Monday, November 14, 2016

A Nation Divided

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." - Abraham Lincoln, 16 June 1858
150+ years later, we are still fighting the Civil War. Lincoln believed that the nation could and should be united. A few sentences later in that same speech, he said:
"I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other."
With respect to outright, legal slavery, I guess, he was technically correct. It cost millions of American lives, but it is no longer legal to own or trade slaves.

But with respect to the underlying conditions that enabled and defended slavery — from racism to the class system that values only economic benefits for the few — the underlying divisions in the so-called United States of America have never gone away. They may be deeper than ever.

Racism was virulent from Reconstruction onward, only briefly going underground last century due to the "political correctness" that the Trumpers deride. Thus Obama could dream of a post-racial America. But the ugly underbelly never went away; it just went dark. Sleeper cells, if you will. 

American workers do not endure the inhuman indignities of slavery. Indeed, thanks to trade unions, U.S. workers' standards of living rose throughout the mid Twentieth century. Just as interesting, the more recent decline in middle class living standards tracks closely with the decline in represented workers. It's no coincidence that people call themselves "wage slaves". Economically, they are every bit as exploited as the slaves who built this nation with their blood. Hard to imagine any repressed anger lurking in there.

 So no, President Trump will not bring us together.

 The way forward? 

I have heard some propose that we, the "liberal-minded", should move to Red states as a way to bridge this divide — "educate" them, influence them electorally, reach out to our fellow Americans personally — for whatever reason. Well, good luck with that. If you're inclined to be a professional do-gooder and want to totally disrupt your life to move to a potentially hostile environment for political purposes, go for it.

Personally, I find the notion that we can or should "educate" the Trumpers — even if we consider their beliefs or positions to be ignorant or ill-considered — to be precisely the elitist attitude against which they are rebelling. We have failed miserably at communicating with this cohort for generations, and they live in our own back yards and families. Why would we be more successful if we moved to the Trump states? What arrogance.

I prefer to stand my ground. California has been my home for 43 years. I came here for the social diversity and tolerance that Trumpers have openly called to destroy. I do not need to leave my home to teach them anything, especially as they have demonstrated an unwillingness to learn. Our state has taught by its example, but their hearts are too clouded with hate and fear to learn. Think of the failure of the Kansas experiment.

Two nations, under a warming sky 

The victory of the Trumpers signifies that we have not, after 150 years, won the hearts and minds of the opposition. I myself have no idea how to do this; much ink has been spilled on this topic, but I have not seen a credible plan for "healing" the divide in this nation -- only platitudes, intended to comfort or inspire, but actually just further irritating the wounds.

I propose that we peacefully agree to become two separate countries: Red states, Blue states. (I'd vote for calling Blue the "Progressive States of America", but I'm sure we'll have lots of fun fighting over that one. The Reds can keep the old name if they want -- although it may have some historical baggage around the world. Maybe they'll call themselves the "Christian States of America". Or how about "White States of America"?)

This is not a call to secession. #Calexit is a nice hash tag, but I'm looking for more than a petulant reaction to an unpleasant election result. This election demonstrated a gulf in core values among our people: neither side will just go along. If we agree on anything, it is the fact that we have two sets of incompatible beliefs.

One of the chief risks in remaining in Trump's America is that local initiatives (such as the West Coast's leadership position in battling global warning) may be attacked by the carbon-friendly interests in the Trump administration. We must maintain independence on environmental issues. I recognize that it's one planetary system and their ongoing pollution will compromise our best efforts. (And we lose leverage over "internal" matters like the Dakota Access Pipeline. But what "leverage" would we have in Trump's America? And we can still physically stand with the Sioux at Standing Rock -- at least until Trump builds his wall around the West Coast.) But we cannot allow federal intransigence or the corruption of carbon industry contributions to obstruct our local efforts.

Let me restate that for clarity: we, the Progressive States of America, cannot fight climate change on our own. But we must be free to pursue the most vigorous means at our disposal to meet and exceed global accords. We need the freedom to prove that the future lies in environmentally friendly, renewable energy.

Maintaining a progressive union maximizes our resources as well as our global effectiveness. That's why #Calexit is insufficient. I think it is in the mutual interest of the Progressive States of America and the United States of Trump to consider an amicable, no-fault divorce. Let the kids choose whichever side they wish to live on. Self-deport, as it were.

I know, shocking. I appear to be suggesting some kind of segregation based on political beliefs. But I don't think that's really it. The liberal states have been and will continue to be tolerant of a wide range of political ideas. I seem to remember a certain President Reagan rising from the den of Hollywood. What we don't tolerate is hate speech.

There is no riding out this storm 

The election winners this time would have been no more gracious than we are in accepting defeat. My guess is that they would have been much worse in terms of violence, but that's my bias speaking. My point is that the divisions in our country are too fundamental to just paper over. Either we live under their thumb, or they live under ours. And that's not tenable, either way.

Why not peacefully go our separate ways? Kind of like the Kansas experiment, except we don't have to bail them out when they fail. Oh, it would be a messy divorce. Division of assets (like Social Security) would be thorny. So many more problems that I haven't considered.... But wouldn't it be worth it to not have to fight the same battles over and over and over? I have no desire to "oppress" anyone with my notions of racial and gender equality, but apparently some folks have been chafing under that yoke for a long time. Well, go ahead with your little "white nation" experiment. But don't impose your hateful ideology on me and mine. And you can whine all you want about how your ideology isn't hateful, but I don't believe it. The mounting testimony of people who have been attacked and harassed during and since the election bears this out.

So I guess I lied. This is about secession, by a strictly technical definition. But I don't envision California going it alone — there are other powerful progressive states who can help us and also benefit from a new union. And I certainly don't want to see a second War Between the States.

That's why my analogy is divorce. We have two broad factions in this country with irreconcilable differences. There are many different, conflicting ideas within the two large groups, but at their hearts are inviolable principles that neither side will abandon. The Trumpers stand for white supremacy and patriarchy; until the man himself denounces those principles (yeah, don't hold your breath), his supporters will loudly advocate and act on those principles. On my side, political equality, economic fairness, and respect for the basic dignity of all humans are the non-negotiables. They cannot coexist with racism and patriarchy; we have 150 years of history demonstrating that those conflicts can be temporarily hidden but not erased. Let's try a new experiment, in which both philosophies are allowed to stand — in separate countries. The 50/50 split on the vote count shows that there are enough adherents of each philosophy that they each deserve their own space in which they can live according to their respective principles.

I suggest a no-fault divorce because I am certain that very few outside of the fringes want to see a reprise of the bloody Civil War. Some may argue that it must come to that, regardless of my rose-colored wishes, that the existing state (like Lincoln's America) will not allow a diminution of it size, power, or prestige. Maybe so. Certainly President-elect Trump does not seem to believe in win-win scenarios. But under the current conditions, neither side can effectively enact their agenda, and everyone simmers in dissatisfaction until things occasionally boil over. Maybe there is enough reason left on both sides to consider a radically different solution.

So I'm not calling on California (or anyone else) to secede. Nor would I endorse a Constitutional Convention to try to rewrite the rules and make everyone happy. Even if we were successful in overturning Citizens United or rewriting the Second Amendment to clarify the mutual defense clause, or whatever, we would leave a trail of angry citizens in our wake. Similarly, Republican leaders who view the current anti-Trump protests with anything other than repressive glee must be concerned about the governability of the divided nation for which they have inherited responsibility. Wouldn't they be happier if they didn't have to deal with liberal obstructionists at every turn?

Instead, I propose that a convention of delegates from Progressive States be given a mandate to propose the framework for a two-state solution. (By God, we'll show the Israelis and Palestinians that it can be done!) Much work will need to be done in advance of such a meeting to address the many practical problems associated with this idea. But since we, unlike the Trumpers, believe in the value of science and professional expertise, it shouldn't be a problem to have experts — elites — provide the intellectual backbone for this effort. And, like the original Constitutional Conventions, this won't be a one-shot deal: it will likely take several iterations to get the documents and legal foundations right. It's not a quick fix, but we've been living with these problems for centuries.

The divorce agreement crafted by the conventions (our elected lawyers, as it were) would be voted on by the citizens of the Progressive States, and those states approving would form the core of the new Union.

The Progressive States would then enter into negotiation with the Trump states over the divorce proposal. Where it goes from there is anyone's guess, but I think that puts us on a path to directly addressing the real issues instead of pretending we can find common ground. We're not backing down from our principles and neither are they. And those principles are completely incompatible.


Some may call this a utopian solution ("you may call me a dreamer..."), and that may be true. But I have tried to think deeply about the root problem and the most effective (if not necessarily practical) ways to address the issues. How we defend on day 1 against the Trump putsch, I leave to more tactical thinkers. But if we don't know where we're going and have some idea of how to get there, then woe to anyone who follows us, because we ain't goin' nowhere.

So yeah, tell me my idea is naive. That it's not practical. That we can somehow persuade the other half of the country that they're wrong.... I think that's naive!

I am proposing that we rationally enter into a dialog to peacefully split the country along the ideological lines that already exist — have existed since its founding. Roughly half the country would either have to move or else accept that they lived in a country that didn't adhere to their personal beliefs. But at least everything would be in the open and they would have an option; they wouldn't have to live in a country where they feared that half their neighbors hated them.

If you have a better idea, I'm waiting to hear it. But no matter how hard we organize, I do not think that we can convince enough people (or accomplish anything of lasting value) in the next 4 or 8 years to make a difference. Why continue to fight a rear-guard action, arguing over the intentions of the long-dead Founders? If we found our own new nation, honoring our interpretation of the founding principles, we will have the freedom to innovate and create the "more perfect Union" of which we have long dreamed.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

George Will and DOMA

In a recent column, George Will tries to make the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) controversy a question of states’ rights. I think he’s wrong. The federal government is fully within its bounds to define marriage for civic purposes - for authorizing survivor benefits (for both employees and Social Security) if nothing else. It may be true that the feds overstep their bounds by “defending marriage as an institution”. That’s none of their business. But the question is not whether the feds have the authority to legislate terms for marriage; it’s what kind of laws can they make? 

Religious marriage aside (they can do whatever they want), I personally think it’s a good idea to put some boundaries on the concept of marriage when it comes to legal responsibilities, liabilities, and benefits. Thought experiment: if the federal government simply recognized each state’s definition of marriage for Social Security purposes, and Nevada decides to legalize interspecies marriage, does Social Security pay full benefits to the donkey whose husband is killed in a car crash? Of course that’s ridiculous and would never happen, but it would be a mandated outcome if one takes a dogmatic approach to the notion of states’ rights. But I think we can almost universally agree to rule out interspecies marriage. For now.

But if some form of definition is desirable, I think the least restrictive definition is best. “Marriage is a long-term, hopefully permanent, commitment between two consenting adults of legal age.” What’s wrong with that? If some states wish to place bigoted restrictions on who can get married.... Let the residents of that state wrestle with their own demons. Just don’t drag the rest of us down with you.

You see, it’s not about politics -- the negotiated adjudication of differences -- it’s about morality. DOMA was a moral statement. And it was completely inappropriate. The government is obligated to provide a consistent definition of marriage for a legal purposes, but the best government governs least. Restricting marriage to a man and a woman violates that principle: it is based on a moral notion that is not universal. Such government overreach should offend true conservative principles (not, of course right-wing religious principles). DOMA was intended to turn sectarian religious principles into the law of the land, and it is on that ground, not states’ rights, that it is unconstitutional.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Who's Doing the Devil's Work?

Haiti is our responsibility, because we helped to create it

By "we" I mean not specifically the United States, but all of us who live under the domain of the World Financial Machine. I'll define that term another day; for now, let's consider it a convenient metaphor You know what I mean.

The intellectual father of capitalism, Adam Smith, promoted the myth that on Hispanola (the original Spanish name for the island on which Haiti resides), Columbus found "nothing but a country quite covered with wood, uncultivated, and inhabited only by some tribes of naked and miserable savages". In fact, an eyewitness account from 1552 described it as "perhaps the most densely populated place in the world, a beehive of people," who "of all the infinite universe of humanity, ...are the most guileless, the most devoid of wickedness and duplicity" (Bartolomé de las Casas).

And those were the people who made a pact with the devil?

Of course not. That was, allegedly, some 250 years later, when Toussaint L'Ouverture led the slave revolt that expelled the French colonial rulers and their allies. And it was not even their descendants, because the indigenous population was virtually exterminated through a combination of mistreatment, disease, and mass suicide. They were rapidly replaced by African slaves who supported the new plantation economy. The righteous disdain of Pat Robertson is directed at the descendants of the African slaves, many of whom clung to vestiges of their ancestral religions, which are now characterized as "pacts with the devil".

Fortunately, the people of the world have opened their hearts and wallets to the people of Haiti. I hope that, going forward, we will be able to help the Haitians recover from this devastating natural catastrophe -- without condition or blame. Whatever lessons are to be drawn from this tragedy, they most certainly do not include the notions that ordinary Haitians are primarily responsible for their own plight or that they are unworthy of our aid.

Following the immediate recovery efforts (which are likely to be long-lasting), there will be legitimate questions about what forms effective aid should take. But we'll leave the discussion of colonial exploitation for another day, too.

Details of Haitian history are taken from Year 501, a 1993 book by Noam Chomsky. I highly recommend you read this book for a perspective on colonialism that is sadly and conspicuously absent from the popular dialog.

Friday, October 09, 2009

They don't get it

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize win has been met with skepticism by many US media organizations, including those who endorsed him as a candidate during the 2008 election campaign.

The news of the day, sadly, is not celebration that our President, and, by implication, our entire nation was honored with the one of the world's most prestigious awards. No, the big news is the chatter over Obama's worthiness.

Oh, I'll admit it: even I was stunned to see the news this morning and learn that Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. I wasn't even aware that he had been nominated. And my first reaction was, "Isn't it a little soon?" Not that he was unworthy, but that he had only begun his work, and the impact was uncertain. And I was thinking of that war in Afghanistan. So I interpreted this award as the Nobel committee's gesture of reconciliation with America. And I took some personal pleasure and pride in it.

I heard part of Obama's acknowledgement speech in the morning, and I was impressed with his grace and humility. Over the course of the day, I scanned the blogs and news headlines, and I was disturbed about the controversy.

It wasn't till the end of the day, as I was driving home, that I heard some actual news that turned my head around. After listening to David Brooks and E.J. Dionne dither about whether this would make things "harder" for the President, I heard a brief clip from a member of the Nobel committee. First, he said the committee's decision had been unanimous. Then he noted, as foremost among a number of reasons, that Obama had returned "multilateral diplomacy" to the forefront of international affairs.

He said a bunch of other stuff, but my mind was racing from that point. What he was saying, or what I heard, what the prize committee is trying to tell us, is that the world believes Obama is beating the swords into plowshares. True or not, that belief is a wellspring for new hope around the world. Back in the USA, however, we're sitting here playing our political "gotcha" games with the pundit class scoring for the best soundbites and ratings. And we think all of the noise of the birthers and the teabaggers matters to the rest of the world. Think they care whether we have decent health care? They've got their own thank you, and they probably think we're idiots. But they think Obama is doing the right thing with his approach to international affairs, and the world is hungry for strong, rational leadership.

By replacing fear with hope, Obama has given a massive spiritual gift to the world, and this, in the end, is what the Nobel committee is acknowledging. Without hope, there is no possibility for peace.

And yes, this award is political. It is a deserved honor, to be sure, but above and beyond that, it is a direct message to the American people: Wake up! You're judging this man by the wrong standards. This is not about your petty political squabbles and whether Republicans can be appeased. This is about helping chart a sustainable course for the future of our planet.

It is, in fact, a very sad day when people's first instinct is to criticize an award, not to honor it. It's as if someone else were grievously injured by this decision. But of the 200 some nominees, who was the more deserving? I've heard a lot of speculation about the "meaning" of this decision, with little or no reference to the committee's stated reasoning. Shouldn't we be listening to their message rather than second guessing and suggesting ulterior motives?

I don't know about you, but the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to our sitting president has made me proud to be an American. To the doubters, I feel sorry for you, but your cynicism is its own punishment. And don't any of you ever lecture me about love of country.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Right-wing Projection

I imagine he actually believes this:
“Let me give you another extremist view, ‘In God We Trust,’[Joe the Plumber] said to wild applause. “Say that too loud in some parts of America and you will be shot. It’s terrible.”

And what parts of America might that be?

I can't imagine a more irreligious place (generally speaking) than the Bay Area, but we're just not wasting ammo on that trivia. We're fighting for gay marriage, and we trust in God, too, only we think s/he's on our side!

And the truly radical left hasn't been armed since the defeat of the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 70s.

A lone nut, perhaps? Christopher Hitchens? A fist-fight, maybe, but assassination is beneath him.

So who was it that stocked up on guns and ammo the day after Obama was elected? "God & Guns" is a cliche of sorts. "Atheists & Guns", not so much.

No, the loose rhetoric that falls so freely from Joe's smug lips is not grounded in any empirical reality that I am aware of.

But, if it does not betray his own subconscious lust for a violent response to dissenting opinions, then what other conclusion could there be? That he is cynically justifying preemptive violence in the minds of his audience?

Monday, October 06, 2008

For the record

Because I know Huffington will refuse to post this comment:

If Democrats had the balls that Republicans do, they would not run away from this charge*, but would "double down" and defend Bill Ayers, putting lie to the very idea that there is ANYTHING to be ashamed about in associating with him.

Bill Ayers is a patriotic American. Why will no one say that???

*that Obama "pals around" with terrorists


Shock & awe! This one actually got posted! 3:10 PM Eastern time

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Censorship on Huffington Post

I've been banned from Huffington Post -- again. But not for swearing this time. It's political, and overtly and obviously so: because I dared to defend Bill Ayers.

Post a comment
Sorry, but you have been banned from commenting.

Jane Smiley had a post on Huffington on Saturday. She made some comparisons between John McCain and Bill Ayers. It was a nice piece. I thought she made some good points. Then, reading through the comments, I responded to a commenter who though it unseemly to compare Ayers' death count with McCains.

IT would be a stretch to consider Ayers's history and McCain's service in Vietnam as analogous, and even so, it contributes absolutely nothing to this discourse

I said that I thought that Ayers was the greater patriot because, although both men risked life and freedom on behalf of their county, Ayers required more courage, as he acted in opposition to the state, whereas McCain went to war with the full support of the state. I went on to say that I would not equate the state with "my country". I don't think I quite managed to say, but I meant, that putting "my country" above the dictates of "the state" is the highest form of patriotism.

Now I wasn't banned after that comment. They simply wouldn't post it. But if you go to my profile on Huffpo, you'll see that I commented on the William Ayers and John McCain post.  But my comments never appeared. In the Stats Board section, you'll see a stat for "Comments deleted" (31). Hmmmm. I never deleted any of those...  

After it became apparent that my first comment was not going to be posted, I wrote another, asking why I was not being allowed to defend Bill Ayers.  (I do not believe he is indefensible, but it seems one is only allowed to utter his name if "terrorist" is included in the same breath.) That's when I was banned -- when I got uppity.

Anyway, it's obvious to me that Huffington Post is guilty of the same posturing they accuse the mainstream media of: they won't allow me to defend a fellow '60s radical, because they feel their credibility will suffer if they're seen to have these old new leftists lurking on the site. I am deeply disappointed. I thought they were better than that.

Well, I've gone back, and I seem to be unbanned. But obviously I've learned my lesson: I won't post Weather Underground propaganda on the Huffington Post again!
I guess I'll have to confine my radical ravings to this space!