One Man’s Compass

Author: Gary Hart

What follows breaks an unwritten rule I’ve tried to follow on this site, and that is to minimize self-referential essays.  In an age where almost every spoken or written word begins with the first person singular pronoun, it is possible to make observations and assertions as direct statement without “I think” or “It seems to me”, etc.  Nevertheless, recent political upheavals have caused many to revert to basic principles and to establish foundations for why we believe what we believe.

In my case [here we go into the self-referential mode], there were two reasons I gravitated toward the Democratic Party: family and religion.  My parents were working class people from large families (Mother 13, Dad 8 children) who were unable to finish high school because they had to work early.  They raised me in the Church of the Nazarene, an off-shoot of Methodism, and I attended Bethany Nazarene College (now […] Continue Reading…

The Center

Author: Gary Hart

We are frequently reminded of W. B. Yeats’ quote: “The center cannot hold.  Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”  For those immersed in political ideology this reference to the “center” conjures up Clintonian refrains regarding triangulation and even Jerry Brown’s great response to a question about whether he was liberal or conservative: “I paddle a little on the right,” he said, “and I paddle a little on the left.”

For those of us in public service who were repeatedly being analyzed as to whether we were liberal or conservative, the traditional lateral construct of left to right became sufficiently tedious that, at least in my case, I created a contrasting vertical pole that went from the past at the bottom to the future at the top.  I’m not sure I ever sold it to a political journalist because that industry is totally wedded to traditional left-right, liberal-conservative categories so […] Continue Reading…

In an era of radical change such as ours, comfort is often sought in reconstructing conditions that existed before the change began.  That seems to be the central organizing principle, to the degree there is one, for the current U.S. Administration.  “Make America Great Again.”

I am unable to identify any instance in human history where an effort such as this has been successful, for the very obvious reason that economic, political, and security conditions that existed two or three decades ago, or more, simply cannot be recreated.  Building walls, dismantling international markets, authorizing pollution, privatizing education, and much else will not restore “greatness”.  While we return to the 1960s, the rest of the world moves on following rules we are choosing to ignore.

Furthermore, the basic premise of the stop history movement is wrong.  Despite his efforts to create conditions of disaster, President Trump inherited a country that had the […] Continue Reading…

Deep State

Author: Gary Hart

The gap between reality and fantasy has grown in recent days.  Among the unexpected demons the new Administration has encountered since entering office is something variously called the “deep state” or the “administrative state.”  A Mr. Bannon, its discoverer, now attributes road blocks to the Administrations confused agenda to this mysterious entity which otherwise is undescribed.  The suggestion is that this entity lies deeply imbedded within the United States Government, obeys no orders from elected officials, and pursues an agenda of its own.

Let’s consider how this might work.  The “deep state’s” tentacles would necessarily have to extend to virtually all federal agencies from the Pentagon, to the Treasury Department, to the Small Business Administration, Food and Drug Administration, Transportation Department, Intelligence agencies, and so on.  Either this network is small, but still effective, in which case it is perhaps several hundreds of people, or it is very large and […] Continue Reading…

The current hiatus in American political development offers an opportunity for reflection on the great works, written and spoken, by great American leaders that compose what might be called an American political canon, the solid core of what America represents in theory and in reality.  If such a canon were composed it would have to have at its center those presidents whose words best defined the nation and its central purpose for their times.  It would then have to expand to include statesmen of stature whose contributions supported and augmented the themes of the highest elected officials.

The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson (1776). The first and still most persuasive argument for why there must be a United States of America. [“We hold these truths to be self-evident….”]
The Constitution of the United States, James Madison (1789). The enduring foundation for America’s political structures and laws. [“We the People […] Continue Reading…

The Russian Cloud

Author: Gary Hart

Presidents in the past, most notably with Bill Clinton and Boris Yelstin and George W. Bush with Vladimir Putin, have committed what might be called the “buddy fallacy” where U.S.-Russian relations were concerned.  That is they thought even a modicum of personal congeniality could be the basis for U.S. policy.  President Trump seems to be repeating that fallacy.

At its best, friendship between the leaders of two great powers must be considered a plus.  At its worst, it confuses personal relations with complex disparities in national interests.

Thus, in one respect President Trump’s visceral belief that it is better to have Russia as a friend than an enemy makes common sense.  On the other hand, it blurs real differences between what Russia views as its interests and what we view as ours.  And, for a President with no foreign policy experience and still dubious prior relationships with Russia, it can lead […] Continue Reading…

The Axe on the Table

Author: Gary Hart

Historians and political scientists analyze the world in terms of nation-states.  The nation is the people and the state is the government.  When a gap occurs between the people and their government, even a democratically elected one, a variety of things can happen on a graduated scale from a new election to a revolution.

The new Trump Administration is not the first to be led by a president with a low approval rating.  It is the first where that low rating occurred so soon after an election.  Even presidents such as Harry Truman who experienced low approval at certain points, came back to be considered by history and reflective opinion to be somewhere between better than average and outstanding.

Aside from this early opening slump, the other rare circumstance for the new Administration is that its Party controls virtually all of government, not only the White House and all the executive […] Continue Reading…

Hic Sunt Dracones

Author: Gary Hart

The Hunt-Lenox Globe, built in 1502, carried this phrase, “Here there be dragons”, in an area of uncharted maritime waters.  Since then what dragons there be, great whales, or who knows what, have been sighted and cataloged (that is unless you are among those still searching for the Loch Ness Monster.)

Where United States foreign policy is concerned, however, we may be entering an era described by that globe.  Based upon proclamations by the new President and some around him, there is reason for concern that post-World War II political, economic, and security alliances may be headed for the dust-bin and we are steering into seas whose dragons may be only vaguely visible.

The South China Sea.  Multiple Southeast Asian nations lay claim to maritime territories in the region.  They include Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and most notably China, among others.  China is constructing makeshift islands on coral reefs to establish […] Continue Reading…

How We Got Here

Author: Gary Hart

If current leadership is intent on dismantling a series of institutional arrangements that have provided relative political, economic, and security stability among democratic nations, we should first understand the forces that have led us into this current cul-de-sac.

The most obvious economic tsunamis in recent decades have been globalization and the rise of the information economy.  Historically, we have to go back to the late 19th century to find precedents.  The industrialization of America, that shifted our economic base from agriculture to manufacturing, began in the first half of that century but was most powerfully felt in the 1880s and 90s.  The dislocations caused by Americans leaving farms and small towns and migrating into cities to work in factories most closely parallels the late 20th century decline of steel, auto, textile, and other manufacturing activities and the shift of the economic center of gravity from the industrial East to the […] Continue Reading…

America: Headlines from 2020

Author: Gary Hart

The Russian Ambassador to the United States has renewed his lease on a top floor suite at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

The author of The Art of the Deal has just announced an agreement with the Peoples’ Republic of China that he will withdraw the U.S. Seventh Fleet from the South China Sea in exchange for exclusive rights to place hotels and casinos on its newly created man-made islands.

The United States has just signed an agreement to join the recently formed League of Populist-Nationalist Euro-Atlantic states pledged to defend its members against any resurgence of “decadent liberal democracy”.

Since the abrogation of the Joint US-Iranian nuclear control agreement by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Jordan have announced that they will follow Iran in developing their own nuclear defense forces.

The Director of the Environmental Protection Agency has announced that, according to a recent report by two unnamed scientists, the […] Continue Reading…