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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.

The Future of Anti-Government

Author: Gary Hart

In the Western democratic world, and especially in America, the deepest divide exists between those who view a national government, perhaps all governments, as the indispensable instrument for achieving fairness, opportunity, and social justice and those who view government as a barrier to free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and even freedom itself.

For the former group, who governs and how they govern is vital.  For the latter group, who governs and how they govern doesn’t matter so much so long as the government leaves them alone.  The former group focuses on the inclusiveness of domestic agendas and a positive role for America in the world.  The latter group focuses primarily on national security, military strength, and increasingly on rigid borders.

Looking at the last few months through this lens, little the Trump administration has, or has not, done is surprising.  It doesn’t really matter if the sub-cabinet level of political appointees, the deputies, undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries, are appointed or not because who cares if their departments function or not.  This is a Party after all that has featured candidates for national leadership vying with each other for the distinction of how many federal departments and agencies they would eliminate.

That would be a plausible political posture if the candidates in question knew what those departments did.  Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, for example, wanted to eliminate the Department of Energy, a department he now heads.  He is quoted as saying he had no idea how many good things that department does.

I am old enough to remember when ignorance was a barrier to political advancement.  Fancy that.  Now the President is being excused for his self-initiated war on his own Department of Justice because he is “new to government.”

But if you don’t like government and want it gone, what is the harm in not fully understanding what it does and does well.  We have a Department of Justice to, guess what, pursue justice, not to cover the tracks of a President and his coterie doing business, literally and figuratively, with our principal political rival.

We now have a President who believes he can order a federal department, directly or through his appointed Cabinet officer, to quit doing its Constitutional job.  After enough of his Cabinet has recused themselves from doing their jobs, eventually you get down to surviving career civil servants who take their oaths of office seriously.  Then the path of an errant President becomes fraught with peril.  And the peril for this President is only just beginning.

The other major barrier to government by whim and fiat is something quaint called THE LAW.  Turns out those who want to abolish national preserves can’t just do so with the stroke of a pen.  The same is true of public schools, many environmental protections, health care initiatives, and much else the administration came into office to destroy.  Even with a totally compliant Congress, a large majority of Americans are not prepared to dismantle decades of national progress.

Even after a shambolic campaign against “the elites” (in which each of us was at liberty to fill in the blank of the “elite” we loathed the most), it is still necessary to govern, that is to faithfully execute the laws of the land.  And that is where the train is stalled.

Given the unwillingness, or incapability, of the current administration to appoint even unqualified carpet baggers to high executive office, somehow our government continues.  It does so for one simple reason.  It must.  The government of the mighty United States is not being run by the Trump White House or Cabinet, many members of which are still trying to find out what their departments actually do.  It is being run by dedicated and talented civil servants, those “bureaucrats” so loathed by Limbaughland, who show up every day and do the jobs the law and the Constitution require them to do.

The Government of the United States will survive the assaults upon it by Donald Trump & Co.  It will do so because it is stronger than he and his badly confused group are.  It will do so because the American people want it and need it.

Anger Management

Author: Gary Hart

Any search for a pattern to Donald Trump’s behavior to this point would reveal only one serious thread—anger.  For someone used to getting his way or confronting those who will not give him his way, the presidency of the United States is not the position in which to be.

One of the reasons, at least up to now, we have wanted presidential candidates to have governing experience is to determine if they have learned the mature lessons of conciliation, concession, and compromise, the art not of the deal but of consensus by negotiation.  Being head of state of the most powerful nation in history does not guarantee that everyone necessarily gives you everything you want the way you want it.

It took World War II to teach us two lessons: we could not go it alone, and we needed the cooperation of other nations of good will for security but also for economic and political stability.  To structure and maintain international institutions requires a certain combination of skills not everyone, even otherwise successful people, may possess.

Mr. Trump claims his policies are guided only by what is best for America.  He seems not to appreciate that an era of globalization requires America’s interests to be protected by cooperation with, not isolation from, others.  America Alone is a weaker not a stronger America.

Thus, his discomfort in the international arena, especially among our European democratic allies.  Their refusal to accept what he deems to be his “strength” makes him angry and disdainful, thus compounding their collective alienation.

Even with both houses of Congress and a majority of the Supreme Court in his Party’s hands, he cannot get a wall, he cannot simply repeal the Affordable Care Act, he cannot describe a massive tax reform program on a single sheet of paper, he will not be able to convince the private financial sector to spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the national infrastructure unless he privatizes all of America’s highways, bridges, dams, and public works, he cannot plausibly deny the climate is heating up due to carbon emissions.

He has come face to face with reality and it makes him angry.  But he was elected by angry people and they believe, or at least used to, that an angry president would solve their problems.  That belief is being put to the test on a daily basis, especially with continuing turmoil within the inner circles of the White House.

Petulance is not a quality esteemed in a president.

He rode into Washington determined to rid it of “elites.”  But some elites are elite because they have mastered their trade and know what they are doing.  Wall Street represents the financial elite…and occupies half his cabinet.  The career military is an elite.  Its officers have studied and experienced combat.  Scientists are an elite.  They know and understand medicine, nuclear energy, space, and, yes, the environment.  Diplomats are an elite.  They have dealt with virtually all foreign governments and societies throughout their careers.  Former presidents are a special elite.

When a president thinks he knows all there is to know about virtually everything, what happens when he confronts an elite with whom he overwhelmingly disagrees?  He gets angry.

This is not a mature response, to say the least.  And if confrontation with the military elite is in the works, as some believe, it is very dangerous.

As we know from his monument, Jefferson said about slavery: “I tremble for my country when I contemplate that God is just.”  I tremble for my country when I consider that we have an angry man in the White House.


Author: Gary Hart

Future generations of Americans will consider with wonder a President of the United States whose sole unifying principle was to erase every achievement of his predecessor.  It may require some time, but surely psychological experts in the not too distant future will find some explanation for behavior which is almost entirely negative and destructive.

As a continuing student of American history, no precedent for this angry and insolent behavior comes to mind.  Could it be that he has absorbed all the years of vitriolic right-wing attacks on America’s first African-American president?  Is it possible that he truly believed the idiotic birther nonsense that launched his political career?  Can he possibly believe that leadership is demonstrated by behaving like a child with a hammer in a china shop?

It may take quite a long time, but sooner or later even Republican Members of Congress must admit that this misguided individual is tearing down not only Democratic achievements but much that their own Party has claimed credit for over the years.

The national conservation and preservation movement was launched, with the help of John Muir and others, by Theodore Roosevelt.  Dwight Eisenhower came to embrace the civil rights movement because to do otherwise played into communist hands.  Some landmark environmental progress was carried out by Richard Nixon.  Virtually all presidents since Jefferson understood the centrality of public education to our democracy.  Republican leaders from the dawn of the Cold War treated the Soviet Union, and even the modern Russia that survived it, with arms-length suspicion.

Where along the way of both Republican and Democratic leaders did America lose its greatness?  And how does abrogation of international trade, environmental, and arms control agreements restore it?

The stature, dignity, and respect for the presidency is not enhanced by childish late-night tweets composed by someone with the mentality of a thirteen year old.

Even as a serious nationwide search begins for a mature, intelligent, thoughtful leader who can undertake the restoration of our Republic, men and women of good will and genuine patriotism must stand up and be heard from.  Enough is enough.

The Disaffected

Author: Gary Hart

Political insiders, practitioners and the media, treat America as a nation divided between two Parties, Democratic and Republican, and two ideologies, liberal and conservative—though those latter terms mean very little any more.  This simplified view makes analysis easier, if not also clearer, and lends itself to sports analogies, winners and losers, and even religious analogies, good and evil.

The difficulty, of course, is that it leaves out upwards of a third or even forty percent of the nation, those who list themselves as independents or who don’t bother to engage in the political process, even by voting, at all.

Political scientists spend time and money trying to profile these non-participants and Parties try to sign them up for membership, largely to no avail.  Discounting the laziness factor and the “plague on both your houses” mentality, it does seem worthwhile, especially in an era of disaffection and disillusionment, to seek some understanding of this third American Party for what it might tell us about the nation’s future.

The rolls of the disaffected have increased in recent times by an intensified attack on the United States Government itself.  Sometime in the late 1970s or early to mid-1980s a pattern formed among candidates for national office, first on the right and then spreading to the left, to campaign against “Washington”, even as the candidates were appealing for votes to go to Washington.  Many of the disaffected noted this irony and marked it down for the cynicism it revealed.

The term-limits movement in the 1980s boomed then disappeared as many who espoused it decided life in Washington was better, after all, than life in Oshkosh.

And repeated pledges by conservatives to “change things”, “drain the swamp”, and “shrink the size of government” came to little or nothing once in power.  As the Republican Congress is now realizing, it is one thing to promise your “base” to repeal the Affordable Care Act simply because it was promoted by President Obama and another thing, to actually get rid of a program offering health care and insurance that millions of Americans want and need.

In addition to the cynicism created by the constant barrage of attacks on “Washington”, there is the blatant deficit of courage.  There are more fingers on one hand than examples of politicians putting the interest of the nation ahead of their political careers.  Try to remember a recent example of a profile in courage, a vote against self-interest, a willingness to condemn presidential conduct that is rude, vulgar, deceitful, or simply juvenile.  Party loyalty is more important than defense of the dignity of the Presidential office.

To paraphrase the immortal Dante, there is a special place in hell for those who, in times of moral crisis, preserve their silence…and their cowardice.

Then, on top of cynicism and cowardice, there is corruption.  Putting special, narrow, and privileged interests ahead of the common good is a threat to the existence of any republic, including the American Republic.  And corruption, indeed this form of legal and sanctioned corruption, is rampant in our nation’s Capitol.

The halls of Congress are swarming with more than 13,000 registered lobbyists for those special interest and thousands more who hide behind the title of “strategists”.  That number now includes more than 400 former Members of Congress and hundreds more of former Administration officials of both Parties.

They raise and contribute campaign funds and thus trade in the coin of the realm—access.  And the privileged opened door gets you half way home to the lucrative result you want and need.

Many people don’t vote because they don’t think it makes a difference, or they are exhausted from holding two or three jobs, or are looking for work, or are financially or culturally adrift.  But many more choose not to participate in a system characterized by cynicism, cowardice, and corruption.

It is impossible to know where this pattern ends.  Some think it marks the decline of democracy itself.  The more hopeful believe that when we hit bottom politically, there will be a moral revival, a renaissance of civic duty, a return of genuine patriotism.

It is probably too cliqued to say we are at a crossroads of this sort.  But, on the other hand, we may be.

Decline of the Presidency

Author: Gary Hart

For many years it was common, at least for boys then, to hear that “in America, anyone can become President.”  We now know that to be absolutely true.

For those of us who take such matters seriously, however, there was some preparation required.  A serious candidate for President had to know something about how the national economy worked and the basic principles of public finance, diplomacy and foreign policy, and national defense, the three Constitutional duties of a President.

In modern times, from Franklin Roosevelt through Richard Nixon Presidents met those standards to greater or lesser degrees.  Private morality was assumed.  But when that assumption failed with Nixon, we then elected a moral President, Jimmy Carter, but even he had traveled the world a bit, served in the Navy, and had been Governor.

But then the standards began to slip.  Though they had been Governors, Reagan and George W. Bush had little familiarity with the world, intellectual curiosity, or sense of history.  Presidents Clinton and Obama qualified intellectually and enjoyed the company of those who had experience and lessons to provide.  But neither had traveled widely and met foreign leaders or had taken the time to study and think about defense and national security issues.

If a presidential candidate seems bright enough and curious enough, voters are willing to hope they can learn on the job what they need to know to govern, and in the case of those who don’t seem interested in books and learning the assumption is that they will surround themselves with smart people.  The fallacy of this assumption is that some smart people also have their own biases and ideological fish to fry.

As we drifted away from the standards set out above and were lowering the bar for pre-qualification for the highest office, it was virtually inevitable that one set of circumstances or another would lead us to elect an almost totally unqualified President.  And so we have.

The incumbent President demonstrates almost no intellectual curiosity, disdains briefings of any kind, boasts that he is smarter on virtually any topic than qualified experts, and with only one or two exceptions surrounds himself with those who know little about their assigned duties or whose sole aim is to abolish the governmental structures established to carry out established statutory mandates in their assigned departments of responsibility.

If we are willing to accept these absolutely minimal standards, then indeed anyone can be President.  Just don’t expect much in the way of wisdom, a sense of history and its lessons, experience in diplomacy (and the inevitable gaffes and embarrassments that lack will produce), calculation in the use of military force, balancing of public revenues with expenditures, or even an understanding of the legislative process.

Many of us in office and beyond have heard repeated pleas from business people: “Why can’t we run the government like a business?”, to which the obvious response is, “Because it isn’t a business.”  Even so, what business would select a CEO who had little or no experience in that business and didn’t seem to mind or want to learn?

The brightest hope, presuming we survive our present experience with a totally unqualified President, is that our society will once again revert to more traditional standards of qualification for the highest office—basic knowledge of the economy, experience in diplomacy, and some knowledge of military history.

Admittedly, this narrows the field of presidential candidates substantially.  But so does any list of job qualifications.  Why should any leadership position in the private sector come with a list of qualifications and the highest public office in the land have none?

My lifelong study of American history suggests that this nation is strong enough to survive our current soap opera psychodrama and emerge relatively stable on the other side.  But even the worst experiences in life hold lessons to be learned, and this current national experience should teach us to take the Presidency more seriously and insist on a much higher standard of leadership

The Anatomy of Courage

Author: Gary Hart

“It takes courage not to be discouraged.”  That was Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving Nazi war crimes prosecutor who, at the age of 27, prosecuted two dozen death camp supervisors and who, now age 97, was interviewed on 60 Minutes.  He was responding to questions as to how and why his experience had not left him bitter.

But it is also a message for those of us watching a lifetime of effort–to move our nation forward, to improve the lives of those left behind, to leave a healthier environment for our children, to control weapons of mass destruction, and many other standards of progress–being swept away.

There are many reasons to be discouraged.  Energy policy is being turned over to the energy industry.  Environmental programs are being dismantled by climate change deniers and anti-science zealots.  Public education is being privatized.  Affordable health insurance now finances tax cuts for the wealthy.  Federal judges are selected for ideological purity.

Most discouraging of all is the commercialization of the presidency.  The extended first family blatantly sells White House (or Mar-a-Lago) access to powerful interests around the world.  Heads of state are entertained at a private resort, not the White House.  The president’s family promotes its hotels, casinos, and beauty products in foreign capitals.  Foreign leaders are learning to trade access to their markets in exchange for the U.S. supporting their policy objectives.

It is too bad William Faulkner is not still living.  His trilogy The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion chronicled the rise of the Snopes family in Southern politics.  Corrupt and self-serving to the core.  He would now have to add The White House.  Looking back, it now seems almost inevitable that corruption on a monumental scale would eventually make it to the top.

A few of us disagree with the pundits who have settled on the last election as a class conflict.  Certainly some Trump voters were angry at various elites, liberal and otherwise.  But what about the Wall Street elites now running our economy and the corporate elites dismantling worker safety and environmental regulations and helping themselves to public lands.  And the conservative dark money elites dismantling anything having Obama’s name on it.  You will search in vain for any step taken so far or for the next three years that directly and immediately helps low income white people who are, instead, being taken to the cleaners by the Trump elites.

Since few young people today would call themselves idealists, it is left to aging idealists from the 1960s to keep that flickering and archaic torch alive.  But Mr. Ferencz is right.  It does take courage.  Not battle field courage.  But the courage that comes from believing in an American ideal that is far better than what we see today.  The courage that believes we are not witnessing a modern day version of the fall of the Roman Empire.  The courage that insists when this grim un-American detour is over we will return to our ideal as a nation of principles, political morality, and Constitutional standards.

In the meantime, it takes courage.  Courage to persevere.  Courage to see farther down the road.  Courage to believe a large majority of Americans, including many who voted for this Administration and are now experiencing shock at what they got, will return to our traditional beliefs, the faith of our fathers.  The courage to know that we will not only endure, we will prevail.

One Man’s Compass

Author: Gary Hart

What follows breaks an unwritten rule I’ve tried to follow on this site, and that is to minimize self-referential essays.  In an age where almost every spoken or written word begins with the first person singular pronoun, it is possible to make observations and assertions as direct statement without “I think” or “It seems to me”, etc.  Nevertheless, recent political upheavals have caused many to revert to basic principles and to establish foundations for why we believe what we believe.

In my case [here we go into the self-referential mode], there were two reasons I gravitated toward the Democratic Party: family and religion.  My parents were working class people from large families (Mother 13, Dad 8 children) who were unable to finish high school because they had to work early.  They raised me in the Church of the Nazarene, an off-shoot of Methodism, and I attended Bethany Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University) in Oklahoma.  My first graduate program was in philosophy and theology.

To their credit, one strain of Nazarene doctrine emphasized the Wesleyan (John and Charles) social gospel and the requirement to care for those in need.

Even in Kansas of that day, if you struggled through the Depression you had to be pretty conservative not to bless Franklin Roosevelt for his efforts to help vast numbers of people in need, those without jobs, without shelter, without nutrition, without hope.  To be on a bottom rung of the ladder meant you were probably not going to be a Republican.

I had my first paying job at the age of 11 as a car-hop at a drive in hamburger place and by the age 17 and a number of years thereafter worked summers on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroads in Kansas and Colorado.  There didn’t seem to be many Republicans on those track gangs.  I don’t remember once thinking the Republican Party offered any chance for people like me.

But as my own religious principles evolved, I found little in the teachings of Jesus that promoted belief in wealth accumulation, individualism at the expense of others, devil take the hindmost ideologies, or every man for himself.  Quite the contrary, those teachings were founded on the notion that we should love and care for one another, help the poor and needy, by concerned for the widow, for the child, for those without hope, be stewards of God’s earth.  I’m still waiting for the Christian, evangelical or otherwise, who correlates the teachings of Jesus with the ideology of the Republican Party in either its Reagan or Trump mode.

The Democratic Party of my youth, of Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy, is adrift in part because under President Clinton and the “centrists” who followed him it joined the anti-government chorus and thus lost its identity.  To believe in a caring, just, and decent society, one does not have to advocate for “big government”.  Government should evolve to meet the needs of the people.  No more, no less.  The issue is not how much government we want.  The issue is what kind of society we want.  Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid were created to solve basic human needs.  Those on the right find it convenient to pretend these are not government programs.

The sad kabuki theater involving repeal of the Affordable Care Act illustrates the muddle ideologues of the right face when trying to destroy a program that is helping millions.  Preach market doctrine all you want, but there are some basic human needs that markets don’t solve.  Markets are fine for those who can pay.  There is little profit in serving the poor.

But, we are all familiar with Jefferson’s observation: “Widespread poverty and concentrated wealth cannot long endure side by side in a democracy.”

There is no need to plow old ground.  American has still not found a way to adopt a social safety net and let it operate.  There are still Republican die-hards that want to repeal Social Security.  Mature nations find a path acceptable to a sustainable majority and then move on.  We have yet to achieve that level of maturity.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, People of Paradox, Michael Kammen captured our subconscious immaturity: “…we believe that our government is weak, stupid, dishonest, and inefficient, and also believe it to be the best in the world and would like to offer it to others.”

All the above is simply to explain why I am who I am.  It is not all that interesting or important.  But when truth itself is under attack and childish “leaders” pervert basic principles, it becomes necessary to restate immutable principles and try qualify for serious adulthood.

I am fond of this quote from John Buchan’s memorable biography of the 17th century Scottish patriot Montrose:

“No great cause is ever won or ever lost.  The battle must always be renewed

and the creed restated, and the old formulas, once so potent a revelation, become

only dim antiquarian echoes.  But some things are universal, catholic, and

undying—the souls of which such formulas are the broken gleams.  They do

not age or pass out of fashion, for they symbolize eternal things.  They are

the guardians of the human spirit, the proof of what our mortal frailty can


The Center

Author: Gary Hart

We are frequently reminded of W. B. Yeats’ quote: “The center cannot hold.  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  For those immersed in political ideology this reference to the “center” conjures up Clintonian refrains regarding triangulation and even Jerry Brown’s great response to a question about whether he was liberal or conservative: “I paddle a little on the right,” he said, “and I paddle a little on the left.”

For those of us in public service who were repeatedly being analyzed as to whether we were liberal or conservative, the traditional lateral construct of left to right became sufficiently tedious that, at least in my case, I created a contrasting vertical pole that went from the past at the bottom to the future at the top.  I’m not sure I ever sold it to a political journalist because that industry is totally wedded to traditional left-right, liberal-conservative categories so helpful to its shorthand purposes.

Now comes Donald Trump who, in his own way, resists categorization.  The Trumpian resistance grows with every sharp, 180 degree reversal he is currently patenting.  The resistance to the still undefined Trumpism convinced itself that if he carried out, with a compliant Republican Congress, all of the startling reversals from accepted (should we say mainstream) policies at home and abroad the United States would become a totally different country, Ebenezer Scrooge in its disregard for those left out, and isolationist—with a rightward tilt—in its relations to the world.

Suddenly, the “center” took on new meaning.  The many of us wedded to a plodding and sometime erratic progressive domestic agenda and internationalist foreign policy based on alliances, treaties, and agreements found what might be a new center, not one looking to avoid categorization but one that represented truly bipartisan consensus and most of all stability.

The institutional defenders of this post-World War II center included, among other institutions, the U.S. military and Wall Street.  Contrary to those on the left who traditionally think the Pentagon is a hot-bed of crack-pot generals conjuring up new wars to fight, those of us who know better see senior military commanders as a bulwark against wacky Strangelovian adventurism.  Remember, Dr. Strangelove was not military man.  The right-wing plot to invade Iraq did not emanate in the Pentagon but in a White House populated by those who had never worn a uniform.

On the other hand, Wall Street presented ample evidence of wackiness in the run-up to the financial collapse of 2008, and forfeited any claim to reasonableness, true conservatism, and maturity.  Because of its greed, it enabled an unprincipled group of twenty-somethings to experiment with other people’s money and put the entire U.S. economy in the ditch.

But today, some more traditional bankers and money managers, including one or two in the Trump administration are closing doors to Mr. Trump’s more bizarre schemes to alienate our largest lender China, our neighbor and trading partner Mexico, and even greater Europe itself.  The most serious economic thinkers know we live in a global trading market with currencies calibrated to the dollar, huge corporate enterprises linked to multiple nations, jobs dependent on exports, and trading rules meant to level playing fields.  Nothing like having tens of billions of dollars at stake to sober up most mature bankers.

Obviously, there are a variety of other private and public sectors with a stake in stability and maturity that form a center resistant to Trumpian excesses.  A rudderless, erratic, inexperienced national leader must sooner or later respond to the adults in society who care about the nation’s long term future and their children’s future.  Only a few “advisors” with little or no governing experience are at liberty to pursue dangerous and destabilizing ventures in a twilight word of conspiracy, demons and dragons, and bet-the-farm dice rolls.

After a chaotic opening round of Trump government, or version thereof, a head-snapping series of 180 degree turns on NATO, Russia, China, taxes, health care, and daily U-turns still to come give evidence that the cool-aid drinkers of the campaign are sobering up.  Perhaps there is a real center to America that flirts with excess for a time but then sees the cliff toward which the nation is heading and the peril its experiments in novelty and hilarity represent.

Too soon to say.  But a few days of sober Trump suggest reality may be setting in and that the world he promised is not only impossible to achieve, it is downright dangerous.


In an era of radical change such as ours, comfort is often sought in reconstructing conditions that existed before the change began.  That seems to be the central organizing principle, to the degree there is one, for the current U.S. Administration.  “Make America Great Again.”

I am unable to identify any instance in human history where an effort such as this has been successful, for the very obvious reason that economic, political, and security conditions that existed two or three decades ago, or more, simply cannot be recreated.  Building walls, dismantling international markets, authorizing pollution, privatizing education, and much else will not restore “greatness”.  While we return to the 1960s, the rest of the world moves on following rules we are choosing to ignore.

Furthermore, the basic premise of the stop history movement is wrong.  Despite his efforts to create conditions of disaster, President Trump inherited a country that had the largest, most productive economy on earth, that had the most powerful military in history, that led coalitions to maintain stability, address climate change, and create trade regimes built on policies we promoted, and that built coalitions against terrorism.

Even discounting for traditional partisan rhetoric, the Trump effort to describe a nation in ruin doesn’t withstand a moment’s inspection.  But, apparently the theory is that if you wish to return the country to a past that never existed, you must first grossly mischaracterize where it finds itself today.  Our current afternoon in America is at least as successful as the previous “morning in America”, but that success must be dismantled in order to justify uprooting health, environment, and education advances and a large network of hard-earned international agreements and alliances.

There is no “greatness” in thumbing our nose at our allies and dealing with other nations rudely.  There is no “greatness” in cancelling health insurance for millions.  There is no “greatness” in leaving polluted air and water for our children.  There is no “greatness” in increasing an already wide income gap.  There is no “greatness” in the denial of the Statue of Liberty’s welcome.

There is no system of logic or reason that supports an idea that retrenchment to a previous age where our strength depended largely on the weakness of others will make us “great” again.  If, as some have speculated, some in the White House envision an Armageddon between the Christian West and a Muslim caliphate that doesn’t exist and that apocalyptic bloodbath is the path to greatness, then God help us.

Most Americans, a very solid majority, do not see the road to the restoration of “greatness” paved with the stones of nationalism, religious orthodoxy, a rigid cultural conservatism, ethnic purity, intolerance, and authoritarianism.  Nor do they see a return to a Darwinian culture of devil take the hindmost as the path to a secure, just, and principled American Republic.

America is not just a state.  It is a society.  In terms of our shared public and natural resources, our common wealth, we are all in this together and we possess a moral imperative to improve that society for future generations.

That imperative is the guiding light toward a truly great America.