Monthly Archives: March 2016

Lincoln and Douglass

The Radical and the Republican by James Oakes is possibly the most enthralling book I have ever read. I bought it on Amazon for three or four bucks. You all know the stories, but I want to retell one episode in the story as it was remembered by Douglass.

Lincoln had invited Douglas to the White House in 1864. The two men met at great length privately, and the country sent up a hue and a cry that a black man had come into the White House. A year or so later they met at the Soldiers Home, some eight miles from the White House, where Lincoln escaped from the immediate pressure of Washington. They met a third time at the ball celebrating Lincoln’s second inauguration. That’s the story I want to tell you. I must confess I cried throughout my reading.

“Douglas sensed immediately the greatness of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. On that day he wanted to congratulate Lincoln personally. He decided to break all precedent by going to the inaugural reception at the White House, though no African-American  had ever dared such a thing. That evening he joined the procession heading to the executive mansion, only to be stopped at the door  by the guards claiming they had been instructed ‘to admit no persons of color.’

“No such order could’ve emanated from President Lincoln,” Douglass believed. Douglass then noticed someone he knew and asked him to convey a message, “Be so kind as to say to Mr. Lincoln, Frederick Douglass is detained by guards at the door.” Within moments Douglas entered the East room.  Lincoln, visible above all his guests, quickly spotted Douglass moving toward him. “Here comes my friend Douglas,” he explained to the crowded room. Lincoln shook Douglas by the hand. “I am glad to see you,” he said. “I saw you in the crowd today, listening to my inaugural address; how did you like it?”

“Mr. Lincoln,” Douglas replied. “I must not detain you with my poor opinion.”

“No-no,” Lincoln said. “There is no man in the country whose opinion I value more than yours.  I want to know what you think of it.”

“Mr. Lincoln,” Douglas answered, “That was a sacred effort.”

“I’m glad you liked it!”

That sacred effort produced the greatest political speech in all of history.

Slavery and Racism

At last I understand the concepts of slavery and racism, thanks to James Oakes magnificent book, the Radical and the Republican. Here is from the election campaign of Abraham Lincoln.

In 1860,  Lincoln believed that freed slaves should leave the country because blacks and whites could not live together as equals. “I will say then that I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to marry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social or political equality. and inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

Lincoln repeated his familiar aphorism: “I don’t understand that because I don’t want a Negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife.” And again, “I am not in favor of Negro citizenship.” Oakes states it comes down to this: because they were human beings, blacks should not be slaves, but because they were so “different,” free blacks could not be treated as equals  of whites.

Lincoln also said, “Democrats deny his manhood; deny, or dwarf into insignificance, the wrong of his bondage; so far as possible, crush all sympathy for him, and excite hatred and disgust against him.”

Oakes states: “He accepted racial discrimination because that was what most whites wanted, and in a democratic society such deeply held prejudices cannot be easily disregarded.” At one point in his debates with Steven Douglas, Lincoln was disgusted by the race baiting: “Sen. Douglas joked that in all contests between the Negro and the white man, he was for the white man, but that in all questions between the Negro and the crocodile he was for the Negro.”

By the time of his inauguration, Lincoln said this: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break the bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearth stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Goodbye Gangs and Guns

Goodbye gangs and murders. I belong to the same species as Abe Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. Let them explain what I mean.

Abe said, “I was about 18 years of age, and belonged, as you know, to what they call down South the “Scrubs,” people who do not own land and slaves are nobody there. I was contemplating my new boat, when two men, with trunks, came down to the shore in carriages, and looking at the different boats, singled out mine, and asked, “Will you take us and our trunks out to the steamer?” Each of them took from his pocket a silver half-dollar and threw  it on the bottom of my boat. I could scarcely believe my eyes as I picked up the money. You may think it was a very little thing, and in these days it seems to me like a trifle, but it was a most important incident in my life. I could scarcely credit that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day; that by honest work I had earned a dollar. The world seemed wider and fairer before me; I was a more thoughtful and hopeful boy from that time.”

Frederick said, “I found employment on the third day after my arrival in New Bedford. It was new, hard, and dirty work, but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master – a tremendous fact – and the rapturous excitement with which I seized the job, may never be easily understood except by someone with an experience like mine. The thoughts – “I can work; I can work for a living; I am not afraid of work; I have no master who robbed me of my earnings” – placed me in a state of independence, beyond seeking friendship or support of any man. That day’s work I considered the real starting point of something like a new existence.”

Will someone please tell me why we can’t provide desperately needed work for our unemployed youth repairing our country’s infrastructure? Bernie asks the same question.

Overthrowing a Government

I listened to a ragamuffin kid organize a baseball game with his ragamuffin buddies.

“You play catcher. You play second base. You play the outfield. And I’ll pitch.”

I stuck around for the first inning. I watched the second baseman make an error. Not second base, the second baseman! In the bottom of the inning, I saw the second baseman hit a home run. Not second base!

It’s not how Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, plays the political game in the United States Senate when it comes to choosing a Supreme Court Justice. He assigns the other 99 senators a position and plays The Positions!

It’s called, The Overthrow of a Government.

 

 

 

 

Two Grand Truths, One Giant Lie

Our little lives are rounded by two grand truths. The first,

We are “thrown” – what Martin Heidegger called Geworfenheit or Thrownness – willy-nilly, by natural selection, into a tribe. I was tossed into the German tribe. Even though I was reared in the melting pot of Brooklyn, New York, I learned German at my mother’s knee; at age 10, I listened to my uncle preach in German; at 15, I read Luther’s Tischreden – Table Talks; somewhere in my 20s I read Goethe’s  Faust in German; I motorcycled through Germany with my new wife; in my 30’s, I heard how my grandfather had braved North Dakota winters on horseback to protect his “Lutheran flock from the Methodist wolves”; by age 50, I had listened to most of Beethoven’s music, and by 60 I was into Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bernie was thrown into the Jewish tribe, my buddy, Frank, got tossed into the Mexican tribe.

The second grand truth is that we three, in fact, we  ALL are more human than tribal. This truth was forgotten during the second European 30 Years War, from 1914 to 1945. Tens of millions of folks were murdered outright because they belonged to the wrong tribe. That was a mere 100 years ago. Or less!

I first heard the giant lie in 1938, age ten. I heard it in whisperings between my parents and my German piano teacher supporting the changes in Germany by Adolf Hitler. As I grew older, I learned this lie had ravaged the human race from its beginnings, namely, “My tribe is superior to your tribe.” Fortified by such a lie, the race was empowered to enslave, torture, murder at will. If you page through history, no horror is more constant or more terrible than that unleashed and authorized by the lie of superior tribalism.

It is of course not the least surprising that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz speak the Giant Lie. It comes trippingly off the tongue. Its mellifluous falsities ring true for the untutored human ear. At this late date in human history, it is truly remarkable that Europe has remained at peace for the last 75 years. Before that, the tribes were busily disemboweling themselves. Sigmund Freud wrote Civilization and Its Discontents just a few years before the outbreak of World War II. After 10,000 years of supposed civilization, my German tribe was installing the gas chambers at Auschwitz, even as Freud was writing.

Tribalism, as expressed through slavery, cost 620,000 lives in the American Civil War. The giant lie was just warming up. It cost 12 million lives in World War I. It cost 50 million lives, in World War II. Against such madness, the voice of an American President speaking from  little Cuba is barely audible, if at all. President Obama was speaking with ten millennia drowning out his words.

contrite fallibility

Raul Castro got me to thinking about Charles Sanders Peirce, the father of pragmatism, America’s greatest logician and just possibly our most original philosopher. Peirce has long been one of my all-time favorites. He came to mind while watching the press conference Pres. Raul held in Cuba with Pres. Obama.

The zama-zama had gone on for about 50 min. Raul had read a long, grinding, boring statement one would expect from a president. After all, he is a president! Then with some five minutes to go in the conference, he got asked some uncomfortable questions and transmogrified into a bullying, authoritarian Poo Bah. He was not to be challenged. He suddenly seemed silly and pathetic. He undoubtedly had all the answers. “You will do it my way!” In fact, as Obama was flying to Cuba the day before, Raul’s police arrested the Ladies in White, a harmless group protesting the detainment of political prisoners, their relatives.

This buffoonish old man has the preposterous belief that he should determine what people can think and can’t think. Since he has the power to enforce compliance to his delusion, he does just that. What got me to thinking about Peirce is that his idea about the validity of one’s thoughts is at such incredible remove from that of the Cuban Castro brothers it takes my breath away. Peirce embraced “contrite fallibility.” Has anyone ever conceptualized the problem better?

And then of course I got to thinking about The Donald. In my judgment, which I state boldly and clearly but with a sense of  contrite fallibility, Trump possesses the authoritarian mind to the max. When asked about his consultants, without batting an eye he said that he consults himself. He is his chief consultant. It’s enough to make one terrified that that well-known brand of mind, that arrogant, omnipotent delusion of infallibility that is an invariant of every authoritarian regime from puny Raul to the horrors of Hitler, has a 50-50 chance of becoming the President of the United States.

Trump’s mind guarantees that if he ascends to the presidency where his powers will exceed infinitely Raul’s bullying of Ladies in White, he will be a terror. This judgment I offer with great certainty, although also with a sense of contrite fallibility.

They Does as They Pleases

The Republican Party functions as a private club. A week before its convention in Cleveland on July 18th, the party poo-bahs will meet and decide on the rules of the coming gathering of the faithful. Each convention – true for the DNC as well – makes its own rules. If the party elites decide to negate the millions of voters who participated in the primaries, they can do so. They met for three hours last Thursday, and what is clear is that they will stop Trump, even if he gets the necessary 1237 number of delegates. And here I was worried The Donald would get enough support in the remaining primaries to be the Republican nominee, which, as every sane citizen knows, is an absolute No-No.

In other words, The Party has no Constitution they must adhere to. Of course, that’s not true of the duly elected Republican senators, who have a Constitution they swore to uphold.

Anna Freud observed, “No one abandons a libidinal position willingly.” It begins with weaning and accounts for the current horror of Assad of Syria, who will sacrifice 500,000 lives to keep his power, his libidinal goodie. What then drives us to forego sensual satisfaction? Group pressure! – most obviously when potty training begins.

But here’s the rub: a group can also support keeping a libidinal position, and then it becomes truly a monstrous problem. It’s what we have with the Republicans:

“WE DOES AS WE PLEASES!”

They disregard facts. They disregard what they swore to follow, the Constitution. They disregard the needs of their country. In our face, they does as they pleases. Euphemistically, it’s called politics. In fact, it’s a Thinking Disorder of the first magnitude. It’s an overwhelming of Judgment, that most critical faculty of mind, by what Anna’s father called The Pleasure Principle. When you watch Mitch McConnell make up his imaginary Biden Rule on the floor of the U.S. Senate, backed overwhelmingly by the group he leads, he is a truly formidable madman. He’s the Senate Majority leader! When he defies the wishes of two-thirds of the country by refusing to process President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, what are we looking at? I’ll tell you, paraphrasing Shakespeare, “McConnell, you block, you stone, you worse than a senseless thing.”  Of course, McConnell knows that sticks and stones may break my bones….”

Even the “less educated Republicans” have finally recognized the utter ruthlessness of the leaders of their party. This awareness is the major element in the rise of Donald Trump, who in fact has exposed the turpitude of the Republican leadership, while at the same time embodying their transparent selfishness and appalling narcissism.

What is to be done? We can impeach a President, but not a Senator. We have no legal precedent for removing a Senator, qua Senator, from office. Obviously, our only weapon is group pressure. It may work for potty training. It’s not so easy against a political party entrenched in power. I watched Al Franken revive his Saturday Night Live powers to take on the problem. I cheered  Elizabeth Warren unleashing her formidable rhetorical arsenal. I listened to the President’s magnificent talk in the Rose Garden when he nominated Merrick Garland.

And last I heard from the vacationing McConnell,  “No way.”

 

 

 

Trump – Lying and Show Business

The Donald, like Carthage – “delenda est,” that is, must now be politically destroyed.

And THANKED for his likely destruction of the Republican Party.  How did he manage that? By exposing the difference between lying and Show-Biz. Trump is an entertainer. “Are we having fun?” he asks his followers over and over again at his rallies. That’s not a political question. It’s from the world of make-believe, which by definition makes things up. It’s a product of the imagination. Shakespeare’s Prospero put it this way:

These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air…
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

So the pundits are after Trump for his lying. “He lies every five minutes,” they claim. Not possible. He’s from the land of “insubstantial pageants.” He’s in Show Biz. An entertainer. Do you want him to change his spots? Can a leopard? He’s 69! So they keep track of his lies. Those are fantasies. And their purpose is to entertain.  The entertainment business relies on make-believe, not on Putin or Trade or Immigration.

I’ll tell you whose lying – Republicans! But Trump is considered the “pathologic liar.”  They have the wrong liar. It’s the Republicans who have lied for years on end, and this time around, Trump exposed them. Republicans told me they would represent my interests. They would lend an attentive ear to my needs and make the government work for me. They lied. Take Sandy Hook, where 20 children were gunned down. Joe Biden’s committee came up with five or six gun laws, some supported by 90% of us citizens, all by over 60 %. What happened? The Republicans didn’t pass one of them. They do not represent We the People but the NRA.

Republicans obstructed legislation to repair our infrastructure. They cut  education for our children. They refused to vote on Immigration. In short, they undermined every effort to govern. Now they throw out the Constitution on the issue of voting for a Supreme Court justice. They vowed, took a solemn oath, in fact, to uphold that Constitution. They lied. Mitch McConnell obstructed every effort to pass legislation by the use of a filibuster. For election cycle after election cycle, Republicans raised “moral issues,” such as abortion and homosexuality. Then as soon as they came into office they disregarded such matters and proceeded to favor the wealthy.

So, elections were really pointless, mere civic exercises but a cruel joke. A giant lie. Donald Trump turned this election into seeming madness. In fact, he revealed what we all knew but meekly accepted – Republicans are interested only in power, not in representing me and mine.

Now, however, we have a fresh problem. Trump, inevitably, is going mad himself. He wants to actually be President. He harbors the delusional belief that he is qualified. It is for this reason he must be politically destroyed. With the prospect of a brokered convention, it is possible that Trump will split the Republican Party, in effect, destroying it.

Hillary won four of five states today. She is a shoo-in for the Democratic nominee. If the Republicans don’t self-destruct, she has to save us from a grandiose Donald. He is unthinkable as President.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mind of Barack Obama

The Atlantic Monthly has published its longest piece in its history, Jeffrey Goldberg’s extended interviews, here, there and everywhere, with the President. It is magnificent. I brought it up on Google. Several sections of the piece are on video.

First, the breadth of Obama’s mind. A few examples:

He recognizes that the chief difficulty with the Koran is that it has not been subjected to Higher Criticism. Since the Reformation, The Bible has been relentlessly subject to this discipline. ( When Salman Rushdie published his Satanic Verses, he was marked for murder.)

He is totally conversant with Thomas Hobbe’s Leviathan.

He can recite verbatim  the important lines from The Batman movie, The Dark Knight.

Second, the profundity of Obama’s mind. Three examples:

He recognized that the American Military, with its “fruit salad” medals, as Kennedy with Bay of Pigs bitterness, called them, had overridden his better judgment when he authorized The Surge in Afghanistan.

In 2013, he achieved full emancipation from the myth of “credibility.” He had drawn a Red Line in the Sand regarding Assad’s chemical weapons. He did not unleash the massive forces ready to punish the evil Syrian leader when he crossed that fateful line. He endured a withering chorus, across the world, really, of his fecklessness and weakness and impotence. At a conference some time later, he took Putin aside and said he should get the chemical horror out of Syria, his ally. And Putin did just that! Obama noted that Putin is invariably polite with him and does not leave him waiting for two hours, as he does others. After this experience, Obama became his own man.

He considers The Middle East a hopeless proposition. Torn by tribalism, sectarianism, centuries’ old conflicts, America should disengage from that part of the world and turn to Asia and China. He absolutely does not widen America’s presence in that mad part of the world.

Third, Obama’s joy.

He has mastered the Presidency, the world’s toughest job. He is gloriously alive. He is astonishingly sane. He is staggeringly brilliant. He – may one say it? – he is having fun!

Goldberg’s article captures that joy and aliveness. We as a nation have lucked out again. When we needed a champion, down the pike came Washington and Lincoln and Roosevelt and Obama.

His Presidency has been an unending joy for me. He is not infallible. He is, however, unfailingly –  Shout it to the heavens! – fun!

 

 

 

 

Once to Every Man and Nation

“Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide….”

Such a moment is next Tuesday. Actually, our country has had a number of “moments,” not just once – when the 13 States ratified the Constitution to get our democracy off the ground back in the 1780s; The Civil War; the New Deal which got  us through the  Depression. At such moments we had George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and FDR. We didn’t have a Hitler come to power. Or a Mussolini. Or a Donald Trump.

This splendid good fortune is not guaranteed in future. We are not destined to remain the great democracy we have been for 240 years. Luck plays a large part in the lives of men and nations.  And the discernment to recognize political truths! Embracing Trump is aligning ourselves with the devil, who is known as The Father of Lies. Trump is clearly his off-spring.

Five states hold Primaries next week – Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Mississippi and North Carolina. If Trump wins Ohio and Florida, then his nomination as the Republican Presidential candidate is a fait accompli. It is imperative that Kasich or Rubio or even Cruz the Terrible win at least one of these states. Anyone but Trump.

The paradoxical complexity of Trump is that he speaks the truth about the Republican party. Just ask Bruce Bartlett, a one-time pillar of the GOP. This former champion of Trickle-Down economics maintains that as presently constituted the Republican establishment should be “smashed” and re-built by sane, genuine Conservatives. Congress has been controlled by Republicans for six years and has obstructed the government at every turn. The approval rating for Congress is 8% .

If Ohio or Florida do not go for Trump, then he will arrive in Cleveland at the Convention on July  18th with a plurality, not a majority. That is absolutely critical to cleansing the Augean stable that has become the Republican party. The Elites will pick another candidate on the second or subsequent ballots, guaranteeing a fatal split in the GOP. In previous blogs, I have likened Trump’s role to Samson’s battle with the Philistines. He damaged them enormously during his life-time, but his greatest success against them resulted in his death. Trump can rescue our country from the likes of the Tea Party faction, but if he becomes President, that would be an unparalleled threat to our democracy. He has to be destroyed politically with the Republican Party.

“Relax! Trump would never win the General Election.” That is not at all written in the stars. We voted George W. for a second term! Bush, with the evil cunning of Karl Rove masterminding the election, made support for his Presidency a matter of patriotism. The discontent in the land is blinding our citizens to the horror of a Trump Presidency. Already the world is fearful, scarcely believing its ears when hearing the Trump threats and lies.

“Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision, offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever, ’twixt that darkness and that light.”

James Lowell wrote these words protesting the Mexican-American War in 1847. ( By the way, Lincoln served in Congress as a representative during that war, his only political office before the Presidency. He, too, protested  against the war, and it cost him re-election.)

Lowell’s poem is actually a hymn. A chorus of angels won’t save us next Tuesday. It’s the good folks in Ohio and Florida.