Hillary’s Big Mistake

I know that I’m nearly two years too late to the party, but I guess you can say that this essay is a bit of a post-mortem on the 2016 United States presidential election.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the biggest mistake Hillary Clinton made during the course of the campaign, was something I initially praised her for. It happened on October 9, 2016.

That was the night of the second debate between Clinton and Trump. It took place at Washington University in St. Louis and took the form of a “town hall”, with members of the audience standing up to ask the questions of the candidates.

The last question of the night, posed by a voter named Karl Becker, was “[R]egardless of the current rhetoric, would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

Hillary went on to praise his children. At the time, I said she did a great job with that question, given that I don’t know that I could have thought of anything even remotely as positive as she did.

That was a mistake.

Here’s more or less what she should have said:

“Hmmm… Well, no. Um… Ah… No. I can’t think of anything positive about Donald Trump. He’s a narcissistic, narrow-minded, thin-skinned bully, who, if given the reins of power would plunge the country and the world into such a state of chaos and uncertainty, he very easily could destroy everything we hold dear. He’s morally and ethically bankrupt, who is completely undeserving of the wealth he inherited. If he tries to make good on any of this campaign promises, then I fear for the country, our allies, and the whole world. And I simply have to ask: I don’t understand why he hates America so much, especially after all he’s stolen from her.”

I get it. She wanted to take the high road. And on a level playing field, that’s the right thing to do. But this is not the high road. The Republican Party has cheated and stolen its way to power and are now drunk on their own undeserved power. Scott Pruitt, for all of his dishonesty and ethical (if not legal) questionability, surely is the metaphor for what the Republican Party has been for at least the past two decades. And he was that metaphor even before he was picked by Trump to head the EDA (Environmental Destruction Agency).

I’m not trying to say that the Democrats need to be as dishonest as the Republicans are. Indeed, policy decisions should be based upon facts and evidence. For some time now, I’ve been wanting to write a blog entry on epistemology and the current epistemological crisis in America, and I will write it eventually. But I’d like to see a Democratic candidate for congress or the senate use, as an unofficial campaign slogan, “Fuck that shit!”

Give the republicans a taste of their own medicine. Kick them out. Lock them up. Make them truly atone for the crimes they’ve committed.

We can talk about civility once they know how horrible they are to other people and are truly repentant.


Marching Again…

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In the pilot episode of the short-lived (but well-written and well-acted) HBO series The Newsroom, we are introduced to a TV anchorman named Will McAvoy, played by Jeff Daniels.

At the beginning of the episode, he’s asked what makes America great and he says that he can’t think of anything great about America. Later on in that episode, his executive producer MacKenzie (played by Emily Mortimer) tells him where he messed up: the greatness of America is in its promise, its attempts (to varying degrees of success) to live up to the enlightenment ideals upon which it was founded.

I recalled that scene yesterday, when I attended one of the more than 700 marches around the country, in protest of the zero tolerance policies created by the current administration and enforced at the US-Mexico border, which has resulted in all sorts of atrocities being committed against people seeking asylum in this country. The most high-profile of these atrocities (rightly so) is the separation of parents from their children.

A lot of people — pundits and politicians alike — are saying that these kinds of policies are not the America they know and love.

While there may be a truth to saying things like that, it would be wrong to categorize them as being inconsistent with some of the more shameful events in American history. Things we should be embarrassed about on behalf of the country.

Is this policy really any different from any of the other anti-immigrant rhetoric that has pervaded social discourse for almost as long as the US has been a country? There was once a time when shop owners would bar Irish immigrants from patronizing them.

Or what about the way we decimated the natives and stole their land away from them? We intentionally infected them with smallpox!

What about slavery? Remember that the constitution itself explicitly said that slaves count as 3/5 of a person.

I could go on… Japanese internment camps, unequal treatment of men and women, the fact that this year marks a mere fifteen years since it’s been legal to be gay.

And that’s just shameful domestic policy.

Going back to the Monroe Doctrine (at least) we can point to America intervening in other countries’ affairs to the detriment of the locals. Just in the Americas, we’ve done horrible things in and to just about every country in the Western Hemisphere, many of which are the sources of our current immigration “crisis”.

And that’s not even getting into the horrors we inflicted on September 11, 1973.

I’m sorry to say that this zero tolerance policy is something entirely consistent with many of America’s misdeeds. That doesn’t make it right, for sure, but I would much rather recall what we’ve done wrong so we know how best to make it better.

The promise of America is constant improvement. We fail more often than not, but that’s what we can all strive to do. It’s even in the preamble to the constitution: we want “to form a more perfect union”.

That’s something we can seek to do. That is the America I know and love. The government right now doesn’t represent that. At all.

Justice Kennedy’s retirement

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy announced today that he’s going to retire in a month. A man who routinely was the swing vote on many Supreme Court 5-4 decisions, he angered a great many people on both sides of the aisle in the 32 years since he was first seated on the high court.

My initial reaction when I heard this news, was that this is terrible news, because it represents a larger setback to our democracy, the rule of law, and human decency than anything else that has happened since Donald Trump emerged victorious in the 2016 election. Because Trump clearly has disdain for all three of those things.

But then when I looked at some of the decisions of the court this month — most notably, the Masterpiece Cake Shop ruling, Janus v AFSCME, the crisis pregnancy center ruling, and, of course, the Muslim travel ban — you can see that Kennedy was already starting to show signs of getting tired.

We certainly can’t have Trump nominate someone who won’t be a vital check and balance on the executive branch. He’s already done that once, although Gorsuch hasn’t really shown his hand yet. And besides, Gorsuch replaced Antonin Scalia so he doesn’t really represent that much of a change (although Scalia would have voted with the majority in the recent extension of 4th amendment protections to cell phone networks; Gorsuch didn’t…)

And on top of that, Trump even admitted during the campaign that he’d nominate people who would take away healthcare from women.

My initial reaction wasn’t wrong, but there were signs of hope. There is more of a precedent of conservative presidents nominating Supreme Court justices who proved to be much more liberal than anyone expected, than the other way around. In the past 50 years, the most notable examples of this were Harry Blackmun and David Souter. (And Kennedy himself could fit that bill, too…)

But we can’t hope for that. Wishful thinking isn’t everything but it is something we can hope for.

There are two other things we can be hopeful for. First off, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) announced that he plans to hold Mitch McConnell to his own precedent and expect that he won’t bring any judicial nominees to a vote this close to an election. And however misguided that precedent was (and it was wrong), he can immediately be called out as a hypocrite two years later.

The other point that bears mentioning is that the republicans hold a precarious 50-49 majority in the senate. (John McCain is too sick to be part of a quorum.) If the Democrats can remain unified — and they can — all they need to do is flip one Republican senator and whoever Trump nominates is dead in the water.

A mere three days ago, Jeff Flake said he’d block any Trump judicial nominees if congress doesn’t act on tariffs. Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are both pro-choice republicans. If any one of those three flips on whomever Trump nominates, knowing Trump’s own promises, then he or she would not make it to the court.

So it’s going to be a major fight. But it’s a fight that can be won. Besides, it’s happened before.

Conservative dishonesty, again

I swear. I could find a new article on some conservative website every day, and point out how dishonest the article is, and still be scratching the surface of the mischaracterizations, half-truths, and bald-faced lies that motivate the American political right.

Today’s stupidity is from a perennial favorite, Movieguide. They’ve got an article about an article in Teen Vogue about Karl Marx.

Before I get into the actual content of either article, please note what I did there. I linked to both the Movieguide and Teen Vogue articles. Feel free to criticize me for the relative lengths of the hyperlinks themselves but I readily concede that I’m not sure of the appropriate rules for deciding which words deserve to be included in the actual links.

Regardless, the links, I think, are important (without regard to the text I use for the links). I’m inviting you to take the time to read both articles so you can know how much of my personal spin I’m putting on things. The first thing you’ll notice, is that Movieguide doesn’t link to the Teen Vogue article they criticize.

It’s almost as if they don’t want people to know the true content that got published in Teen Vogue. I wonder why…

That a conservative publication like Movieguide would come to the ardent defense of capitalism isn’t news. Anti-communism has been around pretty much since the Russian Revolution a century ago, and has been a staple of the Republican Party platform at least since the time of President Warren Harding.

I’ve been hearing about how “Marxism is a great idea in theory” since I was in high school. Indeed, it was one of the simplistic platitudes my high school bully liked to spout. As if its failure in practice has demonstrated anything but the flaws in how it was supposed to be practiced.

Let me make it clear that I’m not a communist. But I’m not a full-on capitalist either. We as a society are far better off if we remove the profit motive from some processes. (Health care and prisons come to mind…)

The Teen Vogue is a reasonably accurate history lesson on what Marx actually said and wrote, albeit distilled down to the audience that reads Teen Vogue. If it can be faulted for anything, it should have mentioned that the concept of the dialectic was first described by the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friederich Hegel a generation or two before Marx.

There is a very subtle dig at Donald Trump towards the end of the article, but if Movieguide were to get outraged by every article in every publication that points out that Trump doesn’t have America’s best interests at heart, they’d never get around to reviewing movies. Besides, it’s not as though this is the first such article in Teen Vogue.

Movieguide’s chief complaint is that Teen Vogue is ignoring the atrocities committed in the name of Marxism in the 20th century. I don’t (and never will) attempt to minimize such concerns, but the reality is that (1) that’s not the point of the Teen Vogue article in the first place, (2) in places where the socialist experiment has been more consistent with the way Marx envisioned (see: modern day Scandinavia), it has actually flourished and created a better life for all, and (3) the Cold War is over (and soon it’ll be thirty years since it did).

I think Movieguide will do better going back to telling us which movies have boobies. Makes it easier to laugh at them.

All of the lies

I can’t do it. I can’t watch the images of crying children being pulled forcibly from their parents as they approach and try to cross the border from Mexico to the United States. It makes me ashamed to be an American and I hope it makes everyone think twice about pulling the lever next to anyone seeking political office as a member of the Republican Party.

Watching conservative pundits and politicians try to defend this policy shows just how unfeeling they are. And not a single one of the politicians is willing to take responsibility. Kirstjen Nielsen, who attended Georgetown University at about the same time I did (although I have no memory of coming in contact with her) and who now is Secretary of Homeland Security, claimed that it’s because we can’t be sure they’re really the children of the migrants trying to cross the border.

That’s just bullshit. Watch the children being dropped at a child care center in the morning. As their parents leave, they scream and carry on, especially for the first few days of attendance. It’s natural that the do this.

But this is just one of a long line of conservative talking points that are just outright lies, easily disproven by anyone willing to look at the evidence. Like how the survivors of {insert location of any mass shooting in the past 20+ years} are really just crisis actors and the shooting was staged by gun control activists.

The more I think about it, though, the more I realize that there are three big lies we’ve been told for years about the Republican Party which simply don’t stand up to any real scrutiny. And everything else is a natural offshoot of at least one of those three.

The first is that the Republican Party is the party of personal responsibility. When Bill Clinton was president, he fired the entire White House travel office because they either misinformed or underestimated the impact of an extended layover of Air Force One on the tarmac of a civilian airport. Barack Obama fired multiple high level staffers, starting with Katherine Archuleta after data security breaches. By contrast, Reagan and Bush, Sr fired nobody over the various Savings and Loan scandals. Bush Jr fired nobody over the massive intelligence failure that was 9/11, a number matched by the firings of staff over the debacle that was Iraq. And today the main reason for losing a job in the Trump White House is insufficient loyalty to Trump himself.

I guess they only mean personal responsibility when it comes to needing a leg up. This is why they smile and shrug their shoulders at the separation of parents and children at the border. They shouldn’t have come in the first place, I guess.

The second lie is that they’re better on national defense and security than the democrats. They like to spend more money on it, that’s for sure. But as they’re quick to point out about education, throwing money at something doesn’t automatically make it better.

The simple truth is the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security will always get the money they need. Republicans just like giving more money to them with few, if any, strings attached. Both Bushes got us into wars in the Middle East that might have given us access to oil, but with no real benefits beyond that (and it’s questionable how much oil we got access to, and at what cost in terms of lives and terrorist motivations…) And yet it was Barack Obama who actually had Osama bin Laden killed. And it was Clinton who got the Israelis and Palestinians to talk…

I guess that’s why they’re insisting on throwing money at border security in the first place. Of course they need to separate kids from their parents. These entire families are a threat to America. Or something.

And the third lie is that they’re better for the economy. They certainly like cutting taxes, letting the wealthiest people keep more of their money, which they claim will stimulate job creation. While I recognize that there will come a point where the economy will suffer if taxes get too high, the economy also suffers if they get too low. But both Clinton and Obama inherited horrible economies from their predecessors, turned them around, and saw more sustained growth than anyone might have predicted. It turns out that higher taxes on the rich actually helps the government fund needed projects.

(Note that I accept that no president deserves all credit or blame for the way the economy is going, but the general policies they choose to follow can absolutely make things better or worse… it’s why Herbert Hoover gets so much blame and FDR so much credit. Had either done the opposite of what they actually did, and their modern reputations would be quite different….)

Immigration helps the economy more than it hurts. Immigrants want to work, to do jobs that locals might not want to do, often for lower pay than American citizens would want to take, and they put that money back into the local economy. We see that now with the entirely predictable stories of crops rotting in the field because there’s nobody to pick and cultivate them.

But those immigrants didn’t follow the established (but confusing) protocols and are thus labeled “illegal”. So of course they deserve the inhumane treatment they’re receiving from a drunk-with-power border patrol.

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to vote Republican. And they’ve only gotten worse since then. It’s my hope that more of the electorate will see the GOP for what it has become: a bunch of frauds, thieves, and liars.

How did we get here?

Even before we get to the abhorrent practice of separating families at the border, there’s been something about the whole immigration debate that hasn’t been sitting right with me. It started with the question of why the oldest DREAMers were born in the early 1980s. Millennials, if you would. This strongly implies that something major about US immigration policy changed in the late 1970s.

I think I’ve found the answer, and, although it’s not a straight line (history seldom is), do think it starts with a retired marine general named Leonard Chapman, who was nominated by Richard Nixon to head the Immigration and Naturalization Services in 1973, and who led the INS for four years. One sentence from his biography on the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website stands out to me:

His appointment was confirmed with the unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate and he took the oath of office on November 29, 1973. Chapman served as Commissioner until May of 1977, overseeing a period of rapid growth in the INS’ staff and budget.

Chapman, by all accounts, was a good guy, trying to do the right thing. He made a point of visiting every branch office of the INS to talk to the people who worked there. This would be in stark contrast to his predecessor, Raymond Farrell, who as best as I could tell, was a prototypical bureaucrat who almost never left his desk.

It’s an interesting phenomenon when you talk to people. A lot of people. It gets hard to tell when they espouse less-than-moral or ethical opinions. This was illustrated to me by an episode of the 1990s TV series Quantum Leap. For those unfamiliar with that series, it was about a scientist named Sam Beckett, who involved himself in a time traveling experiment and wound up “leaping” from one place to the next, replacing someone temporarily until he could alter the course of their personal history.

In this particular episode, he leapt into the middle of a ceremony where the person he replaced was formally inducted into the Ku Klux Klan, by his father. In a voiceover explanation of his surroundings, Dr. Beckett observed that, despite their racism and hatred, they were people, too, with many of the same hopes and dreams as anyone else. And, if you look away from the obviously repugnant views they hold, they could even be thought of as “nice” (at least in other parts of their day to day lives).

It’s enough to make you wonder about what Chapman heard when he talked to INS staff, as he called for an increased budget. Undoubtedly, he heard that a lot of people were crossing over the border from Mexico into the US, and that maybe we need to stop, or at least slow, the flow of migrants. What he might not have heard — because it wasn’t tracked the same way — is how often those migrants returned to Mexico.

60s folksinger Phil Ochs gave us a brief glimpse into the pre-Chapman world with his song Bracero. (The title means “laborer” in Spanish and is derived from the Spanish word for “arm”, which is brazo…) If you listen to this song, your first reaction would be to ask what’s changed in the past half century since it came out. Here are my thoughts:

  1. The braceros are more likely called “illegal” or “undocumented immigrants” now
  2. Their ability to return home is harder and significantly more dangerous due to bigger fences and stricter border enforcement
  3. The INS is now known as ICE and has become more military-like (as have many police departments)

I don’t know exactly what General Chapman heard when he spoke to the border patrol agents on his tour of his agency. Surely he heard tales of a porous border through which Mexicans moved freely and without regard for the official immigration rules. Maybe they’re lazy, sleeping all the time. Maybe they were sending too much money back home to Mexico, rather than spending it here in the states. Maybe they were committing other crimes, like theft, or rape, or something. If you don’t know what you’re listening for, you might not hear the racism.

Resentment of immigrants in any country is nothing new. It’s a change to the landscape that those already present have no control over and can be uncomfortable. How many times do we have to hear “they don’t talk like us” or “they don’t hold the same values we do”? It is, by its very nature, a form of xenophobia.

The ICE agents were the only government employees who overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in his election bid in 2016. This isn’t a surprise. He promised he’d give their agency more money and more help. They’re not necessarily bad people themselves, but when your job is to stop people from doing something, you want help stopping people from doing something. That those people happen to have brown skin is, well, a product of dumb luck in the way things played out. But rules are rules.

And those rules likely came about because a dedicated military man talked to people. But only the people who monitored people crossing the border without talking to the people who actually crossed the border.

The DREAMers only have that name because the rules changed later.

And now we can see the ICE agents gaining power as Trump promised. There are too many forced detentions and no place to put all of the people. So now we’re separating parents from their crying children.

General Chapman may have had good intentions with the way he helmed INS. But I don’t think anyone could have predicted it would come to this. This is not what America is or stands for.

When a building is in a bad enough state of disrepair, the only way to improve it is to tear it down and start over. We need to do that with American immigration policy. Start over, completely fresh.

And as soon as humanly possible. Because we’re acting inhumanely.

Strange Bedfellows, indeed

Columnist George Will is an interesting person. Although he self-identifies as an atheist, he occasionally carries water for religious conservatism. Still, he seems to be backpedaling a little bit on that now that fundamental Christians actually wield a fair amount of power in the government, as evidenced by his treatise on Mike Pence earlier this month.

But I did a double take when I read his opinion piece in today’s Washington Post. The underlying thesis of this piece is that a true conservative would have voted for William Howard Taft in the election of 1912.

If you dig back among the flashbacks on this blog, you’ll find an entry that talks about a November, 2004 dinner party I attended, where we talked about the best and worst presidents. Not mentioned in that entry, was the fact that I asserted at the time, that Taft was our best president. (My host remarked that he was certainly the best lawyer/president.) I also hinted at this position when I talked about presidential greatness towards the end of 2016.

Let me be clear: I truly do like William Howard Taft for what he accomplished, both as president and after. If I had been around to vote in 1912, it’s entirely possible that I would have voted for Taft. I’m not sure I’d have been able to rule out a vote for Debs.

There are a couple of items in this new essay of Will’s that require additional discussion. First is his assertion that Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were responsible for the modern imperial presidency. I should think that, depending on how you want to look at it, either James Polk or William McKinley deserve that title, depending on whether you would prefer to begin the starting point before or after the Civil War. (Regardless, it seems to begin with open warlike hostilities against a spanish-speaking country or two…)

I also take issue with the implication that Wilson was imperialist from the start. Less than two years into the start of Wilson’s first term, the European conflagration we now know as World War I started when a bomb exploded in Sarajevo, killing the archduke of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. Yes, Wilson wanted to help our allies but it was a reactive measure, not a proactive one.

Finally, Will seems to wax a little bit too nostalgic for the Reagan era. Reagan, like Trump, was a populist with conservative inclinations, not the other way around. Reagan laid the groundwork for the ethical and moral cesspool that is the modern Republican Party. That’s not a conservative or liberal stance. It’s populist, pure and simple. And something Taft had no real patience for.

Does that make me a conservative? Not exactly. While I lean liberal, there are some places where my opinions don’t really hew to what modern liberals would assert.

So for now, I’ll stick with the one thing George Will and I do truly agree on: the lack of evidence for the existence of god.