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The Assault on Language

Author: Gary Hart

When words lose their meaning, tyranny is at the door.  Behind all the unprecedented cacophony emanating from the White House, there is an assault on language, words and their meanings.  Many Americans have brushed aside all the talk, during the last national campaign and thereafter, about “fake news”.  That is a mistake.  If society loses its respect for commonly understood and accepted definitions of everyday words used in politics and elsewhere, communication of important information necessary for self-governance in a republic is replaced by propaganda.  Propaganda is the essential tool of dictators.

The New York Times, among others, has tried to keep track of an ever-expanding list of lies told by the President and others in his Administration.  This is one way of trying to protect definitions and meanings.  But the lies, or misstatements if you prefer a kinder word, are promoted on purpose.  They are to create a different set of realities.  This is a language meant to communicate with the “base”, those whose outlook on the world insists that there is no climate change, immigrants steal jobs, foreigners are not our friends, everything President Obama did is wrong or even evil, liberals are ignorant at best and evil at worst, trade agreements should be shunned unless they clearly give us advantage, and Russia may be a better security partner than our traditional NATO allies.

A dramatic nationalistic right-turn can be managed only if traditional language is replaced by a new vocabulary, one that may insist that night is day and wrong is right.  George Orwell was prophetic.

Those of us who think we have seen it all and believe that our fellow countrymen cannot be duped should think again.  Even if one shrugs off the new humpty-dumpty vocabulary, serious damage is still being done.  A third of our fellow citizens are learning to dwell in an alternative political universe, one whose language is different and whose realities themselves are different.

If this alternative universe takes root and transcends generations beyond a single presidency, America will think much differently and more importantly it will behave differently.  We will be divided not so much along class lines but along language lines.

The groundwork was laid before this presidency.  High level deception was practiced in the Vietnam War, during Watergate, and in the lead up to the Iraq War.  In each case, public trust was seriously eroded.  In too many cases it took the mainstream media too long to question authority and then when it began to it was criticized by authority for “undermining America.”  So we learned not to trust authority and not to trust those who came to question authority.

But all those chickens have come home to roost in a big way.  And when corruption in Washington involving both Parties encourages and reinforces cynicism [See: A Republic of Conscience], the floor is open for a new vocabulary of propaganda.  A lie is out the door and down the street before Truth gets its pants on.

American history shows that we’ve been through something like this on more than one occasion, for example the populist era of the late 19th century.  Except for Philip Roth’s fictional account in The Plot Against America, however, the chief propagandist never made it to the White House…until now.

It is for all of us, in day to day discourse with friends and neighbors, to politely insist that there is such a thing as objective truth, that words have accepted meanings that even the president cannot change, that science is based on provable evidence, and that our Founders knew what they were doing when they wrote and signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident….”

Today, virtually all Americans will remember or be reminded of the early 21st century’s version of Pearl Harbor.  For the few of us who saw something like 9/11 coming, and warned the nation, it will forever be tattooed indelibly on our souls.

Because the lesser versions of that evil hour have been more or less home grown and carried out by deranged fellow citizens in theaters and kindergarten classrooms, we tend to think that a 9/11 will not, possibly cannot, happen again.  After all we have, as the US Commission on National Security for the 21st Century urged eight months before 9/11, a US Department of Homeland Security, TSA, and increasingly militarized local police departments.

Don’t be too sure.

And don’t assume that, having made it more difficult for a handful of young men to highjack domestic airplanes and crash them into tall buildings, we have solved the problem of domestic terrorism.

The late, unlamented Osama bin Laden saw as his goal not the killing of a few thousand Americans.  His announced goal was to severely damage, if not destroy, the US economy.  So, we have just begun to see the tip of the cyber warfare iceberg.  Because corporate America refuses to accept US Government guidelines for securing and hardening its vast computer systems, some of us have warned that we can expect serious, and possibly successful, attacks on the computer networks that control our financial systems, our communications networks, our transportation systems, and our power production and delivery networks, that is our critical infrastructure.

We have already been told that it will take weeks and probably months to recover many of these systems after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  Think what a cyber hurricane can do.

For those of us in the business of seeing that history does not repeat itself, the question has to do with lessons learned.  All the TSA’s in the world cannot replace diligent leadership, presidents, cabin members, and members of Congress, who a window open to future potentials and think of ways to anticipate and protect against the worst.

If future national commissions or even alert individual citizens warn of impending danger and policy makers at the top refuse to listen, as they did in early 2001, no amount of forecasting of impending doom will prevent it from happening.

Those whose inclination is not to trust their own Government, and whose personalities are tuned to happy talk and not danger, will shy away from alerts and warnings of hazards ahead.  And they will always tell us that not every danger can be avoided.  But even if true, that is no excuse for not trying to anticipate the iceberg.

It was all summed up for me personally, as I have reiterated before, by the statement made by the Director of the US Secret Service when protection was provided to me as a national candidate: “If someone wants to kill you,” he said, “they will probably kill you.  Our job”, he continued, “is to make it as difficult as possible.”

To make terrorism on the shores of our nation as difficult as possible requires intelligence, foresight, wisdom, strength of character, and seriousness of responsibility.

In the age ahead, we should demand nothing less from our national leaders.  We owe it to the victims of 9/11 now sixteen years ago, whose loss could have been prevented, to hold our leaders accountable.

There is a consensus, with a high degree of confidence, among relevant US intelligence agencies that some individuals and groups in Russia hacked into computers regulating the 2016 US national elections.  Whether these hackers were authorized by the Government of Russia or were free lancers, and how extensive the interference was will require some authoritative report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

At the very least, it would be a mistake of historic importance to let this matter simply drift away into the dust bin of history.  If nothing else, prudent people must conclude if it happened once it will surely happen again.

Interference in our elections by a foreign power or foreign agents is not just one more damn thing left over from the Cold War.  Boys will be boys, cynics will say, and besides, are we Americans absolutely sure that one or more of our intelligence services, or their myriad of “private consultants”, have not done the same thing against other countries.  Without the highest security clearances, who’s to know?

But Russia remains a special case.  As one who has had extensive experience in Russia, both in arms control negotiations and in organizing major telecommunications projects, and as one whose adult lifetime, since as early as 1964 in the US Department of Justice’s National Security Division, has been highly focused on national and international security issues, this is a matter of considerable consequence.

If Russia, or anyone else for that matter, can hack into election computers in Pennsylvania, or Colorado, is it not clearly possible that the final tally of votes can be manipulated.  And, if so, cannot Russia, or someone else, determine the ultimate winner of the presidency or any other national office.

We have learned in recent hours that someone or someones in Russia purchased US election advertising on the Internet.  If so, our vaunted free elections are no longer free.  It is one thing to be manipulated by the Koch brothers.  It is quite another to be manipulated by the Kremlin or some private entity that it owns.

Our hope, and it remains a somewhat fragile one, is that Mr. Mueller and those who assist him are able to pin this tail on the right donkey.  If so, it will be against the best efforts of this White House and this Administration.   In the sardonic humor of Washington, Mr. Mueller better have someone else start his car in the morning.

It is a safe bet that, in the just over three years before the next national election, little will be done to harden election computers, all operated at the State level.  The cost would be considerable and funds are lacking.  The same safe bet says that State election officials will set this problem aside until their computers are dusted off and tuned up in the summer and fall of 2020.  Too late.

There is one option that costs little.  We can do what should have been done since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.  We can seek to build a better relationship with Russia based on the many more interests we have in common than those, such as Syria, Ukraine, and Crimea, where our interests conflict.  We have a common interest in a conflict free zone in the Arctic Circle, for example, and a North Korea in its cage.

The beginning would be a solemn, and detectable (“trust but verify”), commitment from the Russian Government that it will cease and desist from cyber tinkering with our elections which we hold sacred for the preservation of our Republic.

Vignettes for These Times

Author: Gary Hart

*Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist signs are not in evidence in Houston these days.  It would be interesting to hear how a lily-white society and government might have prevented Hurricane Harvey or managed its response better.

Indeed, what is striking about the dramatic pictures from Houston is how multi-racial the rescue is.  Blacks helping whites.  Hispanics helping blacks.  Asians helping and being helped.  Why does it take a natural disaster, or for that matter a war, for race to take a holiday?  America is always at its best when we are all in it together.

*Texas is among the most conservative and anti-national government States in the Union.  But the Federal (repeat Federal) Emergency Management Agency is there on the front lines of rescue and recovery and not a word is heard about the wasteful government in Washington or the tax dollars that it is spending.

Which brings up again the unanswered and unanswerable question: what are the functions of the national government they want to get rid of.  Texas’ former governor Mr. Perry wanted to eliminate the U.S. Department of Energy.  Now he is its Secretary and only beginning to find out what the Department does.  He did not know, for example, that about half of the Department’s budget goes into the development and management of our nuclear weapons stockpile, as well as development of new technologies for nuclear energy, and that the Department administers a wide range of national laboratories performing futuristic and cutting-edge research.

*It is also noteworthy that, at least until recent months, there has been a general unspoken consensus between Democrats and Republicans on immigration and multi-culturalism.  The last serious immigration reform measure in the 1980s was truly a bipartisan effort, but of course that was in an era where Republicans were not pilloried by right wing media for cooperating with Democrats.

Under Reagan and Bush administrations guest worker programs, some leading to citizenship, were permitted and sometimes even encouraged because pro-Republican agriculture and hospitality industries needed low wage workers in the fields and kitchens.  There may have been winks and nudges toward white nationalists but, if so, they were subtle and not, as today, blatant.

*Many Democrats, including this writer, deplore the rise of an “alt-left”, especially in its more virulent form.  White nationalists and neo-Nazis want violence and to provide it is to play into their hands.  The vast majority of main-stream Americans, imbued with the principles of our Constitution, can and must stand their ground and represent our best values.  But the job of enforcing law and order is best left to professional law enforcement.

*Our ever frustrated and angry President says he wants to get on with “tax reform” which we know is code word for cuts in corporate and wealthy tax rates.  The theory, restated so many times it is redundant, is that corporations will use newly untaxed dollars to expand and grow and “create many new jobs.”  Really?  What’s to prevent Big Guy, Inc. from increasing dividends to shareholders, increasing executive salaries (already completely out of any relation to productivity growth), buying new company jets and retreats, building new expensive corporate headquarters, increasing advertising budgets, and the list goes on.  None of this adds any jobs or increases national productivity.

Why not substitute tax credits for tax cuts, that is let Big Guy, Inc. deduct from annual taxes productive investments, such as new plant and equipment or worker training, AFTER these investments have been made?  Harry Taxpayer can’t claim a tax deduction for medical expenses before he gets sick.

Tax “reform”, that is reduced tax rates for those at the top, should not be based on hope.  They should be based on performance.

*Once more: how can the Texas Congressional delegation insist on massive federal reconstruction assistance after Harvey when almost all of them voted against the same kind of relief urgently needed by their fellow citizens in New Jersey and New York after Sandy.  There are a number of words that describe that kind of behavior and hypocrisy is the mildest.

And, finally, how can Texas, or anywhere else for that matter, harbor so many “nationalist” who don’t believe all Americans are part of the nation.

Into the Unknown

Author: Gary Hart

School did not prepare us for today.  Our American history courses, obedient both to the Constitution and an establishment fantasy that rational people act rationally and will select only rational leaders, did not leave open the possibility of children of the Enlightenment throwing away the compass of reason and selecting someone untutored in the lessons of civility, casual with the truth, and almost totally unequipped to lead the nation.

For those operating under the delusion that they have nothing to lose, this is a big thumb in the eye of others they assume have much more to lose.  Broken crockery in the White House (“a big dump”) is the occasion for raucous laughter.  Governing, more or less, from a resort shows how easy it is and how little needs to be known.  Belittling phone conversation with foreign leaders is just our man “telling it like it is.”

Accepting a leader’s uncouth behavior shows how easy it is for a presumably enlightened and civil society to slip its moorings and drift into the backwaters of civility.  How could the nation of Beethoven and Goethe let itself be led by a Hitler?, was the 20th century’s great unanswered question.

“Telling it like it is” is a glib excuse for vulgar behavior and acceptable only to those who smoke in the no-smoking section and spit watermelon seeds on the floor.

Thomas Jefferson thought it necessary to make the case for revolution out of “a decent respect for the opinions of mankind.”  What if you don’t give a damn for the opinions of mankind?  Then, even as president, you can do pretty much whatever your impulse of the moment tells you to do, even at the cost of respect for your nation.

This president’s partisan enablers are willing to let this man-child break the furniture with impunity so long as they save their political careers by avoiding a red-State primary from someone even further to the right of them.  And to hell with the nation.  Some believe he is destroying his Party.  If so, so be it.

You must be ridiculously self-absorbed to think that keeping a death grip on a public office is more important than the stability, reputation, and principles of the nation you were elected to serve.

And you would have to be totally delusional to believe that renewed racism and nationalism just happened to come along.  Hardly.  Whether blatant or dog-whistle, virtually every signal to come from the White House these last seven months has provided aid and comfort to those who arm themselves to restore a white, male, “Christian” society.

Count me among the many Americans grateful for retired General officers in this Administration.  They, especially, know the meaning of duty, honor, service, and country.  We must count on them to prevent our Republic from stumbling into great danger around the world during this strange and disconcerting period.

No one, including the man nominally in charge, knows where this will all end.  It is much too early to tell.  At the very least precedents are being established every day for setting the acceptable boundaries of intelligent, thoughtful, and principled leadership far out into a murky swamp.  (Speaking of which, how’s the progress on draining the Washington swamp?)  At the very worst, America is building a different road into the future, one which our Founders would neither recognize nor accept.

Every effort must be made to resist that outcome by those of us who love our country.

The Speed of Governance

Author: Gary Hart

William Becker, the Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project and a former colleague at the University of Colorado, raises an interesting and important question: is the speed of change generally and technological change particularly outrunning our ability to respond with public policies when required.  In other words, is governing too slow when the world all around us is experiencing revolutionary change.

Here are some examples Bill provided with his question:

“Regulators and electric utilities are scrambling to keep up with the rapid growth of rooftop solar energy. Several states are embroiled in controversies over how to compensate customers feeding energy into the grid.

“One or two ideas on how to address the lag-time problem. For example, lawmakers could give more discretion to elected leaders to make policy adjustments when the need arises. If Congress or states decide to price carbon, they could give public officials the power to adjust carbon prices within a specified range when an adjustment is needed to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals.

“Another possibility would be for the federal government — the White House perhaps, or the Congressional Research Service — to have a standing futures group that analyzes trends and issues periodic public analyses of what’s on the horizon.

“The futures group could draw on the analyses already being done and scattered across agencies — DOE’s Quadrennial Energy Review, the military’s Quadrennial Defense Review, the National Climate Assessments, weather trends from NOAA, earth science analyses from NASA, and so on. FEMA might weigh in on weather disasters, Agriculture on national soil and water conditions, etc.  The key would be to make the information as localized as possible so that state and local officials can act on it.”

So, as he shows, there are ways to speed up governance by anticipation, rather than delayed reaction.

Conservatism works when circumstances are quiet.  It is frustrated when the world we experience requires adaptability.  New realities require new policies and methods.  As Heraclitus wrote more than two millennia ago, you can’t step in the same river twice.

Here a distinction is important: fundamental principles abide and should not be tailored to fit changing circumstances.  But what must change to accommodate new realities are programs and policies.  A warming climate is foremost among those new realities, as are nuclear proliferation, a host of new technologies, the opioid epidemic, the rise of China, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the list goes on.

It would be convenient if simple slogans, rely on markets for example, solved all problems.  Were that so we would have affordable health care for all Americans without Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and so forth.  The same would be true of climate change.  Leave it to the markets.

Alas, markets cannot and do not solve all problems.  There are many realities, old and new, that simply cannot be addressed by reliance on the profit motive.

But when the changing times require a public policy response the institutions of government cannot be stymied by rigid ideologies, old slogans, and rhetoric.  The Government of the United States is not functional.  Its elected representatives in the executive and legislative branches have substituted slogans, and worn out ones at that, for ideas and solutions.

Public anger is directed at those who refuse to adapt, to compromise (on policies, once again, not principles), to put nation over party, even though the voters who elected these officials more often than not did so out of partisan motives.  You can’t have it both ways…rigid partisanship and functioning government.

The Founders clearly understood that the government they created had specified duties and responsibilities, but they did not design it for maximum efficiency.  Checks and balances were all about preventing the consolidation of power in a few hands.  Nevertheless, in a revolutionary era such as we are now experiencing public institutions must function effectively and should use state of the art technologies to help do so.

Why is it that we can lead the world in sophisticated military equipment but not do so in the areas of domestic need, such as health, energy, and environmental protection?

Given current political stalemate, it is difficult to imagine a concerted effort to increase the speed of governance.  If your slogan is that “the government is the problem” then you have no interest in making it operate more effectively.

A crisis of one kind or another will, sooner rather than later, force us to decide as a nation.  Either we agree to make our government more effective at dealing with dramatically changing conditions or we insist on dysfunctional governance and accelerate the long, slow decline into mediocracy and join other major political powers throughout the ages, powers who shuffled off the stage of history for their refusal to deal effectively with new realities.


Protecting the Boats

Author: Gary Hart

Dunkirk is a haunting movie on several levels in the sense that it stays with you and its scenes recur during the long nights.  What follows is not a movie review but rather a review of why it has that quality.  Many will see it as a war movie, albeit one of the best, but others like me cannot let it go because of what it says about humans in combat and the moral lessons derived from them.

I’ve known many military men and women of all ranks and stations.  None is more distinguished than an Air Force pilot I am privileged to know who, after serving too many years in a Vietnamese prison, returned to achieve the rank of General.  I thought of him while watching the movie and afterwards sought his response to it.

Not surprisingly, he observed the scenes of a few British Spitfire planes trying to hold off attacking German fighters and bombers wreaking havoc on troops awaiting evacuation on the beach and on the armada of small craft from England’s Eastern shore struggling to extricate those troops.

Most notable was one pilot who was running out of fuel and had to decide in a moment whether to head for home or stay and protect the boats.  Here is my pilot friend’s analysis:

He crossed Joseph Conrad’s “Shadow Line,” the decision point where one chooses to step back and retreat into safety, or step forward to accept moral responsibility, and the risk that goes with it. With a perfectly clear understanding of his fate, he chose to stay and protect the boats until the last drop of fuel was gone.”

He knew he was not going home.

Few of us, absent combat, are faces with this existential decision.  But in other ways this kind of decision confronts us, usually in unexpected forms.  Do I live for myself or do I do my duty and do what is morally right regardless of the consequences.  Do I head for home and safety or do I stay and protect the boats.

When confronted with this character-defining decision, usually there is little if any time for reflection.  So the decision to run or stay usually is a measure of the depth of a person’s heart and soul.  Who am I?  What is important in life?  Do I live for myself or for others?

Although it is popular to assume that all elected officials face a “profiles in courage” decision almost daily, in fact it happens rarely…but it does happen.  Living as we do in an age of careerism where Senators and Representatives bend and twist in peculiar ways to avoid unpopular decisions and to succeed in the next election, there are too few examples of those who place the national interest, what’s best for the nation, over their own political survival.  But I have known those who did and they gave me hope for our future.

It would be good for all of us, from time to time, to look into our own souls to find out who we really are, especially in those long dark nights of the soul.  We may not be that pilot and our decisions may not be that dramatic.  But one way or the other at some point in our lives we reach down into that reservoir of courage and decide: do I head for home and safety, or do I stay and protect the boats.

Distraction as a Strategy

Author: Gary Hart

There are not many reasons why a leader creates chaos.  One might be that he thinks it encourages creativity.  Another might be that he doesn’t know how to manage in any normal or systematic fashion.  But the only rational reason for the purposeful and continuing chaotic turmoil around a national leader is to create distraction.

Assuming this national leader is rational, what is he seeking to distract the public and the media from?  The obvious answer is Russia and the several investigations underway to discover how and why the Russian Government meddled in the U.S. national election last year and whether there was collusion, to use the favorite word of the day, between the Russian Government and the Trump campaign.

As bizarre as it seems, giving a political speech to the Boy Scouts of America, demeaning his own Attorney General, ranting about the failure of his Party to destroy the Affordable Care Act, hiring a strange and disruptive character as White House communications director, and other off-beat actions all have one affect: they keep the Russian investigations off the front page or the lead on the evening news.

The first strategy, that of building a fire-wall of protection by key figures in the new Administration, a fire-wall of Flynn, Sessions, and a “loyal” Comey, fell apart badly, in the case of the first two because of…their relationship with the Russian Government.  In addition, the leader in question, not understanding (perhaps not even having read) the Constitution of the United States thought these individuals took an oath of loyalty to him and not an oath to uphold the Constitution and rule of law even when they operated against his interests.

On the off chance that a strategy of distraction is in fact underway, it can only mean that the leader is willing to disrupt the normal operations of the Government of the United States to keep attention away from the Russia story and that price means the story has to be of some consequence.

If there is nothing of consequence between the leader and the Russian Government, or Russian bankers close to the Kremlin, then the investigations should be welcomed and encouraged just to get the matter behind us so that the Government of the United States can move on.  Skeptics don’t expect much in any case from the Congressional inquiries conducted by members of the leader’s Party loyal to him.  So, inevitably, the focus is on Mr. Mueller and his independent investigation.  If the Russia story is consequential, personally or financially, as many suspect, then that is the investigation to watch.

Presuming, as those who know him well do, that Mr. Mueller is the sole of professionalism, independency, and integrity, if he closes in on an unwelcome truth, we must all be alert.  An effort to impede his project, and particularly a shake-up at the highest levels of the U.S. Department of Justice for the purpose of firing him, will lead to a Constitutional crisis of epic proportions that will shake the foundations of this Republic.

It is not in the national interest for this to happen.  But the leader in question has given little evidence that the national interest supersedes his own.  He has yet to demonstrate that he is not in office to serve his so-called “base”.  His base is composed of all the people of America.

Aberration or New Reality

Author: Gary Hart

Though it is far too early to consider whether America’s current political circumstance is an aberration or a new reality, it is instructive to contemplate both alternatives.

Aberration: the Trumpian era, whether four or eight years long, is a frolic and a detour, signifying nothing historic except the result of accumulated anger by a significant number of Americans at immigration, globalization, the seismic shift of our economic base from manufacturing to information, a cultural revolution, and perhaps most of all the widening gap between the urban elites of wealth, education, and power and virtually everyone else including a stagnant and eroding middle class.

As with populist eras in our past, this one will run its course when a dispossessed generation has shuffled of this mortal coil, technology creates even more new economic opportunities for the successor generation, the middle class stabilizes and recovers, and optimism regarding the future returns.

Central to the restoration of relative normality will be an age of political reform such as replaced the populism of the late 19th century and introduced an era of good government and citizen participation.  The corruption of our national government by a widening plague of special interests, legitimized by the one of the most unconscionable Supreme Court decisions in American history, and the revolving door available to lobbyists and elected and appointed officials is a powerful reason for our public discontent.

The corruption of the Republic, more than any other single factor, opened the door to the Trumpian era, an era that will not end so long as citizen distrust of government continues to be so wide-spread.  We cannot restore our Republic from the Trumpian era so long as we are adrift on a sea of corruption.

New reality: the Trumpian era represents a permanent departure by the United States from 240 years of democratic government which, though occasionally stumbling, was based on reasonable compromise between two dominant parties, an expanding economy based on manufacturing and industry, and an increasingly willingness to play a statesmanlike role in guaranteeing relative global stability.

The new realities are the election to power of those with little if any diplomatic experience, with only casual observation of governing practices recognizing experience in public life, with disdain for traditional decorum and maturity, with delight in constant turmoil domestically and internationally, with little regard for the opinions of mankind concerning American behavior, and an adolescent glee in perpetual chaos.

This America stretching years and decades into the future is fundamentally a different nation than it has been for well over two centuries.

But if the gap in wealth continues to grow, if walls are built on our borders, if education is privatized and health care unaffordable, if other nations fill the gaps in leadership we are creating, if ice caps melt and sea levels rise, won’t the American people at least restore a legislative branch willing to stop this destructive departure from sound and sensible government.

This corrective works if and only if there remain men and women of statesmanlike stature willing to enter public service.  The most serious consequence of the Trumpian era of new destructive realities is the denigration of public service as a noble calling, especially for young people.  As recently argued, bad politics drives out good politics.

Despite having one Party control all three branches of government, we now have elected officials afraid to hold town meetings, unable to fashion major legislation a majority will accept, cowed into submission by the partisan media megaphone, and afraid of their own constituents.

When was the last time a national leader told us to ask what we could do for our country.

If we have entered an era where the President conducts the public business like a game show host, where he refuses to separate the national agenda from his private business, where he encourages the intervention of a hostile foreign power against his political opponents, and where he claims entitlement to his own set of facts, and if that era becomes the new reality, then the America of tomorrow is no longer the America of history.

Gresham’s Law of Politics

Author: Gary Hart

Several decades ago, three to be exact, I forecast that destructive changes then taking place in the media and their treatment of politics would come back to haunt us.  Particularly, the erosion, then elimination, of any personal privacy for candidates and office holders would have the affect of driving better qualified candidates out of contests for public office and would leave a vacuum to be predictably filled by those without governing experience, knowledge of history, and even familiarity with the workings of our system of government.

In a word, the tabloidization of even reputable news outlets would inevitably lead to a Donald Trump-like president.

Gresham’s Law says bad money drives out good money.  Similarly, bad politics drives out good politics.

Men and women with self-respect, dignity, and character will not seek office if the price to be paid is destruction of all three.  Anyone under the age of 40 or so will have no knowledge of the age of Cronkite, Huntley, and Brinkley.  Those of us who remember the age of serious journalism find it a stark contrast with the media today.

Of course, the major traditional networks and a few quality newspapers do their best to deliver serious information seriously.  But their viewership and readership are slipping under pressure from cable television and tabloid sensationalism.

It was all forecast years ago by Neal Postman who wrote Amusing Ourselves To Death, a prescient look into the 21st century of distraction, celebrity, and a willing, herd-like suspension of citizen responsibility in favor of entertainment.

In some ways it is too easy to focus on a president who does not read, who is obsessed with television, especially cable, and who conducts juvenile feuds on the internet, who demonstrates little curiosity about issues facing our nation today and tomorrow, and whose single organizing principle is to destroy any and every vestige of the previous Administration.

The more profound concern is his “base”, the one-third or so of our fellow Americans who seem to glory in his totally unpresidential behavior.  Political scientists short-hand this as populism, a strain of anti-establishment, anti-traditional, anti-thoughtful behavior.  His genius has been to focus its anger at anyone and everyone who opposes his destructive behavior, who insist on civility, who harshly judge his juvenile, vulgar, and uncouth conduct.

The destruction of civil behavior knows no limit.  There is no positive outcome that would satisfy this populist anger.  Rage is encouraged, including among those dependent on the social safety net he is attempting to destroy.  Behavior against self-interest is irrational and in the end ignorant.

The net result is a downward social and political spiral whose ultimate end is chaos and potential violence.  It is ironic in the extreme that the president’s juvenile anger is focused so much on the media, ironic because the rise of media sensationalism empowered the Trumps of the world.

Where are the leaders, we hear now repeatedly, leaders among the Democrats of sufficient stature to reinstate sanity and maturity over shallowness and intemperance, and leaders among the Republicans who have sufficient courage to say Stop to a president marching their Party off the cliff of history.

If the thesis about Gresham’s Law of Politics is correct, potential leaders of stature and quality are staying home and refusing to submit to the ritual hazing that becoming a candidate for office ensures.

A case in point is the current Secretary of State, formerly head of one of the largest companies in the world, now facing harassment within the White House of his own President, by 30 year olds who refuse to let him select experienced diplomats for senior positions if they have not submitted to kissing the President’s ring and who demand that he take radically unAmerican positions in the world arena including among our closest allies.  His tenure may be brief.

We have the misfortune to live in an American era that drives genuine leaders into exile and rewards the cowardly and incompetent.  Either we rise up and repeal Gresham’s Law of Politics or we are consigned to a destructive period whose end we cannot see.

No better time than the date celebrating the founding of our nation to begin to demonstrate true patriotism and to demand stature and statesmanship on the part of our leaders.