Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I May Not Be Pro-Antifa, But I'm All For Self-Defense

And I don't give a damn what anyone thinks about it, or thinks about me as a consequence.

You have probably read quite a bit by now about a loosely-organized group of anarchists called "antifa," who first came to national attention when they fought back against the violence fomented by neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members in Charlottesville earlier this month.  Most of the coverage of antifa (short for "anti-fascists") has been negative, and that has especially been the case with the right-wing media echo chamber, which has led the charge to find some sort of moral equivalency between the violence on the right and the violence on the left, in the hope that the current status quo, in which violence on the right is tolerated and used as an excuse to tell Democrats to move to the right or they'll be shot, can be successfully maintained.

I'll have a little more to say about that status quo in a moment.  First, a more personal perspective.

I despise violence, and I despise even more the ad hominem hatred of "the other" which drives so much of it and threatens to drive democratic discourse into oblivion.  Hatred is deceptively easy.  It requires no research, no debate, not even any thought.  It's a seemingly cheap and convenient substitute for the kind of thoughtful analysis and consensus-building that our system of government is built upon and designed to encourage.

Except that, ultimately, it is neither cheap nor convenient.  It eats away at the heart of the hater even as it pretends to fill it.  It warps the mind even as it pretends to fill it with arguments.  It ultimately destroys the soul, even as it fills the body with the illusion of energy and vitality. Ultimately, even without an actual nemesis, hatred destroys the hater.  If it does not actually kill the hater, it isolates him or her from the rest of the human race.  Hatred is not a philosophy, a policy, or even a program. It's just hatred.  And it destroys everything it touches.

I believe all of this as surely as I know I'm typing these words.  So, I should just join in the great moral equivalency hunt, and condemn antifa with the same passion that I condemn the neo-Nazis and the Klanspeople.

Except I can't.  I just can't.  And here's why.

For the past three decades, I have seen a relentless rise in organized violence by the political and social right-wing.  I've seen it devolve from the militia movement to the drive for concealed-carry (and even open-carry) permits for handguns, to the utter carnage instigated during the Obama Administration by the NRA and its relentless push against any and all handgun restrictions (even ones designed to make weapons less accessible to terrorists), and its instigation of "stand-your-ground" state laws that allow a shooter to kill an unarmed person based on the shooter's subjective sense of fear (which, in turn, can even be based on an article of clothing).  Dozens of young people (even an entire school) will never come of age, never live out their dreams because of this wanton, mercenary lust for violence.  And the survivors?  Their hopes and dreams live under a perpetual shadow of violence, and even death.

And worse?  I have seen government at all levels so scared of looking "lefty" that they have abdicated the most basic obligation of government--public safety--for half of the population.  From Waco to Charlottesville, there has been a straight line of abdication, egged on by the aforementioned right-wing media echo chamber, against denying "dear, good, Christian people" their Second Amendment rights.  This is the result, along with every preventable death from Waco to Charlottesville.  Ask yourself:  what did the police do in Charlottesville to save the three lives lost there to right-wing violence?  Answer:  nothing.

Who has antifa killed so far, in contrast?  Answer:  no one.

I hold no brief for antifa as an organization.  Not everyone involved with it is an easy villain, but it seems to be so loosely organized as to defy having any governing or limiting principles.  As such, I can't be their advocate, or even their supporter.  And it is easy to imagine, in a violent confrontation, how principled self-defense can be transformed into unwarranted aggression.

But self-defense, in the Age of Trump and with the rise of his white-nationalist support, is not simply a good idea.  It's an essential one.  Let there be no doubt, based on thirty-some years of evidence: there is a war going on, in their minds and hearts, there is an enemy, and that enemy is to be destroyed by any means necessary.  The ballot-box is and never will be enough for them. Bullets and bombs do their most potent, and lethal talking.

As I said earlier, I despise violence.  But, frankly speaking, I despise inaction for the sake of looking "classy" or "dignified."  It's not just your right to live that's at stake; its the right to live of everyone you care about, present or future.  Non-violent resistance only works against a sufficiently civilized aggressor.  There is nothing civilized about the so-called "alt-right."

So resist the urge to find a moral equivalency.  If you don't like antifa, work with others to come up with a better form of self-defense.  We desperately need some form of it.  Otherwise, the United States of America will become little more than a Fourth Reich, built on the graves of you and me.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Black Gun Owners: The Best Path to Gun Control?

That's not a rhetorical question.  I'm hear to tell you that I think the answer is yes.

I felt that way even before I saw this article in the Washington Post, about a post-Trump-election rise in the level of gun purchases by African-Americans, even as gun sales were falling among white purchasers.  The increased number of gun purchases during the Obama years among whites, and the subsequent increase in the level of armed violence against young African-American men (and the resulting fatalities), make the Post article the least surprising piece I've read in a long time.

And I'm happy that what the article reports is happening.

If history teaches us anything (and it can, frankly, teach us quite a lot if we're willing to admit that we need to learn), it's that periods of peace among nations, and among peoples within nations, depend on a balance of power.  The more evenly power, including and especially firepower, is distributed throughout a society, the lesser the temptation there is for one group to attempt to subjugate another. And, when you stop and think about it for a moment of two, isn't that the argument that gun rights advocates make in the first place?  That private ownership of guns by citizens is necessary to reduce the temptation governments might have otherwise to subjugate their own people by force?

Personally, I don't completely disagree with that argument.  I don't think that, Antonin Scalia notwithstanding, the Second Amendment was created for that reason, and I certainly don't think it requires every citizen to have an arsenal that could outfit an entire battalion of soldiers.  Actually, the Second Amendment is a tricky platform on which to build an argument for unlimited handgun or rifle ownership.  The Amendment only refers to "arms."  Well, then, don't I have a constitutional right to a nuclear arsenal?   Maybe that's what I need to feel really safe.

Frankly, when you consider the level, intensity and duration of white racism in this country against African-Americans, I'm surprised that there isn't more advocacy for an H-bomb in every black household.  However, if the Post article is a reasonable guide (probable), more conventional firearms seem to be good enough.

I mean, seriously, what is the white gun-owning community going to do?  Advocate for more stringent regulation of gun purchases?  Admit that the adoption of the Second Amendment had as much to do with the ability to hunt down runaway slaves as it did with militias?  Stand up and say "OK, you've got us.  We were flaming hypocrites all along.  Can you ever forgive us?"

I wouldn't bet on any of those alternatives becoming reality.  If the last one did, however, I would hope and expect the answer of the African-American community to be something like "No thanks, we'll just keep arming ourselves.  After all, it's good enough for you.  And we promise not to be trigger happy when your kids wear clothes we don't like."

The Good-And-Bad Dynamic Of Politics And Culture

In a free society, it is both natural and desirable for politics and culture to influence one another. The basic philosophical foundation of our government, that power should be divided and yet function in a co-dependent manner, is one that can be found outside of government itself. Sometimes, our culture provides those who govern with a means for inspiring the public, or at least making an emotional connection with it.  Think about the Kennedy Administration and "Camelot," or the Carter Administration and "Annie."  Sometimes, the dynamic works in the other direction; the culture finds a way to take aspects of the political climate and turn it into art--or, at least, into entertainment.  It therefore was not surprising that, when Carter was elected, that ABC created and (briefly) aired a TV series that was meant to celebrate, in its own way, the new president's Southern roots.

As someone deeply interested in politics and culture, I have a strong appreciation for this dynamic. At the same time, in the present political climate, it's all too easy to imagine the perverted results to which it can lead.  As it turns out, however, one doesn't have to use any imagination at all.

HBO has let the world know that it has under consideration a potential series called simply, and as of the moment, "Confederate."  At this point, it is little more than a proposed title and a concept, the latter being a species of what has come to be known as "alternative history."  Alt-histories, literary and otherwise, are essentially build around the question of how subsequent events would have played out had a given historical outcome not happened (or, at least, not happened they way they did in fact happen).  Perhaps the best known of these is "The Man In The High Castle," which describes what happens to a particular set of characters in a world where Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire won World War II, and more or less divided the United States as territories of conquest.

So it is proposed to be with "Confederate."  But, as this article in The Atlantic points out, for all practical purposes, the South did win.  Apart from the end of slavery, the Confederate states were re-admitted to the Union, their leaders and citizens given full citizenship, and they were still allowed to treat former slaves as second-class citizens, even while building the monuments to the "Lost Cause" that are at the heart of clashes such as last weekend's conflict in Charlottesville.

Even worse, the larger culture glossed over the sin of slavery by portraying the South as some sort of rarefied, gallant society where slaves treated as property somehow got better treated that "wage slaves" in the North.  "Gallant Cavaliers and their Ladies Fair," I believe, was the terminology used in the opening credits to the film version of "Gone With The Wind," a book written to explicitly mourn the loss of antebellum Southern society.

Does anyone doubt that the racism embedded in the very concept of this proposed series is meant to serve the same purpose it served in Mitchell's book and in its film version?  For that matter, does anyone doubt that the white nationalist currently sitting in the Oval Office made HBO think that now is the time to revive the sickening romanticism many still feel for a society that was evil at its core, and did not deserve to survive, much less win?

What would have happened if the South had managed to become a separate nation?  Slavery would still have somehow died, one hopes.  To think of it going on for centuries, debasing all who came into contact with it, is insane.  To try to turn that thought into entertainment is beyond insane.  At the very least, they should consider a new name for this series if it ever becomes reality:

"Trump Country."

The Beatable Larry Hogan (And Why He Needs To Be Beaten)

This article in the online version of The New Republic makes a surprisingly compelling case for the "beatability," if you will, of Larry Hogan, the unlikely Republican governor of Maryland.  Basically, it focuses on the fish-out-of-water nature of Hogan, a former businessman who largely wants to cut taxes more than anything else, operating in a state with a strong politically blue climate.  He doesn't speak out in cases where speaking out would put him at war with that climate and, on those occasions when the Democratic supermajority in the Maryland General Assembly overrides one of his vetoes, he just says nothing.  Just as he does when Donald Trump or other national Republicans do or say something that might compromise his popularity among Democrats or independents (or even Republicans), Hogan just gives his best what-me-worry imitation of MAD's Alfred E. Newman, and shines it on.

The result?  According to one survey, as mentioned in the TNR article, Hogan is the second most popular governor in the country.  His re-election next year would seem to be all but re-assured. Except for the fact that there were some peculiar dynamics at work in his 2014 victory.

Hogan ran against an inept Democratic candidate, in a year when the national Democratic party was at a low political ebb and had no candidated for national office on the ballot to energize the largely Democratic voting base.  His focus?  Martin O'Malley's alleged "40 tax hikes," most of which were fee-for-service increases such as the ones pushed by Hogan's Maryland political godfather, Robert Ehrlich during his one term in the governor's chair.  (The less said about Hogan's national political godfather, Chris Christie, the better--for now.)  And here's the kicker:  even with all of this going for him, Hogan just squeeked by in the popular vote with a margin of victory of less than 4 percent.

None of this is going to work for Hogan in 2018.  The national climate will no longer be dominated by six years of weariness with Barack Obama; it will be instead burdened by two years of despair generated by Trump.  There will be a U.S. Senate race to galvanize the bases of both national parties, and to force Trump into the political debate at the state level, something Hogan has dreaded for months. And Hogan's re-election campaign will need to be a part of that debate.  If he wants to spend all of his time on debate stages saying "I have no answer for that" or "I don't need to have an opinion on that," he might as well do what his 2014 Democratic opponent, Anthony Brown, did for one of the debates that year:  fail to show up altogether.  Sure worked well for him, didn't it?

But the TNR article overlooks one area of Hogan's administration where he most definitely does have an opinion:  his relationship with the city of Baltimore.  And that opinion is most definitely not a positive one.

Even back in 2014, if one read carefully between the lines, it was painfully clear that Hogan's comments about "getting spending under control" and "rolling back those 40 tax hikes" were code for balancing the budget on the backs of the citizens of Baltimore, a jurisdiction where the problems of poverty, and the public expenses required to address those problems, were higher than they were anywhere else in the state.  The voting population of the city was overwhelmingly Democratic, and rapidly shrinking, and therefore of no practical political assistance to a Republican running for statewide office.

Above all, without putting too fine a point on it, that population was overwhelmingly African-American.

I tread carefully in saying what I say at this point.  I have no reason to believe that Larry Hogan is racist personally.  He has an Asian stepfamily, as I have a Jewish one.  He also has an African-American Lieutenant Governor, as did Ehrlich.  But it's false respect to Hogan's tolerance in this area, including his denounciation of the white nationalists in Charlottesville last weekend, to pretend that much of his Western Maryland and Eastern Shore constituents have a great deal of fondness for the population of Baltimore and its needs.  How much of that is about race, and how much of it comes from other factors, I am not in a position to say.  But I have had far too many conversations in both parts of the state to pretend that the feeling isn't real.

My point:  as a Governor, and therefore as a politician, Hogan is forced to take that negativity into account to maintain his popularity and his power.  Obviously, the riots in Baltimore in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray gave Hogan an unforced opportunity to punish the city for its failures in the area of public safety.  Equally obviously, those failures have continued to the present day, without any help from Hogan at all.

But Hogan's penny-wise, pound-foolish response to all of this has proved him to be more bean-counter than business man.  Even the most thrifty person in business understands that, sometimes, you need to spend money you don't have to both deliver services and generate revenues for your customers.  You take out a loan to build a new factory that builds a new product that makes people's lives better and soon, the loan is paid off while the factory enhances your bottom line.

That's the way businesses used to think.  Not today.  Everything is all about cut, cut, cut, cut, and, when all else fails, cut some more.  Thus, Hogan throws away $1 billion in federal transportation money and over a decade of planning, and cancels the Red Line, which could have been the beginning (with the Metro and light-rail) not only of a true metropolitian rail system for Baltimore, but the beginning of an intercity system between Baltimore and Washington, DC, with free transfers between the two.  Anyone who has seen what the Metro has done for the D.C. metropolitan area and the District itself knows that such a system could literally help bake a larger economic pie for everyone in the state.

One could go on and on along this line, beginning with the cancellation of the planned new state center for Maryland public employees.  But this, as much as any other reason, is why the beatable Larry Hogan needs badly to be beaten next year.  Maryland needs and deserves a governor who understands that a healthy Baltimore is the key to a healthy Maryland.  Divide-and-conquer politics have come close to destroying our country; we desperately need to keep them out of the Free State.

Ross Douthat Rewrites History

I have, for the most part, tolerated Ross Douthat's presence on the New York Times' Op-Ed pages. One could easily do worse in the search for conservative "balance" to a paper's opinion section. And, between David Brooks' neverending search for goodness and mercy in all of us, and Bret Stephens' wholesale rejection of climate science, it has sometimes seemed as if worse was exactly what the Times was trying to do.  In any case, Douthat writes well, occasionally gives points to the other side, and has, for the most part, been fairly resolute in his status as a Never-Trumper.

But, like most Never-Trumpers on the right, Douthat can't quite resist the temptation to use this period of Republican dominance with which we have been cursed in an attempt to score a few unearned points for his side.  Even if it means using a little reverse hagiography in the process.

In this case, the subject of decanonization is John F. Kennedy.  In what appears to be a badly misguided effort to make Donald Trump's threats to incinerate North Korea seem, well, not-to-bad,
Douthat's column attempts to reconstruct the history of the Cuban Missile Crisis so that readers will believe that Kennedy was the real bad guy from start to finish.  His congenitally belligerent instincts, in Douthat's retelling, led him from slandering Richard Nixon to botching the Bay of Pigs invasion to placing Jupiter missiles in Turkey so that Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet Union were all but begged to sail first-strike missiles over to Cuba.

There's just one problem with all of this.

It didn't happen that way.

The belligerence that led to those thirteen days in October of 1962 did not come from Kennedy.  It came, in fact, from Nixon and his anti-Commie fellow travellers in the early days of the modern conservative movement.  Kennedy, astute politician that he was, understood the need in the nuclear age to co-opt the "toughness" issue, and he did.  That was what led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and required (over Kennedy's better judgment) the decision to place the Jupiter missiles in Turkey. Neither the invasion nor the missiles were actions by Kennedy on his own; they were actions taken out of short-term political necessary in a climate he neither wanted nor created.

Somebody needs to send Douthat a copy of Robert F. Kennedy's "Thirteen Days"; it would improve his understanding of the history of this period.  It would also help him appreciate the Kennedy brothers' commitment to maintaining a respectful, truthful, even-keeled dialogue even with our seemingly most intractible enemies.  I have enough respect for Douthat to believe he can learn.  I despair of that ever happening with Trump.

And, Before I Leave Charlottesville For Now ...

... one more thing.  And it's not about Trump.  It's about all of us.

"Like it or not, and I hate it, the battle has been joined."

I wrote and published those words in this blog nearly two months ago, in the aftermath of the shootings at a practice for a charity baseball event between members of Congress.  If you or anyone else think that those shootings comprise an isolated, never-to-be-repeated moment in our culture, I am forced to tell you after last weekend, then think again.

The march on Charlottesville by white nationalists was largely fueled by a recent trend across America to take down statues and other monuments to the Confederacy.  Needless to say, those who still believe in the so-called "Lost Cause" are not happy about losing their "safe spaces" for expressing their hatred of anyone who isn't them.  And never mind, for the moment, how ironic it makes their criticisms of leftist college students who want to be protected from such expressions with safe spaces and trigger warnings.

I have, frankly, never understood why these monuments exist in the first place.  We, the people of the United States are almost certainly the only nationals around the world that allow public commemorations of an armed insurrection against that nationality.  Call it "heritage" and "state's rights" and even "Northern Aggression" if you must.  None of that claptrap rhetoric disguises the fact that the insurrection was treason motivated by a desire to treat humans as chattels.  It neither erases history nor diminishes the First Amendment to remove these ugly items to historical societies and museums.  It simply removes them from places of honor and public participation in society, where they do not belong.

The effort undertaken by cities to do the right thing by these items has hitherto been peaceful and marked by due process, public debate, and a respect for the interests of everyone.  If you're a white nationalist, however, none of that means anything, becuase none of that has anything to do with the America they believe in.  That America has been defined for them by Nazi Germany:  blood and soil.

That is why they are willing to use violence at the drop of a Trump to take control of what they believe, exclusively, is their country.  And the response by the majority, in Charlottesville and elsewhere,  shows that it has concluded what I concluded long ago:  that the time for peaceful demonstations is over.  Tom Courtenay, in one of most famous roles, might agree.  Especially when official law enforcement appears to be split on how to respond:  either do nothing, or plot the unthinkable.

While the rest of us ponder the question:  is it unthinkable any longer?

The Most Dangerous Nazi Wasn't In Charlottesville

His name is Donald John Trump, the Terrorist-in-Chief who somehow managed to win a presidential election against the clearly lesser evil with a minority of the popular vote.

And, although he wasn't in Charlottesville last Saturday, he might just as well have been.  These are his people.  They are, in fact, the minority that is spread out over enough states to put him in the Oval Office.

To take a step backward from the anger and the carnage (to use a favorite Trump word) that left three innocent people dead, and an entire community mortified by the stain placed upon it by a public demonstration of white nationalists marching through their streets chanting the Nazi slogan "Blood and Soil," it's worth asking:  why now?

Racism has always been a feature of American life, including American political life.  And it's hardly a secret that one major American political party (not mine) has spent decades manipulating American racism, successfully, for its own benefit.  But a key to that success has always been keeping public, blatant displays of racism bottled up, so that mounting a frontal assault against it has always been difficult.

All of a sudden, last weekend, it was out of the bottle, never to return.  And boy, oh boy, were a lot of dog-whistling Republicans embarrassed.

They said all the right things, when asked by the media to do so.  They made sure they complied with the demands of the digital age by taking to social media (Twitter in particular) to clarify that the Charlottesville tragedy can only be blame on white racism that cannot and should not be tolerated.

I read many of those statements.  As words, they are all that can be said, and credit goes where credit is due to those who said them.  But will they stand by them, when the going gets tough?

And, by "tough," I'm referring to next year's midterm elections.

In this context, I am reminded of a quote from the late, great James Baldwin, who would not have been surprised by any of the events in Charlottesville, or many of the ones related to it:  "I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do."

What's significant here is what the Republican Party, and the elected officials affiliated with it, do not do.

And that is to renounce not only the poisoned fruit that desecrated the streets and the peace of Charlottesville, but the poisonous tree that allowed them to feel free to desecrate.  The tree that has sunk its roots at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

All of this nonsense about how the history and the responsibility of the office would force Trump to "pivot," and all of this additional nonsense about how the "guardrails" of the American political system would keep his proto-Fascist tendencies in check, has finally been exposed as the nonsense that they are by Trump himself.

In his first public statement about Charlottesville, Trump attempted to place the blame "on many sides."  This despite the fact that one side clearly initiated not only the hatred, bu the violence that flowed from it.  The same embarrassed Republicans who verbally denounced the hatred and violence then denounced Trump, forcing him (48 hours later) to bury a slightly more pointed condemnation of racism in an otherwise upbeat assessment of his inability to destroy the Obama economy.  So far as Trump's reputation in this and all matters related to race, the damage was effectively done, beyond all undoing.

And no one--absolutely no one who made any attempt to honestly investigate Trump's character on this and other issues--had any reason to be surprised.  After all, his racism both before and during the campaign was about as well-documented a thing as anything can be.

But the unchecked power that Republicans now wield in Washington and around the country is the undeniable result of that racism.  As I noted, Trump is simply the logical conclusion of decades during which barely-closeted racism swallowed any chance of making progress on the problems all Americans face.  And even Fox News is willing to come out and say that Trump has no qualms about reaping the benefits of racial politics.  Doesn't get more blatant than that.

On the other hand, if all of those Republican officials and supporters meant their Charlottesville condemnations with every inch of their beings, there are two things they can do:

Dump Trump, using either the impeachment process or the 25th Amendment.  And guarantee that, no matter what, next year's midterms and the 2020 presidential election will be held on time.

To paraphrase Mr. Baldwin, I'm watching what you do.  And I'm hoping, for the sake of healing in Charlottesville and beyond, that I can ultimately believe what you've said this past weekend.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Why Do They Still Hate Jimmy Carter?

This question came to mind through an Op-Ed catechism in the New York Times recently.  First, as part of a broader analysis of the contemporary Republican Party's ability to win elections but not produce results for the American people, Ross Douthat decreed that Mr. Carter, the last president elected by the old New Deal coalition of Democratic voters, "got nothing done."  Second, in response to this statement, Carter's former domestic policy adviser, Stuart Eizenstat, wrote a letter the Times published that listed Carter's many achievements in office.

The "got nothing done" analysis by Douthat is curious on its face.  After all, the conservative critique of Carter back in the day was something to the effect that Carter was destroying America by pushing it too far to the left--in other words, the same sort of rhetorical drivel they have been delivering for the past 70 years, up to and including today.  You can agree or disagree with that rhetoric--I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how I feel about it--but you can't say it's the same thing as getting "nothing done."

On the other hand, Eizenstat's entirely accurate and concise description of Carter's accomplishment's in office only begs my titular question even further.  Usually, the answer you get are (a) stagflation, and (b) the Iranian hostages.  Both of these crises were outgrowths of bad foreign policy decisions encouraged by conservatives that had the effect of making the United States unusually dependent on oil-producing (i.e., Arab) countries for the maintenance of our way of life.  And the hostage crisis was deliberately manipulated, and even prolonged, by Republicans and their conservative supporters for purely partisan purposes.

And Carter devoted much of his presidency to ending that dependence, describing the struggle to do so as the moral equivalent of war.  As we subsequently saw on 9/11, it was in fact the literal equivalent.

I think the ongoing Carter-hatred is based largely on a recognition even by conservatives that the critique of Carter that emerged during the 1980 election campaign was and remains a gargantuan lie--and that this lie is coming back to haunt them, now that their own coalition is fracturing just as the New Deal coalition fractured during Carter's term.  Despite that fracturing, Carter pulled off a number of significant legislative and diplomatic accomplishments, accomplishments that still benefit the American people even today.  Trump, meanwhile, apart from one purloined Supreme Court seat, is bereft of anything that could be called an accomplishment--unless attempting to install a kleptocracy in the White House counts.

And yet Trump, like Carter, clearly appears to be a president of preparation for a major change in the politics of this country.  The question is, can the Democrats produce a Reagan to make that change a reality?  I wish I had a positive answer to that question.  I pray that such an answer will emerge before 2020.

Mitch McCONnell, Contra Deum?

One is seriously forced to wonder.

McCONnell does not lack for ambition.  His ambition--his only ambition--is and always has been to accumulate as much power as he can in the Senate.  The only limitation on that ambition is an apparent lack of ambition to become President.  One is forced to wonder whether that comes from an honest appraisal of his own limitations, or from some sort of character flaw (perhaps a recognition, which Donald Trump clearly does not have, that as President he would be forced to care about people in whom he has absolutely no interest at all.  A leader of a legislative body has a broad ability to set an agenda; an executive responsible for the day-to-day administration of public business will find his or her agenda-setting ability limited, often by what we used to call, in legal terms, acts of G-d.

But G-d does indeed work in mysterious ways, sometimes inserting His will into the legislative process.

Consider the fact that the Affordable Care Act only survived repeal by a single vote.  Consider further the fact that said vote was cast by a man, John McCain, who sadly has been given a diagnostic death sentence while the repeal debate was in process.  Consider still further the fact that Senator McCain, through a lifetime of military and civilian public service (the former of which included torture at the hands of the Viet Cong) has benefited from public forms of health insurance that are as generous as they are comprehensive.  And consider also the fact that McCain, never shy about being at the center of events, clearly relished what might be his last chance to make a major difference on the national stage.

I think it's entirely fair to view McCain, in this instance, as an instrument of divine intervention.  G-d saw in McCONnell a man who is, in his present position, a clear and present danger not only to the interests of the American people, but to democracy itself.  And, when the very health of the American people, the federal government's most sacred responsibility along with public safety, was directly endangered by McCONnell's ambition, G-d used an American hero one last time to save his country.

Which means that Mitch McCONnell, who has spent the last seven years firing broadsides at legislative processes and traditions for the sake of his own overweening ambition. now, in a very real sense, has John McCain's blood on his hands.

How much more blood will he shed before the American people cry "Enough"?  And how much longer will a righteous G-d allow His justice to tarry before not only McCONnell, but all of us, experience a taste of wrath that we cannot nor should not be able to stand?

As I said at the beginning, one is seriously forced to wonder.

A Common Enemy For Capitol Hill--And America?

I may, at some point in the future, regret typing this or even thinking it, but doing so seems inescapable after the finale of the health care repeal debacle:

Is peace about to break out in Congress?

As much as I despise Mitch McCONnell, and I take a back seat to no one in doing so, I give everyone his props, so I'll give him his.  He tried to top The Great Supreme Court Theft with an attempt to cobble together a repeal of the most successful health care legislation in American history, one that would deprive millions of people of the ability to pay their medical bills.  He hoped to do so in a way that would prevent those people from realizing that they were being shafted, until it was too late--and that would then allow him and his colleagues to blame it all on the Democrats.  And it came within a single vote of working.

We are, I guess, obliged to John McCain for his willingness to take his obvious distaste for Donald Trump and his love of being in the spotlight and use both of those characteristics to throw a monkey wrench into McCONnell's plans.  This is said, of course, with due respect for his medical condition, which no doubt played a role in his decision to throw that wrench.  (There's another way of looking at how his health played a role in this drama, but I'll save that for a later post, perhaps.)  We own far more, perhaps, to the independence and integrity of two Republican women, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who stayed focus on the facts and the potential for harm to the voters who honored them with the opportunity to represent their interests.  Their contribution is well summed-up here.

And we especially owe a debt of thanks to the 48-member Democratic caucus, whose members decided, with the change in public opinion about the ACA, to grow something resembling a spine and not cave in to either conservative threats or mainstream media pressure to somehow "move to the center."  (That I almost definitely will have something to discuss in a future post.)   All of them made the case for keeping the benefits of the ACA in varying ways, but none more dramatically than Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.  Like McCain, she faces a deadly battle with illness, and she pulled no punches in using Republican sympathy for her plight as a broadsword against their attack on American health care.  If you have doubts about whether the U.S. Senate can still be a place for legislative heroism, you owe it to yourself to look at this.

But, ultimately, I think that the for-now-at-least demise of Obamacare repeal efforts can be credited to a highly unlikely source.

Donald John Trump, the well-known performance artist currently pretending to be the 45th President of the United States.

Trump's singular, signature combination of corruption and incompetence, and the scandal-a-day pace at which that combination has taken control of the government and our everyday thinking, is finally taking its toll on what the public thinks about him, and the extent to which it is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  Take a look here and here; after just six months, his popularity (or lack thereof) is close to Nixon/Watergate levels).  It would take very little to actually get it to those levels.

Is it possible to look at the collapse of the health care repeal as a sign that Congress is finally paying more attention to the attitudes of voters than to the deference still given by the mainstream media to Trump (still expecting him to "pivot" someday)?  Despite the closeness of the final of the three votes, I think the answer is "yes."  It took every ounce of McCONnell's manipulative ability to get to that closeness, and still it failed.

But my confidence is based on something else.  Since the GOP debacle on health care, there has been a sudden outbreak of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

A bill, overwhelmingly approved, to enact new sanctions against Trump's favorite country, Russia. Another bill, also overwhelmingly approved, to prevent Trump from making any "recess appointments," which will hamper any attempt to end current investigations of his Administration by firings.  Even a somewhat wary, but real, effort to see if fixes in the ACA can be made which both Democrats and Republicans can accept.

Common enemies can be powerful unifying forces.  Communism was such an enemy for the three otherwise disparate elements of the modern Republican coalition:  military hawks, libertarian tax-cutters, and the Religious Right.  Does Donald Trump have the potential to be that kind of a common enemy for Congress and, ultimately, the American people.  Is it therefore possible that there is, in some sense, a higher purpose in having his odious presence in the White House?

Only time will tell.  My greatest fear is that Trump, as he feels more and more cornered, will be more and more tempted to respond by lashing out--perhaps even "going nuclear" in the most literal sense. So, if we can and will pull together to save ourselves, none of us should waste any time.