Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Can It Happen Here?

Author: Gary Hart

The social and political glue that holds democracies, especially large-scale, diverse democracies, together are institutions and laws, particularly where they are enumerated in a written Constitution.  But there are also unwritten rules or norms that guide the conduct of those elected and appointed to operate our government on a daily basis.

“…two norms stand out as fundamental to a functioning democracy: mutual toleration and institutional forbearance.”  This conclusion is reached by two authorities on democratic government, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, in How Democracies Die, a deeply disturbing and sobering recent book.

They attribute America’s political stability through a civil war, depressions, and many setbacks to the willingness of our two major parties to respect these unwritten rules.  But, they conclude, the process of racial inclusion begun after World War II and culminating in civil rights legislation in the mid-1960 began the process of political polarization that have led us to the greatest challenge to established norms of mutual toleration and forbearance since Reconstruction and, ultimately, to the age of Trump.

The results are not just political, they are also personal.  Acquaintances increasingly report personal divisions in the workplace and even within families over whether you are for or against Trump.  Few dispute that civility is at a low ebb.  It is a commonplace these days to observe that the United States Government is dysfunctional.

Some take courage from the fact that Trump’s approval rating has never reached 50%, that his uninhibited authoritarianism, attacks on a free press, conflicts with the judiciary, law enforcement, and intelligence communities have consistently been resisted by a majority of Americans.  Others of us remain stunned that a consistent third of our society supports his every excess, choosing to believe his incivilities are necessary to restore a national greatness that has never, until he came along, been in doubt.

Our democratic form of government is underwritten by our society.   Though we have rarely if ever considered what might happen if our society tired of a democracy dependent on toleration and forbearance and chose instead to move, albeit gradually, toward centralized power in an executive, supported obsequiously by a rubberstamp legislature, and an ideologically stacked judicial system.

How Democracies Die provides multiple examples of democracies that transitioned gradually but unchecked into authoritarian oligarchies.  Opposition protests and resistance occurred but were systematically confined, then eliminated.  Democracies do die, but rarely overnight.  Their deaths are the result of insufficient oxygen.

The oxygen of democracies is open debate and discussion, receptivity to ideas, concurrence on facts, protection against perversion of language, and most of all mutual respect and tolerance for the views of others.  The road toward authoritarianism leads away from all these.

With the advent of Democratic party leadership on civil rights legislation, something called “movement conservatism” sprang up.  It went beyond traditional conservative ideology into an almost religious doctrine.  Everything and anything that frustrated and defeated liberalism became legitimate.  Traditional Republicanism gave way to a new coalition of evangelical Christians, the NRA and gun owners, marginal right-wing groups, and frustrated white middle Americans angered by foreign trade competition, coastal liberal elites, and immigrants.

Democrats became the enemy.  Years of planning went into gerrymandering Congressional districts, purging of voter rolls, voter documentation and claims of massive voting frauds, and purging of moderate Republicans.  Levitsky and Ziblatt show how these and similar practices were systematically repeated in democracies en route to authoritarianism.

After decades of this, Democrats and broader civil society have begun to awaken to the need for resistance.  Voting rights laws need to be strengthened.  Congressional districting must be done by non-aligned citizen groups.  Threats against reporters and the press should receive vociferous citizen condemnation.  The cure for the ails of democracy is more, not less, democracy.

How Democracies Die concludes with this: “Few societies in history have managed to be both multiracial and genuinely democratic.  That is our challenge.  It is also our opportunity.  If we meet it, American will truly be exceptional.”

Juliana v US

Author: Gary Hart
A while back I posted a message from my friend Bill Becker, managing director of the Presidential Climate Action Project, regarding a suit brought by 20 young people against the US Government on the theory their lives were diminished or threatened by global warming.  Elizabeth particularly paid attention to this and wanted more information.  Here is the message Bill sent today.  GH
For those who did not see 60 Minutes Sunday night, it aired a story about Juliana v United States, the lawsuit being pursued by 21 young people against the U.S. government to stop its support of fossil fuels. You’ll find it here:
William Becker
Executive Director
Presidential Climate Action Project

A Businessman in Government

Author: Gary Hart

Practically everyone who has held office in the national government has heard, usually more than once, “why can’t we run the government like a business” or “let’s put a business person in the White House.”

Well, now these critics got their wish and, so far, it isn’t working out so well.

The current occupant had no national security, intelligence, or foreign policy experience.  He has let many State Department and U.S. Embassies stagnate.  He wants the Defense Department to organize parades.  He doesn’t have time or interest for intelligence briefings that are prepared by professional experts to bring him up to date on developments that affect our security.

Aside from a massive, deficit and debt-ridden tax cut for the wealthy, he inherited a growing economy and at least has stood aside to let it continue.  Otherwise, he has shown no tolerance for complex fiscal and monetary issues.

But all this is far from the worst part: he continues to work with family members to operate Trump, Inc., his private real estate business.  And there is every indication that intricate associations in Russia and Saudi Arabia may be tilting U.S. foreign policy in the direction of benefitting that business.

Bad enough to have a businessman who doesn’t understand the operations of government.  Even worse to have one who looks after personal business matters and uses his high office to do so for life after the White House.

Two sons, a daughter, and a son-in-law, at the least, have one foot in the White House and the other foot on Fifth Avenue.  No wonder he has wanted Robert Mueller to disappear.

You don’t have to be an expert in high finance to know the basics of real estate.  You borrow huge amounts of money to buy or build an office building or hotel.  All’s well until financial markets drop, revenues decline, and loans come due.  What a convenience to have friends in high places in Moscow and Riyadh.

But oligarchs and authoritarians and their retinues want something in return for massive loans, and that something can be much beyond dinner in the White House.  There may be very highly classified intelligence to share…all in the interest of U.S. national security, of course.  And then the U.S. might find it convenient to side with lending sovereign funds against neighboring antagonists such as Iran, for example.

Genius is not required to imagine how the vast power of the U.S. Government can be used to further the private businesses of presidents who refuse to set them aside.  However,  “…no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Article I, section 8, clause 9, the U.S. Constitution.

Even if Mr. Mueller has not looked into this, perhaps the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York or even the Manhattan District Attorney might choose to do so.

If foreign governments, or those working for them, are lending money to troubled Trump, Inc. assets, somewhere there is a written record of it.

The short answer to the original complaint is that government is not a business.  It provides public services for the national good and not for profit.  Despite a wildly off-the-mark Secretary of Education, public schools should not make a profit.  They should educate citizens for participation in our Republic.

National Parks and recreation areas may charge reasonable access fees to help cover the costs of maintenance, but not so the National Park Service can operate a bank.

Why, after two and a third centuries, these basic observations are required to be made is a mystery and the result of an often-demented conservative crusade to destroy the national government…except, of course, for the Pentagon.

Decades from now, investigators and scholars will sort through the wreckage of the current Administration for evidence of selfish and self-interested private dealings, the price of handing this businessman the keys to the White House.

Damage Repair

Author: Gary Hart

When the era of Trump concludes, much work will need to be done.  The list is long but must surely include restoring and restructuring our alliances with our allies, returning to stewardship of our public resources, rebuilding public education, constructing a workable health care system, climate protection, and much else.

As a perceived “liberal”, it may surprise some that I propose adding to this list the repair of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies, including but not limited to the U.S. Department of Justice (of which I am an alumnus), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and all other agencies that comprise the national intelligence and law enforcement network.

For reasons still to be disclosed, Mr. Trump set out to demean this network and each of its component parts even during his campaign.  Since assuming the highest office of the land, and after taking an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, as president he has systematically rejected intelligence briefings and dismissed threats and warnings from the network designed to protect our nation and much of the world.

Mr. Trump’s notorious resistance to details, claims of superior intellect, and childlike attention span are not excuses for failure to pay attention to our nation’s security.  They certainly are not excuses for a chief executive who also goes out of his way to demean those who take their career security responsibilities ultimately seriously.

Even his most loyal adherents have refused to offer an explanation or justification for his virulent resentment of our intelligence and law enforcement systems.  His “base” seems able to overlook a host of bizarre actions.  Not even his fiercest loyalists, however, have attempted to justify his behavior which, by any fair assessment, places our nation at risk.

Career law enforcement and intelligence officials are overwhelmingly dedicated to our national security.  I have had the privilege of knowing and working with many of them.  But they are all human beings.  To be shunned, disrespected, and publicly demeaned by the President of the United States which they serve is demoralizing.

Thus, this proposal to add repair of the morale and stature of these institutions to the list of foremost project beyond Trump.

We are heading into a time quit possibly more dangerous than the Cold War.  Most persuasive of all the experts is David Kilcullen, renowned for his written warnings of terrorism, insurgency, and the blurring of lines between war and crimes as well as his advice to senior officials.  We face a range of dangers stretching from ancient brutalities up to and beyond cyber warfare.  Those perpetrating these dangers recognize no laws of war, no humanitarian standards, no treaties, no Geneva Conventions.

There is every evidence that we are in an historic transition period between traditional nation-state wars predominant since the Peace of Westphalia and a new era of conflict ostensibly begun on 9/11 where attackers without uniforms killed civilians without uniforms.  The attackers were not soldiers but they are certainly criminals.

If, as I and many believe, we are entering a period of maximum, even if unconventional, danger, any thoughtful person would be required to conclude that scrupulous attention to expert intelligence is the utmost responsibility of the commander in chief of our defense forces and the intelligence they depend on.

If we are fortunate not to confront a cyber attack or another 9/11 during the remaining Trump era, we will be fortunate as a nation and Mr. Trump will be a very lucky president.  But our dangerous world will not permit us to depend on luck forever.



America’s national identity is defined by its first principles.

In four years, my father’s family will have lived on this continent for 300 years.  Does that make me more American than a young Guatemalan woman who has just pronounced the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States “and the Republic for which it stands”.  That Republic was and is and always will be based upon its founding principles.

What makes us both American is belief in our first principles.  In America, nationality is not defined by race, creed, color, religion, or ethnicity.  It is defined by allegiance to a set of principles more clearly defined than any other nation on earth.

So the test of our patriotism, of our Americanism, is adherence to those principles.  When those of us who are American citizens, from whatever background, accept and follow those principles, then we are part of America.  When we claim our unique difference from other nations, this is what we claim.

I participated in several elevated Senate debates on immigration with Edward Kennedy, Alan Simpson, Bill Bradley, and a large number of others.  These debates were complex but resolvable principally because the national interest was the objective sought by leaders of good will.  In the height of the Cold War, with repeated references to “national security”, one of our colleagues defined national security as: a strong defense, a sound dollar, and secure borders.  But he did not mean a two thousand-mile long Southern wall.  By secure borders, he meant sane, enforceable, and humane immigration policies.

Our national identity is neither liberal nor conservative.  These are ideologies that drive policies but not identity.  If anyone is proposing to add an ideological question to a citizenship application, they are not being heard from.  We do not define citizen identity by liberalism or conservatism, nor should we ever.  Americans are free to choose.  That is one of our first principles

Our national principles are contained in our founding documents, especially the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence, but also in the Constitutional debates and correspondence of the Founders, restatement of founding principles by great Presidents and leaders who followed, and by other statements defining our national behavior provided in our best times.

The times in which we now live have quickly devolved into world-wide searches for national identity.  At their worst these searches have deteriorated into divisive nationalism, populism, and exclusivity.  Nationalistic political movements in Europe and elsewhere are becoming tribalistic, with racial and ethnic categories.  Nativism is the new rage and the new scourge.

Purity of heritage is the new hallmark for belonging.  All others, especially immigrants, are to be shunned and excluded, even in a nation of immigrants such as ours.  Globalization, mass migrations, and attempted escape from oppression are root causes for this nationalistic discontent.  The only nations relatively free from these racial and ethnic contests are those composed overwhelmingly if not exclusively of unitary ethnic citizenry.

Because of our long history of immigration…save for Native Americans, aren’t all of us from somewhere else?….it is difficult if not impossible for us to identify a “pure American.”  There were periods of immigrant waves in the past two centuries where those who could trace their ancestry to the Mayflower era were held aloft as what an American should look like.

But then we had a third-generation Irish Catholic president and even now one who is third or possibly fourth-generation German (self-identified as Swedish for some reason), and old standards require adjustment as to who is and is not American.

It would be instructive to ask all Americans to define our first principles.  Routinely, applicants for citizenship perform better at such tasks than those of us born here.  (I attempt to do so in a forthcoming book: America Beyond Trump: Restoring First Principles.)

All men and women are created equal.  Church and State should not intrude on each other.  We are entitled to a fair trial.  The press should be free in order to hold government accountable.  We are a commonwealth and hold certain public things in common.  We are free to speak.  There are many more such principles that are clearly stated.

Perhaps uniquely, America has a founding and enduring creed in the principles that created our nation two and a third centuries ago.  Those principles, not ethnicity, race, religion, or ideology, are the foundation and source of our national identity.  They define who we are, at our best, and who we hope to become.

American is not finished.  We have not even begun.  We will always be a unique national work in progress.  The success of our national journey will be determined by our adherence to the founding principles that created our national identity.  They are the compass to guide our path and our passport to the future.

And our unfinished work is to guarantee that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Where Have You Gone, Elizabeth

Author: Gary Hart

We are missing Elizabeth Miller’s sometimes acerbic wit, keen insights, and often challenging observations.  We hope she is well and will return to this site when she is able.  Our numbers are too small to let anyone disappear.  The advantage of small membership is the identity each member reveals.  Perhaps nostalgically, I sense the identity of each of our regular commentators and the often illuminating exchanges that occasionally occur.  In moments of crises of the soul, I have sometimes been guilty of straying from the forum of political opinion and, if so, I pray that was not the cause of her leaving.  I promise not to indulge in my own personal preoccupations again.  Be well, Elizabeth, and come back to the matters of principle forum.  Gary

We all have our models, prototypes, frameworks, and agendas for sorting the bus load of candidates for the Democratic nomination for president.  The categories include gender, race, generation, and experience.  Some will sort among the several women, some among the minorities, some will want young and others will want older, and then there will be the struggle over who is the most liberal/progressive, as defined by a whole basket of issues.

Let’s step back and assess the situation.  By November 2020, we will have had four years of White House and Cabinet chaos, an endless struggle over a Melvillian wall, and most of all the destruction of almost eight decades of relative solidarity among Western democracies and others over security, trade, environment, and economic stability.

This is the reality the next president will face.  He or she will have three choices: continue Trumpian isolationism; rebuild the post-World War II alliances; construct a new set of alliances addressing new realities in trade, security, environment, and economic and political stability.

The latter is the most necessary but the most difficult.  It will require the political leadership of a Roosevelt and Truman, the diplomacy of an Acheson, and the leadership of a George Marshall.  And it will be carried out against the backdrop of a daunting domestic agenda in health, education, environment, job creation, and creative regulation of markets at least as damaged during the Trumpian era as Americas stature in the world.

For a few wizened characters like me, this matrix becomes the one through which the next president must pass.  Not everyone of the many Democratic candidates is up to it.  When the presidency is seen as manager of the fiscal policy (the “economy”) of the nation, the diplomat in chief, and the commander in chief of the military forces, this narrows the field quickly.

The newest, the cutest, the funniest, the quickest wit is interesting but irrelevant.  That is not to say a new figure, a new voice, a new mind cannot be imaginative, creative, and attractive.  That was John Kennedy sixty years ago, and even he made some mistakes in the early going and in an environment much simpler that the one faced by a president today.

We will need a president who can restore America’s stature, dependability, leadership, and respectability.  We will need a president who understands the technological revolution soon to encompass driverless vehicles, artificial intelligence, and robots.  We will need a president who can negotiate arms control agreements, establish workable trade rules with China, force Russia to butt out of our politics, establish humane immigration systems, and restore some degree of fairness to our tax system.

America beyond Trump will be a study in massive damage repair but also one of enormous new opportunities not seen since the end of World War II.  Ordinary leadership skills, well beyond winning one or two Statewide elections, will be required.  The standards for selection of the Democratic candidate must be kept very high.  Not all of the many putative candidates qualify.

It will be up to caucus attendees and primary voters in all 50 States to take their task very seriously.  This is not a beauty contest or a game show quiz.  Donald Trump is creating a deep hole for our nation at home and abroad that we must climb out of.

And it must be said that the press and media should be held to account in this process.  The political press adores what has been called the “inside baseball” aspect of elections…constantly changing poll results, the race for money, who has hired the cleverest “strategist”, who has what endorsements, and on and on.  None of this really means anything in the end.

If the argument for extraordinary talent and skills made here is sound, it is all ultimately irrelevant.  Will we find the woman or man who can pull our country up by its boot straps and set us back on solid ground for a generation at least.

Beyond policy and program, our national self-definition has been seriously damaged by the incumbent’s casual relationship with the truth and his selection of cabinet members.  We are and always have been a nation of principles as set out by our Founders.  Virtually all of those principles have been abused or disregarded.  The next president must restore our first principles established in our founding documents and defining statements since then.

We face an uncommonly important national election.  It is not a game.  It is not a show.  It is about the future of America after a four year march of folly.  We must pray the best person wins for our nation and for what the Constitution calls our Progeny.

Active Measures

Author: Gary Hart

Sometime last year a documentary entitled Active Measures was released.  A recent viewing revealed that it is a painstaking, well-documented review of Donald Trump’s activities and associations in Russia.  It makes no effort to be “fair and balanced”.  But there seems to have been no critical, documented rebuttal of the case against this continuing close association.

The crux of the matter, leading up to Trump’s unexpected presidential victory, has to do with the confluence of Russian oligarchical money, virtually all traceable to Vladimir Putin, and the global Trump hotel dynasty.

Following disastrously failed casino ventures in New Jersey, Trump experienced a series of bankruptcies and found conventional bank financing scarce.  Through ties Paul Manafort and others developed with spectacularly wealthy Russian oligarchs, money soon became available for the Trump Tower in New York, condominium developments in Florida and elsewhere, and a variety of other Trump branded hotels world-wide.

In virtually every case the money was funneled through Deutche Bank and other international banks, then through other cut-outs and shell companies, until its original sources were untraceable.  Sophisticated people think the Mueller investigation is devoting much time and energy to the cause of recreating these schemes.

From Trump Tower onward, clever Russian oligarchs invested in apartments using shell company documentation and, in many cases, flipped the apartments at huge windfalls.

Even with the evidence provided by the Active Measures documentary, it will take years, even decades, to piece these intricate schemes together.

In the meantime, it does lay the base for understanding Trump’s bizarre, some have alleged treasonous, attitude toward Russia.  Even as Trump & Co. claim they are being tougher on the Russians than any previous president (Reagan is rolling in his grave), at least five separate discussions between Trump and Putin remain undocumented or all records held in Trump’s personal possession.  The most blatant and unprecedented was the two hour meeting in Helsinki with only translators present and their notes sequestered by Trump himself.

Given this history, only two explanations are possible: either Trump has been totally stupid, or he kept the business side with Russia in operation up to and through the election not ever expecting that he would be elected.

The latter would certainly explain his pre- and post-election antagonism toward the intelligence and law enforcement agencies of the U.S. Government.  Never having read the U.S. Constitution, he believed the U.S. Department of Justice was his personal law firm and, until his new Attorney General recused himself from the Mueller investigation, that Sessions and Justice would protect him from the FBI, CIA, and Justice itself.

If Active Measures (a KGB code phrase for extraordinary operations) is only partially accurate, Mr. Trump is facing serious trouble.  If the possibility of indictment or impeachment exists, Russian money still underwriting Trump hotel operations will disappear rather than be implicated.  Thus, the political house of cards is in turn resting on a financial house of cards.  Mr. Trump is heavily leveraged both ways.

It would require a Shakespeare to construct a drama of an angry, unhinged king who loses both his kingdom and his fortune.

Meanwhile, the respectability of the United States of America is at risk.  If the worst possible thing occurs, and it could, what will be our standing with the democratic leaders and nations of the world?

Which leads to the next national election.  While media focus is on the new, the young, the attractive, the sensational, the most progressive of the sizable candidate wave, what we may require is a statesman or woman of historic standing, reputation, experience, and credibility to repair the damage, restore our friendships and alliances, and create the foundation of trust without which a great nation cannot lead.

We could well be headed at rapid speed toward a situation unprecedented in American history where high degrees of sobriety and statesmanship are required to restore the course of this nation’s ship of state.

Fasten Your Seatbelts

Author: Gary Hart

“Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night,” according to the movie.  Or perhaps lots of nights.

Donald Trump does not respond to pressure well.  Pressure, in the form of Pelosi and Mueller among others, has increased virtually overnight.

He now has an interim Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and a temporary chief of staff.  “His” generals are gone.  His National Security Advisor contradicts him on a Syrian withdrawal, saying it would occur over an undetermined length of time.  Then the Pentagon starts moving equipment out despite that.

His border wall, which many in his own party do not support, has become an obsession of Melvillian dimensions.  Since popularized in the age of Gingrich, the party responsible for a government shut-down, and in this case it is not the Democrats, has been punished at the next election.  Republican Senators faced with re-election in 2020 are beginning to bail.

There have been no indications that anyone who has his ear has had the courage to point out to him the implications of both Houses of Congress, with subpoena powers, in the hands of the opposition party.

This would be a fresh hell for which he is not emotionally or psychologically prepared.

The domestic warfare now opening is not of the scale of our Civil War or two World Wars.  But those world wars united us and, after a long period of healing, even the outcome of the Civil War made us a better nation.

The unprecedented Trump war now beginning has no historic precedent.  Absent a presidential resignation, it has no possible positive outcome.

We are beginning to see a confrontation between Trump and his “base” and the rest of America.  Those who consider themselves conservative but not part of the “base” will be caught in the middle.  Trump can prevail only if Democrats overplay their hand.

Protecting the nation by restoring our first principles must be the central theme of this struggle.

We must prepare for an intense campaign of distraction, threatening words uttered and actions taken to draw media, and therefore public, attention away from the impending confrontation between Trump and the truth.

New evidence, mostly from insider leaks, arrives daily.  Is it possible, as reported very recently, that the President of the United States has acquired sole ownership of all notes, including from interpreters, of his five meetings with Vladimir Putin?  If so, why?  There is no precedent in American history for this.  What transpired in those meetings that he conducted ostensibly on behalf of the American people that he wishes to sequester?

Trump does not own those records.  They belong to us.  There are no possible good reasons for hiding these historic records.  The new House of Representatives has subpoena powers.

Absent newly-demonstrated sobriety by Trump, there are no possible good outcomes from this looming confrontation.  Elements of the “base” are extremists.  They will not retire quietly.  Law enforcement agencies must be prepared for bad outcomes.

Our nation has faced many tests, assassinations and civil unrest not the least.  The coming test will be without previous precedent and may well determine who we are as a society and who we insist on being as a nation.


The Darkness Before the Dawn

Author: Gary Hart

A very astute friend has been discussing changes in popular culture, occurring so gradually as almost to be unnoticeable, that will have the cumulative affect of producing a different kind of society with as yet unclear political implications.

He says, for example, that many, if not most, people will quit going to movie theaters and will watch movies at home.  The same is true of dining out.  We have only to wait for first run movies to appear on DVD and, with a somewhat larger screen, watch them at home.  Meals delivered to the home are expanding exponentially to a growing consumer base, especially for two wage-earner families.

In both cases the savings are the same: car parking, theater tickets, large restaurant bills, tips here and there, baby sitters, expensive sodas and popcorn at the movies, and on and on.  Not to say also maneuvering through urban traffic and the danger of a DUI after the restaurant.

These trends are not new, especially among the working middle class whose incomes have become stagnant.  And young people have to be from wealthy families to afford a dinner and movie date.

These trends also involve shopping and merchandise.  The popular shopping malls of the 60s, 70s, and 80s have been surrendering to the bulldozers and wrecking balls years ago as the rise of catalogue shopping and Amazon rendered them obsolete.

Even as the investment world, driven by equity firms, retirement funds, and concentrated wealth, produces a rosy economic picture, some see that picture turning into a sunset.  Wealth is swirling upward, middle class wages stagnate, human hands are replaced by robots, and the third and fourth quintiles of workers become more frustrated and angry.

An ugly fog of stagnation seems to be settling in…permanently.

The social implications, and therefore the politics they produce, are becoming clearer.  People still socialize, but mostly among family and close friends.  But the community represented by popular entertainment, dining out, and shopping is narrowing.  Attendance at religious services, another locus of community, is markedly down.  Attendance at city council, county commission, and school board meetings is sparse.

It is one thing to neglect participation because things seem to be going well.  It is another to opt out because it doesn’t make a difference.

These patterns are replicated in one way or another in many, if not most, Western democracies.  Populist demagogues hone popular frustration by blaming immigrants, internationalists, and liberals.

And then, like a bad dream, a man appears to lead the world’s greatest democracy who sees government as a reality show, a source of never-ending chaos and drama, a new form of Survivor, a source of distraction, and a circus in which he is ringmaster.

No cohort is more confused than the intelligencia of the political party he has highjacked.  The man in the Oval Office does not play by any rules ever devised.  Every day is a new show with a drama based on a new set of assertions—never facts—and empowered by random family members, ever-changing cronies, a leaderless, somnambulant former party, and cabinet henchmen whose only talent is to break the rules, disobey laws, rig federal largess for corporate buddies, and then head for the door as investigating hangmen appear at the door.

Meanwhile, the large majority of Americans tune out, convinced by anti-government media that this is just a tip of total corruption in Washington, and who increasingly live their lives behind closed doors, in danger of leaving their communities to their own devices.

But all is not gloom.  As the Fallows, Jim and Deb, have shown in their recent book, Our Town, there are vibrant recovering communities, largely small and midsized, where citizens are volunteering, local businesses investing, schools teaching, and there is hope for the future.

Despite the chaos in and around the White House and the fog of stagnation it creates, emanating from a man who could care less for this country, and despite the cultural changes shrewdly observed by my friend, there must and will be a return to sanity and to a brighter day for the country we love.  We are optimists because we are Americans.

As Revered Jesse Jackson used to say about himself, God is not done with us yet.