Wanted a revolution, got the wrong one

revolutionclockBernie Sanders fought for a social revolution with the goal of economic prosperity for every American. Instead, we got an economic revolution with the goal of greater prosperity for wealthy Americans and the global oligarchy, and motivated more by a need for power for some than a call to serve all.

That revolution is led by Christian conspiracists Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, who belong to a “first rule of Fight Club is you don’t say anything about Fight Club” kind of group the Southern Poverty Law Center once described as:

“…an important venue in which relatively mainstream conservatives meet and very possibly are influenced by real extremists, people who regularly defame LGBT people with utter falsehoods, describe Latino immigrants as a dangerous group of rapists and disease-carriers, engage in the kind of wild-eyed conspiracy theorizing for which the John Birch Society is famous, and even suggest that certain people should be stoned to death in line with Old Testament law.”

Our new dystopic reality is also supported by billionaire Robert Mercer and other well-heeled idealists and “extremist” supporters. Oh, and these religious zealots are represented by Donald J. “Golden Shower” Trump.

Their revolution was successful. Our revolution is regrouping. Why?

It’s ridiculously petty and simple. First, we have to understand what a political revolution is. It’s people coming together and passionately pursuing changes to a system that, either out of ignorance, malice or design, isn’t meeting their needs.

But there is another thing about revolutions, particularly in our country, that people forget – revolutions never end. Alexander Hamilton layed that out directly in the Federalist Papers (28). In the United States, when “rights are invaded by either” the state or the federal government, we “can make use of the other, as the instrument of redress.”

The right to redress means those who govern us are not infallible and can be challenged. There is no heresy in a society that has free expression as a pillar, and revolution is expression.

Said Hamilton:

“How wise will it be in them by cherishing the Union to preserve to themselves an advantage which can never be too highly prised!”

So what happened to Sanders’ progressive revolution this election cycle? It was stopped in its tracks, held at bay by a stubborn, tone-deaf, risk-averse establishment that assumed the status quo was good enough to win the election. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, even President Obama – who should have known better – had blinders firmly affixed to their temples and their fingers stuck deep into their ears.

It’s similar to the conventional wisdom about the difference between a conservative and a liberal/progressive: the conservative wants to conserve, to keep things as they are; the progressive wants there to be progress, an exponential growth in social justice and economic opportunity. But this election, the so-called progressive party, the Democrats, were the conservatives, the don’t-rock-the-boat-keep-things-as-they-are party, whose only message was things are good and getting better, but they won’t be if Trump and the Republicans win.

That’s the attitude that lost the House of Representatives in 2010 – the fear that bold action,  when that’s what we sent them there for, would cost them the next election. Although the Affordable Care Act was a heavy lift, it shouldn’t have precluded the Democrats of the 111th Congress from moving forward on immigration. minimum wage and other important social issues. Sure, they may have lost anyway, but at least they would have accomplished things that they knew the Republicans would never take on. Instead of going to Capitol Hill to serve, they are more concerned with getting reelected.

The Democratic establishment always thinks they know better, but their way doesn’t work anymore. The new Congress doesn’t get it, either. With all due respect, if they did, they wouldn’t have reelected Pelosi as minority leader.

It’s time to fight the Republicans with a revolution of our own, one with the bold vision and audacious hope of young progressives, many of whom, according to a column by a 22-year-old in The Nation, the other day, are not afraid to embrace a more socialist agenda.

“[W]hile Trump has dominated the headlines, there is still plenty of momentum around the socialist ideas that Bernie used to inspire America,” wrote Julia Mead, whose first presidential vote was for Obama, in 2012.

She said that her generation doesn’t have the anti-socialist, Cold War bias that was part of her parents’ and grandparents’ generations:

“When I heard Bernie say, out loud, that the billionaire class was ruthless and exploitative, that sounded groundbreaking. Not only did he name the right problem — inequality, not poverty — he named the culprit. I didn’t know you could do that. To me, and to hundreds of thousands of my peers, Sanders’s… socialism doesn’t feel antiquated. Instead, it feels fresh and vital precisely because it has been silenced for so long — and because we need it now more than ever.”

This isn’t sour grapes surrounding the allegations that the Dems’ political actions screwed Sen. Sanders. I don’t know if he would have beaten Trump, but most thought Chief Small Hands Pussy Grabber couldn’t win, either.

Quite a few years ago, I learned the value of commitment to a cause, how it must continually be reviewed and renewed. Time doesn’t stop. It keeps moving, and the victories (or losses) from actions taken yesterday must be set aside for the work to be done today.

In a country where free expression and the right to redress/revolution are guaranteed, we cannot rest, for our lives can change in an instant. Time doesn’t stop and neither should we. She is as constant as nature.

“You cannot say, ‘I will not fight.’ Nature [karma] compels you to.” – Krishna to Arjuna, Bhagavad Gita



Tears for Fears

President Barack Obama wipes away a tear during his farewell address, January 10, 2017. (WH.gov)

“Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.”
– President Barack Obama, from his farewell speech, January 10, 2017

There was sobbing, actual wailing, in homes all across America, Tuesday night, including mine. President Barack Obama’s poignant and touching farewell address may have been the backdrop for this river of sorrow, but it wasn’t his poetic words, or the sunset of his challenging presidency, or even Malia wiping tears from her eyes or the president when he dried his own.

When the speech was over and the lights came up in McCormick Place, and President Obama moved slowly through the room, thanking each of the smart, dedicated, civically minded people who had given all they had to his administration and election races, the reason for the melancholy became clear. This wasn’t about what we’re losing, but what we are left with.

As someone who has had to mourn too often, I know the waves of sorrow that pound at the heart like a storm surge washing away a dune, eating and coming back to feast again and again, until all that’s left is the indestructible, the warm memories of what was lost.

This is not that kind of crying, that kind of aching absence of a lost parent. This is not solely about what is gone. It is about the terrifying uncertainty of what is to come. It is about a government being presided over by a fool who follows the advice of oligarchs, evangelicals and dominionists, each with their own Machiavellian agenda, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.

Like the Persian king of old, he is guided by vanity, ego and conquest (sexual and otherwise). It is how he values himself among men, to rise above them.

There is a period for mourning, but there comes a time when we must stop our sadness and empower each other to go on – not to “get over it,” as the more strident of our fellow Americans ridiculously insist , but – to  face the inevitable future, as challenging as it may be for our country and values.

“We have everything we need to meet those challenges,” the president said. “After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people.”

The challenge is whether to be numb with fear in the face of a possible religious and/or cultural dystopia, or to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against those who would make it so. I choose the latter, because it is our right and, as I see it, our duty to make the world, our world, our neighbors’ world, better.

The promise of our democracy can be fulfilled, Obama went on, “only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

“Our founders,” he said, “knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity — the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one.”

We are citizens, after all, and not subjects. This country and its leaders belong to us.

“It falls to each of us,” the president admonished, “to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen.”

The sadness must and will fade with time, so damn the past! Every fight we engage in now is for our future.

We will be loud, but civil. We will fight for our neighbors when their rights as Americans are trampled. We will, as President Obama said, be vigilant.

And because I know you’ve been humming this ever since you read the header, a bit of Everybody Wants to Rule the World:
“It’s my own desire, it’s my own remorse.
Help me to decide.
Help me make the most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world.”


An affirmative case for Hillary Clinton

“It wasn’t lost on everybody—including some in the press—that her principal transgression actually seemed to be that she was a woman who said what she thought instead of quietly receding into the conventionally accepted political staging.”
– from a Politico article about how a 60 Minutes appearance in 1992 planted in the minds of Americans their relative opinions of Hillary Rodham Clinton

What a crazy, screwed up election this has turned out to be, not that that’s news to anyone.

I’ve said it here before, but in the context of this wacky, 2016 election, it bears repeating. I am a Baby Boomer, albeit a late one. Like the song goes, I was born in the fifties. I was a Bernie Sanders supporter during the primaries because I am nothing if not a political idealist; free healthcare, free education and an end to income inequality are all important to me because they’re important to building a strong middle class and to the continuing progress of our great country.

In a year like this, when Bernie Sanders’ idealistic populism clashed with not only the angry venting of Donald Trump, but also conflicted with the twenty-five year old, paranoid, must-get-elected centrism of the Clintons, the decline of options for choosing positive change leaves progressives, and especially committed liberals, in a wilderness of hopelessness.

When I was in St. Louis this summer, attending the annual Netroots Nation gathering, it was the same week that Bernie endorsed Hillary Clinton, and two weeks before the volatile Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The incomparable Washington Post reporter, Dave Weigel, was there, as always. He came up to me and asked if I was a Bernie supporter. I said that yes, I was.

“So who are you voting for in November?” he asked me, after we went over some of Clinton’s negatives.

“Hillary,” I said, without hesitation.

“But, why?”

“Because,” I answered, “Trump!”

Hillary Clinton, 1992, 2016
Hillary Clinton in 1992 (Public Domain) and 2016 (Gage Skidmore, via Creative Commons).
That exchange bothered me for a long time. I was uncomfortable that my main reason for voting for her was the utter unpalatability of what Trump would do to our country’s moral, ethical and political standing in the world if he were elected President of the United States. It’s a valid reason, to be sure, but it was wholly unsatisfactory, from an analytical point of view. I wasn’t looking for a more affirmative reason, but I was open to it, so when I read the Politico article cited above, it resonated, in the way that if you’re ready for the lesson, the teacher will come. What I found was the case for Hillary is more about me, who I am, than I realized.

The headline of the Politico article is, “The TV interview that haunts Hillary Clinton,” but it’s about more than just about her strong, Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” moment after the Superbowl, in defending Bill against Gennifer Flowers’ accusations. It’s an overview of the political life of someone who is, believe it or not, naively honest about what she says when she talks about being a professional woman, a mother and a public servant.

When she was first told about the country music star’s negative reaction to the future first lady asserting, “I’m not sitting here, some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she reportedly face-palmed, and was surprised and dismayed. “I didn’t mean to hurt Tammy Wynette as a person,” she reportedly told a small Colorado newspaper. “I happen to be a country-western fan.”

She was equally surprised by the public’s reaction after her infamous comments, six weeks later, about choosing her law career over being a woman who “stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.”

Politico quotes Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, who, in 2000, explained that he had trouble, during the 1992 campaign, convincing Hillary her comments would be a problem:

“‘I pulled her aside, and I said, ‘You know, Hillary, you’ve got to go restate this. People are going to think that’s an attack on stay-at-home moms.’ And she had the most wounded and naïve look on her face. … She had no idea that might be taken out of context. She said, ‘No one could think that.’ She said, ‘I would have given anything to be a stay-at-home mom. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. I just didn’t have a choice because Bill was making $35,000 a year and we needed to support the family.’ I said, ‘I know that.’ And she said, ‘Oh, you worry too much.’”

So what does this have to do with me being a Baby Boomer, like the Clintons? I believe there is really a kind of liberal/progressive redemption in electing her. At every step of the way, with her strong character and self-assuredness, Hillary Rodham Clinton was the strongest voice of a liberated, feminist generation. With her sharp intelligence and being a “woman who said what she thought,” Hillary was at the top of the wave. If she fell before she stood up on her groundbreaking surfboard, people would put her down for not having what it takes. If she rode through the wave successfully, people would say she’s too assertive. Ask any woman about that catch-22, where one is empowered by education but subjugated by prevailing sexism, and how difficult that reality is to navigate.

Or, as she put it to the class of 1992 when she gave the commencement address at her Alma-mater, Wellesley College:

“As women today, you face tough choices. You know the rules are basically as follows: if you don’t get married, you’re abnormal; if you get married but don’t have children, you’re a selfish yuppie; if you get married and have children, but work outside the home, you’re a bad mother; if you get married and have children, but stay home, you’ve wasted your education.

“…So you see, if you listen to all the people who make these rules, you might just conclude that the safest course of action is just to take your diploma and crawl under your bed.”

The affirmative case for Hillary Clinton is her shear incredulity that an educated woman should be stopped, could be stopped, in fulfilling her maximum potential. We wouldn’t ask that of a man. It is certainly wrong to ask it from any woman, any person, especially one as smart and experienced and, yes, humble (relative to her profession), as Hillary.

The Politico piece was written about a month ago, before the first presidential debate. Since then, Donald J. Trump has not stopped attacking her for being weak and lacking stamina (even while saying he admires that she is a fighter), has attacked the veracity of women accusing him of unwanted sexual contact by saying they weren’t attractive enough for him, and has accused Hillary of stepping out on Bill.

While that only sharpens the distinction between a blowhard misogynist and a woman more ready to be president than almost any other American, what clinches it for me is what Bill Clinton said in that 1992, 60 Minutes interview, when Steve Kroft asked if the Clintons had “an arrangement,” implying, obviously, that they allowed each other sexual indiscretions.

Bill was having none of that. “Wait a minute,” he interrupted, “You’re looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage.”

Standing by each other, being committed to each other and to your common goals, is undeniably uplifting. Just because some don’t understand that kind of devotion doesn’t make it less valuable. It also implies that no matter how much garbage they throw at Hillary – and they have thrown a lot – she remains a person committed to her goals, and committed to being someone who does all she can for people as a public servant. That is why I am voting for her. It’s a much more empowering reason than my fears of seeing giant gold lettering on the White House, next year. But if that’s what you need to get your butt to the polls, by all means, it’ll do.


Alienation, silence and revolution at the DNC

2016 DNC
Bernie Sanders delegate Scott Brown, from Georgia, sits in silent protest at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy Paula Olivares. Used with permission.)

I don’t know if party politics is supposed to be a zero sum game, where each side gets something it wants and reaches a consensus to ignore the rest, but I have seen that in the hearts of many Bernie Sanders delegates at the Democratic National Convention, last week, there was a feeling of being ignored by the Democratic Party.

In following friends of mine on Facebook®* who were in Philadelphia as Bernie delegates from Georgia, it seems they felt alienated and silenced by the process, despite the Clinton/Kaine campaign slogan of “Stronger Together.”

Lisa Ring at the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia

“[T]he party has tried to, at first, kill me with kindness, and when I did not comply, tried to silence me…make me disappear,” according to Lisa Ring, a Sanders delegate from southeast Georgia. “The party does not value honesty. Nor does it value integrity. It values money and power.”

The entire convention experience was an “inspiring and depressing festival of corruption and rebellion,” said Atlanta Bernie delegate, Scott Brown.

Ring, whose comments came in the form of a lengthy post, wrote how many Sanders delegates felt excluded. “If the party had allowed us to speak, disagree, criticize,” she said, “and in general, be the diverse crowd we are supposed to represent, this would be a unified party now.”

Angie NE DNC
Angela Eells walking the walk at the 2016 DNC in Philadelphia

“We represent millions of votes/voices that you clearly don’t want to listen to,” said Angela Eells, a Sanders delegate from Walton County, Georgia, in admonishing the DNC for its muzzling of Sanders supporters. “Once we realized they were silencing us,” she said, “we went and let the world know that democracy does not exist in the [D]emocratic party.”

She called the convention “the biggest farce production I’ve ever witnessed,” and an “orchestrated…’Illusion of Unity.'”

“I think there was a disconnect in people who have never been involved in party politics before,” explained Ted Terry, Bernie delegate and mayor of Clarkston, Georgia. In a separate interview with P&T, Terry, who is also the state director of the Sierra Club, urged “the newly initiated” to be patient and work within the political process of the Democratic Party. “It makes more tactical sense,” he said.

Mayor Ted Terry feelin’ the Berne at the DNC

“We will eventually have more power and take more control over this process,” Terry added.

But for many of the newcomers, the process of the convention, at least, left a bad taste of disaffection and disenfranchisement. Even during the final night, Thursday, they felt embattled.

“We were determined to represent our constituents and not be run off by our own party,” describes Ring in her post. “Unfortunately, since our own state party created a system of stifling us by over-chanting us and physically blocking us, they have permanently lost some hard working Democrats.”

The “stifling” Ring is referring to is that while some Bernie delegates were protesting by holding up signs and chanting things like “Ban fracking,” and, “No more war,” Hillary delegates and supporters – including Democratic Party of Georgia chairman Dubose Porter – blocked them from cameras and shouted them down with positive chants.

“The convention was one big orgy of ‘USA!’ chanting party unity,” complained Brown.

“It was like a battle of passive aggressive protests,” according to Terry. “Just like the ‘Bernie or Bust’ people were making noise and holding up signs that were kind of derogatory, the people who were trying to support Hillary and listen to the speeches were like, ‘Well, we’re not going to shut them up. We’re just going to stand in front of them because we have a right to stand here just like they have a right to stand here.'”

While Terry said he was sympathetic to the Bernie supporters’ passion – he was a Sanders delegate, after all – he said he thought they had carried on for too long. “There’s a point,” he said, “where persistence becomes petulance, and I think some people crossed that line… You don’t win by burning bridges; you don’t win by excessive petulance. You win by building bridges.”

His reaction was doing what he came to Philadelphia to do. “I cast my vote for Bernie. At that point, it was just like, ‘Alright. What’s next?’ Next is defeating Donald Trump.”

Eells, who is still not sure who will get her vote in November, said despite “feelings of deep sadness, defeat, anger,” the entire experience also left her feeling “determination, joy and vindication and above all PRIDE [emphasis hers].”

“There will never be a way for us to communicate to anyone outside that room how difficult it was for us but our ability to overcome, rise above, do our elected job and propel this movement,” she said.

And the activism will go on in spite of the imperfect choices come Election Day. “For me,” Terry said, the takeaway is “the fact that Bernie was saying we’re going to continue this movement, we’re going to continue this progressive revolution, but we’re not going to do it at the expense of allowing Donald Trump to win the presidency – the stakes are just too high.”

“We are now all a united front against Trump,” Brown said, in what appears to be angry sarcasm. “We have all accepted the fact that we must take millions of corrupting dollars from any corporation, billionaire, lobbyist, bundler, or sleazebag we can in that effort.”

“The lesser of two evils gives us a lot of room to be evil,” he warned. “And the (Anti-)Democratic Party will not disappoint.”

Brown is encouraging people to vote for Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, because “All the Clinton supporters, delegates, super-delegates, and supporting party insiders I’ve talked to, before, after and during the DNC, all are supremely confident that Hillary will beat Trump in November. So that means she doesn’t need my vote. Or yours.”

But Ted Terry offered some consolation to those who fear the Democratic Party has left them behind. “Once the hurt feelings kind of subside,” he opined, “and some of the people are a little more clear-eyed, they’ll hopefully realize it’s not, like, hopeless.”

Terry went on to explain that his support for the  nominee notwithstanding, the Sanders revolution isn’t over. He went on to list several issues yet to be resolved. Among them, “We need to stop the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal) from passing in the lame duck.”

Eells, in a separate interview with a local paper, said she won’t stop fighting. “I am fighting against fracking because I believe that we have a right to have clean drinking water,” she said. “I am fighting to overturn Citizens United because corporations should not be able to buy elections.”

Lisa Ring is also moving on, promising to continue to work for progressive change in Georgia in standing up for causes and candidates. But she has one request. “All that I fight for is the opportunity to participate in democracy. Let us all work together, let each voice be heard, and may we achieve a more just, honest, and compassionate nation. Please join us in any way you are able.”

I’m raising my hand. Are you?

*With the exception of the interview with Ted Terry, all quotes are from Facebook® posts from during and after the DNC in Philadelphia. Some editing has been done to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Used with the generous permission of the subjects.

PS. This is an amusing video about moving on from Bernie. Ted Terry is in it. If you’re still stuck, you may want to wait to watch it. Or, maybe it will help.

Love and electability – the candidates come a-courting

2016dancecompYou know you’ve felt it, the glaring double-take from friends who can’t believe you are pulling for Bernie Sanders. “You know he’s unelectable,” they say, referring to his independent affiliation in Congress and his longstanding identification as a Democratic Socialist.

Eight years ago, those were the people saying the same thing about Barack Obama.

And like 2008, they are pulling for Hillary, of course, because she is a conventional candidate. But you’re a rebel, and you and others like you are pulling for Bernie for the exact opposite reason. He’s not only unconventional, he’s calling for a “political revolution.” Plus, his populist policies are great for the middle class, great for America.

I watched the first Democratic debate of the 2016 cycle on CNN, Tuesday night, in a tavern full of party supporters and activists. Most already had expressed a preference from among the list of candidates, and it’s safe to say that the debate really changed no one’s mind, except the occasional surprise by those who found themselves agreeing with Bernie Sanders more than they thought they would.

In fact, Google’s analysis of searches done during the debate showed that “From start to finish, it was Sanders” who people were interested in finding out more about.

We have heard from most of the Republicans and Democrats who say they want to be president, as they embellish their accomplishments and wax about the policies they would present to Congress. We’ve had our first virtual socials with the viable and the unviable, so now it’s time to let our friends in on our candidate crushes.

On the right, they have the brash one, the quiet one, the cute one and the legacy, along with the mean one and the leader in search of a group that would have her, plus the religious ones. There is no tolerant one.

On the left stand the pragmatic one, the passionate revolutionary one, and the earnest one, along with the disciplinarian and the over-eager one (bless his heart).

Let’s start with Donald J. Trump, who many Republicans, and even a few independents, fawn over and adore. He is the brash, bad boy. He’s unwilling to bend to conventions like political correctness, for example, because it “takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of effort,” as he told NBC News, Wednesday morning. But if he chose to acquiesce to political correctness, he said, he would be “more politically correct than anybody you’ve ever interviewed.” Of course he would say that. It’s very Trump-ian.

Ben Carson is a Christian Right darling. Smart enough to be a brain surgeon, but dumb enough to believe in fairy tales, like Noah’s Ark, or if my grandparents had guns, maybe they would have outlived Hitler. Trump says he’s “nice.” I don’t think so.

Below those two on the GOP side, it’s a statistical mashup of the boyish Marco Rubio, the confused Jeb Bush who is having trouble loving his brother while trying to distance himself from his legacy, and Carly Fiorina, who will just get more and more stern until her authority is respected. Then, of course, there’s the intolerable Dominionist, Ted Cruz, the bully, Chris Christie, and the also-Rands.

Maybe your darling, the one you’re ready to fall in love with, if you haven’t already, is in the class that presented itself in Las Vegas, Tuesday night.

Will Saletan, posting at Salon, believes the populism voiced in Vegas is where most Americans are:

“Democrats are putting together a case for jerking the leash on capitalism. It’s moral, pragmatic, and smart. It fits the spirit of the times. Republicans had better come up with an answer.”

The pundits say that Hillary crushed it, but maybe you don’t concede to their consensus. Maybe her promise to “rein in the excesses of capitalism so that it doesn’t run amok” misses the point of the social contract of the type Bernie is pushing or Martin O’Malley endorsed. Or, despite Sanders magnanimously sidestepping the topic of Clinton’s “damn emails,” you believe it is a legitimate issue.

There is nothing wrong with swooning with anticipation over who you want on your arm when you come to the Great American Homecoming Dance, next November. Committing to Bernie, say, is great. Give him money. Work on the campaign. But don’t be disillusioned when your traditional parents put the kibosh on your crush because they are looking out for what, or who, they think is better for you in the long run.

And please don’t let the dreadful experience of attachment and disappointment keep you from being enthused about the dance, even if you’re not dancing with the one that brought you. We still need you to show up and actually dance, because democracy abhors wallflowers.


‘Two dimensions of otherness’ – the Syrian refugee crisis migrates to America

“Each new American citizen brings a unique set of skills and experiences which they can use to improve our communities and our nation. And each of them can help renew our shared hope that unlimited possibilities are available to everyone who embraces the opportunities that this country offers under its Constitution.”
– León Rodríguez, Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, column on U.S. Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, 2015

“We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims… when can we get rid of them?”
– Question posed to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, in New Hampshire, September 17, 2015

It should come as no surprise that President Obama’s promise to welcome 10,000 refugees fleeing the wars in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, is causing some in our nation to flex their nationalist, racist muscle. Never mind that many are only a couple of generations removed from their refugee ancestors. Never mind that this latest batch of refugees can be linked directly to the mistakes we made invading Iraq, part of the Bush Doctrine’s sad, flawed legacy, and because of that we bear some responsibility.

“When we talk about Iraq and Afghanistan refugees,” says Ted Terry, the mayor of “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America,” Clarkston, Georgia, “we’re talking mainly about people who helped out American and coalition forces during the war, people who risked their lives to help our soldiers in those wars, and who, if they stayed there, would be killed.”

“These resettlement programs,” Terry added, “are making up for the turmoil and the war and the strife that, quite frankly, America caused by inserting ourselves into those parts of the world.”

But humanity and empathy are set aside as too complex for simple minds that react more easily to hatred and fear.The immigrant is hated because he is different, and feared because of her olive skin and stigmatized culture. Take a look what is happening in Europe, right now, as hundreds of thousands of displaced people flee war to seek a better life in the West.

“Certainly the fact that the majority of the refugees are Muslims is a problem,” Dr. Luca Mavelli, a professor of Politics and International Relations at he University of Kent, in England, told National Public Radio, Monday. “There is an issue in Europe, which is a longstanding conflation between migrants and Muslims, so two dimensions of otherness that, somehow, are now coming together, and are well represented by Eastern European countries, like Hungary or The Czech Republic who have been very clearly stating that they would only take Christian refugees.”

And despite the fact that these brave souls are undertaking dangerous and harrowing journeys to reach Germany, France and England, their tiny children washed up on the beach like driftwood, the entire throng is demonized because most of them are Muslim. The hand wringing over solutions to the crisis has brought out some of the worst on our shores, as well.

“The rhetoric has been really awful,” James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told Newsweek, recently. “The difficulty of doing it is met by this Islamophobia and conflation of Syrians and Iraqis with terrorists.”

“Every person has their own story. They are human beings, here,” explained Ted Terry. “The term refugee is not a monolith. When we say refugee, we are talking about people from Eritrea who are Coptic Christians. When we’re talking about Syrians, we’re talking about people who are both Muslims and Christians.”

Back in January, when it was apparent there would be new migrants from the war weary Near East coming to America, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter to the White House warning that inviting thousands of Syrian refugees to our country would be offering “a backdoor for jihadists” who would take advantage of the melee to blend in with other immigrants.

“We… know that ISIS wants to use refugee routes as cover to sneak operatives into the West,” he wrote in a statement, after the White House announcement, last week.

But State Department officials insist there is already a rigorous and deliberate screening protocol for refugees. “We have a very slow process of moving refugees through our pipeline, and part of it is because of the security vetting component,” Larry Bartlett, the Director of Refugee Admission for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, told ABC in February.

Scenes from Clarkston, Georgia, "the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.". (Click to enlarge.)
Scenes from Clarkston, Georgia, “the most ethnically diverse square mile in America.” (Click to enlarge.)

That one to two year vetting process, combined with “good community policing, good community relations with the Muslim leaders in these communities,” said Mayor Terry, make him feel his town is as safe as any in America.

“For Clarkston,” he added, “we’ve had 35 years of refugee resettlement. We’ve had them from many different Muslim countries. We’ve had them from Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq, certainly, and we haven’t had a terrorist come over in those 35 years. I don’t expect that to change.”

That’s important to Terry because even Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (R) acknowledges that most of the new refugees are likely to end up there. Like other Republican run states, Georgia’s leaders have asked Washington not to increase their share of refugees. Deal explained his state’s position to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week:

“Deal’s administration confirmed Tuesday it has asked the State Department to keep the number of refugees resettling in the Peach State ‘static’ going into the next fiscal year.

“‘We will be welcoming,’ Deal told the AJC. ‘But we want to make sure we’re not taking a disproportionately large share of them compared to other parts of the country.'”

Deal is supported by some of his party’s hardliners, like pundit and political consultant Phil Kent, who recently published a piece titled, “Gov. Deal Seeks to Limit Muslim Refugee Influx.” Like its headline, the post unsparingly criticizes Obama’s decision based on the faith of the migrants and reiterates the aforementioned “conflation” that equates them with terrorism.

“I don’t recall ever voting in the United States for bringing in masses of Muslims,” Kent said, this week, on a local news and current events television panel where he appears as a regular guest.

Terry finds that attitude counterproductive, and insists that the promise of America demands we take in the refugees:

“We can invite them to come to America as a gesture of good will and compassion, lead by example in that regard, and when they get here, they find out, ‘Oh, my goodness! Americans aren’t the evil Satan. Maybe they’re not as bad as people in my country said they were. I’ve been welcomed with open arms. They helped save me from this terrible position I was in, helped me to save my children, and here I am in a place that’s not only free, but also safer and has a lot more opportunity than I ever could have dreamed of.’

“That’s the only way we’re ever going to win this war of ideas between radical Islam and what is not a religious argument, but more of an argument over liberty and freedom. That’s what we say in the pledge of allegiance every single school day and every City Council meeting in Clarkston. We talk about ‘…with liberty and justice for all.’ That’s exactly what we’re doing for these refugees. We’re providing liberty and justice for all of them.”


Will the power of impassioned politicians work down-ticket?

Curiouser and curiouser. It’s like Alice herself is guiding us through the United States of Wonderland’s early primary season going into the 2016 presidential elections. Showmanship and passionate authenticity seem to be ruling the day, while establishment electoral politics sits bemused on a mushroom. Just how long can this go on?

With the angry Republican up by double digits and the fiery Democrat surging in the early primary states, it might be time to stop asking when the campaigns of Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders are going to collapse and start figuring out a way to put the magic in a bottle labeled “Drink Me” for the down-ticket House and Senate races in 2016.Alice_drink_me-bottle

But will it work? Beth Cope, a Democratic political consultant who has worked on several campaigns, doesn’t think so. Referring to a popular 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a dangerously honest presidential candidate, she said, “I don’t think the ‘Bulworth Principle’ applies down-ticket. Down ballot voters are hardcore voters who aren’t turned on by theatrics.”

Still, Republicans have been rather good at theatrics the last three or four election cycles, especially in the House. They have been providing the most entertainingly twisted, Mad Hatter’s tea party kind of candidates to take on politics in a couple of generations. Where Reagan may have been extreme in his time, they are unapologetically extremer. Where Goldwater gave no quarter, they give not even a penny.

The Washington Post published an article over Labor Day about Republican contrarian, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), calling him the “Trump of the House.”

Like the presidential candidate, Meadows questions the leadership of the Republican Party. One may remember that he launched a campaign, before the summer recess, to unseat Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) as Speaker of the House, a move some at the time described as “unhelpful.” Boehner himself dismissed the move as coming from “a member here and a member there who are off the reservation.”

But that boldness that has been coming for some time, according to Cope, and one needs to look no farther than The Donald as an exemplar of why Republicans thinks it’s okay to go “off the reservation.”

“Donald Trump isn’t doing anything that Fox News wouldn’t ordinarily do,” she said. “When [Republican National Committee Chairman] Reince Priebus and Fox News and all of these folks say, ‘Oh, they’re damaging the Republican brand,’ every time they did not stand up against [the litany of misogynistic and degrading] things said on Fox News or elsewhere, every time the leadership said, ‘Oh, we don’t want to offend our base. We’re not going to weigh in,’ they gave up a little piece of their party.

“If Donald Trump is the type of person who is unacceptable to them, it’s their own fault.”

Yet WaPo points out that Trump’s bravado has bolstered the spirits of those who disagree with the establishment GOP brand:

“Trump’s anti-establishment message, gleefully mocking not only Democrats but also a hapless Republican establishment, has emboldened congressional conservatives ahead of their return to Washington Tuesday.”

What people like Meadows and his allies like Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Rep. Jody Hice (R-Georgia), Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Arizona) and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) brought to their respective campaigns was a way to draw out those who sought validation and acceptance for their poignantly out of the mainstream, wackadoodle, arch-conservative views.

As we have heard many times in the “Summer of Trump,” these views touch a nerve. It is, for them, a righteous anger they show toward immigrants and the milquetoast establishment. Republican base voters don’t see it as being a negative. They see it as it’s-about-time-someone-took-these-pussies-on kind of anger, and as psychologist Drew Westen points out in his book, The Political Brain, the Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation:

“…subjectively, anger can feel either pleasant or unpleasant, as anyone knows who has fantasized about revenge…And although anger can lead to avoidance or withdrawal, it can just as easily be an approach-oriented emotion, causing people to approach someone or something they intend to attack.” (p.79)

And what is Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” except a call for revenge against those who “destroyed” it in the first place? At the national level, the personalities at Fox News have been beating this drum loudly for decades. Assisting in fomenting the anger of the “silent majority” at the local level have been the folks in the “vengeance is mine” business, the Evangelical churches that helped forward their message of exclusion and exceptionalism.

What both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been able to do with their campaigns, although with noticeably different messages, is be angry voices for change in their respective parties. To some extent, the same could be said for other party base drivers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts).

“If you’re trying to convince people to change course,” Westen points out, “you generally have to elicit emotions such as anxiety or anger, along with enthusiasm for your cause, particularly when your point is that an incumbent has behaved in ways that are incompetent or unethical.” (p. 318)

Remember, these campaigns are not just trying to replace an incumbent; they’re aiming to change the way Washington, D.C., and the parties that run our government, work.

But what good is anger, one might ask, if there is no policy plan to back it up, and offer solutions? Trump just talks about actions that will be “terrific” and “huge,” without a specific plan. Well, the fact is people vote based on what they feel about the candidates personality first, and policy is the last thing they care about. That’s why attack ads work. They give voters a reason to dislike a candidate.

Westen breaks it down to four questions a voter asks when considering who he or she will choose, what he calls “a hierarchy of influence.”

“‘How do I feel about a candidate’s party and its principles?’ ‘How does this candidate make me feel?’ ‘How do I feel about a candidate’s personal characteristics, particularly his or her integrity, leadership, and compassion?’ and ‘How do I feel about this candidate’s stands on issues that matter to me?'” (p.418)

“Candidates who focus their campaigns toward the top of the hierarchy and work their way down generally win,” Westen concludes, adding, “Candidates who start at the bottom of the hierarchy and work their way up generally lose.”

Democrats seem to think that middle America is constantly voting against its own interests, that if people had a better understanding of how their policies are better that the Republicans, then they would be compelled to vote Democrat. But it doesn’t work that way. Every time a Democrat goes back to explain policy to voters, he loses them.

In some ways, it seems like Sen. Sanders is campaigning starting at the second or even the third level of Westen’s hierarchy. He is running as someone outside the mainstream, and he is in the Senate as an independent. People like Bernie because they admire his consistency. “This is a man who is authentic,” one Sanders supporter said at a July rally in Phoenix, “he’s held his convictions for decades.”

Still, his speeches are usually a litany of populist policy changes, something Westen warns against.

He advises “abandoning traditional Democratic laundry lists…and instead telling and retelling compelling narratives of what progressives stand for and what they won’t stand for.” It could be argued that Sanders is doing that, but will his passion, exciting as it is for the crowd, ignite a sustainable movement?

“Trump’s supporters are angrier than he is,” Politico’s Ben Schreckinger wrote in a brilliant piece comparing the two surprise contenders, last month. But, he points out, “Sanders is angrier than his supporters. When the Vermont senator, hoarse of voice, bellowed out for a ‘political revolution,’ the [Reno, Nevada,] crowd cheered. But minutes before they had milled about amiably on the lawn. A game of Frisbee seemed more likely to break out than a revolution.”

So it seems that for a while, at least, the often talked about enthusiasm gap has yet to make an appearance this cycle. As far as carrying the spectacle into down-ticket, House and Senate races, as a way to get people interested in checking the boxes below the presidential candidates, one can hope there’s enough in the Drink Me bottle to go around. It will make 2016 so much more fun.


Huckabee’s monolithic view will get him shoved to the exit door

Auschwitz oven door
The oven doors in a crematorium in Auschwitz. Poland, 1989

For Christian evangelicals like Mike Huckabee, support for Israel is, and has always been, of a single purpose: to bring all the Jews to the tiny Mediterranean country so that they can make them convert or die, and prepare the world for the Second Coming.

Pundits are calling the former Arkansas governor’s remark about the Iran nuclear deal, saying Obama is taking Israelis and “basically march[ing] them to the door of the oven,” the “Trumpification” of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign. Outrageous does buy you news cycles, and the media is all too happy to cover a practiced politician like Huckabee instead of a blowhard buffoon like Trump. They’re likely relieved. The asshat with the comb-over is exhausting.

The main difference between Huckabee and Trump is that what the Donald’s minions mistake for authenticity is actually salesmanship, flim-flam, telling them what they want to hear. The Huckster, on the other hand is actually being sincere. Earnestly sincere.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t Huckabee trying to be like Trump, as much as it is him trying to rally his evangelical base, to save Israel, so the Jews can go out according to their prophecy, and not the Ayatollah’s. We can’t have “a mushroom cloud over Israel,” he warned Hillary Clinton after her condemnation of his words. Certainly not one generated by Iran.

Despite the objection of many notable Jewish organizations and individuals, like the Anti-Defamation League – who he dismisses as “leftist” and “pro-Democrat” – and Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, Huckabee thinks he knows he’s on the right track with the Jewish community. After all, he was at an event, Monday night, where, he told Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Tuesday, “I was probably one of four gentiles in the entire event — it was a Jewish event. People were overwhelmingly supportive.”

I’d hate to burst his bubble, but if he was invited to an event like that, chances are he wasn’t going to find a valid cross-section of American Jewry. It’s like going to a strip club and thinking the women there are representative of their entire gender. We are monotheistic, not monolithic. That may be where he’s confused.

In defending his offensive remarks to Lauer, the governor used his association with the Holy Land and his personal experience at Auschwitz in a “some of my best friends are Jews and Holocaust survivors” kind of way. “I’ve been to Auschwitz three times,” he said, “I have been to Israel dozens of times.” He said he gets the Survivor slogan “Never Again,” because he stood “in front of those very ovens.”

I’m not saying he couldn’t have had some kind of spiritual epiphany in that horrid place where I too have stood. But even as a child of Holocaust Survivors, I understand that you cannot ever know what it was like to stand in front of those ovens, unless you stood in front of them when they trickled with flame and smelled of burned hair and roasted human flesh.

What’s grotesque here is not the extremes to which the Huckster has gone to get noticed. It’s the ease and assurety with which he thinks it’s okay to use a tragedy of epic scale in his quest for personal glory. This is not Europe in the 1930s. He’s ringing the alarm, using dog whistles like “appeasement,” because he thinks it works for him, and because he believes it. It may get him the evangelical vote, if he makes it to the Iowa Caucuses in January. But his methods are desperate and sad, beyond ridiculous, and we definitely don’t need him running our country – the United States, I mean, not Israel.