End of July Random Thoughts

Thoughts as we head into what has traditionally been the hottest part of the Midwest summer:

I have seen reports that the Trump Campaign believes that the development of a Coronavirus vaccine by Election Day will boost the President Trump’s electoral prospects.  I don’t see why.  Even assuming one is developed within that time frame and it is entirely safe and effective (more on substantive questions about the vaccine below), I would submit that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden will still have the upper hand if he asks, “Based upon our nation’s experience over the past year, which candidate do you trust more to see that the vaccine is competently, quickly, fairly, and affordably made available to our people?”

Given Mr. Biden’s age, his choice of a running mate will clearly be assessed by voters as someone that could be President.  I have seen speculation in the last week that Mr. Biden is seriously considering picking U.S. CA Sen. Kamala Harris.  I hope he does not, for all of the substantive and political concerns I have already expressed in earlier notes. That said, I would add another risk related to a selection of Sen. Harris, visceral and potentially explosive.  Do an internet search on the term, “Willie Brown Kamala Harris.”  Although Ms. Harris’ presidential bid collapsed before any of her Democratic competitors had any incentive to raise the matter, after reviewing a few of the apparently reasonably-accurate accounts of Ms. Harris’ long-ago close personal relationship with Mr. Brown (a man 30 years’ Ms. Harris’ senior, and then Speaker of the California State Assembly) and the seeming boost that Mr. Brown provided to Ms. Harris’ early political career, it is perhaps not unreasonable to ask how the Trump Campaign, the Russians, Fox News, and the rest of the Trump cohort might seek to exploit the old Brown-Harris relationship to dampen support for the Democratic ticket among feminists and swing voters in swing states.  I would respectfully suggest to anyone who says, “It won’t matter to voters if they take that tack.  Look at Trump’s past,” that s/he needs to reconsider.  Ms. Harris isn’t Mr. Trump, and California isn’t America.  Mr. Biden can’t afford a salacious distraction, and we can’t afford to have him lose. 

As polls continue to show decent leads for Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump in most key measures, I have seen speculation that the polls are flawed because respondents won’t admit that they favor Mr. Trump.  While it seems a near certainty that some 2016 Trump supporters who now truthfully tell pollsters that they lean toward Mr. Biden will return to the President’s fold by Election Day – for example, I think the continuing unrest in Portland, OR, is starting to help Mr. Trump as the outrage that initially attended the killing of George Floyd fades in some voter segments – I would suggest that although there are presumably latent Trump voters (those who didn’t turn out for him in 2016), there are no longer many secret Trump voters.  While there is always a tendency to generalize based upon one’s own experience, the Trump supporters we know are vehemently, unabashedly, and proudly so.  Mr. Trump’s divisive conduct of the presidency  and the manner in which he has dominated the national consciousness over the last four years have arguably surfaced those of his supporters who, due to the social stigma then perceived to exist in some quarters, were reluctant to admit to their support for him in 2016.

As current accounts report that amazing progress is being made toward development of Coronavirus vaccines – it is not unusual to see declarations that processes that normally “take years” are being executed “in months” – I consider such speed a double-edged sword.  While the creation of a truly safe and effective COVID vaccine in such a compressed time frame would be one of the greatest scientific achievements of our lives, any prophylactic created within such a short period will seemingly likely come with unresolved questions regarding effective dosage amount, duration of benefit, unforeseen allergic reactions in certain patient profiles, unknown long-term side effects, etc., etc.  Speaking as one that believes in science, has had all the appropriate vaccinations for a person of my vintage, and gets a flu shot every year, I ponder:  If authorities assure us that through this incredibly compressed process they have a safe and effective vaccine by year’s end, and I am somehow given an early opportunity to receive it, will I get it, or prefer to wait a bit?

As of the time this is typed, we have passed 150,000 Coronavirus deaths in the United States.  One Hundred Fifty Thousand.  There can be a tendency to become oblivious as the numbers slowly rise – like the proverbial frog in the slowly-warming water.  It becomes terrifying when made concrete:  the deaths exceed the populations of the largest cities of at least seven states – Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.  They approximate the combined total capacity of Michigan Stadium, the country’s largest stadium – the University of Michigan’s “Big House” – and Chicago’s Wrigley Field.  Think about that.  Think of your partner, your family, your friends.  Even if thus far you and your loved ones have been fortunate enough not to have been directly affected by the virus, imagine one or more of them … gone.  Anyone that reads these pages recognizes that I am preoccupied with the risk to our nation presented by Mr. Trump’s dictatorial tendencies, but how many of our people have been and will be lost, how badly will our economic downturn be extended and exacerbated, due to the President’s denial, self-absorption, misinformation, and sheer incompetence?  Even if we had a resurrected Franklin Roosevelt in his prime assume the presidency this minute, given where we are now, he’d tell us that times were going to get worse before they got better. 

He’d also tell us that from a safety standpoint, we can be our own best friends.  Each of us individually can only do our best.

Awaiting Opening Day … 2021

In January, 1942, a little more than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball – the team sport which then dwarfed all others in terms of public support – and indicated that if the Judge wished, baseball should continue despite the war.  The President wrote:

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going….  [U.S. citizens] ought to have a chance for recreation …. [Baseball players for whatever reason not able to serve the war effort] are a definite recreational asset to … [millions] of their fellow citizens – and that in my judgement is thoroughly worthwhile.”

An abbreviated MLB season opened a few days ago, to the completely understandable delight of millions.  I appreciate the point that Mr. Roosevelt was making 78 years ago, but for me, baseball’s relaxed pace and old world allure will need to wait a bit.  I don’t begrudge — indeed, I envy – those for whom the game provides a distraction in these times of political, health, and social crisis.  Perhaps, if the National Football League plays games this fall, I will be able to immerse myself in the short, intense once-a-week 3-hour distraction of the Sunday football rite ;).  As for baseball … hopefully, by next spring, the Coronavirus will no longer be raging, we will have put the blight of the Trump presidency behind us, and I can return to the languid charm of the game I love best.  So I’m hesitantly anticipating the prospect of the first pitch of Opening Day … in spring, 2021.  Hopefully, for me, it’ll then be time … to Play Ball.

Sturmabteilung

[This is the second time in recent weeks that an action by President Trump or his Administration has warranted deferring publication of the remainder of a note (in this case, impressions regarding the Biden candidacy) for which the first part has already appeared; I suspect that it won’t be the last time.]

By this time, virtually all who care are aware that at President Trump’s order, federal officers from a number of federal agencies – among them at least the U.S. Marshals Service, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) – have been patrolling the streets of Portland, OR, for part of July, seeking to quell ongoing protests related to the killing of George Floyd.  Apparently tensions between authorities and protestors have actually escalated since the federal officials’ arrival.  There are reports that federal agents, dressed in military fatigues and traveling in unmarked cars, have grabbed a number peaceful protestors off the streets. The Marshalls Service has shot a peaceful protestor in the head, severely injuring him.  Federal agents have used tear gas on protestors – notwithstanding a state law that only authorizes the use of such agents by local authorities after a riot has been declared and those gathered given a chance to depart.

The federal authorities involved here are not the United States military.  Without delving into the full extent of its jurisdiction, DHS is obviously primarily responsible for protecting us against foreign attacks; even accepting that it has a role in safeguarding federal property, it appears undisputed that DHS agents have conducted operations well beyond the perimeter of the federal courthouse.  There likewise seems to be little in the Portland situation that would invoke the jurisdictions of ICE and CBP, federal authorities sharing responsibility for immigration, border enforcement, and customs.   

U.S. OR Sen. Jeff Merkley has stated, “These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence.”

U.S. OR Sen. Ron Wyden has tweeted, “… Trump and [DHS Director] Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media.”

OR Gov. Kate Brown has stated that she told Mr. Wolf that the federal government should remove federal officers from the Portland streets.  Ms. Brown indicated that Mr. Wolf has refused the request.  She has called the federal deployment “a blatant abuse of federal power.”

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has indicated that he has told the Trump Administration to take the federal officials out of Portland.  He has added:  “[W]hat I want to do is raise awareness nationally. This could happen in your city. And what we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, by a Trump administration that’s falling in the polls. And this is a direct threat to our democracy.”  (Mayor Wheeler’s assertion seems strikingly similar to U.S. UT Mitt Romney’s recent description of Mr. Trump’s unwarranted dismissal of four federal Inspectors General as “a threat to accountable democracy.”)

It is cruelly ironic that the Trump Administration – all too eager to cast responsibility for a Coronavirus response on state and local officials so as to shirk accountability for its own inability to deal with the crisis – is unwilling to accede to state and local officials’ request to let them establish and maintain order in Portland, although policing has traditionally been a local charge within our federal system.

Close friends and I recently exchanged emails on the Trump Administration’s deployment of federal policing agencies to the streets of Portland; the same thought had independently struck us:  Brownshirts. 

“In the summer of 1920 … Hitler organized a bunch of rough-neck war veterans into “strong-arm” squads … [T]hey were officially named the Sturmabteilung [the “S.A.”] …. [O]utfitted in brown uniforms … [t]hese uniformed rowdies …soon took to breaking up [meetings] of other [political parties.”

“[T]he S.A. was reorganized … to generally terrorize those who opposed Hitler.”

“From the earliest days of the Nazi movement Hitler had insisted that the [S.A. was] … to furnish the physical violence, the terror, by which the party could bludgeon its way to political power.”

William L. Shirer:  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

“[The S.A. wanted] to protect the prophets of the spiritual goal …. And in this they understood that they were not obligated to undertake the protection of a state which offers the nation no protection, but that, on the contrary, they had to assume the protection of a nation against those who threatened to destroy the people and the state.”

Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf

There is no gentler way to put it:  Since Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley made it clear in June that the United States military is not willing to follow Mr. Trump’s orders to act against peacefully protesting American citizens, the Trump Administration has found other federal units more amenable to his political agenda to serve as its private enforcers.  While one can point out that unlike the S.A. – a nongovernmental Nazi militia — the officers deployed to Portland are indeed federal employees, I would submit that such is a distinction without a difference.   Consider: while securing the federal courthouse in Portland is a valid federal objective, it should be relatively straightforward for elite law enforcement agents. The local authorities have asked Mr. Trump’s force to limit its activity to that valid objective, and Mr. Trump’s force has refused. Although I have cautioned in other notes against being distracted from efforts to win the presidential election by the President’s random illiberal acts, I agree with Mayor Wheeler that the Administration’s actions in Portland are a threat to our democracy that can be brought to bear in any city.  Our best defense is to cast a spotlight on such overtly authoritarian activities.  This concludes with a link to those who it is clear are our best soldiers in any struggle to maintain the American way of life.

https://twitter.com/JoshuaPotash/status/1284704272282800128

The Only Strategy

President Trump’s incendiary (comparing the “radical left” to Communists during the 4th of July weekend), arbitrary (insisting schools reopen in the face of another Coronavirus surge), and overtly racist (pick your favorite) themes in the last several weeks make it clear that his overarching campaign strategy is to distract Americans from the many instances of his incompetence, most principally his complete failure to effectively manage the COVID crisis.  The latest state re-closures due to the Coronavirus surge arguably make it increasingly unlikely that American business will sufficiently revive by November to enable him to rely on the economy.  His apparent strategy seems a “Hail Mary Pass”:  that inciting a race and culture war will solidify his support among the voting and the heretofore nonvoting members of his base and gain the allegiance of those white Americans who, despite misgivings about him, will heed his call if they believe that “their” America is under attack.  In starkly political terms, it appears he really has no other option at this point.  Despite his attempt to pin the responsibility for America’s tens of thousands of COVID deaths and millions of virus cases on China, the World Health Organization, Democratic national, state, and local officials, and your Uncle Fred, it has sunk into the American psyche that we’re in this perilous health crisis — now raging in Florida and Arizona, two swing states that the Electoral College math essentially indicates (at least in the case of Florida) that he must win to retain the presidency — because of his denial, inaction, narcissism, and gross mismanagement.

(A COVID aside:  While the President and Vice President Mike Pence may now have little choice as to political strategy, they could at least refrain from gratuitously insulting our intelligence.  Mr. Pence’s happy talk this week about the status of our response to the virus — against the backdrop of spiking case numbers and state re-closures — struck me as akin to the Captain of the Titanic, after the first half of the ship had already sunk into the Atlantic, assuring the passengers in the back half of the ship that all was well; the President’s demand at the same time that schools reopen this fall seemed akin to the Titanic head chef announcing over the loudspeaker what dinner entrees would be served in the dining room the next evening.)

Although the strategy seemingly smacks of desperation, Mr. Trump has at times effectively used bluster to prod his opponents into unforced errors.  I would submit that the manner in which different segments of our people react to his blatant demagoguery could have a pivotal effect on the outcome of the presidential election.  A few impressions:

Will 2016 Trump voters who polls indicate have shifted their support to presumptive Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden be comfortable associating themselves with a candidate who now makes no bones about his racism?  Will they recognize that Mr. Trump is seeking to scare and distract them?

Will members of the Black Lives Matter and attendant movements be savvy enough to realize that the President is trying to bait them?  Mr. Trump has clearly recognized that he needs to widen the culture war in order to win it.  If the monuments controversy he has stirred with relish remains centered on removing Confederate memorials, he presumably loses more support than he gains (although I have not seen state polls as to how the citizens of the two swing states that seceded, Florida [again ;)] and North Carolina, feel about Confederate monuments).  On the other hand, if Mr. Trump can bait protestors to expand their assault on the Founding Fathers and monuments like Mount Rushmore, he gains.  Can protestors ignore the bait? 

Some commentators have declared that the President is “flailing”; while seemingly so to a certain extent, I would submit that in large measure he retains a very good grasp of what he’s doing.  He certainly recognizes that the ship has long since sailed on any hope of converting those who voted against him in 2016.  Based upon many past Presidential races, it is not unreasonable for him to anticipate that Mr. Biden’s reportedly wide current electoral advantage will narrow in the coming months, and to calculate that if he is successful in squeezing greater turnout from his base (although I’ve seen no commentator that believes that there are sufficient heretofore nonvoting Trump followers to compensate for the support he has apparently lost through his COVID mishandling and incitement of racial tensions) and scaring enough wavering former supporters in the swing states back into his fold, he may – as I (and many others) have ventured was inadvertently the case in 2016 – back into the presidency.  But even if he loses, his current divisive approach will serve to solidify a mighty impressive following for a Trump media empire, and perhaps cause a sufficient furor that a Biden Administration seeking to soften our divisions will be disinclined to pursue him for various crimes when such a prosecution will further inflame the country.

In these notes, I dislike simply joining a chorus of others – in this case, those that suggest the possibility that at this point, Mr. Trump’s primary objective may be to use his remaining time in office to build the foundation of a media empire.  Here, I see no alternative.  Given the country’s current prevailing sentiments, any other explanation for the President’s overtly alienating rhetoric renders him a fool.  In matters of his own interest and self-preservation, Donald Trump is no fool.  That said, my focus remains on the existential threat that his dictatorial instincts present for our republic if he wins.  Democrats cannot afford to get complacent.  We’re a long way from Election Day.  As the greatest of American philosophers, Lawrence P. Berra, advised us, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

Gone with the Wind … and Beaver Cleaver

A number of President Trump’s recent tweets — respectively retweeting a video of an apparent supporter yelling for “White Power,” describing a  proposed “Black Lives Matter” sign on New York City’s 5th Avenue as a “symbol of hate,” threatening to veto a defense authorization bill because it provides for renaming federal installations currently named for Confederate Generals, and declaring an intent to review an Obama-era Fair Housing regulation – have caused me to recall Mr. Trump’s comments at a Colorado rally in February, when he noted that the South Korean film, Parasite, had just won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and stated in part:  “What the hell was that all about? … You know I’m looking for, like – let’s get Gone with the Wind.  Can we get, like, Gone with the Wind back, please?”

At the time, given Parasite’s South Korean origin, the thought that first struck me when hearing him was:  Now, he’s starting after Asians.  Perhaps an accurate assessment; that said, his latest tweets have made clear that he believes that inflaming all racial divides is a key to his re-election.  I suspect that most Americans have seen Gone with the Wind and can recall the film’s brief written introduction, which provides, in part:

“There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields

Called the Old South …

Here in this pretty world …

… was the last ever to be seen …

Of Master and of Slave …

… it is no more than a dream remembered.

A Civilization gone with the wind ….”

After watching a YouTube clip of the GWTW introduction, the following verses of the world Mr. Trump obviously yearns for came to mind; I forthrightly acknowledge the obvious:  I’m as atrocious a poet as Mr. Trump is a president.

There was a land of Leafy Streets and Baseball Fields

Called ‘50s America …

Here in this pretty world

Elvis was King.

Cadillac to harmonica —

Made in America.

Of faiths, two:

Christian; a rare Jew.

White was right.

Black was set back.

Sex was clear …

No room for the Queer.

Suits were gray and skirts chaste;

Every woman knew her place.

Shame for the wimpy;

Shadows for the gimpy.

Ike was liked; Lucy, loved.

Jackie tolerated; Mick, lionized.

The Duke was boss … 

The Injuns lost.

Commies, “Pinkos,” and the Bomb we feared —

But not tobacco, carbon exhaust, or the steak well seared.

Here was the last ever to be seen of

Black and White TV,

Bald Presidential Candidates,

A Rebel without a Cause.

It is, for those that still pine, no more than a dream imagined …

Like Beaver Cleaver, a memory … gone with the wind …

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  I would offer a pedestrian supplement:  Those that cling to the past … are condemned to forfeit the future.  As this weekend we as a people celebrate a cherished part of our past, may we prove to have the virtue and valor necessary to make ourselves better by moving forward from it.

Where is the Line? Part II

[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there.  I’ve realized that in Part I, I overlooked arguably the most offensive existing Confederate memorial:  the flag of the State of Mississippi, which includes within its design the Confederate battle flag.  The Mississippi legislature has now voted to have this Confederate remnant removed.]  

In recent days, vandals in Portland, OR, have pulled down statues of Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, others in Washington, D.C., have attempted to pull down a statue of General (later President) Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square, and yet others in San Francisco pulled down a statue of President Ulysses Grant — presumably because Messrs. Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, and Grant were among the twelve of our first 18 Presidents who were slave owners.  (Mr. Grant owned one slave in Missouri in the late 1850s, “given” him by his slaveholder father-in-law, whom Mr. Grant freed before the Civil War.)

I consider such actions despicable destruction, at best (if one assumes honorable intentions by the actors to avenge past atrocities against African Americans) aberrant overreaction.  These Presidents were not paragons of virtue, but I – again, a white man unburdened by the deep pain of our African American citizens — would submit that this deep stain upon their legacies must nonetheless be viewed within the entire respective mosaics of their lives’ efforts.  If Mr. Washington had not served as our first president, the fledgling nation might well have dissolved in bickering among the states.  No such dissolution would have bettered the lot of black slaves.  Mr. Jefferson famously penned the phrase, “All men are created equal”; although freedoms accorded to white Americans were malevolently denied to our African citizens for generations, they could have hope for the future specifically because of the sentiments Mr. Jefferson expressed.  Mr. Grant was obviously more responsible than any single American save Abraham Lincoln for the final abolition of slavery.  Mr. Jackson has of the four men perhaps the most questionable legacy, but as President quelled a nascent attempt by South Carolina to secede from the Union, calling it “treason.”  Each of these Presidents and a number of their slaveholder presidential peers had primary roles in laying the foundation for the nation that has provided the greatest freedom to all of its citizens of any nation in the history of the world.  Their transgressions should certainly not be glossed over, but neither should they be magnified out of proportion to the entire body of their achievements.

How saintly must a person be before his or her deeds are worthy of commemoration?  President Theodore Roosevelt never owned slaves, but called black people “backward” and native Americans “savages.”  Do we rip down his Monuments, despite all he did to strengthen America – including effecting progressive standards such as big business regulation and environmental protection? 

Or … Mr. Lincoln.  Mr. Lincoln obviously never owned slaves, but when inaugurated would have tolerated slavery in the Southern States had they not chosen to secede.  His Emancipation Proclamation was arguably primarily a battle tactic designed to help win the Civil War.  During his debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858, Mr. Lincoln is reported to have said:

“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything.”

Hardly a ringing affirmation for black rights or equality.  Should we, despite all that Mr. Lincoln thereafter did to protect our nation and free its slaves, tear down the Lincoln Memorial and the countless other memorials to him across the nation?

Given its honorees, such thinking, if taken to its logical conclusion, would seemingly call for the destruction of Mount Rushmore.

From a different perspective:  The strong support of President Lyndon Johnson resulted in the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which banned discrimination on the basis of (among other things) race, unequal voter registration requirements, and segregation in schools, employment, and public accommodations. That notwithstanding, audiotapes now make clear that early in his presidency Mr. Johnson recognized that Vietnamese communism was not a strategic threat to the United States; he nonetheless continued and widened the war because he saw no politically palatable way to withdraw.  Monuments to Mr. Johnson exist.  If we deem it necessary to find our Presidents historically spotless, should the families of the 58,000 Americans who were killed in Vietnam during and/or arguably as a result Mr. Johnson’s presidency have the right to tear down his Monuments – despite his undisputedly pivotal role in helping to secure equal rights for black Americans?

For well-meaning protestors appropriately outraged by the monstrous nature of Mr. Floyd’s killing – as distinguished from actors merely using the cloak of protest to lay waste, such as the vandals that recently destroyed statues near the Capitol Square of Madison, WI, which could in no way be construed as glorifying racism – I would suggest that our nation was founded and nurtured in its early days by human beings – awesomely talented and farsighted, but nonetheless in other ways deeply flawed.  While their failings should be noted, their honorable achievements deserve to – indeed, need to — be commemorated and cherished if we are to move forward as a nation.  If well-intended protestors insist on saints, I submit that they should avoid mirrors and look in heaven; but if they do, it seems likely that they will soon confront St. Paul, arguably the most effective proselytizer of Christianity in history aside from the Lord himself – also known as Saul of Tarsus — who got his start … killing Christians.

Where is the Line? Part I

As all are aware, in recent days, in the wake of the unjustified killings of George Floyd and other African Americans, there has arisen heated discussion – and in some instances, action – regarding whether to maintain or remove monuments existing throughout our country to various figures bearing a relationship to our national history of racism.  (In the context of this note, a “Monument” includes not only physical statues and the like, but also memorials via naming, such as Lee High School in Baton Rouge, LA (named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee), and the United States installation Fort Bragg, NC (named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg).  Conceding that as a white man, I cannot feel the pain and insult that many of these memorials cause our African American citizens, I would suggest that there should be an effort to find an objective basis upon which to distinguish which Monuments should be retained and which removed (if not destroyed, moved to a museum with a thorough explanation of the subject’s deeds).

First, the most straightforward for me:  subject to what might be called a “Gettysburg Exception” described below, Monuments to men and women whose service in the rebellion of the Confederate States of America was the distinguishing aspect of their lives should be removed from general public settings.  These individuals were traitors to the nation and by their actions were seeking to perpetuate the enslavement of other human beings.  Defenders of these Monuments can try to rationalize regarding the historical value of these exhibits as they will; I doubt many of these memorials state, “We spent the money to put up this statue to teach you that this wo/man was a traitor to our country who sought to retain slavery.”

A more subjective case:  the American Museum of Natural History in New York City recently asked the City to remove from a Museum entrance the City’s sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt on horseback, flanked by indigent and African men on foot.  Even those that approve of this removal recognize Mr. Roosevelt’s contributions as President, but decry the apparent “white hierarchal colonialist” appearance of this particular rendition.  The statue’s sculptor, James Earle Fraser, long ago claimed that the two walking men were guides symbolizing Mr. Roosevelt’s efforts in America and Africa.  Mr. Roosevelt was a great President but no saint (more on that in Part II).  He hunted worldwide.  He provided many specimens to this particular Museum.  The statue is an arguably historically accurate reflection of an aspect of Mr. Roosevelt’s life.  While understanding the distaste felt by some, I would have considered it a defensible posture had the Museum wished to retain the sculpture.  It has chosen to have the work removed.  Its call. 

More difficult questions – at least for me – now present.  On June 18, Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi ordered removed from the “Speakers Lobby” in Congress the portraits of four men who served as Speaker of the House during the 1800s – three before the Civil War, but one afterward — because these men also served the Confederacy.  I disagree with Ms. Pelosi’s decision.  I suggest that the distinguishing features of these subjects’ lives were their respective Speakerships in service of the United States of America.  Given the relative population concentrations in the country when each man was elected Speaker, each had to have received some support from northern Representatives.  Attaching explanatory cards to these portraits acknowledging these men’s transgressions would be appropriate, but removing the portraits is, to me, inappropriate.

The most moving National Park TLOML and I have visited since retiring is unquestionably Gettysburg National Military Park.  It is located upon one of our nation’s most sacred tracts of land.  A tone of respect is maintained for the commitment of all who struggled and died there, North and South alike.  Although the park has more Monuments commemorating the Northern Army, there are a number recognizing the Confederate forces, primary among them the State of Virginia Monument, placed near the spot where in 1863 Gen. Lee surveyed the battlefield, which includes a 40-foot bronze statue combining a depiction of Mr. Lee on horseback and a bronze statue of figures representing different parts of the Virginia Confederate forces.  Although I have seen no suggestion of it and the Park is substantively an outdoor museum, in a climate not characterized by appreciation for nuance, it is likely we will:  Should the Virginia and other Monuments to the Confederates be removed from this hallowed ground, and other parks of like historical import?  My view:  Assuredly not.

The remainder of this note — including a brief observation on sainthood 😉 — will appear in Part II.  Stay safe; it appears that another COVID surge may be upon us.

The Fourth Election: Part II

[This is longer than the general post; I saw no place for a logical break.]

On February 5, 2020, President Donald Trump was acquitted by the United States Senate at the conclusion of his impeachment trial.  Two days after the acquittal, President Trump removed from their respective positions European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondlund and Director for European Affairs for the United States National Security Council Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, two witnesses whose undisputedly truthful testimony implicated the President in a scheme to pressure a vital but vulnerable ally for his own domestic political purposes.  Four days after the acquittal, the United States Department of Justice, led by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, said that it was reducing the sentence it was recommending for convicted Trump confidante Roger Stone – described by former Trump Administration Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon during Mr. Stone’s trial as an “access point” to Russia conduit Wikileaks for the Trump Campaign — after the President tweeted that the 7-9 year term initially recommended by DOJ was “disgraceful” and a “miscarriage of justice.”

I tend to buy books in clusters.  Largely driven by these Trump Administration actions (and, as it turned out, shortly before the oncoming Coronavirus so drastically changed our normal life patterns), I went to my local bookstore to acquire specific titles that I considered appropriate supplements to my copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer:  Mr. Putin, by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy; The New Sultan, the story of Turkey’s President (and now autocratically inclined) Recip Tayyip Erdogan, by Soner Cagaptay; Fascism:  A Warning, by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; and … a final selection — a volume generally available, but a title that causes you to lower your voice when requesting:  Mein Kampf (in English, “My Struggle”), by Adolf Hitler.

At my last request, the young woman with whom I’d been working glanced up at me a bit sharply, then relaxed; apparently – thankfully — I look like a researcher, not a believer.  She located Hitler’s opus, glanced at the price, added it to my pile, and observed sympathetically, “That’s a lot for such trash.”  Then she added:  “My Dad says I shouldn’t wear this necklace out like this.”  I hadn’t previously noticed, but saw then:  at the base of her neck was a small Star of David. 

That is where we are today.  Throughout President Trump’s term, we have seen countless instances of his deliberately sowing seeds of division among us, his lying, racism, religious bigotry, sexism, xenophobia, bullying, instability, narcissism, erraticism, avarice, pettiness, and flouting of norms, rules, and laws, his virulent attacks on the principled who disagree with him, a free press, and free speech, and his collaboration with foreign enemies for his own ends.  Even so, never seriously did I contemplate the potential for his dictatorial inclinations until – after he was acquitted in the Senate — he dismissed Messrs. Vindman and Sondlund and meddled in Mr. Stone’s sentencing.  Since that time, the Justice Department has sought to drop its prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn (after Mr. Flynn twice pled guilty), Mr. Trump has dismissed four Inspectors General (dismissals U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney called “a threat to accountable democracy”), he has issued an Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship after Twitter added corrective links to his completely unsubstantiated tweeted claims of fraud related to mail-in voting, he has called upon the nation’s Governors to “dominate” protestors in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, and on June 1 had peaceful protestors cleared from Lafayette Square, in part through the use of chemical agents, in order to provide himself with a photo opportunity.    

The above list isn’t exhaustive, but it is indicative.  Clearly Mr. Trump has considered himself unfettered since his acquittal, and has felt free to exact revenge and pursue vendettas against those he considers to have wronged him or his entourage.  Does anyone think that Mr. Trump will be more restrained if he is re-elected?  Does anyone wish to wager that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has at times displeased the president with his candid assessment of the extent of COVID crisis, or Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, who each publicly separated themselves from the President’s actions in Lafayette Park, won’t be removed from their positions if and when Mr. Trump no longer considers such removals a danger to his re-election prospects?  If Democrats can’t get out of their own way sufficiently so as to be able to convince the appropriate number of voters in the pivotal states that Mr. Trump needs to be removed this year, I am gravely concerned about our nation’s future.

Right now, Democrats and liberal media are gloating over the President’s repeated political missteps and his sinking approval ratings.  They are currently chortling about what the Trump Campaign obviously recognizes was an extremely disappointing June 20 Tulsa rally. I would counter:  it’s too early.  The election is going to be close.  What I glean from the polls is that Mr. Trump is well within striking distance in the swing states that will decide the election.  For perspective, we are now approximately as far from Election Day (November 3) as we are removed from early February — the period in which the President was acquitted, our nation had fewer than 20 Coronavirus cases, and two and a half months before George Floyd’s killing.  Like the momentum of a football game, the pendulum could well begin to swing back in the President’s direction:  even if there are future serious Coronavirus outbreaks, states will be loath to again shut down their economies, so hiring may improve and the stock market may rise; a bipartisan federal bill regarding police behavior and techniques is expected to pass, which may provide a surface salve sufficient to quiet protestors’ concerns through Election Day; presumed Democratic Party Presidential Nominee Joe Biden – satisfied to remain in his basement under cover of COVID while Mr. Trump has continued to politically shoot himself in the foot – will have to emerge at some point, which will lead to Mr. Biden’s own gaffes and glitches that will be trumpeted by Republicans; whomever Mr. Biden names as his running mate will provide not only advantages but vulnerabilities that Mr. Trump can exploit and will cause Democrats disenchanted with the pick to revel in self-righteous indignation; we will have a number of candidate debates that might yield a pivotal moment; and there will be at least one other significant occurrence, such as FBI Director James Comey’s October, 2016, announcement that he was reopening the Bureau’s investigation into Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, which at this point we cannot even fathom.

I have read passages from all of the books I bought last February, but confess that given the diversion of the COVID crisis, haven’t yet read any in its entirety.  Although perhaps those that read these posts are already aware of this, it is nonetheless worth noting that Messrs. Hitler, Putin, and Erdogan all first assumed their leadership positions by Constitutional means in what were then actual democracies; none had to overthrow an established order before beginning their accumulation of control over their respective nations.  While I draw a measure of solace from the manner in which Messrs. Esper and Milley have recently distanced themselves and the military from Mr. Trump’s Lafayette Park stunt – one can’t be an autocrat without an army – there are plenty of other Defense Secretary candidates and Generals from whom Mr. Trump can choose from if he is re-elected.  I have seen a number of pundits suggest that Mr. Trump’s presidency is “over.”  I suggest that we need be watchful, lest his dictatorship start.

Former President Barack Obama is reportedly fond of a statement by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  With all due respect to Messrs. King and Obama, I consider the sentiment poppycock.  What is right and just is not inevitable; it must be defended.  Messrs. Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant, and Messrs. Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Douglas MacArthur didn’t prevail in their struggles because they were right; they won because they had more troops and better weapons than the enemy.  I would submit that this is the Fourth Election in which the American way of life is at stake.  We citizens have only votes to defend the freedom this nation provides.  The existential threats I referred to in Part I of this note were brought about by outside circumstances beyond the control of the Presidents called upon to address them; in this election, the sitting President is the existential threat.  His presidency has revealed both the strength and fault lines within our system of government.  I am pleased that Mr. Biden is poised to become the Democratic nominee because he is by all indications an honorable man, but any person of honor of any political philosophy will do for me.   

Even as I type this, I recognize that some of it seems a bit … well … paranoid ;).  There is nothing that I’d like better than to have friends laugh at me over a refresher in happier [and COVID-managed  :)] times.  That said, I’ve reflected in recent days about my father, a decorated WWII Marine veteran of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.  He volunteered after Pearl Harbor, willing to give his life for his country.  Aside from paying taxes – to which I’ve always considered it churlish to object, given the opportunities this nation provides — I’ve had to do virtually nothing to avail myself of the blessings of American citizenship.  I hope it won’t be necessary, but if it is, on November 3, for the country I want my children and grandchildren to live in, I will be willing to shake the hands of 20 desperately ill COVID patients and hug 20 more if that is what is required to reach a ballot box to vote against Donald John Trump.

Hours Before the Trump Tulsa Rally

[Part II of “The Fourth Election” will post Monday; as the note below will make clear, its subject struck me today.]

It will come as no surprise that aside from Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace, we watch very little Fox News [although we were regulars for Shepard Smith’s weekday report before he resigned 🙂 ]; even so, surfing between stations yesterday, I paused at a report by a typical young antiseptically-handsome Fox male reporter describing Chicago’s Juneteenth commemorations.  After briefly describing the Chicago activities, he pointed out the boarded-up storefront he had chosen as his backdrop and described for a while how the small businesses that had been located there had had to suspend their operations due to damage resulting from riots arising from the killing of George Floyd.  While not inaccurate reporting, I found his emphasis instructive.

This morning, I was again moving between cable news stations [FYI:  on Madison cable, Fox News is between CNN and MSNBC  ;)] and while passing Fox, heard a reference to “rioting.”  Perhaps purely a coincidence that within two days, I heard two very small Fox News snippets emphasizing the same aspect of the consequences of Mr. Floyd’s death; perhaps not.  There was assuredly violence for days following Mr. Floyd’s killing, but it is my understanding – perhaps merely a reflection of the news sources I do rely on — that the number of incidents of rioting has been sharply reduced for some days and that even at their peak, never amounted to more than a minority of the overall outpouring brought about by Mr. Floyd’s death.

Early yesterday, Mr. Trump tweeted regarding his campaign rally in Tulsa tonight:  “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!”

As many are aware, on Thursday, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum had at the request of the Tulsa Police Chief and the Secret Service imposed a curfew on his city covering yesterday and today.  Yesterday afternoon, the President Trump tweeted that he had talked to Mr. Bynum.  Mr. Bynum has rescinded the curfew, indicating that the Secret Service no longer saw a need for it.

A lot of the reporting about the Tulsa rally has focused on Mr. Trump’s need for the adulation of his supporters and upon the COVID risks inherent in amassing a large group of people, presumably the majority eschewing masks, indoors.  In addition to his desire for reaffirmation, I have an impression – more than a surmise, less than a conclusion – that the President sees another potential value to tonight’s rally – a notion I have seen intimated elsewhere, but not specifically stated:  Mr. Trump believes discord arising between protestors and his supporters will help his electoral prospects.

Hopefully, those that come within the vicinity of Tulsa’s BOK Center to protest against his policies are wise enough not to take the bait.