Holding Back the Darkness


These are the times, Thomas Paine wrote in December 1776, that try men’s souls. The Revolutionary War was in its early stages, the outcome far from certain and the stakes incredibly high. Sound familiar?

A lot is going badly right now for people in the United States who care about the Constitution, who are concerned about the rights of others and who see a noble experiment in democracy at jeopardy. This is not the first stage of fascism unfolding in the United States; we are further down the road than that.

Much of the nation’s attention was focused for several days on the Trump Administration’s policy to separate children from their families when they come to the border seeking asylum.  The political outrage in response to that policy seemed to force the President to back down publicly, but, at this point, it’s not at all clear that any children and families are actually being reunited.  Rather, confusion is reigning even as Trump continues to spew forth vile rhetoric and outrageous lies about immigrants.

Protest demonstrations are scheduled all over the country this weekend, but events have yet again overtaken that story.  It’s not that the separation policy is any less bad than it was.  Rather, more horrors have rained down on our hopes for the future.  The Supreme Court in a series of highly partisan 5-4 decisions has done exactly what the Republican Party continues to do, defer to Trump’s madness and refuse to exert any independence.

The worst one may have been their decision to uphold his Muslim ban.  Don’t even try to sugarcoat it as something other than that.  Chief Justice John Roberts, at his most obsequious, decided that the Court didn’t need to take into account the words from Trump’s tweets in judging the intentions of the ban.  Rejecting what was staring them in the face, Roberts and four conservative colleagues decided that deference to executive authority was a higher value than individual rights or equality under the law.

The Court, again by 5-4, dealt a severe blow to labor unions by concluding that they could not collect dues from non-members even though those individuals benefitted from the union’s negotiations.  They also nullified a state law requiring anti-abortion clinics to share information about options available to the women in their clinics.

And then there were the long-awaiting decisions on a series of gerrymandering cases.  The five-member majority may have sustained personal bodily injury in their efforts to duck from addressing the important issues raised in these cases.  Rather, they left standing state districting decisions that were clearly driven by partisan motivations and missed a chance to increase both confidence in and fairness of our electoral system.

All of that is incredibly bad news. But, as we have come to learn, it can always get worse.  On Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sometimes has been the swing vote on the Court, announced his imminent retirement.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will be best remembered in history books for having stolen a Supreme Court nomination from Barack Obama, was quick to guarantee that a Trump appointee would be confirmed by the fall.

What’s at risk after a Neil Gorsuch-conservative is added to the current court?  The 1973 abortion decision, Roe v. Wade, is in grave danger.  This court’s majority cares nothing about precedent and has constantly demonstrated a willingness to impose its conservative ideology onto its decisions.  The Obergefell decision on gay marriage is likely to be threatened as well.  Count on more deference to presidential authority.  Count on less interest in protecting individual rights.

These are indeed the times that try men’s and women’s souls.  As awful as the first year and a half of the Trump presidency has been, the times ahead are almost certainly going to be worse.  If you aren’t truly worried about the risks to our democratic system as a result of having a president who is only interested in himself and perhaps his friends, you either haven’t been paying attention or you really  don’t care about American democracy.

For those of us who do care, what’s to be done?  Speaking out and offering encouragement to other like-minded citizens is important, but not nearly enough.

First, it is critical that Democrats regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall election.  There’s been a lot of chatter about a “blue wave”, but it won’t happen unless people vote, work for candidates running to replace Republicans and contribute money to their campaigns.

It would be great to win back the U.S. Senate as well, but the numbers there are more daunting.

Second, work to regain control of state governments from Republicans, in both the legislature and the governor’s office.  Winning the U.S. House of Representatives would enable Democrats to stop the worst actions of the Trump administration, but winning back state governments will allow democracy to flourish while the national fight goes on.

These are not abstract suggestions.  I know lots of people who are making more and larger political donations than they ever have before.  That’s what it is going to take.  Don’t be sorry after the election that you didn’t do enough.  In Pennsylvania, with a group of friends, we have raised nearly $100,000 to support Democrats running to retake State House seats currently held by Republicans.  In our efforts, we have discovered numerous other groups working for the same objective.

2018 has to be a year of urgency, not complacency.  It has to be a year of action, not just talk.  It has to be a year in which everyone who cares about the future of the country stretches, does more than they thought they could.    Don’t be a bystander in a year that will keep testing our resolve and commitment and our souls.

Zero Tolerance


If you are still a Trump supporter, go away.  Don’t write.  Don’t call.  And certainly don’t tweet.

I can understand, sort of, how you might have voted for him in 2016, but I can’t even vaguely comprehend after all that he has done since he became president how you can still back him.  I’m not even talking about policy decisions that I personally find abhorrent.  Americans disagree on the proper role for government and how best to deal with specific issues.  Those are legitimate differences of opinion.

What we are facing with President Trump is the gravest threat to our political system since the Civil War.  He has no respect for the U.S. Constitution, the institutions of government that have served us well since the earliest days of the Republic, or the norms that have kept politics within mostly reasonable boundaries.

How can you turn a blind eye to his attacks on democracy?  How can you be so indifferent to his constant lies?   How can you look the other way as he trashes the most basic notions of civility?

A recent poll cited by the New York Times suggests that Trump backers are sticking with him in part because they believe the criticisms of him are so extreme and over-the-top.  That might be a more credible claim if it weren’t for the fact that a majority of his supporters also believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese and other demonstrably false assertions made by the Liar King.

I watched on social media as his inhumane policy of separating children from their families at the U.S. border was defended by people who mouthed the oft-repeated but easily discredited claims of Administration representatives.  When Trump backpedaled under the backlash of indignation by a broad cross-section of Americans, those same voices were notably silent.

Some Republicans joined Democrats in pushing back against the outrageous actions perpetrated by this Administration.  A broad array of religious leaders joined the outcry as did the heads of many foreign governments.  However, a number of people and organizations continued to pretend nothing had happened.

That inaction gets me to the core point that I want to make.  There is no such thing as neutrality with this president.  The most striking evidence of this is the total capitulation of the Republican Party to a “leader” pursuing policies that are totally antithetical to everything the party believed in before Trump.  There isn’t a spine to be seen in what was once a serious political party.

We as a nation are better off when there are two responsible parties disagreeing and competing over fundamental ideas.  While it hasn’t always been that way in our history, some of the most productive periods have come through the give-and-take of the two parties.  Now, we have descended into tribal warfare.  Say what you want about the challenges facing the Democratic Party, that struggle is still within the normal boundaries of politics.

You’ve heard the litany already.  Trump prefers brutal dictators to long-standing democratic allies.  He has no real policy beliefs other than a desire to destroy whatever came before him, especially if it had Obama’s name attached to it.  He is playing his working class supporters for suckers by further enriching the wealthiest 1%.  His administration is well on its way to being the most corrupt in our history.

We used to look up to the president, to hope that he (so far) would be a role model for our children.  That may have been a more innocent time, but the diminution of the image of the office under Trump has accelerated to a degree unimaginable two years ago.

And yet, and yet, nothing seem to shake the loyalty of Trump’s base.  What is wrong with you?  Don’t show for the Fourth of July Parade because you obviously don’t care about the fundamental values that have made this nation great.  You are willing to sell your souls, sometimes even cheaply.

A few of you have profited greatly by the decisions of this administration.  You are now free to pollute without being subjected to enforcement measures.  You may have benefited from the tax cuts that were passed with a bunch of promises that are predictably failing to come to fruition.

Some of you have settled for cheap symbolic wins.  You get to go to Trump political rallies and yell “Build the wall” or “Lock her up.”  You cheered as Trump dismantled much of the Affordable Care Act and still haven’t figured out that you may be the one losing your insurance or at least paying more.

You keep falling for the lie that every problem you face is because of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Muslims or Mexicans.  You keep playing the victim but won’t get any sympathy from the rest of us because you have shown no compassion for anyone else.

I’m done with Trump supporters.  I don’t want to talk to them.  I don’t even want to be in the same room with them.  I’m with the woman who kicked Sarah Sanders out of her restaurant. I don’t want to hear your biblical references to rationalize his horrible acts.  I don’t excuse your ignorance of the facts just because you have decided to limit yourself to Fox, Breitbart and Alex Jones

In not standing up to Trump, you have abandoned the ideals of this country.  It’s not good enough to remain silent.  If you’re not on the right side of history on this one, you’re on the wrong side.  Go stand somewhere else.

It Keeps Getting Worse


Admit it.  As horrible as the Trump Administration has been, you never really thought they would resort to separating children from their parents in a cynical ploy to …. Actually, what is it exactly that they are trying to accomplish?

There’s little to indicate that the new “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Session has anything to do with either national security or immigration policy.  What I hear in the defense of the “policy” and the rationalizations and excuses is that Trump and his fellow America Firsters are primarily concerned with keeping his political base in a state of frenzy.  He hasn’t been able to build a wall.  He has no chance in the world of getting Mexico to pay for it.  His Muslim ban keeps getting shot down by the courts because of the small inconvenience of abridging constitutional safeguards.  Trump has to show he is still their champion.

Administration supporters are all over the place in trying to justify what they are doing at the southern border of the United States. In some cases, they are just denying anything is happening there.  As an old friend used to be fond of saying, “who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Trump has blamed Democrats although it is his Administration interpreting an existing law differently than any previous administration has.  Numerous reports suggest he views the border arrests as a way to pressure members of Congress to fund his wall.  His Secretary of Homeland Security, Kristjen Nielsen, gave a “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” press conference that may have been one of worst disasters since the sinking of the Titanic.

Back in the late 18th century, Samuel Johnson observed that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”  There are constant examples which Johnson would recognize from members of the Trump Administration.  NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem should “leave the country” according to Trump.  Democrats who refuse to support his idiotic wall are “jeopardizing national security”.

And now the Trump gang has updated Johnson.  The most recent refuge for heartless, cynical scoundrels is the Bible.  Sessions and Press Secretary Sarah Sanders used cherry-picked passages to support tearing children from their parents.  If they had read just a bit further, they might have found words that support keeping families together and treating others as you would hope they would treat you.  Just saying.

The right-wing media has done its best to support the president.  Tucker Carlson on Fox urged viewers not to trust any other news outlet, confident that his station would not show any footage that might make supporters uncomfortable with video of crying children.  Ann Coulter went even farther, dragging out what has become a conservative trope that the kids in the heartbreaking photos were really just “child actors.”

All  those responses were disgusting but predictable.  This really is the “Stepford Presidency.”  While some Republicans have at last criticized the President’s approach to dealing with immigrants seeking asylum–which, it’s worth noting, is not illegal–most of them have remained silent.

If you spend time on the pages of Facebook and other outposts of the Internet, you’ll also find Trump sycophants offering vigorous, unqualified support for the new border policy.  That their comments are often filled with factual inaccuracies doesn’t diminish the intensity of their views.  I assume many of them would assert a belief in “Christian values” or some equivalent, but how is it “Christian” to turn away the poor, the suffering?

There is, at the core of this disgusting episode, a second factor that explains much of the reaction.  The first, as I noted above, is a pure political calculation designed to appeal to a nativist political constituency.  In addition, and even more disturbing, the President and his supporters are able to duck any reference to family values or humanitarian concerns because those individuals seeking asylum in the United States are the wrong color.   Call it nativism if you wish, but it’s really more accurately described as racism.

We are at a low point in this country’s history.  There are so many other actions of the Trump presidency that deeply disturb me and are doing great damage to both public welfare and national security, but the decision to use young children as political pawns is beneath contempt.  If we really are better than that–a refrain you hear fairly often–we need to stop this abomination now.