It Was God and Guns

A number of years ago, on our then-annual summer sojourn to central Wisconsin – before the political rise of former President Donald Trump, but after former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker had taken office and assumed the acrimonious, politically warlike approach toward Democrats, liberals and all who opposed him that Mr. Trump subsequently adopted on a national scale — we noted a wide number of enthusiastic expressions of support for Mr. Walker throughout the area.  I was then fairly surprised by it.  This part of Wisconsin was then and remains today fairly economically deprived.  Even in summer – the tourist season – many of these little Wisconsin communities are ghost towns during the week.  One day, we happened to encounter a retired social studies teacher who had spent his career in one of the small local high schools.  Some way or other, we became aware of the fact that he was liberal, which enabled me to ask about the issue that had been puzzling me:  all one had to do was look around to see that the Walker Administration had done nothing for these people, but their support for the Republican Governor was ardent and palpable.  Why?  I was even then geeky enough to say:  “These people should be for Roosevelt.”  He was of the vintage to understand the reference.  He replied:  “It was God and guns that did it.”

Although this is merely repeating a lament that I have previously recorded in these pages, it nonetheless seems appropriate today to note that the true danger facing our nation is not Mr. Trump or his cohort.  Through their messaging, spread by propagandists such as Fox News, they have provided an alternate reality regarding the 2020 presidential election, the Capitol insurrection, COVID, the environment, and on and on; but their supporters have zealously chosen to embrace narratives that anyone willing to apply any level of discernment would immediately recognize as false.  These citizens have done so because they loath what they perceive that a multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-gender, urban-based segment of our electorate has done to desecrate their values and denigrate their standing in society — what they consider America to be.  I have heard more than one alt-right proponent – U.S. OH Rep. Jim Jordan comes to mind – declare that the Democrats and progressives hate conservatives.  I ask you to consider whether in any aspect of life, winners “hate” their adversaries.  They don’t – they’ve won.  It is sometimes the losers that hate.  Mr. Jordan’s declaration amounts to pure projection — not because progressives are any morally better; they reek with condescension toward rural America and its values — but because over the last decades, progressive attitudes have come to dominate our culture.  I would submit that it may be some among those who consider their country to have been overrun by attitudes they find abhorrent that perhaps harbor the deepest antipathy.  They reject demonstrable truths.  I recently heard a commentator use a phrase that frequently comes to my mind:  They want what they want.

I have sometimes quoted Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, in these pages; based upon his research, Dr. Haidt articulately argues that people are ruled by their emotions and use their intellectual powers to provide rationalizations for their visceral inclinations.  Given our national posture today, on the anniversary of the event that I consider to portend the most danger to our democracy since Pearl Harbor, I instead quote another, perhaps as insightful about certain aspects of human nature as he was malignant:

“The broad masses of a people consist neither of professors nor of diplomats.  The scantiness of the abstract knowledge they possess directs their sentiments more to the world of feeling.  That is where their positive or negative attitude lies.  … Their emotional attitude at the same time conditions their extraordinary stability.  Faith is harder to shake than knowledge, love succumbs less to change than respect, hate is more enduring than aversion, and the impetus to the mightiest upheavals on this earth has at all times consisted less in a scientific knowledge dominating the masses than in a fanaticism which inspires them and sometimes in a hysteria which drove them forward.”

  • Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf 

I believe in America:  it has been very good to me and mine, and for the billions in this country and across the world for whom it has, despite its failings, been Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on a Hill.  I do not dismiss the possibility that we will regain a level of political and cultural equilibrium.  At the same time, I confess that a year after the Capitol insurrection, we continue to face the greatest challenge to our system of government that we have faced since the end of World War II.

The Green Bay Sweep (NOT a Football Post)

Amid all of the mounting revelations of the Trump Cohort’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election, I had been vaguely aware of the reports of the publication of In Trump Time, a book by former Trump Administration Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Peter Navarro, but hadn’t focused on it.  I obviously haven’t read the book.  The link below is to an interview of Mr. Navarro conducted last night by MSNBC Commentator Ari Melber.  Mr. Navarro gets to speak his piece, in which he unabashedly outlines the Trump Plotters’ “Green Bay Sweep” strategy to sidestep the certified results of the 2020 presidential election. I am, frankly, numb after viewing it.  Prefatory comments:  as Mr. Melber pointed out and as all who care are aware, over 60 challenges to presidential election results by Trump advocates were rejected by courts across the country; and that in Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states whose Secretaries of State were specifically singled out as partisan by Mr. Navarro during the interview, former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden by, respectively, 150,000 and 80,000 votes.  These weren’t close.

Perhaps as unnerving as any other element of the exchange is that Mr. Navarro clearly believes that what he was undertaking was right.  Further:  as a resident of Wisconsin, where Mr. Biden’s margin of victory was significantly narrower than in Michigan and Pennsylvania, I would venture that the shameless GOP charlatans masquerading as this state’s legislature – despite the fact that before Republicans got it into their heads that they could simply claim black was white, no less a partisan than former Republican WI Gov. Scott Walker tacitly signaled that any challenge to Mr. Biden’s Wisconsin victory was futile – would have used any pretext to throw Wisconsin’s Electoral College votes to Mr. Trump. 

We are in a dangerous fantasy land.

“Never Seen Anything Like It.”

On Thursday, a young couple in our extended family to whom we are very close had to flee their home to escape the wildfires that swept Colorado in the Boulder vicinity.  They and their young daughter were thankfully able to evacuate safely.  They discovered yesterday that their house was one of the few in their area not consumed by the flames, but as this is typed, they don’t know whether the structure, given its immediate proximity to the inferno, is or can be made habitable.

Friday morning reports were full of what we have come to recognize as standard reporting for these tragedies:  that it had been exceptionally dry for a Colorado December; that the winds, driving the fire in seconds across football field-sized areas, were unprecedented; that those covering this wildfire declared that they had “never seen anything like it.” The comments, though wrenching, were dishearteningly familiar — the same as those we have heard in descriptions of our nation’s fires, floods, and mudslides in the northwest, tornados across the great plains, droughts devastating once-fertile farmland, and hurricanes ravaging Puerto Rico, the east, west, and gulf coasts, let alone of the destruction wreaked in so many areas of the world:  Haiti, Africa, Asia, South America, etc., etc., etc.  From the comfort of our homes, we view these disasters with horror and sadness but now, perhaps also a level of detachment:  there have been so many, they have become so common, that it is difficult – at least for me – not to become a bit numb … until it hits somebody you know, somebody you love. 

While progressives passionately advocate for all measures that will reduce America’s carbon emissions to limit the destructive effects that these have upon our climate, there are factors that the most ardent frequently ignore, among them:  we have a lot of families that depend on the fossil fuel industry for their incomes, with at this point – despite Democrats’ protestations – less than comprehensive means to avoid the significant deleterious economic and psychological effects on many of these Americans that would result from the elimination of their livelihoods; our efforts will have little impact if other nations, most notably China (who is reported to be currently relaxing its climate control efforts to counter its slowing economy), don’t employ similar measures; and the more we rely on electricity, the more our power sources may become prey to terrorism and natural disasters that might critically impact our access to power during the north’s frigid winters and the south’s torrid summers.

When we visited Alaska, I was struck by the fact that although it is among our most politically conservative states, no Alaskan we met disputed climate change or the need to address it.  They have seen their glaciers disappear and watched the abundance of their wildlife and its behavior patterns – upon which so many depend for their livelihoods – alter drastically.

I am confident that our young couple will be fine; they survived, and no matter what the ultimate determination of the condition of their home, they are smart and resilient, they will be sustained by their love of their daughter, and they will enjoy the support of a large and loving family.  Even so, the fact remains: It’s not that we haven’t seen anything like this before; it’s that we’ve seen too many like this before.  As I’ve indicated earlier in these pages, I consider the need to safeguard voting rights and outcomes our most immediate national legislative priority.  That said, while taking into account the many interests and issues affected by climate change policy, may this new year be the year in which we as a nation, despite our factious political atmosphere, make meaningful progress toward protecting our world for our children and grandchildren.

May you and your family have a Happy and Healthy New Year.  Stay Safe. 

On Conservatism with a Small “C”

I consider one American commentator to stand above all others, who articulates what I wish I was bright and erudite enough to think:  David Brooks, Columnist for the New York Times, contributor to The Atlantic, participant on Friday’s PBS NewsHour.  Below is a link to an article Mr. Brooks published in The Atlantic earlier this month, “What Happened to American Conservatism?”.  An ode to what American conservatism used to be and making stark distinctions between that philosophy and what passes for Conservativism in the Trump Era, it is not the lightest of reading, but I would submit that it is well worth the investment of your time.

“What are you doing here?”

[Hopefully, all reading this note will excuse my adaptation of a well-known fable.]

“Look, we did something that was historic, we saved tens of millions of lives worldwide when we, together, all of us, we got a vaccine done.  This was going to ravage the country far beyond what it is right now, take credit for it… it’s great, what we’ve done is historic. … [I am both vaccinated and boosted.]”

  • Former President Donald Trump, December 20, 2021

So, the man died and arrived at the Pearly Gates.  The Lord looked out, saw him, and said, “What are you doing here?”

“I died, Lord,” he replied.

“What did you die from?”

“I died from the Coronavirus, Lord.”

“How did that happen?  Did you get vaccinated?  Did you get boosted?”

“No, Lord!  It was my freedom!  It was my faith!”

“So … First, I sent you Dr. Fauci, an eminent doctor, who told you vaccinations were safe.  Then, I sent you Pope Francis, who told you that getting vaccinated was an ‘Act of Love.’  Finally, I even sent you … Donald Trump, who told you that vaccinations protected America. 

What are you doing here?” 

On Chris Wallace

Yesterday, Chris Wallace announced he was leaving Fox News for CNN+, CNN’s streaming service.  It is reported that his Fox News contract was up, and he’s out of there.  As I noted when CNBC News Anchor Shepard Smith left Fox News in 2019, 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. Wallace’s approach on Fox News a particularly vital contribution to the ongoing cable news debate of national issues specifically because he was on Fox News, which generates its revenues by serving Trumplican sugar to an audience that laps it up.  I observed when noting Mr. Smith’s departure: 

“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 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 [former President Donald Trump’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.”

It also made Mr. Wallace different.  It has been reported that Mr. Wallace recently objected to Fox News leadership regarding the network’s airing of Patriot Purge, a 3-part series conducted by Fox News Commentator Tucker Carlson.  I have been aware without following the situation closely – I want to spend as little of my remaining life space as possible attending to Mr. Carlson, and to the reporting on Mr. Carlson’s pronouncements – that Patriot Purge seeks to rewrite the history of the January 6th Capitol insurrection, and has been lampooned by credible fact checkers for boosting Trumplican propaganda.

Godspeed to Mr. Wallace in his new endeavors.  Although he is reported as leaving of his own volition, I doubt that the Murdoch Family and Fox News leadership care that much.

“The nationalization of the broad masses can never be achieved by half measures, by weakly emphasizing a so-called objective standpoint, but only by a ruthless and fanatically one-sided orientation toward the goal to be achieved.”

  • Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On American Kindness: Redux

[The wrenching verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial this past Friday may have been the legally-correct result, but the conclusion is inescapable that the whole situation was a senseless waste caused by a clueless teenager, carrying an assault weapon with no idea as to the potential consequences of his actions, who traveled from his home in Illinois to a Wisconsin city where he had no valid business.  On Sunday, we had the senseless tragedy in Waukesha caused by the apparently random act of a man, reported by The New York Times to have “a long, violent criminal history,” who was out of jail on bail that the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office now states was set “inappropriately low.” The families of those killed and injured in Kenosha and Waukesha should be giving thanks this week instead of grappling with unfathomable loss.  Although there is no solace for these families, when considering these tragedies I thought of an experience I described in these pages in February, 2019.  While there is so much in our current national and global situation to concern us, perhaps the help TLOML and I received on a dangerously cold night — from an elderly African American gentleman who, demographically, probably voted for President Joe Biden and from young Caucasian auto mechanics, at least one of whom, demographically, probably voted for former President Donald Trump — offers some consolation, at least for those not gripped by the deepest despair, that most of our people have good in them.  May you and your loved ones, as well as those from afar who have found refuge within our nation, have a warm and healthy Holiday.]

Over the weekend, we were in Milwaukee for a family gathering, and our fairly new Prius was struck, opening a gash on the left rear side that we were pretty sure when we discovered it was at an angle such that wind shear would cause some of the rear fender to rip off if we tried to drive back to Madison without having it attended to.  (No note was left.)  From an engine standpoint, the car was completely drivable.  We were able to make an appointment at a nearby service center (more on the shop below), and at a few minutes past 5 on a Friday night, set off to drive about 4 miles in significant winds and bitter, bitter cold with the dark coming on.

We didn’t make it.  About half way to the shop, we heard a bang and realized that part of the fender had flipped back due to the wind.  We pulled over in the now almost-dark to retrieve what had come loose, cars moving around us, fairly concerned about what we were going to do.

A van slowly pulled up behind us and stopped.  Its motor kept running, its headlights stayed on, and its emergency flashers came on.  An African-American gentleman, in his mid-50’s – warm, friendly, reassuring — got out of the van, came up, and — with cars continuously going by us and in temperatures and wind cold enough to numb your bare hands in a couple of minutes — helped us put the pieces temporarily back in place, and with duct tape he provided, we got the fender patched sufficiently so we could finish the drive.  Then we exchanged names, we thanked him – I don’t think it was possible for us to thank him profusely enough – shook hands, and … he bid us good night, and went on his way.

Got to the service center.  The shop is for engine repair, not body work, but the rep and a couple of the technicians came over and when they heard that our goal was simply to make the car secure enough to get back to Madison, they said they thought they could attach a couple of fasteners that would hold the left rear together, and told us to go to dinner (we had family with us in another car) and come back in about an hour. 

When we got back, the car looked like it had a few stitches, and was clearly sturdy enough for us to get it home.  We asked what we owed; we heard:  One of the guys had some time.  No charge.  Glad we could help.

For those of us that tend to focus on the seemingly paralyzing political acrimony we have at home and the serious issues we face here and internationally, it’s good to recall:  There exists, as there always has, a good will, a kindness, a generosity of deed and spirit in America.

A Summer Town Hall: A Postscript

Back in August, I posted a note about a town hall meeting conducted earlier in that month in a central Wisconsin park by a Republican Congressman.  I observed in the piece:

“There was appreciable attendee support for the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill, particularly as regards expanded broadband access.  The Congressman indicated that he generally supported the bill (since then, Mr. Trump has expressed his opposition to the bill; it would be instructive to learn whether the Congressman has changed his position).”

Devoting greater space to broadband wasn’t warranted in the context of the post, but there was actually a meaningful discussion during the town hall about the area’s need for broadband.  One constituent identifying herself as a realtor specifically told the Congressman that she was having trouble selling certain homes in the area because they did not yet have access to broadband.

As all who care are aware, on November 5, the House of Representatives at long last passed the bipartisan Senate infrastructure bill discussed during the town hall.  President Joe Biden will sign it into law today.  The measure addresses national infrastructure needs which both parties acknowledge are necessary – such as assistance for roads, bridges, rail, water quality, and broadband.  This was a bill that even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell supports and voted for.  13 Republican members of the House of Representatives broke ranks with Republican House Leadership and voted for the measure — support that was required for passage given six Democratic defections (we’ll get to them in a minute).

Wisconsin has five Republican members of Congress.  At least three of them represent rural districts that probably all desire broadband expansion.  Not one – including the Congressman whom we witnessed being told by his constituents in that summer session that they needed broadband and supported the bill, and indicating to them that he supported it – voted for it.  They were clearly afraid of former President Donald Trump, who issued a statement after the bill passed, declaring in part, “Very sad that the RINOs in the House and Senate gave Biden and Democrats a victory on the “Non-Infrastructure” Bill.  All Republicans who voted for Democrat longevity should be ashamed of themselves … [Emphasis Added].”

This is a package that the American people overwhelmingly support and need.  One could not ask for a more naked indication from the former President that his focus is all about winning, not about serving – which is the basis upon which we supposedly elect our representatives.  While there may well be a handful of Republicans that opposed the measure due to concerns that it will increase the deficit, perhaps spur inflation, or the like – valid policy positions, even if one does not agree with them – it is manifest that the vast majority of Republicans that voted against the measure did so, although they know it’s a good bill, because they cower before Mr. Trump.  In a characterization that is gentler than it could be, they lack the fortitude we have a right to expect in our representatives.

The six Democratic House members who voted against the measure containing provisions that they clearly supported – the four members elected in 2018 who have gained significant notoriety as the self-styled “Squad,” and two representatives elected in 2020 whom I understand have publicly associated themselves with the “Squad” — exhibited the same tribal intransigence and disregard for what is in the interest of the American people as did the goose-stepping Republicans who opposed the bill.  Their vote amounted to stamping their feet because they couldn’t have their way on the Democrats’ “human infrastructure” package.  In this context, it doesn’t matter whether the programs within “human infrastructure” measure that they seek are good or bad; President Biden — whose “whole agenda” these six Democrats claim to support — wanted them to vote for the infrastructure package now.  They refused.  The American people need adults representing them, not children throwing hissy fits.  These six Democrats are at the very least immature, arguably wantonly selfish. 

It is sometimes difficult to see a way forward in a political atmosphere so saturated with tribalism, fear, distrust, and antipathy. I consider the votes against the infrastructure bill by those Republicans and Democrats who actually supported the substance of the measure and understood that it would help their constituents – whether the votes arose from political subservience or stubborn unwillingness to accept that ours is a system of compromise – to be disheartening betrayals of – in the Constitution’s phrase – Offices of Trust.

The FVA, the Constitution, the “Ryan Syndrome,” and the Filibuster: a Postscript

On November 3, Republican senators utilized the filibuster to block consideration of another measure proposed by Democrats to safeguard the voting rights of all Americans, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.  I need to note that one of the moderate Republican Senators whom I called out in Part II of this post for failing to fairly consider federal voting rights legislation, U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski, voted with Democrats to allow debate on the bill.

By coincidence, shortly before Part II was posted, U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney – another of the Republican Senators I specifically took to task for obstructing consideration of voting rights measures intended to protect all Americans’ voting rights — published an opinion piece in the Washington Post defending the filibuster, in which he stated in part, “The need to marshal 60 votes to end a filibuster requires compromise and middle ground. It not only empowers the minority but also has helped to keep us centered ….  Have Democrats thought through what it would mean for them for [former President Donald] Trump to [be re-elected and] be entirely unrestrained, with the Democratic minority having no power whatsoever?” 

I have genuinely high regard for Mr. Romney; over the last several years he has stood, sometimes alone among in his party, against Mr. Trump’s untoward conduct of the presidency.  If in his place, I hope that I would have had the courage to act as he did, but honorable sentiments such as I express are easy until one is put to the test.  That said, the Senate filibuster fosters the compromise of which Mr. Romney speaks only if both sides are acting in good faith.  It is a disheartening irony that it is the tribal failure of Mr. Romney and his sensible Republican Senate colleagues (now, save Ms. Murkowski) to break with the patently obstructionist and partisan members of their caucus over voting rights that has caused somebody like me, who values traditional institutional safeguards like the filibuster, to call for its abandonment.  As for Mr. Romney’s allusion to the danger the country will face if Mr. Trump is re-elected – a fear (indeed, a fright) that I absolutely share — I would suggest to him that the voting laws that Republican legislatures are implementing across the nation – statutes that the safeguards set forth in the Freedom to Vote Act (the “FVA”) are intended to circumvent – will, if unchecked, increase the potential that Mr. Trump will return to the White House.  If Mr. Trump returns, he will almost certainly be accompanied by Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress; and if such is the case, it takes no prescience to suggest that the first thing an obsequious Republican Senate majority will do is end the filibuster to do Mr. Trump’s bidding.

Senate Democrats must discard the filibuster, at least insofar as it blocks their ability to pass voting rights protections such as those set forth in the FVA.  I would readily give up the entire human infrastructure package that Democrats continue to haggle over if that was what was required to get Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to vote to modify the Senate’s filibuster rule to enable the passage of voting rights legislation.  There will always be benefit programs to consider.  As I suggested in Part II of this post, the race this year by state Republican-led legislatures to enact new voting laws, notwithstanding the lack of any credible evidence that voter fraud materially affected the outcome of the 2020 Presidential and Congressional races, cannot help but cause one to conclude that their efforts are no more than an entirely partisan attempt to tilt the electoral landscape in their favor.  I would submit that their obvious lack of good faith, if left unchecked, is an existential threat to our republic.

On the McAuliffe-Youngkin Virginia Gubernatorial Race: a Postscript

Of course, former Virginia Governor and Democratic Candidate Terry McAuliffe lost the Virginia Gubernatorial race to Republican Candidate Glenn Youngkin.  In this October 30 post, I made an off-hand remark that Mr. McAuliffe’s electoral prospects might be adversely affected by, among other factors, the fact that “Congressional Democrats currently don’t look like they can run a two-car funeral.”  Although a number of pundits have opined that Mr. McAuliffe’s defeat was due more to his politically unwise debate declaration that parents shouldn’t be telling schools what they should teach than to Congressional Democrats’ currently cloudy national fortunes, three thoughts:

The first:  having now had a chance to see a few more clips of Mr. Youngkin, I think he could present a long-term disquieting picture for Democrats.  He is conservative, but appears happy and upbeat.  He seems to have a likable visage more akin to former President Ronald Reagan’s than to not only former President Donald Trump’s, but to the dark, angry, confrontational demeanors exhibited by Trump Wannabes such as FL Gov. Ron DeSantis and TX Gov. Greg Abbott.  In Tuesday’s election, Mr. Youngkin demonstrated Mr. Reagan’s ability to attract strident conservatives while appealing to moderate Republicans and Independents.  For a Republican in a “blue” state, he won by a respectable margin.  We’ll see how he does, but if Mr. Youngkin governs moderately and seemingly successfully, he may have that “something” that the Trump Wannabes lack – which is a scary prospect for Democrats.   

The second: I saw it reported yesterday that House progressives are reportedly seeking to reinsert the recently-eliminated paid leave measure into the human infrastructure package notwithstanding the apparently continuing opposition to the provision of U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin, without whose vote nothing (that’d be:  nothing) will pass the Senate.  Putting aside whether paid leave is substantively good or bad policy, one is left to wonder: 

Should it stay or should it go now?  If it goes, there will be trouble; and if it stays, it will be double.   Democrats need to come on, and let us know:  Should it stay or should it go now? 

I apologize for putting the lyrics in your head that will stay with you for the rest of the day; but the Democrats’ philosophic … er … Clash … has now reached comedic proportions ;).

Finally: after the post, a good friend that follows these pages sharply disagreed with my characterization of Congressional Democrats’ management abilities; his assessment:  that they can’t run a one-car funeral.  I fear that the American electorate is already making up its mind as to whether they should stay or go.