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A favorite argument of the Confederate monument defenders is that those who are trying to take them down are destroying history. They we are whitewashing it. That we are making future generations ignorant of history by destroying them, and that they will be the poorer for it.

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My governor, Governor Abbot of Texas, just weighed in on this issue on Wednesday.

“But we must remember that our history isn’t perfect,” Abbott added. “If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won’t erase our nation’s past, and it doesn’t advance our nation’s future.

What my governor, and all like him overlook, is that these monuments were never about history.  History is best taught in museums, in schools, in books, in articles, on historical tours, all of which can provide the context and details that will allow a person to understand the history.

A stone or metal statue can and does do none of that.  What they do instead though is show what values a society values   They provide a tangible form to intangible societal beliefs and ideals.

This is something that those who created and raised these monuments understood.  It is why they so often have inscriptions that make this very plain, such as that that once was on the Battle of Liberty Place monument (taken down in 2017).

McEnery and Penn, having been elected governor and lieutenant-governor by the white people, were duly installed bb this overthrow of carpetbag government, ousting the usurpers, Governor Kellogg (white) and Lieutenant –Governor Antoine (colored).

United States troops took over the state government and reinstated the usurpers but the national election of November 1876 recognized white supremacy in the south and gave us our state.

Values, not history is what is being shown here.

The same holds true for the vast majority of other statues and monuments. When not explicitly inscribed in the monument, it is explicitly inscribed in the words of the newspapers and speeches of the time on why this or that confederate monument was raised.   A testament to white supremacy.  A testament to white superiority.

This should be something so obviously true that there should be no dispute. A monument to honor the Confederacy – an almost country created to preserve and protect the ideal that whites can own blacks as easily and as morally as they can own a dog and the ideal that whites are supreme race – can be nothing else.

These were not monuments to men and history. They were monuments to the ideals of white supremacy. Their primary intent was not to remind people of a historical person or event, but rather to remind both whites and blacks of their place.

These monuments were raised to promote the values of the Klu Klux Klan. They were raised to promote the values of Jim Crow.  They were raised to promote the values of white supremacy.

Those values are, or should be, our shame now.

 

The Opelousas Massacre, 1868

Background:  After the Louisiana Constitution had been rewritten so that blacks were allowed to vote and, importantly, also banning segregation in schools and on public transportation, blacks made significant gains in representation.  While white, the Governor of Louisiana was a Republican voted into office on the strong support of newly enfranchised black voters. The lieutenant governor elected was Oscar Dunn, an African American. Blacks started to not only impact who held office in Louisiana, but also were voted into state offices and started assuming administrative positions.

What, Where When: In Opelousas Louisiana, in 1868, Emerson Bentley received a note.  Bentley was a white school teacher who taught black children and adults.  He was also the editor The Landry Progress, a Republican newspaper.  The note Bentley received was adorned with a coffin, a skull and bones, and a dagger dripping blood.  The message was clear.  The message was made even clearer when three members of the Seymour Knights, a white supremacist group, entered his classroom while he was teaching and severely beat him. 

Afterwards Bentley hid and then, with the help of Republican safehouses in the state, fled the state.  However, at first, the word was that the white supremacists had killed him.  Blacks gathered and marched on the town in protest and to confront those responsible for the murder, as they believed, of Bentley. 

These freedman were met, of course, by whites.  Shooting occurred.  The blacks were stopped, and 29 were taken prisoner.  Of those 29, twenty seven were taken out and executed.  However, the whites did not stop there.  They continued on for weeks, beating and killing blacks, especially if blacks were in groups.  After several weeks, over 200 blacks had been murdered.  And, by the time of the presidential election in November of that year, all the Republican printing presses and newspapers in Louisiana had been burned down. 

And so it started.  Letting blacks freely vote. Or not. A battle that continues up to today. Although, thankfully, not so bloody and violent now as it was then, but a battle still. And although not as violent, it is still an issue of critical importance for our democracy now as then. 

This is not to say that there had been no issues of voter suppression before Africans Americans were allowed to vote.  Voter suppression has been with the US even at its creation, as can be seen by the fact that during the ratification process for the newly written Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and other federalists were very successful in making sure that each state’s ratification convention was located in an area where most supported the Constitution and those opposed had to travel for several days to attend.  And the time frame for such traveling was kept short.

However, with the election of 1868 race became tied to voting, so that suppression was not just about political views, but about race too.  And despite the denials of many conservatives, and most trump supporters that voter suppression is no longer about race, it still usually is. 

Voting is an issue much in the wind today.  On the one side you have trump and his supporters claiming fraud while Republican legislators at both the state and federal levels work to make voting more difficult, all done in the name of preventing fraud.  On the other hand, you have the Democrats warning of widespread suppression of American’s rights to votes – or, of at least a certain group of Americans. First though, a quick comment on the difference between voting fraud and voter suppression. 

Basically, and simplistically, fraud is what happens during a vote or after voting is done. Impersonation of another (even the dead), tossing out ballots, selling votes, etc. 

Suppression is what happens to keep those who you don’t want to vote from doing so. 

In this election the extreme conservatives and trump supporters are claiming voter fraud was rampant and is why President Biden won the election.   However, reality is that fraud was very limited and sporadic and did not even come close to effecting the election (two examples that I know of actually benefited trump, or would have if they had not been caught).  Each state certified that their votes were true, no matter whether the state was Republican or Democrat or Mixed.  Every charge of voter fraud was investigated at the state level and a very few were found valid, the great majority were found to be without foundation, and none of the few valid ones actually made it into the vote.  Several states had multiple recounts.  All states had member of both parties as monitors (and yes those claims stating that this was not so were investigated and found not true). 

This is why the trump administration stated that the elections were free of fraud and honest and accurate (the man in charge of this department who did their job, Christopher Krebs, was later fired by trump for telling the truth).  It is why AG Barr stated that the election was basically fair and there was no evidence of fraud on a scale to change the result.  He too left the trump administration very, very shortly afterwards. It is why the trump administration lost or had tossed out over 60 cases of relating to the election by the courts, and in short order.  And why the Supreme Court two times denied them. 

Of course, just because voter fraud is not an issue now doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been in the past.  Most people have at least heard of Tammany Hall in New York City and how it controlled elections through massive fraud, or of LBJ’s senate win in 1948.   However, it was because of such events that laws and procedures were put into place that gradually reduced the amount of voter fraud.  Now, they are rare and do not affect elections. Let me just state that this does not mean people do not try to commit voter fraud, only that the safeguards put into place have been effective. 

In researching voter fraud though, I came across something interesting.  Something very relevant to today. Fake cries of voter fraud are nothing new.  In New Jersey, early in the 19th century, some women were already allowed to vote.  The original New Jersey constitution gave them this right. The Federalists though did not like women voting, feeling that it harmed their candidate’s chances of getting elected. But, stripping away rights once given just for partisan gains would have even worse results for them. And so they started to falsely cry voter fraud, stating that men would vote and then go, change into a dress and vote again. 

Now, silly as this sounds, and despite the fact that no evidence was provided to support this claim, in 1807 the New Jersey legislature ended women’s right to vote on the basis of preventing voter fraud.  Sounds very similar to what is happening now in regards to those claiming voter fraud. 

While voter fraud has been successfully reduced to almost nil, the same cannot be said of voter suppression.  To paraphrase and slightly butcher a song from The Music Man;

Friend, either you’re closing your eyes

To a situation you do not wish to acknowledge

Or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated

By the presence of voter suppression in your community

Well, we got trouble, my friend, right here

I say, trouble right here in the U. S. of A. 

Today’s elections are often determined, or at least influenced, by who is kept from voting.  While today citizens are not kept from voting by the violence similar to that prevalent in the South in the 1860s and 1870s and so on, nor by the various Jim Crow laws which were applied to prevent blacks from voting from the 1890s until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1865, other methods of suppressing unwanted votes have been created and are in use. 

Quick side note here – poll taxes and literacy tests and other measures meant to limit black voting were written into the state constitutions in order to not only prevent blacks from voting but also to make elections more honest.  You see, it bothered quite a few people in the South that the chief methods of making sure that blacks did not make a different in elections were by stuffing ballot boxes and losing those holding black votes, along with straight out voter intimidation.  Those behind creating these new southern constitutions in the late 19th century wanted to be able to honestly state that their elections were fair and honest.  They were concerned with the integrity of their elections.  Shades of today. 

A common problem with making progress is that it becomes easier for those opposed to such progress to deny the continued existence of a very real problem. In fact, the lack of such blazingly obvious suppression tactics as murder or literacy tests and poll taxes applied only to blacks, makes it easier for those who are on the wrong side of history to support new ways of voter suppression. 

For example, consider the calls for voter ID – which negatively impact the elderly, the poor, and minorities by throwing up another barrier to voting –and are based upon the claim of massive in person voter fraud, and compare it with the calls of voter fraud used to strip away a woman’s right to vote in New Jersey in 1807. 

Today, although voter suppression does not come with blood and fire, or from literacy tests and poll taxes, it still does come and does block voters.  It comes through such things as gerrymandering, the placement of polling stations so that those in poor and minority areas have to go further to vote than those in affluent and white areas, voter ID laws that often include restricting ID’s that are accepted or making the getting of them difficult, shortening early voting, unnecessarily restricting mail in votes (and most of the proposed changes I have seen are unnecessary and serve only one purpose), purging voters from the voting rolls without double checking accuracy (the great majority of times when purge lists are checked they are found to be mostly incorrect, that the people listed are alive and have the right to vote), increasing how far ahead of time a person has to register to vote before an election, and a host of other measures. 

While these measures of suppression today are not as effective as the blood and fire of earlier times, or the literacy tests that followed them, they still result in the disenfranchisement of at least hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, mainly minorities and poor. 

The thing we need to remember is that the ways to suppress unwanted voting in the past was through blood and fired, and then through literacy tests, both of which were more effective at achieving voter suppression than those used today.  And yet, despite that, blacks did make a difference in elections for a time. Consider, that in 1868, the time of the Opelousas Massacre that I opened this blog with, was when Ulysses S. Grant was elected and became President Grant. 

A strong supporter of civil rights for blacks and other minorities, he did more to prevent abuses against blacks and to support their rights to hold office and vote than any other person in the 19th century, or early 20th century for that matter.  And though he lost in Louisiana, he won in other Southern states where similar tactics to those in Louisiana were used to prevent blacks from voting.  Grant won Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Missouri due to blacks voting for him, despite the attempts to suppress them. 

Sadly, our nascent Civil Rights moment created by President Grant– with segregation illegal and voting rights protected and blacks elected and appointed to political posts – died when, during Grant’s second term, the north grew tired of the expense, both in terms of finances  and blood, of supporting reconstruction.  And when the Republicans, who had been supporting such progress, instead, became more interested in political gain and stopped supporting Civil Rights.  Had they not, then what blacks and America gained by the Civil Rights laws and Supreme Court rulings in the 1960s and 1970s would have been there in the 1870s and onwards.  A hundred lost years that harmed millions of people, of all races. 

This is our moment to make sure we do not go backwards again, that we do not lose what has been gained for Americans.  Stacey Abrams in Georgia has helped to point the way for us not to do so.  And now, with the Democrats controlling the House, Senate (barely, but still), and the Presidency, is the time for us to start walking that path.  We need to work against suppression and towards making it easier for citizens to exercise their right to vote – eliminate gerrymandering, voter ID laws, provide enough polling stations, promote protected mail in voting, extend early voting and on and on and on.  Voting is the right of all Americans, one that needs to be protected against both fraud and suppression.  While we have done well in regards to fraud, we are losing right now in regards to voter suppression. 

Now is the time for us to work to make voter suppression as rare as voter fraud.  And to give every American the ability to exercise their right to vote, no matter their race, religion, gender, economic status.

Rights. The idea of Rights is something that often plays a part in many discussions on issues political, moral, philosophical, historical, and every other -al. It is said to be a foundational principle of America, and, according to the UN, should be for he world too. 

However, where do human rights come from?  In the US we talk about our “inherent” and “god given” rights. They are argued to be our “natural” rights, and are rights that are not dependent upon society and governments, but is something apart and separate from such. 

The UN defines human rights thusly:

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. Everyone is entitled to these rights, without discrimination.

In other words, rights that a person has just because they are human.  But, the key word for my purposes, for this blog, is the word “inherent” in that definition.  How inherent?  And why are those areas listed the ones which are our inherited birthright instead of something else?  How is that determined?  If inherited are they saying it is in our genes?    

One answer to those questions is that human rights flow from the laws of nature, that they are natural rights.  And what are natural rights?  It is defined by Lumen’s section on History of Western Civilization as laws “… that are not dependent on the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and are therefore universal and inalienable (i.e., rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws)”.

From reading all of this, my impression is that most people believe that God is the source of all of our rights. They are either inherent in the structure of his world or are the laws and expectations he has for humans and their interactions.  However, also from my readings and experience, I seriously doubt that God had anything to do with our rights.  Why? 

First off, where do we find this in the Bible, or any religious writings – or in the history of the institution of religion?  Apologists for such beliefs usually refer to the idea of the dignity of mankind, and of all being equal before the eyes of God.  Often, these verses are the ones referred to:

Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Micah 6:8 – “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Colossians 3:11 – “Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”

Some Christians will say that this Christian view of humans, of human dignity and equality, provided the necessary atmosphere that allowed the idea of Human Rights to be developed and grow.  Now, while I will agree that such a view of humanity is necessary, a respect for the worth and dignity of human life, I don’t see it as being exclusive to Christianity. Or to any religion really.  For example, the Golden Rule has appeared in all the major religions around the world, sometimes earlier than in Christianity and Judaism.

Even Confucianism, a belief system that is seen as prizing the state over the individual, has sections and beliefs that could and have been used to support the idea of Human Rights. For example:

Heaven sees as our people see; Heaven hears as our people hear. Heaven is compassionate towards the people. What the people desire, Heaven will be found to bring about”. The Book of History

“Heaven loves the people; and the Sovereign must obey Heaven”. The Book of History

What this meant is that there is a duty to overthrow the government should its rulers not do what is best for the people. 

Other sayings and teachings can be found in Confucianism and most religions around the world. And just as, retrospectively, Christians can point to those particular teachings as creating the necessary atmosphere for the recognitions of today’s human rights, the same can also be done, retrospectively, with other religions.  Human rights are not the exclusive province of any one religion. 

I am not going into how the concept of human rights came about.  Instead, here, I am just showing that its origin did not arise from just one source of human dignity and value.  That numerous religious groups could have said the same during their formative years.  This universality is important as it indicates that the roots of the idea of Human Rights did not lie in religion per se, but in something all religions have in common – humans, their nature and their societies.  A bit more on that is a moment.

First though, let me point out that while pointing out those passages that some Christians think support their view that Christianity is what gave rise to Human rights, they ignore or downplay the ones that do not. The ones about supporting secular authority, about killing those who believe differently.  What I find most ironic is that some of these Christians use the Ten Commandments as evidence for Christianity being the source of our rights. Even though these commandments are actually evidence against such. 

Just consider the first commandment ordering people to “have no other Gods before me”.  What about freedom of conscience as a human right?  And there is more, something I went over in detail in my blog “The 10 Commandments and the Christian Founding of the United States”.

And then there is the fact that no government, no matter how Christian, or other religion, ever made these rights central, nor respected them until very modern times.  Thousands of years, without Human Rights being important, or even really a fully fleshed concept.    

Now, an argument I have seen used to get around this history has been what some have called progressive revelation.  This argument was expressed this way in “Human Rights from a Biblical Perspective” by Tebele William Mohlaphuli, a thesis he wrote for the University of Pretoria: 

I did my utmost best to present what I consider to be the essence of human rights from the perspective of the Bible. In my view human rights are a modern discovery and re-defining of what had long been implied, acknowledged and taught in the Bible…

This thesis seems to me to be part of the progressive revelation views of many Christians – that the truth was always in the Bible, but that they had to be revealed by time and experience. This is the same sort of tactic used by abolitionists when they successfully worked to transform the Christian understand of the Bible from one of allowing and protecting slavery to one that was against slavery in all of its forms. 

This method seems to me to be the best to take for those arguing that Christianity supports human rights – and it is one that worked well in regards to changing the view of Christians that the Bible supports slavery to one that the Bible and Christianity are against slavery.  However, the same could be done to most religions – find passages that support human dignity and rights, and then interpret them based upon modern understandings and knowledge. 

The real question here is why did our understanding grow in order to reinterpret the Bible in these new ways?  It was not from the Bible, not from God, not from revelation. 

I would argue that while religion has been helpful in some ways, and harmful in others in developing the idea of Human Rights, they are not the origin. Nor is God the source of such. Instead, I would say that those who say so are putting the cart before the horse.  They are saying that God created, when instead it was man who created and God who was, eventually, called into service to support. 

In a way, those who say that human rights are natural rights arising from nature are close to the truth – provided they do not take the step of saying god created nature that way.  And also realize it is not a direct relationship. 

Human Rights come from what we are as human beings, what we evolved to be – a highly intelligent and highly social animal.  Where Locke and many others get it wrong though is in thinking that these natural rights are something separate from human societies and governments.  They are not.  In fact, far from being independent and above such things, they are totally a part and totally dependent on the societies we created. 

A short and simplistic summary of a longer and more complex process for the creation of human rights would be that we are social creatures.  We need to live in societies in order to survive.  Due to our high intelligence, we created larger and larger societies, so large that they required a formal government. 

Now, given that for most of our existence we lived in small family groups, this was something new. And something that created a great many challenges.  In the working out of how best to create such large societies and the governments that run them, governments evolved too.  Those that worked better survived better, those that did not tended to die out more quickly. 

Over time democracies arose and were shown the provide the most stable government.  Largely because it allowed the people a say in how the government was run, what laws were passed, and how they were enforced.  Because of this, the concept of Human Rights arose.  And it is still in the process of developing.

Let me just say that this concept arose in both the secular and religious community – the religious community did not see a secular source and then crib from it.  Instead, they were subject to the same forces of the times operating on their thoughts too – the same examples of the world going on before them, the same writings from many sources.  And then found support from their Bible.  I think this important both because it is true and truth always matters, and because it highlights how change becomes incorporated into religion, and then religion can be used to further such changes. 

Let me now apply this understanding of Human Rights to the present day.  So often those of the extremes – both right and left, although I have seen it more often on the right – act and talk as if government were the natural and always enemy of human rights. That human rights are apart from the government.  And so many, then, always have an us versus the government mentality  in which the government is, by necessity, evil. 

However, this means that they are attacking the source of Human Rights. Instead of fostering such, they are often harming such. Yes, governments can be and too often are, an enemy of human rights. But, they are also its source and protection. The goal then is not to eliminate government, or to necessarily reduce it and make it small (usually too small to function), but to make sure it lives up to one of its core responsibilities, protecting and fostering human rights. 

Too often those who believe that Human Rights are something separate from society and government, as something having a separate existence, also take this quote to Locke to extremes.

A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature.” John Locke

They take this quote and then Ayn Rand it.  Society is not to be protected and nurtured. Others are not to be considered when deciding what to do.  Only your desires and needs.  It is one reason why so many refuse to wear a mask. Why so many refuse to even consider universal health care. Why so many refuse to consider fully protecting the rights of minorities, or protecting the rights of the trans community at all. 

They do not understand that to properly follow the above quote from Locke, you have to understand that us creating and living in societies is part of the law of nature, and imposes its own restraint on individual behaviors.  Societies have rights too that imposes restraints on individual rights.  Or, perhaps, responsibilities would be a better word. 

Let me just say that in regards to the United States, we have done well in many areas, and we have also failed in others. And on still others wind up between failure and doing well.  We are in process still, and, as a democracy, the process of fully realizing human rights is more of a possibility than in many other countries. We though, as citizens, are responsible to our society to keep pushing.

Rights are not the creation of nature.  They do not come from the universe. The, instead come from our own nature as it matures in the creation of our government. Which is why keeping an eye on government is so important.  It is why pushing it to more fully discharge its responsibility to foster and protect human rights is so important.

The Power of a Free Press

With this blog we “Remember the Maine”, because it was on this date, February 15th, in 1989 that the US battleship blew up and sank while sitting in the harbor at Havana, Cuba. It was this explosion and the deaths of 266 of the 354 crew members, that caused the US to go to war with Spain over Cuba; the Spanish American war.  The one with the future president, Teddy Roosevelt, leading his Rough Riders in a charge up San Juan Hill. 

This is the one in that  many say was a war created by the press.  Now, while not quite true, there is an element of truth in that claim. Two New York City papers in their war against each other and for subscribers did sensationalize what was going on in Cuba, and did play free and easy with the truth.  But, they did not cause the war. Other factors played a more prominent role in that.  However, my intent here is not to go into the causes of the Spanish American war, but instead to talk about the press – the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Something that is very relevant today, and has been very relevant throughout our history. 

Thomas Jefferson’s quote about the need for a free press, the one in which he states that if having to make a choice between whether to have “… we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” shows him to be a champion of a free press.  Or, at least until later in his life, as he was in the running for becoming president and afterwards, he modified his opinion about a free press.  At least in his letters. 

“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.”  Also from Jefferson after having had some experience with a free press. 

We are so caught up in our present that most people don’t realize that our current press, as bad as many have become, especially with the advent of the internet, is that in the past it was worse. At the time of our founding, and many long years since, the press has been very partisan. And very free in their insults and “facts” about those they opposed.  What is more, there were not the many sources of news then as there are now, so less for people to compare and see. 

Most newspapers throughout our history have been partisan, being mainly vehicles for a political party to keep in touch and influence voters.  Nearly all the newspapers in circulation until the early 20th century were partisan, in fact, with editors often also being in senior leadership roles in a political party.  A 1850 census found that there were 1,630 of these party papers and only 83 independent ones.   In fact, being party papers, these newspapers did not need to carry advertisements since they were well supported by party members.  That doesn’t mean that they always provided fake news.  They provided some good information and news. But, it often came with a strong slant and a pitch for their political party and against the other.

What is ironic is that, much as we decry advertising, it was advertising that started the press to move from being partisan papers to being more objective.  At the end of the 19th century newspapers discovered that they could make more money through advertising than through subscription, and that the more subscribers they had the more they could make through advertising.  Which meant that instead of targeting the partisan they tried to provide more objective coverage to lure in both sides, and thus increase their subscriber base. 

Of course, this did not mean that the coverage was objective. Newspapers fought to grab readers’ attention, and too often did so through sensationalizing stories, even if this meant fudging the facts.  The most famous two that engaged in this yellow journalism were Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Heart’s New York Journal, who, at the end of the 19th century tried to gain readers though doing so. 

Their coverage of the Spanish/Cuba conflict and the sinking of the Maine are good examples. It should be noted, though, that despite some of the stories being sensationalized, most were good and accurate, and even the sensationalized ones usually had a basis in fact and provided much accurate information.  And while elements of yellow journalism survived into our now, it was also never widespread. 

In fact, in the early 20th century, standards were being set to make journalism more professional and objective.  Journalism schools were founded, either on their own or as part of a university.  The National Press Corp was created.  Before this most reporters were novices who received no training other than what a particular paper might (and more often did not) provide.  Also, changes occurred in how reporters were paid.  Instead of being paid by the length of the story and being treated as contract workers instead of staff, they were paid salaries and were actually on the staff of the paper.  The result was a less partisan press and better reporting and investigating. 

What is interesting is that, despite the frustrations every president has had with the press, and the loathing of it that many have also had, and the surprisingly few attempts made to censor and shut down the press, we still have a free press. One that is more strongly supported now by laws and precedent than at any time in our history.  Why is this? 

Because, as Jefferson also said and realized, a free press was a necessary as an expression of the opinions of the people, something of vital importance in a democracy as democracy is based upon the opinions of the people.  If the people’s voices cannot be heard, then democracy cannot function and will, eventually, cease to be a democracy. 

But more, despite the fake news and slanted coverages, it did and still does provide important and accurate information necessary for an informed citizenry.

Because it provides a check upon the power and abuses of the government – Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and the newest tool being used, Fact Checks. 

Because it provides a way to inform the people and press the government to take action on needed changes.  From food safety to workplace safety to the treatment of the mentally ill, to pollution and more – these are all issues that, largely due to being brought to light and highlighted by investigative journalism, created needed social changes. 

 What is amazing is that despite the many issues we see today in regards to our press, we are still much better off in terms of overall accuracy and access to information and seeing diverse opinions now than we were then. And the fact that our founders, despite all the flaws of a free press in their time still thought it should be kept free and served an important function, should tell us that this is even more true today. 

I have long supported the Filibuster as a means for both fostering working together across party lines and as a way for a minority party, or person even, to prevent something bad from being passed – a la Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. 

However, over the last few years I have slowly been changing my mind. But, before fully changing it I wanted to do a bit of research first to find out more about the filibuster, what it is, what it is meant to do, and what it is doing. Like most, I only had the vaguest idea on the answer to these questions and, dag nab it, if I’m going to change my mind I want to make sure it is for a good reason. 

What is a Filibuster

The filibuster is a political procedure in which a person or a group can stop or delay movement on a piece of legislation by talking. At length.  It is a form of obstruction and can stop a bill from passing if there is a time element (such as avoiding a government shutdown or an approaching Senate recess) or cause those supporting the bill to modify it in order to stop the filibuster. This, by the way, can be a group effort wherein one talks for as long as they can and then passes it on to another of similar views.  And given that it has a history going back to Roman times (Senator Cato the Younger was known for this), and appears today in many democratic legislative institutions other than the US, there seems to have been a reason for institutionalizing a type of obstruction, strange as that might sound. 

The reason for its appearance, in so many legislative bodies, and this is more my take away from my readings than an outright statement from any of my sources, is a related twofold. First, all political organizations in a democratic form of government know that there will be times they will be in the minority. Thus, this was a way for them to hold on to some say in what happens legislatively. A corollary to this is that this was also seen as a way to foster bipartisanship, for the disputed legislative action to be modified enough to satisfy the needs of the one filibustering.   Second, it was viewed as a way to prevent bad laws from being passed by the majority. After all, the majority is not always right, and can, more often than we like, be very not right.

History of US Filibuster

The filibuster is not in our Constitution (that I already knew).  And it did not make its appearance in the Senate until 1805. And then by accident, not design. 

Today we take it for granted that the rules for the Senate and the House are somewhat different.  However, they did not start out that way. The rulebook for both the House and Senate were basically the same when they first convened in 1789.  One of the relevant rules for this blog is the “previous question” rule that was in both rulebooks. This rule is basically a motion to close arguments, and only required a majority vote.

The House still has this rule and thus no filibuster. However, in 1806 the Senate, at the urging of Vice President Aaron Burr, got rid of it. Why?  Because he felt there were too many unnecessary and redundant rules in the Senate rulebook and wanted it streamlined.  One of the rules cut was the previous question rule. At that point, the filibuster, the ability to talk indefinitely to delay or stop a bill, became a possibility for the Senate. 

However, although in 1806 the filibuster became a possibility, it did not actually occur until 1837.  What is of interest here is that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there were repeated attempts to undo this, to put the “previous question” law allowing a simple majority to stop debate and discussion back in the books.  But, as should be obvious, the minority party always managed to kill it by filibustering.  Although in 1917 the reformers managed to pass the cloture rule, where if two thirds of the senators voting vote to shut down debate, the filibuster is shut down.

This was accomplished through a perfect storm situation. A bill had been proposed to arm merchant vessels due to German depredations on Atlantic shipping. It died by filibuster in the Senate.  President Wilson and the democrats were then able to frame this as an issue of national security during a war, and successfully put the pressure on to create a way to shut down the filibuster. This was amended in 1975 to require only a three fifths instead of a two thirds number. 

It should be kept in mind that this filibustering, the one in 1917,  is only the grandfather to what we have today; its grandson is not exactly the same as its grandfather.  Originally the Senator actually had to talk. Today, they don’t,.  Instead they just register the intent to do so and the Senate takes it as given that the intending Senator would talk for hours and hours and pass it on to another who would do the same. 

Also, a filibuster used to shut down all other Senate actions. That was changed in the 1970s due to the fact that filibustering was being done so often the Senate could not get its work done.  Instead, the filibuster is now more of a paperwork item than an actual event, one that holds up that one piece of legislative action while the majority tries to whip up 60 votes to stop discussion and debate.

Which brings us to the question of how often the filibuster has been used. Until 1966 the filibuster had never been used more than five times during a year. There were ten each year from 1971 to 1973.  1974 saw 18 filibusters.  Which, by the way, is why the rule for how many were needed to shut it down was modified to make it a bit easier.  And the use of the filibuster has been used even more often since then. 

The Good and the Bad

So, has the filibuster done more good or bad throughout history? It was notoriously used to try to prevent Civil rights legislation from being passed in the 1960s and 1970s; anti lynching laws, getting rid of poll taxes, anti-discrimination laws, voting rights, and other such laws. 

However, it has also been used to prevent laws weakening consumer protections, environmental protections, abortion rights protections, and other issues that progressives and others think important.  It has also been used to create compromise and changes in laws which were passed, for example, a few more civil rights protections in the Patriot Act,

But, in recent years, as the partisanship of politics has increased, it has been used more as a tool of pure obstruction – as witnessed by President Obama’s difficulties in getting judicial and other nominees passed.  And by the fact that, although used by both parties, the Republicans have used it increasingly often and by far hold the lead in its use.    

My Take – It Should Go

The filibuster is not part of original package, not a part of the Constitution. Not needed.  It rarely does promote bi-partisanship and instead becomes a tool of obstruction.  An obstruction to the wants, needs and votes of the majority. 

Despite what some conservatives like to claim, the US is a democracy. And one of the strengths of a democracy is that it reflects the will of the majority. While it is a good thing to have mechanisms in place that allow the minority party a say and influence, that mechanism should not be so strong as to be used to totally obstruct the actions of the majority, the majority that the majority of Americans voted into office.   Other mechanisms should be created and used instead.  

As for encouraging bi-partisanship, the filibuster was never a good tool for this. And, with the increase in partisanship today, it is even less so.  Instead, it is a tool for obstructing the will of the people and of making the tying up the Senate and making it less responsive, responsible, and effective.  Other mechanisms should be created and used instead. Some ideas for this are in my blog on Presidential power.

We need to get rid of the filibuster. 

I didn’t mind. I think I’m a rebel by birth. I contest anything that is unjust, that causes suffering for humanity. My feeling about that is so great that I don’t think I could live with myself if I weren’t honest.

What do the songs “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, “Optimistic Voices”, “and “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” have in common?  They were all in the movie “Wizard of Oz”.  Also, their lyrics were all written by Edgar Yipsel “Yip” Harburg.  Yip was an atheist. 

In 2013 I started an occasional blog about forgotten or unknown atheists.  I covered Giuseppe Garibaldi, Lucretius, and George Eliot nee Mary Ann Evans.  However, my last was in 2014 and despite my good intentions I have not written another one since. Today I am correcting that oversight, once again with the good intentions of keeping this going at a bit more rapid pace than I have been. 

Yip Harburg was born in the New York’s lower East Side on April 8, 1896.  He was born Isidore Hochberg, but later adopted the name Edgar Yipsel Harburg.  From boyhood though he had been known as Yip. 

As I mentioned above, Yip was responsible for the lyrics of several songs in The Wizard of Oz. In fact though he was responsible for all of them. And he was also the final script editor, and had a hand in much of the dialogue in the movie, including the part where the Wizard gives out the heart, the brain and courage. 

Yip was already well known though as a lyricist, having wrote a song that many thought defined the depression era, “Brother Can You Spare A Dime.”  A song recorded by many artists, including Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee in 1932.  As did almost all of his works, it had a social conscience.  In his words to interviewer Max Wilk:

I thought that work out very carefully. I didn’t make a maudlin lyric of a guy begging. I made it into a commentary. It was about the fellow who works, the fellow who builds, who makes railroads and houses – and he’s left empty-handed. This is a man proud of what he has done but bewildered that his country with its dream could do this to him.

His life, as most do when looked at, show how chance plays a role in what a person does and achieves. Despite starting to write parodies of popular songs while in elementary school, despite performing in shows during school, despite becoming deep friends with Ira Gershwin when they worked on the school paper together in high school and bonded over Gilbert and Sullivan,  despite writing light verse for a column in the World while attending City College as well as working with Ira Gershwin to write a light verse column for the college newspaper,  despite all of this, he did not try to make a living off his talent at doing such after graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree.  

 Instead, saying that poetry was “…for fun, that’s a sideline,” and that “money is made by the sweat of your brow” he started up an electrical supply business with a college classmate. Not Gershwin by the way. And he was very successful at it.  That was when chance happened.

For the next few years we made a lot of money and I hated it. But the economy saved me. The capitalists saved me in 1929, just was we were worth, oh, about a quarter of a million dollars. Bang! The whole thing blew up. I was left with a pencil and finally had to write for a living. As I told Studs Terkel once, what the Depresssion was for most people was for me a lifesaver.

Yip was a democratic socialist, and, according to his son, learned from W. S. Gilbert and George Bernard Shaw that “humor is an act of courage and dissent”.   He also believed that “humor is the antidote to tyranny”.  And Yip used his songs and work to highlight the many forms and forces of tyranny.  Imperialism, theocracy, class supremacy, policies of austerity; anything that denied people their human rights and their freedom from poverty and need.  And then laugh.  Ding Dong the Witch is dead is a celebration of the defeat of cruel tyrants. 

Yip’s work in films came to a halt with the advent of McCarthy. While not a communist, his political views caused him to be blacklisted from the movie industry. Which, as he said in the quote that started this blog, he didn’t mind. Instead, he focused on where he had started, the theater. Broadway.  He wrote the lyrics for the musical “Flahooley”, a satire on the country’s current anti communist scare. While it did well in Philadelphia, it only lasted 40 shows on Broadway. But, Yip continued on on Broadway. 

“Bloomer Girl” in 1944 dealt with the rights of women and blacks.  “Finian’s Rainbow in 1947 satirized our economic system.  In this show, among many other things of interest, a corrupt and racist Southern senator is suddenly turned black.  “Finian’s Rainbow” was also turned into a movie. 

Yip wrote the lyrics to over 600 songs and worked with the leading music writers and producers of the day. A favorite fact about Yip that I found out when researching this – he wrote a song for the Marx brothers. For my favorite brother in fact, Groucho Marx.  “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady”. 

Because of all of the above, and more, Yip was known as “Broadway’s Social Conscience”.

Yip died on March 5, 1981 when his car collided head on with another car on Sunset Boulevard in LA. He was 84 years old.  He had been planning to go to New York that weekend to receive the Johnny Mercer Award of the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  

I fought on the Rooseveltian, Darwinian and Freudian side of life. I try to make my songs put these ideas in an entertaining way. I’m trying to find out why I’m alive, why I’m writing songs and why my songs had this commentary of the social system. They were always mistaken for anti-Establishment, Socialism, Communism and all the other isms.

In addition to the songs, Yip also wrote two books of light verse, ”Rhymes for the Irreverent” and “At This Point in Rhyme” . Let me allow Yip to have the last words in this blog.

ATHEIST

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree;

And only God who makes the tree
Also makes the fools like me.

But only fools like me, you see,
Can make a God, who makes a tree.

REPENT IN PLEASURE

A little secret sinning now and then,
Should not disturb the saintliest of men;
For when your life is spent, and sun has set,
It’s easier to repent than to regret.

MUTUAL ADMIRATION

“Speaking of the Common Man,” said Lincoln,
“God must love him.”
And the Common Man, he must love God–
He made so many of Him.

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

God made the world in six days flat,
On the seventh, He said, “I’ll rest,”
So He let the thing into orbit swing,
To give it a dry-run test.

A billion years went by, then He
Took a look at the whirling blob;
His spirits fell, as He shrugged, “Ah well,
It was only a six-day job.

I’ve always been aware of the idiocy of the whole Establishment and the system. I’ve always thought that the way to educate, to teach, the way to live without being miserable, even though you’re surrounded by misery, was to laugh at the things that made you miserable. I’m stirred and my juices start flowing more when I can tackle a problem that has profundity, depth and real danger by destroying it with laughter.

Context.  Incomplete facts. Both of these are used over and over and over again by those who routinely deny reality in order to protect their beliefs. This can range from young earth creationists, Biblical and Constitutional literalists (actually, most type of literalists), the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum, anti-vaxxers and others. For the purpose of this blog, and because they are having such a great impact on our nation right now, I will be using trump and his supporters as an example. But, this specific example also applies to too many other groups and issues too. 

To illustrate how this works I am using the title’s two references.

Context 

The Bible teaches atheism. To get this claim, words have to be taken out of context. In this case, the words are taken from the Bible, Psalm 14: 1.  In that verse are the words “There is no God.”  Reading the words as written, it seems that the Bible itself admits that there is no God. The words are there. They are not twisted.  They are a straightforward, word for word quote.   It seems then that this claim is valid and true.

However, I imagine that the number of those who are convinced that the Bible teaches atheism based these words is zero. Why? Because you are aware of the context, both the large and small.

The larger context is that the Bible is the foundational basis for Christianity, a major theistic religion. Even if you have never read the Bible you know that it talks about God; what God has done and is doing and his relationship with humanity, and his plan for salvation. Knowing that context, you are not going to be convinced that these four words taken from the Bible prove that the Bible teaches atheism.

And, when you look at the smaller context, you quickly discover that the Bible most definitely does not teach atheism.  Putting those four words, “There is no God” into their proper immediate context, you now find this:

“The fool says in his heart, “There is no God. They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
   there is none who does good.”

Reading this it is obvious that the true meaning is the complete opposite of the part quoted. The words around those four words, its immediate context, changes the message.  

This ignoring of context, both large and immediate, is something seen over and over again on the part of trump supporters. They take a few words from the Mueller Report, from trump’s speeches, from medical experts about COVID and what should be done, from BLM, and from everything that they disagree with, and then use those words to claim something that is the complete opposite of reality. The Bible teaches atheism!

And devoid of context those words might seem convincing. Just as “There is no God” might convince a person without any knowledge of the Bible, who had never heard of it before, that it is a book promoting atheism.  Fortunately though, the great majority of people do know at least in general about the Bible and so are not fooled.  However, the same cannot be said for current events, medicine, science, and so forth. There the knowledge is not so widespread and agreed upon, and there ignorance, at least in part, is more common than not. And so, words taken without regard for context seem more convincing. 

To make things even more interesting, providing  those who do this the context often will not change the minds of most of them. They will not then go “Oh, I see. Yeah, you’re right.” And then change their views.

I’ll go into why later on in this blog. After I have discussed incomplete facts, and mention that pointing out the complete facts often has the same result as pointing out the complete context to many – nothing except denial.

Incomplete Facts

E = m.

I think most people realize that without the c2 (E = mc2) in the above formula, it is no longer accurate.  It no longer states the equivalence between energy and mass, but, instead provides a lie. Each element in and of itself is accurate, but it is incomplete without that last fact.

First, let me just mention that the line between when the problem is incomplete facts and when it is out of context can become fuzzy. The two are more like two ends of a continuum of examples of lack of information.  For example, the lack of context could also be seen as an example of incomplete facts – leaving out the surrounding words and also the history of the Bible.  I think this will be seen when I discuss trump’s January 6th  speech and how his supporters are defending it.

So, incomplete facts.  I once discussed a science paper that a climate change denier was using to claim the ice on Greenland was actually increasing instead of decreasing.  And he was right, to a point. The paper, if you only read all the sections until the last two at the end, showed that the amount of ice in Greenland was actually increasing. However, the two sections at the end added in a missing piece, some ignored facts – ice calving off.  The c2.  When that part was added in Greenland was very far from increasing the amount of ice, but was, instead, most definitely losing it. 

Example of Both in Action

 Our real world example will be trump’s speech of January 6th  to those who were about to riot and attack the capital. This is the speech that is a key part of his second impeachment.  Trump supporters’ defense of trump’s speech provides  prime examples of how they are ignoring both context and facts to defend him. This link provides the complete transcript of that speech. 

The ignored context

Let me start by providing the broad context. The whole Bible instead of the verse as it were.

The context is that trump and his Republican supporters have been creating a story about how trump actually won the election, and that the Democrats stole it from him through the use of massive fraud, on a scale never seen before.

Along with this constant refrain of voter fraud, trump has been painting the Democrats as dangerous. An imminent danger to his followers and to the United States. Should the democrats gain power very bad things would happen.  This context of fraud and danger was created and sustained not only by trump’s words, but by those of his close followers, family, and allies. 

Here are just some examples of such claims.

Trump approvingly retweeting a video in which one of his supporters stated “The only good Democrat is a dead Democrat” on May 28, 2020.

“The American way of life is being dismantled by a group of bitter, deceitful, vengeful activists who have never built anything in their lives.”  Charlie Kirk, founder of the Young Conservatives Group at the Republican National Convention.

“Don’t let the Democrats take you for granted. Don’t let them step on you. Don’t let them destroy your families, your lives and your future. Don’t let them kill future generations because they told you and brainwashed you and fed you lies that you weren’t good enough.” Kimberly Guilfoyle, girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr., and fundraiser.

And this is just a small sampling of the broader context created before Jan 6, 2021 – the danger Democrats posed to them and the United States, and a constant refrain of how these dangerous people were stealing the election. This context created a situation that was not only toxic, but flammable.  And into that crowd, that gasoline waiting for a spark, comes trump making a speech to the gasoline. 

The Defense: Part 1

To defend trump from the charge that he incited a riot and sedition, his followers and supporters quote this from the speech:

“We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”

They point out again and again that trump asked for them to protest “peacefully”. 

The Immediate Context

Just as if someone wanting to claim that the Bible was promoting atheism would have to ignore the context of the other words surrounding “there is no God”, so too do trump supporters ignore the context around the quote above.  An incomplete set of quotes from that same speech providing a larger context.

“All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they’re doing. And stolen by the fake news media. That’s what they’ve done and what they’re doing. We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.

“Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with: We will stop the steal.”

 “We’re gathered together in the heart of our nation’s capital for one very, very basic and simple reason: To save our democracy.”

 “We will not be intimidated into accepting the hoaxes and the lies that we’ve been forced to believe.”

 “They also want to indoctrinate your children in school by teaching them things that aren’t so. They want to indoctrinate your children. It’s all part of the comprehensive assault on our democracy, and the American people are finally standing up and saying no. This crowd is, again, a testament to it.”

“This is not just a matter of domestic politics, this is a matter of national security.”

“Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.”

“When you catch somebody in a fraud, you’re allowed to go by very different rules.”

“…if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

“We’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them (the legislators in the Capital) because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

In this speech trump talks about how the Democrats, should they gain power, should Biden be allowed to become president from a rigged and fraudulent election, will take down the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials in DC, and then rename the Washington Memorial.  And then trump lists all the grievances committed against him, and by extension, to those listening. 

Does anyone else hear the sound of a striking match? 

His supporters cling to that one use of “peaceful” in his entire speech and ignore the context of all his other words surrounding that use of “peaceful”.

The Defense Part 2:

In addition to ignoring context, there is now a strong narrative taking place defending not only trump but his supporters from the events of January 6th.  One that involves leaving out facts, the c2. 

It was not trump supporters rioting and attacking the Capital and the police. It was Antifa in disguise. The great majority of trump supporters were peaceful and did not attack. They followed that one use of “peacefully” in trump’s speech and did not attack. Instead busloads of Antifa were bussed in and pretended to be trump supporters in order to discredit trump.  This is often coupled with the claim that it was coordinated and planned by the Democrats, and the police.

In support of this they cite the fact that some people were dressed all in black – just like Antifa!  And some buses pulled up and let people off. And, well, there is not much else there in regards to facts.  But, they cling to those like a life vest, and ignore these facts:

  • The massive amount of videos taken of the rioters by the rioters and seditionists by themselves and their co-seditionists. And uploaded onto their own long time trump supporting pages.
  • The fact that the FBI has identified numerous persons engaged in this violence, and they were all long term trump supporters.  So far they have not found any Antifa. Which is kinda surprising if they were the ones doing this given the amount of video taken.  By the way, Propublica put together over 500 vidoes taken by these seditionists and arranged them to form a timeline of what happened. It makes fascinating if infuriating and sickening viewing.  Click on this link should you wish to read about it and view it.
  • The fact of all the chatter from trump supporters planning to attend this “peaceful” protest in DC, and what they planned to do. 

Unfortunately, you can provide these supporters these ignored facts, and they will continue to ignore them. Just as they do the context above. 

Why not accept reality?

So, why do they engage in such tactics instead of just accepting reality?  It is for the same reason that creationists and anti-vaxxers, and others do – they already know the truth, or, rather, implacably believe they do.  They are not actually looking for the truth, but only verification of what they already know is truth.

They are not interested in actual reality, only confirmation of their reality.  What matters to them is the fact that those words are there and support what they know already to be true. What matters to them is that those facts are true and support what they already now to be true. The context and other facts do not change the fact that those words and those facts are there, and that they support their claims. And so they ignore the context and inconvenient facts time and time again. And distort reality. 

As for why they refuse to change some of their views and instead twist reality – I imagine it is due to them being human. Let’s face it, to a greater or lesser extent, this is something we all do. Most though do have limits on how far they will go in this, and will change their views when needed reality intrudes forcefully enough. However, there are an unfortunately large number of people who will not.  Their minds are made up, don’t confuse the issue with facts and context. 

This is something that has caused humanity extreme trouble throughout our history. And did so again on January 6, 2021.  And looks to continue to do so into the future.

Divided We Stand

Unity or divisiveness. We value unity, a sense of community, of us. Together we can get things done, solve problems, improve lives, survive disasters.

United We Stand, divided we fall. 

This is most often very true. However, not always. Especially not in dysfunctional times. Especially when the divide is a yawning chasm without bridges.

I started writing this blog when the news first came out about trump’s infamous call to Georgia. My first words were written while listening to the whole hour long attempt to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to do the wrong thing.

Listening to trump and company bring up every unfounded objection. And Mr. Raffensperger calmly explaining why those objections were unfounded.

Listening as Mr. Raffensperger would state that if you look at the whole video and not the deceptively spliced Giuliani version you would see that… and I can forward that to you – and trump’s reply of, no, I don’t need it, we can already see what is happening. 

Listening as Mr. Raffensperger stated that the votes had been counted three times with no significant changes whatsoever – and trump’s response, but what about this or that or the other that showed fraud was happening right under your noses.

Listening as Mr. Raffensperger state that they had already investigated this and that and the other and found the true story and the true facts, and that there was no election fraud – and trump state that your investigators are either incompetent or corrupt.

Listened to repeated iterations of trump’s find me the 11,780 votes, or bad things will happen to you…insult….insult….insult….insult….insult.

Initially I had been inclined to find a way to narrow the divide between those fervent supporters of trump and us. A way to find common causes to work together on. Because of that I had not been in favor of President Elect Biden investigating or prosecuting trump come January 21. Instead, leave that to the states who were looking forward to president trump becoming just citizen trump.

I have now changed my mind. And although this call was the final leaden straw, this change was the result of an accumulation of experiences, readings, and contemplations. 

My experiences have involved many discussions with many different strong trump supporters and seeing first hand their resolute and unyielding defense of their president and their views, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, reasonings, and reality. Seeing how they latch on to one true fact and then ignore and twist others that show their understanding of that one fact to be flawed and limited. And then twist the one fact to better fit what they want it to mean.

My experience in seeing how they will, sooner or later, and usually very much sooner, go after those that dare disagree and continue to do so in the face of their arguments. Usually by creating a whole new person whose only similarity to you is the name, but which they insist is really you.  Liar. Dishonest. Immoral. Coward. Don’t really care about people, only your political agenda. Don’t care about truth, only your political agenda. Hypocrite. Un-American with no love or even concern of country, only political agenda. Recently was told I don’t even love and care about my grandkids much less anyone else’s. That will become who you are in their eyes.

And as with their political and social views, there is nothing that can be said or shown to make them even consider the possibility that there might be a chance that they could be mistaken. Even were they to physically shadow you for weeks, their view of you would not change. Reality is what they believe, and only that, and not something separate from that.

My experience in watching them craft stories about not only about those they disagree with and who dare to disagree with them, but about reality itself. I have been watching some of my facebook acquaintances who are trump supporters crafting a narrative that the attack on the capital was a staged event, meant to smear trump and trump supporters. 

Their evidence? One picture of a man all in black like an Antifa member, a picture of some of the protesters walking between the roped off areas after they were let in by the police, and incredulity that a couple of hundred unarmed people could get past armed police.  And one eye witness account of seeing buses come up with Antifa and escorted by police. The story that was crafted makes the attack on the capital a staged event done by the Democrats and coordinated with the police and Antifa.  Some have even said that no one really died during this attack, that is was all staged. 

What makes this even more interesting is that they also claim that this attack is justified.  Which is what the other trump supporters who are not promoting the staged event story are saying. 

I have also experienced the fact that many such people wish to see this spread to all the state capitals, and were looking forward to the coming violence as they take their country back. 

My readings on what is happening. About the surprisingly large number of Republicans joining and supporting trump. About the polls on how many Republicans believe trump, even his most blatant lies.  About the many who refuse to wear masks and socially distance, and, even worse, attack those who do.

About the rhetoric of those supporting him, their continued verbal attacks on anything they think might be liberal. Or just different from them.  Or conservatives who do not support and deify trump. And too often the rhetoric includes what they are willing to do to those who oppose, often involving guns.

My contemplations on the nature of unity in a culture and society filled with diversity, on what united and divided really means. On the fact that we are not united in the way of a melting pot, but more of an orchestra.  When united enough a good orchestra can create wonderful music. When not, cacophony and chaos.

We are never going to be totally united on all issues. But, we can be united enough to see each other as only opponents and not enemies.  United enough to see that though we may be opponents on some issues, on others we can work together. United enough to recognize that our opponents too want what is best for the United States and its citizens, even though we disagree on how best to achieve that. United enough to try to find at least an acceptable compromise and not always or even mostly go for complete capitulation.

Contemplating on the best way to achieve the needed and necessary unity for our country to deal with the needs of its citizens.   Most of the time a soft touch, calm words, outstretched hands, finding commonalities to work together is the best way to achieve this sort of unity.  Most times, but not always. And this moment is not one of those most times. 

This part I started writing as the protests and the storming of the capital started, and I am keeping up with reports as I write.  My first thought upon seeing them storm the capital, other than confirming my change of opinion, was remembering my reaction to the rioting during protests against racial injustices and taking care to be consistent on my views  between a cause I fully support, BLM, and one that I abhor.

During the rioting associated with a few BLM protests and other protests on issues of racial injustice, I advocated that the best way to deal with such violence is to first recognize that most such protests are not violent, and, second, to recognize the very real and great injustices that created the anger underlying the violence. 

For this I was often accused by those who support trump or of the more conservative persuasion of excusing such violence. This, despite me also stating that those committing arson, stealing, harming others should be stopped and arrested and prosecuted. The two views are not only very compatible, but a necessary duo.  One is a short term and temporary solution necessary to protect the peace and lives of our citizens.  The other the  long term solution, indeed the only solution, to stopping such violence and to protecting not only the peace and lives of our citizens but to providing justice to all.

So, how does this compare to the current protests by the trump supporters?

First, I say the same as I did with those rioting during BLM protests and such – stop and arrest those who commit violence, steal, harm others, trespass and stop Congress. 

As for the second, there is anger underlying these actions, just as there was anger during the rioting during BLM protests. However, while the BLM anger was fully justified by both history and the present, those of the trump rioters is totally without foundation. The election was fair and not fraudulent.  The cause of the anger and protests matter. 

As for what can be done to prevent such anger and having so many being conned and duped from happening again?  Do we seek unity through not risking increasing the divide?  Or do we create unity through saying to hell with the divide, lets focus on what is right, including prosecuting, or at the very least, investigating trump after he leaves office. 

My view now, and it is one that is foreign to my usual views and reactions, is to say to hell with unity with this group. I believe that they have drunk deep of the poisoned kool –aid and liked it.  Even worse, they want us to drink too, by force if needed. The best thing to do is leave them to their death throes while protecting others and our country from their dying spasms. 

Sometimes the cost of unity is too high. Lincoln tried to achieve unity, but the final cost would have been the dissolution of the country, and that he refused to do. How do we achieve unity with those with extreme views on race, women, religion, sexuality?  Do we toss away our gains, our protections of our citizens?  That would be too high a price. 

And to accept the actions of these people is also too high a price. This is one of those times when unity cannot help us stand, but, instead, only division can.  As happens often in the world of ideas, winning is frequently a matter of outlasting. Evolution became widely accepted not because the older generation of scientists accepted it overwhelmingly, but because those scientists died out and the newer generation replaced them. You see the same thing in regards to racial and other issues.  And the demographics favor us. 

In eight of the last nine Presidential elections since 1993 Democrats have received the majority of the votes.  Minorities are becoming the majority and the whites that fuel trump and the Republicans that support him the minority.  On issue after issue, majorities either support the liberal positions or are trending that way – LGBTQ, immigration, police reform, gun control, etc.

So, how to stand divided and withstand the death throes of the trumpers? 

First, prosecute those guilty of crimes, including those participating and providing support for the insurrection. Let’s focus on making this a totally open process. No redactions, no secrets. The damage that might be done to national security and other areas are minor compared to the damage that would be done if anything is held back in regards to evidence. 

Next, and of critical importance given the demographic changes I mentioned above, get rid of voting obstacles that the Republicans have put in place to protect themselves from these changes and from the majority of our citizenry.

  • Work to get rid of gerrymandering.
  • Pass a new voting rights act to replace the one that was made impotent by the Supreme Court ruling.
  • Work to get rid of the electoral college. 

Let’s focus on a massive education campaign on what happened, on why it happened, on how our government works. Civics education in schools need to be looked at and improved, as well as new programs that think outside the box and beyond just schools. 

Let’s focus on building up the rational and empathetic people. 

Let’s focus on finding out why such people acted as they did, why they are so angry, and, if possible, take measures to deal with their causes, if their fears and concerns are valid and not the result of racism and intolerance.

Instead of unity with the trump supporters, work on building bridges with those who opposed them, the independents and the conservatives with morals and knowledge. Then bury the rest under time and change. Demographics favor the liberals. Instead of building bridges across the chasm, we move away from it and put it to our back.  And to hell with whether or not the chasm grows larger then.

This does not mean that there will be no compromises made. Liberals are not united in what to do, just in the general direction.  Further, we will still need the more rational conservatives and Republicans and independents to make progress.  But, we will no longer concern ourselves with the trumpers. 

Instead, focus on doing what is right as much as is practical. While we have a majority in the Senate, it is a very thin one that will not usually hold for too grand a move, but will for smaller moves in the right direction. And the states are areas where we have done poorly overall.  That needs to change. And while changing, don’t spend time figuring out how to build bridges to the hard core trump supporters, or the Republicans who enabled him and the mob storming our capital.  Put them to our back instead, and work hard to make them irrelevant.

There will be heat. There will be more protests. There will be more violence. But, sometimes the only way forward is through. Sometimes the only way to symphonic unity again is by ignoring the divide and the dividers even at the cost of termporarily increasing chaos. 

Let me close this with the words of Karl Popper about tolerance. He has been widely misquoted on this by those using only part of his words on tolerance. He was more tolerant of intolerance than has been made out. But, he was far from totally so. There were and are and should be limits.  And trump and those who support him have reached those limits.

But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

Our current president loves to be the best, to be number one. And there is one area where he is the undeniable champion, number one of all time among presidents – abusing the powers of the presidency.  I think that most would agree that our current president has exceeded most or all prior ones in his abuse of presidential power for both his personal political gain and his personal economic gain.

This has led to all sorts of questions about how to prevent such abuses from happening again.  One aspect of this challenge that I have not seen addressed often is that we are having to chart a narrow course here between two destructive monsters – that of a president with too much power which they abuse, or of a president with not enough power to effectively deal with the challenges and needs of their office. 

To put it more succinctly:  Any power capable of accomplishing the good and needed is also capable of being abused.  Power that is so limited and circumscribed that it is no longer capable of being abused is one that is also not capable of accomplishing good.

Does this mean that I don’t think we should have more limits on the presidency?  No, we should.  For example, the President being able to decide on his own whether to push the nuclear button is ridiculously frightening and needs to be changed now.  Other limits and changes to his power might be wise too.

However, rather than focusing on how to limit a president’s power, I think it would be better if we focused more on how to monitor and hold them accountable for their actions. It was not the presidency that was broken so much as it was Congress. After all, that is what was almost totally broken in regards to trump. The president has certain powers granted him by the Constitution. He has limits to his powers in regards to the Constitution.  And then, over time, as the government has come across the grey and undefined areas, those powers have been further defined and limited by laws and traditions. Since any system that is dependent on the goodness of whoever is elected to office is a fatally flawed one, the presidency has three institutions whose function is to make sure that the president does not trespass too far beyond the limits of his powers (grey areas again).  They are:

The People when they vote for whom they wish to be president every four years. They also have a role to play between elections by making sure that their voice is heard when they are not pleased.  Overall, I would say that the people did what they were supposed to do. trump was decisively voted out of office after his first term. And throughout his four years he faced more protests from Americans than any president has in several decades. 

The Judiciary, when they rule on the president’s actions.  For the most part, they have done well.  Trump has not fared well in the courts, even though he has appointed three Supreme Court justices and a large number of lower court judges. This can be seen in his recent election challenges in which he lost well over 50 challenges and won only one, a minor challenge that changed nothing. And the Supreme Court denied him not only once, but twice.

A quick check of history of past presidencies shows how bad trump has been at winning at the Supreme Court.  Since FDR’s time, presidents have won on average about 60 – 65% of the cases taken to the Supreme Court. Reagan had a high of 75%.  Obama, at 52% had a lower win number compared to the average. However, trump has the lowest number of wins before the Supreme Court than all since before FDR – 47%.  And his wins and losses at the lower courts are similarly bad, losing more often than winning.  Losing more often than his predecessors.

By the way, he does not hold the record for number of judicial appointments based on either straight numbers or by percentage of judges appointed.  Based on just the first four years in office, the leaders of judicial appointments  are Carter, having appointed 39% of all judgeships, Nixon at 37% and JFK/LBJ at 36%.  In fact, trump’s percentage is, although higher, very close to that of Obama at 20%. trump is right there with Reagan at 22%, Bush 2 at 23 % and Clinton at 24%.

Yes, trump has greatly influenced our judiciary, and most especially our Supreme Court.  But, so far, he has not turned it into a toady for him who approves all that he does. The Judiciary has, so far, lived up to the expectations of it from the Constitution and history.

The Legislative Branch.  The failure point lies in Congress. It did not do its Constitutional duty to monitor and oversee the president, and to hold him accountable for his actions. And although the fault for this lies mainly with the Republicans, the fixes are going to have to be institutional and apply to all.  Our legislative branch is what failed us.

This failure goes beyond just not removing him from office after he was impeached.  It is happening now, with allowing trump to carry on about the election being rigged without any motions of censure or condemning his speech as detrimental to the foundations of our democracy. 

It happened when Congress allowed trump to move moneys specifically appropriated for the military and use it for his wall (and yes, I am aware of the recent court rulings, including the Supreme Court, however the legislature has the power to change the law, in this case the use of emergency powers) without censure. 

It happened when Congress allowed trump and his administration to ignore Congressional subpoenas.

It happened when Congress allowed trump to continue to use acting secretaries and functionaries instead of actual ones. Or to leave important and critical positions vacant for months and even years.  

It happened when Congress failed to confront him on his continual lies (some lying is normal, but trump is far exceeding normal and is setting records). 

It happened when Congress did not question and confront trump about his nepotism in using his family in sensitive positions, even when they failed their security clearances.

And the list can and does go on and on. Congress failed in its duties.  And the root cause of the failure is a hyper partisanship that put the domination by one party over the good of country.

So, what can be done to change Congress so that in the future they will live up to their Constitutional duties?  Here are just a few thoughts on this:

  • Get rid of the filibuster. At one time I had been a strong supporter of it. But, over the years and in reading more about it and its history, I have changed my mind. It was created with good intent, but it has failed in that intent.
  • Create laws about how long critical positions can be left vacant without even a nominee offered.
  • Change the rules so that whoever is the head of the majority in the House and Senate cannot prevent any legislation they do not like from reaching the floor. There should not be such power invested in one person in the legislature.
  • Create laws protecting those in positions that require advice and consent from Congress to also have the same when being fired.  Or if not the same, some additional protections so as to prevent what is happening under trump now.
  • Create a Congressional Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to provide bi-partisan legal opinions on different issues of oversight. Currently Congress relies on the DOJ’s OLC to do this, which has, understandably, a bias towards the executive branch and has given advice that has not always held up in court. This would also allow Congress to more effectively challenge executive positions in court on such issues as security, secrecy, and oversight.  It would also help establish Congressional norms.  
  • Provide better training to Congressional members and their staffs, especially those on oversight committees.  Training on the legal issues, on the scope and limit of their powers, on the process, on the tools available to them and on best investigative processes and procedures.
  • Investigate ways to improve and enforce the subpoena power of Congress. Too often when court rulings go wrong, in our view, we think Congress can do nothing. However, they most definitely can. They can look at why the court ruled the way it did, and then craft legislation that addresses that issue in a way that still allows them to do what is needed.  This link provides some good ideas on how to do so. 
  • Review and change the budget process to enhance Congress’s power to control the purse.  With the use of large spending bills, denying one item in it can cause the whole or significant parts of the government to shut down, this power has become weaker.  Perhaps more use of smaller spending bills that encompass smaller areas instead of one large one that covers all of the government.
  • Pass a law in regards to the issue of emolument. The Constitution does not provide guidance on how to address the issue of presidential conduct on this, and the courts have had issues with standing when civil groups try to challenge the president.  The law needs to define emolument more precisely. What constitutes emolument, both in terms of money and actions, and also exceptions that can be permitted, and then what needs to be done.  Providing this more detailed definition is what Congress is for when the Constitution does not do so.  Doing this removes emolument from being a Constitutional interpretation and into that of legal interpretation.
  • Change how we vote so that instead of a small group of highly partisan people and groups determining primaries for congressional races, a more diverse group becomes needed. For more on that, see below.

And I’m sure more will occur to me as soon as I finish this rather long blog.  And probably already has to some of those reading this. The main point here though is that we need to fix Congress to prevent future trumps from happening. The People did their job.  The Judiciary mostly did their job. That unofficial fourth part of our checks and balances, the Press, mostly did their job.  Had Congress done as well, trump’s power and abuses would have been greatly curtailed.  Quite possibly he would have been not only impeached, but removed.

I would add in two more changes that need to be a high priority in order to prevent this abuse from happening again.  The first and most important involves voting, as this is the ultimate way to control not only the presidency but our government. This voting would cover both the selection of a candidate and the election itself. Both are needed in order to create a Congress that will not be as highly partisan and willing to put politics over the good of the nation.  

First, we must eliminate gerrymandering. There are several possible solutions to this.  All of them involve taking the drawing up of political districts out of the hands of the political party with the majority.  

  • Setting up independent non-partisan commissions for redistricting.  California, Idaho, Alaska and some other states are already doing this. While the challenge with this is how to identify the non-partisan, it is something that should be pursued. 
  • Using computer algorithms to create districts instead of humans. The challenge here is what parameters should be used.  Again though, it is something that should be pursued.
  • Changing voting methods.  For example, instead of districts, all the votes are counted and then representation divided up proportionally.  One party gets 48% of the vote then they have 48% of the representatives.  If another gets 62% then they get 62% of the representatives.  This, by the way, might encourage more third party candidates too.  The issue here is that the representatives would probably not have as close a tie to local communities.  Also, it would require changing a 1967 US law that prohibited at large elections. 
  • Another voting change that should impact gerrymandering is ranked choice voting, in which voters rank all the candidates in order of preference.  If no one has more than 50% of the votes, then the lowest candidate is dropped.  Those voters whose first choice was the dropped candidate have their votes count for their second favorite candidate and the election refigured. This continues until there is a candidate with actual majority support.  This too would encourage third party candidates and might even make politicians more friendly towards their rivals in hopes of becoming the rivals’ supporters’ second choice.

I imagine that any and all of these would be an improvement over what we have now.  I also do not imagine that all states will follow the same methods.  The important thing to keep in mind right now is that we cannot allow the current redistricting method to remain, and whether it will be easier and faster to replace in a state with one that does ranked choice voting (Maine is attempting this right now) or with computer algorithms or with some other system is, while important, of secondary importance.

The other change that needs to be dealt with is money and moneyed interests. We need to find ways to reduce the power of money in politics. Admittedly the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling doesn’t help, and actually makes the problem worse. But even so there are things that can be done.  Things such as:

  • Improve disclosure laws.
  • Tighten and enforce laws against coordination of Super Pac actions with the candidates’ re-election efforts.
  • Improve public financing laws.  And not just at a one to one rate. The Government By the People Act would have the government match small donations at a 6 to 1 rate. The City of Seattle tried something new on tis that is worth looking at. They sent every voter four 25 dollar vouchers that the voter could then give to the candidates of their choice.
  • Improve lobbying laws.  In addition to the normal proposals to prevent politicians from becoming lobbyists, or increasing transparency, I came across a Brookings Institute proposal from 2011 that I liked. It advocated having the Library of Congress create a webpage in which they would not only post every piece of legislation being considered in Congress, but would also create “a forum for lobbyists, constituents, and other interested parties to come together to publicly and transparently debate legislation, and in the process provide congressional staff, journalists, and the public access to the best available arguments, information, and ideas about public policy – all in a way that is easily searchable and sortable.” 
  • Also, eliminate the cap on the size and pay for Congressional staff and focus such on those who stay in DC to work on policy rather than re-elections.  Especially the committee Congressional staffers, who should be paid from a bi-partisan pool as in the Senate.

Too often decisions are made on Congressional staffing and pay, usually in form of cutting both, without regard to workloads, efficiency, and effectiveness. A well-motivated staff can reduce the need for lobbyists, and reduce their impact on decisions. They can also provide greatly needed institutional memory. Too often, since staffs were capped both in size and in pay, lobbyists become the go to experts on pending legislation. Or, they rely on the Executive Branch to provide such expertise, and are thus less likely to provide effective oversight. Congress needs access to its own experts.

  • Increase Congressional access to scientific and technological experts in different fields through the addition of formal Congressional support agencies.  Over the past few decades several such agencies have been eliminated.
  • Obviously, the above proposals means that we will need to increase Congressional funding. While funding cuts to Congress can seem like a good idea, and it has been cut more than once, it leads to a loss of resources and abilities for Congress to carry out its duties in an effective way. It is apparent that Congress needs more money, not less. In other words, we get what we are willing to pay for. We are seeing what happens when we go too cheap. A dysfunctional Congress. 

Despite the length of this blog, it is not even close to being a comprehensive list of ideas and actions that should be considered and enacted.  However, any or all of these ideas, and most likely some other ideas, are needed to move forward. The status quo is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.

Bottom line here. In order to prevent abuses by the person we elect as president, we should not spend too much of our time and resources on focusing on the powers of the presidency.  Instead, we need to focus more on where the failure point was – the legislative branch not doing its job of overseeing the president and holding them accountable. As an important part of this, we need to work on making elections more representative of the diversity of our nation by getting rid of gerrymandering and muting the voice of money in elections. 

One final point I want to make on this. If we want an effective president, one who can do things for the people, then any particular president may wind up abusing his powers at some point in his presidency. Just as a candle creates both light and shadows, so too does an effective presidency creates the real possibility of abuse. Most will be minor, as in the past. But some may be major. The best we can do, and should do, is find ways of making such things as rare as possible without neutering the presidency.

A Christmas to Remember

This will be a Christmas that all of us who are old enough to carry memories will well remember.

This is the Christmas in which COVID killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.  The Christmas in which COVID is presenting us with new peaks of destruction and deaths in America.

This is the Christmas where social gatherings were discouraged and mask wearing encouraged and at too few times mandated. The Christmas where you did not go see family and friends, did not have Christmas, birthday, anniversary, or any sort of parties. 

This is the Christmas where the ignorant and the selfish refused to consider others as they refused to wear masks and social distance. Their right to be maskless trumped the rights of others to live. 

This is the Christmas where those who were hospitalized with COVID struggled without the physical presence of their loved ones and friends. And who too often died alone and apart from those family and friends. 

This is the Christmas where too often businesses were locked down. Too often due to those who refused to social distance and wear masks.  And due to those business who refused to close when COVID was close and high.

This is the Christmas when our federal government refused to provide enough money for small businesses to survive without endangering their employees during this pandemic of closings and loss of business.  The Christmas when our federal government refused to provide enough money and help to those who have lost jobs and income due to COVID. Or forced them to make a choice between working and money, and their and their family’s health and safety.

This is the Christmas where so many went above and beyond in working to help. From the healthcare workers on the front lines, to those who staffed and kept essential business and services going. Grocery store workers, nurses, doctors, police, and so many others.

This is the Christmas where not just one but several vaccines were developed in record time. 

This is the Christmas in which the president who led in the wrong direction during this pandemic and who is responsible for the deaths of many thousands of Americans, was voted out of office.

This is the Christmas in which those who are reading these words managed to survive to reach.  Perhaps hurt and damaged economically and in health, perhaps with terrible losses – parent, child, friends, relatives – but survived to find ways to deal with that grief and those challenges.

This is the Christmas where, though often not able to physically be with those we love most, we can still connect to in so many ways impossible to those living 30 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago.  Zoom, Facebook, telephone calls, and so many other ways to see and talk and keep in touch with those we care about. While not the same as actually being there, it is still contact of a type that we should be grateful we can do now. 

This is the Christmas where, with the vaccine and a new president who listens to scientists and experts, we can hope for a better future and a recovery from the damage done.  Not quickly, not soon enough, but hope that it will happen now. 

This is the Christmas when we will mourn our losses; of the presence of others we once thought would be with us longer; of our health and that of our relatives and friends; of our finances and jobs; of our certainty in how our lives and world worked.  And then, while mourning, find ways to continue on. Hopefully this is the Christmas we can do such together.

This is the Christmas where hope is provided by the actions of so many, by the vaccines and by a government that may now be guided by the Guiding Star of science, reason, empathy and concern for all. Let us hope that this star can guide us to a better place than where we are now, and that the forces of King Herod do not derail us.

But, Christmas is all about hope, and so this is the Christmas where I will continue to do so, and look for the signs to justify such hope.

President Carter. trump. In so many ways they and their presidencies were total opposites.

President Carter: moral, intelligent, well informed, knowledgeable, disciplined, focused on the good of others and the nation and not himself. 

trump: immoral, corrupt, ignorant, chaotic, caring only for himself and, possibly, some family.  

However, there is one thing that links them; both presided over what are considered failed presidencies. This blog is about another link between the two, one of the reasons why they had failed presidencies.    Neither of them were politicians. 

Before I go into why not being  politicians  was a bad thing (at least in the case of Carter), let me just point out that, despite this similarity, and both having a large ego, had Carter been a better politician he likely would have been reelected and would be remembered as a very successful president since, despite not being politician, he still accomplished a great deal and greatly improved our country.

Trump, by contrast, is not even close to being just a bad president much less a fair or good one.  He might have been reelected had COVID not happened, although that is far from certain.  However, he will be going down as the worst president in our history.  One who has greatly harmed our nation. 

These differences in regards to their presidency are the result of the other qualities I mentioned.  They determined the degree and nature of their failed presidency.

Politicians. So many people talk about not electing politicians, that we do not want politicians in office.  Both Carter and trump won partly on the basis of being outsiders and not politicians.  Not being a politician is widely considered a selling point for candidates.  And I can understand why. However, I think this is a mistake. Either a politician or a person with political skills, are necessary to run a government effectively.  To elect a person who has no such skills is rather like hiring a plumber as an aircraft mechanic. No matter how good a plumber the person might be, they will likely fail as an aircraft mechanic. 

Merriam-Webster defines as politician as “a person experienced in the art or science of government. Especially: one actively engaged in conducting the business of government.”

So, why the animosity towards politicians, towards those elected to conduct the business of government?  I think a great deal of it, in fact most, is due to the nature of the job itself. Especially of being a politician governing within a democracy.  In other words, what is involved in the “art or science of government” naturally creates this widespread antipathy to politicians.  

So, why does being a politician create this reaction?

Consider for a moment that our government is supposed to express the will of the people. We so often talk as if the will of the people was a monolithic desire. However, it is not. The will of the people is filled with conflicts and disagreements, some minor, many major. We have disagreements on abortion, on civil rights, on race, on deficit spending, on government regulations, on immigration, on gay rights, on the environment, on health and safety regulations, and on and on and on.  To make matters worse, it is not just a matter of two sides, a coin option.  Instead, most of these issues have many different possibilities and positions. 

Further consider the fact that, except for the President, our politicians are elected in local areas, and the predominant thoughts and even needs of one area may strongly conflict with that of another.  Add to this that those who govern us are individuals with all the variety of individual traits, temperaments and views that comes with being an individual and you have a rather overwhelming challenge – how to orchestrate a symphony out of different groups who each want to play something different, both in instruments and in music choice. Too often you wind up with discordant chaos.  However, when the politicians manage their art, many times you get something recognizable and even good. The art of politics is to get something recognizable and worth listening to more often than the chaos.   

To do this effectively requires several skill sets beyond just an ability to communicate effectively; beyond intelligence and a good work ethic; beyond being organized or knowledgeable.  Assume all of those traits as the basics requirements for a good politician, basics that are shared with other types of work besides politics.  More unique though to politicians are:

  • An ability to wheel and deal, knowing what to trade and what can’t be traded, and when to trade.  Without being willing to trade favors, then passing legislation, especially on important or needed but also controversial legislation, becomes either much more difficult to do or impossible. And always standing the high ground on this creates an ineffective politician, one who cannot get things done.  Of course, if taken too far then you have a crooked politician. The trick lies in judging how much is too much to trade.

The cause of this need to wheel and deal lies in the variety of beliefs and desires in our country, and which our representatives represent and which they often share. The reason this can work is that not  all desires and beliefs have the same value and urgency, meaning that although they might not like, they will be able to support a measure in return for getting something that  they consider more important. 

  • An ability to know when to press forward and when to wait for a more auspicious time.  Pressing forward on all issues equally means none happen.  Or, pressing an issue when there is no support for it, or it would generate too much heat, means an ineffective politician who gets nothing done and makes no difference.  Look at Lincoln in regards to slavery, FDR in regards to getting into WW II, and Obama in regards to Gay Rights. 
  • An ability to spin unpleasant facts. Too much spin though, or spin done too often, is nothing more than lies, which creates a lack of trust.   The cause of this need to spin is multifold. 
  • The issues politicians deal with are often complex, especially when dealing with public views and opinions.  Selling  legislation to the other politicians and the public requires putting the best face on the legislation or direction needed.  I again  refer you to FDR and Lincoln. But, any effective president will do too.
    •  Politicians are people, and people make mistakes. Those who elect them do not like this. Honesty, far from always being the best policy, often results  in politicians who are out of a  job. So, spin but don’t quite get to spouting blatant in your face lies. 
    • And laws and issues are often very complex.  The politician may honestly believe what he is saying even though it is more spin than totally honest.
  • An ability to include other politicians in creating legislation or coming up with action even when they are not needed. Their votes and support are though.  Individuals can lead, however it is groups that vote and pass.  People like to think their input and thoughts were considered, and that they were considered important.  President Carter was very bad at this due to his being so intelligent as well as both willing and able to learn an issue backwards and forwards, which meant he never built support in Congress.  trump did not do so because of his authoritarian bent of mind.
  •  An ability to avoid needlessly angering or annoying needed groups and people; Again, it is groups of people that vote and elect.  This means that the politician will usually have to play to those who voted for him, whether individuals or groups. Even if that means not pushing on things that the politician personally considers important, or pressing on things they don’t necessarily agree with, if they cannot convince those groups otherwise.

While all of the above is true and necessary for a politician, it also leads them to being thought of as liars and deceitful, hypocrites, shady and so forth. And while some are, most are not.  They are tarnished by the nature of their work.

Now, what happens when non-politicians without political skills become politicians?  Carter and trump show the two extreme possibilities. 

First President Carter.  He did not like to trade favors and very rarely did so.  He also tended to create his own legislation with his team and then present it to Congress without consulting them and getting their input and buy in.  He often did not return Congressperson’s phone calls, or insulted them.  Which, of course, created animosity towards him.  He built no coalition, no support among Congress for when times turned more challenging and tough (they already were when he became president). 

Despite this though, he had some impressive achievements as president – the Camp David Accords, creating an energy policy that included financial support for alternative energy (he knew global warming was coming) and creating the Energy Department, created the Department of Education, pardoned Vietnamese draft dodgers, and quite a bit more that was good for the country. 

Carter with political abilities, more would have been done, he would have won a second term, and much of his work in regards to the environment, energy, and the economy would not have been undone by the next president, but, instead continued on to our benefit.

Now, trump. He did not try to build coalitions with anyone other than his firm base. He insulted and made enemies of anyone who did not support him. And he went far, far beyond  spinning facts to outright lies; frequently and bald faced lies. When combined with his egoism and narcissism, his resolute ignorance made him the worst president in our history. COVID, the environment, our relationship with  the world, the economy (yes, I know, but when you look it could have been much better and he set the seeds for its fall to come – and his handling of COVID also made the economy to fall more than it needed to), human rights, civil rights.  Even the very foundations of our democracy, elections, he without reason other than his own self interest, cast doubt and seeks to destroy it. 

Trump with political abilities might be very bad news, a new authoritarian government.

For myself, I strongly believe that we need politicians. Yes, there are some bad politicians, even evil ones.  But, so too with doctors.  Despite the bad one, we need the good ones.  Otherwise our government will not work.