Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

“America’s Best Idea”

Author: Gary Hart

All humans are sacred.  That is, until they prove otherwise.  All nature is sacred.  That is, until humans destroy it.  Of the many sins for which Donald Trump must answer in this life or another, among the worst is his destruction of what has been called “America’s best idea.”

In an essay in the New York Times (“The Beginning of the End of America’s Best Idea”, New York Times, November 23, 2018), Timothy Egan movingly intertwines American history with its decision in the last century or so to protect America’s natural heritage.  Though his focus is on California, and the devastating fires of recent years and those inevitably to come, he is writing for all our natural heritage…national parks, wildlife areas, recreational areas, unique pristine enclaves, camp grounds, hiking trails, and of course the wild animals that inhabit them.

That a huge national protest against Trump’s mounting depredations of all this heritage– left to us almost always against great resistance by corporate commercial interests–has not happened, is a mystery.  But it must begin.  He has spread so much unAmerican chaos in so many other domestic and international arenas that it is difficult to focus public attention on the long-term, probably permanent damage he has already done and promises to do against this precious heritage.

Though he holds what amounts to a sacred trust, the simple fact is: He doesn’t care.  Either he has no empathy for nature and its grandeur in America, or he places private profit ahead of it, or both.

Others have their own ground for impeachment.  This is mine.  The Constitution mandates that the president “take care that the laws by faithfully executed”.  He, his Cabinet officers, and their politically appointed subordinates are doing everything in their power to ignore or subvert the very national resource laws they are required to faithfully execute.

If you believe, as I do, that there is intergenerational accountability, the duty of each of us to preserve the commonwealth for future generations, and that this duty is moral, ethical, and sacred, then this president must be condemned for falling so far short of this standard.  Even worse, he consciously and purposefully trashes the standard.  His destruction of our heritage is perverse, intended, and even hateful.  He does not care.

There is much natural destruction guided by the president.  None more so than his denial of climate change.  All serious science and common sense connect increased carbon emissions with forest fires, rising tides, and increased storms.  Yet he casually, even gleefully, destroys regulations on those emissions for no other reason than that they were promulgated by the Obama administration.

We all know his demented approach; shrink national park and wilderness boundaries, open federal lands to exploitation, and appoint officials at Interior, EPA, and related agencies whose commitments were and are to privatize our national heritage for profit.  In a Constitutionally intended system of checks and balances, with a Congress responsible to the people, this would not have been permitted to happen.  Historic shame now rests on collaborative Republicans in Congress.

What will it take for Americans concerned for their children’s future to rise up?  Further evidence of dereliction of duties is not required.  Decades of hard work, of speaking and preaching, of testifying and legislating, or public education, were required to achieve the natural and environmental accomplishments we have achieved.  Considering the damage already done and that to come, many more decades of similar struggle will be required to repair this damage in decades ahead, even to return to the more sane pre-Trump era.  And that does not include an unfinished agenda not even being addressed.

Not all of our natural national heritage is in the West, but much of it is.  The East is experiencing flooding and severe weather.  The West is aflame, and those flames often engulf national forests and parks.  Regardless of our location, however, the public natural heritage belongs to all of us and is held in trust for future generations.

It should be on our national conscience to honor that trust.

[The author’s qualifications: Special Assistant to the Solicitor, US Department of the Interior, 1965-67; member, United States Senate Environment Committee. 1975-87; Chairman, Clean Air Committee, US Congress, 1979-80; Presidential Clean Air Project, 2004-05]

 

The Resistance Library

Author: Gary Hart

There is an emerging resistance library, interestingly enough composed of small books.  Among the first was Tim Snyder’s Tyranny, then Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrants: Shakespeare on Politics, and now Michiko Kakutani’s The Death of Truth, given to me by a friend.  All are recommended.

Ms. Kakutani, formerly lead book reviewer for the New York Times, provides the most direct assault on Donald Trump by name, but the others categorize him in tyrannical terms with little mention of his name.

The Kakutani thesis, to the degree it submits to summarization, is that the Trumpian assault on facts and truth itself has roots in the post-modernist literature of the 1960s and 70s in which traditional language and history began to be replaced by relativistic interpretations based on personal experience and individual narratives tracing from ethnicity, gender, tribal affiliations, and random information.

In Ms. Kakutani’s words: “…postmodern arguments deny the objective reality existing independently from human perception, contending that knowledge is filtered through the prism of class, race, gender, and other variables.”

These arguments were often acquired by the left to overturn history written by and about “dead white males” and replace it with transgender, multicultural approaches to history, politics, and cultural studies.

There followed from this the so-called culture wars of the 1980s and 90s in which left and often liberal narratives went down the postmodernist road and conservative theorists and practitioners felt deeply obliged to defend tradition in history, politics, and policy.

Much anger from conservatism against Clinton and Obama administrations had to do with the belief that neither president nor their followers believed anything demonstrably true or morally certain.  Then, in a bizarre twist of fate, we arrived on the doorstep of the Trump era in which tables were turned all over the place.  Trump promised walls against immigrants, an end to abortions, an across the board conservative judiciary, climate denial, and termination of American participation in globalization.  But he did so by appropriating postmodernist arguments against facts, truth, objective reality, and ultimately science itself.

Many instances of Trump’s casual dismissal of truth and adoption of postmodernist relativism exist, none more telling than his statement after the Charlottesville racial confrontation that “there are some very fine people on both sides.”  Other examples abound daily.

Ms. Kakutani makes clear how Trump inherited and exploded a trend toward cynicism and relativism.  None other then George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager, the late Lee Atwater (whose cynical tricks lived on well after him) said, “perception is reality.”  And media increasingly honed toward sensationalism, as documented by Neil Postman, was all too ready for any dramatic perception.

Politically, this has caused consternation and ultimately schism in the “conservative movement” for whom the agenda might be congenial but for whom to wholesale adoption of postmodernism in communications went too far.  It is one thing to seek retreat to the era of the Enlightenment and modernism and quite another thing to adopt screwball postmodernist arguments to do so.

In conclusion, Ms. Kakutani cites the Founders, particularly Jefferson and Madison, on the dependence of the new democratic Republic on truth and reason, the hallmarks of the Enlightenment.

It is that dependence that has led this writer to produce a manuscript whose working title is: America Beyond Trump: Restoration of First Principles and which currently is in search of a publisher in the hopes of adding yet another volume to the resistance library.  The first principles set down by our Founders are solidly based in Enlightenment insistence on truth, facts, and objective reality.

Otherwise, if Trump and the Bannons of the world permanently send America down the path of relativism in language and policy, unleashed originally by postmodernists of the left, we will, as they hope, join the rightward movements in the current lurch by Western democracies toward authoritarianism.

We won’t be great and we won’t be America.

Fear and Anger

Author: Gary Hart

“Anger is a distinct emotion with distinctive thoughts.  It looks manly and important, not at all timorous.  Nonetheless, it is the offspring of fear.”  This sentence is from a new book, The Monarchy of Fear, by Martha Nussbaum, one of America’s, possibly the world’s, leading philosophers.

When most of us think of fear, we think of running, hiding, seeking safety.  When the fear is unfocused, however, sooner or later it makes us angry because we don’t know how to get rid of it.

Take for example fear of losing your job.  Your first instinct is to identify who—supervisor, boss, owner—has the power to fire you and get angry at that person.  But the authority with the pink slip is carrying out orders ultimately from the CEO who in turn is hearing from a corporate board reflecting the views of shareholders concerned about declining profits.

And the next morning your paper reports that profits are down because of foreign competition, products coming into the country that are less expensive than what your company requires to make them.

Now there is a direct connection between your fear and your anger.  Damn those foreigners.

Or maybe your pink slip is issued because a new immigrant citizen will do your job for less money than you require.

Once again, the fear of losing your job focuses your anger on immigrants.

In some respects, focusing one’s anger on Donald Trump misses the point.  He was elected because of a significant “base” of fellow Americans who are angry.  They are angry because they fear globalization, foreign competition, and immigration, cheap labor.

They don’t know how to stop international trade, too many fellow Americans have jobs because of it, but they will do anything, including building a wall, to stop immigration.

Then they find comfort in comradeship with those who fear abortions everywhere, liberals taking their guns away, rampant crime around the corner, and most of all America losing its greatness.

Authority for your fear and the anger it produces is just a television click away to Fox News.

All this is well known to many observers of society and those previously puzzled by the Trump “base”.

What is less well known is how all this fear and the anger it produces grew throughout the country, primarily between the coasts and in rural and small-town America, with so few officials and leaders understanding, anticipating, and responding in creative ways to it.

Instead of a “basket of deplorables”, it became seemingly overnight forty percent of America.

Less flamboyant politicians than Trump refused to skip down the “birther” path, the climate science conspiracy, the enemy of the people fake-news press, untrustworthy judges, all Mexicans as criminals, Russians as our new best friends, love talk with North Korea, and our allies are ripping us off charges.

Democrats responded with shock and dismay.  Republicans, suddenly finding a substantial number of “base” members in their States and districts, were cowed into complicity.

So, the formula for America in the early 21st century: fear=anger; anger=Trump.

Professor Nussbaum, a classicist as great philosophers almost always are, refers to Aeschylus’ Oresteia to describe how the Furies, the definition of anger in ancient times, were converted by Athena.  “She offers them incentives to join the democracy: a place of honor, reverence from the citizens,” Professor Nussbaum writes.  And given a chance to gain respect and enter into full citizenship in Athens, the Furies agree.  “They become Athenians, rather than beasts.  Their very name is changed: they are now The Kindly Ones (Eumenides) not the Furies.”

Consideration might be given by thoughtful Democrats to an approach to the Trump “base”, most of whose members are concerned, albeit strongly prejudiced, Americans, an approach that would offer them responsible seats in the halls of citizenship, an audience for their fears to be heard, and an opportunity to help fashion national policies that would respond to their concerns in constructive and positive ways.

All will not be persuaded.  Possibly only a few.  But America will only maintain its greatness if we replace confrontation with fellowship.

The new coin in the political realm is Nationalism.  Trump proclaimed it, much to the dismay of historians for whom this summoned the demonic spirits of Hitler and Mussolini.  Since then, many Americans have fallen into line behind our homegrown Il Duce.  A highly regarded New York Times columnist claims the Democratic party isn’t going anywhere until it produces its own national story.

There is something to that, especially if the story is about a healthy, inclusive, democratic, tolerant nation, instead of the Trumpian country cowering behind border walls, jailing refugee children, severing economic and security ties with allies, and thumbing the national nose at the destruction of our children’s future climate.

So, taking our cue from the New York Times, let’s construct a positive national narrative, one that combines humility with claims of greatness.  It might look like something in this vein:

America is a commonwealth.  We are individuals working in a capitalist economy.  But we are also citizens of a great nation with riches we hold in common for the public good and for future generations.  The public ownership of land, natural resources, water, air, and climate, plus interstate transportation systems, we hold in trust for future generations.  We are stewards of these blessings and responsible for their protection.  We are governed by a Constitution that distributes power, prevents its consolidation, and places sovereignty in the hands of all the people.  Without seeking hegemony, we seek to provide leadership toward peace and harmony among democracies and nations that wish us well but are prepared to align with other nations of good will to prevent or confine others who seek hegemony.  We are a free people and wish freedom for all others.  We respect the rights of fellow humans throughout the world.  We aspire to the highest ideals and, though we sometimes fail, we correct our shortcomings and return to the path toward those ideals.

That paragraph may or may not be what the New York Times columnist had in mind in advising Democrats to construct a national story.  It could go on page after page.  But many aspiring leaders could seek office on a brief statement like this and be successful.

It states our beliefs and principles succinctly.  It stands in contrast to a nationalistic narrative that separates whites from people of color, encourages concentrated wealth, privatizes the public’s resources, antagonizes democratic allies, embraces authoritarian and totalitarian systems, and vulgarizes public discourse.

Everyday Americans will see the graphic disparity between these contrasting national stories.

There is the nationalism which destroyed millions of people around the world in the 20th century and a nationalism of hope, good will, humanitarianism, and a better future for all.  That should be the story of the Democratic party.  It will resonate with Americans seeking a more respected and respectful nation.

Juliana v United States

Author: Gary Hart

This is a first, a guest post on this site by Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project and one of the nation’s leading spokesmen on climate dangers.  GH

 

The midterm election on Nov. 6 is one of the most important in memory. It will decide whether checks and balances will be restored to the federal government and especially to our out-of-control president.

An even more important event is scheduled to take place nine days earlier, however. It could make history by ensuring that our children and future generations have a constitutional right to a livable world.

On Oct. 29, the United States government is scheduled to go on trial for contributing to global climate change. The trial is the result of a lawsuit, Juliana v United States, filed three years ago by a group of 21 young adults and children. They allege that the federal government is violating their constitutional rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel pollution is the principal cause of global warming.

The Julianas, as I’ll call the young plaintiffs for the sake of simplicity, want the courts to rule that the federal government must stop subsidizing fossil fuels, opening public lands to fuel production, and doing other things that result in carbon pollution. They want the government to rapidly phase out carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuel combustion and to develop a national plan to stabilize the climate system and “restore Earth’s energy balance”.

Finally proceeding to trial would obviously be a big milestone in the Julianas’ long fight through the federal court system. It is not motivated by partisanship. It was filed when Barack Obama was president and it named his as well as many federal agencies as defendants. Now, the Trump Administration is on trial and the U.S. Department of Justice has been fighting furiously to keep the case from being tried.

Justice Department lawyers have filed motion after motion to have the case dismissed, including legal maneuvers one judge called “rare as hen’s teeth”. But so far, the legitimacy of the case has been upheld repeatedly by a U.S. District Court, a Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel and even the U.S. Supreme Court.  As I write this, the Supreme Court is deciding yet another late motion by the Justice Department to keep the trial from happening.

At one point, two powerful organizations — the American Petroleum Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers – joined the Justice Department in fighting theJulianas. Both withdrew from the case in May 2017 after it was apparent that the lawsuit probably was not going to be tossed.

So, if it is confident of its position, why is the Trump Administration working so frantically to keep the case from being tried? One reason is that the lawsuit would establish at least three historic precedents if it survived appeals that are likely to end up back in the Supreme Court. First, it could classify the atmosphere a natural resource that the government is obligated to protect as a “public trust” for this and future generations.

Second, it could force the Administration to develop a credible climate action plan, reversing Trump’s campaign to get rid of the climate-related regulations and initiatives created by President Obama. It could lead to the end of fossil fuel production on public lands.  It could force Congress to finally end the century-old practice of using taxpayer money to subsidize oil, coal and gas companies.

Third, it could establish that we all have a constitutional right to a livable future that allows us to enjoy life, liberty and property that is “free from direct and imminent property damage caused by extreme weather events”.

The Justice Department probably is worried, too, about  two recent developments have made the government’s position on climate change harder to defend.

The first development came from the largest scientific enterprise in world history — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – which since 1988 has assessed and synthesized the results of scientific research from around the world. On Oct. 6, the IPCC issued a startling report. It warned the international community that we have only 12 years to make epic cuts in fossil fuel pollution if we hope to avoid truly disastrous storms, heat waves, mega-fires, sea level rise and other extreme impacts.

A week later, President Trump made several mind-blowing statements that demonstrated how little he knows about climate change despite his decision to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. It became obvious again that Trump simply parrots old GOP talking points and his morning briefings from Fox News.

In an interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, Trump indicated that he does not trust climate scientists, even those in his administration, because they have “a very big political agenda”. He said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity. Besides, he told Stahl, climate scientists do not agree with one another and the climate always goes “back and forth, back and forth”. Also, he does not want to spend “trillions and trillions of dollars” and “lose millions and millions of jobs” to help nations mitigate global warming.

When the Associated Press asked Trump about the IPCC report, he answered “My uncle was a great professor at MIT for many years…And I didn’t talk to him about this particular subject, but I have a natural instinct for science, and I will say that you have scientists on both sides of the picture.”

In addition to these new developments and his past actions, the Julianas can point to Trump’s stated goal to make the United States the world’s principal producer of fossil fuels; his executive orders and other efforts to get rid of the Obama Administration’s climate action plan; his weakening of EPA and its ability to regulate the most powerful of greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide and methane; and his efforts to undermine the government’s science capabilities.

There is still a chance that some arcane procedural issue will come up to delay or prevent the “trial of the century”, as one Justice Department attorney has said it would be.  But if the Julianas’ trial goes forward and survives the Trump Administration’s inevitable appeals, it will make history, and none too soon.

Reconciliation and Hope

Author: Gary Hart

Most American historians trace high degrees of national unity to two causes: depressions and wars.  Americans put ideology and party aside, at least for the time being, during these conditions.

Only demagogues seek a platform when one-third of the people are ill-clothed, ill-housed, undernourished, and out of a job or when foreign enemies threaten our security.  On any score of national unity, we get together under these conditions and generally put ordinary politics aside until we recover some degree of economic and territorial security.

On the other hand, disruptions such as globalization, immigration, and technology are less tangible and more readily reduced to partisanship.  Politicians of one kind or another will seek advantage in the disruptions such trends and tides produce.  It is too easy to blame the other side for lost jobs or economic dislocations these trends produce.

We are currently in such an era of blame and accusation and seem far from pulling together to address genuine challenges that confront us all.

Is there a way to create some form of national unity absent an economic depression or a serious threat?  Partisan media and special ideological interests make it difficult.  Inciting anger and resentment makes money.  It excites the passions, regardless whether the object of the negative passion is a fellow American.

There will always be conservatives and liberals.  Whether this is solely the product of nature or nurture will probably never be resolved.  But the differences come to the fore when there is general stability and political advantage can be generated out of discontent.

Even in the absence of economic depression or military threat, fear can and does arise and will be used by those seeking power.  Those who generate fear and capitalize upon it must look to their own consciences for justification.  Whatever else is involved, it is not in the national interest.

Looking beyond the era of Trump, it is not too soon to consider ways to bridge the political gaps, repair social damages, restore confidence in government, encourage hope, and look for hopeful ways to move our nation forward.  An era of national reconciliation would be welcomed by all citizens of good will.  But to achieve it will require most of us to lay our political cudgels aside and seek avenues that unite us.

I have long been an advocate of a national service program primarily, but not exclusively, for young people.  Advocates along the way have outlined ways in which the costs of higher education can be offset by those who participate for a year or two either in AmeriCorps or Peace Corps type services.  Such a program can and should be military/non-military in nature.  And the growing number of the healthy elderly would welcome some constructive service to undertake.

The sense of service to the nation is a boost to civic duty and civic virtue.  It lasts a lifetime.  And there is much to be done in homeland security, aid to the elderly, community reconstruction, educational and reading programs, environmental repair, shelter construction, and health delivery.  These activities and others are a major contribution to the national interest.

In addition, community and local governments can and should do more to restore civility to town meetings with or without elected officials participating.  There are a wide variety of problems at the community level that affect, one way or the other, almost all its residents.  These issues require discussion and citizen participation and input.  Individual empowerment, especially in an age of alienation, would help overcome the widespread sense of dislocation and isolation.

Religious institutions, churches, synagogues, and mosques, among others, have important roles to play.  Their leaders can and should institute inter-faith discussions and dialogues aimed at reducing and possibly eliminating fears and misunderstandings based on misinformation and in some cases calculated hate-mongering.  Such inter-faith occasions should be open to the broader public and not just adherents of one faith or another.  Questions should be invited and reasonably answered concerning religious practices and rituals, dress codes, prohibitions, religious histories, and much else concerning which ignorance may prevail.

In recent times, too many wedges have been driven into American society by those seeking political advantage.  Fears have been introduced and exploited.  Races have been divided even further than usual.  Genders have been set against each other.  Much effort has been expended in causing citizens to distrust their own government, even by those now occupying that government.

There are policies that overcome “I win, you lose” approaches.  Reasonable people can fashion immigration policies that are fair, just, and protective of those who fear for their lives.  Those policies can also encourage and welcome the best and the brightest into our technological and industrial circles.  There are balanced environmental policies that protect the health and safety of American citizens without shutting down whole industries.  There are health insurance programs that are fair to the insurance industry and affordable by most Americans.  There are public education programs that will boost test scores and student successes without wholesale privatization and higher education financing programs that do not put students in financial bondage for decades.  The list goes on.

Why do we not do this?  Politics and partisanship.  Parties and ideologies.  Forces that divide instead of unite.  Forces that believe there is only one way and that is their way.  Forces that raise and spend fortunes to ensure that the other side fails.  Forces that profit from a nation divided.

We can wait for another depression or war to unite us.  Our efforts to regulate against exuberant risk in finance, when they are exercised, help prevent depression.  And large-scale global wars have been replaced by unending local wars and cyber conflict.  That is the good news but news that reduces the traditional causes of national unity.

So, we may have to find ourselves ways of overcoming division and achieving unity that are less costly but much more rewarding.  It is a question of national will.  Perhaps we will finally exhaust ourselves in internal political conflicts and decide there is a better way.  Perhaps we will raise up a generation of leadership skilled in reconciliation and cloaked in moral authority.  Perhaps, as a nation we will finally achieve a degree of maturity required to push aside the forces of division and the false leaders who profit from anger.

Then, hope will replace fear and we will have a chance to achieve our true destiny.

 

A Hole in the Heart

Author: Gary Hart

Today, September 11th, will remain a solemn and sad day for the nation for many years to come, possibly forever.  But it bears a particularly personal burden of memory in my case.

For most Americans, especially senior officials of the new George W. Bush administration, it was a vicious Pearl Harbor-like cowardly sneak attack.

In reality, however, it was not so simple.

In an interim report in 2000, and in its final report delivered to the President and the new administration on January 31, 2001, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century warned of terrorist attacks on the nation sooner rather than later and predicted that “Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

Composed of eleven senior bipartisan members, the Commission undertook a review of our national security for the following 25 years, a task not performed since 1947.  It was, otherwise, without precedent.  With the late Senator Warren Rudman, I was its co-chair of the Commission for two and a half years.

Our first recommendation to the new administration was to create a new Department of Homeland Security which would principally bring together under one cabinet officer the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and Customs Service, each with a critical role to protect our borders, but each then under a different cabinet department without a common communications system or common data base.  Their coordination to prevent treachery against our nation was casual and informal.  No one had ultimate responsibility or authority

New administrations are busy learning their jobs.  But this urgent report sat unattended and unaddressed in the White House, Department of Defense, Department of State, and National Security Council.

It sat unattended until September 11th, 2001.  Then it was buried.

It must be noted that, when published in January 2001, our report and prediction drew scant attention from the press and media.  They had more sensational stories to report.

In the past 17 years, no one, including the former President, has provided justification for neglecting a clear and present warning a full eight months before our prediction came true.

At the very least, in the eight months following our warning the three principal border agencies could have easily created a common data base and common communications system.  They were not instructed to do so.  No reason has been given for this gross negligence.

The only rational explanation for this negligence is ideological: resistance to “big government”.  How can a new Republican administration explain to its adherents that the first thing it did on taking office was to produce a new Government bureaucracy.

The answer to that, of course, is that the bureaucracies already exist, and national security requires they be brought under one roof and one accountable official.  That’s not difficult to explain.

Conclusion: 9/11 did not have to happen.  3000 Americans did not have to die because of political neglect.  And the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have claimed additional thousands of lives of American troops did not have to follow.

Thus, the heavy heart and frustration of at least one American who helped prepare the warning must follow him to his grave.

An Appreciation

Author: Gary Hart

Many thanks to quite a number of you who have sent personal condolences.  A reprise of a post four months ago.  GH

 

Captain John McCain was the U.S. Navy liaison officer to the United States Senate when we first met in 1977.  Thereafter, he was escort officer on a number of Senate delegation trips and my escort on board two aircraft carriers underway in the Indian Ocean.  The most notable delegation included Senators John Glenn, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and myself on a tour of Asian nations ending in South Korea.  Our report urged President Jimmy Carter not to carry out his proposed withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea and the President reluctantly conceded.

The solo aircraft carrier visits, thanks to John McCain’s arrangements, enabled me to fly off the decks in the radar operators back seat in high performance combat aircraft.  For anyone who has shared that experience, it is one that is never forgotten.

Thereafter, in 1980, John persuaded the Navy to commission me as an officer (Lt. j.g.) in the U.S. Naval Reserves.  My purpose was to gain insights on naval operations not otherwise available to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on which I served.  I never put the commission on my bio and never referred to it for political gain.

Along with Bill Cohen, I was invited to be one of John’s groomsmen in his wedding to Cindy Hensley in 1980 in Arizona.  Following his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, we served in Congress together until my departure in 1987.

Over the subsequent years I tried to maintain contact with John and Cindy and once was invited to speak to a weekend retreat they maintained for friends and supporters at their home in Sedona, Arizona.

The story of John’s bravery as a prisoner in North Vietnam for five and a half years is well known.  He refused early release if he would endorse a statement that he believed the war to be wrong and received special punishment when his captors discovered his father, Admiral John McCain, was commander of fleet forces off Vietnam.

When John referred to his experiences in jail it was with an amazing degree of candor and lack of bitterness.  Some stories he would tell were in fact humorous and humane.

The world knows that John is ill.  The outcome is apparently not in doubt.  With Cindy’s help, I managed to speak with him yesterday and did so through my tears.

John is a hero to me and millions of others.  He ran for and could have been President.  He has lived an abundant and remarkable life.  With no provocation he was pilloried by a man who did become President, a man without an ounce of his courage, bravery, and service.  It was one of the ugliest moments in our current ugly times.  It is a mark of these times that it should have disqualified that man from holding any public office, but it did not.  That is how far down we have descended.

It is the mark of a coward that he seeks to bring anyone above him down to his level.  He cannot stand to see anyone respected when he himself is not respected and does not respect the high office that he holds.  One has only to look at those around that man to know why he could not acknowledge John McCain’s patriotism, service, and honors.

Those of us who know John McCain pray for him and his family.  Like most of us, John is not a man without faults.  He is very human and the first to admit it.  Despite those faults, though, he is an extraordinary human being.

He emerged from prison with broken bones badly set, walked with a limp, and saluted awkwardly.  Those were marks of distinction and honor.  Despite his afflictions, he laughed often and saw humor in the ridiculousness of the human folly we call politics.

Like many, many others, I am a better man for knowing John.  I consider it a privilege to have had the honor.

When John enters the next life, his flight will be straight and level…and very fast.  His laugh will be light, but he will mourn for the political chaos that is not his fault but that he could not cure.  The rest of us left here have no choice but to try.

Anchors aweigh, John.  Set your course for the horizon and your friends will join you soon.

 

 

Continuons

Author: Gary Hart

A friend brought to my attention a new biography of Charles de Gaulle, De Gaulle, by Julian Jackson, yet to reach these shores.  One of the common perceptions of de Gaulle is that he remained always an ardent nationalist.  In a recent review of the book in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik makes a more subtle observation.  De Gaulle was, he claims, much more a republican, which many interpreted as being rigidly conservative, even right-wing and absolutist.

“…de Gaulle always offered a staunch reaffirmation of republican values”,  writes Gopnik.  “His life is proof that unapologetic right-wing politics do not necessarily bend toward absolutism; they can also sometimes stiffen the spine of liberal democracy.”

This, better than anything I have read or written on classic republicanism, summarizes what America needs now.  It is the recovery of the classic republican ideal—performance of citizen duty and protection of the commonwealth—that will restore American democracy, which is devoted to our rights.  We must protect our rights by performance of our duties.

This is dramatically so at an hour when our nation is being redirected from liberal democracy toward a dangerous, racially-based nationalism.  We must close our borders to those who are different, even if they possess talents we need, says our president to his “base”.

Unless his casual indifference toward laws and legal systems trips him up, in two and perhaps even six years this nation will be in danger of losing its historic soul, perhaps permanently, and becoming a totally different nation.  It did not take long in the 1940s for many, perhaps a majority, of Frenchmen to fall in behind the fascist Vichy regime.

Those who acquiesced were corrupted by an illegitimate ideology, fascism, much as European nations are today sliding toward authoritarian nationalism.  As republican theorists from ancient Athens onward, up to and including the Jefferson-Madison republicans, knew, the greatest danger for a republic is corruption—placing personal interests ahead of the common good.

De Gaulle was moved by the experience of Jean Moulin, described as a high-  ranking left-wing prefect whose strength of character and creation of the only credible resistance network inside France “were tied to his impeccable republican attitudes.”

When de Gaulle learned that Moulin had been captured and tortured to death by Klaus Barbie, he “merely said, with the stoicism of a Cornielle hero, ‘Continuons.’ “We’ll go on.”

Trump types, some worse than others, have come and gone in American history.  In each case: Continuons.

We’ll go on.

 

Considerable time has been spent on my part over quite a few years trying to decide what this means.

It is the title of a book of stories by Flannery O’Connor and is taken from an aphorism by the Jesuit theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, popular with seminarians in my theological days.  I learned recently that it also a concept valued by my friend, law school classmate, also a former seminarian, Governor Jerry Brown.

Fr. De Chardin wrote:  “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.

To “rise” in this context, it seems to me, is to have spiritual wings, to lift, to “slip the surly bonds of earth” in that memorable phrase taken by another Irishwoman, Peggy Noonan, and spoken by Ronald Reagan on the occasion of the space shuttle Challenger disaster (from “High Flight,” a poem by John Gillespie McGee)

What enables a thing to rise?  Living in truth.  Nobility.  Genuine love.  Care for others. Sacrifice.  In sum, what Kierkegaard called purity of heart.

Very few of these qualities are on display today, but they do exist and occasionally, despite the haze created by human tragedy and evil, we see them and are inspired.  They are the evidence of things unseen, the proof of that which the human heart is capable.

The desperate need for qualities that rise came back with film footage of evil in Syria, the purposeful gassing of children, the targeting of hospitals, the effort to hunt and kill the “white helmets”, those saints in human clothing who try to provide even elementary treatment for the wounded.

Surely there must be a special place near Satan’s throne for those, especially the Russians, who could end this with a phone call but who refuse to do so.  And Assad himself has earned the worse fate imaginable.

Those of us who live in safety (except, perhaps, for the random supermarket or school shooting) do not like to think of evil, of pure, unadulterated wrongs perpetuated with intent.  But if goodness rises, evil descends.

One is not required to be a Biblical scholar to view human behavior as a never-ending struggle between that which is evil and that which rises.

But what does it mean for human goodness to “converge” and why must it do so?

This remains a mystery and invites us to consider its meaning.  Perhaps it is at least partly solved by these words: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed”.  It is realized when people of varied backgrounds unite to achieve a goal larger than each of them individually.  It occurs when everyday Americans shun the language of separation and denigration and follow the better angels of our nature.  Convergence occurs when all the people of good will come together to overcome the forces of ill will.

Even in desperate hours, the hope of convergence of all that is good, all that rises will overwhelm all that descends, and the better angels of courage and selflessness and human goodness will prevail.

And while we pray for that day, we struggle on.