Hillary vs. Trump: Some Random Reactions

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.

One Example

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.

Another Example

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.





A Hillbilly Halfbreed’s Book Review

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.

Vance’s Story

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’s Judgments

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.



The Matriculation Scandal

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.

Toto Strikes Again

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.





Turkey: A Look Back

July 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

After reading about the military effort to remove the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, I re-read my thoughts about Turkey posted on this blog five years ago.  It appears that the coup will not succeed.  I am conflicted.  I don’t like or trust military governments. But in Turkey’s history, the military has repeatedly acted to prevent the Turkish government from becoming a Muslim theocracy.  I think recent actions by Erdogan justify a real fear that he is heading in that direction.  How far he will go is uncertain, but I understand the military’s fear of that trend.  For me this is part of a widespread growth of religious bigotry and violent assault on secular government and culture.  In the past, Turkey has been an important opponent of that trend, but Erdogan has recently changed direction and, given the power and geographical position of Turkey, that is frightening for the same reasons that a Trump presidency is frightening:  He seems  willing, indeed enthusiastic,  to weaken secular democratic government and the human rights that protect political democracy, cultural diversity and protection of religious freedom.

Here is an essay I posted on this blog five years ago:

Turkey At A Crossroads {written 5 years ago} 

RePosted  July 16, 2016


A few months ago a friend of mine urged me to read “The New Turkish Republic” by Graham Fuller.  I checked it out of the library, read it , and Turkey, a country that never before held any fascination for me, has been lurking in the recesses of my brain ever since.  I don’t expect that my friends, mostly political malcontents like me, share this interest.   So, I will understand if they don’t care to invest time in these thoughts.

The Crossroads

Geography makes Turkey a crossroads.  It lies at the Eastern end of the Mediterranean  Its Western edge borders the Dardanelles, the narrow water passage from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.  North of that passage, also bordered by Turkey, is the Bosporus, the strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.  In other words, Turkey controls a major means of maritime commerce for Russia and several former members of the USSR.

Turkey shares borders with Iran, Iraq, Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Syria.  It currently has an ongoing conflict with Greece over a slice of Cyprus, occupied by a substantial Turkic population that wants to secede from Greece and join Turkey.  It also has a bitter, and occasionally violent conflict with a group, the PKK,  from  the oil-rich Kurdish portion of Eastern Iraq, that wants to break off from Iraq and form a separate nation with the Kurdish minority population of Turkey.

The commercial and ethnic results of this geography, as well as the Turkic culture and language that Turkey shares with several nations in the Balkans, Asia Minor and Russia makes Turkey a crossroads.  Turkey’s recent history, especially its relationship with the industrialized nations of Europe and its pending application for membership in the EU, pose a set of choices that face Turkey with internal political conflicts that are, as yet, unresolved.  Thus, it seems to me that Turkey is at a metaphorical as well as a geographical crossroads.  The path it chooses will,, I think, have significant consequences for the United States and several other nations, both in Europe and in the Middle East.

Turkish Traditions and History

In 1950, David Reisman and two co-authors published a book entitled “The Lonely Crowd”.  Reisman, a lawyer, law school teacher and  sociologist, presented three classifications for categorizing people:  Tradition directed; inner directed and other directed.   Tradition directed people pattern their lives according to some external set of mores, such as religions, philosophies, military traditions.   Inner directed people craft their own,  individual,  set of values based on their experiences and informed judgments.  Other directed people are driven by their need for the approval of others.  They measure their own worth according to their acceptance by others.  [Sinclare Lewis savagely satirized this type in “Babbit”, a salesman whose goal in life was to be “well liked”.  Lewis’ novel was published in 1922.]

Reisman  felt that tradition directed people were handicapped because they could not easily adapt to changing technologies and environments.   He believed that a population of other directed people was unlikely to produce creative and innovative leaders and that a culture dominated by this type would be vulnerable to manipulation by economic interests with access to mass media technology.  He plainly favored the inner directed class.

Reading about Turkey reminded me of these ideas.  I don’t think current Turkish foreign policy and domestic political conflicts can be understood without some attention to the historic ebb and flow of tradition-directed culture, based on religion,  that has affected Turkish people for more than fifteen centuries.  To do so would be like trying to understand modern Texas culture and politics without some knowledge of the Alamo, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Vietnam war and the closing of the frontier near the beginning of the 20th Century.  Past events may not dictate the outcomes of current events but, like a movie’s  background music , they affect and give emotional tone to those events.  And, for tradition-directed people, that music is like Ravel’s Bolero.  Inner-directed people look forward.   Tradition-directed people look backward.  Those are significant differences.

I have identified five historic figures and events that seem to me related to the choices that confront present-day Turkey:  The reign of Constantine the Great;  the rise of the Ottoman Empire and the capture of Constantinople; the destruction of the Ottoman Empire at the close of World War I; the advent of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk; and the September 10, 2010, approval of several amendments to the Turkish constitution.

Constantine The Great

Flavius Valerius Constantinus was the illegitimate son of Constantius., a Roman military leader.   His mother was Helena, a barmaid and his father’s concubine. Constantinus received little formal education and became a soldier early in his life.  He fought in an army commanded by Galerius, a Roman general,  and, later, in an army led by his father.  In 306, when his father died in battle, the troops, fiercely loyal to both the father and the son, proclaimed Constantinus emperor.  He declined that title, but accepted the title of Caesar.

For reasons not pertinent to this story, a bitter rivalry developed between Constantinus and another Roman military leader, Maxentius.  This rivalry culminated in 312, at the  Battle of the Milvian Bridge  at Saxa Rubra (red rocks) located in Italy, nine miles from Rome.

The afternoon before the battle, Constantinus looked up at the sky and saw a flaming cross and the Greek words en toutoi nika (in this sign conquer).  He responded by ordering his troops to mark their shields with an X with a line curling around the top, a symbol of Christ.  He also marched his troops into the battle behind a standard featuring that  symbol.

Constantinus won the battle and, convinced that he had benefited from the alliance with Christ, he converted to Christianity.   He then, joined by Licinius, another Roman general,  issued the Edict of Milan, ordering the end of Christian persecution and  the restoration of all property confiscated from Christians.

During the next few years, conflict developed between Constantinus and Lucinus.  This ended with a series of military victories by Constantinus.  He became more and more committed to Christianity and finally asked all his countrymen to join him in that faith.  He moved the capitol of the Empire from Rome to Constantinople, assumed the title of Emperor Constantine the Great and effectively established Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

Constantine was responsible for another major development in the early history of Christianity.   A year after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, a serious schism arose among Christian bishops.   Some argued that Christ was like God but not of God’s substance. Others were outraged at that idea because the “consubstantiality” of God and Christ was central to the theology of the church.  Constantine tried to settle the argument with a letter but that failed.  He then convened a council of bishops at Bithynian Nicaea.  318 bishops attended.  After long and contentious argument, a majority agreed to the “Nicaean Creed” which began “We believe in the Father Almighty, maker of all things . . . .” which, with some  later modification, is recited in Protestant church services throughout the world every Sunday.  Nineteen bishops dissented, but the majority prevailed and the schism ended.

These events, that affected most of Europe and Asia Minor, are part of Turkey’s history.  They are probably as well known to Turkish citizens as the American Revolution is familiar to Americans.  I assume knowledge of these events, in much greater detail than I have recorded here, is part of Turkish culture.

[As a sidebar:  There are some Christians who believe that Christianity, theretofore a radical movement, subversive of all governmental institutions, Jewish as well as Roman, was itself subverted and co-opted by Constantine’s governmental embrace, an unfortunate event from which it never recovered.  This view is not shared by the Roman Catholic Church, which regards Constantine as one of its greatest heroes, a circumstance which tends to confirm the opinion of the aforementioned Christians.]

The Advent of  Islam and the Ottoman Empire

Mohammed was born in 570.  He was a warrior prophet, fought in battles against rival Arab tribes and against Jews who challenged him or offended his followers,  suffered many wounds, dictated the Koran and founded Islam.  He was a student of both Judaism and Christianity, required his followers to honor both the Old and New Testaments and taught that Abraham, Moses and Jesus were prophets inspired by God.  He taught that he was another, and the last such prophet.  He taught, however, that there was only one God, Allah and he firmly rejected the notion that Christ was both man and God.

Mohammed died June 7, 632, at the age of 62.  He did not name a successor, an omission that has resulted in millions of deaths as Shia and Sunni Muslims pr ove their devotion to Islam by maiming and  killing each other.

After Constantine’s death, the Christian church split into a Greek empire centered in Constantinople and a Latin empire centered in Roma.

During the next eight centuries,these three competing religions, Islam, Latin Christianity  and Greek Christianity  fought over a vast territory stretching from Spain to Western Europe to Asia Minor and the Balkans.

The two Christian theocracies shared many core beliefs but they differed about the nature of Christ.  The papacy in Rome insisted that Christ was both God and man.  The emperor in Constantinople believed that Christ was divine but that his divinity came from God in the form of the Holy Spirit,  thus dodging the charge that Christianity was not monotheistic.  The Roman pope finally excommunicated the emperor in Constantinople.  That ended the negotiations.

The hostility between these two Christian sects intensified in 1204 when, during the 4th Crusade, on their way to confronting the Saracens at Jerusalem, the Crusaders attacked Constantinople and sacked the city.   The Latin forces occupied Constantinople for fifty years, until 1266, when the Byzantine Empire was allowed to resume control over some of its lost territory, including the city.    The strength of the Byzantine Empire was, however, waning and in  1453, Constantinople fell to Islam and the Ottoman Turks.

This Ottoman Empire had humble beginnings indeed.  In 1243, Mongols swept across Asia Minor and attacked Seljuk Turks in the Muslim Sultanate of Rum, located just East of the present Eastern boundary of Turkey.  The Seljuks were no match for the Mongols and the Sultanate fell apart.  A Turk named Othman and his family, who herded cattle for a living, owned a tiny plot of land near the west edge of the Bosperos that they managed to retain.   They were apparently a resourceful group because, after prevailing in some skirmishes with adjoining clans, they and successor members of their clan proceeded to expand their holdings and hegemony into an empire that included all of Turkey, the Balkans, most of the former Byzantine Empire and were finally stopped at the gates of Vienna and Paris, thus prevented from annexing Eastern Europe.  As  stated, in 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople and effectively ended the Byzantine Empire.

To summarize:  This war torn period of history,was driven by intense theological arguments.  It  featured the advent and violent expansion of Islam,  five Crusades, the conquest of Byzantium by the Ottoman Turks, as well as  internecine conflicts between warring Christian groups.   There were intermittent periods of mutual toleration but they did not last.   It is not clear whether greed, egos or true belief that conflict was required by devotion to ones faith impelled people to return to killing each other.  Sam Harris argues, in “The End of Faith”, that religion has become unacceptable because, in this time of nuclear weapons and other such horrific threats, religion is simply too prone to the incitement of violence and potentially planet-ending destruction.  He makes a strong case but he does not suggest any way to accomplish his goal of eradicating religion.  History does lend credence to his contention that religion more often leads to war than to peace.

Regardless of these issues, it is plain that Turkey was fully engaged in all of these events and it seems reasonable to assume that this history became a significant influence on Turkish culture.

The End of the Ottoman Empire

In December 1914, the Ottoman Empire made a bad bet.  It joined the “Central Powers” led by Germany as World War I began.  For several years before that, Germany had made substantial efforts to ally itself with the Ottomans as a means of establishing favorable trade relations with North African portions of the Empire as well as realizing the German dream of a “Berlin to Baghdad Railway”.   In addition, although I have not seen or read evidence to support this, I suspect that the French, Dutch and British colonial powers were generally hated or, at least distrusted,  in the part of the world occupied by the Ottomans.

Regardless of the reasons, the choice of entering the war on the side of Germany proved to be the death knell for the Ottoman Empire.  The Treaty of Sevres reduced the “Empire” to the area that comprises present-day Turkey.  In addition, Greece was granted some ill-defined rights to some territory around the Aegean Sea claimed by Turkey.

These claims of Greece led to a bitter war for two years between Greece and Turkey, a war won by a Turkish army led by Kemal Ataturk, a former Ottoman military officer.  The war began in 1919, lasted for two years and was finally ended in 1922.   The massacre of Greek civilians by Turkish troops  left scars of hostility that have out-lived the war.  The war did help launch the political career of Ataturk, who assumed leadership of an effort begun earlier by a group of  former Ottoman military men nick-named “The Young Turks”.

Kemal Ataturk

In the 1930’s, 40’s  and 50’s  a journalist named John Gunther served in Bob Woodward’s present role.   Like Woodward, John Gunther interviewed everyone of consequence and then wrote books about what he learned.  He wrote a series of  “Inside” books:   “Inside Europe”, “Inside Asia” and “Inside USA”.  He updated these books and sometimes re-wrote them as second editions.  In the 1938 edition of “Inside Europe” Gunther entitled a chapter about Ataturk “The Turkish Colossus”.  He began the chapter with this description of Ataturk”  “The blond, blue eyed combination of patriot and psychopath is the dictator of Turkey. . . .”  In the 1961 edition he added “ruthless” to his “psychopath” diagnosis.

Following his victory over the Greeks, Ataturk, with the support of a military group known as the “Young Turks”, became the absolute ruler of Turkey.   His administration was characterized by a degree of micro-managed control of the Turkish people that far surpassed anything that had occurred when the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire had ruled Turkey.

Ataturk’s goal was to destroy all vestiges of Muslim theocracy, including every personal habit and custom associated with Islam.  He, like Peter the Great in Russia, was determined to convert Turkey into a Western European style country.  [As I write this I am struck at how similar this notion is to the neo-con fantasy about Iraq as  a future Vermont situated in the Middle East.]  Ataturk was nothing if not thorough.  Here is Gunther’s description of post-Ataturk Turkey:  “He has abolished the fez, turned the mosques into granaries, Latinised the language.  He has ended polygamy, installed new legal codes, and experimented with a (paying) casino in the sultan’s palace.  He compulsorily disinfected  all the buildings in Istanbul, adopted the Gregorian calendar and metric system, and took the first census in Turkish history.  He cut political holidays down to three, demanded physical examination of those about to marry, and built a new capital, Ankara, in the Anatolian highlands, replacing proud Constantinople.  He limited most business activity to Turkish nationals and Turkish firms, abolished books of magic, and gave every Turk a new last name.  He emancipated women (more or less), tossed the priests into the discard, and superintended the writing of a new history of the world proving that Turkey is the source of all civilization.”

Ataturk died in 1938.  During his lifetime and continuing to the present time, the  zealous secularization of Turkey was backed and enforced by the Turkish army.   There are practical reasons for this.  Throughout this period of time, the West and, in particular, the United States was the source of superior military weapons and military training.   In order to use efficiently this technology and expertise,  changes in infrastructure were necessary.   Young men had to be educated in ways that equipped them with the skills necessary to use western armament.   An alphabet, language and a system of measurement different from those used in the West were obstacles to this efficiency.  Hostility toward western ways and culture, based on religious teachings was contrary to the desire of  military leaders to cooperate with and benefit from the technology and expertise available from the United States.

Under Ataturk’s leadership a system was put in place that empowered the judiciary to declare that a political party or leadership was inimical to the national policy of secularization and to order the abolition of the party.  As a result military coups were judicially   legitimized and courts came to be perceived as mere arms of the military, without accountability to the elected representatives in the parliament.

Criminal justice was swift and brutal under Ataturk.  John Gunther describes one incident following a 1926 botched attempt on Ataturk’s life.  After the would-be assassins and all others who were suspected of supporting the attempt had been arrested, Ataturk threw a champagne party at his lonely farm house located in a small village near Ankara.  When the guests returned home at dawn they found saw the corpses of the alleged plotters hanging in the town square.

One of the weirdest episodes during Ataturk’s administration occurred when he became curious about whether western-type democracy would work.   He ordered a group of men to form an opposition faction in parliament and to oppose the measures he proposed.  Understandably, the hapless group of faux opponents were reluctant to play their assigned roles.  The experiment did not work and Ataturk abandoned it.   Ataturk apparently lacked the imagination that inspired George Orwell’ s 1984, in which both “Big Brother” and the dreaded opposition were part of the same ruling authority.

The September 10, 2010 Constitutional Amendments

Led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Turkish people approved a series of amendments to the Turkish constitution on September 10, 2010.  These changes amount to a major reaction against the zealous secularization forced on Turkey by Kemal Ataturk.  They do not amount to a reversion to an Islamic theocracy.

The  amendments effectively ended the military domination of the elected agents of government and the use of the judiciary to empower that domination.  The secularization of Turkey mandated by Ataturk was enforced by the right of the military to intervene and abolish any political party or group that, in the opinion of the military, veered too close to Islam and the restoration of a country in which Muslims could practice their religion and abide by its customs without governmental interference.

Over a period of fifty or sixty years, this system led to repeated military coups that were legitimized by the judiciary.  Consequently, the courts came to be perceived as agents of the military rather than protectors of civilian rights.  The September amendments aimed directly at this issue and sought to free  the elected parliament and the judiciary from military supervision of the military.   I have not found an English language version of the amendments but Reuters has posted a summary of them written by a couple of staff reporters.  [ See http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE68B28B2010091%5D  In addition to the reorganization of the judiciary, the amendments authorize the wearing of the head scarfs favored by devout Muslims.  The limits on military authority are topped of f with an authorization for the prosecution of the military personnel who engineered the coup of 1980 for the deaths and physical abuse of the Turks who opposed the coup.

As stated, I have not been able to find an English language text of the amendments, but I have read the constitution which they amended.  It was crafted by the military or agents acting at its direction.  It is 55 pages long and, so far as concerns limitations on executive power, guarantees of individual and political rights, and provision for what we understand to be “due process”,  it is a joke.  It is also a cynical joke.  It is replete with descriptions of rights, but every section that begins by granting a right closes with a proviso that the right can be suspended or denied if circumstances make the exercise of  the right inappropriate.   And those in charge of deciding whether the right is or is not denied or suspended are not independent judges with lifetime tenure.  They are agents of the executive branch of the government.

I have read several accounts and comments on the September 10 amendments.   The comments from Turkish commentators are either favorable, if they support limits on secularization and greater degrees of popular control of government; or unfavorable, if their judgment is based on fear that Islam is moving toward re-establishing control of Turkey and loyalty to the teachings of Kemal Ataturk.  There are two comments that I regard as both well informed and generally unbiased.   One is a blog by Max Fisher, a writer for Atlantic Magazine. [http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/09/when-islamism-is-liberal-democratic/62902/]   The other is an article in The Economist by an un-named staff writer.[ http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2010/09/turkeys_constitutional_referendum%5D

Both of these writers opine that the amendments represent a substantial move toward a more representative government and do not presage a return to Islamic theocracy.   They do hint that the adoption of the amendments probably means that Turkey will be more independent of influence by the United States, but not necessarily hostile.  This is not interpreted as a result of the amendments, but rather further confirmation of a trend that has been developing since at least 2003, when the Turkish parliament  refused to allow the US military to use Turkey as a launching pad for the invasion of Iraq.

It is encouraging to me that the citizens of  Turkey have, at last, moved away from an autocratic system that had them living inside a fence, guarded by military dogs to see that they remained docile and obedient to whatever the army thought was appropriate.  I am glad they have muzzled the dogs and started tearing down the fence.  If they want to wear fezes,  pray 5 times a day and believe that Allah is the only “true God”, that’s ok with me so long as they don’t go crazy about the Koran’s promise that every Muslim who dies while killing infidels goes to a hereafter populated by lusty virgins.  I assume that a pagan qualifies as an infidel, so I have a personal interest in that issue.

Concluding Thoughts

The part of this story that interested me was the extent to which Turkey has been a center of Reisman’s tradition-directed culture since at least the 4th century.  It seems obvious to me that the people who lived in Turkey for the past sixteen or seventeen hundred years have been either committed to Latin Christianity, Greek Christianity or Islam.  And that commitment has not been merely a matter of individual devotion to a set of religious principles, but has been woven into every aspect of their lives because their church was identical with their government.  They were not Christians who lived in Turkey, they were Christian Turks or Muslim Turks.  One history book I looked at claimed that when Christ’s divinity was an issue between the Greek church and the Roman church, the operators of Turkish baths in Constantinople could be heard arguing about it as they worked.

So, given this history, it made no sense to me that Kemal Ataturk could really change the brains of the Turks so that they would no longer  think of themselves as Muslims, shed their religion along with their fezes and become western men and women without religious commitment   Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutiions, describes how persistently scientists, professionally trained to look at reality without cultural bias and with impersonal detachment, cling to a theory long after it is demonstrated to be flawed or false; how they contrive ingenious modifications and alternatives to attach to the outmoded theory  to preserve its viability.  If scientists cannot be persuaded by proof, how much harder must it be for religiously committed people to abandon on command their religion, the source of their “inner direction”?

I think the recent history of Turkey, culminating in the adoption of the constitutional amendments, is proof that, while the threat of punishment or death may be able to stop people from openly practicing the source of their inner direction, it does not extinguish that source. Like an ember in a dying fire, it requires only an encouraging puff to reignite.

I  believe that Ataturk’s effort was successful only in a limited way.  He did succeed in ridding Turkey of a moribund and corrupt system of government that was obstructing progress.  That required brute force and boldness.  He had plenty of that.  He could count on the enthusiastic support of the army because the army wanted to be rid of the religious constraints imposed by an Islamic state.  I think it was inevitable, however, that a popular reaction would finally occur because he tried to uproot a tradition that was too old and embedded in too much history.

Because of the way American media presents Islam, it is counter intuitive for us to equate a national grant of more influence to Islam as a move toward popular democracy.  In the case of Turkey, however, I think it is true.  Ataturk’s secularization campaign was implemented in ways that were inimical to democracy.  It seems obvious to me that the reaction to that implementation was a move toward more democracy and popular control.  I have not read of Turkey’s abandonment of its effort to join the European Union although, at present, that effort seems to be stalled, not at the behest of Turkey but because of opposition from France.

It is possible that the more devout elements of Turkish Muslims will try to push Turkey toward more hostility toward the West and, in particular, the United States.  I am hopeful that the intelligence of Obama’s foreign policies will make that unlikely.  I dislike it, but the truth is that we are still a source for the most modern and technologically sophisticated arms available.  That, if nothing else, will probably enable us to maintain friendly relations with Turkey.

The most hopeful, and I think possible, outcome of the recent developments in Turkey will be realized if Turkey proves to be a willing and effective arbiter between the U.S. and other Muslim countries in the Middle East, especially Iran.  Turkey may actually become what the neo-con’s promised for Iraq:  a shining example of a democratic Muslim state.


Political Civility

May 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

Debbie Wassermann Schultz, Hillary’s acolyte-chairperson of the Democratic Party, has complained that Bernie Sanders’ disapproval of actual or threatened physical violence during the Nevada Democratic Convention was insufficient because he also expressed disapproval of the highhanded behavior of the chairperson of the convention who used her gavel to deny Sanders supporters a right to speak and participate meaningfully in the disagreement that dominated the convention.  Debbie complained that the Sanders supporters were not “civil”and used angry words and gestures to express their outrage.

Barbara Boxer, the California Senator who spoke at the convention as a representative of the Clinton campaign, claimed that she felt her “safety was threatened” because she was booed when she defended the way the convention was conducted.  She did not claim that she was touched by anyone or that anyone threatened to physically assault her.

I find these accusations of misconduct aimed at Bernie Sanders and his supporters absurd and comic.  Apparently Hillary’s supporters have not learned that, in the words of some legendary observer whose identity  has been buried in  the annals of political history, “politics ain’t beanbag“.

My first political convention was in San Antonio in 1952  In those days Texas was a “one-party state”.  That is, the republicans were so insignificant that all real political contests occurred in the primary elections in the summer.  The only important general election happened in presidential election years and, even then, the only significant contest was the presidential election.  No serious Republican candidates  participated in the general election.

The result of this circumstance was that Democratic conventions featured bitter conflicts between rightwing conservatives and liberals.

In 1952, Alan Shivers was governor.  Although he was from Jefferson County, where the oil workers union controlled local politics, he had abandoned his liberal roots and had become  a slavishly loyal puppet of the corporations who controlled Texas.  He used his position of governor to load the convention committees with conservatives and shut down any insurgency from the left.  The issue in the 1952 convention in San Antonio was “loyalty” to the Democratic Party.  We demanded that all delegates to the National Democratic Convention pledge to support the nominees of that convention in the 1952 general election.  Because the conservatives had no intention of voting for a Democrat in the general election, they hated the loyalty pledge like the devil hates holy water.

So, the liberals’ effort to force a vote on the loyalty issue was shut down at the convention.  Then Maury Maverick, a beloved icon of Texas liberalism, former mayor of San Antonio and formerly one of FDR’s favorite members of the House of Representatives, declared that the convention was no longer a legitimate representative body of Democrats.  He led us out of the convention hall to convene a “rump convention” at La Villita, a small historic Spanish village located in San Antonio.  It was raining,but we all marched to the new location, convened our own convention and selected delegates to the national convention.

At the national convention, Sam Rayburn, then Speaker of the House from Texas, and Lyndon Johnson, then majority leader of the Senate, also from Texas, sold us out, made a deal with Shivers and his delegation, and seated them instead of our “loyal” delegation.  Ike Eisenhower was the GOP nominee and Adlai Stevenson was the Democratic Party nominee.   Shivers and his group came back to Texas, disavowed their agreement and campaigned for Eisenhower.

Two years later, at another State Convention, the conflict between the “loyal Democrats” and the rightwing “Democrats” was replayed and, again, we lost.

Two years after that, in 1956, at the Democratic Convention in Dallas, three campaigns for governor by Ralph Yarborough had been used to create a strong real Democratic Party political organization.  Price Daniel had resigned his seat in the US Senate to return to Texas and run against Yarborough for governor.  The Dallas convention was a knock-down-drag-out old fashioned political scrap.  The lithographers union got one of the badges required to gain entry into the convention.  They used an early version of a Xerox machine to produce a few hundred counterfeit badges which we used to pack the convention hall.  The raucous demands for roll call votes just about shut down the convention.  We didn’t win everything but we did pay off LBJ who had promised Mrs.lloyd Bentsen a seat on the Democratic Party’s National Committee.  We blocked her and the convention selected Frankie Randolph, the godmother of Harris County liberal Democrats and mentor of Billie Carr, a legendary political organizer, to fill that National Committee seat.

Yarborough lost the governorship by about 3500 votes and, instead of proving that it was stollen, then ran for the Senate seat vacated by Daniel.  He was elected and became a useful and valuable Senator; the only southern Senator to vote “yea” when the 1964 Civil Rights bill was enacted.

These are just the highlights.  Each of the state conventions was preceded by hundreds of precinct and county conventions and many of them were disorderly, loud and definitely “not bean bag”.

This was my educational experience with convention politics.  I loved it and still believe it has much to offer as an alternative to the expensive and easily bought primary election system.

The above described conventions were followed by more organizing, led by governor races by Don Yarborough (no relation to Ralph).  In 1962, Don Yarborough lost a governor’s race to John Connally [or “Lyndon’s Boy John” as we called him] by about 25,00o votes.  In that election, the GOP had finally begun to organize its own party apparatus in Texas.  Strong plans were in place for a strong GOP primary election in 1964.  There is no doubt in my mind that, with the conservative opposition split between the GOP and the Democratic Party,  Don Yarborough would have become governor in 1964.

Unfortunately, in November 1963, JFK was  assassinated, John Connally was wounded and, thereby, became a hero.  The result was:  In 1964, with President Johnson’s backing,  he was a shoo-in for re-election and ten years of organizing went down the drain.

The liberals in Texas have never recovered.  Even when they had some success, e.g. the elections of Ann Richards and Mark White, those events were not accompanied by the kind of relentless organizing required to rebuild a Democratic Party political machine and regain control of Texas.

I believe we now have a chance.  But only if we have leaders who understand that political organizations are not merely temporary contraptions raise money and serve the egos of  political candidates.  The organization must be recognized as the dominant force and the candidates must agree to serve as implements of the organization, not the other way around.  We are now confronted with two candidates who exemplify the different kinds of candidates to which I refer.  The Clintons want organizations that will permit them to make the kind of deals they deem convenient to minimize the stress of maintaining themselves in office.  Sanders attracts and depends on followers who trust him to direct them toward the kind of policies not easily peddled “across the aisle”, but powerful incentives for attracting an electorate that will force a change in the location of the “aisle”.


%d bloggers like this: