Jun 21, 2017

Let us All Check Our Hate

"Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true."

This quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. is as relevant today as it was in the 1960's.  In addition to our still salient divisions on the basis of color and ethnicity, we have increased partisanship, polarization, and what others may describe as "tribalism" in this country.  Polls have shown increased partisan antipathy, meaning a higher percentage of both Republicans and Democrats view the other side unfavorably and even dangerous.  The night before a man walked up to a GOP charity baseball practice to kill on the basis of a difference of opinions, policies, and methods, I discussed with my six year old son the corrosive nature of hatred, and the need to forgive in place of seeking revenge.  He was finding it difficult to let go of perceived slights by others.  In both cases I gave him either an innocent reason behind the actions he was angry about or explained to him that his perception may be wrong in the first place, in that perhaps the wrong did not occur to begin with.  

At this time the motive or madness of the man that shot and injured Republican representative Scalise, among others is still being determined, but I think it is safe to say that his actions were at least in part driven by hatred and a perception of threat.  We scoff at his actions but we are not immune to those same feelings of hate and sense of danger, which for those without mental or emotional guardrails, serve as a rationale for violent actions.  For most of us we have moral, psychological, or mental barriers to carrying out our feelings of hatred,  but we all have, nonetheless, hate in our hearts at times.  While this man's violent actions differentiate him from most, his hate is the same hatred that caused a young man to walk into a church in Charleston, South Carolina and kill nine innocent African Americans solely because of their race.  It is hate bestowed upon an entire group simply because of a shared characteristic, and perception that this group is dangerous that prompted a group of young men to kill Mathew Sheppard, a young gay man.  It is the same hatred and perception of threat that, in 2016, led a man in Dallas to ambush and kill five police, thus assigning them collective guilt for maltreatment of blacks; and the same hatred that led a man to carry out the desires of too large a number of people by assassinating Martin Luther King, Jr.  

To then take the actions of the GOP baseball shooter and ascribe that mindset to Democrats, or to assign blame to them collectively is not very different from the equally misguided act of blaming all police officers for any unjust killings of young black men, or implicating all whites, in general and through stereotyping, in the killings of those 9 churchgoers in Charleston through.  Already, the hatred exemplified by this man is corroding the hearts of others that use his actions as a reason to generalize about and hate an entire group of people that may share his party affiliation.  The scary thing is, most of us are guilty of generalizing or harboring feelings of hatred in some degree or fashion against those that we perceive as different, unworthy, wrong, or a threat to desired norms, ideas, or standards.    If Democrats are guilty of encouraging violence, unwittingly or not; then Republicans must carry responsibility for the threats to President Obama, none of which, fortunately, were carried out.  And these expectations would be no different than those placed on millions of Muslims to somehow publicly disavow Islamic extremism or violence in the name of Islam.  But none of us can live up to this expectation to accept collective responsibility, nor should we because it is undeserving.  Any proclamations that an entire group, is indirectly responsible for violence against a member of another because of their language or actions that, in no court of law would ever be perceived as encouraging imminent lawless action, are misguided and only serve to promote the hate they are railing against.  Labels that demonize a group, either preceding an act of violence or following one, must be discouraged everywhere and in any way they can be.  Assigning negative characteristics, such as racist, immoral, dangerous, or unpatriotic to a large group collectively is a method used by the most abhorrent leaders in our history and even current perpetrators of terrorism in order to dehumanize a group and support the contention of that group as the "enemy".

As individuals, though, we can attempt to check our anger and our hate by recognizing the humanity of those we disagree with, and trying hard to find an innocent, unavoidable, legitimate, or non nefarious explanation or reason for their views, characteristics, or behavior.  In fact, politics and the legal system are venues for doing so; to decide disputes and to assign benefits or justice among members of a society.  Therefore, we should not stop disagreeing or criticizing, but simply as individuals try harder everyday to check our own hatred and perceptions, and to not light fires of rage or give fuel to them.  To do this, we must continuously remind ourselves of the humanity and difference of perspectives of others, allowing the same benefit of the doubt that we expect for ourselves.  This is a bit easier, if we take the time to value exposure to alternative ideas and to educate ourselves about the perspective of those with differing opinions than our own.

Nov 16, 2016

Yes the Election is Over, but Keep Watching: Trump's Selection of a Cabinet and White House Staff

Image result for steve bannon breitbart newsAs of November 15th, President Elect Trump has selected RNC Chair, Reince Preibus as his Chief of Staff.  Not very notable.  However, another appointment is receiving more scrutiny, as it should be. Steve Bannon, head of Breitbart News, a far right conservative political website, was selected as a top strategist and counselor within the White House Office.  Bannon's site is known for headlines and articles that promote racial dog whistles to the detriment of African Americans and Jews, conspiracy theories, and misleading information.  Breitbart became a key player in the Trump presidential campaign just a few months before the election despite concerns that his presence on the campaign would lead to greater focus of the campaign, and now the White House, on extreme and divisive rhetoric, and claims that are commonly referred to as "fringe", false, and based in conspiracy theory.  The birther movement, promoted by Trump for years, is one example of such claims. 

The president elect's transition team is rumored to be considering Laura Ingram for Press Secretary.  Laura Ingram is known as a far right conservative talk radio host and book writer.  Laura is openly hostile to the press, but is being considered as the chief liaison between the President and the press, opening up the possibility of a lack of transparency in the soon to come Trump administration that was feared in a Clinton administration.  Bannon and Ingram have contributed greatly to the divisive rhetoric and polarization in American politics.  Dominance of extreme and divisive right wingers is not what most Americans want to see in the Executive Branch.  Rather Americans want reasonable, rational and moderate governance, whether it is conservative or liberal.  In some ways, the Democratic equivalent of these choices would be liberal firebrand Michael Moore.

We owe it to our military men and women to not become complacent and inattentive to government after an election. The selection of a cabinet and White House inner circle is as important as the election of a president. We have nearly 32,000 wounded & 4,500 fewer Americans with us today because of a decision to invade a country that was not a threat.   Men and women no longer have their wives or husbands, parents no longer have children, and children no longer have fathers because of the influence of a few people in a president's cabinet over a decision that a majority of Americans now view as a mistake.  
This selection is important and we owe our country our attention to it. 

There should be push back from both Republicans and Democrats to extremism and inexperience in the Departments and White House Staff.  We can do both things at once: applaud good decisions while opposing bad decisions.  And the many Republican's and Democrat's who were concerned about transparency and potential conflicts of interest in a Clinton Administration should be equally concerned about transparency and the many potential conflicts of interest in the Trump administration.
If you like this blog, this article or any other article, please don't hesitate to subscribe and to share it with others via email, Facebook or other social media outlets!

Feb 16, 2016

The Republican Gamble: The Pitfalls of Refusing to Consider an Obama Nomination to Scalia's Seat

If you like this blog, this or any other article, please don't hesitate to subscribe and to share it with others via email, Facebook or other social media outlets!

Justice Scalia’s death on Saturday, February 13th set off a political earthquake, making what was already a very interesting presidential election year even more interesting.  And, as if our politics were not divided enough, Scalia’s death has set up a mega showdown between Republicans in the Senate and the President, and has raised the stakes of the presidential election.  Before Scalia’s body had turned cold, there were announcements on both sides regarding the next nomination.  The President stated that he will, of course, nominate someone in “due time”, while the Republican Senate leadership did not mince words in letting the President know that any nomination by him would in effect be a waste of time.  

It is understandable that Republicans, who are typically conservative in ideology, do not want to see a Democratic president put a third liberal on the bench.  Before Scalia’s death the conservative justices, those appointed by Republican presidents, totaled five and thus made up the majority of the justices, with the remaining four justices being those appointed by Democratic presidents and liberal leaning in ideology.  President Obama appointed two of those: Justices Kagan and Sotomayor.  The next appointment, if made by a Democratic President will tip the balance of the court in favor of the liberal point of view; but if made by a Republican president will maintain the current conservative majority makeup of 5 – 4, since Scalia was a loss on the conservative side.  Alas, the current president has the Constitutional authority to nominate a replacement, and the current president is a Democrat.  Thus the showdown and promised efforts by Republicans in the Senate to delay.
I would warn Republicans that the strategy of delay and deny is a gamble, and a gamble that is fraught with risk.  Here’s why:

Institutional Assumptions

Republicans are gambling on the hope that a Republican will win the election in November and take the White House in January of 2017, a time when they would rather see a nomination made and confirmed since it would be made by a Republican president.  They are also gambling on the hope they will maintain control of the Senate, which they only have control of by just a few seats.  Those are strong assumptions with no guarantee of coming to fruition.  The national electorate leans Democratic currently according to opinion polls that ask Americans to identify their party allegiance.  Second, Democrats have higher turnout in presidential election years than they do in the midterms.  Therefore, Democrats should not again feel the whipping they felt in 2014.  Also, the Electoral College outcome may favor the Democrats, which of course is largely determined by the popular vote and turnout in each individual state.  In 2012, Romney, the Republican candidate, only won two of the many swing states Obama had won in 2008.  Republicans would have to do much better in the swing states in 2016 to take back the White House.  If you look at the margin of victory in terms of the popular vote for President Obama in many of the swing states in 2012, a Republican victory seems a steep hill to climb.  As for the swing states in 2016, the Democratic candidate could lose Ohio, Florida and North Carolina, and still win with 285 electoral votes; 15 more than the 270 needed.

114th United States Senate (with independents outlined in blue).svgThen, of course, there is the Senate.  If Democrats win the presidential election, it is extremely likely they will gain seats in the Senate since a presidential win would mean a national mood in favor of Democrats.  They may even take back the Senate given the political reality facing Senate Republicans in November of this year.  In 2014, Democrats faced the challenge of maintaining their hold on seats in “red states” that lean Republican and conservative in their political and ideological makeup.  Given the heightened partisanship, this was a difficult challenge that, in the end, Democrats lost.  The Democrats lost enough seats to lose their majority hold on the Senate.  This year, however, will see a turning of the tables.  Most of the one-third of Senate seats up for election in November are held by Republicans, and enough of those are held in “blue states”.  Therefore, it is Republicans that may see losses this year.  Democrats only need to gain about four seats to take majority control of the Senate.  The final outcome may be the worst case scenario for Republicans: a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President. 

Even a loss of one of these would undermine their hypothesis that it is better to delay a nomination until 2017.  A new Democratic president can still nominate a justice, and a Republican Senate that chose to delay in the previous term would not be able to continue with that strategy in the new term.  A win of only the Senate by Democrats, on the other hand, could allow President Obama a chance to rush in the appointment and get it confirmed by the new Senate that takes office the first week of January before his Republican successor is sworn in after mid-January.

The Electoral Risks

Then there are the electoral risks.  A Republican strategy to refuse to consider, hold hearing over, or vote on an Obama nomination for almost a year may undermine them at the polls this November.  This strategy would feed into the already existing narrative of Republicans as obstructionist and anti-Obama whatever the costs.  This narrative gained a great deal of momentum during the government shutdown in October of 2013.  A Republican political strategy that left the Supreme Court short one justice, and risked major decisions facing the Supreme Court to be decided by a lower appellate court would only remind voters of this narrative and feed it further.  Sure, the Republican base will be fine with this trade off of stopping Obama and a liberal agenda in exchange for the cost of leaving the seat vacant for a year or longer.  But it is not the Republican base that will tip the election one way or another.  It is moderates on both sides and independents.  This important group of voters are not willing to sacrifice the functioning of government for an ideological and political agenda.  They want government to function.  If it does not, they will likely blame Republicans and their strategy of delay and deny.  Because the electorate is so closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, it is crucial to win the moderates of both sides and the independents in order to win the election.  Not only does their support impact the chances of the Republican candidate winning the presidential election, it will likely impact the vote for the various Senate seats that Republicans will be defending in November of 2016, especially those in the left leaning states.

A Safer Option, but a Risk Nonetheless

Image result for president obamaActually working with President Obama may be a better option for two reasons.  However, the trade-off for working with the president is to upset the base.  As a result, Republicans may choose to wait until the day after the election to end the opposition-laced rhetoric and beginning considering an Obama nomination.  Of course, if they keep the Senate and win the White House they will simply wait out the president.  Unfortunately for Republicans, however, they cannot see into the future.  Therefore, a wait and see approach still means they are taking the electoral gamble of turning out moderates and independents against them, which will fulfill the very prophecy they are seeking to avoid.  Therefore, this electoral risk is the first reason they should consider coming to the table before the election.  The second reason involves the justice they are likely to end up with.
If the President wants to replace Scalia before the end of his term he will have to go with a consensus nominee that Republicans will agree to, or have agreed to in the past (a justice on a lower federal court bench).  This means that a justice that is too far left is not an option for the President.  He will have to go with a moderate, much like George W. Bush had to when he chose John Roberts for the Chief Justice position.  If, however, Republicans refuse to consider a nominee and Democrats have a victory in November, one of two things may happen.  Either President Obama will rush through an appointment in January if Democrats have the Senate but not the White House; or, a new Democratic president will make the nomination.  The worst case scenario facing Republicans, as stated above, is a Democratic Senate and White House.  In two of these three scenarios, the nominee is likely to be further to the left than Republicans would have gotten under Obama if the nomination had been made before November.  If Democrats can make an appointment without facing significant opposition from Republicans, they have the flexibility to nominate a much more liberal candidate than President Obama would under his current constraints. 

It may be the President holding the right cards in this one.  If that’s the case, then he will just let Republicans do what they are going to do.  Either way, he may win in the end.

If you like this blog, this or any other article, please don't hesitate to subscribe and to share it with others via email, Facebook or other social media outlets!