Culture versus Chaos

Author: Gary Hart

This is a political century in which virtually everything that happens is viewed by media and pundits alike for its political meaning.  By doing so, however, we may be missing more subtle truths.

Take Brexit, for example, the close vote in the United Kingdom to take it out of the European Union, its rules, its bureaucracy, and its distant government.  Distant because Brexit supporters made Brussels, the home of the EU organization, seem far distant from Manchester.

Viewed through the political prism, Brexit was pure nationalism and populism, a close cousin to Trumpworld.

But sober reflection by thoughtful people, including philosophers, sort through the Brexit ruble looking for deeper meaning.  For example, there is the factor of culture.  It is being suggested that at least some Brexiteers are localists versus globalists.

Localists are concerned, with varying degrees of sophistication, about the preservation of historic cultures against the tide of travel, trade, mass migrations, […] Continue Reading…

A Central Organizing Principle

Author: Gary Hart

Search as one might for one or more unifying principles that guide Trumpian government, there is none.

Underlying themes seem to be nationalistic and populistic.  But, like much with Trump, those are vague ideological concepts and lacking in cohesiveness.

The closest one can come, predictably, is a negative: destroy any vestige of the Obama administration, tear down its structures, plow under any remaining debris, and sow salt on the earth.

For all anyone knows in this epic disaster of an era, there is a Koch financed project to eliminate any reference to Barack Obama in future American history books.

In the continuing search for any semblance of coherent structure to Trumpian governance, this demented hostility to his predecessor and attempt to destroy all his works may offer an insight into the shambles of his foreign policy.

Consider the erratic list of initiatives: cordiality to Putin who tilted the US election Trump’s way; insistence on […] Continue Reading…

The First Casualty

Author: Gary Hart

The journalistic principle has been: the first casualty of war is the truth.  The same can be said of every effort to hijack a democracy and make it an autocracy.

Our commentator Michael has persuasively argued that we are edging closer to autocracy in America than most people realize.

In How Democracies Die, the authors write: “Perhaps President Trump’s most notorious norm-breaking behavior has been lying.  The idea that presidents should tell the truth in public is uncontroversial in American politics.”

Most recently, at the G-7 summit, he sought to stabilize rattled markets brought on by his trade war with China by claiming to be in phone contact with Chinese leaders “at the highest level” to restart negotiations.  Problem is, it did not happen.  It was a lie.

He who controls the meaning of words wins the debate.  News is “fake” if it is not favorable to Trump.  For almost three years, the […] Continue Reading…

Acts of Civility

Author: Gary Hart

As a follower of the McCain Institute, I received a communication recently from Cindy McCain, John’s widow, which read in part as follows:

“It is with this spirit of civil discourse and bi-partisan collaboration in mind that my family and I plan to mark the anniversary of John’s passing by engaging in #ActsOfCivility. John’s commitment to civility and serving causes greater than ourselves was unwavering and something we must not abandon without him.”

My act of civility will be to work harder toward the launch this fall of the Hart Center for Public Service at Metropolitan State University here in Denver.

The Center’s goal is to restore the ideal of republican duty and civic engagement without which our nation will not achieve its purpose and highest principles.

Public service does not require a political office.  Indeed, it has always been the understanding that the highest office in a democracy is that of citizen.

Many young […] Continue Reading…

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 […] Continue Reading…

No one is quite sure how issues of public concern struggle up a hill of public unawareness before reaching the summit—the tipping point of public consciousness—and then start rolling downhill picking up speed, momentum, and wide-spread concern.

There are, of course, many instances of this: civil rights; equality for women; air and water quality; nuclear weapons, and many other major issues that started as remote causes and then became of general concern for the nation.

We may be witnessing something like this concerning climate damage.  If so, it could play a decisive role in the 2020 election.

Even so, climate destruction will not replace health care and immigration at the top of the political pyramid.  But with a number of Senate and House contests that are close, as well as the presidential contest, if climate concern has reached the tipping point in public consciousness, it could well determine the next occupant of […] Continue Reading…

Whose Morality Counts

Author: Gary Hart

It is rare, but not unheard of, for the United States or most other truly democratic nations to have an amoral leader.  Despite evidence to the contrary, it is also rare for a political party to loose its moorings from fundamental moral standards.

Yet, given the relatively unmoored period in which we are now living, some in the commentariat praise Ms. Marianne Williamson, for example, for calling political aspirants back to a moral base for their policies and programs.

Little harm and possibly some good in that.

Partisan theoreticians, however, argue that their respective parties have something like a moral base.  Conservatives find their morality, and the policies it produces, founded in family, community, religion, self-reliance, freedom from oppressive regulation, and cultural tradition.  Liberals, now self-described as progressives, seldom quarrel with these qualities but instead add to them concern for those left out, the homeless, unemployed, marginalized, dependent, and for protection and […] Continue Reading…

The Twilight of Character

Author: Gary Hart

Robert Mueller is an increasingly rare figure.  Were he to have been portrayed in a movie, it would have to have been by Gary Cooper.  And that’s the point.  Gary Cooper is gone, and so are figures like him and like Mueller.


Consider the qualities of the type.  Taciturn.  Quiet.  Straightforward.  Direct.  Undramatic (and therefore dramatic).  Dependable.  Resolute.  Honest.  Guileless.  Stern.

Movies have become silly cartoons.  And so have politics.

There are no roles for Cooper.  And the Administration tried to eliminate Mueller’s role as well as roles for anyone like him.

Watching Mueller testify was painful.  He wouldn’t say what Democrats wanted him to say.  He had to tolerate the petty rants of Republicans a third his size.

Little wonder that men and women of quality are avoiding public service.  It is an invitation to be demeaned by little people.

To become a hero to the Republican “base” requires surrender of character and integrity.  […] Continue Reading…

Does a Nation Have a Soul

Author: Gary Hart

Forgive me if we have discussed this before.  But if we did, the question still remains unanswered, at least to me.

Leaving aside the theological issue of the human soul, is it possible a collection of people, in the case of the United States a large collection, can develop a collective consciousness that contains its most important beliefs, aspirations, and ethical standards?

Those who believe so would start with our Declaration of Independence and at least the Preamble to our Constitution as containing core principles that have guided our national path to a greater or lesser degree for well over two centuries.

We wanted independence from colonial control and fought for it.  We ultimately were forced to live up to the proclamation that “all men are created equal” and fought viciously among ourselves over that belief.  We struggled internally over civil rights, women’s equality, the Vietnam war, environmental protection, and much else […] Continue Reading…

This dispatch is slightly different from most posted on this site over the years.  Different in two dimensions: the use of the first-person pronoun, and the reference to a personal project.  Apologies for breaking my own rules, but I hope this may interest some of the loyal auditors of this site:

This fall friends, former supporters, and family will establish the Hart Center for Public Service at the Metropolitan State University in Denver.

As a member of the “ask not” generation, the orienting standard in my life has been public service.  It is the secular equivalent of the kind of religious service, teaching philosophy and religion, to which I was originally committed.  But the ideal of helping society here and now with immediate problems from hunger to nuclear arms control gave my soul direction almost sixty years ago.

I am blessed, some might say cursed, with that trudging single mindedness that age […] Continue Reading…