Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

Sunset of Civility

Author: Gary Hart

Even some of us described as “liberal” by the media—that is tolerant, open-minded, experimental, socially concerned—have a conservative side.  Mine has to do with public life and public institutions.  It is offensive for an elected official to use profane language in public and against political opponents…including Donald Trump.  And the chambers of Congress are not the venues for making social commentary about gender by breaching dress codes for those elected to serve there.

Trump’s vulgarities are cited as justification for vulgar language.  Vulgarity does breed vulgarity.  But falling into that trap brings anyone using vulgarity down to his level.  He wins.  You lose.  Does profanity elevate the dialogue, or is it merely a jazzy way to spin up the anti-Trump base?  Do night club style dresses on the floor of the Senate genuinely send a powerful gender message, as some have commented, or does it diminish the Senate as an august deliberative body?

So this is my conservatism.  To be sworn in and to serve for years in the Senate, especially at an early age, was well beyond my aspirations.  I felt awe for the institution and even greater awe at serving there.  To me, the White House, the Capital, and the Supreme Court are the temples of democracy, the symbols of all that the Constitution has created.  Not all have the highest secular respect for them.  I do.

Donald Trump possesses none of that respect. Does that provide those who oppose him license to descend to his level?  Not at all.

Perennial jokes are made about those entering the last quarter of the game of life decrying the chaos into which society has fallen and reminiscing about the good old days of decency, respect, and decorum, and to dismiss them as creepy old codgers.

Times change and realities change with them.  But some things are true and lasting standards of behavior that abide.  Decency, mutual respect, maturity, all form the core of civilized society.  Barbarians in high office do not justify crass behavior in others.  There are standards of civility that must be exhibited even in vulgar times.

So there you have the conservative views of an aging liberal.  The conservatism advocated here has much less to do with politics and much more to do with respect for the cathedrals of democracy.  This has become more important than usual in the age of a president surrounded by those who publicly advocate crashing it all down.  This isn’t any kind of conservatism any of us is used to.  It is anarchism and it excites the so-called populists who wrongly think they have little to lose.

Forget about the “Progeny” mentioned in the Preamble to our Constitution to whom we owe a strong and vibrant government.  In an age of anarchism, who worries about what comes after the bonfires enveloping the institutions created by our Founders.

So, for those claiming representation of the Democratic party, to descend to the Trumpian level of vulgarity is to give him the victory over civility.  When those proclaiming liberalism join him on his level, they are joining him in the anarchy he seeks.

Restoration of Optimism

Author: Gary Hart

Cocked-eyed optimism has philosophical roots.  It springs from the Enlightenment, that movement that emerged in the late 17th, early 18th centuries premised on the belief that the human mind exploring new scientific breakthroughs, tolerant democratic government, and human flourishing would, with a few possible detours, inevitably lead to a better tomorrow.

Without knowing it, many of us, especially Americans, took this philosophical movement that so animated our nation’s Founders as a given, a premise of all future undertakings.  It wasn’t exactly Pangloss–we are getting better and better in every way–but it was a sense that we can aspire to achieve the highest goals our talents will allow.

No one is quite sure, but a few years back, perhaps sometime in the 1970s and 80s, this Enlightenment-fired optimism began to falter.  The usual causes are Vietnam, Watergate, assassinations, economic competition and dislocation, mass migrations, encountering the limits of environmental tolerance, and much else.

It was not accidental that Ronald Reagan’s vaunted optimism provided eight years in the White House with the one bright light, the end of the Cold War, as icing on the cake.  This was followed by booming markets and, shockingly, budget surpluses during the Clinton years.

Then, like a thunder-clap return to depressing reality, high-jacked planes flew into U.S. buildings, 3,000 American died, and welcome to the 21st century, a century so far of terrorism, endless wars, and, as the final closing of the door on the Enlightenment, the election of Donald Trump.  He was not elected for his optimism; he was elected for his anger and destructiveness.

The spiritual depression this experience has brought to many Americans is unprecedented.  Our Civil War and World Wars I and II are in the same vein, though different.  We pulled together and came out of them whole.  The Trump experience has yet to close and much of its meaning, if there is any, will be determined by how America chooses to move on.  Though analysts necessarily use Watergate as a touchstone for experience, this is much different.  Nixon had his supporters.  You might call them a “base” though I don’t recall that word being used.  But there are great differences.

By setting up a political system composed of a “deep state”, false news media, power hungry Democrats, treachery high and low, and no one, even in the White House and administration, who can be trusted, Trump has orchestrated a dangerous opera.  Whether brought down by the Mueller investigation or defeat in 2020, the message to the “base” will be: I am the victim of high-level treachery.

Those eager for impeachment, and the short-term satisfaction of escape from perhaps the wackiest two years in American history, tread carefully.  The Trump retreat to Mar-a-Lago, or wherever, is fraught with peril.  He will not go lightly, and he will not go graciously.  A third of the American people claim him as their leader.

Fanatical movements are on the rise in Western democracies and elsewhere.  We live in an armed state.  Radical right-wing groups are flourishing and are documented.  Proceed with caution.

If, as it is increasingly being predicted in high places, “impeachment is inevitable”, then it better be founded to the degree humanly possible on iron-clad, copper-riveted facts and indisputable law.  Mr. Trump is his own worst enemy and, if doors and escape hatches begin to close, his stability cannot be guaranteed.

Based on considerable experience, I have great confidence in the armed forces of the United States and in our intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  Congressional leaders must guarantee that these remain in Constitutionally-indoctrinated hands.  This is our most serious bulwark against mischief.

A serious national trial may well lie ahead.  It may well test our national commitment to Constitutional principles, the rule of law, and democratic government.  But we must also trust our country and, when the chips are down, the common sense and decency of the vast majority of our fellow citizens.

At stake in coming days is not only whether our native optimism can be recaptured, but even more importantly whether we will remain the country of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and, yes, Ronald Reagan.

 

There are many ways to escape the Trump era.  Mine is reading.  And most recently my son gave me Michael Lewis’s book The Fifth Risk.  Instead of distracting from the Trump era, it drove me deeper into it.

The narrative is about the Trump transition into management of the U.S. Government and how little those handling the transition know or cared about what they were doing.  They got away with it, at least so far, for an even more depressing reason: too many Americans, especially those who voted for Trump, don’t have a clue what the United States Government does and how it benefits their lives.

The single organizing principle then and now seems to be: whatever the Government was doing before we got here, unless it benefits corporate America, has to stop.

Underwriting this principle are rejection of science, distrust of public service and servants, privatization of even the most successful public policies and programs, and confidence in the willingness of the Trump “base” to accept destruction of the programs most specifically developed to help its members.

At its core is the cynical proposition that true believers will vote against their own and their children’s best interests in the interest of furthering a right-wing program of destruction.  Forget about the country at large and its future.  The image is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face.

Progress in our country has been brought about to some degree by corporate innovation but to a much larger degree by scientific explorations in the public as well as the private sectors.  Breakthroughs in health, nutrition, agriculture, technology, communications, and a host of other areas have, as often as not, emanated from a government laboratory and then made commercial and profitable by the private sector.

From the Oval Office to the lowliest political appointee in this administration ignorance of this bipartisan history is taken for granted, and the ignorant don’t want to know they are ignorant.

Historically, the only period to rival this involved the Know Nothings of the mid-19th century, also anti-immigrant and anti-fact-based reality.

Despite the many political analyses of the rise of Trumpism, none so far has solved the mystery of why close to a third of the country strongly supports a president who knows nothing about governing or government and who favors Wall Street wealth which his “base” is supposed to dislike and distrust.

There has been no serious rationalization from the White House for the systematic dismantling of Obama administration initiatives, cancelation of treaties and agreements with allies on trade, security, and cooperation (created by Republican as well as Democratic administrations), efforts to forestall climate catastrophe, and a host of other domestic and international policies meant to stabilize the world.  It is mindless destruction with no reason provided.

The “fifth risk”, project management, involves life or death issues such as nuclear waste disposal, food and drug inspection, carbon build up, and many others.  Those involved now in managing these projects don’t understand them or care about them.  The U.S. Government has been turned over to children and unqualified children at that.

To that must now be added yet another risk, the sixth risk which is the dismantling of government structures that support what up to now has been mostly a progressive national government that makes our country and our society better in virtually every way.

There is no justification for willful ignorance from the White House on down.

 

“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.