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.


Strong Economy, Weak Values

May 15, 2019

Critics of President Trump, especially liberals, often complain that he and his administration have either attacked, ignored or dismantled fundamental constitutional principles and norms such as adherence to the rule of law, support for the system of checks and balances with a co-equal legislative branch, and the importance of an open and free press. Added to these charges are the now over 10,000 proven lies and misstatements by the President and the growing list of scandals and corruption by members of his inner circle of cabinet members and advisers. We now live in a time when”constitutional crisis” is an oft-used term that suggests this country is experiencing a democratic decline, or worse yet a move toward authoritarianism.

And yet with a strong economy that boasts low inflation, low unemployment, solid growth, vibrant stock market numbers, and for most Americans more money in their pockets, there is scant discussion among the general public and certainly among Trump’s base about the obvious challenges to constitutional principles that have guided this nation since the early days of the Republic. Trump’s directive to his staff to ignore Congressional requests to testify before committees, his refusal to turn over his tax returns, the attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, and his not so subtle acceptance of right wing hate, violence and wack-job conspiracy theories are too often greeted by a near majority of Americans with a casual shrug or a silence that signals consent.

Why has America entered a time when our most cherished document, the Constitution,  the Bill of rights, and long standing procedures and governing values, are so easily dismissed as not terribly important? There, of course, is no simple answer to this scary predicament; it is not enough to say that too many Americans want to “stick it” to the liberal elite or that Trump’s army of ” low educated” voters have become the voice of the nation or that Trump represents an angry revolt of those disgusted with government.

My take on this real threat to our democracy is a sad and growing ignorance of what this country stands for, what hundreds of thousands of men and women died for on the battlefield, and what our forefathers and mothers envisioned as the “shining city on a hill”. During my youthful years as a political science professor I would take student groups to Washington D.C. and visit among many monuments, the National Archives where the Constitution is encased in glass. Those visiting the Constitution would always pass by and whisper in a kind of governmental reverence, akin to going to church or reading the Bible. These days the National Archives is not a destination site and a declining number of Americans have never read the Constitution or the thinking of the writers in forming a “more perfect Union.”

There is certainly nothing wrong with feeling great about a booming economy, but it is deeply disturbing to see a growing number of Americans show little understanding or support for our governing values or hail the President of the United States for blatantly working to tear down our democratic heritage. The Constitution and the amendments are not exciting reading, but the entire document is rather short and can be examined in the time it takes to watch the last episode of Game of Thrones.

We remain a great country with enormous potential, but these last two years we have become a people who care too little about our governing values and are too willing to follow a president who I suspect has never read the Constitution and cares less about the principles that define our democracy and indeed our nation. My advice – read the Constitution and support the values expressed in that wonderful document.


2018 – If You Think This Year Was A Mess, Wait Until 2019

December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to a end there are countless reviews of what happened of consequence during the year and where we may be headed in 2019. As is often the case, the review of the past is mostly negative and the future is described as uncertain. So as not to shy away from this exercise of yearly review and prognostication, here is my take on the past and the future.

If politics, governing, leadership and public policy is your passion, 2018 could only make your confidence level take a sharp turn downwards. Almost everyday brings new revelations about presidential misconduct or at the very least presidential incompetence. Democrats and Republicans still can’t get along much less get legislation moving forward. Members of the cabinet are increasingly being shown as crooks and bogus charlatans.  And the media still can’t shake the fake news label, despite being more open and accurate than those in the White House. Not a day goes by when honest and thoughtful Americans wonder whether they live in an emerging authoritarian state or at the very least a very bad dream.

If the economy, jobs, GDP and spending power are your passion, 2018 would likely bring a smile to your face. Americans are on a spending spree ( mostly with credit cards), jobs are plentiful ( despite little real wage growth), data on key indicators show the US leading the major countries of the world ( at least for the time being), and overall consumer confidence is strong ( but could change in a heart beat). 2018 was a “good year” for most Americans, which is why President Trump continues to have a solid approval rate; there is nothing like a upbeat economy to make a president, any president look like a genius.

If values, mood, beliefs, standards, judgment and truth are your passion than 2018 was in crisis mode. There were very disturbing upticks in hate crimes, outright bigotry, shameless lying, a fundamental decline in basic decency, and just plain disinterest in searching for what is real and what is clearly false. The American Dream is under attack; the American Rule of Law is under attack, the American Governing Traditions are under attack, and the American Political Culture is under attack. The old days of cooperation,compromise and consensus have been replaced with gut-wrenching anger.

All in all 2018 gets mixed reviews with a definite lean towards the negative side. If grades are given, probably a C+ or if you were one of the lucky ones to benefit from the upper end tax cut or generous bonuses or job security than perhaps a B-. A mediocre year at best.

Now to 2019. There is not a prognosticator out there who knows where we are headed in the coming year, but there are sufficient signs in the wind to suggest that 2019 will be considerably worse than 2018.

In politics and government the I word will fill the airwaves and office conversations, that is I as in impeachment, indictment, investigations.  Again, not much in the public policy area will get done as Washington and America is consumed by what transpires in the White House. Political divisions will only increase, Twitter storms will increase, charges and counter charges will increase and institutional gridlock will rule the day. The unexpected, the uncertain, the unconstitutional will dominate. A real mess.

In the economy, 2019 could be the year of economic downturn, perhaps a recession.  Growth will stagnate, 401Ks will take a hit, joblessness will creep upwards and income inequality will continue to take the country further and further apart. No one knows where the tariff wars will be headed but one thing is certain, our national debt will climb upwards to the point where we will be putting more of our budget dollars into interest payments rather than toward substantive programs.

As to our national condition, 2019 will only bring uncertainty and disappointment and of course anger, always anger. The confluence of terrible politics and weakening economics can only create a nation of lost Americans who will question where their once great country is headed and whether their personal security and economic future are in grave danger. In short, Not Good.

At this early point the grade for 2019 is a C-, perhaps a D+. As someone who graded thousands, upon thousands of papers, I have been wrong and at the request of the aggrieved student took another look and maybe even made a change. This could also happen as 2019 plays out but right now this country is heading into uncharted territory with only trouble on the horizon.

 

 

 


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.

 


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.