The Women of Little Women

January 27, 2020

There I sat in the movie theater with my wife Carol and daughter Laura. Of the one hundred or so viewers of the Best Movie of the year nominee, Little Women, there was only one other guy sitting with his female companion, and he looked a little bored as everyone exited the movie. No doubt Little Women is a “gal” movie in terms of who is plunking down twelve bucks (senior citizen rate) for two and a half hours of entertainment.

But while the four March daughters, their mother and grandmother are the key players in the Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel, the life lessons of Little Women are more about family dynamics, respect for differences, the joys of companionship and most of all kindness. Certainly there are key scenes where jealousy, selfishness, and bad judgment are in full display, but the March family always overcomes these impulses and return together to love and happiness.

Any parent of children, girls or boys or a mixture of gender, hope in their hearts that love and happiness will win out as their daughters and sons grow up. This hope is often not realized as in too many families brothers and sisters move apart or fight over frivolous matters; sometimes it is over money or property, sometimes it is over who is loved more, and sometimes it is some random event that inexplicably tears at the family fabric.

But the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth- find a way to overcome jealousy, selfishness and bad judgment to embrace each other, put aside their differences, and let love shine through. What impressed me about the March women was that they followed different paths and were strong-willed and confident in their abilities. Yet despite their individual uniqueness, the film adaptation of Little Women shows the sisters filled with mutual laughter and family joke making. By the end of the movie the March women are working together to run a school that allows them to utilize their individual talents toward a common good.

As a parent of three daughters my wife and I always agree that each of our women are unique in their talents and dispositions. Sometimes these differences are a challenge but we always see, usually in small but revealing ways, that our Little Women love each other, respect each other and seek to make each other happy. As a parent you cannot ask for any more than to have children who stay together through difficult times and are there to help each other with love and kindness.


Mean, Cheating, Selfish Liars

January 16, 2020

I recently talked with a loyal reader of this blog who asked me, “Are we going to be all right?” The question was unexpected and caught me off guard. I responded that yes we would be all right, but later in the day I began to think about the question of whether we will indeed be all right.

It is difficult to ignore all the disturbing signs of social, political and personal decay in this country as we witness on a daily basis a mean streak against the poor and helpless, regular evidence of cheating whether in tax returns or baseball organizations, disturbing signs of declines in charitable giving and volunteering, and of course the enormity of public and private lies and liars that has become the new normal. Books have been written about the death of democracy, a coming civil war, and a dangerous unwillingness to find common ground and return to a culture of compromise. The picture that is portrayed is that we as a nation are in real trouble.

Some of course will blame Donald Trump for fostering this sad decline into decay, but that is much too easy.  He may be a mean, cheating, selfish liar but so are millions of Americans.  Others will point to the forgotten in rural areas who were left behind by the political and economic elites – a plausible source of our discontent yet only part of the story. Then there are those who stress that the decline of religion, family and community have left Americans without solid moral foundations – a more traditional argument for our current malady. Finally, capitalism in its current form accenting greed and winning at all costs can’t be overlooked, especially when our economic system works only for some and leaves far too many behind.

Put all these sources of a national crisis of cohesiveness and consensus together and it may be necessary to conclude that maybe we aren’t all right and we are taking that road less taken toward the end of America as we know it. But if there is hope, and there is only hope is that the enduring virtues of America are resilience and an ability to reinvent our culture and psyche. Each one of these signs of decay can be remedied, reformed or revitalized. For every mean person there are thousands of compassionate Americans willing to make a difference; for every cheater there are thousands of Americans who abhor such behavior; for every example of selfishness there are thousands of American who easily give of themselves; and for every liar there are thousands of Americans who live by an honor code of honesty.

Turning this around so that the meanness, the cheating, the selfishness, and lying retreat from our way of life will not be easy, but the goodness of Americans has not perished. As Abraham Lincoln said in his first inaugural address in 1861:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

May the better angels of our nature look kindly over our nation during this difficult time. Yes, we will be all right.

 

 


What Will NOT Happen in 2020

January 1, 2020

Most of the commentary about 2020 and beyond is usually in the form of a bold prediction about what will happen. Since I am lousy at predicting the future with certainty, I would like to forward some bold predictions about what will NOT happen in 2020. Taking this approach, in my view, is a bit more realistic given what we have experienced as a nation, a world and a planet in the last few years – scant evidence of problem solving. So here goes- my negative prediction of what will NOT happen in 2020:

World leaders and the general population will do little to combat global warming and climate change other than to complain about devastating forest fires, crazy storms, and loss of life and billions in property damage. For some reason that escapes me the general public just can’t accept that drastic measures including economic and financial sacrifice are necessary to save the planet. NOT happening.

The Democrats will NOT be able to agree on a candidate to challenge Donald Trump and go to the convention in Milwaukee  deadlocked with a no holds barred atmosphere as delegate votes are traded. This deadlock will NOT be a recipe for victory in November.

The national economy will NOT pick up speed and continue its fast-paced performance. No recession is NOT on the agenda, but low growth, higher unemployment and a drop in consumer confidence is likely. A continuation of the Trump boomlet is NOT in the cards.

So too the stock market. The days of the bull will give way to the bear, but NOT in a way that signals a collapse, just a noticeable contraction which leaves all those 401Kers a little bit nervous, in fact a lot nervous.

In national politics the Senate trial will acquit the President but in the process the Republicans will NOT cover themselves in glory, as they buy into their strategy of saving the guy in the White House. This will not be a win win strategy which in fact will lead to a drop in support for the GOP and even a loss of Senate control.

As expected nothing will be done to curb gun violence as Americans continue to NOT show any interest in creating a national movement to bring reform, and in a sad turn of events, more Americans may buy into the thinking that the answer to stopping gun violence is more gun ownership.

Congress, thanks to the Supreme Court will finally get to look at Trump’s taxes, but the evidence gained will show what we all expected – he paid little in taxes using every loophole possible and was heavy in debt to the Russians. If by chance there is alleged evidence of some sort of fraud, it will take years to adjudicate. The taxes are NOT a game changer.

Health care and health care costs will continue to be in crisis mode but again nothing will happen to put the country on the track to solving this serious medical, financial and personal dilemma. Health care reform is NOT going to happen because the forces against change are just too powerful. Medicare for All is NOT the answer; re-engineering Obamacare is a realistic option.

I am going out on a limb but it is possible that no candidate for the presidency will get the necessary 270 electoral votes to win the White House and throw the entire process into the House. If I am right, this is NOT the kind of scenario that will unite the country and save democracy. This is the kind of prediction that I hope will NOT happen.

Finally, Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward Men ( and of course women) is NOT in the cards. Worldwide there are dangerous forces at work that could easily spark conflict and at home Americans are not only divided but the “goodwill” forces are weakening everyday.  This is simply NOT good.

Well there you have it my list of what will NOT happen this year. The only thing I can say is God help the United States of America.

 

 


The Founding Fathers v. Self Interest

December 17, 2019

As this nation nears its third impeachment of a sitting president it is clear that the American people are clearly divided. This division has been analyzed over and over again as Republicans v. Democrats, conservatives v. liberals,  coastal elites v. the heartland forgotten, Trumpists v. Constitutionalists and the President v. Congress. What we are experiencing as the House of Representatives nears its vote is a mix of all of the above reasons for our political polarization. There is, however, one more source of the division that needs to be analyzed further,  a source which may provide an insight into why we as a nation do not see eye to eye on the two impeachment articles presented by the Democrats in the House.

The supporters of impeaching President Trump continually stress that abuse of power was the primary concern of the Founding Fathers when they included  the language on the removal of a sitting chief executive from office. Historians, constitutionals scholars and media pundits looked back to the Constitutional Convention and found that the Framers were fearful of excessive power in the hands of a president, and more importantly excessive power that would be used to weaken opposition forces and maintain control of government.

The Founding Fathers feared a return to monarchy with limitless, unchecked power. Just today over 750 historians and other academics voiced support for impeachment citing constitutional principles, the intent of the Framers and the threat to democracy posed by the Trump presidency. As for those everyday Americans who support impeachment, they often stress the importance of the rule of law, separation of powers and the absolute necessity of protecting the constitution as the guiding document that is the foundation of our government and indeed our way of life. They also detest President Trump with a passion and base their passion on constitutional grounds rather than simple hatred.

But those who are fighting the impeachment of President Trump are less enamored with all this talk of abuse of power, constitutionalism and threat to democracy. They often point out that impeachment is a political act and the Democrats are merely seeking to weaken President Trump as the country moves toward the 2020 election. Republicans in the House and Senate do not see President Trump as engaging in abuse of power during the Ukraine foreign aid process and instead support his actions, while vilifying his detractors. While some will say the Republicans have little if any appreciation of what the  Founding Fathers were concerned about in terms of abuse of power, to the anti-impeachment side this constitutional exercise is all about weakening President Trump and has little to do with “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But then there are those Americans in opposition to impeachment. The nearly 50% of the those opposed to removing President Trump are likely fearful of the political and economic chaos that removal of a president will create. These are prosperous times, with little unemployment, a hot stock market, rising wages and solid consumer confidence. Most Americans, including those in favor of impeachment, don’t know a great deal about the constitution or the thinking of the Framers of the constitution. But Americans do know economic prosperity and the benefits of sustained growth. Constitutional principles are fine in theory, but economic self -interest overshadows this governing document. Americans by their capitalist nature are “pocketbook patriots” and when faced with a challenge to their economic self-interest by a constitutional argument will likely follow their pocketbook.

No one can predict how the impeachment will play out; who knows there might be a new revelation that helps solidify either side. But the American people, if there is any certainty at this point, is that they are tired of impeachment, enjoying a financial mini-boom, and do not want to see this country and this economy fall into instability and unpredictability. The Founding Fathers may be turning over in their graves at how little appreciation there is today with their concerns over abuse of power but they shouldn’t be surprised since self-interest is also a fundamental principle of our country, our government and our way of life.


The Police and the NRA

December 10, 2019

Here’s a grateful shout out to Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo who at the funeral of one of his sergeants shot and killed in the line of duty asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Texas US Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, “Whose side are you on?” Acevedo was asking the Senators why they continually take the side of the National Rifle Association and do nothing to stem the tide of mindless gun violence. Acevedo continued his condemnation of the Senators and the NRA when he said, ” …I don’t want to see their smug faces about how much they care for law enforcement when I’m burying a sergeant because they don’t want to piss off the NRA.”

According to FBI data for 2019 38 police officers have been killed with firearms; in 2018 there were 47 officers shot to death in the line of duty. Hopefully with a few weeks left in 2019 the number of police officers killed this year will not increase beyond these 38 brave public servants. It is becoming painfully clear that the police are the targets of gun violence as their gold badge does not deter criminals from murder.

I must admit that the tough message of Chief Acevedo against the NRA and those in the Senate who rely on campaign contributions from the gun lobby has not been expressed earlier by this country’s police officials. Until Chief Acevedo’s tough comments I wondered what was holding back our police from demanding that the NRA end its phony claim that the Second Amendment has few limits on gun ownership and in effect gun use.

Our nation’s police should be following the lead of high school students devastated by senseless shootings and use their reputation as the long blue line of safety to take on the NRA and its unrelenting opposition to sensible gun reform. Just think what would happen if thousands of police officers marched up Constitution Avenue in Washington demanding a change in our gun laws. Rather than the usual line of ” thoughts and prayers” uttered by bought and paid for legislators, an army of Art Acevedos would at the very least put the Congress in the spotlight and require them to defend scores of police officers dying each year.

Who knows, maybe Chief Acevedo will start a police movement in favor of gun legislation that at minimum asks the obvious question,” why are so many Americans – man, women, children, and police – killed every year by guns?” Thanks Chief Acevedo for taking on the NRA and their Congressional yes men and women and speaking out for millions of Americans who want sane and responsible gun legislation.

 

 


Is Donald Trump Sent From God?

December 3, 2019

A recurring theme brought forth by the evangelical right is that Donald Trump is sent by God, which in many respects accounts for the unwavering support for the President from this segment of the voting population. How can members of the Christian right leave their president when he stands up for all the policy issues that have been ignored or ridiculed by liberals – anti-abortion, anti-transgender, anti- gay marriage, pro- religious liberty, pro-conservative Supreme Court and pro-ending separation of church and state. To this staunchly religious group of Americans God has ordained Trump to end the reign of the secular left and its hedonistic, self-centered, and anything goes value system.

Now as someone who believes in God, tries to follow the model of Jesus Christ and is a regular churchgoer, it is not my right to judge the beliefs of others, after all the First Amendment gives all of us freedom of religion. Yet I do have to ask the evangelicals a simple question – how do they know that God sent Donald Trump to save America from the progressive left? Isn’t it enough just to thank him for embracing their policy agenda and their personal values? Why make him a deity?

The answer comes from my instincts as a political scientist. With the impeachment hearings moving forward and a vote to pin a huge I on Donald Trump’s red tie, there apparently is a political need to further solidify his base and ensure that no one on the religious right leaves the fold or worse yet decides not to vote for the President next November. As a political scientist I don’t think it necessary to raise the President to the level of a deity, but there may be a concern in the White House and among his political allies like the newly departed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry that further revelations during the impeachment process could soften the evangelical base.  There is nothing better to strengthen political allegiance then to tag the head guy as God directing the nation from heaven.

Not surprisingly, those on the left snicker at the claim that Donald Trump was sent by God, but those snide smiles do little to change the mindset of the evangelicals. Such condescending attitudes only verify what the right has been saying all along – the godless left has ruined the values of this country and only Trump can return America to the way of life of the 1950’s. The Trump is God strategy will likely be ignored by most Americans as an amusing side light to this bizarre presidency, but it does show how it will be difficult to defeat the President , especially in small town America,  when he is supported by a godly army of true believers.


How to Watch the Impeachment Hearings

November 19, 2019

Week One of the impeachment hearings was certainly not the equivalent of watching the Super Bowl or even Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions.  The reviews from across America described the hearings as “boring”, ” hard to follow”, “partisan”, and no where near a “game changer.” Those Americans who bothered to inform themselves about “Ukrainegate” often turned to their favorite cable talk show for the analysis that solidified their position about whether the President was impeachable. There is  some poll data that suggests the public is slowly coming to the position that President Trump should be impeached but with so much opinion gathering that is often unreliable it is difficult to determine whether the work of the Democrats is really having an impact.

Unlike the Nixon Watergate hearings we live in a far different world of politics and media. Most Americans don’t sit down after dinner to watch the evening news or watch the inquiry from their favorite watering hole. Because we are so divided and angry as a nation, the questioning of witnesses creates a glaze effect as viewers just can’t bring themselves to see the drama unfolding as diplomats challenge the veracity of the President or Republicans try their best to debunk testimony. Back in the 70’s Americans watched with rapt attention to see which Republicans would turn on Nixon. Today what we see, at least for now, is Democrats talking about the end of democracy while the GOP provides a staunch defense of President Trump as just doing his job; it is all so predictable and indeed “boring.” Some wiseguy pundits have suggested that to get the peoples’ attention somber background music should be played or a running scorecard “hits” or “misses” in the questioning; anything to get the attention of a tired audience.

Perhaps this week will bring a bit more public interest to the hearings as the Democrats try to link the President to the only Latin phrase Americans will remember – quid pro quo. But even if the Democrats score a game changer, the Republicans will not lose their base of support or see some of their members bolt from the ranks. Remember Trump’s base agrees with him that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and nothing would or should happen to him. Because Trump has effectively developed what is often termed a “cult of personality” die hard fans in and out of Congress are not going to move over to the other side.

So what we are faced with is a litany of witnesses trying to convince Americans that their President did wrong, Democrats hoping that their efforts will galvanize support for impeachment, Republicans holding fast with their leader, and Americans knowing that impeachment is not going to remove the President, while they wait for the 2020 election. In a real sense many Americans believe they should judge the President rather than Congressional committees in large part because they don’t trust Democrats or Republicans

And so the impeachment soap opera continues, daily installments of bland bureaucrats trying their best to deliver the truth, while Democrats and Republicans try to juice up the proceedings with ominous claims and the President sending along threatening tweets to get the attention of the audience. The television ratings are weak because the American public have either made up their mind, don’t care or are waiting for their chance to make a decision of President Trump. The only drama that has occurred in the hearings is the face off between Fox and CNN over which cable network deserves the attention of the American people. So far Americans aren’t watching.