Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

In Praise of Modesty

Author: Gary Hart

One of my most admired friends, Billy Shore (founder of Share Our Strength), has a kind habit of sending me books.  Most recently it was American Ulysses, a new biography of Ulysses S. Grant.  Upon his death, movingly described at the book’s conclusion, his funeral procession in New York City stretched nine miles.  As the Union’s general-in-chief and later President, he was proclaimed by the press as inhabiting the pantheon with Washington and Lincoln.  His memoir, concluded as he was dying, is considered a classic.  Yet today, he is seldom spared a thought.

Grant possessed that rare combination of inner self confidence and modesty seldom witnessed in today’s era of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.  In recent times Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman also come to mind in this respect.  Like Grant, they had inner strength but enough self-awareness, including about their own faults, not to lapse into self-promotion.

Perhaps the entertainment industry, including professional sports, has permeated public life to the degree that politicians need to publicly pound their chests like football players in the end zone, seeking credit for victory even in a team sport.

Another word for modesty is humility.  Not humility as humiliated, but humility as humble.  Few if any of us can truly claim credit for accomplishments that so many along the way have helped bring about.  In his engagement reports, Grant gave effusive credit to fellow generals, especially Sherman and Sheridan, as well as to his troops.

Great leaders seldom seek acclaim for success, knowing that if it is deserved it will be recognized.  Pomposity, credit-seeking, self-aggrandizement are all characteristics of the weak and insecure.  My mentor, Mike Mansfield, was the epitome of modesty yet a truly great leader and legislator.  It was a mark of his great stature that he quietly promoted younger leaders.

It seems profoundly confusing that great figures, those who excel at what they do, are also often very shy.  The professional is one who excels and makes it look easy and natural, then avoids the limelight.  “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?,” indeed.

Following the Civil War, Grant sought occasions to deliver kindnesses to his former foes.  He was magnanimous in victory towards General Lee and his officers..  He saw no need to crush the defeated under his heal.  They never forgot.

His Administrations were, with rare exceptions, focused on reconciliation and national restoration.  Confederate generals, Joe Johnston, who came all the way from California, and Simon Bolivar Buckner, rode in his funeral cortege, as did Fitzhugh Lee, nephew of Robert E. Lee, together riding with Grant’s favorites, William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan, side by side.

One of Grant’s initial foes and then longtime personal friends, Confederate general James Longstreet, said of Grant: “He was a great general, but the best thing about him was his heart.”

Thus another mark of greatness of spirit, modesty combined with magnanimity.  Unlike many others, but like Lincoln, he insisted that North and South were still all Americans and insisted that former Confederate separationists be treated honorably and respectfully.

Respect for Ulysses Grant was international.  At his memorial service in Westminster Abbey, demand for seats far exceeded available space.

Thus, a man who’s venture into business, like Harry Truman thereafter, was unsuccessful, whose early Army career was as a quartermaster, who, during early battles, was derided by much of the Northern press, rose, through force of character and generosity of spirit, to become what many at the time and some even today believe to be one of America’s greatest leaders.

If Providence is kind, we may yet see his likes again.

The Center Must Hold

Author: Gary Hart

In The Second Coming, W. B. Yeats wrote: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold: mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

He did not have in mind the kind of centrism so popular in recent political history, the avoidance of hard choices and strong leadership.  He had a more important center in mind, the kind of center that is hewn out of the marble of human experience, the garment woven of sacrifice and honorable compromise, the foundation upon which a viable and noble society might be built.

And he did not dismiss the chaos of anarchy; he diminished it as the alternative to the hard business of governing a complex community.  Anarchy is easy if you do not care about its results.

The center for early 21st century America, as Yeats would have it, is composed of years of struggle to control the spread of nuclear weapons, two decades of debate over an agreed platform for environmental protection; an agreement that the least of these—the elderly, children, the disabled, and the poor—would have a semblance of a safety net; a never-ending and never quite successful search for a just system of taxation; an approach to relations with other nations based upon wise and skillful diplomacy rather than bellicosity; a role for government much like the cattle driver of old who prevented the stragglers from getting left behind.

The formation of this center has not come easily.  Almost all of it required compromise between liberals and conservatives, left and right, protectors of tradition and pioneers in innovation.  In no democracy ever formed, including particularly our own, has compromise on fundamental issues such as the role of government been simple.

Changing times require new coalitions to be formed and often old coalitions to remain steadfast.  Life is a river that constantly ebbs and flows.  Policies and programs are required to adjust to new realities.  Principles must remain constant.

Wars and depressions bring us closer together.  Absent one or the other, most Americans choose to go their own way and not be bothered by the gritty business of governance.  Easier to mock those who do that business, and try to do it well, than to get one’s hand dirty in the sausage- making of compromise and coalition.

Thus, when things threaten to fall apart and mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, those who have spent much of a lifetime at the gritty business of governance in the interest of forming a center that will hold find it difficult to observe the admonish to “give them a chance” when their announced purpose is to shatter that governing center.

No one has been more intense in condemning the combination of prerogative, privilege, and power that has descended on our Government in recent years than the aging idealist who writes these words.  But that bath water can be thrown out without endangering the baby in the center whose life we hold dear.

Corruption must be condemned and eradicated, but the years of progressive compromise on basic governing programs and the principles upon which they are based does not have to be destroyed in the process.  Giving new leadership a chance becomes problematic when senior officials are nominated to lead agencies and departments whose core functions they oppose.

There is every indication even before it enters office that the new Administration intends to use public anger at corruption as an excuse to dismantle decades of hard-won progress toward a more just and fair society.

In virtually every arena of human progress since Franklin Roosevelt a government is being formed composed of those whose announced intentions are to dismantle and reverse that progress.  To sit quietly by while such a process is going on is, for many of us, a betrayal of our beliefs, our ethics, and our very patriotism.

As we well know, Yeats proceeded in the poem to describe what happens when the center does not hold: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Shame on all those of both Parties and a range of ideologies who have corrupted our Government through access purchased with campaign contributions and the greed of special interests.  They have contributed mightily to the destruction of trust in government that has brought us to today.

But that corruption and that distrust cannot be the excuse for dismantling an array of policies and programs at home and abroad that have made us a better nation, that have justified our world leadership, that have made us at our best an example to aspiring people around the world, that have brought us on occasion near the shining city on a hill.

Resistance to those who destroy the governing center and our noblest ideals is our only option.  It is our duty and, for some of us, a right we have earned.

The new year and those thereafter offer many unfamiliar tests.  First and foremost is the test of the resilience of the United States.  Based on recent evidence, the new President will take dramatically different courses at home and abroad.  The Rooseveltian consensus on a social safety net and more recent progress on a variety of other public programs will be tested.  The post-World War II world order based largely upon the Atlantic Alliance is also being seriously challenged..

Nominations for cabinet offices in Departments having to do with public housing, environmental protection and climate change, health care, education, and energy, among others, have gone to those with outspoken antagonism to current law and policy and more enduring traditions such as public education.  These nominees are committed to reverse course and destroy the respective consensuses that brought us to today.

Our commitment to broad based public education traces to Jefferson who made it the cornerstone of democracy itself.  A well-informed citizenry was the backbone of citizen participation in the affairs of governance.  Competition in education is one thing.  A parallel system of private education primarily available to financial elites is quite another.

If the next one or two presidential terms takes the nation in a radically different course in each of these public policy areas, how long thereafter will it take to return us to the status quo ante?  In a nation of the size and diversity of ours, considerable time is required for consensus to form in all of these domestic policy fields.  Restoring that consensus will not be as easy as electing a more traditional and mainstream executive.

Likewise, in terms of America’s role in the world.  If the incoming President is serious about restructuring NATO and related seventy-year-old institutions which have formed the basis of global stability, those institutions or reformed versions of them will not be restored overnight.  As with our domestic institutions and structures, creating a new Western democratic alliance, and negotiating positive relations with emerging powers such as China, will require hard work, patience, and especially statesmanship over time.  Most of all, if confidence in the United States is seriously eroded, as it may well be, years will be required before that confidence is restored.

Perhaps most importantly, confidence by American citizens in their own government will have to be restored.  Those on the right particularly who have made distrust of our own Government the centerpiece of their ideology will continue their undermining efforts even as they occupy power and will never appreciate the irony of their position.

As some of us have said repeatedly, you cannot claim to love your country and hate its government.

There is every evidence that political parties of the neo-right (as distinct from traditional conservative parties) are networking and sharing goals and methods.  Their methods are strikingly similar regardless of country: demonization of the opposition; the use of social media to target individuals for attack; purging those who disagree from positions of responsibility and even from public platforms; disregard for facts, including proven scientific ones; reliance on fear and repression; intolerance; and alienation of racial and religious minorities.

Left unchallenged, these forces will continue to use false media and the security of the mob to propagate hatred of minorities and immigrants and to align with authoritarian leaders in Russia and elsewhere.

None of these promised radical departures is a foregone conclusion, and, even with a complacent Congress, Americans who disagree must be heard from.  Authoritarianism invites a Resistance and, I for one, am joining that Resistance.  Voices of conviction, rooted in our Constitution and obedient to our principles, will not be silent.  Fortified by our ancient ideals and convinced of the rightness of our cause to uphold and protect America’s noblest ideals, we will be heard and we will be as defiant as circumstances require.

It requires no courage to be a summer soldier, a patriot when the sun is shining.  What our nation needs now are winter soldiers.

The spirit of our Founders awaits our response.  We must be faithful to that spirit and the generations of sacrifice and duty it represents.  At stake once again is the future of our Republic.  It is in our hands.  Loyal Americans must summon the courage to stand up and be counted, to defy voices of bigotry, ignorance, fear, and hate.

For if we do not stand up and do so now, who else is there.

The Last American Hero

Author: Gary Hart

In the 21st century is it possible for anyone to achieve the heroic status of John Glenn?  There are many reasons to think not.  Some years ago the so-called mainstream media, traditional newspapers and networks, abandoned any respect for privacy of public figures in an effort to compete with entertainment journalism, emerging social media, and advocacy networks for sensationalism.  Very soon, political leaders, and then even astronauts, were treated more or less as movie stars had been for years.

There is an old saying: No man is a hero to his valet.  Today we would say the same for a woman and her maid.  This isn’t simple an observation about the human body without clothes.  It is an observation about familiarity on the margin of intimacy.  Nothing like seeing a famous person performing mundane human duties to destroy any hope of extraordinary character.

Very difficult to locate a hero using a microscope.  Heroes are best viewed through long-range lenses.  Heroism requires a degree of distance, and distance is necessary for mystery.  How does she hold public office, raise children, and write poetry?  How does he defy death in space and crawl out of the capsule grinning?  The hero is someone who does extraordinary things while seeming to be like the rest of us.

Entertainment has played a role in destroying true heroism.  Special effects make Tom Cruise seem like Jack Reacher.  Arnold Schwartzenegger started out human, then became an android, and then was replaced by action comic figures.  Difficult to have a truly human hero up against Spiderman or Batman.

I was in high school before I ever met a Member of Congress.  I was impressed.  That would not happen today with the ritual hazing and thrashing every politician routinely receives.  And, sad to say, too many deservedly so.

When we went to Washington in December 1974 so that I could take up my duties representing the State of Colorado in the U.S. Senate, I asked my daughter and son, 10 and 8, who they would like to meet, and I meant from the President on down, they both said, without a thought, John Glenn.  He was by then in all their history books.  He was famous.  He was legendary.  He was an authentic hero.

We were sworn into office together.  I admit to being in awe.

Someday, after some of us have long gone onto the next life, a small group of astronauts will try to get to Mars.  Aside from single-handedly rescuing a plane load of children from highjackers, that is one of the few ways to become a hero these days.  (Even then, some reporter will find a DUI years ago.)  The devils of expose’ must be served.

Were Simon and Garfunkle lamenting the passage of heroes when they sang “Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?

Adding to the economic frustrations of global competition is the sense that there are no more heroes.  Some commentators—including those who have contributed to the process–have observed that public figure have become gradually smaller.  Some of the reasons have already been mentioned.  But the process of dismantling privacy, distance, and mystery drives figures of stature away.  After earning respect and demonstrating self-respect, who among us wants to submit to the adult equivalent of fraternity initiation simply to serve our country.

When we permit a demeaning system of humiliation to become a gateway for public service, we also deny ourselves any chance of heroism in the public arena.  John Kennedy would find it difficult if not impossible to write Profiles in Courage today.

I liked John Glenn a lot.  Even more, I admired him, not only for his physical courage and flying skills but also for his basic humanity and decency and his fundamental insistence that he wasn’t any different from the rest of us.  In his mind, he was just a lucky guy who happened to be at the right place at the right time.

He had that backwards, though.  We who knew him were lucky to share that place and that time with him.

Getting the Shot

Author: Gary Hart

Some years ago as a national candidate I had the benefit of protection by the U.S. Secret Service.  To a person they were as professional and effective as the best uniformed Special Forces and I was, and am, completely convinced any one of them would have jumped between me and a shooter.

But, like all other national candidates, I also had virtual round-the-clock companionship (“coverage”) by the political press corps.  Contemplating the possibility I might actually be elected President, if not then possibly later, I once asked the head of the Secret Service detail, a great public servant Steve Ramsey, whether, once in the White House, I could periodically leave by a side door, take a three car motorcade to Andrews Airforce Base, and fly unscheduled to any one of hundreds of small or medium-sized American towns.  We would then drive unannounced to that town’s Main Street and I could walk up and down a few blocks shaking hands and dropping into shops to say hello along the way.

“Can’t be done,” Steve said.  “Won’t work.”

“What do you mean,” I responded with some heat.  “I’d be President of the United States.  Why couldn’t I do that as a way of listening to what everyday Americans were saying and thinking.”

“The press won’t let you,” Steve said.  “They’d raise hell.”

My response: “They can’t tell me what to do and what not to do.  Why do they care if I take an hour or two out here and there to meet informally with real people and without the cameras and flashbulbs.”

“They don’t want to miss the shot,” Steve said.

At first I thought he meant getting pictures of relaxed events like this.  That is not what he meant.  He meant the assassin’s shot.

This all came to mind with the recent hub-bub days ago surrounding the President-elect’s dinner at a famous New York restaurant a few blocks from his tower without notifying the media.

Since then columnists and commentators have uniformly responded with outrage.  How dare he, they fomented.  Doesn’t he recognize the right of the people to know what the President is doing?  Isn’t he aware of the public interest in everything he does?  Implicitly: Hasn’t anyone told him he now has no privacy?

In none of this cacophony has even one journalist, to my knowledge, stated the blunt truth: We want to be there if someone tries to kill you..

Journalists are in the story business, and that’s a big story.

But the First Amendment guarantee of a free press is not also a guarantee of an omnipresent press.  The peoples’ right to know, found only implicitly in the Constitution, relates to the peoples’ business, the public business of our Government.  Jefferson, among others, linked a free press to the public’s knowledge of public business.  It is a journalistic construct to extend that implicit right into an intrusive insistence on being nearby every private minute of a President’s day.

James Madison, it may be safely assumed, did not believe the public had a legitimate reason to know where a President was dining, with whom he was dining, and what he dined on.

Former President Clinton called the White House the pinnacle of the U.S. prison system. Either a President himself or herself has some right of privacy or he or she does not.  I believe a President does have and should have that right.

It comes down to this: the value of occasional presidential privacy versus a handful of journalists (the “pool”) getting the shot—being there when a President is killed or an attempt is made.

No attempt to kill the President, successful or unsuccessful, will go unnoticed.  The details of such an attempt will be available in minutes if not seconds in an age when everyone is a journalist.

If the cost of a rare evening of privacy for a President is a Pulitzer prize, it is a small price to pay.

Present at the Creation

Author: Gary Hart

In the past MattersofPrincipal has not been used as a book review forum.  What follows is an exception, one made out of respect for the literacy and concern for history of our small band of commentators.

One of the best, some would say the best, book on diplomacy and recent American history is the memoir of former Secretary of State Dean Acheson entitled Present at the Creation and covering in considerable detail and with splendid prose his responsibilities at the U.S. Department of State between 1942 and 1952.

I read it some years ago, have returned to selected sections from time to time, and am now rereading the book from the beginning.  Through one highly-placed man’s eyes, it rehearses the sweep of America’s transformation from fortress America to the world’s leading power following World War II.

Secretary Acheson knew and negotiated with everyone who was anyone on the world state, especially in the creation of the Atlantic Alliance, including NATO, eventually the European Union, the conduct and eventual armistice in Korea, the Marshall Plan rebuilding Europe and Asia, the establishment of the State of Israel, and basically every event of consequence during this period during which almost everything that happened had long-range consequences.

The Creation concerning which Acheson writes laid the foundation and built the international structures on that foundation that have brought us through the Cold War and several regional conflicts but provided relative stability and security for much of the world for seven decades.

The United Kingdom vote last spring to exit from the European Union one might fear represents the first crack in that foundation and the structures resting thereon.  The U.S. election several days ago could possibly widen that fissure or even bring the entire structure down, that is if the President-elect was serious when he promised to demand higher payments by NATO partners for our collective security.  It is doubtful that he recognizes the concern, seventy years after World War II, for a rearmed Germany and Japan.  Other Western European and Asian nations rarely discuss this openly, but that concern is still there.  Further, a go-it-alone, fundamentally isolationist, international security policy, invites more nations to join the nuclear club and develop their own nuclear arsenals to fill the gap left by the departure of the American nuclear umbrella.

During the intense creative days of the early 1950s Secretary Acheson and the entire Department of State were under assault from unchained right-wing forces led by Joseph McCarthy to which today’s alt-right is the successor.  Acheson refers to this continued assault as “the attack of the Primitives.”  He is too polite and too kind in this regard, but he was always a gentleman as well as an unparalleled statesman.

If you do take the time to read even a portion of this book consider whether any American on the public stage today comes even close to the Acheson model, let alone one who possesses the literary skills to write as Acheson did.  This is not dull history.  His observations are clever and his asides are witty, especially about his constant tormentors.

Consider what single book you might recommend to the President-elect if you were invited to do so.  Small chance since he has not demonstrated a great interest in books.  But a nice parlor game in any case.  Mine would surely be Present at the Creation.  It might cause him to reflect before dismantling an international system that has withstood countless storms and maintained relative peace and stability.

Revolt of the Citizens

Author: Gary Hart

A tsunami of political analysis regarding this election has begun and will culminate in a series of books sometime next year.  There will be enough theories, most of them wrong, to accommodate a host of prejudices.  We are already accustomed to words and phrases like anger, frustration, alienation, forgotten working class, fly-over America, and so on.  Separate libraries will have to be constructed to house the dissertations in political science that will continue to be written decades from now about the 2016 political revolution.

A massive departure from traditional politics rarely occurs overnight.  This one traces from the mid-1970s when oil embargoes, foreign manufacturing competition, information revolutions, and mass migrations all collided.

While all this was transforming American economic and social structures, an even more significant change was occurring in Washington.  There was an explosion of special interest lobbying, campaign costs, and the evolution of a governing class composed of insiders of both political parties.  Members of this governing class did not come to Washington as elected officials with mandated terms of office, or administration appointees, who returned home when a new administration moved in.  Those leaving office stayed in Washington and made fortunes using access to an increasingly revolving political culture.

This blatant corruption of the American Republic, though accepted with little notice by a media culture itself corrupted by a need to have access to this insider system, did not go unnoticed by large numbers of American citizens.  Starting in the 1970s it became standard practice for candidates of both parties to campaign against “Washington” even while trying to go there…and stay there.  All promised “change”, never clearly defined, but also never achieved.

Looking back over the past four decades, the wonder is that the citizens’ revolt took so long.  The American people are patient, but as we know now, not forever.

Clearly, forces of the right, taking out racial, gender, and cultural grievances on Barack Obama, also used the Clinton, Inc. complex, augmented by secretive computer servers, to suggest all the corruption was on the Democratic side.  Media outlets underwrote these attacks by insistence on a phony “equivalence” standard, even as they knew that ridiculous excesses on the right had no counterpart on the left.  Nevertheless, there was plenty of corruption to go around.

Despite the age of ego in which we currently live, more important than the President-elect are those who voted for him and did so heedless of his crude behavior.  What legacy was left for their children by burning America’s house down?  What lessons in civility did they think he had to offer?  What standards of behavior would he offer as the nation’s leader?

Most Americans view their world through the lens of exceptionalism— a belief that our experience is unique.  Nevertheless, for whatever solace it offers, virtually all Western democracies are sharing much of our experience: distrust of leaders and traditional parties; suspicion of financial manipulation; domination by a political elite; and insider favoritism.  Most European democracies have an insurgent right wing.

But America is different in its insistence on its own unique principles, principles deriving from our founding as a Republic.  Our Founders were idealists and their ideals can be dismissed only so long.  Our Founding documents incorporate those ideals; sovereignty of the people; a sense of the commonwealth; civic duty; and resistance to corruption.

Those who voted for the President-elect may be under some illusion that he will honor and restore those principles.  A pendulum of disillusionment will return shortly.  Cynicism is no replacement for honor.  Vulgarity is no substitute for dignity.  Egotism cannot replace duty.   Respect, even for a President, must constantly be earned.  And the new administration will be made up of the same insiders the voters thought they were throwing out.

For the rest of us, we must use this diversion from our nation’s better heritage to insist on restoration of our Republic.  Some steps–substantial campaign finance reform, transparency, ethical conduct–are obvious.  Others, such as national service, support for citizen-politicians, opposition to careerists, and replacing Washington’s revolving door with ethical rules, must also be installed and supported.

If such a restoration of republican ideals and principles does not take place, 2016 will mark the beginning of our historical decline in keeping with all republics throughout history.  We are not at liberty to tread so heedlessly on the legacy so many have sacrificed to give us.

A Prayer for America

Author: Gary Hart

Great Spirit, Creator of us all

We Americans continue to seek Your blessing.  We do so in our official events, in public forums, and even in our sports events.  But we seldom if ever provide evidence that Your blessing is deserved.  We take that for granted.  We assume we have earned a Divine blessing because we are entitled to it.

But now, at this critical point in our history, Your blessing is needed more than ever.  So, help us understand what we must do to deserve a blessing in this hour.

Help us learn humility.  Teach us that we are not always right and that others are always wrong.  Teach us to confess our errors and admit our mistakes.  Help us learn that we are human beings too eager to let our petty ideologies replace our nation’s principles.

Guide us in a path of righteousness.  Help us to reject the vain words of vain leaders and to pursue that which is right and good.  We know it is possible for nations, even great nations, to correct their errors and restore the trust of other nations and other people.

Restore our commitment to justice.  Open our minds to the needs of those around us, the poor, the sick, the lost, the aged.  Remind us that an unjust nation will be judged harshly for its failure to care for those in need. Help us recollect that we are all human beings equal in Your sight, that we neglect those in need at the risk of our own souls.

Require us to reject false prophets.  In times of distress, we are tempted to follow the cynical, the self-centered, the boastful, and the divisive figure.  We do so at the cost of our national principles, our proclaimed ideals, and our self-respect.  Those who divide us are not our friends and must not be our leaders.  Open our eyes to the opinions of mankind and the hopes of those who inhabit our fragile world with us

Teach us to respect and protect the natural world You have created.  Warn us of the dangers of childish and selfish damage to the land, the water, and the air that You have given us and told us to hold in sacred trust for future generations.  Remind us that nature is Your gift to us to manage as Your stewards, that it is ours to sustain and not to destroy.

Lead us toward our role as peacemakers.  Remind us that war is easy to start and difficult to end, that the path of peace and reconciliation is not a path of weakness but the way of righteousness.

Finally, Great Spirit, teach us that America still has a role to play among the nations of the earth.  Our greatness is in our principles and not in our weapons.  Our stature is in the bridges, not the walls, we build.  Our spirit is in our kindness, not our enmity.  Our soul rests in our generosity and not our hostility.  Our hope is in a better future for our children and not in our immediate gratification and our vanity.

In the words of the old prophet: help us to “love mercy, do justly, and walk humbly with our God.”

Most of all, Great Spirit, make us worthy of Your blessing.



Author: Gary Hart

“We are disgusted” she said, “with the political elite.”  A summary to explain the motivation of those who favor Trump.  Meanwhile, the Clintonians are disgusted with Trump supporters as the now infamous “basket of deplorables.”

When and how did the nation of “all men are created equal”, “we here resolve these dead shall not have died in vain”, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself”, the greatest generation, and “ask what you can do for your country” become so disgusted with itself?

To the degree the political elite represents a self-promoting, insider Court of revolving doors maintaining its own access and power through special interest lobbying and campaign contributions, no one is more disgusted with it than I am.  [Cf. The Republic of Conscience, Blue Rider Press, 2015]  How that disgust leads one to support Donald Trump is quite another matter.

Surely, even the most ardent Trump supporter would not include in this elite elected officials, including the President, Senators, and Members of Congress, all of whom are where they are because a majority of Americans, or voters in States and Congressional districts, sent them to Washington.  If you are disgusted with them, vote them out.  That’s called democracy.

When an elected official, the product of majority will, becomes disgusting, anger is best directed at fellow citizens who elected him or her.

Endless analysis has gone into diagnosing the Trump “base”.  Popular media wisdom has it as primarily rural, white, older males, especially those whose manufacturing jobs were eroded by global competition or low wage immigrants.  More intricate analysis, well beyond “deplorables”, is required.  To the degree they are disgusted with the insider power structure described above, they have a lot of company from people like me.

Some of us who are students of American history take comfort from the knowledge that we have been through something like this before, usually during periods of dislocation and fractures in our economic base.  The populist movement in the late 19th/early 20th century is a principal case in point, a time when we were transitioning from an agricultural to an urban manufacturing economy.

As with individuals, the transition of nations through periods of disruption is rarely painless.  The test of great individuals and nations is whether that painful transition is managed with dignity, collective respect, honor, and decency.  These standards are particularly demanded when the nation in question holds itself out to the world as exceptional.

This American election is characterized by disgust but, even worse, it has become disgusting.  If there is a lower level to which it may still descend in the closing days and hours, it is difficult to imagine.  The idealism of my generation to give something back to our nation is being replaced by fear and loathing of politics and government by the current generation of young Americans.

Too many Americans assume this political mud wrestling match is being consumed only by those of us at home.  Regrettably, it is also being closely observed by people around the world.  For those like me, who have had the opportunity to travel through much of the world, it is stunningly obvious that we Americans are more closely studied by people around the world as to how we govern ourselves than most Americans can imagine.

From our founding we have believed ourselves to be exceptional.  At our best we have held ourselves to a higher standard of principle, honor, and dignity than virtually any other nation.  We have even believed it our responsibility to wage war on behalf of democratic ideals.  Our foreign policies have been guided by our belief that others should follow our example.

The effect of this exceptionalism is to submit our nation to international judgment as to the degree we meet our own standards.

How then can our nation disgusted with itself expect others to respect us and our proclaimed ideals.  We are paying a price, a heavy price, for our current failure to conduct a national election with dignity rather than disgust.  History alone will judge the responsible individuals and parties for the descent of American politics to the basement, as well as for enabling of a corrupt political Court in Washington.

After the impending election, we all must participate in clearing the wreckage, sweeping out the political stables, and beginning the long process of restoring order to our system.  Years of effort will be required and women and men of good will and love of our country will be required to participate.

Our final goal: replace disgust with dignity.

What’s Going On

Author: Gary Hart

Among the punditocracy in our Capitol “realignment” is in the air.  A site that draws a small but highly perceptive commentariat such as this one might do well to ponder what shape that political realignment (presuming it does in fact occur) might take.

The insiders now seem to assume that the Clintonian centrist Democratic Party is no longer the home of New Dealers and Great Societiests but whose maintenance of the legacy social safety net attracts the less well-off elderly, minorities, the poor, the better educated, and the young.

More interestingly, the Republican Party, under the influence of Nixon-Fox-Rove, has become a menagerie of evangelicals, white middle class elderly, rural and small town residents, gun owners, less well educated, anti-immigrants, and blue collar factory workers displaced by global competition.

Political journalists cling to the antique categories of liberal and conservative even as those traditional ideological categories seem quaint.  After Vietnam, the Democratic war party became the peace party, and the previously isolationist Taft Republicans became the interventionist, regime change party.  But the Democrats have nominated a somewhat hawkish interventionist and the Republicans have nominated a pro-Russian, Putin-embracing, NATO critic who sounds like “come home America.”

Realignment indeed.  It might be safe to conclude that the last realignment post-Vietnam has run its course and is being replaced by a new, as yet undefined, one.

Ideological language and its meanings cause considerable confusion.  The size of government doesn’t change regardless of White House occupant.  Tax cuts on the 1% may vary a few points.  Military spending stays roughly the same.  The same figures in both parties come and go from appointive office.  Aside from academic political scientists, very few people can distinguish between liberal and left on one hand and conservative and right on the other.  There is a difference in both cases but it is rarely distinguished.

One of the more thoughtful columnists distinguished between traditional conservatism that seeks to apply traditional principles to new realities and reactionary movements, of the Trump variety, that angrily resist all change and seek to return to an imagined better past time.  This is a helpful and important distinction and observation.

As a strong believer in principles, one way out of the current political chaos might be a requirement that both major parties deliver a manifesto, a statement of beliefs based solidly on convictions and principles shared by many.  Not likely in an age of twitter.  But an interesting exercise nonetheless.  Mostly not likely because parties, especially the Republican Party of late, has tried to be all things to all disparate movements.  Draw lines of principal and you surely lose many who say, Wait a minute; that’s not what I believe.

The job of parties is coalition building.  But to persevere a coalition must embrace a central, enduring theme and purpose.  The Roosevelt coalition came apart under the pressures of civil rights in the 1960s and economic stagnation in the 1970s.  The Taft coalition came apart under the pressures of the Great Depression, World War II, and the perceived communist threat.

A Clinton victory in November might forestall a Democratic realignment for a few years, but at its peril.  The Party is not attracting young people, the next generation, the way it did in the Kennedy era.  The Party has a relevance problem.  It adopted “centrism” at the cost of principle.  A Trump victory or a Trump defeat necessarily will lead to an epic struggle for definition and control of the future Republican Party.  Even for those of us not involved, that will be worth close watching.