Category Archives: The Nation

Top Five ACTUAL National Emergencies

Spanish Flu Pandemic

Spanish Flu Pandemic

As the man who is, to our everlasting shame, president of the United States makes a mockery of the concept, I thought I’d start a discussion of actual national emergencies from our history.

It’s not that easy. I’m sure I’m forgetting something big, but just to get the ball rolling, here’s my quick-and-dirty list of Top Five Actual National Emergencies:

  1. Civil War — I could have said Secession or the Dred Scott decision or the Nullification Crisis, but I’m just wrapping it all together under one heading.
  2. Cuban Missile Crisis — An alternative might be “Berlin Wall Crisis,” but this seems to be the one when a nuclear exchange seemed most likely.
  3. World War II — Not sure whether this should make the short list because the United States’ existence wasn’t threatened the way Britain’s and France’s and so many other countries’ were. But for those living through it, things looked pretty dark in December 1941. In terms of response to a crisis, the nation rose to this one as it did in the 1860s.
  4. Spanish Flu Pandemic — Exactly a century ago, it killed more people than there were military deaths in both World War I and II. Of course, it was worldwide, and not just national, but I included it anyway.
  5. Stock Market Crash, 1929 — I know it was just about money and all, but it was a biggie.

Honorable mention:

  • Burning of Washington, 1814 — Kind of a low point — I mean, the president fled and the Brits burned the White House — but I went back and forth as to whether it should make the list.
  • 9/11, 2001 — We’re still kind of reeling from this one.
  • Watergate — The Constitution withstood a test, and we passed with flying colors. But Americans’ trust in their government has continued to wither.
The burning of Washington.

The burning of Washington.

Doonesbury addressed the problem satirically in 1974

A discussion we were having earlier about losing our confidence as a nation made me think of a series of Doonesbury strips from 1974.

Amazingly, I found the exact strips I was seeking on the web. I hope whoever holds the copyright will regard this as Fair Use (it certainly seems so to me).

The characters of the strip are having a costume party. Here’s the first strip:

best1

That was followed the next day by this:

best 2

You can see the same point elaborated upon by the third strip, below.

We were talking previously about how the main character in “The Newsroom,” which I had belatedly started watching, bemoaned the lost greatness of our country, saying in part, ““We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….””

And I wondered:

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what?

Well, it seems that way back in 1974, Trudeau was sort of saying, yeah, that was it. And saying it in a way that would probably please no one.

Think about what an edgy thing that was to do back in 1974, with the war still going on — but after the U.S. had disengaged militarily (No, Virginia, the war did not “end” when we stopped fighting it.)

No wonder so many papers ran it on the editorial page. There were no other comics like that. And few editorial cartoonists could match this kind of depth and subtlety.

And think about the irony in the message Trudeau was laying out — among the folks who loved his strip (as opposed to the legions who hated it — the real reason so many papers put it in editorial), it was axiomatic that the Vietnam War was an awful thing, that our having gotten involved there was a blot on the national reputation.

And yet here the cartoonist was mourning what we had lost when the enterprise failed. I thought these strips were great at the time, but I wonder now what others thought of them.

In any case, it’s impressive…

bummer

Will we as a country ever do great things again?

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing the pat answers of the 'liberal' and 'conservative' on the panel.

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing more than enough of the pat answers of the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ on the panel.

I really should have had more faith in Aaron Sorkin.

After all, there’s never been anything on television I like more than “The West Wing” (although I’ll note that “Band of Brothers” ties it).

But until this week, I had refused to watch “The Newsroom.” Long ago, when HBO first launched it, I read things about it that made me not want to see it, on the grounds that I thought it would just irritate me no end. But what I read was either a misrepresentation, or I misread it.

When my wife suggested, as I was clicking around in Amazon Prime, that we check it out, I trotted out the objections as I recalled them: First, it was about a TV news anchorman — and you know, I’m a print guy. I don’t even WATCH that TV stuff, network or cable. Next, he was an anchorman who one day loses it and launches into a rant that supposedly “tells the truth” for a change, and nothing is ever again the same for him or his network. That, of course, sounded an awful lot like “Network,” which I’ve always thought was overrated. (You probably have to have been around in 1976 to recall how “brilliant” it allegedly was.) I’ve never yet understood what Peter Finch’s character was “mad as hell” about, or why that supposedly connected with a wide audience. It was gibberish to me — sensationalistic gibberish. Unfocused emotionalism, signifying nothing.

Then there was my memory of the content of the rant on “The Newsroom” — which, as it turned out, was mistaken. As I told my wife, the “truth” he was sharing was paranoid nonsense like what we hear from Bernie Sanders and in slightly different form from Donald Trump, about how everything is fixed and the little guy stands no chance. My memory was clearly wrong. His “truth” was something else that tends to evoke a similarly dismissive reaction in me: a rant about how this is not the greatest country in the world, essentially a rejection of American exceptionalism. (There are a lot of things that prompt similar reactions in me, and sometimes I confuse them.)

Actually, when I relented and watched the show, I saw that even that wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. Here’s what Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy says after being badgered into reacting while sitting on a panel in front of a college audience:

And yeah, you… sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is: there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!

Here’s the video. In the context, and in light of his irritation at the pat answers given by the stereotypical “liberal” and “conservative” on the panel with him (irritation with which I fully identified; he could have been me sitting there, losing patience with their stupid game — so by the time he erupts, I’m in his corner), it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I was willing to keep listening to him. And I was rewarded for that, because what followed redeemed what he’d said before, if it needed redeeming:

It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

Right. Absolutely. That’s what I mean by American exceptionalism, and it describes the country I was born into and grew up in. And it evokes the sense of loss I have as I look around me today. (And the outrage I feel at the Trumpistas saying they would “make America great again,” when everything they want to do would accomplish the precise opposite.)

Anyway, I was hooked on the show right there. I’ve still only seen the first episode, but I look forward to watching more.

As I said above, I should have more faith in the creator of “The West Wing.” By the way, when I first heard about “The Newsroom,” I had not yet watched “The West Wing,” and in fact had avoided it for similar reasons. I had heard it was a liberal fantasy of what a presidency should be, and I don’t like that kind of stuff from either left or right. But again, I had been misled. And I’m beginning to think the reason why I keep getting misled about Sorkin is that he writes with an intelligence that other media have trouble describing, because their limited “left vs. right” vocabulary lacks the necessary words.

Having had them inadequately described to me, I simply wasn’t ready for shows that spoke so clearly to me, striking a chord that I’d not been told was there.

I may never like it as much as “West Wing,” but I’m pleased so far.

(Oh, and a brief digression that will only be of interest to fellow Sorkin fans: I think in this one, he managed to avoid a mistake he made in “West Wing.” Remember the pilot? Remember how Josh feels blindsided and gets upset because the White House is about to hire back a woman he used to be involved with? Well, the first episode of “The Newsroom” has the exact same plot point: the network boss has hired a woman with whom McAvoy has a past, and he is at first all bent out of shape about it. But this time, I think its going to work out. On “West Wing,” the woman in question, “Mandy,” was the one and only truly grating, irritating character on the show — and Sorkin wisely “ghosted” her before the season was over. She just disappeared, without explanation. This time, I think the character is going to work — I’ve even gotten to where I no longer expect her to mention “avian bird syndrome.” No need to send her to Mandyville — yet. Apparently, Sorkin learns from his mistakes.)

Anyway, to get to my point, more than 1,200 words in…

Let’s go back to that bit about how “We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….”

Good stuff.

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what? In any case, I’m ready for us to get it back.

As 2019 dawned, The New York Times ran a piece about 1919. An excerpt:

To promote the idea of interstate travel, a military convoy left Washington for California in July 1919. The New York Times called it “the largest aggregation of motor vehicles ever started on a trip of such length.”

But the convoy broke down repeatedly, and took 62 days to reach its destination. It averaged just six miles an hour, and almost didn’t make it out of Utah. As it turned out, there were almost no paved roads between Illinois and Nevada. Decades later, the officer who led the convoy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would push for a national highway system as president. Even with a well-publicized divide between red and blue states, we can generally reach each other when we need to, and that is another unexpected result of a pivotal year….

No roads? No problem, to the man who whipped Hitler. We’ll build an interstate highway system. It may have taken him awhile, but he got to it eventually.

The first episode of “The Newsroom” is titled, “We Just Decided To.” I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it takes us back to something Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell says in “Apollo 13” (one of the best movies ever about what’s special about this country):

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.

We just decided to go. And we went.

This week, the Chinese landed a robot on the other side of the moon. They might as well. We lost interest in the place after 1972 — 46 years ago. Yeah, I know, we have those pictures of Ultima Thule, and that’s cool and worth celebrating, truly. But such accomplishments are too few and far between these days.

We live in a time when the most ambitious proposal to “do something big” is to build a gigantic wall on our southern border. It’s big, all right — you’d be able to see it from space. But as a monument to xenophobia, it diminishes the country. It makes us less than we are. It’s about closing, not opening. It is a big, fat NAY to the universe. It is in fact a profoundly depressing thing to contemplate, seeing what we’ve descended to.

Yeah, Ultima Thule. That’s great and all. But I want more. I’ll close with the words with which Hanks closed “Apollo 13:”

I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?

'We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

‘We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

Kaplan says it’s time to get out of Afghanistan. But there’s a catch

Time to Get Out of Afganistan” over the byline of Robert Kaplan grabbed my eye this morning. Of course, it did so in part because I’m one of the dummies who confuses him with Robert Kagan. But it was still interesting.

It starts out this way:

Kaplan, not Kagan

Kaplan, not Kagan

The decision by President Trump to withdraw 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 American troops left in Afghanistan, possibly by summer, has raised new concerns about his impulsive behavior, especially given his nearly simultaneous decision to pull out all American forces from Syria against the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable. Indeed, it may soon be time for the United States to get out of the country altogether…

And then continues with words that sound like they should be read aloud by Peter Coyote, as I’ve been rewatching Ken Burns’ series on Vietnam during my morning workouts lately:

No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept….

Not only that, but he suggests that our efforts there, which provide a modicum of stability for the moment, are actually proving to be an advantage to the Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians and Iranians — allowing them to operate in the area with some safety at our expense — than they are to us and out interests.

But before we stark striking camp and heading for home, read what Kaplan writes further down:

An enterprising American diplomat, backed by a coherent administration, could try to organize an international peace conference involving Afghanistan and its neighbors, one focused on denying terrorist groups a base in South-Central Asia.

It is the kind of project that Henry Kissinger, Richard Holbrooke, James Baker III or George Shultz would have taken up in their day. But it is not something anyone can reasonably expect this administration, as chaotic, understaffed and incompetent as it is, to undertake, especially with the departure of Mr. Mattis….

Oh, well…

Let’s go back to the moon, people

BuzzhHeader

I missed this piece in The Washington Post last week. It’s a good one, in which a couple of rocket scientists advocate that we go back to the moon to establish a base, something that is completely within our power and would imbue NASA, and the nation, with a sense of purpose they — we — have lacked for a long time.

An excerpt:

This plan, which we call Moon Direct, doesn’t take rocket scientists to comprehend (although we both hold that title). And we could accomplish it in just three discrete phases: First, we deliver cargo to the lunar surface and initiate robotic construction. Second, we land crews on the base, complete construction and develop local resources. And third, we establish long-term habitation and exploration.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster, which can launch 60 tons to Earth orbit and 10 tons to the moon, could easily handle the first phase. And NASA’s Space Launch System, still in development, might eventually be used along with heavy lift rockets such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. (Blue Origin’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post.) Rather than spend a fortune and take years to build a Gateway for obscure reasons, we could immediately go straight to the surface of the moon and set up shop.

The key to crew operations, the second phase of building our moon base, is a spacecraft we call the Lunar Excursion Vehicle, which would operate outside our atmosphere and therefore need no heavy heat shields or Earth landing systems. The LEV would fly from Earth’s orbit to the lunar surface and back again. New York to Paris, Paris to New York. Nothing could be simpler. All we would need to do is get to the airport — in this case, low Earth orbit — where the LEV would be “parked” for refueling and used again and again, just like a passenger airplane….

I’m all for it. Ground Control to Major Tom — let’s go!

So what IS it with Lindsey Graham and Trump, huh?

thumb

It started with a shout-out, or perhaps I should say a taunt, from my old friend and colleague Mike Fitts:

 

I responded to Mike by saying, “I can’t. The toady tweet yesterday with the thumbs-up in the Oval Office was already more than I could take. I hope John McCain didn’t see it…”

That’s it above. The picture came from the Tweet in which Graham said… and I’m not making this up:

Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

You’re keeping your promise to make America safer and more prosperous. And unfortunately for me, you’re doing all this without losing a step in your golf game!

I’ll pause for a moment while y’all go hurl after reading what Lindsey posted….

…OK; let’s resume…

Do you think “toady” was strong enough? Probably not…

Anyway, someone responded to my response thusly:

I responded that I’m not inclined to justify this behavior in any way, but I suspect that if he (Graham) were offering excuses, and being totally honest, he’d say he’d do anything to have some national security influence over this grossly clueless, unstable president…

That’s what Lindsey always cares about. He and McCain reached out to try to work with Obama after McCain lost the 2008 election, hoping to bring about policy continuity. And such continuity was maintained throughout the Obama years, even though, after a showy start right after the election, McCain and Graham seemed to have little hand in.

The tragedy here is that Graham is now abasing himself to a disgusting degree while foreign policy continuity — by which I mean the wise policies followed internationally by presidents of both parties ever since 1945, the maintenance of the global order America helped create and has led my entire life — is not only NOT achieved, but is ignored, blown apart, defecated upon by the ignoramus in the White House.

Our allies are slapped in the face, repeatedly and with increasing vehemence. And the worse the foreign strongman, the more passionately Trump embraces him.

So what is it that Lindsey Graham thinks he is achieving? He’s trading away his self-respect, and getting what, exactly? Does he think things would be worse if he weren’t playing golf with this guy and lavishing childishly transparent praise upon him?…

Phil Noble reaches out to his base… in Alabama, of course

noble ad

I’ve wondered here a number of times: Who, in South Carolina, is supporting Phil Noble for the Democratic nomination for governor?

I asked it each time he brought forth another prominent out-of-state Democrat to endorse his campaign. I kept perusing his website for lists of supporters. I looked at his donor list, and found one South Carolinian I’d heard of — an impressive one — and I was going to reach out and interview her about it… and then realized she had given to James Smith, too. She was just promoting democracy in general.

Anyway, a friend in Alabama shared with me the above full-page ad from The Anniston Star, saying “Have no idea who he is, but it does seem like something out of the ordinary.”

Not if you’re Phil. If you’re Phil, of course this is where you look for support…

Good for you, John Brennan…

I very much appreciated this column today from John Brennan, former director of Central Intelligence, headlined “I will speak out until integrity returns to the White House.” An excerpt:

My first visit to the Oval Office came in October 1990, when I was a 35-year-old CIA officer. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait two months before, and President George H.W. Bush wanted to discuss the implications of a U.S.-led military coalition that would ultimately push the Iraqis out.

John Brennan

John Brennan

I remember the nervousness I felt when I entered that room and met a president of the United States for the first time. By the time the meeting ended, his intellectual curiosity, wisdom, affability and intense interest in finding the best policy course to protect and promote U.S. interests were abundantly evident.

Over the next quarter-century, I returned to the Oval Office several hundred times during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The jitters that accompanied my first Oval Office visit dissipated over time, but the respect, awe and admiration I held for the office of the presidency and the incumbents never waned. The presidents I directly served were not perfect, and I didn’t agree with all of their policy choices. But I never doubted that each treated their solemn responsibility to lead our nation with anything less than the seriousness, intellectual rigor and principles that it deserved. Many times, I heard them dismiss the political concerns of their advisers, saying, “I don’t care about my politics, it’s the right thing to do.”

The esteem with which I held the presidency was dealt a serious blow when Donald Trump took office. Almost immediately, I began to see a startling aberration from the remarkable, though human, presidents I had served. Mr. Trump’s lifelong preoccupation with aggrandizing himself seemed to intensify in office, and he quickly leveraged his 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address and his Twitter handle to burnish his brand and misrepresent reality.

Presidents throughout the years have differed in their approaches to policy, based on political platforms, ideologies and individual beliefs. Mr. Trump, however, has shown highly abnormal behavior by lying routinely to the American people without compunction, intentionally fueling divisions in our country and actively working to degrade the imperfect but critical institutions that serve us….

I’ll have to stop excerpting there because I suspect I’m already pushing the outside of that ol’ envelope on Fair Use.

Suffice to say that eventually he notes that people question why he keeps speaking out on this subject. They seem to think it’s not fitting for a career intelligence officer to be mixing in politics this way.

Those people don’t get it. And the amazing thing to me is that there are so many people who still don’t get it. They think this is politics as usual — sometimes your guy wins, sometimes the other guy wins.

That’s why we need people such as Brennan who are outside the stupid Democrats-vs.-Republicans game to tell us that the problem we face right now is most assuredly NOT about that game.

For the first time in the history of our nation, the most powerful position in the world is held by a grossly unqualified, unfit, unstable man with no priorities but serving himself and what he perceives to be his personal interests. For the first time in living memory and probably ever, our chief magistrate is a person that devoted public servants such as Brennan cannot possibly respect.

And that has to be said again and again until the people who don’t get that — and amazingly, such people are legion — finally do get it…

Something off-putting about those ‘patriotic’ uniforms

unis 1

I thought about posting this on Memorial Day itself, but decided to wait.

For me — a guy who’s all about some patriotism and support for the military (and if there’s a spectator sport I love, it’s baseball) — there’s something off-putting about those special uniforms MLB players donned over the holiday weekend.

It’s not just that it’s so contrived, such a cheesy, sterile form of tribute to men who died in the blood and noise and fury and filth and noise of battle. They did not wear clean, white uniforms with camouflage numbers. They did not wear caps that look as much like what a deer hunter would wear as anything you’d see on a soldier.

But there’s also something… decadent, something last-days-of-Rome about it.

Of course, I’m guilty of romanticizing baseball. I think of it in very anachronistic terms as a humble, pastoral game played by plain men who did it for the love of the sport, guys who maybe had one uniform to their names, and that uniform made of wool that caused them to roast in the summer sun. (And they liked it, as Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man would say.)

I just can’t help thinking of all the money spent on these uniforms that these players will probably wear only once. Which makes me think about how much — way too much — money there is in professional sports today, so much that vast sums can be thrown away on PR gestures that, as I said above, seem inadequate to the kind of tribute our war dead deserve.

I’m not blaming MLB here. This occurs in a context in which the fans, the entire society, seem to have lost all sense of materialistic restraint.

You, too, can have a genuine copy of the jersey your hero wore for one game for only $119.99. Or, if you’ve really lost your marbles and have more money than anyone needs, you can have the actual jersey that a player wore, for $2,125! Unless someone with priorities even further out of whack outbids you!

It just all seems kind of nuts to me. And vaguely offensive. Does this make any sense to anyone?

distasteful

I’m ashamed that I thought I was having a bad day

shooting

To begin with, I’m still not over this cruddy cold thing, and haven’t done my quota of steps all this week. That keeps me from feeling myself.

Then, I decided I had to drive the Volvo today because I’d be transporting grandchildren this afternoon and I can’t do that in the truck. And the Volvo was still like a rain forest inside because the rain took me by surprise the other day with the sun roof and windows open, and since the rain hasn’t ceased, I hadn’t been able to air it out. So I drove downtown with everything open to try to dry it out a little. And then a rear window wouldn’t go back up. With more rain on the way…

So over breakfast, I actually sent my wife a whiny text that began, “Not having a good day…”

Then I got to the office, and heard the news that reminded me what an actual bad day is like:

At least eight people were killed in a shooting Friday morning at a high school in Southeast Texas, police said, and a student was taken into custody amid the carnage.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said there were “between 8 and 10 people” killed, most of them students at Santa Fe High School in Galveston County, south of Houston. Some faculty members were also killed in the shooting, which occurred before 8 a.m., he said….

God help those folks out there. God help us all…

OK, let’s talk about Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’

Doug and Norm were talking about Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video. So I made my usual joke about “What’s a Childish Gambino?,” and then I went to look at it. (I had recorded SNL over the weekend, but hadn’t watched it yet.)

Apparently, this is the “I Am the Walrus” or “American Pie” of the moment, with everyone trying to interpret the references. So I went and watched it. And I didn’t find it to be all that mysterious, although I’m sure I missed a lot on that one run-through. I felt like I “got” what I saw, but I’d need to watch it a few more times to catch things I missed, and wonder about things I don’t get.

This was my stream-of-consciousness reaction, which I’m rethinking even as I post it here, but this was the way it played for me as I watched:

I watched it. I get it.

It’s about reparations.

And it’s also about a whole lot of other images and ideas from the black experience in America, spanning centuries. You have the references to “contraband” all the way through apparently random gun violence, and life going on around it.

The care of the guns just refers to the way we cherish them in America. We have another shooting, and elected leaders sort of close ranks in making sure nothing changes and the holy gun is protected.

He also runs through various caricatures of the Dangerous Black Male that white society has traditionally feared — the sexualized dancing, the violence, the drugs. His mugging facial expressions, some of his dance moves, the whites of his frightened eyes being the first thing you see in the darkness when he’s being chased at the end — all those things make cultural references to the black man as a ridiculous figure of entertainment for whites. So you have this jarring, sudden, back-and-forth going on between a minstrel show stereotype and the dangerous stereotype.

And the old cars remind me of the days of Hollywood’s blaxploitation fad, although they may be a little more recent than that.

The kids are in school uniforms, which seems a reference to the way people think one way of addressing social ills is to put kids in such uniforms. Yet the chaos goes on around them.

It’s interesting. I like that the music has a Caribbean feel to it (at least to my ears). After all, the black experience in America largely came first through the West Indies. South Carolina, the most pro-slavery state in the Union, was initially settled by people who had practiced a particularly brutal form of chattel slavery in Barbados.

And on and on.

Doug thinks I’m clueless. I’m not. The old guy who’s out of it is just a character I play on TV. Or on social media, anyway…

That’s first-blush, without looking to see what others thought of it.

Thinking back, I’m not sure I should have said “Caribbean.” It sounded exotic to my ears, and for whatever reason I thought “Caribbean.” Maybe it’s the way the guy’s dressed, as a combination between a slave working in cane fields (the American form of slavery got its start with sugar cane cultivation) and a Calypso dancer. Wait… I searched on that, and it seems calypso dancers aren’t as a rule shirtless. Don’t know why I thought they were.

Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack here…

Oh, and Childish Gambino? It’s Donald Glover. The guy I keep thinking is related to Danny Glover, but isn’t….

mugging

Weak parties, strong partisanship: a poisonous combination

1964_Democratic_National_Convention_2

Back when parties were parties…

Our own Karen Pearson said some very true things in this comment:

I’m all for keeping “parties ” out of it. We’re far too far along the way of voting for party instead of person. The candidates are forced to go farther and farther left or right in order to win a prime spot in their own party. This response encourages each party to go become even more “liberal” or “conservative.” Which means that in the next election the division becomes even greater, and ultimately excludes one side or the other from any possible voice in the ruling party. The ability of government to function disintegrates. Then we all stand around and decry our representatives because they can’t get anything done. This is madness.

She’s absolutely right, talking about the parties we have today. But her excellent points remind me of a phrase I’ve been hearing a good bit in recent years, most recently in a Dana Milbank column this morning in The Washington Post:

Political scientists have observed that American politics has deteriorated into an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship — dry brush for the likes of Trump and Blankenship to ignite. The 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform restricted party fundraising, and the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in 2010 essentially destroyed parties by giving everybody else freedom to spend unlimited sums to buy politicians. The moderating influence of parties was replaced by the radicalizing influence of dark money.

Related to this, partisanship in Washington escalated, aggravated by partisan redistricting that puts almost all House members in safe seats where the only threat comes from primaries. Primary voters tend to favor extreme candidates — who, once in Congress, turn politics into warfare.

Democrats suffer from the weak party/strong partisanship phenomenon too, as seen in the Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) campaign’s squabbles with the Democratic National Committee and the recent efforts by some Sanders followers to taint any candidate supported by the party. But the problem is most severe among Republicans…

Oh, excuse me. I meant this phrase: “an unstable combination of weak parties and strong partisanship.” Milbank cites “political scientists,” plural, but the phrase seems to have started on its current rounds with Julia Azari, a political science blogger and prof at Marquette University. As she put it a few days before the 2016 election, “The defining characteristic of our moment is that parties are weak while partisanship is strong.” And as she said, that’s a bad combination.

Y’all know I don’t think much of parties. But that’s largely because of what they’ve become. If they were more like what David Broder used to reminisce about, reliable institutions for winnowing candidates and putting forth the strongest ones — institutions that answered the question, “Who sent you?” — I wouldn’t hold them in such contempt.

We’re not just talking about the most dramatic case — the GOP’s utter helplessness to keep Donald Trump from waltzing in and taking their presidential nomination. A weak GOP is what gave us the Tea Party — which toppled party stalwarts left and right. It’s what weakened John McCain’s hand and made him think he had to pick Sarah Palin as his running mate instead of Joe Lieberman. More recently, it’s given us Roy Moore, and now this Blankenship yahoo in West Virginia. Line up enough know-nothing extremists behind you, and the party is helpless.

And Democrats, don’t think you’re immune. Some of the same forces weakening the GOP have been at work on your party for a long time. The Bernie bros whine about how the party leadership tried to cheat their guy out of the nomination. What stuff. In a time of strong parties, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have had to spend a moment’s thought on Bernie Sanders. She’d have been a shoo-in, and she wouldn’t have done any of that pandering to extremes, such as turning against TPP.

Look back at my post about James and Micah. If the Democrats had a strong party, I would just go ahead and vote for Micah in the Republican primary, knowing that James had the Democratic nomination for governor locked up — everybody who is anybody in the party is lined up solidly behind him. But as polls have shown, Phil Noble — and to a lesser extent Marguerite Willis — have a shot (a long shot, but a shot) at denying it to him. Or at least forcing him into a runoff — which given the weakness of their candidacies should be impossible.

You don’t believe those polls? Well, I’m not convinced by them, either. But folks, this is the South Carolina Democratic primary electorate, the crowd that gave you Alvin Greene. A lot of people gave then-chair Carol Fowler hell for not preventing Greene from sneaking in and taking the U.S. Senate nomination. But what could she have done?

And folks, Alvin Greene wasn’t entirely a fluke. Such absurd things happen when parties are this weak.

Milbank is wrong to blame the problem on money, by the way. Sure, that can exacerbate the problem, but the fact is that Broder and others were writing about this in 1991, long before the campaign-finance developments that Milbank bemoans.

A lot of trends have gone into destroying parties. The rise of radical individualism and decline of institutions in general have done a great deal to undermine parties’ ability to produce the best candidates — as has the growth of excessive faith in direct democracy (such as primaries usurping the decision-making prerogatives of conventions), which has been a long-term problem throughout our history.

Lately, the decline in traditional news media (this morning on the radio, I heard the number of professional journalists plying their trade in this country was now half what it was 15 years ago; I’m shocked the number isn’t far lower than that), combined with the rise of new media that make every Tom, Dick and Harry his own publisher, have accelerated the problem. Not caused it, but further pushed a wheelchair that was already going downhill pretty fast. The cost for extremist flakes to go it alone is now lower than ever.

Combine all that with partisan redistricting, which forces the people who get elected under party banners to become more and more extreme, and the result is that our electorate is filled with people who have little loyalty to and no deference toward parties as institutions, but who are filled with passionate, increasingly extreme partisan sentiment, defining themselves as the only good people, and those who vote for candidates of that other party as the enemy.

And it just keeps spinning further out of control….

Graham’s extremely careful praise of Macron’s speech

Macron speech

To everyone else, Emmanuel Macron’s speech to Congress yesterday was a forceful refutation of everything Donald Trump stands for, made all the more dramatic by the hugs and kisses earlier:

The fact that the important thing about Macron’s speech was the way it refuted Trump and all he stands for presented our senior senator with a conundrum:

Practically everything the French president said had to be music to foreign policy wonk Graham’s ears. Yet… he’s trying so hard these days to play nice with Trump, even though he knows (and he knows we know he knows) the current U.S. president is wrong about very nearly everything.

So he applauded Macron without a word about how Trump’s policies had been slammed:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) today made this statement on President of France Emmanuel Macron’s address before a joint meeting of Congress.

“President Macron delivered an eloquent and inspiring address to Congress.  He described the unique relationship between France and the United States which is based on common values that have stood the test of time.

“President Macron has been a great partner to President Trump in confronting the challenges of terrorism and globalization.

“In President Macron’s speech about preserving the post-World War II world order and rejecting the false promises of isolationism, I heard the voice of John McCain – an ally and kindred spirit for the thoughts expressed by President Macron. 

“As to the Iran Nuclear Deal, it must be made better or we must withdraw. The Iran Nuclear Deal in its current form ensures a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. President Trump is right to withdraw if the deal is not made substantially better. I hope President Macron can convince the world community to bring about the much-needed changes.”

#####

Awkward…

Macron 2

Yes, this COULD be the winning formula for Democrats

Can the New Deal Coalition rise again?

Can the New Deal Coalition rise again?

David Leonhardt had a good piece in the NYT last night. He promoted it this way:

There’s a roiling debate about whether Democrats should move to the political center to win back Trump voters or focus on energizing the party’s progressive base. On some issues — like abortion, guns and immigration — Democrats really do face this difficult choice. The policies that excite progressives alienate many of the white working-class voters who swung the 2016 election to Donald Trump, and vice versa.

But there is also one huge area where no such tradeoff exists: economic policy….

In the column itself, he asserted  that economic stagnation and inequality added up to “the defining problem of our age, the one that aggravates every other problem. It has made people anxious and angry. It has served as kindling for bigotry. It is undermining America’s vaunted optimism.”

And people across the political spectrum have lost patient with timid, incremental approaches to the problem. Which helps to explain both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

Leonhardt writes:

Some observers remain confused about all of this. They imagine American politics as a simple two-dimensional spectrum on which Democrats must move to the center. But every issue isn’t the same. Yes, there are cultural issues, like abortion and guns, on which the country is classically divided. On these, moving to the center, or at least respectfully acknowledging our differences, can help Democrats. Representative Conor Lamb recently showed how to do it in Pennsylvania.

Economic policy is different. Most voters don’t share the centrist preferences of Washington’s comfortable pundit class. Most voters want to raise taxes on the rich and corporations. They favor generous Medicare and Social Security, expanded Medicaid, more financial aid for college, a higher minimum wage and a bigger government role in job creation. Remember, Trump won the Republican nomination as a populist. A clear majority of Americans wants the government to respond aggressively to our economic problems….

So, the smart thing would be to drop the topics that divide us — the culture war stuff, the Identity Politics, the “pussy hats” and such — and set out a vision for a rising tide for all.

But are national Democrats willing to do that? The occasional Conor Lamb aside, it remains to be seen.

In South Carolina, it’s not such a leap. SC Democrats — those who have actually served in office and understand political realities — have long understood that they have to reach across superficial barriers and appeal to as many voters as possible. You wonder why I like James Smith for governor? One reason is that he manifests that smart, inclusive approach. He’s identified with issues that could benefit all of us, such as trying to liberate renewable energy from artificial caps.

This is underlined when you look at his opposition: Phil Noble hits Smith for not being orthodox enough, for instance for being (allegedly) insufficiently hostile to gun-rights advocates. Noble is one of those Democrats who wants to divide the electorate into sheep and goats. Marguerite Willis seems to be pinning her hopes on getting women to vote for her simply because she’s a woman — despite Smith’s strong support within that largest of demographics.

So, the question is whether Democrats — on the state as well as the national level — are willing to take Leonhardt’s sensible advice, and identify themselves with issues that unite rather than divide. Mind you, he’s not talking about moving to a hypothetical center, but embracing issues with broad support among everyone but the most libertarian folks on the right.

I think they will in South Carolina, but polls tell us that’s far from certain. And nationally? I just don’t know…

Nikki Haley is now the grownup in the room

An image from Nikki Haley's Twitter feed...

An image from Nikki Haley’s Twitter feed…

I got a call this morning from E.J. Dionne in Washington, wanting to talk about Nikki Haley. I don’t know whether I said anything intelligible or not. I remember rambling about how she has held a series of jobs (including the current one) for which she was woefully unqualified, but has grown in office.

Which of course is nothing new, and I’m far from the only person to have said it. Once, late in her first term as governor, a senior member of her administration said, “She’s really grown in office.” Then he said, “And if you tell anybody I said that, I’ll f___ing come to your house and kill you.” So, you know, I’m not using his name.

But back to the present day… Nikki still has a tendency to get a tad defensive, as with her comment yesterday that “I don’t get confused.”

But that’s a defensiveness I can endorse. She fights her corner, stating her case in matter-of-fact terms. Also, she’s increasingly likely to be the one who’s right on the policy. Which is why her side of this is playing well.

It’s certainly far more mature than some of her petulant Facebook posts in her first term as governor.

So yeah, she’s grown.

And I don’t think I’m saying that just because the White House tends to look so childish by comparison…

Nikki Haley needs to remember that she works for Donald Trump, who won’t back her up — especially on Russia

nikki talk

This is just classic. From The Washington Post:

Nikki Haley finds herself under the bus as Trump shifts course on Russia

The Washington Post reported late Sunday that President Trump “has battled his top aides on Russia and lost.”

Less than 20 hours later, Trump has now reversed U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley’s announcement that the United States would be ramping up sanctions on Russia.

Hmm.

The sudden reversal of Haley’s Sunday-morning announcement is hardly the only example of the right hand in the White House not always knowing what the left hand is up to. Trump often seems to be negotiating not just those around him but also with himself and has been unafraid of contradicting top aides and even Cabinet-level officials like Haley.

But on Russia and on an issue of such import, the quick reversal is stunning — and relatively rare. There is no clear indication whether Haley or someone else is at fault, but as The Post’s team notes, she has a tendency to clear her remarks with Trump personally before she makes them. It seems entirely possible that she got Trump to sign off on saying more Russia sanctions were coming on Sunday morning, and then the White House got cold feet (possibly because Trump suddenly felt the need to exert himself over the process)….

Remember, Nikki, you’re working for a 2-year-old — and one who thinks Vladimir Putin is one of the cool kids…

U.S., Britain and France strike targets in Syria

trump announce

Trump just did his announcement, so I thought I’d put this up so you can have a place to discuss it.

Here’s the news:

President Trump ordered a military attack against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday, joining allies Britain and France in launching missile strikes in retaliation for what Western nations said was the deliberate gassing of Syrian civilians.

The coordinated strike marked the second time in a year that Trump has used force against Assad, who U.S. officials believe has continued to test the West’s willingness to accept gruesome chemical attacks.

Trump announced the strikes in an address to the nation Friday evening. He said, “The purpose of our action tonight is to establish a strong deterrent” against the production and use of chemical weapons, describing the issue as vital to national security. Trump added that the U.S. is prepared “to sustain this response” until its aims are met.

Trump asked both Russia and Iran, both Assad backers, “what kind of nation wants to be associated” with mass murder and suggested that some day the U.S. might be able to g”et along” with both if they change their policies….

I was curious to see what the leaders of Britain and France had to say about this. But when I go to British and French newspaper sites, it’s all about what Trump said (“Donald Trump annonce des frappes contre la Syrie, en coordination avec Paris et Londres“), not Theresa May or Emmanuel Macron. It’s like their involvement doesn’t matter, and they don’t feel obliged to explain it to their people — leave it to Trump. Is that the normal pattern?

Senator, how about giving the #FakeNews thing a rest?

Certainly Lindsey Graham didn’t start this, but this Tweet of his was a sort of straw, with my patience being the camel:

I had to respond to him thusly:

Senator, it would be great if you wouldn’t add to overuse of that term, which seems to mean whatever Trumpistas want it to mean. It is not “fake news” that the Russian military made that absurd claim. They did. And the AP is truthfully and accurately reporting that they did….

Yeah, I know what he meant: That the Russians were saying something untrue. Which of course should be obvious even to a child.

A responsible news source...

A responsible news source…

But things that should be obvious to children are not always obvious to Trump supporters, and when you attach that #FakeNews label to a link to an actual story from a responsible news outlet, you are adding to their delusion that actual news, from trustworthy sources, is what is “fake.”

And I think the senator was willing for them to take it that way, because he was in his “try to look like a friend of Trump” mode when he sent that out.

And that is unhelpful.

More than ever, responsible people should be helping their neighbors, and themselves, distinguish fact from fiction. And Lindsey Graham knows better…

Zuckerberg: Looking like a Stranger in a Strange Land

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do...

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do…

Sorry I haven’t had much time to post.

Here’s a Tweet I sent couple of days ago that I meant to share. Heinlein fans among you might appreciate it:

Do you see what I mean?

Does becoming a billionaire before you’re an adult make you look like that? Maybe it keeps you from developing the usual lines and furrows that show human character.

Again, it’s not his youth. It’s… something else. He’s an unusual-looking guy, and I can’t quite figure out what it is. But it reminds me of descriptions of the Man from Mars in Stranger in a Strange Land, such as when Jill Boardman is trying to figure out her own impressions of Michael’s countenance:

Jill

The one moderating force left on the Trump national security team is a guy nicknamed ‘Mad Dog’

Call him 'Mad Dog,' as often as possible....

Call him ‘Mad Dog,’ as often as possible….

I say that not to disparage Gen. Mattis. I think very highly of him. And we’re all dependent now on him, and him alone, to use his considerable skills to help our nation navigate a sane course.

I just thought the irony was worth noting. Of course, it’s not just an ironic coincidence. I’ve suspected from the start that the nickname “Mad Dog” is the main thing Trump likes about the general, so we should all use it a lot, so that they use it on Fox News, and Trump keeps him on.

In fact, maybe we should all prevail upon the SecDef to change his name to “Mad Dog” legally, because there’s little doubt that crazy is what this president likes.

Bolton mugWhen I heard John Bolton would replace H.R. McMaster, I cringed a bit. Then I tried to look on the bright side: I thought, people have always said bad things about Bolton, but the people who said those things were mostly the people who always said bad things about us neocons, so maybe he’s not really that bad.

So I did a little reading, refreshing my memory regarding Mr. Bolton, and… yeah, he’s really that bad. Ask Jennifer Rubin. Ask Max Boot. Oh, and as Ms. Rubin points out, Bolton is not a neocon: “Bolton is not strictly speaking a ‘neo-conservative,’ as his concern for human rights is muted.” She’s using “muted” liberally in this case.

Of course, those of you who watch cable TV news probably didn’t have to reach as far back in your memory as I did to remind yourselves how terrible he is at playing well with others. But I did.

So now, I’m back to where I started: suitably alarmed. And hoping Jim Mattis stays healthy and in you-know-who’s good graces…