Reflections on the Fourth

Author: Gary Hart

Our Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II are notable exceptions.  Otherwise, history will show the nation’s birthday celebration in 2020 to be one of the most fraught in our history.

We are beset by a pandemic that seems to have a life of its own, thanks mostly to the almost demented insistence on too many people taking their own lives and those of others into their own hands in a growing death spiral.

Our economy is characterized by almost Great Depression levels of unemployment, business failures, increasing poverty, homelessness, and hunger, and family tales of tragedy.

Then, we are hurtling toward a national election possibly unique in U.S. history with an incumbent alleging fraud four months before a vote is cast and arming himself with hitherto secret powers that represent a blueprint for dictatorship.

The American people are treated to a daily Svengali-like performance of denial and magical thinking.  The […] Continue Reading…

The Meaning of the Fourth

Author: Gary Hart

This is to wish all of you a memorable Fourth of July in this problematic year.

Stay safe and remember good friends.  And of course we always remember our good friends in Canada and Great Britain.

More to follow on reflections on the day.

Gary Hart

Post-Rational Politics

Author: Gary Hart

It seems very possible, if not probable, that Trumpism will not disappear with Trump.  He did not create the “base” that supports him.  With the help of some clever advisors, he discovered it and captured it…right out from under the nose of the Republican Party.

Too many smart commentators and would be pundits are assuming a Trump loss will magically disappear the “base”.  I don’t think so.

Consider whether what Trump discovered (but did not create) was a new politics that may, or may not, be peculiar to America.

Let’s call this new politics “post-rational”.

America’s Founders were products of the largely Scottish and English Enlightenment that put science and facts before mediation by monarchy and church.  They presumed that, with access to education and information, including contested information, men and women were rational creatures who would reach proper conclusions in both self-interest and societal interest.

With several notable exceptions, largely detailed in the […] Continue Reading…

Make America America Again

Author: Gary Hart

Donald Trump has but one idea, and it is wrong.  He started from the assumption that America was faltering and had lost its way.  Somehow, the eight-year Obama presidency was at fault.  Because he could not fault previous Republican presidents, the loss of America’s greatness occurred on Obama’s watch.  But Obama inherited a serious recession and managed to claw his way out of it.  He also inherited two flawed wars and struggled to reduce their clutches on the nation.

Based on his destruction of a 75-year-old U.S. bipartisan international policy, by retreating from virtually every foreign policy engagement with democratic allies, he also implicitly blames all presidents of both parties going all the way back to Franklin Roosevelt.

There never has been, and never will be, a Trump date when America lost its “greatness”.

When Trump leaves Washington, sooner rather than later, he will leave behind no blueprint for making America great […] Continue Reading…

The Boundaries of Character

Author: Gary Hart

Like individual people, nations have boundaries.  These are not geographical borders, but boundaries or principles that define our character.  We’ve all known instances where an acquaintance does something uncharacteristic, and we say “that doesn’t seem like her.”

For more than three years, America has experienced the weakening and even collapse of principles that define us.  America today is not the same country we grew up in and experienced most of our lives.

We know this has been brought about by a president who does not care about our nation’s character or the principles we have proclaimed for ourselves throughout the world.  What is most troubling are the tens of millions of American citizens who don’t seem to care.

Insufficient attention has been paid to those fellow citizens as this president’s anti-American behavior distracted the media almost daily.  They evidence no concern for his path toward authoritarian power, his anger at dissent, his […] Continue Reading…

The Veneer of Civilization

Author: Gary Hart

The veneer of civilization is wearing thin.  Or is it just a confluence of bad news all at once.  Hard to tell.  And sometimes it just depends on your mood upon awakening.

Those of us whose natural disposition is fundamentally optimistic tend to believe (or at least want to believe) that step by step mankind is progressing, not evenly or even consistently, but struggling for inclusiveness, decency, and justice.

Then there is a war, a terrorist attack, an official murder, or even a virus.

The realists say, “that’s life, get used to it.”  Two steps forward, one step back.  Or is it the other way around?

Our outlook on life’s uneven events is influenced by forces mostly beyond our control.  The evening news, somewhere between gloomy and dreadful for 28 minutes and relieved only at the close by a “boy rescues puppy” feel-good story.  Civil wars, religious wars, cocaine wars, racial wars half-way […] Continue Reading…

Secret Presidential Powers

Author: Gary Hart

My late colleague and friend, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, wrote a book entitled Secrecy: The American Experience.  After repeatedly being told that “I’m sorry we can’t give you that document or answer your question: that is secret” time and again, he led a commission that examined the U.S. Governments’ proclivity to classify anything and everything, even from Senators with a duty to know.

This came to with the recent head-snapping opinion piece “Trump Has Emergency Powers We Aren’t Secret Presidential Powers Allowed to Know About” (NYT, April 10, 2020).  To say this has caught the attention of many Americans, including present and former senior government officials, is a great understatement.

Various movements are afoot to identify these documents, referred to in the opinion piece as “presidential emergency action documents” or PEADs, to also identify the inner circle in Washington with access to them, and most of all to find out what […] Continue Reading…

Oh, What a Lovely Election

Author: Gary Hart

To anticipate is to reduce the scope of uncertainty.  Great leaders are almost always those who can see farther ahead, over the horizon, more than others.

With that in mind, let’s not let the sixty days between Labor Day and the election surprise us.  We avoid surprise by considering what might happen; based on today’s realities, what are the possible outcomes.

Here is what we know: the president has a “base” of 35% to 40% of the country.  Most will turn out and vote for him.  Most of that “base” is in red States.  So called blue States will not vote for him.  The total vote, with heavy margins in large blue States such as New York and California, could well constitute a national majority.

Most analysts once again foresee the contest being reduced to no more than six key States: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and  Arizona.  Since it is […] Continue Reading…

A Nation on High Alert

Author: Gary Hart

A surprising number of very thoughtful people are beginning to fear a national election like no other in our history.  Some are taking steps to prevent it.

A toxic brew composed of an unstable president (who is not a genius, but seeks to become an autocrat), a political party which offers no constraints, a “base” that encourages his every excess, a captive television and radio system providing the propaganda and the drum beat, a society purposely being bitterly divided, a judicial system rapidly being converted to ideological orthodoxy, and a sinister set of operatives willing to subvert legal restraints and traditional behavioral norms.

And there are five months left for this brew to bubble and ferment.

And lying beneath all this, profoundly secret “presidential emergency action documents” are finally coming into public view. (“Trump Has Emergency Powers We Aren’t Allowed to Know About,” New York Times, April 10, 2020.)

According to this column, […] Continue Reading…

The World Beyond

Author: Gary Hart

Like wars and depressions, pandemics are a test of national character.   How we as a nation respond tells us much about who and what we are.  It may make us worse.  But, it could also make us better.

Wars, depressions, technologies, and pandemics have a way of disrupting established systems, norms, and conventional behaviors.  With the possible exception of Donald Trump, few if any others believe our current global viral attack will disappear soon and we will return to the status quo ante.

The dominant realities impacting life since the end of the Cold War have been globalization and technology, both of which have shrunk distances, eroded political boundaries, permitted if not also encouraged mass migrations south to north, upset political systems, parties, and institutions and, seemingly, slowed if not halted the forward march of democracy as well as the world order created at the end of World War II.

All this […] Continue Reading…