Without Trust It’s Hard to Support Anyone’s Policies

Presidents aren’t always free to craft their legacies. George W. Bush didn’t campaign on – or expect to confront – the terrorism of 9/11. Barak Obama didn’t campaign on – or expect to confront – the second greatest financial crisis in American history. So we voters didn’t choose them because of policies to tackle their greatest challenges.

That’s why character and trust are important.
For most of my life, I believed policies were more important. I tried to read politicians’ proposals and study analyses from friends and foes.

Silly me.
One of my favorite books, reviewed here, tried to explain, and as much as I liked that book, I still didn’t get it.

It makes sense to vote based on values.
Does the potential President care about underdog groups? Have a sense of fairness? Who receives their loyalty? Do they inspire respect? Have noble goals? The last election gave me poor choices and a miserable outcome.

I don’t believe Donald Trump actually has any policies – only expediencies to get crowds roaring. The fact that those expediencies are disliked by two thirds of Americans doesn’t seem to bother him.

Trump doesn’t want my support and he’s not going to get it. At this point, it’s hard for me to imagine what he could do to change my mind. Maybe unravel the bellicose standoff on the Korean peninsula, or bring Israel and Palestine into talks that lead to a satisfying conclusion. Really create a roaring economy. Actually rpovide good healthcare for all. But, based on decades of history, that’s a lot to ask.

A rational opposition opposes the policies of those in power because they expect those policies will, perhaps unintentionally, hurt more people than they help. But that’s not the only reason to “resist” and may not even be a primary motivation.

Studies show that people are willing to punish bullies and tyrants even at high cost to themselves. That means there are a few among my fellow citizens who would be willing to see terrible things happen to America on Trump’s watch, just to prove to the nation we made the wrong choices in 2016. I recall seeing the same reaction to Obama’s election. Human beings are weird.

The GOP elite in Congress are worse than Trump in the sense that they plan to implement policies that will change the nation – and I don’t trust them. Tax reform, healthcare, infrastructure, immigration – these are all problems that need to be addressed and I don’t know what to do. I need to trust my leadership if I am to follow them.

In the past I’ve always felt the Republicans had good – even better – ideas on how to solve national problems than the Democrats. But today I don’t think the GOP wants to solve them. Where their fiscal philosophies have been tried, as in Kansas, Republicans seem blind to negative outcomes – something I’ve accused Democrats of in the past. “Doubling down” makes no sense to me.

So I don’t trust Congress’s motives, which means I’m not likely to support their policies. I can justify my position by, for example, pointing to the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis that says millions of people would lose healthcare coverage under the “mean” GOP bills – so different from the good, cheap, healthcare-for-all Trump promised. Congress seems to feel no need to implement his promise and Trump doesn’t make any proposals of his own. They’ve all lost my support.

Can the Democrats offer a better answer? Will America swing from one extreme to the other as fanatics at each end fail in turn, but double-down?

Perhaps we’re witnessing the dissolution of both major political parties. Such things have happened before. Even though the current balloting structure entrenches Republicans and Democrats today, that could change. As Gzep says here, perhaps it’s time to try something else. Perhaps, sometime in the future, scholars will say we were privileged to live on a cusp of history. Unlucky for us, we have to live through it.

As the English expression purported to be a Chinese curse says:

May you live in interesting times.

I Had a Dream…

Like most literates these days I’m watching the political battle unfold over the future status of children who ended up in the United States because their parents decided to come here illegally.  These kids, many of whom are now adults, are known as DREAMers, as much for their dream of being real Americans as for the failed legislation, known as the DREAM Act, that would have made their dream a reality.  Dueling Executive orders and a recalcitrant Congress have left them in legal limbo, sitting on a ticking deportation bomb set to blow up their lives in less than six months.  Many Americans seem indifferent to this outcome and many more seem eager for it.

As children we all had dreams.  Let me tell you about one of mine.

I have almost no memories of the first couple of years of my existence, only a few fleeting images that family members helped me pin down to year two or three.  What I do remember is how terribly dependent I was on my mother.  My dad left us shortly after I was born, and I doubt that I have to elaborate on the emotional effects of that.  I don’t doubt that some of those effects manifested themselves in this particular nocturnal excursion that appeared when I was four or five.

In this dream I am alone on a dark, empty street, watching my mother walking resolutely away from me.  I could see her slender form, dimly lit by a fading streetlight, her heels clicking on the pavement.  It was graphic and frightening, one of only two nightmares I can recall from my childhood (the other one involved being treed by elephants in my backyard – a subject for another post).  I couldn’t understand why she would leave me, and I was terrified.  My most overwhelming impulse was to follow her, wherever she was going.  It wasn’t a choice, it was an imperative.

I still remember that dream clearly, 67 years later, and I can’t avoid thinking of it whenever I hear about the DREAMers and their quandary.  Based on my experience as a very dependent child, I have to ask:  What else could these kids do?  Let mother or dad walk away?  Stand alone and watch them disappear into the night?

The answer coming from far-too-large a fraction of the American public makes me wonder what sort of superhuman childhood they must have had.  Were they totally independent by age four?  Did they have the maturity and presence of mind to recognize and correct their parents’ legal missteps, piping up a reprimand from the back seat whenever daddy edged past the speed limit or mamma forgot to put on her seat belt?  Were they all, as pre-adolescents, fluent in US immigration law?  How else to explain their apparent belief that these immigrant children possessed the wherewithal to persuade their parents not to enter the United States illegally or, failing that, to say, “Fine, mom and dad, hit the road.  I’ll be just fine staying right here.”

How these budding Einsteins all grew up to become so hard-headed, unempathic and ultra-susceptable to every bogus anti-immigrant bloviation on the web is beyond my ken.  How wonderful to have been so precocious.  And how unfortunate to have regressed so completely  to the mean.

These supposed savants are focusing their ire on a group of young people who, by and large, represent exactly the type of immigrant that most countries are pining for; smart, well-educated, well-behaved, articulate (most of them probably speak better English than I do) and either primed to contribute to or already contributing to the society in which they were raised.  Many have graduated college with honors in spite of the extra burdens placed on them by their status.  Criminals?  A much lower percentage of DREAMers has had brushes with the law (discounting ICE) than has the general populace.

Our universities and corporations go to great lengths, and considerable expense, to recruit high-quality foreign students and workers.  How does it make sense to toss out the ones we have already educated and assimilated on what surely has to be the most shameful of legal technicalities?  Were they remiss in not coming forward and applying for citizenship?  In reality, all that action would have done is sentence them to 13-odd years in the meat grinder of this country’s capricious and incomprehensible immigration system.  Almost as scary as being treed by elephants.

Anti-immigrant emotions run high and hot these days, threatening to incinerate any attempt at setting a firm, fair policy for dealing with our DREAMers.  But if we let our lesser selves deny these victims the chance to stay in, and contribute to, the only country they have ever known, we deserve to have our sleep disrupted by marauding pachyderms – or worse.

Old Friends and Acquaintances

Cria Lama_2_Luc_Viatour (400x335)

Attribution: Luc Viatour

When I was working in Colorado, I also raised and sold one or two llamas a year. The babies are seriously cute, and the only way to have room for new babies is to sell the old ones.

I worked with a vet who specialized in llamas. I was his client and paid for his services, but he generously shared his knowledge and taught me how to care for my animals. We’d chat about trivialities too. He once waved away my thanks by saying the more his clients knew, the fewer midnight calls roused him from bed. He’s a very good guy.

I still have three elderly llamas and one old boy’s health issue recently led me to contact my old vet. His caring response reminded me that – I miss him.

Over the course of my life, many people have helped me. Even if we never visited each other’s homes – even if I don’t remember everyone’s name – many people made my life better. From time to time, something happens to nudge me out of my current rut and I remember.

I miss them.

I hope that sometimes I helped others too.

And for those of you who were pains in the ass – good riddance.

J. D., We Hardly Knew Ye

hillbilly elegyPresident Trump can’t catch a break.  Even when he might have had a legitimate point to make about the events in Charlottesville, the tenuous connection between his mind and his mouth failed him yet again.  Few situations carry more emotional complexity than the proposed removal of Confederate Civil War memorials, and the tragic death of a counter protester heated the situation well beyond the boiling point.  A carefully nuanced response was called for, but as everyone from North Korea to the South Bronx is well aware, The Donald doesn’t do nuance.  His convoluted ruminations wound up sounding vaguely like an endorsement of white supremacy, which it wasn’t.  His critics, few of whom go for nuance themselves, turned their amps up to eleven and let fly, never giving the slightest nod to the possibility that there might be more to the story than the heinous murder of a valiant cultural warrior, abetted by society’s fave villains, the Nazis and the Klan.

The issue seems straightforward; monuments to those who defended slavery are a stain on the moral fabric of modern America that should be obliterated (along with the voices of anyone who disagrees).  Media scribes and civil rights activists are happy to label those who oppose this erasure as racist crackers and toss them into the ninth ring of Hell along with the likes of Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer.  Ideologies espoused by groups like the KKK and the American Nazi Party are easily and justifiably condemned,  but the roots of their appeal go far deeper than raw racist bigotry.  Society is always better served by trying to understand its deviants, if only because how we deal with them may determine how many more of them there will be.

How quickly we seem to have forgotten about Hillbilly Elegy.  J. D. Vance’s spare, poignant account of growing up in the world of the white not-so-privileged is still hanging around the NY Times best seller list.  But the lessons it should have taught us about the thought processes of  disaffected poor whites in America apparently didn’t get through. Continue reading

I’ll Show You a Tyrant

Nicolás_Maduro

Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro (By Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0)

If you are a pessimist, 2017 has so far been a pretty good year.  The chaotic beginning of the Trump presidency has provided the nation’s media with truckload after truckload of low-hanging political fruit, and pundits are in breathless competition to enumerate the ways in which Donald Trump is likely to destroy American democracy.  Readers of The Times or The Post could be forgiven for believing that we are on the verge of following pre-WWII Germany down the terrible road to tyranny, and the picture painted on social media looks even worse.  Angry Twitterers and Facebookers would have us believe that political conditions here are fast approaching the level of disarray currently on exhibition in Venezuela.

As it happens I recently stumbled upon an interview with the last American journalist to be granted a visa to report from Caracas.  Hannah Dreier, who writes for the Associated Press, spoke to Politico Magazine about what life was like in a country where democracy is actually circling the drain.

Venezuela was once one of the richest country in South America, a beautiful tropical land above and the world’s third largest petroleum reserves below.  But political instability, economic inequality and poverty have long persisted there and, a la Cuba,  populist discontent eventually brought populist Hugo Chavez to power in 1999.   After the bombastic Bolivarian revolutionary ascended to the presidency, he courted the masses by spreading the wealth generated by $100-a-barrel oil.  But collapsing oil prices deprived the country of most of its cash flow just as the death of Chavez, from cancer in 2013, deprived it of charismatic leadership.  Enter Nicholas Maduro, Chavez’ Interior Minister and political heir, whose futile – and increasingly brutal – efforts to keep the Chavista Revolution alive have left his country economically paralyzed and its people descending into anarchy.  Since winning the presidency by a bare 1% margin Maduro has shown no proclivity for running Venezuela other than to make absolutely sure that he gets to continue ruling it.  Bolivarian democracy means never having to say Vaya con Dios!

What has Maduro’s brutal incompetence meant for Venezuelans?  Dreier’s reports that even the most affluent are becoming malnourished while the poor are approaching starvation.  Inflation has rendered the national currency nearly worthless.  The Black Market is the only source for staples like toilet paper.  Kidnappings and robberies happen hourly, and no neighborhood is safe.  Dreier tells of being robbed only to be told by her local friends that it was a “good” robbery, since she survived it.  Later she was also kidnapped and was momentarily relieved to discover that her abductors were none other than Maduro’s secret police, who nevertheless threatened her with rape and worse.

Despite international sanctions, Venezuela continues to sell millions of barrels of oil per day, but no one seems to know where the money is going.  It is certainly not in evidence anywhere outside Maduro’s circle.  Rioting, however, is everywhere, as are Maduro’s police and the (presently) loyal military, their control measures growing more violent as the death toll rises into the hundreds.  The situation is so horrific, reports Dreier, that many Venezuelans are willing to embrace Maduro’s nascent dictatorship just to see some stability in their lives. Continue reading

Another Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge Update

A previous posting mentioned that anti-Rocky Flats activists had filed suit to stop construction of a visitor center at the refuge on the grounds that the requirements for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) had not been met. The good news is that the suit has been dismissed. The bad news is that the court dismissed the suit because the activity is not imminent. The exact wording from the July Rocky Flats Cold War Museum Newsletter is that the “. .  .plaintiff’s (the activist organizations) made a motion in the case for a temporary injunction to stop the construction of the Visitor Center.  The judge denied the motion citing the fact that construction is not imminent anyway.”

Why Are You Still Here?!

The groundswell of disgust and disbelief that has been sloshing around the White House since Inauguration Day is building into a tsunami that many media savants opine will drown the Donald Trump presidency.  Some House Democrats have already brought forth a bill of impeachment, but party leaders have lent only tepid rhetorical support to the idea, knowing full well that it will get little traction with Republicans in control of both Congressional houses.  And that, I suspect, is just fine with the Dems for the moment.  They want Trump right where he is, for at least another year.  Let me explain.

First let me state that I’m not a Trump supporter and never have been.  He is proving to be a worse Chief Executive than anyone imagined.  I would love to see him out of office, the sooner the better. However, I strongly believe that the process of removing him from office must be legitimate and unassailable, maybe more so than the election that put him there.  Right now, hard evidence to support that scenario does not exist and Schumer and Pelosi know it.  Rank and file Democrats are getting their Trump therapy by conflating Russian attempted interference with actual interference. They then further muddy the water by claiming that Trump or his cabal solicited Russian intervention and are now trying to cover their tracks.  They claim that Trump wants to torpedo the investigations because he has something to hide. This conspiratorial construct is not based on any verifiable facts, but on their analysis of his behavior, which I believe is incorrect.  Here’s my analysis:

Donald Trump is such a monumentally narcissistic egomaniac that he views any slight as a declaration of war and any question of his motives or actions as treasonous.  He is fighting the investigations because he sees them as unwarranted attacks to be repulsed.  I expect he is innocent of any collusion because he believes that he didn’t need the Russians or anyone else to help him win the election, and he takes it as a personal insult that his opponents believe it.  Members of his campaign may have met with Putin cronies and may have lusted after whatever dirt on Hillary the Russkies promised to provide.  Trump himself may have been in that loop somewhere. Hard to prove.  But Trump’s most likely response to any offer of foreign assistance would have been, “Sure, whatever.  We don’t need them.  I’m gonna win bigly anyway”.  And should Jr. and Kushner be found to have committed any act beyond criminal stupidity, Trump will shed it like he has everything else.  He not only doesn’t remember what he said or who he said it to last month, he doesn’t care.  He lives in the moment and will say whatever suits his purpose today.  He is immune to embarrassment or shame, and attempts to impugn him will make his behavior worse, not better.  He is also immune to impeachment for any crimes committed by underlings of which he had no knowledge or part.  His removal by this route is possible only if a lot more solid evidence comes to light, and then only if this craven Congress has the integrity to undertake it. I’m sure Ryan and McConnell will not lean in. Trump may be a colossal ass, but for better or worse he’s their colossal ass.

If Democrats were focused only on actual governing, they might start stroking his ego and playing to his insatiable need for adulation rather than continuing to goad him. They might even get him to switch parties if they could swallow their post-election angst for a few months.  Trump was a Democrat not that long ago, remember?  But I’m not expecting that.  I expect that they will keep doing what they’re doing, swamping him and Congress with leaks, attacks and innuendo to keep the Republican agenda stalled, but letting him Tweet on so that every Dem candidate for office, from Senator to dog catcher, can run against Donald Trump in 2018.  Good luck with that, as he is likely to be more vulnerable and will almost assuredly be more unhinged by then. Why would Progressives want him impeached right away?  That would leave them with three years of President Pence, who is even more hostile to their ideology than Trump, and as an incumbent (and a decent human being) might be a serious threat in 2020.  No, The Donald is of more use to the Democrat Party as an abhorrent adversary than as an ex-President. Unless he is on the verge of starting WWIII or letting the Russians annex Alaska, Democrats will be content to let him blunder on.  What’s a few international crises and a couple more years of gridlock when control of Congress is in play?

When it comes to President Donald Trump, both Republicans and Democrats have a lot to be ashamed about.  From my vantage point, neither party in this soap opera really cares about anything other than gaining a political advantage from it, and both will use Trump as best they can to do so. Meanwhile, the country and the world will just have to stand nervously by and watch.