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.

8 Responses to “Into the Unknown”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    >>>>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.

    Senator, I think you are expecting far too much from the generals. They have an impossible task with respect to mitigating the walking disaster known as Trump. And, in fact, one of them has already stated on more than one occasion that it is his duty to advance the president’s agenda, for God’s sake. Truly unbelievable.

    >>>>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.

    Say it ain’t so! The only sanity-saving notion about this administration is that it is an aberration that will be stopped in its tracks the moment Biden/Brown …/Hart ride in to save the days ahead. Now, THAT’T my idea of the three amigos …

  2. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    At this most difficult time, I would like to bring attention to a realization that Abraham Lincoln shared with his contemporaries and ultimately also with us in the present day.

    Abraham Lincoln’s Forgiveness Scroll

    “I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. For too long, every ounce of forgiveness I owned was locked away, hidden from view, waiting for me to bestow its precious presence upon some worthy person….”

    http://myzestrategies.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Abraham-Lincoln-on-Forgiveness.pdf

    No doubt, many already know of this document and make reference to it when needed. I feel certain this realization not only preserved the person of Abraham Lincoln during a very trying time, but also liberated President Lincoln to act in the interests of this Republic with a force he would otherwise not been able to muster.

    Like the legacies of many of America’s great statesmen/women, artists and philosophers, I find this power of forgiveness as expressed by Lincoln, to be a very effective force in preserving not only my own integrity but also in my view, the continued integrity of this Republic.

    We have been a warrior nation for so long, that we may have forgotten there are other means to realizing the same ends.

  3. Eric Jacobson Says:

    In response to Sen. Hart’s Nov. 11, 2016 main blog essay titled “Revolt of the Citizens” http://www.mattersofprinciple.com/?p=1335&cpage=1#comment-34276 I wrote (far too optimistically it turns out) of the then president-elect:
    ————
    “I expect President Trump and his administration to be determined in meeting their campaign promises because doing so is crucial to effecting the apparent epochal political realignment-in-progress in which the GOP becomes the “good party” of Abe Lincoln again, one which even-handedly represents the interests of both capital and labor and vigilantly protects the civil- and socio-economic rights of African-Americans and other minorities. In this event, the Democrats would be forced to adapt by offering a competing enlightened Americans First oriented populist, protectionist and isolationist program, or die.

    “Alas, I am virtually certain that given the Democrats’ enthrallment with: Wall St., the socially liberal members of the 1% on the West Coast and in the Northeast, soul-less centrist neo-liberal technocracy, and the siren song of (near-treasonous) corporatist globalization, the odds are the Democratic Party will go extinct within 1-2 decades.”
    ————
    The tragedy of President Trump, which may now become a national tragedy, is that the same (eccentric) alt-right and (conventional) far-rightist Reaganaut conservative polemicists who provided the combination of theatrics, themes, words and organization (of sorts) that enabled Trump to resonate with just enough of the electorate to win the general election, were and are totally incompetent at governing. Perhaps because governing involves real work and not just wordsmithing- and publicly bloviating cant (aka “brain farting”). Candidate Trump was fond of saying, “politicians are ‘all talk and no action.” Ahem…

    This all came into sharp relief relative to the president’s mishandling of the Charlottesville crisis. If, as is said, every crisis represents a corresponding opportunity, perhaps the president will seize the moment and now decisively re-chart the course of history of both the Republican Party and our country itself, back to Lincoln’s principled even-handed Whig/Mugwump ideals. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mugwumps .

    In that way (only) Trump could — could — still be remembered by historians as someone who “stood for something” (per Grover Cleveland’s phrase “What’s the use of running for office if you don’t stand for something”) and made a difference for the better. It would require him to betray his own uber-elite gluttonously greedy billionaire class, but that is what made Teddy Roosevelt and (even more so) Franklin D. Roosevelt great and revered presidents.

    “Noblesse oblige” IS “a thing”, after all. Something the president has surely heard-of (and may have even practiced here-and-there amidst an overall self-serving sybaritic life). Alas, there’s no sign of it yet since he took office. Quite the opposite overall.

    If President Trump doesn’t now morph (and fast!) into a Lincoln-esque quasi-class-traitor (the tangible expression of which would be to begin ardently courting and working to pass legislation with progressive Democrats in Congress on matters of common cause such as ending corporate America’s on-going placement of Americans into jobs- and wage competition with the world poorest people, otherwise curbing American Greed epitomized by Wall Street’s conglomerated banks (who’s business model IS fraud), modernizing our nation’s Second World infrastructure, favoring the interests of unionized workers via appointments to the NLRB, replacing mass incarceration with mass rehabilitation, exploring non-military solutions to trouble spots and adversary governments (AKA “giving peace a chance”), and the like, the president will discredit the creed he stood-for during the 2016 presidential campaign — populism, protectionism and a quasi-isolationist peaceable world foreign and defense policy ethos (PPI).

    Worst of all this discrediting of PPI will not be limited to just its current overall regressive (Pat Buchanan) version, but will extend to its progressive (neo-Ross Perot) version represented today by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Bob Kuttner — to whom Stephen Bannon (interestingly) reached-out and confessed-to on his way out the White House door. See http://prospect.org/article/steve-bannon-unrepentant ,

    If Trump stands pat (so to speak) and continues associating solely with the daft partisan rightist ideologues infesting the White House, the rest of his administration and the GOP Congress, and thereby continues to flounder, the president will not be able to prevent some historians (this amateur one with a BA in history from UC Berkeley included) from wondering whether some type of Operation Discredit-PPI wasn’t the main purpose of the president’s public life all along. (The photo atop this article, and some of the article’s content, at least between the lines, hints at this not-THAT-far-fetched possibility: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/magazine/when-hillary-and-donald-were-friends.html?mcubz=1 ).

    The elites who run, rule and own our country have pulled similarly audacious covert action stunts in the past, ones that have subverted the popular will that can only be expressed in free societies such as ours by free and fair elections. Even the most notorious such “dirty tricks” over our nation’s storied history are too numerous to mention in a brief comment. But the creation of a billionaire demagogue out of “central casting” (with a talent for telling the multitudes exactly what they want to hear) to serve as a discreditor-in-chief of populism, protectionism and isolationism (which policies are “American as apple pie” and vitally needed today in their enlightened form) for a single term, would actually not be that high the list of American ruling class skullduggery.

  4. Edward Goldstick Says:

    Senator Hart,

    So, I guess we all have to admit that we cannot tell what the next moment will bring when it comes to Trump even though he is horribly predictable. I suppose my presumption that someone would have commented during the days between my previous two posts is just a sign of the abyss opened by Trump’s incessant switcheroos and bluster over the seminal realities surrounding so many matters of both little and great importance…

    If I may, a few specific responses [that have been here for a couple of days now…]:

    Ms. Miller,

    I share in your appreciation of Joe Biden and Jerry Brown, as well as the respect that we have for our host, but we really need to get past the search for a providential man or woman that will somehow put the nation back on track with his or her personal charisma and energy alone. I would certainly like to see experienced men and women publicly apply their acumen and energies to organize and motivate like-minded citizens – and the same can be said of those with different views who are currently sitting more or less on the sidelines of the morass in which the GOP is participating if not always guiding…

    Mr. Borg,

    Lincoln was certainly admirable for all his personal qualities and republican [sic] ideals, but it cannot be forgotten that he was despised by the half of the country that considered him as much a tyrant as the other half considered Lee a traitor, and his embrace of a brutally prototypical form of ‘total war’ is indelible in the historical record both for what it was and that which it anticipated…

    … but when I hear Trump compare himself to Lincoln while not mentioning Washington, I cannot but hear him avoiding a comparison with the latter’s rectitude while ignoring the former’s complex nature.

    Mr. Jacobson,

    I cannot say that I expected a Trump ‘pivot’ as much as I had tried to imagine him in a reversal of roles with Bernie Sanders: “our” candidate in the role of the populist demagogue with the GOP standard bearer having a much more classic party-friendly posture… which is almost precisely what happened in 1896 when Bryan lost to McKinley in a squeaker!

    … and for myself, I remain convinced that some form of concrete adaptation of the political process to current conditions and norms will be required before we can return to a modicum of effective governance. Perhaps the lesson of Trump will be worthwhile for all concerned, after we have traversed the “unknown” into which we have entered but I am personally more interested in a political catalyst that can endure beyond the initial disruption that change can bring.

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Ed,

    Why should I wish to get past Biden and Brown? I can’t think of too many pols who would be better to follow Trump. The two of them have far more than charisma or I wouldn’t be so hooked on them, you know.

    They are both “up-wing” leaders who are forward-thinking, future-oriented pols with proven track records for vision and the courage to carry it out.

    I’m not sure what more you could ask for …

  6. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Ed,

    >>>I am personally more interested in a political catalyst that can endure beyond the initial disruption that change can bring.

    Could you elaborate on that a bit …

  7. Edward Goldstick Says:

    Sure thing, Elizabeth, I will try to respond as follows…

    First and foremost, I liked Jerry Brown when I was living in CA during his first stint as Governor, and he seems to be doing a swell job now. I also preferred Joe Biden over John Kerry as more electable in 2004 even though I agreed more with Kerry, so I was a bit disappointed when the former deferred to the latter. On the other hand, I do think both Brown and Biden have reached the same stage in their careers as self-described by our host in a comment to a previous post (“To everything there is a season…”). Call it ageism if you want – and I almost qualify myself on their side of the ledger – but the formidable challenges we face extend well beyond 2020 when they would already be 82 and 78 years old… and while wisdom does not have an expiration date, the physical as well as intellectual and psychological demands on any POTUS worthy of the title are something else. In any case, I think it’s time for a new generation to take the reins…

    … which does not mean that something involving us all, including the wisdom of our experienced predecessors, is not a prerequisite for meaningful and durable change.

    By “catalyst”, I mean a durable force that drives change in subtle ways without preferring one outcome over another: for example, transatlantic ocean travel facilitated global commerce as well as the distribution of pathogens like the plague and social pathologies such as chattel slavery (and racism, in general) as the backbone of colonization in the Western Hemisphere. Gary Hart even refers to one type of catalyst, nature itself, when he described in the next post how the impact of Hurricane Harvey has exposed – however temporarily – the realities of the Common Good without prejudice based on color or creed or class, but it would seem “realities” such as anthropogenic climate change or the value of universal health care have become hardened matters of contention rather than among the low hanging fruit above common ground.

    I am hopeful enough to imagine that concrete changes to our political system could improve the course of legislation and leadership rather than waiting for more technological or political upheaval to force the matter. A first step, in my humble opinion, would be to make the leadership of the Congress and judicial system more transparently responsible. I have previously posited the notion that the Speaker of the House should be subject to a popular as well as an institutional plebiscite in order to enhance his or her legitimacy and influence outside of the partisan bubble in which they try to thrive as well as simply survive these days…

    … … and in the current context of international intrigues and tensions that weigh on the current President (whether he likes it or not…), why not a constitutional requirement that the President request and obtain the advice and consent of the Speaker and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court before undertaking ANY military action?

    Here’s the thing that got me started on this many years ago: during the Government Shutdown and Debt Ceiling “crises” in 2013 and beyond, and in the lingering dark clouds of Hurricane Sandy and Sandy Hook in late 2012, I imagined an election in 2014 in which both the House and the Senate were perfectly tied… and I could simply not imagine why an independently empowered Speaker of the House would not have been inclined to propose broad bipartisan legislation to take action on all of these circumstances quickly and without the bitter tumult that we observed instead…

    … and while the more obviously political issues such as gerrymandering and voting rights and campaign financing are perhaps greater challenges to tackle, I can only hope that progress would breed progress.

    PS: I did see Joe Biden’s name in the NY Times article (see below) about Democrats who are already positioning themselves for 2020… but I personally hope that Joe is 100% sincere in his stated goal rather than hoping for the unlikely rallying about his already impressive legacy as a path to the WH for himself. That could happen, of course, and I would not necessary oppose him if I felt he was up to it…

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/02/us/politics/democrats-president-2020.html

  8. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Well, Ed, I think I’m going to have to call ageism. 🙂

    If Biden and Brown weren’t in such good shape and still forward-thinking with vision and plenty enough courage to carry it out AND if there were some younger whippersnappers out there with similar fortitude and policy wisdom and political courage and all the rest of it, then you would have a point.

    The concept of political catalysis is a very interesting one …

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