Fasten Your Seatbelts

Author: Gary Hart

“Fasten your seatbelts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night,” according to the movie.  Or perhaps lots of nights.

Donald Trump does not respond to pressure well.  Pressure, in the form of Pelosi and Mueller among others, has increased virtually overnight.

He now has an interim Secretary of Defense, Attorney General, and a temporary chief of staff.  “His” generals are gone.  His National Security Advisor contradicts him on a Syrian withdrawal, saying it would occur over an undetermined length of time.  Then the Pentagon starts moving equipment out despite that.

His border wall, which many in his own party do not support, has become an obsession of Melvillian dimensions.  Since popularized in the age of Gingrich, the party responsible for a government shut-down, and in this case it is not the Democrats, has been punished at the next election.  Republican Senators faced with re-election in 2020 are beginning to bail.

There have been […] Continue Reading…

The Darkness Before the Dawn

Author: Gary Hart

A very astute friend has been discussing changes in popular culture, occurring so gradually as almost to be unnoticeable, that will have the cumulative affect of producing a different kind of society with as yet unclear political implications.

He says, for example, that many, if not most, people will quit going to movie theaters and will watch movies at home.  The same is true of dining out.  We have only to wait for first run movies to appear on DVD and, with a somewhat larger screen, watch them at home.  Meals delivered to the home are expanding exponentially to a growing consumer base, especially for two wage-earner families.

In both cases the savings are the same: car parking, theater tickets, large restaurant bills, tips here and there, baby sitters, expensive sodas and popcorn at the movies, and on and on.  Not to say also maneuvering through urban traffic and the danger […] Continue Reading…

Sunset of Civility

Author: Gary Hart

Even some of us described as “liberal” by the media—that is tolerant, open-minded, experimental, socially concerned—have a conservative side.  Mine has to do with public life and public institutions.  It is offensive for an elected official to use profane language in public and against political opponents…including Donald Trump.  And the chambers of Congress are not the venues for making social commentary about gender by breaching dress codes for those elected to serve there.

Trump’s vulgarities are cited as justification for vulgar language.  Vulgarity does breed vulgarity.  But falling into that trap brings anyone using vulgarity down to his level.  He wins.  You lose.  Does profanity elevate the dialogue, or is it merely a jazzy way to spin up the anti-Trump base?  Do night club style dresses on the floor of the Senate genuinely send a powerful gender message, as some have commented, or does it diminish the Senate as an […] Continue Reading…

Restoration of Optimism

Author: Gary Hart

Cocked-eyed optimism has philosophical roots.  It springs from the Enlightenment, that movement that emerged in the late 17th, early 18th centuries premised on the belief that the human mind exploring new scientific breakthroughs, tolerant democratic government, and human flourishing would, with a few possible detours, inevitably lead to a better tomorrow.

Without knowing it, many of us, especially Americans, took this philosophical movement that so animated our nation’s Founders as a given, a premise of all future undertakings.  It wasn’t exactly Pangloss–we are getting better and better in every way–but it was a sense that we can aspire to achieve the highest goals our talents will allow.

No one is quite sure, but a few years back, perhaps sometime in the 1970s and 80s, this Enlightenment-fired optimism began to falter.  The usual causes are Vietnam, Watergate, assassinations, economic competition and dislocation, mass migrations, encountering the limits of environmental tolerance, and much […] Continue Reading…

There are many ways to escape the Trump era.  Mine is reading.  And most recently my son gave me Michael Lewis’s book The Fifth Risk.  Instead of distracting from the Trump era, it drove me deeper into it.

The narrative is about the Trump transition into management of the U.S. Government and how little those handling the transition know or cared about what they were doing.  They got away with it, at least so far, for an even more depressing reason: too many Americans, especially those who voted for Trump, don’t have a clue what the United States Government does and how it benefits their lives.

The single organizing principle then and now seems to be: whatever the Government was doing before we got here, unless it benefits corporate America, has to stop.

Underwriting this principle are rejection of science, distrust of public service and servants, privatization of even the most successful […] Continue Reading…

“America’s Best Idea”

Author: Gary Hart

All humans are sacred.  That is, until they prove otherwise.  All nature is sacred.  That is, until humans destroy it.  Of the many sins for which Donald Trump must answer in this life or another, among the worst is his destruction of what has been called “America’s best idea.”

In an essay in the New York Times (“The Beginning of the End of America’s Best Idea”, New York Times, November 23, 2018), Timothy Egan movingly intertwines American history with its decision in the last century or so to protect America’s natural heritage.  Though his focus is on California, and the devastating fires of recent years and those inevitably to come, he is writing for all our natural heritage…national parks, wildlife areas, recreational areas, unique pristine enclaves, camp grounds, hiking trails, and of course the wild animals that inhabit them.

That a huge national protest against Trump’s mounting depredations of all this […] Continue Reading…

The Resistance Library

Author: Gary Hart

There is an emerging resistance library, interestingly enough composed of small books.  Among the first was Tim Snyder’s Tyranny, then Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrants: Shakespeare on Politics, and now Michiko Kakutani’s The Death of Truth, given to me by a friend.  All are recommended.

Ms. Kakutani, formerly lead book reviewer for the New York Times, provides the most direct assault on Donald Trump by name, but the others categorize him in tyrannical terms with little mention of his name.

The Kakutani thesis, to the degree it submits to summarization, is that the Trumpian assault on facts and truth itself has roots in the post-modernist literature of the 1960s and 70s in which traditional language and history began to be replaced by relativistic interpretations based on personal experience and individual narratives tracing from ethnicity, gender, tribal affiliations, and random information.

In Ms. Kakutani’s words: “…postmodern arguments deny the objective reality existing independently from human […] Continue Reading…

Fear and Anger

Author: Gary Hart

“Anger is a distinct emotion with distinctive thoughts.  It looks manly and important, not at all timorous.  Nonetheless, it is the offspring of fear.”  This sentence is from a new book, The Monarchy of Fear, by Martha Nussbaum, one of America’s, possibly the world’s, leading philosophers.

When most of us think of fear, we think of running, hiding, seeking safety.  When the fear is unfocused, however, sooner or later it makes us angry because we don’t know how to get rid of it.

Take for example fear of losing your job.  Your first instinct is to identify who—supervisor, boss, owner—has the power to fire you and get angry at that person.  But the authority with the pink slip is carrying out orders ultimately from the CEO who in turn is hearing from a corporate board reflecting the views of shareholders concerned about declining profits.

And the next morning your paper reports that […] Continue Reading…

The new coin in the political realm is Nationalism.  Trump proclaimed it, much to the dismay of historians for whom this summoned the demonic spirits of Hitler and Mussolini.  Since then, many Americans have fallen into line behind our homegrown Il Duce.  A highly regarded New York Times columnist claims the Democratic party isn’t going anywhere until it produces its own national story.

There is something to that, especially if the story is about a healthy, inclusive, democratic, tolerant nation, instead of the Trumpian country cowering behind border walls, jailing refugee children, severing economic and security ties with allies, and thumbing the national nose at the destruction of our children’s future climate.

So, taking our cue from the New York Times, let’s construct a positive national narrative, one that combines humility with claims of greatness.  It might look like something in this vein:

America is a commonwealth.  We are individuals working in […] Continue Reading…

Juliana v United States

Author: Gary Hart

This is a first, a guest post on this site by Bill Becker, executive director of the Presidential Climate Action Project and one of the nation’s leading spokesmen on climate dangers.  GH


The midterm election on Nov. 6 is one of the most important in memory. It will decide whether checks and balances will be restored to the federal government and especially to our out-of-control president.

An even more important event is scheduled to take place nine days earlier, however. It could make history by ensuring that our children and future generations have a constitutional right to a livable world.

On Oct. 29, the United States government is scheduled to go on trial for contributing to global climate change. The trial is the result of a lawsuit, Juliana v United States, filed three years ago by a group of 21 young adults and children. They allege that the federal government is violating […] Continue Reading…