“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…

Reconciliation and Hope

Author: Gary Hart

Most American historians trace high degrees of national unity to two causes: depressions and wars.  Americans put ideology and party aside, at least for the time being, during these conditions.

Only demagogues seek a platform when one-third of the people are ill-clothed, ill-housed, undernourished, and out of a job or when foreign enemies threaten our security.  On any score of national unity, we get together under these conditions and generally put ordinary politics aside until we recover some degree of economic and territorial security.

On the other hand, disruptions such as globalization, immigration, and technology are less tangible and more readily reduced to partisanship.  Politicians of one kind or another will seek advantage in the disruptions such trends and tides produce.  It is too easy to blame the other side for lost jobs or economic dislocations these trends produce.

We are currently in such an era of blame and accusation and seem […] Continue Reading…

A Hole in the Heart

Author: Gary Hart

Today, September 11th, will remain a solemn and sad day for the nation for many years to come, possibly forever.  But it bears a particularly personal burden of memory in my case.

For most Americans, especially senior officials of the new George W. Bush administration, it was a vicious Pearl Harbor-like cowardly sneak attack.

In reality, however, it was not so simple.

In an interim report in 2000, and in its final report delivered to the President and the new administration on January 31, 2001, the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century warned of terrorist attacks on the nation sooner rather than later and predicted that “Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.”

Composed of eleven senior bipartisan members, the Commission undertook a review of our national security for the following 25 years, a task not performed since 1947.  It was, otherwise, without precedent.  With the late Senator Warren Rudman, […] Continue Reading…

An Appreciation

Author: Gary Hart

Many thanks to quite a number of you who have sent personal condolences.  A reprise of a post four months ago.  GH

 

Captain John McCain was the U.S. Navy liaison officer to the United States Senate when we first met in 1977.  Thereafter, he was escort officer on a number of Senate delegation trips and my escort on board two aircraft carriers underway in the Indian Ocean.  The most notable delegation included Senators John Glenn, Sam Nunn, William Cohen, and myself on a tour of Asian nations ending in South Korea.  Our report urged President Jimmy Carter not to carry out his proposed withdrawal of U.S. troops in South Korea and the President reluctantly conceded.

The solo aircraft carrier visits, thanks to John McCain’s arrangements, enabled me to fly off the decks in the radar operators back seat in high performance combat aircraft.  For anyone who has shared that experience, it […] Continue Reading…

Continuons

Author: Gary Hart

A friend brought to my attention a new biography of Charles de Gaulle, De Gaulle, by Julian Jackson, yet to reach these shores.  One of the common perceptions of de Gaulle is that he remained always an ardent nationalist.  In a recent review of the book in the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik makes a more subtle observation.  De Gaulle was, he claims, much more a republican, which many interpreted as being rigidly conservative, even right-wing and absolutist.

“…de Gaulle always offered a staunch reaffirmation of republican values”,  writes Gopnik.  “His life is proof that unapologetic right-wing politics do not necessarily bend toward absolutism; they can also sometimes stiffen the spine of liberal democracy.”

This, better than anything I have read or written on classic republicanism, summarizes what America needs now.  It is the recovery of the classic republican ideal—performance of citizen duty and protection of the commonwealth—that will restore American democracy, […] Continue Reading…

Considerable time has been spent on my part over quite a few years trying to decide what this means.

It is the title of a book of stories by Flannery O’Connor and is taken from an aphorism by the Jesuit theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, popular with seminarians in my theological days.  I learned recently that it also a concept valued by my friend, law school classmate, also a former seminarian, Governor Jerry Brown.

Fr. De Chardin wrote:  “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.

To “rise” in this context, it seems to me, is to have spiritual wings, to lift, to “slip the surly bonds of earth” in that memorable phrase taken by another Irishwoman, Peggy Noonan, and […] Continue Reading…