Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Catastrophe Ahead

Author: Gary Hart

Sooner rather than later we will experience a major cyberattack on one or more parts of our critical infrastructure.  We will not know, at least immediately, where it has originated from because it will be redirected through a number of cut outs.  It could come from a major national power or from renegade cyber pirates.  Its target will most certainly be either our transportation, communications, financial, or energy networks.

Whatever the target system, the result will be catastrophic.

We actually entered the international cyber era with the Russian disruption of our 2016 elections representing an attack on the fundamental aspect of our democracy.  That is just the beginning.

In 1999, I was co-chair of the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, the most far-reaching analysis of our national security challenges since a series of similar assessments following World War II.  We concluded that “America will be attacked by terrorists using weapons of mass destruction and Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”  That language was repeated in our final report on 31 January 2011, eight months before 9/11.

A similar study undertaken today by experienced security experts would surely contain similar language: “America will be attacked by terrorists using cyber technology and one or more of America’s critical infrastructure systems will massively disrupt American lives.”

This is going to happen soon.  As we were not prepared for 9/11, we are not prepared for this kind of warfare.

Though Senator John McCain, among a few others, has sought to pass legislation requiring national protection of our critical infrastructure, Congress seems unconcerned.  Equally unconcerned is the Executive branch.  Unlike many other countries, virtually all our financial, transportation, energy, and communications systems are in private corporate ownership.  Through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies, these corporate structures resist any attempt to mandate cyber security systems.

If your political philosophy is “leave me alone” regarding government mandates, this fits that pattern.  But this is not just “play fair” regulation.  This is “our nation is in danger and you must help protect our nation.”

This is one of those times where the laissez faire philosophy must give way to national security.

In 1940, Pearl Harbor was required to wake Americans up.  In 2001, 9/11 was required to wake Americans up.

If a cyber attack shuts down our telephone and computer systems, or our air traffic control systems with thousands of planes in the air, or our entire electrical grid, or our complex banking system, it will be disastrous, but Americans will wake up too late once again.

The cry will be: Why weren’t we warned?  For eight months before 9/11, I was one of a very few that continued to warn about terrorist attacks on America.

Consider this a warning.

Nero in the Coliseum

Author: Gary Hart

“Rome was robust enough…to survive terrifyingly bad rulers.”  This is Professor John Lewis Gaddis in his new book On Grand Strategy commenting on Caesar Augustus’ failure to train a successor before his death and the subsequent decline in the caliber and quality of Rome’s rulers, including the notorious Nero forty years later.

The book is a graduate seminar in 313 pages, covering not only Caesar Augustus but also Xerxes, Pericles, Thucydides, Augustine, Machiavelli, Lincoln, and Isaiah Berlin, among many others.  It represents true joy in learning.  Had he more interest in learning, in books, in history, I can think of a current president who should read it.

Very few bad leaders have these interests, or to put it another way, without those interests bad leadership is guaranteed.  It was Jefferson himself who said he could not live without books.  The man now occupying his presidential office cannot live with them.

If that man suddenly chose to read, he might find out about the Marshall Plan, the subsequent North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the emergence of the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations itself.  Then regional trade agreements such as NAFTA, the G7, and security agreements such as the Iran nuclear agreement.

Almost all of these were opposed by the isolationist wing of the Republican party at the time, at least until it understood this network of institutions was the democratic world’s bulwark against the Soviet Union and the spread of communism.  And it worked.

Without the communist threat to require cooperation for collective security, sure enough the isolationist wing, once lead in the 1930s by Charles Lindberg and Henry Ford, has now re-emerged from its cave and wants to undue the network of international organizations that prevented a world war for 75 years.

One of many lessons offered by our current detour from history is the danger of one party government, abetted by its several captive media conglomerates. No checks.  No balances.  All power concentrated in one political party with its own great megaphone guarantees excess and ultimately “terrifyingly bad rulers” whose central organizing principle is to destroy any evidence a previous president existed and to tear down brick by brick the international institutions favored by at least eleven of his predecessors.

For all practical purposes the Republican Congress is this president’s rubber stamp.  If a Democratic president had tried to disrupt NATO in previous years you could have heard the outraged cries of Republicans from one end of this country to the other.

Great leaders throughout history have almost always trained their successors or at least mentored them into positions of leadership.  Not so of recent presidents, including the two Bush presidents, which produces vacuums for Neros to fill.

Like Rome at the height of its power, America is robust enough to survive bad rulers, that is at least until they begin to succeed one another.  But that survival must overcome the wreckage of abandoned international networks for security, trade, the environment, world health, and much else.  And it will require the patient restructuring of reasonable and necessary regulations for energy and the environment, public education, health care, worker safety, safe food and drugs, and very much else currently being thrown away domestically.

We have had too few presidents who were strategic thinkers, alas.  If leaders do not anticipate the future and its new realities, they are consigned to reaction.  Reactive options are almost always flawed one way or another and by definition defensive.

There is always the possibility that the current president is operating according to a plan.  If so, it is not one that he seems willing to share with his fellow countrymen whose lives and whose children’s lives will be jeopardized by wholesale withdrawal from a well-established international order that has served the world reasonably well for seven decades.

This president not only is willing for the United States to retreat from the world but seems hell-bent on destroying existing structures for others whom most of us consider our friends and allies.

The whole world is his Coliseum.

A Hinge of History

Author: Gary Hart

There has been an assumption that once Donald Trump leaves office, American politics will return to its traditional patterns.  There is an increasing likelihood, however, that he is disrupting standard political norms and practices for years to come if not permanently.

The probability increases daily that American politics is in the midst of historical, irreversible changes.  Patterns are emerging in the Trump era that reflect little if any similarity to anything previously experienced in the nation’s history.  These include ideological restructuring of the judicial system, denigration of the role of the free press, concentration of greater power in the executive branch and shrinking the role of the legislative branch, rejection of America’s role as leader of the democratic world, alignment of American politics with nationalistic movements elsewhere, rejection of science and facts, and steady presidential reliance on falsehoods.

The strongest evidence for the assertion that all this and more is establishing a permanent pattern is this administration’s ability to trample on tradition, custom, and established practice and get away with it.  A clear pattern of behavior has emerged for a long enough time that it is a fundamental altering of the American character and not merely the antics of a foolish and misguided executive.

For the first time in a long lifetime, little attention is given to our history, no obligation is felt to heed the lessons of former leaders, leaders read no books, ignorance has become our standard, critical public offices are left vacant, childish rants have replaced thoughtful dialogue, democratic allies are demeaned and tyrants praised.

The nation is divided between two cultures, one blue and one red.  The red culture rewards the president’s behavior at every turn and encourages even greater excesses and aberrations.  The blue culture fails to produce statesmen of stature and is increasingly represented by public figures drawn into the vortex of vulgarity.

The era of Trump witnesses the destruction of the traditional Republican party and the isolation of the Democratic party into coastal red enclaves with little opportunity for expansion.  What we are witnessing is not merely a recurring cycle in American politics.  We are witnessing a fundamental altering of traditional structures, ideologies, and norms into forms unfamiliar in our history.

There have been recurring cycles in American political history and reemergence of the paranoid style in American politics.  Absent serious depression or war, however, the current dismantling of reasonably stable traditional structures is assuming the caste of permanence.

The era of Trump is undertaking a wholesale restructuring of the executive branch of government that will make its ultimate dismantling and shrinkage easier.  Being repealed by executive order are not simply regulations and practices constructed by the previous president but by presidents of both parties over many decades.

The president’s party in Congress shifted massive wealth upward to the already unseemly wealthy, and resistance was slight and momentary.  It will be a long time, if ever, that a fair tax code is reenacted.  Reorganization of government is to be the smokescreen behind which a system of public assistance to those in need will be dismantled.  If so, it will take decades to put it back together if that can ever be done.  Care for the needy is the very center of civility.

Already programs for alternative energy, climate protection, public education, expanded health care, and nature preservation are being dismantled.  The dream of conservatives to eliminate social assistance since the age of Franklin Roosevelt is now underway.  Soon the national government’s role will be defense and reallocation of wealth upward.

And the good times roll on.  The era of Trump seems permanently buoyed by an expanding economy, one that had already substantially recovered from its 2008 market deregulation disaster well before the era of Trump began.  As uneven and unfair as it is, a strong market is preferable to its alternative, even if it raises mostly the gilded yachts.  Few will be successful in challenging the Trump deconstruction of American politics during this rising tide.

The emerging new political order will be one of vulgarity, American against American, false information, propaganda replacing debate, smallness of stature, diplomacy by assault, every man for himself and devil take the hindmost.

What are we leaving our children and future generations?  In a word, a different country than the one we inherited.  It will be more callous and less caring, a meaner, cut-throat, take-no-prisoners politics, political power in the hands of money thanks to Citizens United, scorn poured on idealism, red and blue ideological media, politics in the hands of the children of Trump, symbolically if not literally, crude, boastful, tasteless rhetoric, American leaders embarrassed and embarrassing on the world stage, and little if any sense of the greatness of our history.

If we have entered another dimension in American politics, even semi-permanently, who among the next generation and beyond will seek public office, to face the demagoguery of political opponents and the media as well, to constantly beg for money, to risk character assassination at every turn, to rely on media advisors and “strategists” for a message benign enough not to offend anyone but not visionary enough to excite anyone either.

If economic growth, or the appearance of it, is sufficient to enable the destructive Trump era for a few more years, we will be well enough down the road of deconstruction of political life as we have known it.  It will have changed unalterably.  Those who might welcome that outcome have no idea of what they are inviting.  All current indications suggest it will not be pretty.

Every hour and every day the seeds of a different country are being sown.

It is not too late to stop this runaway political train whose ultimate destination is yet to be known.  It will take statesmen and women who care deeply about our country.  It will take parents who care about their children’s public legacy.  It will take genuine American patriots who know our country is great already and must preserve, not destroy, what made it great.

In a mass democracy such as ours. there are no magic wands to turn the entire political process around.  It takes articulate candidates who know history and who understand the complex issues we face.  It requires civility, the ability to communicate in language everyday Americans can understand.  It means spending time organizing, first local neighborhoods, then communities, then whole States, then the country.  It requires restraint from hostility to those who disagree.  Most of all, it requires moral authority, the strength of leaders and followers to follow their consciences, to do what is right, to stand for the nation’s best principles, to exercise passive resistance and peaceful protest against that which is wrong.

These are the practices methods that finally brought civil rights, ended the war in Vietnam, let to women’s rights, and encouraged the environmental movement.

After a lifetime as a reformer, this is not an argument against changing political structures and policies to address new realities.  It is an argument against willful trashing of national ideals, principles, agreements, equity, fairness, and justice to serve the undemocratic interests of nationalism, racism, bigotry, and concentrated wealth.

Great nations have a soul.  That soul can be lost or destroyed.  We have entered an era where America’s soul is in the balance.  Language is losing its meaning.  Truth is squandered every day.  Conscious efforts are being made to drive permanent wedges between segments of our society, to turn Americans against Americans.  For what purpose, we are not told.

Consider an American politics without a conscience or a moral center.  Consider our politics without mutual respect, empathy, or common decency.  Consider leaders chosen for their rudeness, deceitfulness, and vulgarity.

We have a sacred trust.  We are stewards of the values of truth and justice.  We have a solemn duty to preserve these values for those who will follow.  If we fail, America fails.

Assuming that Mr. Trump continues his project to dismantle what is usually referred to as the liberal world order, the security, trade, environment, and a range of international agreements to encourage international cooperation on matters of common concern, at least two options will emerge for his presidential successor.  One is restoration of the multi-national agreements that Mr. Trump has abandoned or sought to destroy.  The other is the invention of a new approach to common problems that lie ahead.

The first approach may be as straightforward, although not simple, as rejoining agreements and arrangements from which he seeks to withdraw the United States.  The Group of Seven, whose La Malbaie meeting he unaccountably and petulantly disrupted, is an instance of a new, more rational president simply saying “sorry, folks, we’re back in the club and looking for ways to work together.”

Although candidate Trump disparaged NATO, though seeming not to grasp what it has been about for almost eight decades, he seems to have been persuaded by U.S. senior military leadership that it is the backbone of U.S. national security, a bulwark against terrorism, and a much more effective security approach to his preferred go-it-alone strategy.

Also, as Mr. Trump is finding out, his simplistic unilateralism concerning trade in Asia, Europe, and the North American continent and belief that trade wars “are easy to win” is slightly more complicated than early 21st century Smoot-Hawleyism.  His self-vaunted negotiating skills seem not to be working in this arena either.

After a current binge of nationalism, xenophobia, and wall building, reality must set in and saner leaders will conclude that there is more to be gained in security, trade, environment, and much else by cooperation and international agreement.

The real issue is whether Americans can find a new generation of statesmen of the caliber of George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and Harry Truman who can convince our democratic allies and others such as China and Russia that maturity has returned to the United States, that we wish to return to an intricate system of international institutions, and even more search for new cooperative ways to address new common problems.

Statesmanship flourishes only in rational eras.

The reality is this.  Globalization is here to stay.  New rules must be devised to make it work fairly.  Nuclear weapons must be constrained.  It is easy to condemn the Iran nuclear agreement for what it did not achieve.  We have yet to see how the Great Negotiator comes up with something better.  The climate is changing.  Polar ice is melting.  Sea levels are rising and will do so more rapidly.  Mass migrations will result.  It is a race between the Trumpian term of office ending and seriousness in limiting carbon emissions returning in time.

The drama of the next few decades resides in the clash of nationalism against these realities, none of which can be resolved by unilateralism in single nations.

The saddest lesson of politics is that those responsible for chaos, catastrophe, and ignorance rarely have to pay the price for their mistakes.  When the wave of unaddressed new realities crash down upon us, Mr. Trump and those who empower him or protect their careers by preserving their silence will be ending their days at a golf course in Mar a Lago or perhaps a few miles outside of Moscow.

Idealism in Hiding

Author: Gary Hart

“I am an idealist, without illusions.”  John Kennedy

The era of the assassin, at least those who use bullets, came to a close, praise God, fifty years ago.  To say that much has changed since is a massive understatement.  Whether the rise of the petty tyrant and the destruction of governing norms and behavior is here to stay or is a detour and frolic remains to be seen.  At the least it is safe to say that the idealistic tendency to see government as an instrument of fairness and justice is in hiding.

During the very brief Kennedy days the ideal of public service as a means to right society’s injustices (“ask what you can do..”) opened the way to the era of civil rights, women’s rights, environmental protection, worker safety, a war on poverty, and much else.  Today, priests of the right dismiss all this as “liberal big government” and applaud around the bonfire of its destruction.

This period of social progress, a better society, was less liberal than it was idealistic.  Now, idealism is being crushed everywhere it may be found.  The closest we have come to its return is tragically the cause of high school students appealing to their parents and the politicians they elect to save them from being killed in their schools.

The paleological media’s demented effort to crush any semblance of liberalism silently carries with it the deeper effort to crush idealism.  Any appeal to social justice is derided as a sinister cover for internationalism, world government, collectivism, and a plot against America.

Even as idealism, the struggle for a better society, is forced to hide, conservatism itself is being reinterpreted.  In its post-Rooseveltian period, that is much of the 20th century, it relied on a simple, bumper-strip doctrine: less government, lower taxes, and a big military.  This reliance on simplicity all the way through Reagan has given way to a much denser, and more dangerous mantra: nationalism, racism, consolidated wealth and power, unilateralism, and isolationism.

Conservatives of yesteryear find this theft of conservative doctrine bewildering.  They are at least as confused by the highjacking of their dogma as the rest of us are.  For they, at least as much as liberals, helped to create the post-World War II international order by which Western democracy would defend itself against any doctrine that would threaten it.

All this is brought to mind by the 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death.  By most accounts he came to his idealism later in life, shortly before his tragic death.  It was seen as both an inheritance of his brother’s slowly expanding torch and his own pilgrimage towards social justice.

On this occasion we are witnessing a nostalgic longing for those days again, especially under current political conditions where any hint of idealism becomes grounds for denunciation.

Even the most serious students of American political history find it difficult to identify a similar conundrum, one in which the executive is at war with its own government’s legal systems, unilaterally abandons international security and trade agreements, and obsessively seeks to dismantle any legacy of his immediate predecessor.

Even as conservatism seeks to redefine itself by recapturing its commitment to international order and respect for law and order at home, liberalism is largely seeking redefinition through progressivism.  But, even during the Clinton and Obama years there was little appeal to the sense of idealism and civic duty that the Kennedy brothers resurrected from ancient republicanism.

Regardless of the nonsensical effort to make America great again by making it smaller, it may be that the means by which we restore our republican form of government is through appeal to citizen duty, civic virtue, and citizen participation.

Woodrow Wilson said that he knew he was an American because of his idealism.  And Justice Louis Brandeis said that “There is in most Americans some spark of idealism, which can be fanned into a flame.”

In short, the idealism hidden in the hearts of many Americans and most young people must be restored to American political life.  That was the belief of our Founders: we are a great Republic if we can keep it.

 

 

Intelligence

Author: Gary Hart

With multiple-meaning words, it is always necessary to designate which meaning is intended.  In everyday usage intelligence means knowledge, understanding, appreciation, ability to mentally process, and much else.  In official circles, especially since World War II, it means collection and processing of information necessary to make wise political and military judgments in the national interest.

The first is produced by education and study.  The second is produced by a constantly expanding network of official agencies and some unofficial collection sources.

Whether through cognitive processes or street-smart common sense, most Americans who bother to vote assume that public officials up to and including the president have the innate intelligence to understand and appreciate the significance of national security intelligence.

There is always the chance, remote as it may seem, that a president might not have the intelligence or even interest to appraise and evaluate the national security intelligence he is tasked with receiving on a daily basis.

This scenario, as frightening as it is, may result from lackadaisical schooling, self-chosen illiteracy, impatience, deficient attention span, or, worst of all, a sense that he or she possesses an intellect superior to the processed information/intelligence produced constantly by cadres of trained and experienced analysts.

The baseline attitude is: Don’t bore me with the facts.

Regardless of the reason, this is a danger to our security.  Security intelligence is focused not only on military deployments, nuclear and missile tests, troop strengths, and scenario evaluations.  It also provides crucial economic analyses, impending pandemics, climate data (yes), migration information, behind the scenes political information, leadership character studies, and much more crucial but not military information.

Reliance on intelligence requires the intelligence to be reliable and not the product of an effort to bolster or sway wrong-headed policy.  Then CIA Director George Tenet infamously told President George W. Bush that invasion of Iraq would be a “slam dunk”.  We are still in Iraq 16 years later.  True intelligence professionals resist the lure of pleasing power.

In addition to the mind-closing factors listed above that may impede intelligence about intelligence, the current administration seems to be made up of cabinet level officials who share one disturbing characteristic—conscious rejection of science and the scientific method.

Here we have entered the portal of the post-Enlightenment era.  If science that disproves ideological bias is systematically rejected, then rules do not apply.  The autocrat’s mantra is: “Who are you going to trust, me or your lying eyes.  Truth is what we say it is.  Truth is not in books or education; it is in our doctrine.

Thus, I as commander-in-chief do not need daily intelligence briefings, especially those that run counter to my own beliefs or that challenge my convictions.  I can take or leave the entire intelligence community and, by the way, the law enforcement community and the rule of law if they call into question my behavior and conduct.”

The long history of autocratic behavior repeatedly follows this model.  It succeeds when no political institutions question this pattern.  The majority in both Houses of Congress remain dumb to this threat and fearful of political reprisals from the “base”.

Civil servants, bound by oaths to protect and defend the Constitution, are daily tasked with following the laws or bowing to the agency heads out to undermine the very legal structures Congresses have erected over decades for them to administer.

When they choose to obey the laws and mandates laid down by Congress, they become the “deep state”.  The “deep state” is nothing more than civil servants performing duties required by law when the president and those around him command them not to.

It is one thing to empower a leader who “tells it like it is”.  It is another to empower a leader who “does it like he isn’t supposed to do it”.

Willful ignorance of information, facts, science, and the truth is not leadership.  It is unconstitutional autocracy.  Whether Americans realize it or not, we are in a day to day struggle over the soul of our nation.

[Credentials: Appellate lawyer, National Security Division, U.S. Department of Justice; member, U.S. Senate Commission to Investigate the Intelligence Agencies of the U.S. Government; charter member, Senate Permanent Intelligence Oversight Committee; co-chair, U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century; chair, Threat Reduction Advisory Committee, U.S. Department of Defense; chair, International Security Advisory Board, U.S. Department of State]

The Deep State Revealed

Author: Gary Hart

It would be interesting to know who schooled Donald Trump on what he calls “the deep state.”  When he first began to allude to it he made it sound like a cabal inside the U.S. Government, a secret cult that managed the complex institutions of government regardless of party or administration in office according to its own evil designs.  For any of us with experience in everyday governance, this was delusional at best and wacky at worst.

Now it is beginning to emerge that Mr. Trump was actually referring to the senior civil service in our Government, the people who rose through the ranks of one agency or another to management level positions.  They may not be the exact equivalent of the professional civil servants in the British Government, but a somewhat more casual version of that.

As individuals and as a collective group the senior civil service remains through changes of Congresses and shifts in political parties.  These men and women know their departments, agencies, and bureaus.  They are versed in laws enacted by Congress and often write the regulations those laws required to be administered.

They are, in short, the day to day glue that keeps our Government working.  And, though administrations may tilt liberal or conservative, by and large the laws are the laws and the regulations, though sometimes revised, are the regulations.

This is the “deep state” Trump sees as his enemy.  Because he does not want the Government to work.  Or, better stated, he wants the Government to work his way when he orders it.  So, his quarrel with the “deep state” is that it does the job that many Congresses and many administrations over many decades have given it.  And he does not want that to happen.

What we have here is authoritarianism pure and simple.

This accounts for the massive refusal throughout the Trump administration to appoint officials at the State Department and key domestic departments and to sideline career foreign service officers and career bureau chiefs into meaningless jobs well beneath their respective levels of competence.  Civil service legal protections prevent mass firings.  But they do not protect against arbitrary diminishment.

If, as president, you wish to bypass established structures and procedures, those created by a long series of Congresses before you, you dismiss those historic precedents as a “deep state”, an obstructionist system which will not and cannot permit you to rule by whim, ego, or arbitrariness.  That is what is meant by the rule of law and that is what Trump’s war on the “deep state” is all about.

Others have noted the comparison to the rise of right-wing authoritarianism in European democracies.  We are now seeing it in America with conservative packing of courts, attacks on the free press, dismissal of opposition parties, destruction of the civil service, disregard for the career foreign service, and arbitrary authoritarian rule.  And of challenges from the Republican controlled Congress there is none.

The “deep state” is the last bastion of American democracy because it refuses to disobey the laws, dismantle legally enacted programs based on science and reason, and tear apart the fabric of programs and policies lawfully enacted over the years by both parties.

Trump’s program is to personally run all aspects of government, domestic and foreign, from the White House.  This is the essence of authoritarianism, nowhere now seen more clearly that his war on his own Department of Justice, FBI, and law enforcement agencies.  This accounts for the now routine shuffling in and out of cabinet officers, White House staff, and advisors in an effort to have layers of insulation from question or criticism.

Most presidents have sought continuity and reliability.  This president revels in chaos.  Few think this is a healthy attribute.

Authoritarianism historically is associated with xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, economic insecurity, and social instability, none of which characterized America before Trump.  He manufactured it by making Mexican and Muslim immigrants criminals, decrying a level of urban crime that did not exist, imagining nuclear developments in Iran not taking place, and ridiculing even our closest allies.

He would solve all these threats…if it were not for the “deep state” which surrounded him and frustrated all his unilateral actions.

We now have a clearer picture of what we face: a senior civil service doing its Constitutional job and a president out to destroy it.  The outcome of this struggle will determine what America will remain or what it will become for decades to follow.

On This Day

Author: Gary Hart

In 1992, a journalist named Richard Ben Cramer published a book entitled What It Takes.  It contained profiles of seven candidates for the presidency in 1988, became a best-seller, and is still used in political science classrooms.  A year or two later, as one of those profiled in the book, I asked Richard if the seven of us had anything in common.  “Oh, yes,” he said.  “You all had strong mothers.”  “They told each of you that you could be anything you chose to be.”

This story is a tribute to mothers everywhere.  God bless you all.

Gary Hart

Let Us Now Praise a Famous Man

Author: Gary Hart

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.

 

 

Status Regained

Author: Gary Hart

Conventional political wisdom is being challenged once again.  Insider pundits concluded months ago that Trump voters were motivated by economic anxiety.  The tide is beginning to turn, however, and the new wisdom has to do with that troublesome notion called identity.

A thoughtful recent New York Times piece proposes the “fear of losing status” as the principal underlying motivation of those who voted for Trump.  One political science professor who has studied the question says: “It’s much more of a symbolic threat that people feel.  It’s not the threat to their economic well-being; it’s a threat to their group’s domination in our country over all.”

Thus, the rise of anti-immigration xenophobia, the Wall, bans on Muslims, demonization of Mexican immigrants particularly, and, of course, America First and Make America Great Again.  All targeted to the rising tide of white American nationalism.  We built it, we own it, the rest of you get out of here.

And, by the way, wasn’t it clever of the internationalists to give us a President born in Kenya.

Rather than lost jobs from foreign competition, the Times story concludes that “Mr. Trump’s appeal could better be explained by a fear of cultural displacement.”

This rings truer.  As farmers and exporters generally are discovering, trade barriers work both ways and other nations, particularly China, retaliate against our tariffs.  It is less foreign products that make Americans unhappy, it is the foreigners themselves.  They will move in and take over.

We are not alone.  Great Britain has Brexit which is turning out to be a whole lot more complicated than its xenophobic sponsors promised.  Viktor Orban is inventing authoritarian democracy for the Hungarians.  Right wing xenophobic political parties are springing up across Europe, including ominously Germany.

Mass South-North migrations that a few of us forecast some years back have fueled movements of national identity.  Pretty predictable.

You shouldn’t read the papers unless you are prepared for massive hypocrisy.  Corporate executives may join the business ranks supporting Trump but quietly urge members of Congress to let in enough workers from the South to take low wage jobs in agriculture and food services.

One of the solutions that has been available and needed for the past thirty or more years is serious and mature immigration reform that established reasonable, enforceable quotas and that opened doors to seasonal workers as well as technical geniuses.  That will not happen under the present political make-up in Washington.

But laws will not solve deep sociological grievances.  If a substantial number of Americans, mostly older, think they have lost dominant status in their own country, there is no quick political fix.

We have ridden out anti-immigrant, nationalistic movements in the past and we will simply have to ride this one out as well.  Generational change will solve part of the identity problem.  Young people, especially those fortunate enough to have traveled abroad, are more open minded, tolerant, and accepting of international trends and tides than their grandparents.  The danger there is that they will lose a reasonable and thoughtful notion of patriotism.

Asking what we can do for our country must not become a cliché`.  It is possible to love America and still be good citizens of the world.  This is particularly true of climate protection, arms control, and disease prevention.

White Americans, by themselves, may not dominate our future.  American may no longer dominate the globe.  These changes need not lead to destructive measures to retain national identity.  We do not have to dominate to retain the status offered by maturity and thoughtfulness.

Trump’s bombastic notion of separating ourselves from the rest of the world was doomed before he uttered it.  He may not care about global matters, but global matters care about him.