The Worst Week in American Presidential History

Screenshot from a video of Donald Trump with Mike Pence and General James Mattis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Screenshot from a video of Donald Trump with Mike Pence and General James Mattis (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Here is a brief summary of the first week of the Trump administration. The President of the United States stood before the intelligence community and lied, then sent out his spokesman to lie to and berate the press, then subsequently he lied repeatedly in his first interview since his lie-ridden inauguration speech. Consequently, all of this presidential lying introduced the concept of “alternative facts” to the general public. As he has throughout his professional career, President Trump continues to demonstrate a petulant narcissism that leads him to focus his energy on seeking adulation and redressing perceived slights, rather than on conducting thoughtful research and assembling sophisticated policies based on verifiable data.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the flurry of executive orders and bizarre claims emanating from the White House. Despite no indication that there is an illegal immigration problem in the United States, and in a manner completely oblivious to the diplomatic and economic consequences, Donald Trump has committed to building a wall between the United States and Mexico, and to dramatically increasing the size of our border and immigration agencies. This is particularly odd since illegal border crossings are the lowest they have been in fifty years, roughly ten percent of what they were sixteen years ago. Perhaps he hopes the wall will keep immigrants in, since we had a net loss of 140,000 Mexican immigrants from 2009 to 2014.

In addition, despite no indication that the people affected pose a threat, Trump has ceased accepting refugees and blocked the visas and immigration of people from seven predominantly Muslim nations, initially including green card holders whose lives, jobs, and families are in the U.S. In a twist of Orwellian logic, the Trump administration is trying to keep out vetted visitors from countries whose citizens have not been our primary aggressors, while allowing in those from countries whose citizens have actively attacked us. The Trump executive order seeks to promote “extreme vetting,” while failing to note that people from these countries are already subject to vetting in the extreme (Infographic), and that said vetting is working extraordinarily well. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel explained to Trump, another inconvenient fact that Trump’s order ignores is the Geneva Conventions’ requirement that signatories take in war refugees. The White House has chosen instead to create a constitutional crisis, through what one expert identifies as both “incompetence” and “malevolence,” because Trump claims that, all appearances to the contrary, this will keep us “safe.”

Trump is also willing to violate U.S. and international law to keep us “safe.” Despite the clear consensus of those of us who actually understand how interrogation and intelligence collection work, Donald Trump expressed his support of waterboarding to collect information. In so doing, Trump’s claims run explicitly counter to the views of his incoming Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, and the views of his incoming CIA Director, Mike Pompeo. As with his executive orders, Trump’s rhetoric and policy ignores his own experts and the fact that his proposed solution demonstrably and unequivocally does not work. The pattern is the same. Regardless of what the experts say, Donald Trump offers a “plan” that is rooted in neither the realities of the problem nor in any realistic expectation of gaining positive results. The same could be said for Trump’s expression of regret at the United States’ unwillingness to commit the war crime of stealing Iraq’s oil.

It’s as if Trump is getting his policy guidance from people whose primary understanding of the geopolitical situation is rooted in racism, ignorance, and propaganda rather than a cogent understanding of the reality of these complex issues. It seems that way, because it is true. Trump has placed a man – one whose only policy credential is his time editing a website dedicated to fanning the flames of extremist hyper-nationalism, racism, misogyny, and conspiracy theories and who is already trying to silence the media – in a permanent seat on the National Security Council. Meanwhile, Trump has sidelined actual intelligence experts, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence, to an as-needed role there.

Intelligence and counter-terrorism experts, myself included, understand that the solutions to global terrorism are complex ones involving diplomacy, economics, pluralism, covert intelligence collection and analysis and, sometimes, the selective use of military force. Petulant children, fascist egomaniacs, and third-world strongmen, on the other hand, confuse reality with action movies. They think the solution must be flexing as much military might as possible, and punishing those who disagree with them. Consequently, our new Ambassador to the United Nations is making veiled threats to those countries who question our new cowboy diplomacy. Concurrently, Donald Trump has issued a bizarre executive order promising a “great rebuilding” of what is already the most powerful military in the world. Apparently he hopes to further bolster a military budget that already exceeds that of China, Saudi Arabia, the UK, India, France, and Japan…combined. He also makes the insulting and surreal claim on the White House website that our current military is somehow weak and in need of “rebuilding.”

As Trump investigates ways to spend more money on what is already the most expensive military in the world, he is also silencing scientists, ignoring scientific consensus, and making plans to cut programs that benefit the environment, the arts and humanities, women, the sick, and the poor. There is, apparently, plenty of money to fund ineffective solutions to problems that do not exist, but not enough money to fight the real threats of poverty, ignorance, and environmental devastation we currently face.

None of this is sane policy rooted in reality. Building a ridiculously expensive and completely futile wall to keep out people who aren’t posing a problem; denying entry to the U.S. to people who have already been vetted or who already live here because they have brown skin and a different religion from the dominant one here; giving neo-Nazi news editors a voice and sidelining people with actual expertise; advocating for war crimes; over-inflating the most massive and powerful military in the world; silencing scientists; pulling money away from the programs that can actually help our citizens – none of this makes sense.

None of it makes sense, unless you have been fed a steady diet of fear-mongering pablum by a conglomeration of media sources with a vested interest in getting you to vote irrationally based on an inaccurate presentation of both our problems and our solutions. Sadly, this is exactly what organizations like Fox News and Breitbart has accomplished, with the end result that Trump’s actions on immigration, which in no way make us safer, are viewed by the electorate as necessary, because they “fix” problems with the vetting of immigrants and refugees that don’t actually exist. The actual, human cost of families split apart, lives ruined, fellow humans sent back to places of violence and death, and even loyal allies thrust back amongst our enemies is completely ignored because some people believe the lie that the threat is so great that no price is too high to pay to fight it.

This leads me to two questions, the answers to which will define whether or not our republic can survive the threat posed by a Trump presidency. The first is: “Who benefits from lying to the American people about the threats we face and the solutions that address them?” There is no single answer, but the valences of the answers do overlap. Corporations and leaders who profit financially (e.g. defense contractors) and in terms of political power (i.e. Republicans) benefit, because their literal and metaphorical stock goes up when people are afraid. Also, there are other business and corporate interests who benefit from a climate of irrational fear and unrealistic “solutions.” If the electorate is distracted by the specter of non-existent threats, they are less likely to focus their energy on regulating the “lesser” threats of the exploitation of workers and the environment. Shallow, venal racists and bigots also benefit, because fear incites a violent tribalism in primates like us, and fascists have long capitalized on that to serve their agenda. Finally, Donald J. Trump benefits, because pushing meaningless solutions to manufactured problems creates the illusion that he is actually governing, and the illusion of competence is his brand.

Recognizing who is helped by a climate of fear, mis-information, mis-trust of science and expertise, gratuitously ignorant propaganda, and outright lies also points to who is harmed by the same, shameful circumstances in which we now find ourselves. First and foremost, obviously, immigrants and minorities suffer because an irate and terrified populace is eager to deny them their rights. The nation as a whole suffers, not only because we are denied the cultural richness and vitality which immigrants bring to our country, but also because our real needs are ignored in favor of transparently useless security theater. Our economy also suffers, because the isolationism preached by the fearmongers fails to take into account the global interdependence of the twenty-first century.

Finally, ironically, our safety suffers as well. There are real threats to our safety as Americans, the majority of which are domestic, but many of which are foreign in origin. Implementing obviously racist and effectively random policies only perpetuates the xenophobia that alienates us from would-be allies and inflames our enemies. It also misdirects our attention away from the reality that a U.S. citizen is thousands of times more likely to be killed by a fellow American than by a foreign actor. We need to be building economic and diplomatic relationships with our neighbors. We need to be fostering the diversity that makes us an engaged, rather than an imperial, player on the world stage. We need to be focusing our resources on actionable threats identified by experts, not on perceived ones highlighted by ignorant bigots. By ignoring these priorities, the bumbling incompetence of the Trump administration not only fails to make us any safer, it actually endangers us all.

Which leads to the second question: “What can we do about it?” The simple answer is that every American who feels competent to vote, and to weigh in on these issues anywhere from Facebook to the Well of the Senate, must learn to vet every policy claim as closely as the Trump administration wants to vet Syrian refugees. We must ask, “Does the data indicate that this is actually a problem?” If it does, we must ask, “Is there research to reasonably conclude that this is the best solution to that problem?” Finally, as with all kinds of threat assessment and risk analysis, we must ask, “Is the potential gain worth the cost?” For instance, “Is putting tens of thousands of refugees’ lives at risk by sending them away worth eliminating the risk that one of them might commit the sort of crime that, historically, they have never committed in the U.S.?”

Are we capable of this as a society? I wish I knew. The actions of the Trump administration are demonstrably wrong by any objective, rational criteria. Millions of Americans understand this. For the reasons I have outlined above, however, millions of Americans do not. Despite the evidence of both their own eyes and the research of reliable, peer-reviewed experts, millions of Americans have accepted irrational and inflammatory rhetoric of fear. In equal doses, they also support “solutions” that only make sense if someone understands neither the nature of the problem nor the reality of the solution. The safest people on earth, leading lives of unimaginable prosperity, are behaving as if they are living in squalor, under the constant threat of violent attack from vetted immigrants and hard-working neighbors.

How do we persuade people who ignore science, expertise, and even the reality of their own terrorism-free lives to pay attention to facts and real threats rather than distracting propaganda? What brighter spotlight could we possibly shine on Trump’s blatant lying, transparent narcissism, and whining petulance? How do we make America think again? I do not know, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the fate of our republic, and perhaps of the whole democratic experiment, hinges on our ability to find an answer. Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is doomed to fail if the people are not capable of thinking critically past charismatic bombast, unapologetic bigotry, and blatant misinformation.

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Rearguard Strategy for Progressives

Trump, Putin, Stalin, and Hitler - each on the cover of Time as "Person of the Year"

Time’s Person of the Year is in familiar company.

Here’s a friendly heads-up to my progressive friends. The political clout of the progressive movement is currently, at best, at a 70-year low. 100-years is probably more like it. The KKK is literally marching in the streets. Enemies of civil rights, clean air and water, worker’s rights, and the social safety net control the Senate, the House, 2/3 of the state legislatures and governor’s mansions, and – soon – the entire Executive Branch of the government and the Supreme Court.

They have the keys to the kingdom, and we have snarky think pieces in Slate and HuffPo.

Regardless of how normative our views are among educated elites, in terms of actual political power, and likely in terms of majority sentiment, we are in the minority.

When you are in the minority, it is tactically absurd to further weaken your position, or to waste energy on soft or useless targets.

So, not to put too fine a point on it, stop attacking fellow progressives and our allies.

Did someone fail to nuance their ideas in a way that fully encompasses your position? Bummer, but unless they are threatening to force LGBT persons into shock and/or conversion therapy, they’re not the biggest threat we face.

Did someone’s efforts for advocacy seem to you to be more a product of their own guilt, or their own privilege, than the purity of your own motives? Wow, that’s annoying, but unless they’re planning to undermine the freedom of the press and use bullying tactics to silence you, they aren’t exactly our biggest problem right now.

Did someone fight too hard for a cause you think is less important, and not enough for the cause dearest to your heart? That must make them seem like they’re not a true ally. However, if they’re not trying to pump chemicals into your drinking water, they’re probably a better friend than the people we’re about to entrust with our lives.

Fringe-right theocrats and plutocrats have outmaneuvered us time and again, and we are now fighting a rearguard action to preserve what we can until we are able to fight back. Now is the time to build coalitions and shore up alliances. Now is the to strengthen our weaker comrades, not push them from the fold for their lack of ideological purity. We know what we’re going to have to fight for:

  • clean air and water
  • safe workplaces
  • living wages
  • healthcare
  • civil rights
  • freedom from religion
  • reproductive freedom

Let’s put all our energy into these issues, all of which are grievously threatened. The rest can wait until we get to the point where we’re actually in a position to influence government policy again.

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Overwhelmingly Rejecting Trump is the Top Priority

Donald Trump at the Marriott Marquis, NYC on Sep 07, 2016

Donald Trump at the Marriott Marquis, NYC on Sep 07, 2016 (Source: Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s crucial that Donald Trump be summarily and soundly defeated on November 8. The electorate of the United States must send a clear, unequivocal message to the world, and to our fellow citizens: The ideas, attitudes, and behaviors of Donald J. Trump are no longer acceptable in the twenty-first century. The first step in offering a healthy vision for the future of America is unambiguously and permanently abandoning the failed prejudices of past centuries. In repudiating the candidacy of Donald Trump, we are drawing a clear line in the sand against bigotry, arrogance, and the entitlement of wealth and social privilege.

Here are a few examples of exactly what voters must repudiate on November 8.

Xenophobia

Donald Trump claims that immigrants from Mexico to the U.S. are rapists and drug dealers, despite the fact that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the people who already live here. Trump also claims that immigrants are stealing jobs, and should not be helped or supported by Republicans because they “will not get any of those votes.” This claim also has no basis in the evidence. In fact, nothing Donald Trump says about immigrants holds up to scrutiny. There is no place in our diverse nation for this kind of xenophobic rhetoric. We are stronger because we welcome all who want to work to build this great nation, and Donald Trump’s claims are a direct attack on the foundation of the American melting pot.

We must make it clear that in the United States, a nation of immigrants, there is no room for xenophobia.

Religious Bigotry

Donald Trump does not limit his proclamations of bigotry to chicanx North Americans. He also feeds into the feverish anti-Muslim lunacy of the far-right. Without a hint of embarrassment, the Trump campaign published on their website a call for a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Most of Trump’s off-the-cuff comments are unintelligible or contradictory, but even his later attempts to “moderate” that stand only reinforce his anti-Muslim views. Trump is even comfortable summarizing what he believes are the consensus beliefs of a billion adherents to a diverse religion, saying, “Islam hates us.” In making these claims, Trump ignores the very research he claims to cite, research that consistently shows high unfavorability ratings for fundamentalist, extremist groups like Daesh in majority-Muslim nations. Here too, Trump’s biased rhetoric of inflammatory ignorance ignores a fundamental premise of our secular nation, one found in the First Amendment, that we shall neither establish priority for one religion nor shall we prevent its free exercise.

We must make it clear that the United States is a secular nation, where people of all faiths are welcome, and where people of all faiths stand shoulder to shoulder as citizens.

Ethnic Bigotry

Unfortunately, Donald Trump is not content to foment the popular racism of the modern era. He is also more than willing to turn back the clock and dredge up the specters of prejudices past. Donald Trump’s long corporate and personal history of racist actions is well-documented. Unsurprisingly, those attitudes have persisted in his campaign, leading to him calling a supporter a “thug” and having him ejected from a rally. Trump has also ventured into criminology, ignoring the actual research on the subject (which correlates poverty to crime), and tweeted smugly that the “overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and [H]ispanics.” Behavior like Trump’s, which would be uncomfortable if it were to come from your drunk neighbor at Thanksgiving, is particularly excruciating in contrast to the thoughtful, measured analysis of racism in the U.S. consistently offered by President Obama.

We must make it clear that the hopes of the American Civil Rights movement represents the future of democracy in the United States. The train has left the station, and any American who wants to be part of the future of this country had better get on board.

Gender Inequality

Shockingly, we also have to make it clear that the suffrage movement of a century ago is also a settled issue in modern America. Upon learning that female voters will likely be instrumental in defeating Trump, a number of his supporters to Twitter with a hashtag demanding a repeal of the Nineteenth Amendment. That could be seen as an aberration, if it weren’t for the fact that Donald Trump’s campaign is either silent or hostile to every major, modern issue dealing with the status of women in society. Even when the GOP leadership tries to distance itself from Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, their track record on women’s rights makes it clear that Trump’s failure to support these issues is not an anomaly. The question of women’s equality should have been settled decades ago. The fact that it has not is a national embarrassment.

We must make it clear that, in the United States of America, the rights and privileges of citizenship are not guaranteed to all men, they are guaranteed to all people.

Environmental Devastation

Then there’s the topic of the environment. Donald Trump has a long history of ignoring the destructive environmental consequences of his actions. Consequently, it is no surprise that he wants to cut or eliminate the EPA. Nor is it a surprise that he thinks climate change is hoax, which would make him unique among the heads of state for the 195 nations recognized by the U.S. State Department. Contrary to Trump’s cavalier and dismissive statements, the threats of mass extinction and climate change are perhaps the single greatest threats facing humanity for this and future generations. Even the conservative leaders in other Western nations recognize this. Producing political leaders who deny the scientific consensus in this way makes us look as if our government is shamelessly in the thrall of wealthy business interests. Disingenuously parroting baseless propaganda for selfish gains has no place in twenty-first century America.

We must make it clear that the citizens of the United States will work to fight environmental threats with the same drive, commitment, and sacrifice that we used to save the world from the threat of the Axis powers in the 1940’s.

Chicanery

In repudiating Donald Trump, we are not just repudiating his ideas and platform, we are also repudiating his character, or his apparent complete lack thereof. While Trump claims to be a successful businessman, the record of his “business” career shows a string of broken contracts and unpaid bills. In fact, old habits die hard, as indicated by the Trump campaign’s apparent unpaid debt to a polling firm. None of this should be terribly surprising, since it is increasingly clear that Donald Trump, whose actual net worth is unclear, was completely comfortable making money from blatant fraud. We do not need to return to the days of the Teapot Dome scandal, a national disgrace that would almost certainly pale in comparison to a Trump presidency, especially since the candidate apparently does not even understand what a blind trust is.

We must make it clear that the United States does not venerate “businessmen” for their “success” at betraying the workers who built their fortunes, or at conning the desperate out of their hard-earned money.

Ignorance and Incompetence

Perhaps most embarrassingly, despite these practices, Donald Trump has actually significantly underperformed for someone who started with such a large nest egg. That is, however, less unexpected considering the multiple, long lists of astonishingly stupid things he has said. Sadly, Donald Trump’s entire platform consists of ill-informed, poorly-conceived, and often plainly absurd ideas – all of which demonstrate his complete inability to engage in serious, informed policy discussions. The idea behind a democratically-elected leader in a republic is that we choose someone who represents us at our best, not at our most base, ignorant, and ill-informed.

We must make it clear that the United States deserves its place at the head of the world’s table, and to do so we must clearly reject simplistic, childish solutions based on empty rhetoric and unsophisticated ignorance.

Misogyny and Abuse

Finally, in looking at the character of Donald Trump, it is inevitable that we examine the way he represents the worst caricature of white, male privilege and sexual entitlement, to a degree that would make the characters on Mad Men cringe. The most egregious example is undoubtedly Donald Trump’s claim that his celebrity allows him the freedom to sexually assault women without consequences. While Trump tried to dismiss this as “locker room talk,” women immediately recognized it as embodying the violent, predatory nature of sexual entitlement that has deep roots in male privilege, especially among the politically and professionally powerful men of Trump’s social tier. In addition to Trump’s own claims, the women around him are stepping forward to share their allegations that Trump sexually assaulted them, and barged in to ogle their naked, teenage bodies. Beyond that, we have Trump’s massive catalog of offensive, demeaning, and insulting statements about women. It is as if the GOP has decided to run as their standard bearer the platonic ideal of all of the worst stereotypes of the leering, groping, patronizing boss. Men like that have held power for far too long, and it is time to bring their reign to a close.

We must make it clear that the United States embodies a twenty-first century paradigm of leadership that is rooted in respect and inclusiveness, and that we reject the patriarchal traditions used to abuse women and diminish their power.

Conclusion

There is no need to use exaggeration, parody, or hyperbole to describe the ethos of the Trump campaign. In fact, none of those tools could approach the reality of Trump’s own words and actions. Sadly, the xenophobia, bigotry, recklessness, ignorance, chicanery, and explicit misogyny that define both Trump’s platform and his brand are deeply rooted in the shameful recesses of America’s past, the very past to which Trump has offered to return the nation by making America great “again.” This election will decide whether or not those “values” continue to define the politics of power in the United States. The alternative is for voters to step forward and send a clear, final message that those days are gone, that the America of the future is a place of inclusiveness, diversity, equality, thoughtfulness, accountability, and vision.

As terrible as Donald Trump is, this election is about more than just his candidacy. It is about defining the identity of the American people for the next generation. Trump’s shocking candor has left no ambiguity in the choice. Do we collapse back into the worst elements of our past, or do we unite and move forward? That is the choice that matters most on November 8.

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Thoughts on the 2012 Presidential Election

President Obama on Election Night

Following the Facebook, Twitter, and old media discussions of the 2012 presidential election results has led me to an unsurprising conclusion:  many Republicans, including some of my friends, are horrified that President Obama has won.  Considering the tenor of the race, I expected as much.  What confuses me in reading their comments, is that the President Obama they are vilifying has nothing in common with the man who has led our nation for the past four years.  In response, I have a few observations about the President and the direction of the GOP:

 

President Obama is a Christian

It’s time to let go of the argument that “President Obama is not a Christian!”  This is the one most squarely in my area of expertise, and the one that is most offensive to me.  Perhaps it is only an issue here in the Deep South, where religion permeates everything, but I am at my limit with the “We must remember God is in control, even if we don’t have a Christian in the White House” comments.  They are as insipid as they are absurd.

Where to begin?  First, President Obama is a Christian.  Plain and simple.  He is not the caricature that fundamentalists insist defines the religion, but fundamentalists do not speak for Christianity.  In fact, they rarely seem to even understand it, historically or biblically.

Which leads to my broader point in this regard.  Not only is it indefensible to attack the President’s faith, it is equally irrational to claim that there is one singular “Christian” perspective on specific political topics.  Opposition to same-sex marriage is not the “Christian” perspective on the issue.  Opposing abortion rights or reproductive freedom is not the “Christian” stance.  Capitalism is not the “Christian” economic system (despite embarrassingly ludicrous claims to the contrary).  Individual Christians, and Christian denominations, have vastly different perspectives on all of these issues.

Interestingly, fundamentalist Muslims, fundamentalist Jews, and fundamentalist Christians tend to agree on all of them.  So, if you’re looking for an adjective that describes unanimity on those views, “Christian” is inaccurate.  “Fundamentalist” is spot on.  Billy Graham’s regrettable decision to privilege what he calls “biblical values” over actual Christianity is the perfect example of this.  Graham was willing to functionally endorse the Mormon candidate (who, Southern Baptists are very clear, is not a Christian – see here as well) over the Christian candidate because Graham’s narrow, fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture is more important to him than historic Christian faith.  This privileging of politics over actual Christian theology has become the norm in fundamentalist Christianity, leading to their willingness to ignore enormous theological differences in order to push their agenda of intolerance.

Christians as a whole, however, have a broader understanding of the gospel and our Scriptures.  With 42% of Protestants and 50% of Roman Catholics voting for President Obama, it is time to move past the myth that one party represents the Christian view or Christian values.  The language is a code anyway.  What people – on either side of the fence – mean when they say “Christian values” is:  “my values, which I defend using religious language.”  As a result, the descriptor is meaningless, and it demeans the breadth and complexity of our tradition.

The only real consequence of fundamentalist claims to an exclusive “Christian” platform is that it inspires fierce, partisan disdain for the other side.  Rather than being a political opponent, members of the opposite party become theological adversaries.  They are not just the enemy of our ideas, they become the enemy of our God as well.  Instead of analyzing and evaluating ideas on their own merits, people unequivocally and passionately reject them as heresy.  This kind of thinking has never ended well – during the Inquisition, in Calvin’s Geneva, or under the auspices of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  More importantly, and to repeat, it is simply not true.  Christians have different views on every political issue, and there isn’t a universal “Christian” perspective on any of them.

Let this one go.  At best, it is intellectually dishonest.  At its worst, it is an excuse to hide selfish and bigoted ideas behind a smokescreen of religiosity to prevent them from being challenged.

 

President Obama is not the Enemy of the Economy

Another claim – perpetuated in some circles – with near-religious zeal is the myth that President Obama is spending money willy-nilly to drive us off the looming fiscal cliff.  This claim is made despite Forbes identifying President Obama as the “smallest government spender since Eisenhower.”  The myth goes unchallenged because the popular perception is that Republicans are more responsible than Democrats, but spending under Obama is not a dramatic increase over past presidents.  In fact, even the popular perception of Democratic spending Republican could use some revision.

As Daniel J. Mitchell of the conservative Cato institute points out, both parties spend too much money.  Where they differ is how to subsidize their over-funding.  Republicans argue that preserving the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy will generate more overall wealth and, consequently, more tax revenue for addressing the deficit.  This is patently untrue, and Romney’s tax cuts would certainly have favored the wealthy or ultimately cost revenue.

Most Americans, overwhelming, realize this and support raising taxes on the wealthy.  That’s hardly unfair.  Despite what how people think wealth is distributed in the US, 80% of the wealth in this country is in the hands of 20% of the population, with a staggering 1/3 of all wealth in the hands of only 1% of the population.  That top 1% actually got richer during the economic downturn.  Meanwhile, those who make minimum wage have to  work more than 70 hours a week to afford rent.

In a time when the economy is weak, reducing the taxes on the wealthy – who are clearly doing just fine, and at a time when people working two jobs can barely pay their rent – does not make sense.  The 2012 GOP could not see this, and their rhetoric centered on people whom they viewed as self-described “victims” “dependent upon government.”  Americans who actually work for a living, however, realized that this is patently false, and that, even as the fabulously wealthy enjoy the benefits of a healthy, stable, safe nation maintained by their labors, it is increasingly hard for the people who make that America possible to make ends meet.

If Republicans want to represent working people, they cannot be the party of the one percent.  They have to realize what hard-working Americans already do, giving further benefits to the wealthy does not help the American people.

 

Health, Healthcare and the Environment are not Partisan Issues

Limiting our ability to regulate the impact of corporate greed on the health of our citizens or our environment – no matter how economically expedient – does not help us either.  Republicans disagree, but this should not be a partisan issue.  It does not matter how many jobs might be created, it does not matter how much money there is to be made, if it is accomplished at the expense of American well-being the cost is too high.  Mitt Romney may not be worried about the rising oceans, but the rest of us are.

Nevertheless, Republicans are trying to perpetuate the myth that corporations simply cannot afford to create jobs and make a profit if they must do so in a context that insists that they do so ethically (with fair wages, healthcare for every employee, and without harming the environment or public health).  Their claims have no grounding in fact.  Corporations are doing just fine, as are their executives.  Obviously, they want to make as much as they can, but it is our jobs as citizens to insist that the tremendous profit they earn at our expense be done ethically.  Government regulation is how we accomplish that.

As a side note, government investment in innovation is also how we do it.  Much has been made of the dramatic failure that was Solyndra.  It was a risk, on important innovation, that went wrong, but it was hardly a catastrophic one on the scale of past erroneous attempts at innovation.  We need a president who will create a strong vision for the future, and that requires the risk of innovation.

 

Civil Rights Are Not a Partisan Issue

As we move into that future, our citizenry is changing almost as rapidly as our technology.  Let’s look at the demographics of the presidential voters again. Republicans did very well with rich, old, white men.  But this is not the era of old, rich white men.  This is one area where mainstream media and conservative evangelicals agree, and the election results are proof that America’s demographics are changing.

This is bringing civil rights issues to the fore again in a way not seen since the Sixties.  As the Human Rights Campaign reports, November 6, 2012 was an unprecedented night of victories for equality issues.  The first openly gay Senator was elected.  Three states passed referendum’s supporting gay marriage, and LGBT-friendly politicians, including the President, fared very well.

Mitt Romney’s lackluster record on civil rights hurt him badly in this election. Likewise, other Republican candidates who talked about “legitimate rape” and children conceived in rape as a “gift from God” were soundly defeated.  Attitudes and comments that might be acceptable in the locker room or the Gentleman’s Lounge at the club are no longer acceptable for those who want to lead a diverse nation of women and men.

Republicans have felt comfortable speaking from the position of privilege – white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, and the privilege of wealth – for far too long.  If they want to remain a national party, they will have to move beyond that.  The groups who voted for President Obama are the growing edges of the electorate.  Perhaps more importantly, young people of both parties no longer see the partisan lines on social issues that their elders considered immutable.

Certainly these issues still galvanize a certain section of the Republican base, but they are increasingly distasteful to the young, educated, and diverse voters who will lead our country into the twenty-first century.  Additionally, immigrants – who make up an increasingly large part of the electorate – are unlikely to support a party that continues to treat them as second-class citizens, or not even citizens at all.

 

Obama Has Not Governed as a Liberal

Finally, and sadly, despite all of the rhetoric from the fringe right, President Obama is not a liberal, or at least has not governed as one.  A liberal would not have allowed any arctic drilling.  A liberal president would not have been soft on Wall Street.  A liberal president would not have allowed a former Monsanto Vice President anywhere near the FDA.  A liberal president would have pushed for a single-payer healthcare plan, rather than a conservative plan that favored insurance companies.  President Obama is a moderate conservative.

 

Final Thoughts

So, if Obama was the conservative in the race, what does that make the Republican Party of 2012?  Simply put, they are a fringe party, pulling themselves toward irrelevance.  Re-defining “Christianity” to mean fundamentalism and then pushing a theocratic agenda.  Defending the super-rich at the expense of the working classes.  Protecting corporate interests and profits over the health of our citizens and our environment.  Opposing civil rights for women, sexual minorities, and immigrants.  These are not “conservative” positions, they are anachronistic ideas that should be repugnant to all citizens of the twenty-first century.

Unfortunately, in an astonishing case of myopia, some Republican voices are promising to go even further to the right.  They would be wise to listen to Republican Senator Linsey Graham, who observed, “We’re not losing 95 percent of African-Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics and voters under 30 because we’re not being hard-ass enough.”  He is right, but the problem runs even deeper.  The issue is not that the Republican Party isn’t pushing its conservative values “hard” enough.  The Republican Party has exchanged actual conservative values – of community, integrity, and personal responsibility – for pseudo-religious hypocrisy, greed, self-destruction, and ethnocentrism.  Until the Republicans can jettison those anti-social values, the only relevant conservative party in America will be the Democrats.

 

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Collaboration Across the Divide

The Good Samaritan - Ferdinand Hodler (1885)

The Good Samaritan – Ferdinand Hodler (1885)

I am unashamedly a partisan in our current political debates.  I think we have two major political parties in this country: a conservative one and a far-right party controlled by anachronistic theocrats and billionaire robber barons.  I would love to have an actual, “liberal” party here, but I think it may take several more generations before we catch up to the rest of the Western world in that regard.

I point this out to explain that the observations which follow are not those of a “centrist” or a “moderate.”  I have very strong political views, and an intense dislike of nearly every aspect of the opposing party’s platform.  I think much of the work of my own party does not go far enough – to protect the environment, to protect the working class, and to protect our civil liberties.

Which leads to my conundrum.  To be so partisan, how can I have close friends, beloved friends who are like family, who are Republicans?  We are not friends because we have to be.  I like these women and men, value their opinions, and am grateful for their friendship.  And yet, they stand on the other side of this enormous political chasm, aligned with a political party that represents all of the values I oppose.

To examine this apparent contradiction, I started by asking myself which traits are common among all my close friends.  What do I value in a friend?  Based on my own observations, there are five core traits (in descending order) that are of fundamental importance to me in choosing my friends:  loyalty, integrity, kindness, generosity, and intelligence.  I am fortunate to have several close friends who have these traits in abundance.

This led me to my next question.  How is it that loyal, kind, ethical, generous, smart people could come to such different conclusions from mine about how we should govern the country?  I know from personal experience that they are not mean or cruel, yet they support a party which – from my perspective – wants to deny healthcare, a living wage, and safe working environments to our citizens.  I know from personal experience that they are deeply ethical, yet they support a party which – from my perspective – wants to give corporations free reign to destroy the health of our planet and our citizens.  I know from personal experience that they are loyal and generous to people of all backgrounds, yet they support a party which – from my perspective – privileges wealthy, straight, white men and denies rights and opportunities to people from other groups.

I’m sure from their perspective they find my politics equally puzzling.  How can we have so many values in common, yet ally ourselves passionately with opposing political parties?  How can we all values personal responsibility, kindness, excellence, and community; yet have such different understandings of how we – the people – should act to nurture those things?

Perhaps our values are more different than I think?  Asking this question led me to consider specific scenarios.  How would my friends and I respond to a person we found injured by the side of the road?  (I didn’t come up with that one, Jesus did.)  How would we respond to someone we knew whose child had cancer but could not afford their medical bills?  What would we do if we saw someone dumping toxic waste into a river?

In every scenario I could think of, my friends and I – despite our profound political differences – had approximately the same response.  Yet our posts on Facebook, our bumper stickers, and the conclusions of every pundit and political poll would claim that we do not agree on anything.   Where is the disconnect?

My best guess is that it is rooted in the fact that our political debates are not about specific scenarios.  Instead, we align our loyalties to broad doctrines:  libertarianism, objectivism, socialism, family values, progressivism, and many others,  We plant our flags on what we think those ideas mean, and then defend them against all comers.

Along the way, I don’t think we stop often enough to ask ourselves: What problems are we trying to solve?  Perhaps if this became our starting point – working inductively from what we hope to accomplish rather than deductively from the partisan concepts we hold most dear – we would begin with our common values rather than our opposing worldviews.  We would answer the questions collaboratively, rather than combatively.  We do this sometimes on a local level, working together to solve a known problem or sudden catastrophe.

On the national level, however, we almost never manage to do the same.  As a result, we spend a lot of time arguing about ideological differences rather than rolling up our sleeves and working to make this amazing country stronger, healthier, and ready for the future.   The single mother working two full-time jobs and still unable to provide a safe home and healthcare for her children is not  helped by our bickering.  The student who has diligently studied and sacrificed for their whole life for an education they realize they cannot afford will not suddenly be able to earn a diploma because of our debates.  The children who suffer from preventable ailments caused by unbreathable air, undrinkable water, or a lack of access to healthcare will not be miraculous healed by the time and resources we spend attacking the ideas of people who actually share our same core values.

So who is served by this impasse, in which people who care about the same things and share the same priorities spend their time arguing about whose theories are right – rather than realizing that there are plenty of practical solutions we actually agree upon?  Perhaps it benefits a small number of plutocrats who take advantage of the distractions to continue to exploit the system for their personal gain.  We, the common citizens, are certainly not helped in any way, and those of our neighbors in need clearly reap no benefits from our partisanship.

Unfortunately, I cannot think of an easy solution.  Our political system is built on a balancing beam of two opposing parties; and nothing short of a constitutional mandate is likely to change that.  On a personal level, though, perhaps it behooves us all to stop and consider the enigma of our friendships with people with whom – according to the claims of our respective political parties – we have nothing in common.  When we do, we might find ourselves digging down past convenient labels and dogmas and instead talking about how we can, together, build on our shared values to fix what is broken in our communities and our nation.  Doing so won’t advance the agenda of either party, and it won’t resolve a single political debate, but we might just realize those things don’t matter quite as much as we thought they did.

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