On Shepard Smith

Every American that values truth has lost a perhaps indispensable resource. This afternoon, Shepard Smith of Fox News announced that he was leaving the network as of today. Perhaps because of my 40 years as a lawyer, I place the highest credibility upon those willing to speak the truth when the truth is contrary to their own interest. I accordingly considered Mr. Smith’s candid refutations of the endless baseless and/or absurd claims of President Trump and his satellites the most vital on cable news specifically because they were issued from Fox News – which, aside from Chris Wallace and (until today) Mr. Smith (my apologies to any other lone Fox purveyors of truth of whom I’m unaware) – generates its revenues by serving propaganda for Mr. Trump to an audience intent on lapping it up. Mr. Trump has been a vehement critic of Mr. Smith, and indulges in well-publicized fits about any Fox News presentation that is contrary to the fantasy world in which he seeks to live with his followers.

It is no surprise to the readers of these pages that I am generally in agreement with the sentiments expressed by the Morning Joe panel and the rest of the MSNBC lineup (although I’m occasionally surprised that they don’t asphyxiate themselves on their own hyperventilation); I enjoy the relish with which the majority of the CNN talking heads pursue the President’s falsehoods and inanities (although I wonder how they avoid drowning in their own antagonism); but I’m always acutely aware that no matter how sincerely these MSNBC and CNN commentators hold their views, they’re on those networks’ air because their employers’ business models in part involve inciting antipathy toward Mr. Trump and his cohort. What made Mr. Smith different was the fact he was speaking to an audience that generally mostly strongly disagreed with the truth he offered.

I cling to the hope that Mr. Smith’s departure was indeed his own decision; absent contrary indications, I take him at his word that it was. I am troubled by the fact that he leaves very shortly after Attorney General William Barr, according to a New York Times account, traveled to New York to meet with Fox Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch. I can think of no legitimate responsibility of an Attorney General of the United States that requires him/her to meet with a media mogul.

A link to a video of Mr. Smith’s final sign-off is set forth below. Those that didn’t have a chance to regularly see his broadcasts missed something special.  I shall miss him a lot.

https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/shep-smith-leaving-fox-news

Debate Ruminations

What I’ve found most intriguing about the most recent Democratic debate is the post-debate analysis: how visceral and individual our respective reactions are. In The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist, argues that our moral judgements are governed primarily by our emotions (he prefers the term, “intuitions”), that our powers of strategic reasoning are ancillary, and that we primarily employ our reasoning to rationalize our intuitions’ sentiments. His arguments are seemingly relevant to the way we assess candidates.

Since the debate ended, I’ve heard Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski comment upon how “presidential” U.S. MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren looked; although I believe that Sen. Warren had a good night, I don’t think she looks at all presidential. Yamiche Alcindor, the African American female PBS White House Correspondent of whom we, devoted PBS NewsHour watchers, have become quite fond, has indicated that she believes U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris had a strong performance; I thought Sen. Harris had some clever shots, but did nothing special. (Before I get railed upon for being sexist or racist, I would submit that we all have a tendency to appreciate that with which we identify – there was never a candidate that my father, otherwise a vehement rock-ribbed Republican, ever supported as passionately as Democrat John F. Kennedy, an Irish Catholic.)

Although U.S. MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar, U.S. NJ Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Ms. Harris, and former U.S. TX Rep. Beto O’Rourke were all fairly good, I will join the chorus opining that since each of the frontrunners at least held their own, the three-hour marathon won’t materially alter the polls. Sens. Klobuchar and Booker have nowhere to go; to me Mr. Buttigieg’s weakness is that while he, like Presidents Kennedy and Barack Obama, is more cerebral than emotive, he lacks those worthies’ capacity to stir passions; Ms. Harris’ best moments again appeared planned and scripted, leaving one again concerned as to how she would handle President Trump, the master of the unexpected; and Mr. O’Rourke was impressive, but his aggressive positions on gun control (with which I completely agree) seemingly foreclose any meaningful chance to win a Texas U.S. Senate seat after his campaign inevitably folds.

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang has apparently decided that he wants to get into the lottery business.

U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, clearly physically under the weather, was a little too predictable and curmudgeonly, but if he loses support, it will probably go to one of the other frontrunners.

Whether motivated to withhold attacks on Mr. Biden by a Democratic team spirit or a desire to start softening her somewhat feisty image in preparation for the general election campaign, Ms. Warren maintained a positive demeanor throughout the evening. She fostered the tone that all of the Democratic candidates want what’s best for this country. Nothing occurred that would dampen the prospect of a Biden-Warren ticket (a notion that finds favor with a number of readers of these pages). She stands to be the primary beneficiary if Mr. Sanders loses supporters. She was the most responsible for making it a good night for the Democratic campaign against Mr. Trump.

Being mindful of my own predilections ;), I thought Mr. Biden had a very strong night. He was significantly more energized than in either of the first two debates. While staying above the belt, he took Ms. Warren to task for the cost of her Medicare-for-All plan right at the outset (before we, tiring at the length of this spectacle, found our minds wandering). While he got muddled a couple of times during the evening, he exhibited flashes demonstrating his foreign policy knowledge and experience: “I confronted [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro”; that Afghanistan “cannot be put together” since it is “three different countries [referring to the Pakistani-controlled east and presumably the areas respectively under the influence of the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Ghani government].” His closing, in which he talked about overcoming the deaths of his first wife, daughter, and more recently, one of his sons, was the single most authentic and effective answer of the night.

I’ve saved to the end of this note my reference to former HUD Director Julian Castro’s tawdry attacks on Mr. Biden. Taken together with my consideration of Mr. Haidt’s hypothesis that our intuitions generally govern our reasoning powers, the reactions to Mr. Castro’s salvos have given me a different perspective on how Mr. Biden might fare in any debate with Mr. Trump. When Mr. Castro pointedly and repeatedly (and incorrectly) challenged Mr. Biden’s memory, his ageist implication was sufficiently naked that the audience audibly recoiled and TLOML – no particular fan of Mr. Biden, and one (unlike her spouse) not given to vocalization during these kinds of events — spontaneously emitted an epithet about Mr. Castro that was decidedly … well, let’s just say … uncomplimentary 😉 . It brought to mind Mr. Biden’s strongest suit: We like him. Even if we have concerns that he may not still possess all of the faculties he once had … we like him. And furthermore, that in the past, we liked Franklin Roosevelt although he was patrician, we liked Harry Truman although he was common, we liked Dwight Eisenhower although (before his reelection) he was evidently physically frail, we liked Ronald Reagan although he was a bit diminished, we liked Bill Clinton although he was smarmy, and we liked Barack Obama although he was out of touch with working people.

When in the first debate, U.S. CA Rep. Eric Swalwell overtly attacked Mr. Biden because of his age, the immediate reaction was: That’s the kind of shot Trump would take. When despite disclaimers Ms. Harris implied in the first debate that Mr. Biden was a racist by raising Mr. Biden’s decades-old comments on busing, the reaction after the dust settled was: That was unfair. When Mr. Castro clumsily raised Mr. Biden’s age, the thought flashed: That’s Trump. Mr. Swalwell’s candidacy is gone. Mr. Castro’s candidacy is effectively dead. Ms. Harris’ candidacy hasn’t recovered.

So I would pose this about Mr. Biden’s ability to stand up against Mr. Trump in a debate: if Mr. Biden handles himself as well as he did in the last two debates, and Mr. Trump can’t resist attacking him in Trumpian fashion, the President will be playing into the Democrat’s hands. Drawing upon Mr. Haidt’s premises, enough of us may rationalize away Mr. Biden’s wobbles to enable him to win the debates and the presidency … because we like him.

An American Experience

A member of our extended family recently sent out an account describing a cross-country cycling trip he just completed with a friend. I was so taken with his note that I got his permission to reprint parts of it here:

“The trip took us 54 days, a total of about 322 hours of riding. This journey has taught me a lot about the country that I live in … The natural beauty that can be found everywhere is astonishing, whether it is the rolling hills of Montana, the lush mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire … or … the widespread expanses of cornfield …. And the people living there will let you know about how special their little corner of the world is.

Looking back, I was initially most nervous to venture into small rural towns on a bicycle as the outsider, desperate to find a place to eat and sleep. I would have no idea where to get food, go to the bathroom, or pitch a tent. However, it was in these small communities where I felt most welcomed. Countless times, people there pointed us in the right direction, gave us encouragement, and more often than not opened their homes, churches, or city facilities to us asking nothing in return. It was in these towns where I realized how important human interaction was on this trip …. In reality, it was the larger cities that were the most stressful … people interacting with us skeptically. Cities had all of the essential materials for me to thrive while traveling, but were missing the most important aspect of the trip, understanding and compassion. We live in a fast paced world. This trip has allowed me to slow down and appreciate everything and everybody that this country has to offer, even those who don’t see eye to eye with myself or others. I think that by slowing down and living simply encourages conversations and empathy when interacting with others of different backgrounds and stories than our own.”

I know that our family member would agree that he and his friend might have faced a greater level of distrust during parts of their journey had they been brown or black, rather than white; that said, their experience and his wonderful note underscored again for me that the vast majority of our people, even if possessed of divergent experiences, different apprehensions, and conflicting views, sincerely mean well. To say more would detract from the power of an account that speaks so eloquently for itself.

On the American Flag

We recently returned from a week in a part of Wisconsin dotted with small communities in which a blizzard of American flags fly and a wide assortment of flag-related apparel and paraphernalia manifest. Two observations, that of lesser import first.

4 U.S.C. 6 provides, in part, as follows:

(c) … The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all weather flag is displayed.

4 U.S.C. 8 provides, in part, as follows:

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as … merchandise …

(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery …

(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling …

(i) The flag … should not be … printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard …

How many times each day do we as a people violate the letter or spirit of federal law in the name of patriotism? Does a citizen show greater respect for our nation by wearing a flag shirt that is vulnerable to an errant mustard drip? While such is clearly harmless, a separate personal pique: How badly is our flag desecrated when it is prominently displayed in the lapel of a politician (of either party) engaging in self-aggrandizement, spewing self-serving lies, and/or inciting discord?

I have more understanding of the actions of those that burn the flag or kneel during the national anthem to call attention to an injustice in our country that they sincerely believe needs correcting. I would offer that these actions, whether or not one agrees with them, are made in the exercise of one of the rights that the flag stands for: the freedom of expression.

The larger concern: It occurred to me that when I see our flag flying in front of a house, or see one of our people wearing or using flag-themed apparel or paraphernalia, my visceral reaction is: that’s a Trump supporter. This is obviously an over-generalization; there are unquestionably veterans and others among us proudly displaying the flag that don’t support the President … but I would submit that my inclination is accurate much more often than not.

I fear that the flag either has become or is being made into a partisan symbol – perhaps for some, the trademark of a culturally-homogeneous America. While it is human nature to find comfort among those that are like us, I truly believe that when asked to consider, the vast majority of Mr. Trump’s supporters appreciate that the flag belongs to all Americans that love this country – even those with whom they vehemently disagree. I’m troubled by the notion that possibly not all of them do.

And so …

If we hadn’t already known – and of course, we did – the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan movie, You’ve Got Mail, informed us that The Godfather is the I Ching, the Sum of All Wisdom, the Answer to Any Question. In a passage from the novel not included in the movie:

“With great effort the Don opened his eyes to see his son once more. The massive heart attack had turned his ruddy face almost blue. He was in extremis. He smelled the garden, the yellow shield of light smote his eyes, and he whispered, ‘Life is so beautiful.’”

We are engulfed in a political storm; hopefully, our republic will emerge stronger from the squall. As we who are blessed embrace the full glory of the summer, may we appreciate the sentiment expressed by the fictional Don Corleone with his last breaths – while recognizing that life isn’t beautiful for large numbers of our people worldwide.  May we not ignore the hardships being endured by so many of those in our country, by those simply seeking a better life that are being restrained at our borders, and by those around the world facing incredible torment …

A Personal Note

Set forth below is a link to an announcement by the Columbia University Journalism School. As the most biased of observers, I would suggest that this year’s recipient of the Columbia J School’s Berger Award provides the best of journalism: straightforward, comprehensive reporting of the terrible difficulties in which too many of our people find themselves as we move ever faster, think (and at times seem to feel) less deeply, resort too much to slogans and labels, and focus too much on our differences rather than upon what our nation needs and can be — for those that already live here, and for those that seek refuge in the values that have set us apart from the rest of the world.

https://journalism.columbia.edu/2019-berger-tobenkin-award

I believe that one sentence from the Award Jurors’ Citation best captures our son’s work: “McCoy gives them a voice and, for us, a window into their torment.” His mother and I are more proud than we can ever put into words.