My Post-Pandemic To-Do List for America

For the last few days I have been musing about the things that clearly need to be repaired as soon as the pandemic subsides, Congress re-assembles and DJT is an unpleasant chapter in our history. I started this list on April 28 and I will continue until I run out of ideas. The list may seem like a partisan list of Democratic Party objectives. It is not. I think everyone may have learned something about America, our national purposes, and the way we are governed. I plan to delve into many areas of our social and religious lives.

I invite your reading and comments. Trolling is not helpful. Please don’t do that.

Day 25 of Lake Jackson Lockdown

From time to time, I used to do thought experiments in which I would watch the president and pretend that I am a supporter. I didn’t try for the mind set of one of the Republicans in the Senate who may actually have something to gain from their obsequiousness, but rather more like a member of “The Base,” — one of his adoring fans who attend his rallies, wear MAGA hats, get most of their political input from Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and have everything to lose by pumping up his ego and giving him power over their lives.

Friends, don’t do it. Don’t try to pretend you are a Trumpist. At first I thought it would be good to try to see the world from their point of view but I gave it up as a dangerous experiment. When I tried it, it made me a basket case. I felt I had leapt right into that basket of —dare I say it?— deplorables. .

I don’t know how anyone can watch his recent coronavirus daily briefings without concluding that he operates below the knowledge level of most fourth graders, possesses the language development of a 1980s citizen band enthusiast, the manners of a pro wrestler, and the leadership skills of a low level mobster.

He was elected as the head of our government and he knows less about it than most of the college freshmen I encountered in my basic government classes. When I read his remarks in print later, I grade them as kindly as I can and give him a D. And that is giving him a little extra credit for knowing a few bits of presidential trivia. What color is the presidential mansion? What shape is the president’s office? What is the name of the first African-born American president? He gets creativity points for that last one.

We are in Day 25 of our coronavirus lock-in here in Lake Jackson and after several days of watching the afternoon briefings from the White House I stopped watching. When I pretended that I was part of the president’s fan base they turned my brain into one of those mushroom soup casseroles that are a staple of Methodist pot lucks. But just watching them as an average citizen trying to stay informed was doing the same thing. There seemed to be no point in adding to his ratings since there was no useful information to be gained and I risked tipping his rating scale up one more tiny point by tuning in.

So I wait for the morning papers and read the reports in my internet editions of The New York Times and Washington Post. I read a little in the Houston Chronicle and The Facts. I pay for all of those but I freeload on The Guardian. They do the best job of keeping up with their own copycat Trumpist P.M. who has this day gone into the ICU with his case of Covid-19. I appreciate The Guardian and I do not enjoy admitting that I freeload on their journalism but my priority is to support the press in this country first. The queen never claimed the press was the enemy of the people.

Aside from reading in the mornings and catching up with news analysis on cable (Go ahead and guess!) in the evenings, we have been cleaning out the garage.

What a joy it is to go through old photographs and see my sisters, both of them little girls standing in the front yard of our house on Flaxman Street in Jacinto City. To graduate from high school again. To re-live some college years. What an adventure to live again in 1968, to feel the pain of being drafted and leaving a young wife on her own. To hold once again those precious band medals and the trophies from gymnastics meets, math competitions, and more. To read the poetry and science fiction my son wrote in junior high.

One of his science fiction stories was about a US biological warfare lab that had developed both the killer virus and, so they thought, the vaccine. A former president who had authorized the venture wanted to see the dramatic tests at the end of their experimentation. To make a short story even shorter, the virus succeeded but the vaccine did not. One of the infected monkeys went berserk after being stuck with the hypodermic needle and jumped against the glass separating the ex-president from the laboratory and the virus. The monkey infected the ex-president and he became the first casualty of his own biological warfare weapon.

My son was savvy enough to leave the ex-president unnamed, although his reference to his number in the presidential succession made it clear that he had fictitiously killed off President X. I will not name him but leave it to your imagination instead.

So that’s the kind of thing we get into as we probe around in 50 to 60 years of things that seemed too important to throw away yet not important enough to look at again for all those years. Today we are going through it all and judiciously deciding what parts of the memorabilia should be kept for another half century or so.

A small stack of photos and letters has come inside the house again. Approximately eight sizable boxes of refuse sit on the curb waiting for the City of Lake Jackson Sanitation Department to make the rounds and squeeze it all into the back of a truck to take off the the city dump.

Lost forever is my master’s thesis bibliographic card file that would tell you all you could ever wish to know about American political parties, circa 1964. How quaint was the state of political partisanship then.

A Sign of Things to Come: Opening Day at Enron Field, April 7, 2000.

Photograph from Federal Bureau of Investigation public domain collection posted on Flickr.

Houston’s heart has been broken by corporate scandal twice just twenty years in the 21st Century, once last week by the Houston Astros and in 2001 by the Enron Corporation. If you felt no grief for Enron, then you didn’t know personally any of the people who worked there. They were engineers, clerks, and HR folks like you would find at any other company around Houston. They stood out as innovative, productive employees and good citizens. Most of them had the reputation of being smart, generous and kind.There were only a few bad apples and they worked at the top of the chart.

Our hearts were broken again by our Astros. The sign stealing scandal has forever stained our memories of the beautiful gift of a World Series championship for a city that had suffered a Category 4 hurricane and catastrophic floods in August of that year. It was the year of Harvey and this was a team that brought joy to a hurting city. They were beautiful to watch on the field. They played with excellence and they behaved like the nicest kids you would ever know.

At least we thought so. Continue reading “A Sign of Things to Come: Opening Day at Enron Field, April 7, 2000.”

November 21, 1963

Late November in one of my happiest years:

we wrapped ourselves in the soft thrill of friendship

not knowing how rare it was and how hollow -

for lack of it - would be the days and years ahead.



Chattering with the sophistication of underclassmen

we crossed a vacant city lot grown over with weeds,
toward the road that exited the airport.

The young president and his wife had landed and would

pass here on their way to speak in Houston.


His red hair flamed

in the late afternoon Texas sunlight. 


He waved and each of us stored the memory

of an instant as the car sped by, 

the woman at his side,
 his shining hair,
the slightest wave of his hand, 

the memory – a still photograph in each of our minds.



In less than a day, he was dead;
hit by two rifle shots. His wife was returning,

spattered with his blood
to the emptiest of homes, the White House.


Another memory – but this one with the remove

of miles and overwritten with the static snow
from our 
early technology television sets.



Those same sets had been on that morning before he died

as we searched to see if there would be news of his visit.
Maybe a camera had caught us as well
and our friends would see us so close to history.
Instead, we saw four floppy-haired singers
from Britain who were planning a visit to America. 



A few hours later, there was only the news 
that the man
on whom we had hung our hopes was dead.


Friendships that we thought were the most precious
gifts 
in our lives that day,
faded with the years.


Each of us had lives to live, purpose and gifts to give. 


The floppy-haired Brits gave us the happy crutch 

we needed to weather war and loss,
and, not least,
 the death of that soft thrill of friendship
we still had heart to feel
on November 21, 1963.

The Democratic Debates: A Team of Rivals?

Watching both nights of the Democratic presidential debates last week was informative and exhausting. Even more exhausting, although not as informative, were the hours of commentary offered by some of America’s best journalists. I have stolen a few of their thoughts and grafted them into my own commentary. If you are a politics junky of the MS-NBC persuasion, you may spot a few of my borrowings. You have no standing to sue me and I can’t be impeached. So just read on.

In my post last week, I confessed a partiality to Elizabeth Warren, although I made a commitment to watching the debates with an open mind. I am certain that all of my many readers have been waiting anxiously for my conclusions and advice. 

Well, I can’t help you that much. I concluded, like most folks,  that Bernie and Joe came across as a little tired. Though they be a little worn out, I still hoist my Bernie mug and my Obama mug (Was there ever a Biden mug?) with pride any time I sip a cup of tea. Although I think a lot of both gentlemen, I confess to a little ageism that I am permitted only because I know exactly what it feels like to wake up and face every morning with 75 years of history pulling you down and informed by the knowledge that gravity never loses. So, let’s take a look at some of the other candidates.

Elizabeth Warren proved once again that she is a fighter for social justice and building an economy and government that serve the people, not just those wonderful corporate entities the Supreme Court has lately endowed with rights we once thought applied only to individual citizens and residents. She demonstrated well thought out policy proposals, passion and a willingness to go forth and fight. She has never been one to give up when confronting a bully. 

These debates ought not be evaluated as performances, yet it is an unavoidable standard when the survivor is likely be forced to go up against an incumbent for whom this whole enterprise is nothing more than poorly produced television for tired old white men. Warren meets the standard of political performance art and even makes it appealing to the larger demographic that would include women, minorities, LGBTQ voters, the poor and thinking people of all identities. EW is solid gold. Go Cougars!

But then there was Kamala Harris. What she did to that nice man who used to work for President Obama was almost frightening. I would hate to have to face her as a defendant in a courtroom. And if you agree with me that what Donald J. Trump needs more than anything is to face off with a good prosecuting attorney, then I will suggest to you that Kamala Harris would be the one to do the job. She is fearless, brutally logical, and and quick to the attack, all the while respectful and able to use her expansive vocabulary with withering effectiveness. Better be ready to duck, Donald. She won’t be upstaged.

Julian Castro presents himself as a serious candidate, well rooted in national politics and very capable of taking on a more challenging leadership role. And there was Eric Swalwell, young but well schooled with his serious participation on House Intelligence and judiciary committees. And there is Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, And Beto O’Rourke. And so many more. 

As I watched them through the two nights of debate, I recalled the premise of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s analysis of the Abraham Lincoln’s genius use of his political rivals after the election of 1860. In Team of Rivals (Simon and Schuster, 2005), Goodwin tells how Lincoln pulled talented opponents into his circle of advisers when it was time to take charge of the government. William H. Seward, Edward Bates and Salmon P. Chase were Lincoln’s opponents in the contest for the Republican nomination. Yet he didn’t ignore them and treat them as “losers”. He asked them to join forces with him to do the nation’s work during its time of greatest strife.

Seward became his secretary of state, Chase, his secretary of treasury and Bates, his attorney general. 

He also brought some former Democrats into cabinet positions, including Edwin M. Stanton as secretary of war. As Goodwin points out in her introduction (p. xvi), most of these men had credentials and achievements that far exceeded those of the country lawyer from Illinois who had pulled off the upset victory for the nomination and election. 

Lincoln’s great self-confidence and dedication to the task of preserving the Union allowed him to marshal the country’s best talent in service of that goal.

Could 21st Century Democrats do the same following success in the 2020 election? They would be well positioned with the fine set of competitors I saw among the twenty who presented on Tuesday and Wednesday night last week. One commentator (I do not remember who) suggested that one of the least known of the candidates, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, would make an excellent Secretary of Defense. She served as an army officer in Iraq and, in the House of Representatives, on the Armed Services, Foreign Affairs, and Financial Services Committees. I don’t believe she is at all intimidated by the Trump Gang. And she would certainly be a better Secretary of Defense than the one DJT has currently serving in that office.

Oh, I forgot. It’s one of several vacancies he is carrying while he, Ivanka, and Jared do it all.

There was plenty of talent on the stage both nights of the debate. I think the party will be primed to install a competent government once again when they take the presidency in 2020. President Obama was wise to appoint HRC as his Secretary of State after defeating her for the presidential nomination in 2008. It was a script he borrowed from our favorite Republican, Abe Lincoln. This time we have a whole cabinet full of good talent.

That is the main thing I took away from the debates last week. 

That and the fact that any one of them will take more ability and honor to the office than the current incumbent. Yes, Maryanne Williamson, if you secure the nomination you have my vote and total support. 

We Give Texas a Speaker: Dennis Bonnen

When my daughter came home during a break in her first year in college in 1996, she drove up to Angleton one day to meet me at work and have lunch. We headed over to the Texas Rose, an establishment run by a British expat who made the best hamburger in Brazoria County at the time. As we left the Texas Rose, young Dennis Bonnen followed us out the door and stopped us on the sidewalk.

“Mr. Fowler, I sure would appreciate your vote in the runoff next month.”

Dennis was pretty fresh out of college with a political science degree, a boatload of energy, and presenting for public office for the first time. He had barely made it into the runoff by edging out Beaver Aplin (yes, that Beaver) by ten votes. I had to tell Dennis that I was not qualified to vote in his runoff since I had voted in the Democratic primary.

The rest is history, of course. Beaver Aplin invested his free time in his gas station business and went on to develop the regionally famous “Buc-ee’s” brand. Dennis, won the runoff, served the next twenty-two years in the Texas House and on January 8 of this year was elected Speaker by unanimous vote of the membership.

Continue reading “We Give Texas a Speaker: Dennis Bonnen”

Growing Up White in Texas: How I Remember Dr. King

I grew up in the South in segregated neighborhoods, schools, and churches. I was born in 1943. The world was in violent upheaval across Europe and in the Pacific. That year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was finishing high school and preparing to enter college at the age of 15.

I can’t remember when I first heard of Dr. King but I think it was probably a six o’clock news report of one of the bombings of Dr. King’s home. Or maybe I saw him on the cover of Time magazine or television during the Montgomery bus boycott. 1957 was an eventful year in the life of Dr. King and in the life of our nation. When they were happening, these events didn’t make much of an impression on a white teenager from Houston’s blue-collar ship channel neighborhoods. I was in my middle teens and not as precocious as the young Martin, so the events of the day didn’t move me the way they would when I read about them later in my life.

At that age I was more interested in Houston Buffs and socializing with my church youth group than I was in the evening news. You may think that the brutality and injustice suffered by American citizens across the South would have gotten even a kid’s attention. But we white kids suffered from a vision problem that kept us from seeing the world of privilege we lived in and the injustices it had been built upon.

When I was a kid we listened to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon on the radio. If you ever listened to Sergeant Preston on the radio, you know that he sometimes got lost in the snow. Everything was white. The ground was white. The sky was white. Even the Yukon River was white. Everything ahead was white. Everything behind was white. White to the left. White to the right. He was blinded by the whiteness. Like Sergeant Preston, we had been snow-blinded.

Continue reading “Growing Up White in Texas: How I Remember Dr. King”