On not being bedazzled

If you have never in your life done anything you’re ashamed of or could have done better, you’re welcome to reject any and all Democratic Presidential candidates for their personal flaws. But no one gets to her 50s (or even 40s, or 30s) without regrets—no one honest, anyway. So let’s try to judge these people based on their actions and words in the public arena—what they’ve done for others, and what they propose to do.

This is not a taste test; we’re not consumers, entitled to titillation or inspiration or glossy packaging before we purchase. We’re citizens looking for a sister- or fellow-citizen—as flawed as ourselves—who most closely approximates our public ideals, plans and goals. For some reason I think of Tennyson’s Ulysses:

Come my friends, tis not too late
To seek a newer world….
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Today someone expressed enthusiasm for a candidate by saying, “Who cares about votes?” I don’t understand that: every day that goes by, every terrible judicial appointment, every regulatory rollback, every white-supremacist speech or action, shows how critical it is to care about votes.

So let’s stop sipping and spitting and get down to the business of choosing an able candidate. Able to be elected, and able to do what matters as President when she is.

Swarthy Levantines Fighting

I wouldn’t dream of attributing Rep. Ilhan Omar’s concern about Palestinians to her having loyalties divided between the US and a Muslim caliphate, so I don’t accept her attributing Jews’ concern about the survival of the Jewish state to our having loyalties divided between the US and Israel.

If by any chance this analogy helps the Congresswoman grasp why her criticism has been taken ill, that would be swell; because otherwise we Dems are engaged in a pointless display of “Let’s you and him fight.” [Almost] needless to say, it wasn’t Jews who decided to blacken her name by connecting her with 9/11 in a scurrilous poster; it was West Virginia Evangelicals who voted for Trump. So let’s keep eyes on the prize here: most people who hate Jews hate Muslims just as much, if not more, so don’t give them ammunition by talking about the divided loyalty of any subgroup of swarthy Levantines.

That canard—not criticism of Israel—is the anti-Semitism we’re complaining about. (The ‘divided loyalty’ smear has gotten quite a workout in American history: because he was Catholic, John F. Kennedy was accused of being in thrall to the Pope.) Yes, Bibi is awful and should be in jail; yes, AIPAC represents the most retrograde right-wing notions about how to protect Israel. No, I don’t have to endorse BDS to acknowledge Likud’s shortcomings, any more than you (Congresswoman) have to get up every morning and say “9/11 was terrible” before you can be listened to about American policy in the Middle East.

As it is written: in a democracy one should neither give offense lightly, nor take it. I’m prepared not to take offense, provided you’re prepared to acknowledge that you might have given offense without meaning to. I realize you’ve already done this once, after your comment about Jews’ financial power, and that repeated demands for apology are irksome; but perhaps that will give you pause the next time you get ready to stereotype people—allies on every other subject—with whom you disagree.

After Trumpcare, Medicare Part M

Here’s a thought: as soon as we defeat Trumpcare, Democrats in both houses introduce Medicare Part M (for Middle-Aged), covering people ages 50-64.

A. It’s good politics:

1. These are the people who were going to be hit the hardest by Trumpcare premium increases. Offer them a better deal and they’ll support us–and people this age vote!

2. It sounds more moderate than Medicare for All, while also making a solid step closer to single-payer, which the Republicans have managed to make sound like pie-in-the-sky socialism with a side order of end-of-the-world.

B. It’s good policy:

1. These are the sickest people in the Obamacare exchanges–move them out of the pools and premiums go down.

2. BUT they’re healthier than most people now on Medicare: put them into that risk pool and the premiums go down there, too.

DON’T believe Trump when he says Obamacare is collapsing.

DON’T believe pundits who say the Democrats have no platform/positions: this plus increased minimum wage plus let’s get out of Afghanistan is platform a-plenty.

A long-overdue letter to the editors of the New York Times

I wrote this today in response to an editorial decrying “Two Presidential Candidates Stuck in the Past.”

Thank you so much for continuing the Times’s pattern of false equivalence between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton which did so much to elect the former and besmirch the latter. Trump’s pathological need to tell whoppers at campaign rallies instead of governing is not at all the same as Clinton’s factual answers to a reporter’s questions. There is no doubt that James Comey’s October surprise re-opening of the e-mail investigation damaged her election prospects, nor is there any doubt that Russia interfered on her opponent’s behalf, though direct complicity by the Trump campaign has yet to be proven.

The editors’ instruction to Clinton to stop talking about the election sounds a lot like, “Women should be seen and not heard.” I look forward to your issuing a similarly stern warning to Bernie Sanders, who continues to peddle his fraudulent claim that Clinton “stole” the primaries by defeating him. Until you do, I’d be grateful if you’d stop pretending that Clinton’s telling the truth is somehow the same as Trump’s lying.

“. . . and that’s never easy”

When he was in high school, my brother went away to a weekend-long “Tolerance Camp” sponsored by the National Council of Christians and Jews. (Earlier days, narrower definitions of diversity.) When he returned I asked whether he’d had a good time and he replied, “People were getting new ideas, and that’s never easy.”

There’s been a lot of rumbling about how the 2016 election reflected a failure on the part of elites to understand the atavistic attitudes of a significant portion of the electorate. But we understand perfectly well: people have been getting new ideas—about who gets rewarded for what kind of work, about what color or gender person will be acknowledged as someone who counts, about who’s in charge—and that’s never easy. Trump voters decided they didn’t like the new ideas and said so at the ballot box. But that won’t prevent those ideas from taking hold, unless the central idea of American life—that of popular self-government—is destroyed by the lying fool they chose.

And if it is, it won’t be something elites, or Democrats, or women, or black people, or Jews, or gays, or liberals did or didn’t do. If we really believe in self-government we must hold people accountable for their choices, and the destruction of American values and institutions will be the predictable result of a choice made by people who failed or refused to understand that it’s never easy to get new ideas, but it’s fatal not to.

Our electors, ourselves

The revelations in the past few days about Russian interference in the election actually gave me great relief–because, of course, everything that happens is about me! Now those who’ve been rolling their eyes at my paranoid fantasies of Putin-inspired hacking and leaking and disabling the voter protection hotline will have to concede that paranoia is, in this case, completely justified.

075f22a8-1962-372f-8e97-26f44444eb71More important–and more seriously–the revelations crystallized my view that the outcome of this Presidential election reflects not a simple disagreement about policy but an actual threat to our system of government. And, again, if that sounds alarmist, you haven’t been paying enough attention.

But I know you all have been paying attention; SO! What to do? A group of us who worked together on Hillary’s campaign are contacting every Republican elector in the country, asking all of them to withhold their votes from Donald Trump. We’re calling, we’re emailing, we’re snail-mailing–and we’re doing it all RIGHT NOW, because the Electoral College meets in 5 days, on Monday, December 19, and it’s our last line of defense against having a Russian puppet in the White House.

If you can spare time in the next day or so, I urge you to do the same. You will find a list of GOP electors, with all their e-mail contact information, here. My letter, which you’re welcome to crib if you find it useful, is here. The essential thing is to write now, and to treat these people with whom we disagree so strongly as fellow and sister patriots with whom we hope to ally in defense of the Constitution. What a concept: speaking civilly and rationally to our opponents!

You may well think this is a futile endeavor; but I can only quote Father Daniel Berrigan: “Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.” And, as he also said, “Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at!”

Mine’s in front of my computer.

A shortcut to abolishing the Electoral College; an appeal to free-thinking electors

Twice in the past five elections, the person who won is not the person who moved into the White House.

Hillary Clinton received 1.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, yet it’s Trump who is picking Cabinet members and will pick Supreme Court justices.

soviet-election-poster

If this strikes you as unacceptable, please join the League of Women Voters of the United States in advocating passage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Each state adopting the Compact pledges to instruct its electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote–which is to say, the winner. (We don’t say “popular vote” in any other context as if it were a lesser thing. A vote is a vote, and under our system voting is how we choose our leaders.)

Ten states and the District of Columbia, accounting for 61% of an Electoral College majority, have already adopted the Compact. But if you don’t live in California, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont or Washington State, ask your state representative to introduce the Compact in the next session of the legislature, and then ask every person running for a seat whether s/he supports it.

Come on Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia!–all blue states whose votes could get us to 219. And come on Michigan and Pennsylvania, which both had the Compact under consideration in last year’s legislative session: those two would make 255. Capture Florida, and lo and behold, we get to inaugurate the person we elected.

But. As long as the Electoral College is there, it should perform the function the Framers had in mind: preventing the election of a demagogue. We have just under a month to find 38 Republican electors willing to admit either that their standard-bearer is unfit for the office or that he just plain lost.

Who among them is willing to speak up? We’re all ears.

Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There

The morning after the election one of my sister activist Dems wrote, “This is because the Democrats have lost the ability to talk to the white working class.” There were countless similar posts, arguing that Trump won because Berners didn’t turn out or Hillary was fatally flawed or black people were unenthusiastic or…

Allow me a modest proposal. Let’s spend a little time figuring out what actually happened, not so we can blame each other but so the next steps we take fix the real problem(s). Questions to be asked include:

–Were African-Americans actually unenthusiastic about Hillary, or was their turnout suppressed by new voting restrictions? Remember, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, and Republican-controlled states took full advantage of the fact.

–Have the Democrats lost the ability to connect with the white working class, or did we lose that ability with the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1965? As long as the economy was strong, whites in the north stuck with unions and with Democrats; but once the economy collapsed, they went the way of whites in the south. It’s easier to scapegoat immigrants and people of color than it is to talk realistically about the very modest steps which can be taken to ameliorate the decline of human-powered manufacturing.

–Did Berners actually stay home, or vote Libertarian, or otherwise succumb to the narcissism of small differences, or did they just do a little less work for Hillary than they’d done for Obama? (Admittedly I ran into someone yesterday who said Hillary “deserved it” [to lose} because “she stole the election from Bernie.” Well, no, not unless your definition of “stole” encompasses “getting more votes than the other guy.”) Remember, the never-Hillary people were vocal but no more than a tiny minority of Sanders supporters.

–If Latinx turned out in force for Hillary in Nevada, which she won, but failed to do so in other states, does that reflect a problem between Latinx and the Democratic Party or does it simply demonstrate that a well-organized effort gets voters to the polls whereas a sloppy one fails?

–Why was the Hillary campaign operating with such poor intelligence that it instructed Illinois to waste hundreds of volunteers in unwinnable Iowa who could have been going to winnable Wisconsin and Michigan?

–Do the results, so contrary to every poll, reflect a groundswell of “shy” Trump supporters, or do they reflect tampering in key states and precincts? Remember, Russian-supported hackers broke into Democratic files and sowed dissension between Bernie’s people and Hillary’s, while pro-Russia Julian Assange kept the email story alive; why stop interfering on Election Day? The BBC reported that day that the four states whose voting systems were most susceptible to tampering were Pennsylvania, Ohio, Nevada and Colorado.

–Was Hillary a fatally flawed candidate or was she just a woman who’d been vilified for 30 years and had the nerve to keep going? Remember, whenever people actually saw and heard Hillary herself–at the convention, during the debates–her poll numbers went up.

–As Hillary actually won the popular vote, what should we infer from her loss other than that, for the second time in 16 years, the Electoral College has interfered with the will of the people? And is there anything realistic to be done about it?

So before the Berners blame Hillary, or elites blame the working class (which is overwhelmingly brown and female), or we all blame the media and misogyny (real as those influences are), let’s do some serious analysis. Only the right diagnosis will yield a cure.

The University of Chicago Strikes Out

My alma mater the University of Chicago has managed to get what it’s always wanted: attention from the national press.  Unfortunately, it did so by sending a completely unnecessary letter to incoming students announcing the school’s opposition to trigger warnings and safe spaces, concepts the letter doesn’t seem to understand at all.  So let me wade into this muck in the hope of achieving some clarity.  As the University of Chicago taught me, it’s best to begin by defining one’s terms.

Just as sexual harassment is a form of expression which is nonetheless regulated to make it possible for women to function in the workplace, various kinds of campus behavior are forms of expression which may nonetheless be regulated to make it possible for non-majority students to function in academe. Surely there are ludicrous examples of demands for trigger warnings and safe spaces, just as there are egregious examples of on-campus hostility and discrimination (e.g. men parading outside a women’s dorm yelling “No means yes! Yes means anal!”).  The issue in either case is the boundary between free expression and expression designed to intimidate or silence. No one can deny that a burning cross is an example of expression but as its purpose is to terrorize, it’s considered to be on the wrong side of that boundary. So, in Europe, is Holocaust denial, though it’s tolerated on American college campuses (while assertions that the earth is flat, say, would not be).

Thus people who take seriously the possibility that a person calling black women “water buffaloes” intends to demean and silence them are simply engaging in the type of critical thinking to which universities are supposed to be dedicated as well as the complementary analysis of what is necessary to protect an environment of civil discourse.

I’m a passionate advocate of the educational experience I had at the U of C, and nonetheless I think the letter to incoming students could more succinctly have been rendered as “F**k you if you imagine anything you think will be of interest or concern to us; you must have mistaken us for someplace that cares. And if you don’t like it take your female and black and brown and queer sensibilities elsewhere.” And I am revolted that my alma mater decided its reputation was best spent on that kind of dog-whistle right-wing nonsense.

You don’t want to use trigger warnings? Don’t. But there’s no need to denounce them unless your real purpose is to let people (especially, perhaps, donors) know that you’re indifferent to any concerns about mistreatment based on identity, and that any complaints about such mistreatment will be met with dismissiveness and derision because how dare any of these 21st Century concerns impinge on the 19th Century approach to which we’ve apparently dedicated our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor?

When I spoke up at the law school, I was thanked for expressing “what the women think.” When a classmate objected to the teaching of Plato’s Symposium as though it didn’t refer to gay love, he was told that the University didn’t “cater to special interests.” When students and faculty spoke out for diversifying the curriculum beyond the dead white “mods and greats” beloved of the British university system, the response (from Saul Bellow, no less) was “where is the Proust of the Papuans?” though the whole point of his query was to ridicule the idea of our finding out.

There was nothing “micro” about these aggressions; they were perfectly visible examples of the majority’s desire to humiliate and stifle the minorities.  And the University’s admissions policies in those days (though not now, happily) were carefully designed to make sure that black and brown and even female people were in the tiniest minorities possible.

So the U of C has a long history of behaving as if modernity were a personal insult, and this letter to first-years is as much in keeping with that tradition as any boob’s expressed desire to make America great (meaning white) again.

I’ve heard there are donors to other schools who’ve withdrawn their support when their alma maters have acknowledged their role in slavery or in any way made a reckoning with the imperfections of the past.  So just to balance things out, I’m withdrawing my support of an institution which seems to glory in denying there ever were any such imperfections or that any discrimination or hostility continues to exist today. The U of C exercised its privilege of flipping the bird to its incoming students and I’m exercising my privilege to flip the bird to the U of C.

I hope the faculty and administration don’t experience that as traumatic; but just in case I’m providing this trigger warning.