Point of View Columns

America at the Crossroads or the Dead End?

As America’s second decade of the 21st century staggers and stumbles to a close there are a few things that can be considered accepted knowledge….a few things that we all know. The Congress of the United States is hopeless divided along partisan lines with allegiance to a narcissistic megalomaniac being the key partisan issue. We also know that the President of the United States will be impeached but will not be removed from office in the first month of the third decade. And finally, we know that the Democratic Party is seemingly implacably dedicated to finding a way to re-elect Donald Trump even as that disaster threatens to morph into reality every day.

As far as Congress is concerned, ever since the first Black president was inaugurated and the Tea Party emerged as the voice of endangered conservatism and white supremacy, it has become a forum for vitriol, opposition, interposition and nullification. Democrats keep searching for a coherent articulation of their motivating philosophy.

Meanwhile the Republicans are comfortably settled into the realm of the reimagining the Constitution so that it suits the needs of the wealthy, the zealots, the xenophobes, the destroyers of the planet and the needs of those who are in need of the affirmation of their privilege as whites, as males and as the dominant voice of America.

And Donald Trump has become their avatar, their savior, their Chosen One to whom they have sworn allegiance and fealty No Matter What. And even as this country careens towards a dystopian future, the Republicans feign blindness even though they can see what we all see – there is a bleak future for this country if five more years of Trump ensue.

And while there has never been a President more deserving of impeachment – with the possible exception of Andrew Jackson – Trump has created this victimhood/martyrdom scenario that satisfies his base and confounds his enemies. Even those determined to be ignorant of history must admit that the Constitution was written in the aftermath of a revolution against a supreme monarch. And as flawed and more than occasionally awful as many of the so-called Founding Fathers were, they were in agreement that that a return to monarchical reign was to be avoided at all costs.

And yet, some 230 years later, the Republicans are arguing that Trump can attire himself with all of the operational garments of monarchy without consequence. They somehow approve of him using the office of the presidency in an attempt to conspire with a foreign government to subvert the 2020 presidential election. And the Democrats seem to be baffled at what to do when Trump simply refuses to observe the basic principles of the Constitution and ignore any summons from Congress.

So we know that Trump will be impeached shortly. And we know that the Republican Senate will be united in their defense of the indefensible. And yet, national polls tell us that at least 50% of all Americans are okay with this outcome. And indeed, this may be how democracies die.

And finally, in the midst of this historic institutional dumpster fire, the Democratic Party is going about the selection of a candidate to oppose Trump as if this were a normal election year. There are still over fifteen men and women running for the Democratic nomination even though most of them would stand less than a snowball’s chance of defeating Trump.

Yet we are supposed to believe that a Sanders or Buttigieg or Klobuchar or Booker or Steyer candidacy is a real thing. Perhaps in a “normal” political environment that might be true. But there is nothing normal about the times in which we live and the Democrats are truly fiddling while the American Rome burns and all of us will suffer for a very long time if this pitiful process results in the re-election of Donald Trump.

And so, the question becomes, is America at the crossroads or is it at a dead end? And we can only hope that we won’t have to wait until November 3, 2020 to find out.

Point of View Columns

Don’t Believe Your Lying Eyes

It is a crystal clear fact that by now the question is no longer could or should Donald Trump be impeached. The only question is whether he will be impeached as the known facts give a sufficient basis for impeachment, even in this highly partisan political universe in which we live.

We have heard Trump supporters such as Senator Marco Rubio proclaim that Trump was just joking when he publicly asked the Chinese government to investigate Joe Biden and his son. And the only response that might even be remotely useful is to ask those supporters to turn back the hands of time to 2015 and to consider their response if President Barack Obama had publicly asked the Chinese government to investigate Mitt Romney and his many sons.

Not that logic has a place at the table these days, but it is simply impossible to imagine any president of the United States, from the hapless Warren G. Harding to the racist and hate-soaked Andrew Johnson to the venal Richard Nixon, who on their worst day would not have asked a foreign nation to assist them in their reelection efforts – much less to “find dirt” on them. And it is a sad but true commentary on the times in which we live that there is even a conversation as to whether Trump’s ham handed attempts at international electoral intrigue are objectionable and impeachable – of course they are.

The real question now is whether institutions established over two centuries ago will withstand the stress test of a President of the United States – and his enablers – who simply refuses to accept or respect the legitimacy of these institutions. The further test is whether norms and protocols of conduct not necessarily set forth in the Constitution will have any future meaning or value if Trump can simply wipe his considerable feet and tiny hands on them without any consequence.

It is clear that at this point in time that Trump feels that he need not treat Congress as a branch of government co-equal to that of the Executive branch. If he can ignore a valid subpoena from Congress without obtaining some kind of judicial approbation, then he is literally declaring the supremacy of the presidency over both the judicial and legislative branches of the federal government. And this, it should be pointed out, is exactly what the framers of the Constitution sought to avoid.

But we are now long past the time for debating how many so-called Founding Fathers can stand on the head of a pin. Now that Trump has defied Congress and will not cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, Congress really has no way to enforce any aspect of its impeachment inquiry except by going to the Supreme Court.

If the majority of the Supreme Court – including recent Trump appointees Gorsuch and Kavanaugh – stay true to their political DNA Congress and the people who elected its members will continue to be stonewalled by the Trump White House and any subsequent impeachment action will be diminished. If the Supreme Court supports Congress the question still stands – how will the Constitution and the norms and protocols of the American government be enforced when the president simply refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Constitution and those norms and protocols?

We are literally at the precipice of an unprecedented constitutional crisis that, if not resolved soon, can end very badly for this country.

The danger is clear and present.

Point of View Columns

When No Sense Is Sense

“For evil to flourish, all that is needed is for good people to do nothing.”
-Edmund Burke

We are drawn inexorably and tragically back to the raging controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. This country has been at war for almost a decade and that casualties mount daily. We narrowly avoided a cataclysmic collapse of the global economy and we continue to sort through the detritus of the damage wrought by Wall Street and our own inattention. Unemployment continues at effective double digit rates and hope is a flickering flame that has to be vigilantly guarded against the downdrafts of despair.

Yet, it would appear to a latter day Rip Van Winkle, if he were to awaken today, that the most important and compelling subject that has riveted the attention of the American body politic is the proposed Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan. All of the noted challenges and controversies are left in the shadow cast by this collision of titanic forces. One the one hand there is the Constitution of the United States and its very clear and unambiguous commitment to freedom of religion and its equally clear corollary that government will not interfere in the exercise of the right of religious freedom.

Arrayed against this seemingly formidable component of the foundation upon which this country was built is a gaggle of opponents with no coherent philosophy save a very ugly anti-Islamist undertone. That undertone is masked with calls for “sensitivity” to the feelings of the families of 9/11 victims and queries as to why the proposed center (which is not a mosque, although it will have a prayer room) has to be “so close” to the site of the new World Trade Center. And then there is an Alice in Wonderland exposition of the theory that while Muslims have the right to build their community center in Lower Manhattan, they have the responsibility to realize that some citizens would be offended by their presence and so they should move to another site. Perhaps in Siberia or Mars.

As we observe this conflagration of opposing views move across a landscape charred and scarred by extremism and venom, perhaps the cooling waters of fact and reason could be helpful. I am personally appalled at the vehemence of the expressions by opponents to the center. Could it be that 7 out of 10 Americans are against the site? Could it be that these 7 out of 10 Americans are unaware that Muslims died as innocent victims during the 9/11 catastrophe, as innocent as the Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu and atheist victims? Could it be that 7 out of 10 Americans are truly offended that an Islamic sponsored community center would be several blocks from the site of a World Trade Center?

Because, if that is the case what should be done about the two mosques that are already near the World Trade Center? One mosque is four blocks from the 9/11 site and has been there since 1970 – in effect before there was a World Trade Center. What should be done about the mosque that is 12 blocks from Ground Zero and has been in existence since 1985, or 16 years before 9/11? These mosques have been in continuous operation since 9/11 without question or concern and not once have the sensitivities and feelings of the families of 9/11 victims been mentioned. Not once.

Are we to infer that the opponents to the proposed center feel that 2 Islamic sites are enough? Or perhaps these two centers should also be dismantled and moved? Or is 4 blocks far enough away? Or 12 blocks? And, by the way, whatever happened to the Constitution of the United States?

Everything that is now being said about Muslims and mosques has been said about Jews and synagogues and Catholics and cathedrals and Protestants and their churches. Flames of intolerance have consumed untold legions of martyrs of every religion. The aspiration of tolerance is a very real aspect of what has made this country different. What a shame it would be for us to reverse the evolutionary process and return to the intolerance embodied by pogroms and holocausts and inquisitions since time immemorial.

If the rights of a minority are protected only when the majority is comfortable and looks favorably on that minority, then those rights are mere gossamer – a half-dream that disappears with the dawning of the dull sun of prejudice. If the exercise of rights set forth in the Constitution were subject to minority rule women might not have voted in Utah until very recently. If Constitutional rights were subject to a vote in North Carolina my father’s great grandparents might have never have moved from the Ford plantation.

There will always be a moment of pause between stated ideals and the full attainment of those ideals, but allowing the construction of the Lower Manhattan Islamic cultural center to be determined by some kind of neo-plebiscite a la American Idol would be shameful. To allow the exercise of religious freedom to be circumscribed because it is “insensitive” would make a mockery of the Constitution and provide the enemies of this country with custom made propaganda to recruit more misguided zealots.

Nonsense begets no sense. And we are all the worse for this very sad episode in the life and times of America.

Point of View Columns

The Good Pig

In these times of tremendous challenge, and therefore awesome opportunity (we hope!), a bit of humor might be in order.

A resident of New York City goes to visit his friend who lives on a farm in the country. Upon greeting his buddy he is taken for a tour of the farm and sees a three-legged pig limping along in the distance. Being totally unfamiliar with rural ways, the city dweller inquires about the pig.

“That’s one great pig”, is the reply. “That pig has saved my life on two separate occasions and he also saved my little boy from drowning.”

“Well then”, our city dweller inquires, what happened to his leg?”

“Well, with a pig that good, you don’t eat him all at once!”

The Constitution has been a remarkably durable and flexible governing document. Its preamble has been a relevant mission statement before “mission statements” became management tools. Its ability to be amended has given it the ability to adapt to the need for fundamental changes but the amendment process has been necessarily arduous in order to preclude spurious and frivolous changes.

Like the good pig served the farmer and his family, the Constitution has served the people of the United States well. Unlike the good pig, the Constitution has been safeguarded from most rash, self-serving and short-sighted behavior with a few exceptions (Prohibition comes to mind, and that misbegotten amendment was rightfully repealed).

But now we are faced with yet another foray into mindlessness by the right wing of the right wing as their yahoo cohorts call for a repeal of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. This amendment, along with the 13th and 15th amendments did much to begin to heal the gaping wound in the credibility of American claims to freedom and equality that was slavery, a wound that is still not fully healed. But it also codified the notion of citizenship in a unique and historic manner.

The 14th amendment grants full rights of citizenship to any person born or naturalized in the United States. There are no gradations of citizenship in this country and that principle has been crucial in granting equal rights to all men and women regardless of race, color, national origin, gender, sexual preference or physical disability.

The anti-immigrant motives of this bogus constitutional strategy are gossamer thin and fully transparent. With the singular exception of the descendants of full-blooded Native Americans, every American citizen is descended from someone who is from somewhere other than America. And, not surprisingly, American history is full of efforts by more established descendants of immigrants to claim superiority over more recent immigrants.

The Scotch-Irish and German Americans treated the Irish cruelly and ranked them below dogs when they first came to this country in large numbers. And then as the Irish became more “American” they joined in the condemnation of the huge numbers of Chinese who came to this country as laborers in the 19th century. The Chinese remained notably silent in attacking future immigrants, but that was not the case with the less recent immigrant Americans who rallied against the influx of Italians. And then the Eastern Europeans and Russians and more Germans came, and so on.

Beginning in the second half of the twentieth century, however, the flow of immigration which has been this nation’s life’s blood starting getting darker and less familiar to “real” Americans. They came from Puerto Rico (technically a part of America but enough to fuel the anti-immigrant fires – see “West Side Story”), the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ghana and Mexico. These dreaded and darker immigrants have come in the millions and multiplied before the horrified eyes of the right wing of the right and their yahoo cohorts and their wholly-owned Tea Party subsidiaries.

And in the thought-deprived intelligentsia of the right wing of the right wing, this bright idea was born like Aphrodite strolling full grown from the brow of Zeus. Abolish the 14th amendment and the children of illegal immigrants will no longer be granted citizenship. Of course, the children of actual citizens would also have to have additional documentation aside from a birth certificate in order to claim citizenship, but the right wing of the right wing has never concerned itself with details or logic.

We have been witness to the “birthers” claiming that Barack Obama is not President of the United States because he was not born in America. With the abolition of the 14th amendment it is a safe bet that a faction of the “birthers” would claim that President Obama’s father was not legally in the United States and the “birther” farce would continue. With the abolition of the 14th amendment the Roberts-Thomas-Alito-Scalia wing of the United States Supreme Court will endeavor to more strictly circumscribe the rights that should be granted to all citizens and everything from the Americans with Disabilities Act to the Voting Rights Acts will be in serious jeopardy.

For a long time it has been time for the progressive aspects of American body politic to comprehend the very real jeopardy that the right wing of the right wing represents. This is not an issue of conservative versus liberal – that is a useful and constructive discussion that invigorates the rational exchange of ideas and concepts. What we see now are mean, nihilist and mindless avatars of injustice seeking to impose their small-minded vision of this planet on those of us who remain silent or inactive.

Clearly, now is not the time for silence or inaction.