October 11, 2016 § 4 Comments
Those who have studied the rise of fascism in the 1930’s have explained one of the tactics that enabled it: using propaganda to repeat lies over and over until they overpowered the truth and became “common knowledge”. During the three decade political career of Hillary Clinton, the “alt right” (i.e. fascist) propaganda machine has used this strategy to defame her: One: She hired private investigators to find information to discredit women who accused Bill Clinton of rape and infidelity; Two: She is a liar and untrustworthy.
The truth: When the accusations were leveled at Bill Clinton, he denied them and his wife, Hillary Clinton, believed him and, therefore, believed that the accusers were goaded into making false claims by his political enemies. Based on that belief, Hillary was justifiable outraged and lashed out against his accusers. After he finally admitted to his trashy behavior, she was hurt and angry at him but chose to save their marriage because she cared for him, shared his political beliefs and wanted to preserve a stable home for their daughter. She did not – repeat not – continue to attack his accusers.
The truth: While Hillary Clinton has been guilty of exaggeration and misstatements, she has not built a political career based on blatant falsehoods. Every fact-checker has identified far more lies from her opponent, Donald Trump, than from her. Still, for some mysterious reason, it is Hillary, not Trump, who is repeatedly tagged with the “untrustworthy” label. Trump’s “birther” lies repeated for years; his absurd claim Hillary “enabled” Bill’s affairs; his groundless accusation that Hillary was responsible for the rise of ISIS; his false claim that Hillary was responsible for the attack on Benghazi; Trump’s refusal to disclose his income tax returns based on a false claim that being audited prevented it – a lie exposed by the IRS’s response that the audit does not affect it; Trump’s implied claim that Hillary attacked Bill’s accusers AFTER she knew her husband’s denials were not true; the list goes on and on – despite this avalanche of lies, it is Hillary, not Trump who is regularly described as “untrustworthy”. When Hillary’s statements have been shown to have been false, she acknowledges her mistake. Trump’s “apologies” are wrapped in attacks on the Clinton’s. He is incapable of entertaining the possibility that he has been mistaken about anything. He has the personality of a five-year-old.
The New York Times has produced a balanced and comprehensive account of Hillary’s reaction to her husband’s infidelity; http://www.nytimes.com/…/p…/hillary-bill-clinton-women.html…
It shows that Hillary neither approved, enabled or excused Bill’s behavior after Bill’s confession. It does not show she attacked any of his accusers after she realized that her husband had lied to her.
October 6, 2016 § Leave a comment
An American Election Parable
Once upon a time there was a shepherd named Gumption. He cared for a large flock of sheep. He was helped by an aging Kangal guardian dog, bred and trained to protect sheep from predators like bears and wolves. Gumption’s faithful helper was named Hillary.
Gumption carried a single-barrel shotgun and, on the day of this story he had only one shell.
One afternoon a large wolf with a yellowish mane attacked Gumption’s flock. The wolf had some features of being rabid but Gumption had no time to gauge his mental condition. He was growling loudly and shaking his head from side to side. His teeth were bared and he was snapping at some of the sheep.
A pet deer named Gary and a squirrel or two also mingled among the sheep and Gumption had considered using his gun on one of them so he could have a party feast that evening. But that was before the wolf attacked his flock.
When the wolf attacked the flock, Gumption had to make a decision. If he shot the wolf, he could not have venison for his party. But if he did not shoot the wolf, he and his flock would be at deadly risk.
Meanwhile Hillary was grappling with the wolf. She had scars from many battles with wolves and her mane was no longer shiny and she had scars that affected her hearing sometimes, but her battles had strengthened her and her skills balanced well against her scars.
Gumption could not safely assume that Hillary would succeed in driving off the wolf and he realized his choice was obvious. He took aim and killed the wolf.
The moral of this story is that when one is confronting a wolf it is not sensible to waste ammunition on deer and squirrels .
September 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
The Difference Between Approval and Advocacy
A recurring theme of my life as a trial lawyer and a political activist is the separation of my personal beliefs and standards of morality and integrity from those clients and politicians for whom I have worked. One anomaly of our culture is the general understanding that a doctor’s treatment of a patient is not presumed to imply any support or agreement with the personal habits, morality or beliefs of the patient. But lawyers and political organizers are often presumed to share those qualities with the politicians and clients they represent. To me, this is an irrational distinction.
I once was invited to address a college class. I talked about some of my work. I invited questions afterward. One persistent one was: “How can you defend someone you know to be guilty of a crime?” “If you don’t belong to any organized religious denomination, does that not leave you with no moral guidance?”
In other words, these young people had successfully completed a public education and some college study without learning anything about the fundamentals of our secular society based on our Constitution. They apparently knew nothing about the adversarial principles on which our criminal justice system is based. And, far more important, some of them believed our society consists of those with religious faith and a remainder consisting of libertines.
As I watch and listen to the present political debates I realize this ignorance deeply affects our political system.
The Bankruptcy Issue
I detest almost everything related to Donald Trump: his arrogance, his mendacity, his willful ignorance, his encouragement of every aspect of the racism, bigotry and sexism endemic as a disease in our culture.
What I don’t share is the repetitive mention of his multiple bankruptcies as evidence of his recklessness and dishonesty. I can trace my reaction to some episodes in my past.
When I was trying lawsuits for a living I did not discriminate against wrong doers and clever schemers who used their superior knowledge of the law to cause damage to others. I never facilitated their nefarious activities. I never lied to courts or other lawyers to protect them. I never knowingly permitted them to perjure themselves on the witness stand or otherwise under oath (e.g. as in depositions). But, if they obeyed my instructions and made satisfactory arrangements to pay me for my work, I enthusiastically defended them in court. My only exceptions were murderers and child molesters: The former because I did not want the responsibility for the life of a client; the latter because I knew I could not put my feelings aside and do a proper job of defending them.
When I was hanging out in courthouses, there was a type of East Texas sharpie who made a handsome living exploiting loopholes in the law. One was a person who analyzed the descriptions in land titles to find instances where there was a gap between the legal description of a tract of land and the legal description of an adjoining tract. The result was a piece of land that was not legally conveyed to anyone. It was called a “variance”. If the gap was located in the middle of land leased to oil companies where oil was being produced, the schemer would acquire title to the “variance” part and then sue to claim a portion of royalties paid to the other record owners.
One of the first times I went to court was as co-counsel with Ralph Yarborough in a case in which we represented one of these guys. We lost, but neither of us had any qualms about doing our best to defend him. Judge Yarborough, as I called him then, based of his short tenure as a district judge, had represented this client in previous legal matters.
Several years later, I represented a different type of East Texas character with similar but different ways to exploit the law. The fellow had a portable drilling rig. He hauled it to Columbus, Ohio, obtained a lease on some land, and began drilling for oil or gas. He invited local people to invest in this enterprise by advertising his effort and holding bar-b-ques and other kinds of public events on some land he rented near Columbus. Many of the local residents, who had never seen anything like the kind of show this guy staged, eagerly invested in his project. He was charming and his Texas accent and swashbuckling style was a big hit.
The drilling ended with a dry hole and everyone lost their investment. He loaded up his equipment and hauled it back to Texas without paying for the drilling costs and material he had obtained on credit. So, the suppliers who were stiffed brought a fraud suit in federal court in Houston. I represented the miscreant.
When I went to Columbus and deposed some of the local investors I was surprised to learn they still recalled with relish their adventure with the “Texas oil man”; regaled me with stories of how much fun they had and expressed concern about the suits. I also deposed some less enthusiastic victims of this failed enterprise.
When the case went to trial before a federal judge in Houston, I established that the corporation to which the subject unpaid-for items had been sold was a separate corporation with no assets. When that became apparent, the judge interrupted the proceedings and asked the lawyer for the plaintiffs: “Didn’t your clients consult Dun & Bradstreet or some agency to determine the credit worthiness of this corporation?” When the lawyer sheepishly admitted the answer was “No.” , the judge terminated the proceedings and dismissed the case.
My client was happy and I, having been paid for my work, was happy. I did not lose any sleep considering whether it was wrong to represent this client.
So, when I hear Trump accused of dishonesty because he left unpaid workers, suppliers and others unpaid when his casinos in New Jersey went bankrupt, I have no standing to shame him. I don’t know the details, but I suspect he was not foolish enough to make himself personally liable for those debts. So far as I know he merely used one of the basic pillars of capitalism: It’s perfectly all right to cheat people if you are smart enough to utilize corporate limited liability laws and the bankruptcy laws to do it. There are plenty of ways to remedy this problem but, until we do, we can’t complain when capitalist pirates use the system we have.
The Criminal Cases
I did not specialize in criminal law, not because I didn’t like it, but because most of the people I worked with, union workers and staff members, were not criminals. Their offenses were drunken escapades, strike violence episodes, family violence episodes, and other kinds of misdemeanors and non-lethal felonies. Most of them were settled with plea bargains. Some did go to trial and I had a pretty good record. I don’t recall any innocent defendant I represented but our legal system is designed to permit conviction of a crime only if all constitutional safeguards have been satisfied.
The system is, correctly in my opinion, based on the principle that guilty persons escaping punishment is preferable to allowing innocent persons to be found guilty based on unpopular conduct or overzealous prosecution. In recent decades, as a result of some very dangerous Supreme Court decisions, this fundamental principle of criminal justice has been severely weakened. I am hopeful some future legislation and appointments to the Supreme Court will undo the damage done to the safeguards against lynch law justice.
I suppose some may regard this post as a confession but I offer it as an effort to call attention to efforts to mislead Americans about the Constitutional protection that protects us all. This is important because the common law of stare decisis as applied to our legal system means that every time the Constitutional safeguards against unwarranted criminal prosecution are weakened, the loss of those safeguards applies to all of us, not just the individual whose case occasions that loss.
September 4, 2016 § Leave a comment
The Book’s Impact on Me
Yesterday I finished reading Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. Vance is a Republican and his conservative views evoked some resistance from me, but his honesty and intelligence won me over. More important, his book caused me to realize the similarity of his characters and their attitudes to some of my own. He caused me to reframe my perception of my life. That is rare experience for someone my age. I’ve read lots of books, but few of them have changed my self perception. Usually, I chose books that reinforced and added support for perceptions I had adopted long ago. Much of my reading was fiction that entertained me. Vance hit a nerve rarely accessed.
Hillbilly Elegy is about a subculture of white people who migrated from Kentucky to Ohio to work in the factories and mills located there. It is also about what happened to those migrants when the factories closed and left them without a job, living in various forms of poverty. It is not an economic or political analysis. Vance makes a persuasive argument that the way those castaways from capitalism reacted to their plight had more to do with their cultural ethos than with the nature of the political and economic failures that led to their problems. He does not blame them but he describes influences in their cultural backgrounds to contend their reactions were both predictable and understandable.
Vance’s childhood was an unstable nightmare. His mother married and had children, Vance and an older sister, when she was a teenager. Her life was a procession of five or six marriages, to wildly varying types of men, interspersed with multiple extramarital affairs that added to the chaos of her own life and the lives of her children. The source of love and stability in Vance’s childhood were his grandparents, entitled Mamaw and Papaw. Mamaw was a foul mouthed woman who taught Vance to react violently to any real or supposed insult, either directed at him or his mother or sister. This resulted in a long series of fist fights beginning when he was four or five years old. His grandfather was also a violent man who carried a pistol and wrecked a department store when a clerk had, in Papaw’s opinion, verbally abused Vance when he was about six or seven years old.
These less than ideal grandparents loved Vance unconditionally and enabled him to survive his mother’s failure to care for him. His school career was affected by repeated moves from school to school. The stress of his life affected his ability to concentrate on his studies and he was barely able to graduate from high school.
After his graduation, Vance enlisted in the Marine Corps, a decision which changed the arc of his life. In the Corps he learned self discipline, self respect and some basics of successful maneuvering through life as an adult. That experience and the guidance of his grand parents undoubtedly saved Vance from a tragically wasted life.
After four years in the Marine Corps, Vance used the GI Bill to gain a degree from Ohio University, where he graduated cum laude. With help from some supportive faculty members, he was admitted to Yale University where he obtained a Law degree and met the woman he later married.
As Vance’s book relates the events of his own life, he describes the lives of his relatives and some of his neighbors. Some of these people migrated from Kentucky and some remained in Kentucky. Vance offers insights into their behavior to show that, whether they remained in Kentucky or migrated to Ohio, they retained the cultural ideas of Kentucky: Pessimism, fierce defensiveness toward the “elite” class (i.e. those with college eductions, members of professions, lawyers, doctors and accountants), politicians (whom they regarded as liars and thieves), the government (which they distrusted and regarded as the enemy), prone to adages featuring phrases like “too big for his britches”. They blamed other, invincible forces for their own failures. They did not believe that, if you worked hard and persisted, you could succeed. They felt that violence was required of anyone who was insulted or whose womenfolk were insulted. They carried weapons.
Vance believes that this subculture of white men is the core of Donald Trump’s political appeal. He argues that Trump mere expresses the non-intellectual way these Trump voters think. They feel that, at last, they have a political champion they can understand and support. They buy into every one of his fairy tale promises and revel in his harsh attacks on all basic institutions of our society and government.
Vance disagrees with these ideas because his education and intelligence plainly inform his judgment. But he contends that politically liberal approaches to changing these beliefs and attitudes are too much based on governmental and legal changes and not enough based on respecting their deep cultural roots.
My Halfbreed Hillbilly Reaction
I am eighty-five years old. I spent my first six or seven years in Utopia, Texas, a misnamed small village in the Texas Hill Country. There was no electricity. No indoor plumbing. Most of our food was home grown in mother’s garden supplemented by home raised chickens and squirrels shot by my father with a 22 pump rifle. My sole companion, except for rare visits by my sister’s son, my nephew, who was less than two years younger than I, was a gentle Collie dog and an assortment of kid goats and lambs who were not recognized by their nannies and ewes.
My father worked every day in the fields and the pasture, so I was raised by my mother. My mother was a former school teacher, devout Methodist, strict, but not harsh, disciplinarian, who loved me with absolute devotion. My aunts, who lived in the Rio Grande Vally, 250 miles away, were public school teachers. They sent us primers and other school books when a new edition caused their copies to be discarded. I learned to read before I began public school. At night, by lamp light, my father would read the funnies to me from the San Antonio Express until he would fall asleep.
As I read Vance’s book, I realized that my family represented two different models of his sub-culture. My mother was from Alabama. Her family moved to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas in 1909. They became teachers in Mexican villages scattered along the Rio Bravo (the Mexican name for the Rio Grande River). My grandfather helped to build and establish the first Methodist church in the Valley. All members attended church regularly as long as they lived. My mother never drank or smoked. I never heard her utter a curse word and she (unsuccessfully ) tried to teach me to follow her example.
My father contrasted significantly from my mother and her family. He rarely attended the Methodist church nor did he attend any church regularly. He did not drink because his father had been an abusive alcoholic and my father was determined not to follow that path. He and his family were from Kentucky. They moved from a small town to Cynthiana Kentucky when he was a young man. His mother managed a hotel there.
My father had wide white scars across his chest, the result of having been knifed by an outraged man whom my father assaulted because he was striking his wife on a street in Cynthiana. My father did not curse but he was a loud, coarse man with a sense of humor that regularly offended my mother.
My father was a resourceful, but uneducated man. After his mother died, he, his brother and his father moved to western Oklahoma were they homesteaded 640 acres of land. As my father put it: “The government bet you 50 dollars you couldn’t survive on the land for a year. If you did, it belonged to you.” My dad not only survived, he established a friendship with a local banker who loaned him the money to go around the county and obtain agreements to buy broomcorn crops before they matured. If, when the crop was sold, it netted more than the price agreed with dad, he and the banker made a profit.
With that as a beginning, in the 1920’s , my father became an upper middle class success. He lived in a boarding house in Liberal Kansas while bedding the manager, whom he did not marry. He was enjoying bachelorhood too much to marry.
Some time about 1929 or thirty, dad moved to Mission, Texas, where he bought some citrus grove acreage. He married for the first time and the marriage did not last more than about a month, when his bride left with all the furniture and kitchen utensils. When he went to a store in Mission to buy some replacements, he met my mother, who at that time was working as a clerk, they soon married and, at age 54, married to my then 45-year-old mother, my father found himself the astonished father of a baby, me. The stock market crash occurred soon thereafter, my parents lost almost everything dad owned and ended up in Utopia, where they survived the depression the only way my dad knew: They owned a small ranch and he did all the work, helped by my mother. It was a way to survive without cash.
So, as I read Vance’s description of people from Kentucky, I recognized some of the qualities of my father, but not of my mother. As my old maid aunt often observed, “Those two are the most mismatched couple I ever saw.” Which makes me a Hillbilly Halfbreed.
As I look back at my own life, I see that the alcoholism in my dad’s family skipped a generation and landed on me. The anger, jaundiced attitude toward the rich, the other failings as a husband and father and a few decades trying to make amends for them – I recognized myself in many of Vance’s description of Kentucky hillbillies. The truth is that I inherited my shame from my mother and some of the things for which I was justifiably ashamed from my father. My father was a hillbilly who survived and, until the depression occurred, prospered. My mother was a religious, strong person who, in some ways resembled Mamaw in her unyielding disapproval of all kinds of misbehavior and her unconditional love for me. She would have certainly disapproved of Mamaw’s verbal habits.
I recommend the book.
August 25, 2016 § 1 Comment
The Baseless Claims
I am disgusted to watch panel after panel of commentators pompously discussing how awful this week is for Hillary Clinton. It is now known that a significant number of people who had access to her while she was Secretary of State were contributors to the Clinton Foundation, a nonprofit foundation established by the Clintons. The Foundation has done exemplary work in several countries and has raised millions of dollars to finance that work.
There is no claim or evidence that the Clintons received one penny of money from the Foundation. In fact their latest tax return shows that they contributed one million dollars of their money to the Foundation. There is no claim or evidence that any contributor to the Foundation received any improper benefit from the government because of their contribution. So the basis of this faux “perception problem” is that there was something wrong for Hillary Clinton to confer with contributors to the Foundation.
No one I have watched has mentioned the fact that public officials granting access to people who have contributed to a foundation established and identified with them is entirely legal. Elected officials routinely grant access to large contributors to their campaigns for election or reelection. That is not illegal and, until now, has never been regarded as improper or as creating a “perception problem”.
The Political Lynching of Homer P. Rainey
So, as my anger and disgust mounted as this absurd cannard has gained more and more TV air time, I recalled an old and dusty item from my political attic. It concerns a race for governor in Texas that occurred in 1946, when I was 15 years old. I paid no attention to it at the time but, six years later when I became involved in politics and began hanging out with old political scarred up guys and listened to their many tales of past political fracases, I heard about another political victim of ignorance and dishonesty.
His name was Homer P. Rainey, a Baptist minister and accomplished veteran college administrator who, in the mid-1940’s was President of the University of Texas. He objected when some of the regents sought to disparage and fire some professors because they expressed support for things like minimum wage and one English Professor who had a suggested, but not required, reading list that included John Dos Passos’ novel, USA. The regents did not go through with all of their proposed firings, but reacted to Rainey’s opposition by firing him.
Rainey reacted by running for Governor of Texas. Texas was a one-party state so the contest was between Rainey, Beauford Jester, an incumbent member of the Railroad Commission, and twelve other candidates, some serious and most not. During the First Primary, a South Texas lawyer who supported Jester, traveled around Texas making speeches to gatherings of local residents. He would don gloves and, using a pair of tongs, grip Dos Passos’ novel and declare it so filthy that he would not touch it. He would read from some passages that contained curse words or sexual references and then accuse Rainey of corrupting the morals of innocent youths at UT.
He had another arrow in his quiver of political dishonesty. And this one was what reminded me of the present kerfuffle. Switching to his most commanding and distraught tone, he would also declare something like this: “And, my friends, that isn’t all that this immoral man was involved in. He was known to be involved in matriculation!”
As he well knew few if any members of his audience had a clue about what “matriculation” meant, but his tone and facial expression was enough to convince them that the Baptist preacher he was talking about was guilty of some unmentionably horrible practice.
The political dishonesty worked. Rainey and Jester wound up in a Runoff and Rainey was soundly defeated.
That is the kind of appeal to ignorance that is going on now. It is hard to decide who is more blameworthy, the demagogue who is spouting hateful nonsense, the reporters and commentators who spread it or the gullible people who gorge on it.
August 9, 2016 § 5 Comments
The title of this essay means that when there are two choices, one or the other must be chosen. The average preschooler can deduce this kind of math. It is, however, too complicated for some of those who have realized Trump should not be President, but who have not figured out the consequence of their realization. I hope to convince them that their actual choices are limited and failure to understand this limitation may lead to a result inconsistent with their realization.
The Late Responders
As I read and watch the news about the political Hamlets who have finally realized the obvious fact: That Donald Trump is an amoral irresponsible narcissist, I am astonished and outraged about the next act in the drama of many of their lives. Like Hamlet, they express their “dark night of the soul” [to mix a couple of different referents] and conclude that they will not vote for Donald Trump but they also will not vote for Hillary Clinton.
Their epiphany tales are all similar. They noticed that Trump does not distinguish between reality and fairy tales. They express dismay at the prospect of his childish impetuosity and habit of enraged response to any criticism , ensconced in the Oval Office, the red telephone at hand. They have, at last, concluded that such a temperament is unsafe for one with the power and authority of a Commander in Chief of the worlds most powerful military force, a force that includes control of nuclear weapons.
Nevertheless, wearing serious faces, wrinkled brows and pursed lips, they declare that Hillary is “untrustworthy”; that her emails and her flailing around about them violate their high standards and moral purity.
These complaints, offered as an excuse for passively refusing to use a vote to prevent Donald Trump from becoming President of the United States, are either evidence of abysmal ignorance of the American political system or an astonishing degree of dispassionate indifference toward a disaster that could threaten the lives of millions and perhaps render much of this planet uninhabitable. Even the presumed instinct of self preservation does not seem sufficient to jar these people out of their effete fantasy land.
The Difference Between Moral Purity and Political Reality
These converts to UnTrumpism are, in many cases, in their 50’s and 60’s, having held responsible government positions.. Many of them confess to having voted for Republican candidates for President during their past lives, presumably for George W.Bush when he was re-elected after four years of decision-making that should have been enough to convince any serious observer that he was plainly unqualified to govern the United States or any other significant government entity. It is somewhat easier to understand the present ignorance of those who voted Republican in that election, but still their present awakening, after sleeping late, with an appropriate decision about Donald Trump is inconsistent with their failure to perceive its obvious cerebral consequence.
As incredible as it seems, there are some simple facts about American politics that have not been noticed by these UnTrumpers. The American political system is built around two political parties. Even before the creation of the GOP, presidential elections were contests between two competing variously named political organizations. Third-party insurgents, even when led by a candidate as famous and respected as Theodore Roosevelt, have not been successful in defeating candidates nominated by the two major political organizations. Teddy’s Progressive Party, nicknamed “Bull Moose” after he described himself as one after being wounded during a campaign appearance, merely allowed Woodrow Wilson to take advantage of the division between Taft and Roosevelt and become President.
This fact leads to a second fact. If one is convinced that Donald Trump would be a reckless and dangerous President, the only rational thing to do is vote for his opponent. Not voting or wasting a vote on a sure loser seeking attention through some form of political purity, is both dumb and indefensible. Dumb because, having acknowledged the dangers of a Trump presidency, failing to do everything necessary to prevent him from becoming President is like confronting an armed and dangerous intruder in your home with spitballs. Indefensible because failing to do the simple act of voting for Trump’s opponent amounts to sharing responsibility for a Trump presidency if he wins.
I agree completely with the premise of the arguments made by those who understand the danger of a Trump presidency. But that premise absolutely requires a vote for Hillary Clinton and committed efforts to persuade others to vote for her. It does not require and, in fact, has nothing to do with agreeing with her or approving of her. It has to do with defeating Trump.
Never in my lifetime have I voted for a presidential candidate with whose policies I agreed completely. If I ever find myself in agreement with mainstream politicians, I will go off somewhere and figure out how I have sold out. And I doubt that will become necessary. When this election is over, I will try to support the political revolution led by Bernie Sanders. Election campaigns are useful for recruiting and identifying people for the next political contest. Campaigns end. Organizing goes on forever.
August 4, 2016 § 1 Comment
The Wizard of Odd
The Wizard of Oz is one of the most beloved movie versions of a book ever filmed. Generations of children have enjoyed it and phrases from its dialogue and its characters are embedded in American culture. It changed Judy Garland from Andy Hardy’s girlfriend to a genuine movie star and victorious survivor of a long running rivalry with Shirley Temple.
One of its most famous scenes comes near the end when Toto, Dorothy’s dog, sinks his teeth into the hem of the curtain concealing the Wizard and pulls it down. The Wizard is exposed as a pathetic little plump man who has been issuing commands and pompous declarations amplified through a microphone. His claims to majesty and power are instantly discredited and Dorthy and her companions regard him with contempt mixed with a degree of compassion
We presently have a political drama playing in America that, because of its similarity to the above movie, I have suggested the title of Wizard of Odd because it involves some features that are peculiar and unprecedented.
In the past week Twitter, Facebook, CNN, MSNBC and Politico have reported some signs that some Republican leaders are experiencing some severe buyers’ remorse concerning their allegiance to Donald Trump. They find themselves in a dilemma: They hate Hillary Clinton but they are finally realizing that their constituents have chosen, as her opponent, a man who is being generally described in the media as a person with phrases usually referring to a spoiled child. He is said to be “unable to control himself” or as “unable to stay on message” [in other words, like a child who habitually ignores advice from his or her parents about matters of common sense].
I don’t recall ever hearing or witnessing any similar comments from supporters of a political candidate, whether for dog catcher or President of the United States.
The Exposure and Its Aftermath
The role of Toto in this scenario is as weird as its result. No one could have imagined that the role of the agent who would finally expose Donald Trump to be a pathetic blowhard would be a middle aged Muslim couple, grieving over a son martyred as a war hero who lost his life as a Marine saving those under his command from a threatening terrorist. When Ghazala Khizr Khan, looking and sounding like a stern parent scolding an errant child, lectured Donald Trump for his ignorance and absence of respect for the American Constitution and the principles it embodies, he destroyed Trump’s only weapon: His claim to infallible ability to correct all wrongs and entitled to judge harshly all who questioned him. When Mr. Khan got through with him Trump was exposed to millions of viewers for what he is.
Even this, however, may not have been enough to convince every sentient observer if Donald Trump had been content to refrain from exhibiting publicly and repeatedly each defect listed by Mr. Khan. He did that by, instead of remaining silent, lashing out at Mr. Kahn. And that was not enough to satisfy Trump’s blind stupidity. He described Mr. Kahn’s wife, who had said not one word as her husband delivered his Jeremiad, as a helpless mute, forbidden to speak by her Muslim religion, thus managing to insult her and her religion in one hateful phrase.
Who Will Bell the Cat?
In one of Aesop’s Fables, a community of mice, severely threatened by a marauding cat, decides that their safety demands that a bell be put around the cat’s neck to afford a warning when it is near. That, however, proves to be a problem because no mouse volunteers to affix the bell.
After some sputtering, some leaders of the GOP have begun, once again, disassociating themselves from Trump’s nonsense. But this time Newt Gingrich suggested that he and Rudy Giuliani perform an “intervention” on their candidate. Rudy has denounced that suggestion, but has expressed his disagreement with Trump’s handling of the Khan matter. We must wait to see if others will join Newt administer his suggested remedy.
For the uninitiated, an “intervention” consists of a group of sober and caring friends or family members visiting an addict for the purpose of insisting that he or she seek professional help in order to save him or her from the consequences of his or her addictive behavior. So it appears that, so far, except for Newt, the GOP, like the mice in Aesop’s Fable, agree on the problem, but timidly shrink from the solution. The usual format of an intervention is to shame the addict by reminding him that his behavior has caused and will cause damage and anguish to his family, friends and associates. It seems doubtful that will work with a person who, so far, offers no evidence of any concern for anyone not named Donald Trump.
The Real But So Far Ignored Problem
This problem ought to suggest to any thinking person a far more serious problem. If Donald Trump is elected President, he will gain control of the most powerful military force in history, a force that includes a huge capacity for germ warfare that could subject whole populations to almost unimaginable horror without any ability to distinguish between adults and children; a force that includes nuclear devices capable of destroying civilization. Once launched, no one knows how to limit or end conflict using such weapons. The phrase “mutually assured destruction” has long become so well known as to be recognized by its initials MAD. This latter incite has prevented the launching of those weapons for three quarters of a century.
We now face enemies whose ideology is based on the desirability of death; for whom MAD no longer deters. So far, MAD still dominates the reasoning of western civilization. If, however, these military doomsday tools are entrusted to a man who regards himself as infallible and entitled to respond with unlimited force to any perceived or real insult, the risk of a military misstep becomes almost a foregone conclusion. This technology requires control by a person who carefully weighs the consequences of his words and acts; who accepts and seeks advice from others with experience and knowledge about conflict; whose ego and emotions do not govern his judgment. That does not describe Donald Trump.
How a Good Idea Can Become a Nightmare
A fundamental principle of American law and government is the absolute domination of military decisions by secular authority derived from democratically selected officials. We do not allow soldiers to make policy for us. Wars can only be launched by Congress, the elected body with two-year terms, thus closest to the people. That means that our soldiers will obey an order from their Commander in Chief regardless of whether it does or does not make sense. Throughout our history, this has been our proudest claim to the limited government we treasure. In recent decades, however, our Congress has repeatedly and recklessly failed to exercise this power, choosing instead to delegate to Presidents virtually unfettered power to direct our military forces.
If Donald Trump becomes President, he will have the benefit of the precedents set by Bush and Obama, who have engaged in multiple conflicts without going to Congress for authority. They have done this by an expansive interpretation of the broad language of thoughtless delegations of authority enacted within a few days of the 9-11 assault. It horrifies me to contemplate this authority in the hands of Donald Trump. While the GOP leadership is dithering about how Trump might affect their own elections, they should be considering how their failure to stop his progress toward the presidency may affect the future of our world.
Max Weber was a sociologist who wrote in the early part of the 20th Century. He was a German, born in Thuringia, a province in central Germany. In 1946, a series of his essays were finally translated from German to English and published in the United States. I don’t pretend to have read much of his writing. The original German, according to a long preface, was written in a style difficult to follow and the translators confessed to having significant problems translating it in a way understandable non-German readers. I found the essays difficult.
I did, however, read a brief segment of one of his essays in which he describes the problem of a public figure who attracts followers with charisma and then engages in successful political activity based on that following. Weber wrote that a charismatic leader posed a problem because his attraction was based on emotional appeal that was unrelated to the skills and understanding necessary for governing.
For some reason that seemed strange to me, this German sociologist chose to express his thesis in French [He may have been quoting some French writer but I found no evidence of that.] Here is what he wrote: Roi règne mais ne gouverne pas. In English this means that when a charismatic person is selected as head of a state, “The King reigns but does not govern.”
Weber was writing about religious leaders but I think his sentence describes the problem of electing Donald Trump President of the United States. The President is hired to govern and Trump has the personality of a king. We cannot afford to entrust to Donald Trump the power of an American President.