Fear and The Flag

July 24, 2019

Say what you want about President Trump being an “idiot”, a “liar”, a ” racist”, and “unfit for office”, the guy knows how to speak to Main Street Americans and use the language that gets them nodding their heads in agreement. The Democrats can yell about the rule of law, congressional oversight, democratic values and constitutional principles till they are blue in the face, but Trump’s ability to tap into the innermost fears and patriotism of Americans is a winning strategy.

Americans love their country, their flag, and their citizen soldiers; Americans fear crime, government give-aways, and constant harping at what’s wrong with this country. Americans also love strong leaders, plain speaking politicians, and allies of the forgotten folks; Americans fear the elites, the media and liberal political correctness.

Sure the recent controversy about four US representatives of color is racist in tone and delivery and targets strong women who are smart and not afraid to speak their mind. But sadly far too many Americans do not like strong women, especially women of color who challenge the President of the United States. Also, too many Americans and certainly our president have forgotten or have no clue that everyone in this country except native Americans is either an immigrant, a refugee or someone who successfully attained asylum status.

But those details are not strong enough to break down the political culture of our country that is built on fear and the flag. Americans basically want to feel secure, prosperous and proud. They now have a president who taps into their fears and their patriotism by calling out football players who take a knee during the national anthem, Democrats who play to the two coasts rather than the working class heartland, and members of Congress who want to lead the revolution.

Democrats and progressives just don’t seem to understand the innate sources of our national psyche. Understanding the constitution, the Bill of Rights and our governing norms and traditions is all well and nice, but if their objective is to remove the President in 2020 and take the Republicans out of the Senate then Democrats and progressives have to respond to the climate of fear in this country and proudly embrace country, flag and our military. It’s all well and good to make promises about student loan forgiveness or green policies or soaking the rich, but how about Democrats and progressive talking  real tax relief for the working class, going after the rapacious banking system, and supporting the agenda of America’s union movement.

Currently, Democrats and progressives are too often seen as pro illegal immigrant, pro welfare state, and anti business. Democrats and Progressives need to take a page out of Trump’s playbook and show Americans what real patriotism means, why they will provide security and prosperity and why their objective is real reform not revolution.

President Trump continues to be unpopular, but not by much. But if his campaign of fear and the flag is allowed to continue without a vigorous response based on security, prosperity and real patriotism, the Democrats could be toast come November, 2020.


Land of the Angry, Home of the Scared

November 5, 2018

President Obama’s comments to hecklers in Florida wondering why they were angry, especially since their party controlled the Congress and the Presidency and their president had followed through on many of his promises, got me thinking again about what we stand for as a country. My concern about our values and beliefs brought on further concerns when Trump supporters bought into his lies about rising crime ( it is not rising), the caravans invading our country ( a rag tag group of asylum seekers, many of them women and children, is not an invasion) and the threat of minorities to a white America ( if there is any threat it is from white neo-Nazis). So why are we no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave, but rather the land of the angry and the home of the scared?

The answer to this question likely is better answered by trained psychologists, but it does make a political observer wonder why the right wing is not filled with supreme joy and at the very least taking a brief moment to use Google to inquiry about the President’s misinformation campaign. It would seem to me that the anger is the result of pent up frustration over years of living at the margins in a country where elites didn’t care, while the embrace of outright lies spoken by a man who knows how to gin up a crowd just makes those on the margins feel better. Say what you want about the President, he knows how to push the right buttons in his base and has no remorse over stoking white race anger and just saying anything that comes into his mind at what has become an old-fashioned religious rally. If you have ever seen the ancient movie, Elmer Gantry, with Burt Lancaster, it perfectly depicts the charismatic ability of one man, a religious charlatan,  to get his followers to follow him anywhere, no matter how cruel or off the wall his sermons are.

It would be reassuring if we indeed were the home of the free and the land of the brave as our national anthem proudly proclaims, but our freedoms are slowly being eroded (especially freedom of the press) and we seem to willing admit that we are afraid (but mostly afraid that minorities will replace white power). We live in a time when according to that great political philosopher Groucho Marx, “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” Perhaps saner leaders in both parties, truth-seeking pundits of both political persuasions, and that great moderate middle of America will bring us back to the era of compromise, consensus, and conflict resolution. Katherine Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful” said it best, ” America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.” One can only hope.

 

 

 


If We Could All Be Rotarians

June 11, 2018

Recently I became a member of the local Bridgewater, Massachusetts branch of  Rotary International organization. I joined a wonderful group of friends and neighbors who live by the motto ” Service Above Self.” At each meeting after the pledge of allegiance to the flag, a prayer and the singing of a patriotic song, members recite the Rotary’s 4- Way Test- a short listing of  values that guide the work of the thousands of clubs around the world.

The Four Way Test is really quite simple – reminding members of the way they should think, speak and take action as they serve others. The 4- Way Test is as follows:

Is it the Truth?

Is it Fair to all concerned?

Will it build Goodwill and better Friendship?

Will it be Beneficial to all concerned?

As you can see the 4- Way Test accents some key values – truth, fairness, goodwill, friendship and service that benefits all  people.

As someone who has taught and written about politics for decades I wondered what would happen if the 4-Way Test were included into the oath of office that our political leaders swear on the Bible. Wouldn’t it be helpful during this time of stress, strain, division and anger if those who are charged with making public policy lived and worked by the Rotary’s values?

Pledging to uphold the Constitution and to protect the United States is certainly the foundation of what political leaders must adhere to as they hold public office, but we have come to a time in our history where simple humane and decent values are either ignored or thrust aside in the quest for a win or a power grab. Political leaders at all levels often refer to themselves as public servants but too often they forget the other half of  the call to duty – Service Above Self.

The over one million Rotarians around the world perform countless acts of service from hurricane relief efforts to planting trees to what our local group does – award college scholarships and donate dictionaries to middle school children. If there is a need in the community or in a country far away, it is certain that the Rotary will be there to provide assistance.

Our country and our democracy is facing a host of domestic and international challenges that will define the future of the United States. One way to ensure that the future of our great nation is secure is to put service about self and to implement the values of the Rotary 4-Way Test in our daily lives – Truth seeking, Fairness, Goodwill, Friendship and spreading the Benefits of our wealth and power to all Americans.

 


Why is Trump Still Popular, It’s Easy

June 5, 2018

Legions of liberals scratch their heads when they see polling data that show President Trump’s approval rate over 40%. Despite the stupid tweets, the lies and exaggerations, the flaunting of the rule of law, the destruction of presidential norms of behavior, blatant corruption, and the embrace of public policies that isolate the United States and pose real dangers to our future as the leader of the free world, Trump trudges on not just with his base but also with independent-minded voters who are unwilling to denounce him and push for his removal from office.

So what’s going on here with the stability of the Trump approval? It is really quite easy. Trump supporters see more money in their paychecks, and some have seen bonuses or small increases in their salaries, jobs are so plentiful that workers can now pick and choose, the stock market despite regular ups and downs is generally on the uptick, inflation is minimal, and areas of the economy once viewed as dead are no longer on life support. As the Democratic strategist James Carvelle reminded Bill Clinton’s staff, ” It’s the economy, stupid.”

Although some in his administration and certainly those among the punditry have called him a “moron” or just plain “dumb”, Trump knows the current state of American political culture – flag waving patriotism, fear of minorities, militarism, disgust with political correctness, support for small town Americana, and hatred of the eastern and California elite. Somehow the Democrats forgot that our political culture can be defined by what the working class believes is what America stands for, not what the New York Times editorializes. Trump has tapped into this working class culture and is not afraid to use it to bludgeon the left. Few people read the Times but they do listen to the President.

Of course having an approval rating in the low 40% range means that somewhere in the 60% range Americans either despise Trump or have serious questions about where he is taking the country. But if liberals are to make any serious dent in that 40% they have to admit there are now two competing political cultures in our country and begin to make efforts to understand the Trump culture and where possible make efforts to offer realistic alternatives.

What does that mean – “realistic alternatives”? In no particular order liberals must tag Trump with the inevitable increases in health care premiums, offer a better package of tax cuts that puts more money in the pockets of working class people, stop making pro-choice the signature position of the left, forget the big cities and take bus rides to rural America for listening tours, show the American public that patriotism means more than the flag,  and last but not least ask Nancy Pelosi to retire.

The challenge of the liberals as they try to compete with Trumpism is like moving a huge aircraft carrier on a different course; for years liberals have forgotten that they were originally the party of the working man and woman and that their support came from the heartland. If the Democrats hold to their old model of politics the blue wave of November 2018 just may fizzle out as the economy hums along. Trump may yet set himself up for self-destruction, but the liberals must change or face their own self-destruction.

 


World’s Not So Great Democracy

April 19, 2018

Pundits and politicians, largely of the liberal persuasion, have been bemoaning for some time now the threat to democracy and democratic norms since the arrival of President Trump. Language such as ” democracy is under attack,” ” the rule of law is being compromised,” ” the first amendment guarantees have been weakened,” and traditional presidential conventions are being, ” abandoned,” fill the airwaves and print media. And then there is the Russian attack on the 2016 election, our most sacred foundation of democratic life.

And yet despite these outcries about the decline of democracy, President Trump’s popularity – never really outstanding – has not eroded below a consistent 40%; in fact as the economy moves forward, his popularity has picked up a few points in recent polls. Americans appear not to be overly upset about the signs of democratic demise.

So why the disturbing lack of interest by so many Americans in our apparent democratic decline? One possible answer is that the current state of our democracy is suffering from what some call a civic deficit or perhaps a more negative title – political illiteracy. Americans today are shockingly uninformed about their democracy and the democratic values that form the basis for our claim to be the world’s greatest people-based government.

For example, in recent studies researchers have found that only 34% of Americans know that there are three branches of government, a tiny percentage can name only one Supreme Court judge, while an overwhelming majority are clueless, over 200 million of our citizens believe our constitution is based on the Bible, even though God is not mentioned once in our sacred document, and a bare majority can name but one of the four freedoms contained in the 1st Amendment. What a dismal civic deficit scorecard! It is really next to impossible to defend our democracy if the citizenry has little understanding of what our democracy means, or how it runs, or what it stands for.

Correcting these glaring deficiencies in our civic deficit will not come overnight but action must be taken and soon. Here in Massachusetts there is a movement afoot to bring civic education into the classroom and teach the new generation of Americans what their democracy is all about. Through the efforts of organizations like Generation Citizen a bill is working its way through the legislature to begin addressing the civic deficit.  Called an Act To Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement the legislation is designed to direct a modest amount of taxpayer dollars – $ 1.5 million – to develop programs in our schools to promote civic learning in the classroom curriculum and to encourage project based activities to strengthen participation and involvement in the public life of each community. Eventually, civics like math, science and English would be required.

Knowing about democracy does not mean that Americans will automatically come to appreciate and protect their form of government from those who would weaken it. But knowledge can be transformed into power, the power to demand that elected officials never abandon what our founders and those who have died on the battlefield held as a precious gift worthy of protecting.

 

 

 

 


Facebook, Twitter and National Security

March 21, 2018

There are 2.2 billion Facebook users and 974 million Twitter accounts. In the spirit of transparency, I am on both these social media sites. But my comments today are not about who is on Facebook and Twitter, rather I want to go back to the 1950’s and 1960’s and remind people about U.S.-Russian relations and patriotic fears about threats to our national security and national reputation.

When the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957 it was the first artificial Earth satellite. A few months later Sputnik 2 was launched with a living animal, a dog named Laika, who died a few hours after launch. It was not until early in 1958 that the United States launched Explorer 1, this country’s first satellite.

The launching of the two Sputniks not only embarrassed the United States but initiated a frantic effort to catch up to the Soviets in the space race and win back its reputation as the world’s leader in science and technology. Schools from elementary through college stressed the value of science and math and urged young people to become interested in space. Generous National Science Foundation grants were offered to budding scientists to attend graduate school and create a “technical army” to challenge the Soviets. And the Kennedy administration pledged to win the space race and eventually place a man on the moon.

But the most important result of Sputnik is that it awakened a realization that this country was threatened by the Soviets and patriotic Americans needed to take steps to win the space race and overcome the Russian threat to our economic, educational and governmental system. Space became a national security issue and Americans climbed on board to take on the Russians and beat them at their own game.

Today this country is again threatened by the Russians only  now with cyber security “Sputniks”, well planned and executed activities to hack our electoral system, divide our nation with fake news, and weaken our democratic institutions and democracy itself. But like our naive attitude toward space science and technology during the 1950’s, today our social media companies like Facebook and Twitter were easily duped into being party to this attack on our country.

What is most disturbing is that the patriotic spirit that filled this country after Sputnik is sadly missing from not just the social media giants but too many leaders in our government. Those who head the social media companies and indeed many who work for those companies seem more interested in increasing their bottom line, piling up stock options, buying fancy cars and living the good life.

Far too many of our best computer minds are in the start-up mode as they develop new social media sites, useless apps, and silly games. Of course all this energy is about making a quick buck and becoming an instant millionaire. Few of these bright minds are going into cyber security, government intelligence agencies or the military; there just isn’t enough money to be made in national security and patriotic employment that protects our democracy.

What this country is experiencing is a social media divorced from real world threats and hostile governments bent on weakening our country. It’s not how many friends you have on Facebook or retweets on Twitter but how we are responding to our enemies who are working overtime to play upon our obsession with social media in ways that divide us.

Hacking our elections by the Russians is the new version of Sputnik – science and technology designed to embarrass the United States, show up our weaknesses and threaten our democracy. Just like in the post-Sputnik era what we need in this country is a patriotic push to challenge and quickly defeat the Russian threat.


2017 Was a Terrible Year

December 12, 2017

2017 was a terrible year, and no it was not only because Donald Trump took the oath of office on January 20th, although inaugurating Number 45 certainly didn’t help matters. 2017 was a terrible year because of devastating hurricanes and wildfires, senseless mass shootings, grotesque men preying upon women, a further descent into incompetent government, and the loss of some of my favorite celebrities – Mary Tyler Moore, Fats Domino, George “The Animal” Steele, Chuck Berry, and Batman ( Adam West, the real Batman).

2017 was a terrible year because in both the public and private sectors feelings of shame and personal embarrassment took a big hit as people we thought we knew and admired contributed to a decline in our collective culture. Lying became an acceptable form of behavior; cheating on all levels was commonplace; bullying of the innocent was a regular occurrence; anger and intolerance exploded; and the values that we as a nation took for granted began to be chipped away.

2017 was a terrible year because those who controlled the levers of public power saw a need to replace a process of governing based on moderation, consensus, and compromise with mean-spirited partisanship and unnecessary favors for the rich and well born. Rather than building on the past and reforming what didn’t quite work, the mantra was reject and repeal. Meanwhile the gap between the rich and the rest of us got wider and wider.

2017 was a terrible year because the world stood on the brink of war, agreements designed to improve life were ignored or violated, millions of people were displaced, and far too many people and their governments could not muster the courage to open their hearts and their wallets to those in desperate need. Not In My Backyard became more than a slogan, but a way of looking at the space outside our homes, and not caring one bit.

And 2017 was a terrible year because what progress may have been made to create an integrated society took a big hit as racial, ethnic and religous tensions escalated, people forgot who Jesus made friends with, phony patriotism took over sporting events, and those who pump billions into our economy doing work that we shun were told to get out.

I am a big believer in hope as a way of dealing with those people, events and conditions that make our great country less than what it can be. 2018 is right around the corner and one can only hope that it will be a better year as we bring that terrible 2017 to a close. Let’s keep hope alive.