America On Trial

Author: Gary Hart

The incumbent president now faces trial in the Senate of the United States.  Donald Trump will either be convicted or not.  Having been Impeached by the House of Representatives, it is too late to be exonerated.  A majority of Senators of his own party cannot erase the impeachment.

But historically much more is at stake.  Members of Congress, House and Senate, are all judged politically by many votes.  On rare occasions, such as this one, each is judged morally as well.

Now each Senator, including those who claim already to have made up their minds, will be judged by their final judgment on whether or not to convict under the two impeachment articles.

For complex reasons, more comparisons are being made between the Trump impeachment and the threatened Nixon impeachment than the impeachment of Bill Clinton.  And increasingly focus is being placed on how Republicans in the House and Senate responded to […] Continue Reading…

The Real Economy: Rosy or Grim

Author: Gary Hart

Like many who occupy the periphery of American politics, I too readily accepted the conventional wisdom that presidents serving during a strong economy virtually always are re-elected.  Thus, predict the conventional wise people, Donald Trump will be re-elected.

Wrong, says my son John who knows a lot more about a lot of things, including economics, than I do.  Instead of insisting I take his word for it, he provides hard evidence, the kind conventional political journalists seem to ignore.

Most recently there is the Brookings Institute study that demonstrates the following facts (in this era where facts are dismissed by those in power): despite an official unemployment rate of 3.5% cheered to the rafters by the “base” (composed of those as ignorant of economics as I am), 53 million workers—44 % of all workers—earn barely earn enough to live on.  They are employed but scraping by.  Their median income is $18,000 […] Continue Reading…

Assassination Redux

Author: Gary Hart

In 1975, the Director of the CIA testified before a secret hearing of the Senate Select Committee to Investigate the U.S. Intelligence Community that there had been assassination plots against as many as six foreign leaders in recent years, several against the Cuban leader Fidel Castro.  I am now one of only a few surviving members of that Committee.

This became something of a turning point in U.S. foreign, military, and security policies at the height of the Cold War.  To say this revelation “shocked the conscience of the nation” is probably an overstatement.  But it did bring even the most hawkish Cold Warriors up short, and after discussion and deliberation, a popular consensus formed, reflected in the Congress itself, that assassinations aimed at foreign leaders violated unwritten moral codes defining American itself and serve no useful purpose in disabling communism or any other undemocratic ideology.

Legislation outlawing government sponsored assassinations, […] Continue Reading…

The Sleep of Idealism

Author: Gary Hart

Idealism, perhaps the highest function of conscience, is asleep now.  Idealism is a soft virtue.  It is not aggressive as is eagerness for wealth, or the scramble for power, or the need to be among the influential.  Instead, idealism suggests a search for a more noble vision and a sense that we have a duty of care.

No challenges to our collective conscience are heard from high places.

Most news stories are about conflict, violence, or traumatic events.  Families on our border are shattered and living in miserable conditions.  The corporate world leaves concerns about our future climate to young people.  Our nation’s capital is shrouded in anger and hostility with little if any motivation for public service.

Money, usually hidden in the corridors of power, now openly controls virtually all our public policies.  The guardianship of our public resources has been blatantly turned over to those who seek to privatize them […] Continue Reading…

Greetings for This Season

Author: Gary Hart

Among the many things for which I am thankful, this small but persistent network of thoughtful people is one.  Decency and common respect in the expression of opinions, especially on highly volatile subjects, is now more rare than it used to be.

Even our friendly virtual neighborhood is a blessing in a world that seems occasionally inclined to tear itself apart.  Perhaps this is where society is headed, not to the arenas and grand ballrooms of the like-minded but to places where thoughtful people with shared concerns can find a forum to discuss those concerns with respect and civility.

There is much these days to make sensitive and sensible people sad.  But there are enough lights in enough windows to give us direction and even hope for a better tomorrow.

In an age of diversity, we are people of different faiths, or no faith at all, different histories and cultures, and different […] Continue Reading…

Democracy in Peril

Author: Gary Hart

Across several weeks our colleague Michael has raised serious questions about the future of democracy in America and elsewhere.  The questions he has raised and arguments he has made deserve equally serious consideration.

Increasingly the media are focusing on the rise of disinformation in campaigns, the challenge to factual narratives by false ones, the erosion of truth itself, and the use of social media to undermine and replace traditional reporting by “fake” media.

All this may or may not be “populist”, but it is most certainly authoritarian, the acquisition and concentration of power in the hands of the few by undermining the world of facts and truth.

There are many examples of this process throughout history, but none better than Germany and Italy in the 1930s.  Uncouple political narrative from truth and the train of authoritarianism is well down the track.

This process is enabled when there is widespread distrust of government, encouraged […] Continue Reading…

Authoritarianism by Stealth

Author: Gary Hart

If you intend to be an authoritarian president, like others you so admire, then it is necessary to demean and diminish the professional career civil service that stands in your way by administering the laws of the nation.

A president at war with his own government, at least the executive branch which he has taken a Constitutional oath to administer according to the laws that govern our nation, deserves much more consideration than brushing aside his occasional references to the “deep state” to which he attaches full blame for his failures.

The “deep state”, as yet to be defined as anything other than a permanent, Democratic presence out to thwart him, springs from the Trumpian guru Stephen Bannon who early laid down the mission to dismantle, if not totally destroy, the “administrative state.”

That is a clearer objective to deal with.

The administrative state is the product of two domestic revolutions: first, the […] Continue Reading…

An Appeal to Our Better Angels

Author: Gary Hart

Many of us of a certain age and generation deplore the nation’s recent lurch into incivility and recollect an earlier time when discourse, routine as well as political, was carried out without resort to bickering, insult, and sarcasm.

Naturally, the impeachment proceedings and the press quarrels accompanying them brought this to mind.

But even before that, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described an entire swath of Americans as “deplorables”, separating them from the rest of presumably polite society.  As the child of meagerly educated parents, Eisenhower Republicans who would not have voted for Mr. Trump, I winced at that word.  Did she mean people like my parents?  Who, exactly, was she talking about?

If that one word did not cost her the election, it came very close.

What did she gain by using that word…except, perhaps, to demonstrate her and her friends’ and supporters’ superiority to those who couldn’t find the Yale Law […] Continue Reading…

The Regular Order

Author: Gary Hart

In former days, on the rare occasions where protocols of the U.S. Senate were breached in the heat of the moment, for example if Senators engaged in debate without seeking recognition of the chair as rules require, order would be restored by one or more Senators who would address the chair, the presiding president of the Senate at the time, with a command for “regular order.”

Given the chaos now endemic to the current executive branch, remaining statesmen and women should now be heard demanding the “regular order, Mr. President.”

The difficulty is that the current President is not familiar with any regular order in governing.  And this is central to our current historic dilemma.

In our long history America has never before had a president so unfamiliar with the Constitution, the rule of law, checks and balances of the branches of government, the limits on presidential power, the necessary role of […] Continue Reading…

America on the Verge

Author: Gary Hart

Sometime in the past decade or less the American political universe experienced a significant earthquake.  And I missed it.

Our correspondent Michael rightly attributes this, at least in part, to substantial changes in the media, and he is clearly right.  The decline of the print press, the explosion of social media, the rise of partisan electronic media, and much else.  Everyone is now a journalist, both a photographer and commentator.

In elections and governance, on the good side is the rise of small dollar fund raising on the Internet.  Sadly, this is outweighed by wholesale gerrymandering into red and blue Americas, blatant partisanship of the judiciary, demonization of the opposition, and in the Trump era blatant disregard of facts, meaning, and truth itself.

This latter pollution of language is the most disturbing epicenter of the earthquake.  It marks the 21st century’s refinement of last century’s totalitarianism of the right and left.  He […] Continue Reading…