One & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 1):

That I was privileged to live in America’s Golden Age.

Yes, 2020 was a challenging, no, a horrible year. The Trump presidency wound down toward an election loss to a demonstrably decent patriot who loves America as much as I do. So there will be some better days ahead. But, with so much to be turned around and salvaged, what will our new President Biden be able to accomplish and sustain?

My fear is that you and I, dear reader, have seen the best of America’s days. We are the country that, in my lifetime, liberated Europe, emptied the concentration camps, welcomed millions of immigrants, advanced space technology, outlasted the Soviets in a Cold War and did all these things and still managed to turn out creditable literature, music, and visual art. Government programs provided assistance so that people could eat, become educated and receive a level of health care that, even at its lowest level, was better than people receive in much of the rest of the world.

Our appraisal of history is limited by our place on the time line and by our position in society. When I say we have lived during the Golden Age, I understand that most of the people who were alive at various times in the past probably believed that they were living in their country’s best years. And, of course, that assessment would vary by each person’s place in society. What may look like a golden age to one person, will look like a lifelong descent into hell by someone born without the privilege of color or inheritance. I am sure that my view turns to a large degree on having been born white and in a family where one or the other of my parents was able to work and secure some income most of the time.

But looking ahead to the future, there are so many problems of truly major proportions that it is hard to be optimistic. The climate is changing rapidly. We know why it is changing. We know how to retard and even stop the process. But we would rather gorge ourselves on material wealth, travel and entertainment. In the process, we have attacked the science capable of providing deliverance. Why? For revealing truths that would demand a level of discipline from us that no government was willing to enforce. The inconvenient truths Vice President Gore warned us about years ago.

We have undermined and exploited public education by privatization and “reforms” designed to reward teachers for teaching their students how to test. We have purposely denied health care to millions of Americans by failing to expand Medicaid to take full advantage of available federal funding. And political leaders have purposely led the public to distrust science, the key to so much of the nation’s progress since our founding.

After decades of progress in expanding the franchise, we are watching Republican majorities shrink the electorate through shameful voter suppression techniques. Technology assisted gerrymandering has made it possible for legislators and parties to perpetuate their majorities in the Congress irrespective of the general will of the voters. As a result, the legislative process is usually in a state of gridlock and unable to legislate for the needs of the citizens.

We have catered to the National Rifle Association as they campaigned to put guns and ammunition into the hands of every right wing voter the industry could reach in order to shake them down for the price of long guns and ammunition. The court has provided them an interpretation of the Second Amendment that arms manufacturers have taken to the bank while consumers take to the streets, armed and dangerous, to make the country safe for the nonsense and lies they have seen and read online.

All of these things taken together make it likely that we have not seen the last of DJT and his “base.” He was not the most competent candidate to lead an authoritarian movement. He may trail off into the sunset but the followers he has stirred will find someone else and, sooner or later, they will find someone with more of the skills and planning abilities to move beyond the entertainer stage of development Trump seemed be stuck in. It’s a job my junior United States senator seems to be auditioning for with great relish.

I look to the future of our country with foreboding. There may be another “Greatest Generation” out there. It seems odd to say it, but it may be us they have to liberate this time.

For the last fifty or so years, I have suppressed my pessimism. But my visions of the bad things that could happen have come true more often than not. I wish I had something more than thoughts and prayers to offer the young ones who have to try and deal with the mess we are leaving them. But I am afraid it has come to that.

Thoughts and prayers – and Joe and Kamala. May God bless them in their work.

Five & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 5):

Reality television must be even worse than I thought.

DJT comes from reality television. I never touch the stuff. I confess that I did tune in “Dancing with the Stars” once to watch Tom DeLay embarrass himself. That was enough for me in this lifetime.

I will tune it in again if Trump goes on. He should cut a swashbuckling figure in his orange jump suit putting his old salsa moves to work.

Seven & One-Half

THE TWELVE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS DONALD TRUMP HAS TAUGHT ME (Thing No. 7):

America’s potential for authoritarianism is stronger, deeper and more menacing than I would ever have believed before.

As I studied American politics, I had the notion that our country and all our social and political relations rested on a solid consensus around our constitution and fundamental democratic values.

We have had our share of demagogues, political bosses, and corrupt politicians. But we somehow muddle along electing enough good people often enough that something close enough to “good government” allows us to live our lives in peace and prosperity — at least compared to the lives people live in countries ruled by dictators and criminal syndicates.

No small part of our ability to keep decent government in place can be credited to our merit-based, professional civil service. One of Donald Trump’s most frequent targets is the “deep state”. He has undermined the civil service (including the foreign service) by leaving them understaffed, giving them inept and corrupt appointed political leadership, and gutting the system of agency Inspectors General, and attacking protected whistleblowers.

His use of social media for direct communication with voters has been near genius for the purpose of building a faithful army of followers with cult-like love for their supreme leader. On January 6, 2021 he showed that they could be mobilized like an army and attempt to thwart the Congress in its constitutional duty to count electoral votes and declare the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

What is particularly shocking is the ease with which it has been done by a man of little ability but with a dogged determination to have his way. Always. And his interpersonal skill at bullying and threatening has left most of the people in his political party totally unable to stand up to him. They are craven, pitiable little politicians who will kiss the king’s ass if that is what he needs.

His success in putting together this army of followers the press refers to as “his base” and the ease with which he did it should be a warning to us all.

Be vigilant, be informed, be active, and — by all means — vote.

Comparing the 60s with Today: In The Facts

At the request of the editor, I pared this down to the number of words they could publish. I did all my own editing, so don’t blame The Facts for the barbs that are missing. I just felt that they didn’t add anything to what I was trying to communicate. So no more “laughably and contemptibly” inept DJT. Inept says it will enough.

The Facts has a brutal paywall Trump could be proud of. I don’t hold it against them. They are in one of the country’s toughest businesses right now and they have never been more important. So, here is a copy of my Word file. And if you don’t subscribe to The Facts, please do. They make it easy: Go This Way with your credit card. You will be glad you did.

My contribution to the Wednesday, November 25, edition:

I started out to compare today’s protests and politics with those of earlier decades. After attempting a list of particulars, I began to think more of the general trends. Leadership and media seemed to offer the two most prominent differences. With the passing of power back and forth between the parties over the decades, these trends have resulted in the spiraling descent of the Republican party, and our country under its leadership, to where we are today. 

Social media and cable news have changed the quality of reporting and allowed competing versions of political “reality” to develop for self-selecting audiences. We repeat our own version to other like-minded people through social media – the echo chamber effect. People in the 60s and 70s tuned in Walter Cronkite and whatever he said carried the weight of truth. If Cronkite caught a politician lying or taking personal benefit from public office, there were fraught political consequences. 

Legitimate journalists today have been assailed by some politicians and even referred to as enemies of the people by the sitting president. These attacks and his universe of “alternate facts” are repeated and amplified in the social media echo chamber. These systems of competing truths did not exist in the 60s.

Devotion to democracy and the expansion of the electorate was then – in spirit at least – universally blessed. These values have been challenged in the current alternate reality as niceties designed to relegate a once dominant class of citizens (older white males like me) to minority status. 

The movement of women and minorities into roles of power is judged in that alternate reality as the gift of affirmative action rather than the deserved result of their own hard work, intelligence and abilities. It’s hard on the ego to see the world becoming fairer as you, in turn, have to yield some of your own privilege.

We sometimes look at generational cohorts as meaningful units of analysis. My generation, bookended by the Greatest Generation on the older end and by the Baby Boomers on the other, is often overlooked. Those of us born just before the end of WW II are called the Silent Generation. The existential threats of our day were Vietnam and the nuclear arms race, both aspects of the Cold War. African Americans shared those threats and added to them the enduring cruelties resulting from our history of slavery.

The generations younger than the Boomers now face an even more complicated set of challenges, a whole battery of crises in fact, that should be keeping us all awake at night. Most of them are the result of an economy that has pushed consumption beyond the planet’s sustainable limits. Climate change, pandemic diseases, failing governments, human migration, the growth of terrorist organizations (foreign and domestic), wealth and income inequality, unmet infrastructure needs, and a government that is unwilling to meet the people’s needs are all on the list of realities that face young people now trying get educated and join the work force. On top of that, they have to deal with college debt far beyond anything I faced in my generation.

All of these problems can be addressed but they need the focus and work of governments here and abroad. They must lead people to commit to the hard work and sacrifice that can take us into new centuries with the expansion of democracy throughout the world. They must lead us to respect the planet and each other so that all of us can have the one thing we want most – an environment of peace and plenty for nurturing our children.

The other major difference that I see between the present decade and those of the 60s and 70s is our national political leadership. At the time, I could not see any redeeming qualities in Richard Nixon. The public would not tolerate lies from political leaders. Nixon spied, he lied, he connived and covered up. Yet he took his job seriously and he had the grace to resign rather than put the country through any more Watergate agony. And there were members of his party who had the strength of character to confront him with the truth of his situation and the nation’s needs.

President Trump, in my estimation, is inept and uninterested. He has no respect for the presidency or the constitution. And the Republicans in congress offer him no guidance or try to rein him in. I recognize that these points will be argued endlessly by his supporters. In defense of my position, I can only offer my years of study, witness and the close attention I have paid our country’s politics during my entire adult life.  

My hope for Generations X, Y, Z and Alpha, it is that we can instill in them, once again, a devotion to truth, to service and the restoration of a leading role in the world for the United States. Public service can be their gift to their fellow citizens, not a gateway to grift. I hope we can help them to see that running for political office is a high calling and that it should always be done with humility, generosity of spirit and a dedication to our deepest civic values. That was the inspiration my generation took from President Kennedy and Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. They will not find any such inspiration in the White House today.

We have come up short in many ways. But we can pass the torch to our youth with confidence in their ability and the strength of their character. I know some of them well in my family and in my church. Above all else this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for them.

Guest Column, The Facts, November 25, 2020, by the Lake Jackson Citizen

The 60s vs. Today: Comparing Eras of Protest

How I missed the protests of the 60s. Luckily my duty in 1968-70 was in Fort Carson, Colorado. My sacrifice for my country was minimal. And I never mention it without noting the willingness of others of my generation to make the greatest sacrifice in the service of their nation. Will we ever have that kind of national community again? A community in which a draft from the general population can provide the manpower to fight foreign wars in the faith that our leaders may know what they are doing? They didn’t. But, still, my fellow citizens stepped forward when their nation called.

Earlier this week the managing editor of our local paper, The Facts, invited readers who were around during the 60s to send their thoughts about how present day politics differs from what we experienced fifty years ago. I started my own list but abandoned the project as the list got longer and longer. I decided, instead to send him an essay-style discussion of my observations. It is too long for The Facts to publish so I will post it here.

Mr. Morris began his discussion like this pointing out that he was a child when most of the protests were happening “back then”. You may read his column in the facts here

I sent him my reply this morning. It follows:

Mr. Morris,

I thought about your comparison of the 60s-70s protests to those of the present. I started a list of the things that are different and when I got to #15, it occurred to me that what I have witnessed in my 77 years has been a passing of power back and forth between the parties but with a spiraling descent of the Republican party to where we are today.

When President Nixon resigned, the public would not tolerate lies from political leaders.

Media was controlled by commercial interests that, in the case of broadcast media, was subject to regulation as users of the public’s broadcast frequencies. Print journalism was big business, too. They reflected a variety of viewpoints but still reported within the constraints of a journalism profession that valued facts and recognized a single reality.

(Continue to Page 2)

2020 – A SILENT GENERATION LAMENT

The cohort of Americans born between 1928 and 1945 has been called the Silent Generation. I didn’t know that I was a member of the Silent Generation until I wrote the piece below and I looked up “generation” in Wikipedia to see if I was indeed a boomer myself or, maybe, even an undeserving member of what they were calling the Greatest Generation. I found out that I am stuck in between the two. We are hardly noticed by the folks who try to generalize about the behavioral characteristics of people born in certain age cohorts.

I was late coming to the Silent Generation so my adult years were spent with talk everywhere about “boomers.” Marketing and media primarily addressed their needs and preferences. I heard so much about boomers that I subconsciously identified and, in any case, I was very nearly one myself since you could say that I was born on the cusp. But as I read more about those years between 1928 and 1945, I could see how completely my life was in the grip of that history.

What follows is very long. If you decide to read it, you will see that it is laid out like a poem. If it reads like prose to you, at least stop for a beat to think before going to the next line. Each bit of our history is loaded with plenty to think about. Yes, Truman and Eisenhower may not excite you. Ozzie and Harriet may bore you. But the kids who first learned about the world from floor model radios and small black and white screens had much to think about. And we have much to regret.

The piece is a personal project. It was completed during the 2020 election campaign and before the Biden-Harris election results were known. Although it is a hopeful sign, it doesn’t really change much. Having lived through alternating and descending stair steps down into Trump hell, I know that it will take more than a single presidential election to get us heading onward and upward again. But we must continue the struggle.

Continue reading “2020 – A SILENT GENERATION LAMENT”