This Unhappy Land….Part II

Imagine a world like this: millions of people lose billions of dollars in the stock market; 25 percent of all workers, and 37 percent of all non-farm workers are unemployed; 50 percent of minority workers become unemployed, causing a decline of property ownership  from 30 percent to 5 percent; homelessness increases; families load up their remaining possessions in whatever vehicle they have and set out looking for work; banks, in an attempt to remain solvent, demand cash payments on loans, causing millions to default; nearly one-half of the banks are insolvent and therefore close, losing their depositors’ money; 40 percent of all farms in just one state are foreclosed; because of the expense of operating them, schools close, or they shorten the school day and school year; and the Gross National Product has been reduced to half its previous high of a few years earlier.

At this moment a new President addresses the people and in part says:

“… the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.” (My italics)

No doubt you guessed, if you didn’t already know, that the dystopian conditions described above actually existed on March 4, 1933 when Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the oath of office and became America’s 32nd President.

The above quote appears in the first paragraph of Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address. The remainder of this lengthy Address recognized and validated the reality that most people knew. He spoke about the causes of  what was to be known in history as the Great Depression, citing “Practices of the unscrupulous money changers…”; and “the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.”

After he said that the money changers had fled from their “high seats” in the temple of our civilization, he says, “We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we (italics mine) apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.”

After discussing his approach to deal with the Depression, an approach that will become the reality of the New Deal, he concluded his remarks with these two paragraphs:

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of the national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.” (All italics mine)

Or imagine this world: we’ve been at war for years at a cost pf thousands of lives, destroyed millions of dollars, to prosecute the war cost millions of dollars more. There has never been such great divisions in our country as existed at this point. The people are restless, fearful, and their future is uncertain. And the country’s leader is not held in high regard.

And then came one of the costliest battles in the country’s history, a battle the ended with thousands of its citizens killed and thousands more wounded. Shortly after the conclusion of this battle, the following words were said:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Italics mine)

As you know doubt know, the great and costly battle was fought at Gettysburg and these simple words were spoken by the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

I picked these two presidents, both considered two of the best presidents that our nation has had, to make a point. Disagree if you must about what they stood for or what they did, but you have to admit that the power of their words, spoken at different time, at different occasions, and under different conditions, are remarkably similar in tone.

These are leaders in the truest sense of that title. I have italicized several words in each speech to draw your attention to the first essential attribute of a leader – inclusion. Neither Roosevelt or Lincoln separated themselves from those they sought to lead. Rather, by there remarks, the leader is one of the lead. Their leadership is inclusive, “we face arduous days…” and “it is for us…”  The leader is never in front of those they lead but walk beside them. The leader never sidesteps a burden but helps carry the burden. In both examples of leadership, it is never about the “I” but instead about the “we”.

Both leaders elevate and exalt the values of the nation that they lead. Both speak of eternal national values, “We do not distrust the future of essential democracy…” and ” government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” They do not challenge the virtues of democracy, which were under assault from without and within, but embraced them, stood for them, and defended them. They did so, not because they wanted to, but because they were placed in the positions of leadership, as a reflection of the will of those who elevated them to leadership, as custodians of those values, keeping them in tact for transference to those who come after them.

Both knew that the high office was not theirs, but was the people’s office bestowed upon these presidents to use in service to the nation as a whole. Roosevelt refers to his election as a “gift;” and Lincoln reminded us that “The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the people.” The people are of the leader, and the leader is of the those he leads. There is no separation or distance between the two.

Finally, when Harry Truman left office in 1953, he was happy to go home and resume life as an “ordinary citizen.”  In fact, his post-presidential autobiography was titled “Mr. Citizen.” Another example that the leader is part of those he leads.

So what are we to make of these examples in contemplation of the difference between leader and hero? Perhaps Part III will pull it all together.


This unhappy land….Part I

Bertolt Brecht’s play, The Life of Galileo,  contains the following exchange between Galileo and his former student, Andrea Sarti:

“Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.”

This play centers on the conflict of Galileo the scientist, and the Church that felt threatened by Galileo’s scientific advances, particularly in the areas of astronomy and the new discipline of physics. Galileo is branded a heretic and placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life.

Sarti’s lamentation regarding heroes was written by Brecht, and subsequently revised, during a time of great social and political upheaval.  An observation relevant during the 1930s and 1940s remains relevant today.

In this exchange, I side with Galileo – unhappy is the land that needs a hero. I do not say this in any electoral context but in a lower case “p” political context, and in pretty much every social and cultural indicia imaginable.

It would be easy if we could just all get along but that’s not what this country is about. In a democracy, it is almost required that we don’t all agree on issues or get along politically, socially, or culturally. In a pluralistic society like ours, conflict is inevitable. When I say something, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me; I don’t even expect people to agree with this analysis.

But in a pluralistic society, I do expect people to engage in a respectful manner, explaining the basis for disagreement, and offering a thought-out contrary point of view. What I do not expect is that opponents disregard my views and dismiss them out of hand because of ideology or prejudice or an artificial characterization or label.  This last part is important because too often we discount what someone says because of their profession, religion, race/ethnicity, political party or ideology. By the time we get to the merits, or lack thereof, of the issue, respectful discourse is impossible.

In my view, these divisions, which are the most pronounced than at anytime during my lifetime, are largely based on fear. Too many of us fear our neighbors, fear those different from us, a changing social, economic and political reality, and fear for the loss of that which we spent a lifetime building.

In short, we fear loss: the loss of a life we thought we were promised or thought we had earned, the loss of security from internal and external threats, the loss of the sense that we are valued equally to that of our fellow citizens. Most of us were told that if we worked hard, obeyed the “rules”, lived a decent and honorable life, and protected our families that we would be almost guaranteed successful lives. Many of us lived that kind of life only to have that life threatened or snatched away from us, whether by unseen forces that drained our savings and threatened our homes, or by those from other lands who view us as an existential threat to their existence.

Our fear is exacerbated by the speed of our lives. During my lifetime, the pace of life has exponentially increased, making it more difficult to keep up with the world and the events that effect us all. This increased pace of life has resulted in increasing levels of uncertainty, and this uncertainty has resulted in increasing our level of fear. As events impact our lives, uncertainty increases, giving rise to heightened fears, which result in increased venom and toxicity in our public debate.

Due to advances in our technology, we are inundated with information, the levels of which were previously unknown. Each of us is a purchaser of information, whether by paying a subscription price or through the time spent on accessing various sources of information. In 1973, Donald Schon wrote a great book, Beyond the Stable State, which addressed the increased flow of information inundating us all, and worried about how this increase in the amount and flow of information would impact democratic processes.

Schon was pessimistic that increased flow of information would result in a well-informed citizenry, one informed enough to make wise decisions in a democratic society. Rather, Schon thought that many people would either access information sources that confirm their preexisting viewpoints, or would refuse to spend much, if any, time and resources to acquire necessary and basic information.

Add to this scenario the fact that our daily lives have become increasingly complex. Many work two jobs, the traditional family structure has been transformed to some degree by having both spouses in the workplace, and anyone who has a position of increased responsibility knows that we live in a “24/7/365” world, a world that permits no respite from workplace responsibilities. The charm of a 40-hour, five day workweek has become all but extinct in our society.

The nature of our work has been altered with increasing our reliance on machines (robotics) and/or the rise of service professions. With our technical advances, like all technical advances before them, some people are going to win while others lose. Add to this toxic brew the fact that our world has become globalized – no longer are we competing for jobs with neighboring states; we now compete with other countries, some of which we can barely find on a map.

These fears are reasonable given the circumstances, and are intensified by a perceived failure of our institutions; political, social, religious, business, and educational institutions.

I will attempt to address this in Part II, but for now I would pose the idea that our troubles are not borne by living in a land with no heroes, but rather living in a land at a time with little real leadership.





A question of character.

One of the great movies about politics is, in my opinion, The American President. The movie concerns a political battle between Bob Rumson, who will say or do anything to be elected president, and incumbent President Andrew Sheppard who refuses to engage in the slime thrown at him by Rumson and his cohorts. Oh, and there’s a love interest, too.

After months of impugning Sheppard’s character, Sheppard enters the White House press room, looks at the camera and says that the presidency is entirely about character.  Would that life imitated art.

Since Friday, with the advent of the Wikileaks daily Podesta email dump and the released Access Hollywood tape, the central issue in this 2016 race for the presidency is entirely about character.

Let me first address the Wikileaks issue. I have not read each email in the daily dumps but I have scanned many of them and have read several that seemed relevant to any issue in this campaign. There seem to be two important emails in the several thousand released: the email about Clinton’s speeches to various financial services groups and one involving Catholics.

The speech email was an internal opposition memo from a Clinton staffer alerting Podesta and the campaign to issues that might come up during the campaign. This is neither sinister nor unusual. In a campaign of this magnitude it would be campaign malpractice not to perform a review such as this. And what did she say that was so inflammatory, the Rosetta stone to Clinton’s character? That sometimes, like Lincoln (yes, in her remarks quoted under this section in the email, she did reference the movie Lincoln) you have to behave differently in private than you do in public. However, you do so without abandoning your core principles. These are tactics, not character flaws and it’s tragic that someone who claims to be a great negotiator wouldn’t know that.

As for the Catholic remarks, these were made in an email in 2011, long before there was any Clinton campaign. And what did it say? That women were not treated by the Church as equals. No surprise there. Many Catholics would like the Church to liberalize on this and many other issues. Where’s the scandal?

Other emails were chatty, the stuff that is often a part of a campaign or any other endeavor. Sometimes people vent, sometimes they gossip, sometimes they throw out ideas to see if they gain any traction. Nobody should be surprised that this is the case here.

And let’s deal with the alleged review of debate questions provided to the Clinton campaign during the primary. Tad Devine recently said that these questions were shared with the Sanders campaign as well. Oops, no scandal here!

Frankly I’ll take these emails more seriously as soon as the Russians hack into Trump’s and Bannon’s emails and launder them through Wikileaks. Let’s see what high-minded thoughts were conveyed via email in the Trump campaign.

But we don’t really have to; we have Trump’s public words and acts to inform us. Last Friday, the tape containing Trump’s despicable comments was released. In that tape, he admitted to the sexual assault of women because, like all who commit such assaults, he could. After all, he was a celebrity.

Over the weekend, he first dismissed the comments as “just words” and “locker room talk,” and after a first lame and tame attempt at apologizing, he provided a taped video for broadcast containing his second lame and tame apology. Except real apologies contain some recognition of sincerity and contrition. His apology contained neither.

Then, on Sunday, one hour before his debate with Hillary Clinton, he paraded four women out to a press conference – three of whom accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and one who accused Hillary Clinton of laughing over getting a rapist “off.”

Let’s unpack this quickly. Paula Jones accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault and was paid $850 thousand in a settlement agreement with Clinton. I followed that case closely at the time and my sense was that the payment was likely proper.

However, the other two claim with no corroborating evidence, that Bill Clinton sexually assaulted them. Kathleen Wiley alleges that she was assaulted in an anteroom connected to the Oval Office. Ken Starr and his successor, who strenuously and aggressively investigated, at a cost of $80 million, all things Clinton, from Whitewater to Lewinsky, found that there was no evidence of Clinton assaulting Wiley. To the contrary, Starr determined that Ms. Wiley too often gave contradictory statements to be viewed as a credible complainant.

And then there’s Juanita Broaddrick. She gave a sworn deposition in the 1990s stating that Clinton did not force himself on her or otherwise engaged in a sexual relationship with Ms. Broaddrick. Then in 2014, she thought it was time to “come clean.” Perhaps Steve Bannon and Breitbart, which have consistently touted Ms. Broaddrick and her veracity, were persuasive and inspired this reversal.

The final women paraded out by Trump, Kathy Shelton asserted that as a 12-year-old she was raped by a 40-year-old man. Hillary Clinton was appointed by the trial judge, an appointment she tried to resist, to defend that man and in a plea bargain, managed to get a sentence of one year in jail and four years on probation. Her laughing was not at Ms. Shelton’s expense, but rather at the veracity of a polygraph exam, and the quality of the prosecution’s evidence. In short, whether you like it or not, she did her job in that case. Period. You can look it up.

You can also look up Trump’s contemporaneous reaction to the allegations charged against Clinton. To say to denigrated and otherwise summarily dismissed their allegations is an understatement. Amazing what a desperate candidate in a losing campaign will do.

So what was the reason that Trump brought these ladies to this event? He obviously was trying to get in Hillary’s head, but more importantly he wanted the ladies to come out with the families prior to the debate to force an ugly confrontation with Bill Clinton. Fortunately, cooler and more honorable heads at the RNC prevailed and the plan was scuttled.

It didn’t get any better during the actual debate. Trump denied ever putting in action his words spoken on the tape.  And then he went on the attack, one that continues as of this writing, stating that if he won the presidency he would put Hillary Clinton in jail. And then he accused Clinton for shaming and attacking these four women, causing them pain and ruining their lives.

Of course there’s no evidence of this charge – but why should there be when the colossally naive are ready to follow the galactically  evil?

And then Wednesday evening, in the space of less than four hours, five – count them, five – women independently, through four separate media outlets, accused Trump of conduct described in his taped comments and denied in the previous Sunday’s debate. This is in addition to revelations that Trump exercised his “prerogative” to enter a dressing room at a teenage beauty pageant that he owned and tapes where he permitted Howard Stern to describe his daughter Ivanka in the crudest terms.

Today, Thursday, he raised the question as to why these five women came forward 26 days before the election. That’s a fair question and must be examined. But here’s something to consider: sexual assault is not about sex, it’s about dominion and control over others. Over the years I’ve had occasion to know several victims of sexual assault. To a person, it wasn’t the sex act per se but rather the degradation and dehumanization of being forced to bend to the assailant’s will; the sex is only the instrument, the weapon as it were, to impose the assailant’s will on his victim.

When an assailant is a powerful man, with all the resources one can imagine at his disposal, it too often makes more sense to let it go, try to put it out of your memory, and try to live your life as best as you can. Except there isn’t one person I know who can do the first two things, and that failure impacts the ability to live a life as full as if the assault did not happen.

But every once in a while there comes a triggering event, one that unlocks the pain and the rage that victims are forced to live with; an event where they feel that at long last they are able to strike back at their assailant and exact a little bit of justice. And although the power equation hasn’t changed, they feel that now, perhaps for the first time, they and their stories will get a fair hearing, in spite of the barrage of venom and “slut shaming” that will surely come their way.

So, to once again quote fictitious President Andrew Sheppard, the presidency is “entirely about character.” Over the course of this campaign, and especially over the last week, we have seen what a candidate for president, who has a damaged or non-extant character, looks like.

And so it ends, not with a bang or a whimper….

… but with waves of nausea.  As if we didn’t have enough probative information as to the heart of this man, Donald John Trump, yesterday’s taped revelation exposed this man for who he really is – a mean spirited thug who thinks his celebrity enables and entitles him to get anything he wants, anyway he wants.

For months, if not years, Trump has shown his true misogynist colors. We have seen glimpses of his true nature by his statements regarding Rosy O’Donnell and Miss Universe. But yesterday, a day that will live in Trump family history as his day of infamy, he fully and incontrovertibly revealed his true lack of humanity.

His week started off bad enough. Recall that decades ago, Trump condemned the “Central Park five,” five young people of color who in the were wrongly accused, convicted and incarcerated for the 1989 rape of a white woman. To no avail, the Donald as he was then known, took out a full page newspaper ads calling for the imposition of the death penalty in this case.

The boys, and they were boys, each served their full sentence, refusing offers of parole because they would not admit to crimes they didn’t commit. After their release, the real rapist, whose DNA matched that found at the scene of the rape, along with his own confession to the crime, was arrested, tried and convicted.  In 2014, all the boys were exonerated and the City of New York compensated them for their wrongful conviction.

This week in a statement to CNN,  Trump said, “They admitted they were guilty … The police doing the original investigation say they were guilty. The fact that that case was settled with so much evidence against them is outrageous. And the woman, so badly injured, will never be the same.”  Clearly, this had to be an outrageous attempt to curry favor with the FOP at the expense of any belief in science or embrace of our basic system of justice.

Yesterday, at a meeting with a group of border patrol guards at Trump Tower, he continued advancing a baseless trope that “illegals” are crossing the border for the sole purpose of voting against Trump. Bear in mind that there’s no evidence of this invasion, or that it would be impossible for these invaders to participate in our election. By when your campaign is based on fear and racism, why let inconvenient facts get in the way?

But then, yesterday afternoon, a video and audio tape of Trump commenting on women, was released by the Washington Post. It’s authenticity is not in doubt, nor is there any confusion as to Trump’s voice. In that tape, he reveals in his own words what a vile and despicable human being he is.

He “apologized” twice, once on Twitter and the second time in a midnight video. Neither was remotely sufficient nor sincere. The video was most revealing – his “apology” consisted of six words. The rest was a defense of what he considers his character and an attack on “the Clintons.”  The characterization of this performance as similar to a hostage statement is apt – not a hint of emotion revealing that what he says is what he truly means.

His Twitter statement was completely reprehensible. It was not an apology, unless “anyone was offended.” He positioned himself as having engaged in “locker room banter” as part of a “private conversation.” Like that makes it alright.

Let me be clear. Over the course of my life I’ve been in many locker rooms. And over my life, I’ve made many male friends.  None of my friends, ever, would or could be confused as members of the clergy. However, at no time ever – over the course of multiple decades – has anyone I call my friend, or passing acquaintance, or co-worker, or relation has ever said anything even close to what Trump said on that tape.  The content of that tape is not even close to the way real men, mature men, regard women and engage with the world.

Let me be clear about something else, it is not this one tape that is so disqualifying, although even standing alone, it is. Rather, this tape, when added to statements and acts that Trump has made or committed over the course of his life, reveals a consistency of world view and a further confirmation of the void in his character.

In short, he is not qualified to be President. Let me be clear one  final time: I am not partisan in this matter. I have stated that Hillary Clinton is far from an ideal candidate, but any false equivalencies about Clinton’s alleged sins compared to Trump’s debases any and all who attempt to make them. Regarding Clinton’s “crimes,” her response to women whose alleged affairs with her husband were founded on what she, sometimes rightly, believed as politically motivated. Did she say “floozy” or “bimbo” to describe her husband’s accusers? if one believes some of the books written about that period, then yes she did.

But does a wife’s aggressive defense of her husband rise to the level of Trump’s history of serial womanizing, some of which, again if the written assertions are true and are confirmed in his own words, are criminal in nature? No, not even close.

I am vitally concerned with the direction of this country’s future. I have spent a considerable portion of my life in non-elected public service. I have been a community organizer in service to low income people, a teacher to high school students, a lawyer in service to our system of justice, and a founder of a legal service organization to stand with those too often underserved, and therefore victimized by a system they cannot understand or access.

The issues that I worked on, the causes that I championed, the future that I envision for our communities and for my daughter and her family are as real to me as the blood that flows through my veins. That Donald Trump and his apologists denigrate all that I worked for on behalf of real people over the course of my life is beyond offensive to me. I take this stuff seriously, not like Trump who sees his election as some existential vanity exercise in self-glorification.

For those who have debased themselves in service to a false God, or have been debased by that God, it is time for you to walk away from this man. If you’re a republican, then work your heart out to get good republicans elected. If you have views and opinions that you’d like to share, and engage with others in efforts to develop approaches and solutions that address the many ills that need to be addressed, then do so with gusto. I applaud all of good will who engage in the process in good faith. But please, move away from Trump and let him become a footnote to history, which is more than he deserves. You deserve better, and so do we all.

In closing, I’ll let Robert Di Nero speak for me, and I hope for most of us: