Conversation With My Son

Author: Gary Hart

“There is a constant stream of meanness in what they’re doing”, John said.  It is a unifying observation.  Immigrant children denied their parents.  Wilderness areas and national parks opened to drilling and exploration.  Farm bankruptcies brought on by trade wars.  Endangered species removed from protection.  Overt and covert encouragement of nationalism.  Taunting of political rivals.  Recurring racist references.  Virulence toward the media.  Sleepless tweets, all attacking someone or someones.

Not simply rough and tumble politics.  But mean.

Exploring the mentality of meanness is fraught.  The question becomes “why”.  What kind of mind, what darkness of spirit, produces a steady stream of meanness?

Meanness dwells in a separate, deeper stratum from anger.  Anger has an object that is usually, though not always, identifiable.  Someone can make you angry.  An inner demon makes you mean.

That same demon is the enemy of empathy.  Empathy is the ability to identify with another person, to feel their often sorrowful emotions.  Has this president ever, once, exhibited compassion?  He has no empathy gene.  He is all ego.

To skip lightly over Biblical admonitions to care for the earth and the creatures God created on it is justified in conservative circles as getting rid of “burdensome government regulations” in the interest of private profit.  This is being achieved across the wide spectrum of the Trump administration in virtually all government agencies.

Those agencies and departments are now virtually all in the hands of industry lobbyists and corporate executives busily dismantling four, five, or more decades of bipartisan legislation and regulation created in response to public demand, demonstrable need, scientific evidence, and national stewardship.

The “patriots” who claim to love their country but hate its democratic government have found a new crowbar in their toolbox—dividing up segments of the Interior and Agriculture Departments, shipping them off to disbursed areas around the country in the interest of “returning government closer to the people”, and downsizing them by attrition, because professional career civil service experts do not care to uproot families and fracture important collaboration with colleagues.

The “deep state” government Trump discovered was not a Democratic cabal left behind to frustrate him but rather the career civil service committed to enforcing regulations and laws mandated by successive Congresses.  How better to dismantle it than fracture it and ship it to various parts of the country.  Lives and professional networks disrupted?  Too bad.  There is a meanness, in addition to dishonesty, to this.

The meanness at the very heart of this administration and White House is such that it frightens Republican members of Congress into silence.  Career before country.  Re-election looms and there is the “base” to consider.

Autocrats and dictators throughout history have demonstrated meanness in the interest of control.  The meanness required to threaten and punish is sufficient to dictate loyalty.

The balance of power in our government was meant to prevent that kind of meanness-based power.  The Founders feared the “man on a white horse” not because of the attractiveness of the horse but because such a man could turn mean.

Even then, the Founders believed their fellow countrymen and women to be of sufficient republican virtue to send a mean autocrat packing, with or without his horse.

John’s comments brought our current baffled national dialogue, if it can be called that, to a new and deeper level.  What causes a president to become mean?  Possibly he has always been mean, and there is some evidence of that.

Fear is a powerful force.  Using fear of immigrants, trade partners, even our own allies, an innately mean national figure can descend to a level of meanness hitherto unknown.

And that is where we find ourselves.

There is such a thing as national character, what we would call the American character.  If that character is what I have always believed it to be, we will soon drive our current meanness from the national stage.  If not, God help us.

7 Responses to “Conversation With My Son”

  1. Michael Says:

    Sabotaging the function of regulatory agencies nothing new for Republicans. But until now they needed to make it seem as if there was a public good in doing so; or mask the true effects of it: anyone remember W’s “Clear Skies Initiative” that let industry pollute the air? But there is no need for pretending any more. No need for newspeak. Perhaps the last exception is the claim that Trump supporters have nothing against immigration; they just want immigrants to come here legally, the way their ancestors did. But of course, most of their ancestors came to this country at a time when being “legal” meant only having the money to get yourself here, and not be Chinese, coughing up a lung, or have puss oozing from an eye. The Trump/ Republicans electoral strategy is exclusively aimed at ginning up Trump’s base of aging white people animated by their hatred of the browning of America. For them, the idea of a slow-motion ethnic cleansing that would enforce white majority control is all that matters, and the more cruel that policy is the better. Because in mind of a Trumper, the “invaders” are not coming to be part of America, but to steal it from them. When an entire political movement is animated by rage, saying what my my Italian immigrant forbearers would enunciate as “forka you” to any notion that could in anyway be construed as Liberal is the whole and entire point. To them, liberalism sides with “those people” and against “real” (read white) Americans. And they would much prefer taking a wrecking ball to the country than be forced to live under them.

  2. Paul G Says:


    Decades of meanness in the making and likely inspired by Reagan’s motto, “Government is the Enemy;” our president is a reactive loud-mouth repeatedly told by The Family that he is appointed by God; but whose character is marked by every act which may define a tyrant and is therefore is unfit to lead a free people:

    He has refused to protect our elections from increasingly alien jurisdiction foreign to our Constitution;

    He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to lawful subpoenas by Congress;

    He endeavors to prevent the population of these states; obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners while refusing their migrations hither; even sudden separation of mothers from babies;

    He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power;

    He continues to usurp Congress powers of War and Embargoes;

    He protects his foreign agent strategists and emolument enablers with Promises of Pardons;

    He has brought a standing army to our borders and armaments to our streets;
    He has sought to make our banks central to his market pawning;

    He has coddled foreign tyrants while mocking all evidence of their systemic intrusion of our nation;

    He has unfaithfully executed our Laws, plundered his companies, faked his taxes, demeaned all civility;

    He even mocks the media owners who feast on their growing stock value of hyping his fatal attraction;

    He has abdicated Government here with constant rallies to his base on the taxpayers’ dime;

    So, what will we do?

    Let’s get it right from the start as JFK said, and our honorable host has so often done – that “God’s work here on earth must truly be our own.”

  3. Paul G Says:


    American historians see a titanic clash on the horizon.

    What’s coming next is a battle between “the very idea of democracy and that human beings are created equal” against the notion that power in America should be concentrated in the hands of a very few, very wealthy people, just as it once was in medieval Europe, predicts Heather Richardson, a history professor at Boston College, and author of several books about the GOP.

    – Excerpted from “American Oligarchs: Three ultra-rich families (Mercers, Kochs, Adelsons) battling for control of the Republican party,” by Heather Timmons, Quartz Magazine, Dec 5, 2017.

  4. Gary Hart Says:

    Michael highlights the sad episodes of inhumanity and insensitivity in our highly uneven history of immigration policies over the decades. It is yet another instance of the gap between who we tell ourselves we are and how we have actually behaved. It would be blatant hypocrisy if it were not for the fact so many Americans believe we have consistently lived up to the Emma Lazarus creed on the Statue of Liberty. It is another argument for more candor in American history courses in our public schools, along with the tragic history of slavery, our treatment of the first Americans, and the long history of misogyny. Until the last three years, I believed we were making steady but uneven progress. We are in danger of losing even its meaning. Gary


    Such fine words and vales throughout this.

    We need the understanding of angry instead of mean. But much anger makes someone mean if the anger is bitterness, caused by rejection, isolation, envy, disappointment.

    The unheard individual who is not vociferous, can become it, then,loud, then mean,then problems.

    Trump is one who has had a superb, fortunate life that is full of good things.

    Work constant, women beautiful, why mean?

    He is a very strange man to be so.

  6. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    The one topic that I find missing from this discussion is that of religion. Having been raised a middle class main stream Protestant, I was schooled in the tradition of the teaching of Jesus and was very familiar with the books of the Old and New Testaments. One of my least favorite books of the New Testament was the Book of John with its visions and pronouncements of doom, gloom, and the “end of times”. However, I was aware of, and still am, of those Protestant denominations, who harangue on these “teachings” that appear in this book and beat their members and the rest of us over our heads with the “end of days”, Armageddon.

    Recently, however, one of the evils that the evangelicals have since stopped hammering us about is the idea of the “anti-Christ”, who was going to take over our governments and lead us all to damnation and bring about the final battle for the soul of mankind. What strikes me as obviously ironic is that the current resident infesting the white house, who was duly elected and is still fervently supported by these same evangelicals, is the epitome of the “anti-Christ” of whom they had been warning.

    The question that comes to my mind is, are they the ones who have been fooled by the anti-Christ and have become his minions of world destruction, or have they facilitated his instillation as and fulfilment of the “anti-Christ” in order to bring about the Armageddon?

    The message that their “anti-Christ” spews forth is not the message of Jesus as I was taught as a Christian, but these evangelical followers of his repeat and act upon his every thought, idea, and saying as if it were the “Word of God”.

  7. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Stephen, I’m not against discussing religion or encouraging such discussions so long as we all understand there is more than one religion and we don’t focus on just one. “Missing from the discussion” reminds me of those political speeches I used to give that covered virtually every issue and then someone would say “I notice you didn’t mention….” GH

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