A response to a Face Book posted by John Goodwin….

This post is in response to a Facebook post re-posted on GolocalProv, by John Goodwin, Cranston Rhode Island native and D.C. consultant insider.

Mr. Goodwin, I read your post with acute interest. So let me thank you for your condescension and arrogance by you in pointing out that you refrained from posting on the election because you do this for a living, and because you were showing deference to the feelings of family and friends. I’m sure I’m out of my league in posting response but I’ll do my best to keep up.

To begin, you presented your bona fides for what would follow as having grown up in the Edgewood section of Cranston, that you didn’t grow up “with money,” but ended up going to college and grad school. You worked hard and achieved some success. Of course you point this out after you derided the liberal “elites” by chiding that not “everyone” could attend and matriculate from “elite” colleges.

Now let’s be honest about this. First, I did some community organizing in the Edgewood section of Cranston some decades ago and these are hardly the mean streets of S.E. Washington. To the contrary, Edgewood is a nice community, but I digress. From there you evidently went to Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia where you graduated in 2000 with a degree in political science. From there you evidently journeyed all the way to Capitol Hill where worked for a variety of Congressmen and congressional committees. Your CV published by GolocalProv indicates that you worked for CT. Congressman Rob Simmons and R.I.’s John Chafee. Overlooked was your service for Peter Roskam of Illinois, a man Breitbart once touted as a future Speaker of the House. Within that arc, you also lobbied for the National Rifle Association (Opensecrets.org still lists you as an NRA lobbyist for 2016), before joining the staff of Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho as Chief of Staff.

And currently you serve as a Vice-President of The Herald Group, an M Street consulting firm that proudly states that the Group knows communications, knows policy and knows politics. Congratulations on your success. I’m sure you earned it. But as an aside, you mention in your post that you went to grad school, but your brief biography on Herald’s website lists only that you graduated from Marymount with a B.A. in 2000. You probably should refresh that.

I took some time which your resume to get to one simple question: where do you get the colossal gall to lecture anyone about the hardworking men and women of the Midwest?  From what I’ve seen as listed above, you’ve barely left Washington during the past 16 years, yet by the tone of your words, you are intimately acquainted with the daily struggles of people scared for their and their kids’ futures.

Let me toss out my bona fides. Like you (after migrating all the way from Warwick) I have made Cranston my home for the past 45 years. Like you I went to college and (I guess like you) grad school. I have spent my adult life working for causes I believe in, and serving those same people that you think guys like me deride. I know you don’t know me so I’ll let any possible insult slide, but you painted your liberal “elite” targets with an extremely broad brush.

Oh, and the delicious irony of a Conservative beltway elitist calling out his liberal counterparts.

Let’s get to the nub of the matter. You wouldn’t have posted anything had Trump lost because you wouldn’t have been able to chortle about how ignored the working folks of this country have been. To set the current record straight, as of this writing Clinton leads in the popular vote by around 400,000 votes. It’s only due to our quirky electoral system that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office next January. So as a factual matter these voting results do not support the stridency of your argument or the conclusions drawn therefrom. I’m sure you’re aware that over 88,000 Michigan voters under-voted from President. If that’s not a pox on both houses I don’t know what is.

You mention that Clinton killed her Presidential chances with her remarks about coal mining. Putting aside that those remarks were blown all out of proportion, I have friends in western Pennsylvania who, like their fathers before them, worked in the coal mines. But as the mines shut down, they found other jobs, many in the growing financial services industry where they earn a decent living in much safer conditions.

Technological progress historically has been a job killer. So is cheap labor. Our steel jobs, auto industry and other manufacturing jobs, and now our IT and financial services back-office jobs didn’t move off-shore because of NAFTA, CAFTA or the promise of TPP. They left because companies could exploit cheaper labor, thus earning more profit. Technology allowed them to do that. Add to that sad occurrence the fact that for the manufacturing jobs that remained, technology became a domestic job killer, permitting more production (and yes, profit) using fewer human assets.

So I put the question to you: which is the greater political disservice; telling folks that the mines will reopen and their jobs are coming back, or telling people that those jobs are gone and we’ll need to retrain and retool for the future?

Finally, the name calling. You assert that we liberals call those hardworking folks that you champion, “rubes and rednecks and morons. Call them uneducated and backwards.”  I don’t know at which Georgetown party, Wisconsin Avenue bistro, or downtown D.C. soiree you think we use this language, but as a rule (and I’ll need to give up my secret liberal decoder ring) we don’t. I am not suggesting that nobody uses that language, but to again use of the broad brush that you used throughout your post is demeaning and insulting. And in this instance, I am insulted.

To your credit, you used all of two sentences calling out the, “racists, sexists and bigots who reared their ugly heads this year. They are disgusting.” I agree. But where is your outrage to the physical harm caused by these folks? Since the inception of Trump’s campaign, violence has been on the rise, both at his rallies (with no small amount of encouragement from Trump himself) and out in the street. Over the last few days, we have seen buildings defaced by swastikas, pamphlets at Texas State University announcing vigilante squads ready to punish University staff promoting this “diversity garbage,” along with racist graffiti in schools. People have been assaulted because of the color of their skin. Where is your outrage to these acts, or is your outrage reserved to a few folks’ poor choice of words?

I acknowledge that there are those on our side who behave deplorably. I condemn those acts of violence directed toward Trump supporters. I urge you to do likewise condemn Trump inspired acts against those persons of color, those of different religions, and those who merely have different opinions. And while you’re at it, please condemn the Klan’s endorsement of Trump. That alone was despicable.

Finally, I have traveled throughout this country and lived for a while in the South. I have seen first-hand the struggles that folks, less fortunate than either of us, have to overcome on a daily basis. I have seen the poor regard each day as a struggle for survival. I have seen kids who worked hard for good grades only to be told that their parents couldn’t afford to send them to the top university that accepted them.

For the past decade I have provided pro bono legal services to individuals, families, and small businesses who could not afford legal services. I did this because there were people in need, there was a job to be done, and I was able to do it.

Therefore, to use these good hardworking folks who you purport to defend as a bludgeon to score cheap political points against those of your ilk on the other “side of the aisle” is an insult to them and you owe them a profound apology.

Post Mortem…Initial Random Thoughts

Two days have passed since the shocking results of the Presidential election. Like many, I was stunned and saddened, and took a day to begin to collect my thoughts. To be honest, it continues to be a work in progress.

Before I begin, let me congratulate Donald J. Trump and wish him the best success, for his success is our success. While he is not the President that I wanted or would have chosen, he still is the President and as such, I respect his office.

Having said that, I cannot imagine a universe where I would agree with the programs and policies he has stated that he would implement. Nor can I imagine a galaxy where I would find his hate and bile acceptable. His actions, not over the campaign but over years, have shown him to be the misogynist, racist and xenophobe that he is. By any personal standard, he is uniquely unqualified to hold the office he is about to assume.

History is replete with those who grew into greater decency and compassion than they had ever shown in their earlier lives. Franklin Roosevelt is a good example. Once a rich playboy, through the circumstance of disease he was able to come to relate to the plight of the “forgotten man” (spoiler alert – Trump did not coin that term) during the Great Depression and worked to reach out and lift those harmed by capitalism run amok and restore their lives. We’ll see if Donald Trump has a similar epiphany that will recalibrate his focus and come understand the true values, history and people of this country. To be frank, I’m not hopeful.

I am willing to give the new President a chance, but I’m not willing to do at the expense of a lifetime of principles and values. Trump won an election, that’s it. He has not invalidated those things which I hold dear – equality, opportunity, justice, decency and fairness to name just a few. I expect Trump and his allies to aggressively advance their agenda; they had better be prepared that I, along with those like me, intend to defend and advance my agenda.

But if there’s one thing that this election showed us it’s that every day, every week, every year we who profess to support our stated ideals must act to preserve, protect, and defend them against all assaults. To do that, we need to be at least as organized as our political opponents. We need to build a foundation of a movement that endures, not just for the next election but for decades. Politics is a tough contact sport, and it takes the most committed people to win that game.

Politics is an incremental game. If this were football, I’d remind us of former coach Woody Hayes’ admonition of, “three yards and a cloud of dust.” It is a long term game, one that never ends. We will win some and lose some, but in the last analysis victory with go to those most committed. It takes serious commitment not to leave the field of political battle, no matter how many losses have been absorbed.

Over the course of my life, and if what I read is correct well prior to my birth, the American left has been more of a debating society, with its focus on being “correct,” that it has been in being a formidable political force.  From what I’ve recently read on social media over the past couple of days, there are more “progressives” who supported Bernie Sanders crowing about how right they were in not supporting Clinton. They have now ended up with Trump. No movement can long endure if it is populated largely by self-indulgent, self-centered, entitled folks. I’d rather go alone than link up with them.

And any movement must be inclusive and reach out to those who disagree with us. If we are to succeed and win the day we will need to treat our opponents as who they are – our family, friends, and fellow citizens. To demonize them because they fell under the Trump thrall not only is unfair but diminishes us.

Any movement must insist that the media do its job of informing the public rather than entertaining the masses. The coverage of this election, on a good day, was a travesty to journalism. Just over two decades ago, William Greider wrote Who Will Tell The People?: The Betrayal of American Democracy. In that book he wrote about the deterioration of political reporting, frankly stating that many, if not most, political reporters know very little about electoral or governing politics. Combined with the daily deluge of information that bombards us each day, this lack of political knowledge served only to erode the citizens’ ability to make wise decisions. This year is Exhibit A of that point.

But any movement dedicated to advancing time honored American values and virtues need not sit idly by, captive of an entertainment “if it bleeds it leads” media establishment. We have access to more data and raw information than any people in the history of man. We can work with those in the media to do a better job but if they won’t, then through the judicious examination of data and facts, of attending events and speaking with (never at) people, we can get an honest message disseminated that will inform and enlighten those we seek to support and serve.

In the end, each of us has a choice. We can either accept this outcome and complain for four years; not accept this outcome and disrupt for four years; or go to work, joining with like-minded, well motivated individuals who seek to advance those values that are threatened by the outcome of this election. It’s up to us and for myself, I think I’m coming to understand what I need to do.

 

This Unhappy Land ,,, Part V

When I first started what has unexpectedly become a series, I thought it’d be one and done. It turns out that there was much more to say, and there still is. But tomorrow’s election day where citizens ban together to express the community’s collective will. Or at least that’s the theory.

I believe that in this election, in this nation, at this time, we have no collective will. I believe that we will be as divided the day after the election as we are today. In short, tomorrow will resolve nothing.

My goal in writing this series was to at least recalibrate how we viewed our roles as citizens and some attributes that we should look for when determining for whom to vote. I have tried to make the case that we can ill afford searching for heroes, in large measure because we will always be disappointed. This seemingly obsessive search for heroes has blinded us to attributes of true leadership.

Leadership is always organic, arising from us. Leaders are one with the community, they extol and advance its values, they honor the community’s history while advancing its aspirations.

Leaders are inclusive, never exclusive. Leaders, true leaders, never pit one group against another merely to gain power. Not only is that approach antithetical to the basic tenants of democracy, but the demonization of one group or another as the cause for whatever problems faced by the community is the first step down a slippery slope to fascism.

Leaders say what needs to be said, and do what needs to be done. Leaders are servants to those they lead. In a democracy, our leaders must take into account the will of all those they serve. Sometimes, what leaders do and how they do it may not always appear, at first blush, to serve the best interests of the community. Compromise has become a dirty word, an epithet to diminish the decisions of a rival.  In a democracy, politics is not dainty or for the faint of heart. As Finley Peter Dunne’s favorite fictional bartender once said, “Politics ain’t beanbag.”

Tomorrow, November 8, each of us has the duty to exercise our basic duty as citizens – vote. But instead of voting and then celebrating your winner, voting is just the first duty of citizenship. It is incumbent on each of us to remain engaged on November 9 and each day thereafter. As I said above, leadership is organic; it springs from the community, it extols and protects our values, and it attempts to further our aspirations for ourselves and our families.

We cannot possibly have an effective democracy if the day after the election we ignore who we elected, wait until motivated to engage in pursuit of narrow self-interests, and then recede in frustration and rage when our lone foray into the process is unsuccessful. In a democracy, citizenship at least at a minimal level is required, even if that minimal level is being informed of daily events.

In the last analysis, leaders are not heroes, they are one of us. We elevate those to higher positions of leadership, but there’s at minimum an implied contract in this process: the leader agrees to safeguard the values and aspirations of the community while protecting its residents, and the led agree to follow so long as the leader keeps her end of the bargain. If the anointed leader fails, then in a democracy we are empowered to replace that person and continue anew. And what separates our nation from most others is our long history of a peaceful and orderly transition of power. That is an essential value of our democracy.

If leaders are one of us, then by implication, to some degree we are all leaders so long as we engage in the affairs of our communities. Each of us has the power and ability to prevail on those we’ve elevated to act on behalf on our issues and concerns; mindful that we compete against others for scarce resources to advance other issues and concerns.

The process of choosing one issue over another, or compromising elements of two issues to in some way satisfy both, is not sinister or corrupt.  It is a nod to the two realities that resources are not finite and that in a pluralistic democracy, each legitimate claimant receiving at least some share of those resources is in the community’s interest.

Sitting back and allowing those we elect to serve without our continued engagement in the daily process of governing is a fool’s errand. As many elected officials will admit, they often don’t know what problems exist in the community or what the community wants addressed. They often become aware when community members make them aware by letters, meetings, emails, and even Twitter.

Some of us, while not elected and have no interest in being elected to any office, still have to stand for values and issues in our community. We need to point out the errors of those officeholders we’ve elected, and motivate them to act on behalf of all of us, especially those who are underserved in our communities. The theologian and political commentator Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in 1929:

“It may be well for the statesman to know that statesmanship easily degenerates into opportunism and that opportunism cannot be sharply distinguished from dishonesty. But the prophet ought to realize that this higher perspective and uncompromising nature of his judgments always have a note of irresponsibility in it. Francis of Assisi may have been a better Christian than Pope Innocent III. But it may be questioned whether his moral superiority over the latter was as absolute as it seemed. Nor is there any reason to believe that Abraham Lincoln, the statesman and opportunist, was morally inferior to William Lloyd Garrison, the prophet. The moral achievement of the statesman must be judged in terms which take account of the limitations of human society which the statesman must, and the prophet need not consider.”

My take away from this quote is that we are all flawed; we advance our own agendas; that those agendas need not be exclusive of all others’; and that in order for the statesman to avoid a degeneration into dishonesty, she must be moved by those in the communities they serve. Both statesman and prophet must recognize that resources are limited, if not scarce. We must accept that, however painful, compromise is essential to the working of our communities; zero sum games, on the other hand, are nearly always death to our communities.

November 8 is not the end of an election but, rather, is a new chapter in the life of our communities and nation. We have a choice: we can either go on, behaving as we have over the past three or more decades, or we can choose another approach, one that celebrates our values, virtues, and engages with our neighbors not as enemies to be conquered but as friends with the same goals, the same concerns, the same aspirations all in the recognition that in so many ways we live in a pluralistic society. Our values, virtues, aspirations, and engagement with those with whom we disagree, the celebration of our pluralism, and our willingness to compromise are not weaknesses but instead are strengths, the strengths on which our country was built and continues to be built.

When all is said and done, we can change and embrace who we are, or we can continue this tribal political take-no-prisoners warfare that has brought this country down low. I have made my choice. My hope is that after this election, when it’s clear which direction our politics goes, we are not reminded of the what the Walt Kelly cartoon character, Pogo, said in 1971, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This Unhappy Land … Part IV

Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.

The mythology of heroes is one, if not the main, of the driving impulses in American politics. The political hero is strong, confident, courageous, resolute, compassionate, brilliant, resourceful,  moral, honest, immune from corruption, patriotic, and always victorious. Heroes never waiver and always mirror our best values.

In order for the hero mythology to take root, there must be a demon villain greater in strength than the hero. People are threatened and powerless to protect themselves. Lives are at risk, futures in the balance, the perils visiting the people threaten a galactic destruction to us and our way of life. And then, from among us comes the hero, selflessly combating the demon to save us all – and winning!

The virtue of having the hero do our dirty work is that we can just go about our lives, unsullied and unsoiled. And because the hero is so noble, when the job is done she just goes away and resumes her quiet life until she is summoned once more.

It’s as though our hero is Cincinnatus, as idealized by Marvel Comics, doing battle against a demon villain in a Hobbesian dystopia. Nice story but here’s a spoiler alert – there are no heroes, at least not in the political sense.

But, arguendo,  let’s say that there are heroes. Heroes tend to be solitary figures, rising from the community but not necessarily of the community. We take on faith that these heroes share our beliefs, our values, and our aspirations. We assume that when the hero arises, he arises out of a sense of noble duty. But what if we’re wrong? What if, by just a little bit, the hero ascendant doesn’t share all our values, or sees what he considers the “rot” of our lives, making us vulnerable to threats by future villains? What if our hero is less selfless than we assume? What then? How do we, the politically complacent, remove the “best” among us?

Our history is replete with hero worship. For example, our “founders” are often popularly viewed as a selfless group of men who took it upon themselves to give us our Constitution and government, along with our freedoms, all of which we enjoy to this day. Because our system of government has endured for over 240 years, it must be because the “founders” were divinely inspired.

From the mythology of George Washington as promoted by Parson Weems (no Washington did not confess to chopping down the cherry tree) to our figurative historical airbrushing of the lives of these founders, we have come to embrace an antiseptic view of these men. This is sad because the lives of these men are infinitely more interesting, and more instructive, than any mythology could recount.

Let’s take George Washington. First, he was no a great military leader. When he was young, during the French-Indian War, he ordered an encampment to be built at the bottom of a hill; unfortunately the French were based on top of the hill, forcing a humiliating surrender. Before and during his marriage to Martha, George was infatuated with a married woman. And speaking of Martha, when George courted her, Martha was a widow sitting on acres of fertile land – just the sort of “dowry” that an ambitious landowner would covet.

The reader might well say, “so what?” Washington led the Continental Army, was President of the Constitutional Convention, and was the only unanimously elected (by the Electoral College) President in our history. He formed our first government and established a governmental structure that endures to this day.

Thomas Jefferson was the one of the brightest minds of his – or perhaps, any – age. Although a poor speaker, his writings are some of the most impactful in human history. However, when he wrote “… all men are created equal…” he meant just that – all white men. He was a slave owner who had children by one of his slaves, Sally Hemming, children who were not freed even upon his death.

All Jefferson did was organize the first and oldest political party in America, become our third President, battle pirates who preyed on American shipping, and doubled the size of the United States.

Or take Alexander Hamilton, he of Broadway fame.  Hamilton was born out of wedlock, an immigrant from the West Indies who settled in New York. He served honorably during the Revolution as a member of Washington’s staff. He graduated King’s College (now Columbia University) and practiced law prior to starting the Bank of New York. He served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and supported a strong central government. When Washington was elected, Hamilton became the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, and created our first central bank. And this is the short list.

Unfortunately, Hamilton became involved with a married woman, which resulted in his being the target of a blackmail scheme hatched by the  woman’s husband, if not the woman herself. He formed the Federal Party and was active in New York politics. In the 1804 governor’s election, Hamilton’s candidate defeated Aaron Burr, who alleged that Hamilton had stated a “despicable opinion” of Burr (then Jefferson’s Vice-President) which caused Burr to seek and apology. Hamilton refused, attempts to reconcile the situation failed, and as we know the Hamilton-Burr duel did not go well for Hamilton.

My purpose here is not to denigrate any of our founders but to merely point out that they were human. They were men of their time, humans not heroes. Each had failings and flaws, which each overcame (save for Hamilton in 1804) and achieved great and enduring things. We are who we are because of who they were.

Our heroic founders were not heroes at all. Each was a man with prejudices, biases, agendas, and diverse and similar experiences. They did not go to Philadelphia during a hot 1787 summer solely because of some altruistic motive; they went to Philadelphia because they needed a government that worked – in many cases for them. During their deliberations they engaged in sometimes heated debate that ultimately led to awkward compromises, especially on the issue of slavery.

These were not yeoman farmers, arising from their communities to serve on our behalf and then return to their homes. These were practiced politicians and financiers, and slave-owning plantation owners who sought to protect their “peculiar” institutions. Most would serve in office after their stints at the convention, or resume their economic activities under a stronger and more stable government, making those economic activities more secure.

These were not heroes, they were men – human men. And if you’re really honest, these men with their political and personal baggage could never get elected to any office of honor in any community, state, or national government today.   These were men just like us; they made mistakes of judgment and action, they sometimes spoke intemperately, and used the political system to advance personal and political agendas. They succeeded and sometimes failed. In other words, they were just like the rest of us.

So this begs the question of why we don’t celebrate that in our history classes, in our public discourse, and in our collective memory and understanding of how this country was formed and operates? The founders, like the country they founded, struggled to rise above themselves, to create something new in the world at that time, inclusive of all Americans, a work that continues with the values, ideology, and structure that is in place to ensure that one day all will be in and nobody left out.

The men discussed above, along with the countless others who succeeded them, were not heroes, they were humans; humans who overcame their short-comings to become real leaders.

So with apologies to Galileo (and Brecht), the land is not unhappy because we have no heroes, rather it’s because we don’t reward leadership when it presents itself.