Don Quixote Lives

Author: Gary Hart

Though most man-made tragedies are the result of human folly, political movements, greed, hunger for power and territory, and wars of misplaced resentments, nature itself produces tragedies, as we are reminded once again.

Pandemics know no borders and respect no nations, histories, or human aspirations.  They are frightening as much as anything because they convey no meaning, except perhaps that, like fire itself, it is best to be prepared.

In the Tragic Sense of Life, Miguel de Unamuno, Professor of Greek at the University of Salamanca a century ago, looks to Don Quixote for inspiration.  As taught in most schools and universities, Quixote is the emblem of long-lost romanticism and a melancholy, even demented, desire to recapture an age of chivalry, always guided back to sanity by his loyal companion, Sancho Panza, the representative of sanity itself.

But, in Unamuno’s search for meaning in life’s tragic sense, Quixote has a much more […] Continue Reading…

Beyond the Plague

Author: Gary Hart

Since many of us find ourselves with time on our hands, sadly, it might be interesting to solicit forecasting from our modest but erudite band.  When all of this is over and the plague has been banished, God willing, what will the world, or at least our part of the world, look like?  Will it be pretty much like the pre-plague world or will we have entered a new set of realities, through the looking glass as it were?

And as a gesture of affection for our international colleagues and friends, Elizabeth and Lorenzo, “our part of the world” must, of course, include our neighbor to the North and our close ally across the pond.

For purposes of discussion, let’s assume historic and traditional governing structures, business structures, economic formulas and institutions, and family lives will remain basically intact.  But, for purposes of speculation and imagination, even these foundations might be […] Continue Reading…

The recovery debate, if it may be called that, has begun.  And, though there are many views, two currently prevail.

The first might be labeled Crash and Burn.  The second might be called Selective Triage.

Crash and Burn is horizontal and ubiquitous.  It is roughly what we, at least in America, are doing now.  Shut it down.  Lock the doors.  Lock up the villages and entire cities.  Lock up California.  Shelter in place.  Hoarding is permitted.  Devil take the hindmost.

Crash and Burn anticipates mass small business failures and high unemployment until we get control of the plague, and that may be twelve to eighteen months from now.

America, and hopefully the world, will survive, but will it look like America before the plague or will it be another country.

After the horizontal shut down of Crash and Burn, a small second-thought backlash is emerging.  Selective Triage says, wait a minute.  We don’t need […] Continue Reading…

A Test of Character

Author: Gary Hart

Like individuals, nations are tested from time to time.  America has had its share of tests, not least our terrible Civil War, but also the Revolutionary War before it, the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the long twilight struggle known as the Cold War.

Today we face a new test, one that cannot be won by military means.  But one that will call upon our national character, nonetheless.  Alas, we do not have a Winston Churchill at the helm of the ship of state.  But we could use someone like him.

Churchill is brought to mind by yet another gift book from my longtime friend Bill Shore.  It is The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson and chronicles the first year of Churchill’s prime ministership as Hitler overran Belgium and the Low Countries and then France.

It would be 18 long months before he could get the United States to […] Continue Reading…

To All Our Friends

Author: Gary Hart

Message to Our Friends:

To everyone on this site or within its reach: take very good care of yourselves.  Absent national leadership and authority, the burden of care falls on each of us and our individual communities.  The human spirit is strong, resilient, and will prevail.

Health care experts, largely outside of Washington, are clear on what each of us must do to protect ourselves.  If we are fortunate, this pandemic will peak and pass and we will make our way back to some degree of normalcy.

In the meantime, please look after yourselves and take the precautions we are advised to take.

In terms of age, my wife Lee and I are in the danger zone.  With few exceptions, we have been very fortunate health wise.  We’ve been through a good deal, politically and otherwise.  It is what it is.

Crises, and this one is far from its peak, have a way of […] Continue Reading…

The Cold Shower of Reality

Author: Gary Hart

Donald Trump exacts a heavy price of unvarnished loyalty from those around him, not least from his Vice President, newly named the leader of an ad hoc task force responsible for controlling a virus until recently dismissed as a spring flu by the maximum leader.

A few hours ago, Mr. Pence held a lengthy press conference meant to show the Trump administration in complete control, pushing virus testing kits out the door as fast as possible and otherwise fighting the invisible virus into a diminishing corner.

Mr. Pence has been a profile of anti-science rectitude, questioning experts on climate science, moving appointees into positions of authority whose main purpose was to scrub regulations and policies of any mention of established expert reference to overwhelming proof of scientific evidence that contradicted out-of-thin-air assertions by the president that black was white and, being a stable genius, he knew better about just about everything […] Continue Reading…

It is amazing how much the Founders of our nation understood human nature and sought to structure a government to anticipate those seeking excess power, what they called “factions”, or special interest, single issue groups now dominating political parties, careerism, corruption, and a wide variety of human attempts to undermine the republican ideal.

What they could not have anticipated was a president, the leader of the executive branch of government, who did not like or trust his own government.

Had I spent more time on psychology in my extended graduate education search, I might be better at getting inside the Trumpian mind to analyze his narcissism, paranoia, and patent insecurities.  (But any and all who do understand these and other troubling tendencies should weigh in with how they should be understood in a chief executive with a nuclear trigger.)

Much in evidence is the Trumpian demand for personal loyalty.  There are oaths […] Continue Reading…

How This Happened

Author: Gary Hart

In an attempt to determine how Donald Trump polarized the nation along authoritarian lines, some of us have assumed he started it all.  He didn’t.  Like good, evil has roots.

One of the best political observers of recent times, Tom Edsall, set out the history of how this happened [“The Audacity of Hate” NYTimes, Feb.19, 2020].

The re-election campaign for George W. Bush in 2004, replaced get out the moderate vote strategy with one focused on voter anger and fear and activating resentment and hostility.  This was the first attempt to “make this the centerpiece of a mainstream presidential effort.”

This misdirection was compounded by the economic meltdown of 2007-9.  The stock market lost $2 trillion, there was a catastrophic mortgage crisis in which 10 million Americans lost their homes, and millions more lost faith in political and economic systems.

This led to the emergence of the Tea Party in Republican politics which […] Continue Reading…

What’s Going On Here

Author: Gary Hart

A confession: I don’t understand politics anymore.  Major changes since my days of service and involvement include social media, small dollar fund raising (enabled by social media), identity politics, the happy explosion of women leaders, the emergence of little known candidates on the national scene, every person a pundit era, and much more.

All these changes strengthen democracy.  But they also make the practice of democracy less predictable and less controllable.  The political stage is much larger.  And no one manages it.

Look at what Donald Trump has done to the Republican Party.  Look at chaos in Iowa.  Look at a 30 something small town Mayor becoming a top tier presidential candidate.  Everyday Americans think no one is in charge, and they are right.

Democracy is richer, but at the price of public confidence in political institutions.

Typically, we want a show.  But we want a sense that adults are running the show.

One […] Continue Reading…

Crossing the Line

Author: Gary Hart

These tumultuous times, encouraged by a chaotic president, have been a reminder of the best advice I ever received and have previously written about.  The late Senator Mike Mansfield, then Majority Leader of the Senate, approached me on the Senate floor and without prompting said this: “Draw a line.  Never cross it.”

It took little reflection to know intuitively his meaning.  If confronted with a choice between doing what is politically expedient and doing what is right, always do what is ethical and moral regardless of the cost.

I’ve thought much about this over the many years since.  He was saying at least two things.  Like much of life, politics is fleeting, but your conscience always remains.  And a political career, holding high office, is nothing if you lose your moral compass.

“Profile in courage” votes do not happen often.  Many votes do not have a moral or ethical dimension.  They are […] Continue Reading…