my precinct, I don’t know for sure who I will move to.
My heart says Warren but my head says Biden. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I say Biden because I view him as the most electable of the other candidates.
Many of my friends and people I have talked with at candidate events are still mulling over their decision. Everyone agrees it is a talented field and it is difficult to settle on a final choice.
Caucus night could bring some surprises as I don’t think the polls are really telling us everything. Like many people, I have my cell phone set to “do-not-disturb” and never pick up the seven or eight calls from random numbers I get every day. I am in no one’s poll!
People are so undecided I think some of them will pick a candidate that night after listening to pitches from their friends and neighbors.
I was encouraged that one of my book club friends, who I had assumed would caucus for Warren, says she will go with Klobuchar.
Two of [my husband’s] golfing buddies from Iowa City also said they plan to caucus for Klobuchar. A small sampling but encouraging!
J.: Yes, I’ll be caucusing for Elizabeth Warren. Many people that I know are still undecided, but I do have some friends who are solidly for Pete, and a few who are liking Amy.
How would you, personally, sum up the pros and cons of the Iowa caucus?
We in Iowa love getting up close and personal with the candidates, so it is good for us!
It probably helps the candidates hone their message and become better on the stump, so that is an advantage for them.
As has been discussed everywhere, Iowa is a small, predominantly white state that is not representative of the nation as a whole.
The candidates spend a ton of money here. Could that be put to better use elsewhere?
The caucuses are chaotic. They are led by local volunteers who may or may not know what they are doing.
It is difficult to get that final count correct, especially with a large crowd, and I think the numbers this year will be huge. A primary would be more straightforward and democratic.
As first in the nation, it can be sort of a measure of what people are thinking and feeling. It’s an interesting process, and there’s no anonymous vote–your neighbors know where you stand.
Iowa is such a white state; that lack of diversity is not representative of the US.
Like both my interviewees, I think the end of the Iowa caucuses’ outsized role in our election cycle is appropriate and inevitable.
But I wish there were some way that our political process could capture the grass roots enthusiasm and up-close-and-personal nature of the caucuses—allowing voters to see the candidates when, as J. said, “they can’t edit their remarks or photoshop their looks.”
More frequent, widely televised town meetings throughout the country may help. Does anyone have any other ideas? Uses of technology?
How about if we request that every Iowa caucus participant serve as a roving ambassador throughout the US—to show us how and why we must carefully focus on our Presidential candidates—no, make that all our candidates—and must take our roles as informed voters very, very seriously?
UPDATE: On February 19, 2020, The New York Times Editorial Board did a precedent-shattering thing: they endorsed two people for the Democratic nomination. And both of them are women–Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.
To me, this is a highly significant development, as I’ve long felt that Klobuchar has a great deal of support among people who thought her the strongest candidate but simply believed she was too far behind to be viable.
But Iowans are independent folk, so we’ll see what happens. As you read in this post, R., who plans to caucus for Amy on February 3, knows several people who share her views. J., her friend, who supports Warren, also knows people who like Amy. R. also suggested that polls are unreliable.
Significantly, Klobuchar also just received the endorsement of The Quad City Times, which covers large sections of eastern Iowa and western Illinois.
What will the Des Moines Register do? That will be extremely interesting. (And will newspaper endorsements matter? Another crucial question…)
Here’s part of what the Times wrote after describing Warren’s strengths and drawbacks:
“Good news, then, that Amy Klobuchar has emerged as a standard-bearer for the Democratic center. Her vision goes beyond the incremental.
“Given the polarization in Washington and beyond, the best chance to enact many progressive plans could be under a Klobuchar administration.
“The senator from Minnesota is the very definition of Midwestern charisma, grit and sticktoitiveness.
“Her lengthy tenure in the Senate and bipartisan credentials would make her a deal maker (a real one) and uniter for the wings of the party — and perhaps the nation.
The Times explained its unusual move, which I found fair and thoughtful, though it’s obviously arousing controversy.
“There will be those dissatisfied that this page is not throwing its weight behind a single candidate, favoring centrists or progressives.
“But it’s a fight the party itself has been itching to have since Mrs. Clinton’s defeat in 2016, and one that should be played out in the public arena and in the privacy of the voting booth. That’s the very purpose of primaries, to test-market strategies and ideas that can galvanize and inspire the country.
“Ms. Klobuchar and Ms. Warren right now are the Democrats best equipped to lead that debate.
In April I cited Barr’s antics
The AG was quietly frantic
The Mueller Report Was a strong retort
To the “Trump did no wrong” semantics.
But Bill-Barr knew why he’d been hired
And sensing the public was tired:
“There’s nothing,” said he—
So the Truth into muck became mired.
Yet ONE DAY after Mueller appeared
The President moved into high gear
With an unbowed head
To Ukraine’s Prez said: If you want all that aid to be cleared…
…There’s a favor I’d like you to do
Some people you gotta look into
And all will be great—
Maybe a White House visit for you.
Zelensky had quite the dilemma
With Putin evoking some tremors
He’d sought to be straight
’Twas his winning mandate
But U.S. demands were bad karma.
So why should Ukraine cause our fussin’?
Our ally’s a bulwark v. Russians
We gave them our word
Worldwide it was heard
It’s their safety and ours we’re discussin’.
Just in time someone blows a whistle
And justice’s wheels start to sizzle
The hearings begin
The experts weigh in
And Light shone on lies makes them fizzle.
But here come the intractable foes
Who back Trump from his head to his toes
They can’t argue facts
So they take a worse tack
And pretend that the Emperor has clothes.
Now we’ve entered the land of impeach
With the Dems set to not overreach
Two articles cite
The President’s blight
And his large Constitutional breach.
The facts tell a quite simple story:
Abused power for his own glory
For Congress contempt
No defense will attempt
To challenge except with lies hoary…
…Or red herring complaints like this call: “Why the rush when we’ve not heard from all?” With subpoenas defied, Delays far and wide,
These “bad processes” tales are quite tall.
There is reason to move with dispatch
The President’s acts must be watched
His lawyer’s abroad
To promote more fraud,
Our election’s integrity they’ll snatch.
But the country’s sadly divided With false stories, hard truth’s derided We’ve so much at stake
We must stay awake
And try to engage those misguided.
I shall now add a Bill-Barr return
He’s in mischief I can’t quite discern
He’ll make a report
Next spring—of some sort
That is likely to cause great concern.
Keep your eyes and ears peeled for this move
‘Cause its purpose will clearly behoove
Us to promptly react
And to counter with facts
So the falsities don’t gain a groove.
It’s a time our decisions must fit
With the words of Ben Franklin—to wit:
When asked what we’ve got
Republic or Monarchy, he shot:
“A Republic—if you can keep it!”
Note: I leave my rhyme to turn to the prescient words of Alexander Hamilton, which my blogging colleague Brookingslib used to conclude a terrific post on the topic:
“When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents, having the advantage of military habits—despotic in his ordinary demeanour—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the nonsense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”’
Finally, as stated by Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. in his testimony before Congress, by Constitutional law experts Michael Gerhardt and Lawrence Tribe, and by others:
“If this [the Ukraine scandal] isn’t impeachable, nothing is.”
If this is the “Deep State” that President Trump has been warning us about, I’d say we need more of ‘em!
After viewing much of the House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings, I’m left feeling proud, sad, and frightened.
The proud part is easy.
Of the 12 witnesses who testified—all Trump administration appointees—10 were career foreign service officials. I think The New York Times’ Mark Leibovich described them well:
“They are, in a sense,the permanent beating, bipartisan heart of the government of the United States.They are deeply credentialed,polyglot, workaholic, and respectful before Congress.
“They are graduates of Harvard and West Point, and veterans of Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. They take meticulous notes, are on key phone calls and give ‘readouts.’”
And so, when they uniformly and without rancor gave their pieces of the story concerning what President Trump has actually publicly acknowledged, they were believable.
They were also so very measured—even when attacked, as they were by some of the Republican committee members—so careful with their words, and so highly professional that they made this American proud of her country and hopeful that they will help lead us out of our current divisive, dangerous lawlessness.
Not one of them was there to attack the President; they saw their role solely as fact witnesses. But the facts they detailed showed overwhelmingly that President Trump had tried multiple times via multiple people to use Ukraine for his own political purposes. The fact that he was stopped does not make him innocent.
And the witnesses explained why these actions were dangerous not only to Ukraine’s national security, but to America’s as well.
They also made the case for why we should all care about Ukraine’s fate. It is a strong American ally and a bulwark against Russian aggression. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it gained its independence in 1991.
Ukraine is currently engaged in a hot war against the Russians, who occupied Crimea in 2014 and want to subsume the entire country. More than 14,000 Ukrainians have died in that war.
Further Russian expansion will jeopardize peace in Europe and inevitably involve the US. Like it or not, we live in an interdependent world.
Ukraine’s new, democratically elected president, Vlodymyr Zelensky, won overwhelmingly after promising to try to end the war and rid Ukraine of the corruption that has been rampant there for so long.
Zelensky immediately began making symbolically important changes. Independence Day, on August 24, had in the past been celebrated by what The New Yorker described as “the traditional Soviet-style military parade of soldiers and tanks and missile launchers, which he called ‘pompous and expensive.’”
This year, in a tribute to the “second revolution” in 2013 in which snipers killed more than 100 protesters, Zelensky organized a “March of Dignity” in which over 1000 children lined the way to the site where the demonstrators had been killed.
“The children, dressed in white, clutched yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flags and bouquets of daisies.”
The marchers were “schoolteachers, doctors, social workers, and athletes.”
But Zelensky knows symbols aren’t enough. He is dependent on the US, and specifically, its President. He needs the weaponry that Congress overwhelmingly approved on a bipartisan basis but was mysteriously held up until Congress began its investigations.
And he has been seeking a meeting with President Trump in the White House to demonstrate to both the Ukrainian people and Russia’s Putin that he has a reliable ally in the US.
Thus, the importance of the President’s words “I would like you to do us a favor, though…” in the phone call transcript that the President has described as “perfect” and his Chief of Staff, Mick Mulvaney, publicly told the press that yeah, sure, it was a “quid pro quo,” but “get over it.”
In the hearings, piece by piece, the witnesses’ testimonies demonstrated that the President had no interest in Ukraine, its value as an ally, its status as a young democracy looking toward the US as its model, or its importance to US security.
Rather, he sought to use the promise of aid and a visit to the White House as leverage to get Ukraine to open an investigation into alleged and debunked corruption by Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who’d been on the board of a Ukrainian company, Burisma.
(Let me state here that I believe Hunter Biden’s involvement in a Ukrainian company was not smart and looks terrible, although there’s been no indication of wrongdoing.)
The other favor was to validate the conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered with our 2016 election.
Importantly, American intelligence officials have recently informed Senators and their aides “that Russia has engaged in a yearlong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election,” reported The New York Times.
Once again, the President is promoting a conspiracy theory that accepts Putin’s word against the findings of US intelligence.
As Zelensky seeks to fight corruption in his own country, the President and his allies have sought to pull him into corruption in our country.
And the President might have succeeded were it not for the whistle blower whose report began the Congressional proceedings. The irony is extraordinary—as well as heartbreaking.
My sadness arose from the hyperpartisan, often brutal, nature of the opposition.
Here’s a sampling of those who testified and what they said.
Marie Yovanovitch spent 33 years in the Foreign Service and was widely respected by both Americans and Ukrainians. But she made a crucial career-ending error: with her legitimate anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, she apparently stood in the way of the plans that the President, Rudy Giuliani, and others had for getting what they wanted from Ukraine’s president.
She was recalled as ambassador, suddenly, amid what she called “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives” and even though her boss told her she’d done nothing wrong.
As a result of her treatment, she said, “Bad actors” and not only in Ukraine, will “see how easy it is to use fiction and innuendo to manipulate our system. The only interests that will be served are those of our strategic adversaries, like Russia.” (All emphases mine.)
No one has questioned the right of the President to recall an ambassador, but many wonder why he did so, in these circumstances, and why he and others have vilified her and sought to destroy her reputation.
In her opening statement to the House committee, she said it was crucial for our embassy in Kiev (now also spelled Kyiv) “to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves.”
Still a State Department employee, she was the first to defy the orders not to cooperate and accepted the subpoena to testify. Others soon followed.
As a result of her bravery, former US ambassador Swanee Hunt wrote for CNN,
“In a dismaying but no-longer unusual parallel, she faced the kind of bullying at home that she was fighting abroad.”
Yovanovitch acknowledges fearing for her personal safety based on threats she’s received.
Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, whose father brought him and his brothers to the US from Ukraine when he was 3 years old, has a purple heart and other medals for his combat service in Iraq and carries shrapnel in his body from his injuries there.
As Director for European Affairs for the US National Security Council (NSC), Vindman felt it was his “duty” to report his concerns about the call between the President and President Zelensky, which he found improper (he used the word “shocked” in response to questions) to John Eisenberg, the NSC’s legal adviser.
“It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a US citizen and political opponent.
“It was also clear that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma, it would be interpreted as a partisan play. This would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing bipartisan [US Congressional] support, undermine US national security, and advance Russia’s strategic objectives in the region.”
Vindman has been subjected to vile attacks on his patriotism, character, motivations, and judgment—accused of dual loyalties and even espionage. In his testimony, he addressed his father, who was worried about the risks his son was taking in speaking out publicly.
“Dad, my sitting here today..is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”
When asked if he is a “Never Trumper,” he said “I’m a ‘never partisan.’” He concluded his appearance by saying:
“This is America…here, right matters.”
Yet according to Reuters, the Army is prepared to protect him and his family, possibly by moving them to an Army base, if necessary.
The final witness on Thursday was Fiona Hill. Like Vindman, Hill is a proud immigrant (from England, where she was the daughter of a coal miner). Like him, she stressed how grateful she is to be a US citizen and to have been able to serve this country she loves.
After graduating from college in Scotland, Hill received a PhD in Russian history from Harvard. She coauthored a book titled Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, published in 2013, which has been called the most useful book about Putin for policymakers.
She’s worked in the Brookings Institution, as the senior expert on Russia and Asia at an internal think tank for US intelligence agencies, and—since 2017, as the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the NSC—first as a deputy to H.R. McMaster, and then to John Bolton.
In other words, her expertise and nonpartisanship are unassailable.She even said she understood that President Trump had been offended by some things written about him in the Ukrainian press prior to his election. But she pulled no punches. Here’s her opening statement:
“Some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country—and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did.
“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves. The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016.”
“President Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super pac. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives.
“When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each other, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy.”
She reaffirmed the warning about Russian intervention in our elections that Robert Mueller had delivered during his testimony to Congress, in July, adding her own warning about those whom another The New Yorker article called “the useful idiots inside the United States who, deliberately or not, serve to further Russia’s goals.”
“Russia’s security services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We are running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.”
Her words evoked self-righteous indignation from some Republican committee members who had been doing just that, including Devin Nunes, the ranking member, who stated that falsity in his opening remarks.
Others then rushed to affirm how concerned they’ve been about Russian intervention (though not enough to tell their President that he should stop denying what the entire intelligence community had found indisputable).
The most incriminating part of her testimony came when she responded to the Republican staff counsel’s questioning about her dispute with Gordon Sondland, who’d been appointed ambassador to the European Union after donating $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee.
She said she had become “testy” with Sondland because he wasn’t coordinating with the other agencies involved.
While other witnesses had said there were two channels operating in Ukraine—one traditional, the other “irregular,” led by Rudy Giuliani (who has ongoing financial interests in Ukraine that are barely being discussed) and designed to get Ukraine to do President Trump’s bidding—Sondland had said there was only one channel: he reported to President Trump and worked with the others who were following the President’s orders.
He had added that Vice President Pence, Secretary of State Pompeo, and Chief of Staff Mulvaney were all involved.
After watching Sondland’s testimony, Hill said that Sondland “was absolutely right because he was being involved in a domestic political errand and we were being involved in national-security foreign policy, and those two things had just diverged.”
“And I did say to him, ‘Ambassador Sondland, Gordon, I think this is also going to blow up.’ And here we are.”
And here’s why I’m frightened…
Justone day after Robert Mueller’s unfortunately lackluster Congressional testimony, which was far more condemnatory to Trump than the public understood—in part due to the phony spin that Attorney General Barr had put on the findings—the President had that “Do us a favor, though” phone call.
We now have incontrovertible evidence that President Trump withheld both a sought-after White House meeting and much-needed security aid that Congress had approved in order to get the President of Ukraine to open an investigation into Joe Biden and the alleged Ukrainian—not Russian—involvement in our 2016 election.
In other words, this President feels he’s above the law. Yet Republican legislators continue to follow him, to lie for him, to fail miserably in upholding the oaths they took when they were sworn into office.
And what will public reaction be to all this? Who cares about Ukraine? Who cares about foreign intervention in our elections? Who cares that the President of the United States invariably sides with Russia and Putin against US interests?
A recent poll showed independents becoming less supportive of impeachment and more approving of the President. Why?
Have we reached such a hyperpartisan state that Americans don’t care that our President is not only corrupt, but is willing to enlist foreign countries to ensure his reelection—our national security and the US Constitution be damned?
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, wrote that he hadn’t initially been in favor of impeachment.
But the hearings convinced him that President Trump must be impeached and removed from office because “his highest crime isn’t what he tried to do to, or with, Ukraine. It’s that he’s attempting to turn the United States into Ukraine.”
He cited several “themes” to illustrate his premise. For more specifics on the comparisons, his column is here.
*”The criminalization of political differences.” (“Lock her up!”)
*”The use of political office as a shield against criminal prosecution and as a vehicle for personal and familial enrichment”
*”The netherworldization of political life, in which conspiracy theories abound, off-stage figures yield outsized influence, and channels of formal authority are disconnected from the real centers of power; [and] the person who is both the principal consumer and purveyor of those falsehoods is the president of the United States…even now, this should astound us.”
*”Covert Russian interference, usually facilitated by local actors.”
“It’s to the immense credit of ordinary Ukrainians that, in fighting Russian aggression in the field and fighting for better governance in Kyiv, they have shown themselves worthy of the world’s support.
“And it’s to the enduring shame of the Republican Party that they have been willing to debase our political standards to the old Ukrainian level just when Ukrainians are trying to rise to our former level.”
“The only way to stop this is to make every effort to remove Trump from office. It shouldn’t have to wait a year.”
Are we up to this effort? Or are we seeing the end of democracy and the rule of law in the United States of America?
We know that the US is riven by deep divisions—and that other countries are going through similar struggles. We also know that most people are unhappy with the anger and hostilities—and anxiety about politics and world events is high.
Against this backdrop, I found the final question in the fourth Democratic Presidential debate, held in Ohio on October 15, instructive. Moderator Anderson Cooper asked each of the 12 candidates (the largest group of debaters ever) this question, involving Ellen Degeneres, a popular US talk show host who gained praise in 1997 when she publicly announced she is gay:
“Last week, Ellen Degeneres was criticized after she and former President George W. Bush were seen laughing together at a football game. Ellen defended their friendship, saying, we’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”
“So in that spirit, we’d like you to tell us about a friendship that you’ve had that would surprise us and what impact it’s had on you and your beliefs.”
I’m touching on the responses that I found most relevant (regardless of my opinion of the candidates who voiced them). I’ve shortened them from their verbatim rendering in The Washington Post’s transcript.
Julian Castro: “Some of the most interesting friendships that I’ve had have been with people…who thought different from me…and I think that that should be reflected more in our public life. I believe that we should be more kind to other folks. And there are people, whether it’s our former president, George W. Bush, or others…just as we should be kind, we shouldn’t be made to feel shameful about holding people accountable for what they’ve done.”
Amy Klobuchar: “For me, it’s John McCain, and I miss him every day…I remember being at his ranch when he was dying. He pointed to some words in his book because he could hardly talk. And the words say this: ‘There is nothing more liberating in life than fighting for a cause larger than yourself.’”
Cory Booker: “The next leader is going to have to be one amongst us Democrats that can unite us all,…teach us a more courageous empathy, and remind Americans that patriotism is love of country, and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.
“And love is not sentimentality. It’s not anemic. Love is struggle. Love is sacrifice. Love is the words of our founders…the end of the Declaration of Independence that if we’re ever going to make it as a nation, we must mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
Pete Buttigieg: “I think about the friendships that I formed in the military, people who were radically different from me, different generation, different race, definitely different politics. And we learned to trust each other with our lives…It’s also about building a sense of belonging in this country, because I think that’s what friendship and service can create.
“I think we have a crisis of belonging in this country that is helping to explain so many of our problems, from our politics being what it is to the fact that people are self-medicating and we’re seeing a rise in the deaths from despair…The purpose of the presidency is not the glorification of the president. It is the unification of the American people [to] pick up the pieces and guide us toward a better future.”
I’m focused on these responses because they capture what I believe is the most important and difficult task our next president will have: uniting us as a people. And that effort is needed in many other areas throughout the world.
Cory Booker’s exhortations to love reminded me of an exchange I had with one of my fellow bloggers: Gary Gautier, who blogs as Daedalus Lex and calls his blog “Shake My Head Hollow.” Gary is a very thoughtful guy who often examines philosophical and ethical concerns on his blog. (He also writes wonderful poetry).
Gary’s recent post–which stimulated this inquiry–was titled:
“The political thing no one wants to hear”
The post itself consisted solely of a quotation from Ram Dass, a revered spiritual leader (and former Harvard psychologist, then known as Richard Alpert) who has pursued numerous spiritual approaches, including Hindu, Zen Buddhism, Sufi, and Jewish mystical studies, according to his biography. His most influential work is the book Be Here Now, which has been called “the Western articulation of Eastern philosophy and how to live joyously a hundred percent of the time in the present, luminous or mundane.”
Here’s the Ram Dass quotation, followed by my discussion with Gary, who has graciously agreed to my including our exchange as well:
“You can only protest effectively when you love the person whose ideas you are protesting against as much as you love yourself.”
My Query to Gary:
I saw Ram Dass interviewed a while back. His stroke seriously impaired him, but as I recall, he reflected that he has been happier since then because now he really has time to observe and reflect.
I am having difficulty envisioning the kind of protest he describes. Did Martin Luther King and John Lewis love their oppressors? Forgive? Probably. Understand? Very possibly. But love? And Mandela? Same question.
Can anyone protesting the people who put babies in cages and open the gates to genocidal acts feel love for those they’re protesting against?
What am I missing here, Gary?
Gary’s Response (with citations):
When Mandela entered the prison on Robben Island, his white guards were predictably brutal, and yet he never gave up on them; he engaged them, believing that “our occupation of the moral high ground could make it possible for us to turn some of the warders round,” and as years passed he won many of them over into “appreciating our cause,” and several of those guards became allies and attended his first inauguration. (Anthony Simpson’s biography, 214, 275, Part II).
And how, Gandhi asked, could he be angry with his colonial oppressors when “I know that they sincerely believe that what they are doing today is right” (Autobiog, 166). Gandhi’s bottom line is that “it is quite proper to resist and attack a system” but one should never “attack its author” (242).
I think both had found Ram Dass’s truth – that beneath vicious action is generally a confused or mangled soul. Fight for what you know is right, fight against those who wreak havoc on humanity, lock them up if you have to, but don’t give up on the spiritual imperative to help those who are most morally fallen – from people on death row to the politicians whose actions you find vicious.
I believe Martin Luther King had reached the same transcendental space of love. In contrast to today’s woke crowd, who all-too-enthusiastically reduce people to “enemies” and “racists,” King saw white people as much more than just racists and was ultimately much more optimistic about America’s founding principles and about the American people — including white people.
This is all hard to see as we duke it out at street level, but these spiritual masters were able to view it from a million miles above, from the perspective of unlimited compassion, viewing themselves below fighting the good fight in the trenches, and viewing their opponents and all others in the same light.
I’m sticking with Baba Ram Dass on this one.
And My Response…
I thank you, Gary. I practice mindfulness meditation, and an important aspect of that is lovingkindness: “May you/I/we be filled with lovingkindness.” I have often sought common ground in my blog posts. I do try very hard to walk in the other person’s shoes, so I don’t rail against the folks at the hate-filled rallies with the vehemence of many people I know.
But I am a long way from loving those in power whose cruelty and/or indifference is damaging so many individuals and our society/world.
I shall try to dig deeper—without faulting myself if I fail. The Ram Dass bar is exceedingly high for us mere mortals.
My Questions for You, Dear Readers…
We are all tearing ourselves apart with our political hatreds now. It’s no good for us as a country, as members of the world community, and certainly as individuals: think of the levels of stress-induced cortisol coursing through our bodies. We need a better approach.
Can we get beyond this point via the Ram Dass message? Regardless of which side of the political divide we’re on, can we “hate the sin but love the sinner”?
If you share my strong feelings about this president and those complicit in his actions, can you and I, personally, look beyond all the devastation that we feel President Trump is wreaking on people and nations and try to find compassion for the clearly damaged, wretched soul that resides within him—and the frightened, worried people working with him or supporting him? (That doesn’t mean we don’t hold him/them responsible for their actions!)
If you’re on the other side of the political divide, can you find it in your heart to feel that those of us who differ with you politically are not your enemies? That our wants and needs as human beings are, on the most basic levels, quite similar to yours?
(I realize I’m leaving out the vast middle here, those who are just unhappy that things in their personal lives aren’t going as well as they’d like—and are simply trying to make do from one day to the next.)
Can we all shift our focus from people to problems, and work together for the greater good?
Just days ago, we lost an invaluable American statesman: Congressman Elijah Cummings from Maryland, who died at age 68. “A Pillar of Baltimore Who Was ‘Loved by All,’” wrote The New York Times. In his years in Congress, he worked assiduously across the aisle to get things done for the people he represented and the country he loved.
Apparently, when President Trump attacked him on Twitter this summer, calling his district a “rodent-infested mess,” some of Cummings’ constituents wanted a full-throated response. Instead, Cummings calmly observed: “Mr. President, I go home to my district daily. Each morning, I wake up, and I go and fight for my neighbors.”
Being “nice” to the President was an example of the spirit that made him unique, according to his friends. His church pastor said Cummings was…
“…so much larger than what he was…He was something so different. He was not the angry protester. He was not the passive peacemaker. He was the deliberate man who stood for right and wrestled wrong until right became the natural winner.”
I have a strong sense that Congressman Elijah Cummings was the embodiment of the Ram Dass credo that Gary Gautier has brought to our attention.
Tell me, please: What do you think of all this—as political strategy and/or guidance for life? Can you accept the concept of loving the person whose ideas you are protesting against as much as you love yourself? Even embrace the idea and consider/try putting it into practice? Feel it’s a fine idea, but…?
Or does this concept strike you as naive and unworkable? Do you think I’m nuts to even raise the issue in today’s political climate?
If the latter, do you have any other ideas concerning how we as individuals move ourselves out of our current angry divisiveness?