Politics

Heinlein on Whether It Could Happen Here

As for … the idea that we could lose our freedom by succumbing to a wave of religious hysteria, I am sorry to say that I consider it possible. I hope that it is not probable. But there is a latent deep strain of religious fanaticism in this, our culture; it is rooted in our history and it has broken out many times in the past.

“It is with us now; there has been a sharp rise in strongly evangelical sects in this country in recent years, some of which hold beliefs theocratic in the extreme, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, and anti-libertarian.

“It is a truism that almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so, and will follow it by suppressing opposition, subverting all education to seize early the minds of the young, and by killing, locking up, or driving underground all heretics. This is equally true whether the faith is Communism or Holy-Rollerism; indeed it is the bounden duty of the faithful to do so. The custodians of the True Faith cannot logically admit tolerance of heresy to be a virtue.

“Nevertheless this business of legislating religious beliefs into law has never been more than sporadically successful in this country — Sunday closing laws here and there, birth control legislation in spots, the Prohibition experiment, temporary enclaves of theocracy such as Voliva’s Zion, Smith’s Nauvoo, and a few others. The country is split up into such a variety of faiths and sects that a degree of uneasy tolerance now exists from expedient compromise; the minorities constitute a majority of opposition against each other.

“Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not — but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck.

“Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening — particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington.”

— Robert A. Heinlein,
“Concerning Stories Never Written” (the afterword to Revolt in 2100)

It is worth noting that Heinlein wrote those words in the 1950s. And also that in his “Future History” cycle of science fiction stories, which includes Revolt in 2100, he pegged the late 20th century and much of the 21st as “The Crazy Years” when America becomes a puritanical theocracy, and spaceflight and other technological and scientific advancement all but ceases.  With today’s Supreme Court decision not to put a stop to partisan gerrymandering, anti-abortion and “freedom of religion” laws springing up all over the place, Mitch McConnell’s heavy-handed and nakedly obvious power plays, and of course a president who has made it plain he’d rather rule as a dictator than govern as an elected official bound by rules and procedure, I fear we are living through the early phase of The Crazy Years right now…

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It Is Not Okay

Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat from California and Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, responded today to Republican calls that he resign for supposedly spreading conspiracy theories against the man in the White House. His defiant words are nothing short of inspiring:

My colleagues might think it’s okay that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what’s described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. You might think that’s okay. My colleagues might think it’s okay that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president’s son did not call the FBI, he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help — no, instead that son said he would ‘love’ the help with the Russians.

You might think it was okay that he took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s okay that they concealed it from the public. You might think it’s okay that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that, when it was discovered a year later that they had lied about that meeting and said it was about adoptions, you might think it’s okay that the president is reported to have helped dictate that lie. You might think it’s okay. I don’t.

You might think it’s okay that the campaign chairman of a presidential campaign would offer information about that campaign to a Russian oligarch in exchange for money or debt forgiveness. You might think that’s okay. I don’t. You might think it’s okay that that campaign chairman offered polling data, campaign polling data, to someone linked to Russian intelligence. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay if that the president himself called on Russia to hack his opponent’s emails, if they were listening. You might think it’s okay that, later that day, the Russians in fact attempted to hack a server affiliated with that campaign. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think that it’s okay that the president’s son-in-law sought to establish a secret back-channel of communication with Russians through a Russian diplomatic facility. I don’t think that’s okay.

You might think it’s okay that an associate of the president made direct contact with the GRU through Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, that is considered a hostile intelligence agency. You might think it’s okay that a senior campaign official was instructed to reach that associate and find out what that hostile intelligence agency had to say, in terms of dirt on his opponent.

You might think it’s okay that the national security adviser-designate secretly conferred with a Russian ambassador about undermining U.S. sanctions, and you might think it’s okay he lied about it to the FBI.

You might say that’s all okay. You might say that’s just what you need to do to win. But I don’t think it’s okay. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic and, yes, I think it’s corrupt, and evidence of collusion.

Now, I have always said that whether this amounts to proof of conspiracy was another matter. Whether the special counsel could prove beyond a reasonable doubt the proof of that crime was up to the special counsel and that I would accept his decision, and I do. He is a good an honorable man and he is a good prosecutor.

But I do not think that conduct, criminal or not, is okay. And the day we do think that’s okay is the day we will look back and say, that is the day America lost its way.

And I’ll tell you one more thing that is apropos of the hearing today. I don’t think it’s okay that during a presidential campaign Mr. Trump sought the Kremlin’s help to consummate a real estate deal in Moscow that would make him a fortune. According to the special counsel, hundreds of millions of dollars. I don’t think it’s okay that he concealed it from the public. don’t think it’s okay he advocated a new and more favorable policy towards the Russians, even as he was seeking the Russian’s help, the Kremlin’s help, to make money.

<End quote>

All of that happened. It’s real. It’s on the record. Like I said the other day, maybe Mueller couldn’t connect the dots to make a legal case (or maybe he wasn’t given the time he needed to make the connections, which is what I strongly suspect), but that doesn’t mean the dots aren’t there, or that they don’t stink.

See, here’s the thing: I make no secret of the fact that I’m a liberal Democrat. Many people would take that fact and assume that my feelings about the man currently occupying the Oval Office are simply partisan, that I must hate Trump because he is a Republican. Not so. I would despise Donald Trump regardless of what party he ostensibly belonged to, and in fact I did despise him long before this national nightmare ever began. I despise him because he is so transparently corrupt, so transparently hungry for power, so proudly ignorant, and so thoroughly lacking in empathy or anything resembling grace, class or dignity.

But you know what? I think I despise the Congressional Republicans who are defending him even more. Because they know what he is and what he’s doing, and they don’t care. These same Republicans who genuflect to the Constitution, who weep at the sight of the flag, these upstanding “family values” people who are so quick to weaponize the smallest transgression made by a Democrat and who will not ever let go of anything… these same people turn a blind eye to the sins of Donald J Trump. They claim that any question at all about the man’s behavior is all “conspiracy theories” and sour grapes for a lost election. “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” they call it.

Nope.You’ve got that wrong, guys.

What has us liberals so angry is the goddamn double standard that Republicans so easily traffic in… that, and the stink of corruption that Donald Trump has carried into the White House like dogshit on his shoes, and the stench of decay that’s growing stronger day by day as it oozes across our entire nation.

I try to be optimistic about the future, about the institutions and ideals that knit this scattered collection of populations and geographies into the thing we call America, but I have to be honest: I just don’t know how we’re going to come back from this. The America I thought I knew when I was young began to die when those idiots drove their planes into the towers. The bleeding accelerated when Americans cheered at the invasion of a country that hadn’t attacked us, chuckled at the images of people being tortured and scoffed at the thought that the Geneva conventions actually applied to us. I naively thought the fever might be breaking with the election of Barack Obama and the strides toward a more truly equal nation that were made under his administration. But then came the backlash. Then came Trump. Then came the racists and the homophobes and the gun-nuts and god-knows how many other kinds of reactionaries and regressives. And now the gleeful nihilists who read Ayn Rand in their teens and took her warped selfishness to heart are knocking out the pillars that hold everything up and half the population actually thinks it’s a good idea.

I’ve said it before many times, usually in reference to my feelings of having taken a wrong turn in my own life, but I’d really like to know just when and where I stepped through that wormhole into a parallel universe. And how the hell can I get back?

I want my country back.

No comments on this one. Not that I ever get any these days, but… yeah. No comments.

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Nothing Has Changed

Today the president’s supporters are practically orgasmic with their gloating and trolling, while Democrats are rending their garments, shaking their fists at the unfair heavens, and crying out, “Why? Why?!” But the truth is, nothing has really changed. No, really, it hasn’t. We still don’t know what’s actually in the Mueller report. We’ve just been given a summary of what it supposedly contains, a summary that was crafted by a political appointee who got the job after writing the president a letter about how terrible the Mueller investigation was. So… yeah. Not the most trustworthy intermediary, in my opinion. Until the American people actually see the full report with our own eyes, I’m not changing my opinion that, for someone who’s supposedly done nothing wrong, the president certainly acts like a man with something to hide. Consider these reminders from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:

Based on the publicly available information, the President betrayed his country and serially lied about his involvement with Russia and his knowledge about the Russian interference campaign. We know that despite all denials, throughout the campaign the President was trying to land a multi-hundred million dollar real estate deal that required the assistance of the President of Russia, one that required the end of sanctions. We know his campaign manager was handing over campaign data to a man the FBI judged was a Russian intelligence asset. We know his campaign had a back channel to Wikileaks and appears to have coordinated the timing of the leaks. We know that his top campaign officials had numerous contacts with Russian officials and intermediaries offering campaign assistance and welcomed the assistance. Finally, we know the transition [team] worked with Russia to undermine the sanctions intended to punish the interference campaign.

By any standard, simply these known facts are profoundly damning and constitute a massive national betrayal. The Trump campaign knew about, profited from and encouraged Russian assistance. Putin also appears to have been dangling a massive payoff in front of him the whole time. Russia helped Trump; Trump helped Russia; they were in contact via intermediaries throughout the campaign.

Presumably the report explains the details of these dealings and how they did not constitute either conspiracy or coordination. That is the information, the analysis we need to see. I’d suggest we know very little until we see this information, which is to say, until we see the report.

Mueller may not have been able to connect all the dots within his mandate, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Trump is sitting in the Oval Office (when he bothers to go into work, that is) because of the Russians. Yeah, yeah, Hillary was a less-than-ideal candidate, and Democratic infighting, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the vagaries of the electoral college all played a role, but the thumb on the scale that tilted things over the line belonged to Putin. Whether he made an actual deal with the Russians or not, they did everything they could to install him in the White House, either in hopes that he’d quid-pro-quo away those sanctions or just because they knew he’d generate so much barking chaos that it would tear the U.S. to pieces. Well, mission fucking accomplished, comrades.

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The Work Goes On

The votes are still being tallied around the country as I write this, but it appears that the Democrats have at the very least retaken the House of Representatives and scored a few gubernatorial wins.

Over on social media, some of my liberal friends are lamenting that this isn’t good enough, that we needed that legendary “blue wave” to decisively show that this country isn’t what Donald Trump represents, and they’re disappointed it didn’t happen at the scale they hoped for.

Well.

Their negativity is irritating the hell out of me, to be honest.

Considering how gerrymandered so many states are, a blue wave was never likely. Perhaps it wasn’t even possible. But we did pretty damn well winning the House in this environment. The House is a start. The House means investigations, and it means applying the brakes to Trump and the Trumpist GOP’s corrosive agenda of undoing everything progressives have fought for over the past century.

Look, the ugly reality is that America is a land of bigots and know-nothings, and it always has been. Also, this nation was founded on blood and cruelty and it has never lived up to the ideals of its founding documents. That’s just the way it is. The mistake that progressives keep making over and over is believing that a single big win is somehow all it takes to overcome that reality. Remember how many people honestly believed that electing Obama meant we were now a “post-racial society?” Such naivete now seems heartbreakingly quaint.

The last two years — not to mention all the nasty bullshit Obama endured during the preceding eight years — have been a slap in the face to remind us that the work must go on. It will go on, and it is going on. Because the ideals we haven’t managed to live up to are as baked into the American makeup as the cruelty. Yin and yang, constantly struggling with one another, rocking back and forth but slowly, bit by bit, rolling forward. This country is about the aspiration, not a finished thing in itself. At least that’s how I’ve come to see things over the past decade.

It’s worth noting that many of those new representatives who will be seated come January 2019 are women, and many of them represent “firsts”: the first Muslim woman, the first Native American woman, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. And all of them were elected tonight, in 2018, with Donald Trump in the White House. That’s America.

That’s the work going on…

 

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“Let Me Tell You What I Believe”

“We now stand at a crossroads — a moment in time at which two very different visions of humanity’s future compete for the hearts and the minds of citizens around the world. Two different stories, two different narratives about who we are and who we should be. How should we respond?

“Should we see that wave of hope that we felt with [Nelson Mandela’s] release from prison, from the Berlin Wall coming down — should we see that hope that we had as naïve and misguided? Should we understand the last 25 years of global integration as nothing more than a detour from the previous inevitable cycle of history — where might makes right, and politics is a hostile competition between tribes and races and religions, and nations compete in a zero-sum game, constantly teetering on the edge of conflict until full-blown war breaks out? Is that what we think?

“Let me tell you what I believe. I believe in Nelson Mandela’s vision. I believe in a vision shared by Gandhi and King and Abraham Lincoln. I believe in a vision of equality and justice and freedom and multi-racial democracy, built on the premise that all people are created equal, and they’re endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. And I believe that a world governed by such principles is possible and that it can achieve more peace and more cooperation in pursuit of a common good. That’s what I believe.

And I believe we have no choice but to move forward; that those of us who believe in democracy and civil rights and a common humanity have a better story to tell. And I believe this not just based on sentiment, I believe it based on hard evidence.

“The fact that the world’s most prosperous and successful societies, the ones with the highest living standards and the highest levels of satisfaction among their people, happen to be those which have most closely approximated the liberal, progressive ideal that we talk about and have nurtured the talents and contributions of all their citizens.

“The fact that authoritarian governments have been shown time and time again to breed corruption, because they’re not accountable; to repress their people; to lose touch eventually with reality; to engage in bigger and bigger lies that ultimately result in economic and political and cultural and scientific stagnation. Look at history. Look at the facts.

“The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial or religious superiority as their main organizing principle, the thing that holds people together — eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books.

“The fact that technology cannot be put back in a bottle, so we’re stuck with the fact that we now live close together and populations are going to be moving, and environmental challenges are not going to go away on their own, so that the only way to effectively address problems like climate change or mass migration or pandemic disease will be to develop systems for more international cooperation, not less.

“We have a better story to tell. But to say that our vision for the future is better is not to say that it will inevitably win. Because history also shows the power of fear. History shows the lasting hold of greed and the desire to dominate others in the minds of men. Especially men. History shows how easily people can be convinced to turn on those who look different, or worship God in a different way. So if we’re truly to continue [Mandela’s] long walk towards freedom, we’re going to have to work harder and we’re going to have to be smarter. We’re going to have to learn from the mistakes of the recent past. … ”

— Barack Obama, speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa, to honor the late Nelson Mandela, July 17, 2018

(italics mine; complete transcript here)

This was President Obama’s first major speech since leaving office. As usual, he articulated the same vision of the world and of the future that I have, the one that I’m trying very hard not to lose faith in.

I really miss this man.

 

 

 

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A Poem for the Fourth of July

The crackle and thunder of the fireworks is finally beginning to wind down, the traffic jam that’s been creeping past my house for an hour is breaking up, and a pall of smoke hangs over everything. Independence Day 2018 is nearly over. Am I the only one who feels sort of… relieved? Let’s be honest: It’s been a weird one this year.

Our country is a mess. It’s been a mess before, many times, but this mess, this year… this feels different, doesn’t it? The partisan divide is wider than I’ve ever seen it in my lifetime, and that’s saying something given the past 20 years or so. Tensions are high, and I’m willing to bet a dollar that there will be bloodshed before this long hot summer is over. Or at least before election day. Not exactly a celebratory sort of time, is it?

I’d like to share a poem I ran across recently that I think is worth your time and your thought. It’s by a gentleman named Langston Hughes, an African-American writer who was at the forefront of the artistic and social movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote this poem written in 1935, at the height of the Great Depression, when the forces of fascism were on the rise in Europe. That world would look familiar to us in some respects and yet also be stunningly removed from our daily experience here in the 21st century. It’s a world 83 years in the rear-view, a time that was closer to the muzzle-loading, pre-industrialized Civil War than it is to our current-day social-media struggle to define the soul of America. Nevertheless, what Hughes is saying here remains true and relevant today: that America is what it has always been… not a tangible thing that we once had and somehow lost, but an ideal to strive for… an ideal we’ve never managed to completely obtain, which has never been shared equally among all our peoples, but which we still promise ourselves is within reach. That comforts me on this long, hot summer night when the air is as thick with tension as it is the smell of gunpowder…

LET AMERICA BE AMERICA AGAIN

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

 

 

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Tough Times for Truth, Justice and the American Way

I’ve been thinking for a week or so that I need to write something that will capture my thoughts about where we are as a country right now and where we appear to be headed, but you know what? Screw it. My heart’s just not into rehashing the rage, frustration, fear, contempt, shame, and, most of all, disappointment I’ve been feeling toward the old US of A lately. Not to mention that there are likely people reading this right now, people I know, friends and family members, who have exactly the opposite opinion about what’s going on. Who are maybe even elated by the very same things I find so utterly repugnant. And that’s really… discouraging.

I need some inspiration, some reassurance about the very concept of America. I need to look to one of my heroes, a symbol of everything that’s best about this country, the embodiment of our ideals and aspirations, a comforting mythical figure who…

Ah, shit. Doesn’t that just figure?

Make sense, though. That’s certainly where my America seems to be right now.

 

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Pity The Nation

One of the blog entries that got obliviated last week was simply a poem that I’d run across and appreciated. I’ve decided to put it up again because, if anything, it’s even more relevant now than when I first posted it a couple weeks ago. Alas.

Pity the nation whose people are sheep
And whose shepherds mislead them
Pity the nation whose leaders are liars
Whose sages are silenced
And whose bigots haunt the airwaves
Pity the nation that raises not its voice
Except  to praise conquerers
And acclaim the bully as hero
And aims to rule the world
By force and by torture
Pity the nation that knows
No other language but its own
And no other culture but its own
Pity the nation whose breath is money
And sleeps the sleep of the too well fed
Pity the nation oh pity the people
who allow their rights to  erode
and their freedoms to be washed away
My country, tears of thee
Sweet land of liberty!

Lawrence Ferlinghetti

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To Be Hopeful…

Here’s something I’ve been needing to hear recently:

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.

 

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

 

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.

— Howard Zinn, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times

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“We Wouldn’t Deserve To”

I never thought I’d be quoting John McCain, of all people, but when you’re right, you’re right:
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain the last best hope of earth for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history,
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.
“We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”
 
Well said, sir.
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