January 5, 2017 § Leave a comment
During the past sixty or seventy years I have picked up a few scraps of prose and poetry. Some of them inspired me. Some made me smile. Some related to my private life. Some were chosen as part of my life as a lawyer. Some expressed my doubts and fruitless quests for certainty. I kept them and reviewed them when I needed inspiration.
I do not share these because I have any claim to wisdom nor with any intent to be condescending. I have reviewed them because I need words to offer me hope as I contemplate the empowerment of a dangerous foe. I especially recommend the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin Louis Brandeis. They remind me that we have faced and survived danger before.
December 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
The Loss of Ari Shavit
For several decades Ari Shavit was a talented and intelligent columnist in Israel’s left-of-center newspaper Haaretz. A few years ago he published a very good book describing the origins of Israel and an incisive analysis of its culture and modern history: The Promised Land. I was charmed by it and, three years ago, expressed my admiration and reaction on this blog:The Broken Promised Land. https://wordpress.com/post/bobsremonstrance.com/2757
Now, a few months ago, as Israel faces what I believe is an international crisis, for Israel as well as the rest of us, Ari Shavit was disgraced and banished from public discourse because he made an astonishingly stupid assault on a woman, a respected journalist, who visited him for an interview. He admitted his guilt and apologized but, as a person with a list of political enemies as long as his list of supporters, he was fired by Haaretz and voluntarily discontinued public professional life.
Here is an article from The Forward, a more than century old weekly newspaper published weekly in New York with news about Jews and Israel. http://forward.com/news/israel/352891/ari-shavit-sorry-for-trump-style-sex-assault-many-israelis-arent-buying-it/
Without defending Shavit’s indefensible behavior, I can’t resist reflecting how his treatment contrasts so sharply with our political embrace of our own braggart about his history of sexual exploitation of women.
I know Ari Shavit, aside from this scandal, has been attacked from both right and left in Israel. He has vigorously defended Israel’s right to exist and has never ceased criticizing the Palestinians for failing to officially acknowledge it. Still, I wish he were around to offer some measured analysis of the present situation.
The Tragic Timing of Shavit’s Foolishness
It seems apparent to me that Israel is now the hub of an international earthquake that could threaten the safety of the United States and, given the recklessness of three men, perhaps the future of our planet.
The three men? Donald Trump, Bibi Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin.
Remember how WWI began? It began in Austria with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie, his wife, by a Serbian rebel. WWIII could begin in Israel, a country long characterized as the hub of conflict between violent internal and external ethnic and national groups. One difference: In 1914, there were no nuclear bombs.
In the past decade Israel, led by Netanyahu, has used its huge military force to control the Palestine population by killing its civilian population and encircling it with a network of barriers, hindering its ability to care for its citizens as a free and separate nation. This has been explained and justified with claims of encroaching rockets launched by Palestine’s small cadre of outraged rebels. The rockets rarely reached population centers and the number of their victims were far outnumbered by the all out responsive assault by the Iraeli military.
So, again, I wish for some calm reasoned ideas from someone like Ari Shavit. But his fatal foolishness has disqualified him.
One feature of this conflict has been the erection of “settlements” i.e. housing for Israeli citizens on Palestinian land. These “settlements” have flourished and expanded thanks to the deliberately passive and permissive unwillingness of the Israeli government to stop them. They are in plain violation of international law. The United Nations assembly has repeatedly tried to declare them to be unacceptable. Until last week those efforts were thwarted by vetoes by the U.S..
Last week, finally, the U.S. abstained and the UN measure was adopted with a large majority vote.
The Dangerous Reaction
Netanyahu reacted angrily, claiming that the UN resolution was a betrayal of Israeli and was “engineered by Barack Obama”, with whom Netanyahu has waged an endless political war during Obama’s terms in office. The intrusion into US politics has always been treated with enthusiastic acceptance by the GOP and, ironically, by the so-called evangelical wing of the protestant church in America. Until Putin’s hacking interference with the recent election, Israel was the only foreign power granted permission to meddle with US politics. See: http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/358334/benjamin-netanyahu-seeks-to-rally-israelis-with-no-holds-barred-attack-on-u/
This time, Netanyahu’s tantrum has exceeded his past performances. He has recalled Israel’s ambassadors from the nations who sponsored the UN resolution. and expelled the diplomatic representatives from Israel. Trump has denounced the UN resolution and Obama’s failure to oppose it. Putin, so far as I know, has not yet waded into this morass but I am confident he will perceive how the attacks on the United Nations can serve his international ambitions.
So, as a dangerously ignorant and reckless man becomes President of the U.S., a situation fraught with peril develops in the world’s most dangerous place: The Middle East, where religious conflicts cause common sense diplomacy and rationality to be regarded with suspicion and hostility. To fanatics, dying in a nuclear holocaust evoked by religious zeal would be a privilege.
A second national leader , Netanyahu, is a single minded, religiously oriented, reckless man whose policies invariably choose military might over reasonable searches for peace. His success has depended on the support of the United States and its military strength as well as its alliances and reputation with the nations surrounding his tiny nation. I believe he will eagerly accept the support of Vladimir Putin, who shares his hostility toward the nations of Western Europe.
And Putin will surely see the opportunity to weaken the alliance between the United States and the Western European nations as a means of realizing his goal of restoring the empire which disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
These three dangerous men have one thing in common along with their militant policies: Possession of nuclear weapons. That is what frightens me and should concern the political leaders who obediently regard Donald Trump as a useful means of attaining their long cherished wish for a collapse of the political and governmental power to limit the corporate greed that nourishes them. They should remember that nuclear war will not distinguish between liberals and conservatives or Christians and Muslims. The dust from their incinerated bodies will mix indiscriminately.
December 18, 2016 § 1 Comment
A friend of mine, Max Krochmal, a Professor at TCU, has written an important book, “Blue Texas The Making of a Multiracial Democratic Coalition in the Civil Right Era”
It is a meticulously documented account of Texas political history between 1938 and 1963. Reading this book was an emotional experience for me. It describes a series of events that were crucial and pivotal in my life. Because I was active in Texas politics during that period of time, expressing my reaction to Max’s book in this essay has proved to be a very difficult task. I have trashed my first two efforts to write about this book. I submit this one with this warning: No man can be truly objective as he describes his own behavior and motivations or the circumstances which influenced him.
The book is a description of efforts by four groups of men and women in Texas to find a way to work together in politics. The four groups were: White liberals, blacks, mexicanos and labor unions.
The book is written from a particular point of view, strongly held by Max Krochmal. He believes development of a successful political coalition in Texas required a fundamental rebalancing of power among those four groups. He identifies the white liberals as political sinners in dire need of salvation. Over and over he makes the point: White liberals neither understood nor appreciated the rights of the blacks and mexicanos to manage and direct their own political efforts.
As he sees it, liberal political success in Texas cannot occur until and unless the coalition of which he writes overcomes the differences which separate the aims and ambitions of its four groups. He is optimistic that comfortable and workable agreements can be accomplished , but only if actual power sharing arrangements are implemented. And, because, as he believes, white liberals have had an unfair amount of power, they are the ones who must accept a less powerful role in future coalition efforts.
A Troubled Marriage
As I read Max’s book, I thought of some of my professional experiences with divorces. I despised divorce practice and, after a few years as a young lawyer at the beginning of my career, I was able to end my acceptance of those cases. I learned that many marriages continued for decades ,despite a complete lack of love or respect, because the parties were obligated to raise children and were dependent on each other for financial support.
The tension, suspicion and distrust described by Max between the four components of his proposed coalition model were similar to a troubled marriage. And the one thing many of the other three groups could most often agree on was: White political leadership could no longer be tolerated. This judgment was most apparent in Bexar County’s San Antonio, the political capital of Mexicano politics. There the grito of Mexicano Democrats was “Mexicanos must be led only by Mexicanos.”
The Tension Between “Electoral Politics” and Coalition Building
Max’s research exposed an underlying truth that added to the problems of creating a viable liberal coalition: Often the interests of the Mexicanos, based on local alliances in Bexar County, conflicted with an effort to elect a liberal governor of Texas. In fact, I am convinced that, except for that circumstance, Ralph Yarborough would have been elected Governor of Texas in 1956 and Don Yarborough would have been elected Governor of Texas in 1962. Those two defeats ,by margins of about 3,500 votes and 25,000 votes respectively, had momentous and disastrous results, not only in Texas but in the United States.
Following his defeat in 1956, Ralph Yarborough was elected to the U..S. Senate, where he was dependent on Lyndon Johnson, the Majority Leader in the Senate, for support of his liberal agenda that included passage of the Cold War GI Bill and, later, support for all of the Civil Rights Acts of the 1960’s. The price for those accomplishments was ending his organizational help for Texas liberals.
If Don Yarborough had been elected Governor of Texas in 1962, he, instead of John Connally, would have been working with Bobby Kennedy to build a permanent liberal political organization in Texas. Instead, John Connally, who hated Bobby Kennedy, was Governor and sabotaged all efforts to build a liberal political organization in Texas. Don Yarborough, not John Connally, would have been riding in the car with JFK on November 23, 1963. If he had survived with a wound, he would have enjoyed the political invincibility John Connally enjoyed.
B.T. Bonner: A Friendship’s Painful End
Max’s book is a fascinating account of the efforts of a large number of very interesting characters who worked in Texas politics for a variety of motives and in a variety of ways. Some, like B.T. Bonner, never saw an organization he liked unless he created it. He was fearless, relentless and ruthless. His effort to increase the power of black activists was unwavering. I was his friend but that sometimes led to bitter disagreements. Our friendship ended when he chose the Harris County Democrats of which i was the chairman for a surprise raid by a group of TSU students who not only took it over but also denounced its leadership. It is the only time I recall when my law partner, Chris Dixie, and I were accused of being racists.
Huntsville: Organizational Success But Different Opinions About Plowing
For more than fifteen years before that painful conclusion B.T. and I were friends, although our friendship was often tested by disagreements over tactics and choices. Max describes a part of the story of an organizing effort in Huntsville Texas that illustrates our divergent opinions. Hank Brown, using labor union money, sponsored a school in Austin where young people from different parts of Texas were taught the techniques of organizing local groups to demand economic and racial justice. The delegation from Huntsville returned home and began a series of demonstrations and marches protesting the law enforcement and economic policies promoted by Walker County Judge Amos Gates. After their efforts had been under way for a few weeks, B.T. arrived and assumed a leadership role.
Soon thereafter, ten black teenagers were arrested and sentenced to jail in one of Texas’ notoriously brutal juvenile facilities. Judge Gates, with no training as a lawyer, did this without notice to the parents of the children. When this became known a NAACP lawyer, a black Houston lawyer, Chris Dixie and I launched an effort to effect the release the children from this juvenile prison. In concert with these other lawyers, I drafted an application for habeas corpus and filed it with the panel of the Texas Court of Appeals in Houston. Then I spent a memorable afternoon in the Court’s library, assisted by Spud Bell, one of the Justices on that court, helping me draft a Writ of Habeas Corpus. I knew about the ancient writ but had never drafted one.
In response to our application, the Court scheduled a prompt hearing and ordered the children brought to the Court for a hearing to determine whether they were being deprived of their liberty illegally. In addition to the lawyers for the children, a lawyer from Huntsville attended to defend Judge Gates’ action. The parents of the children and a group of local black business men and church leaders were also present. The hearing consisted mostly of questions by the Court directed to the hapless lawyer defending Judge Gates. His answers amounted to a confession that the procedure followed by Gates had no resemblance to due process or the law. The Court ordered the children released upon posting hundred dollar bonds, pending a final decision which the Court promised to render without delay.
A short time later the Court rendered two written opinions declaring Gates’ actions to have been illegal and therefore void.
B.T. called to complain bitterly that my “interference” with his organizing had deprived him of a useful issue. I told him neither the children nor their parents had agreed to become useful martyrs and that I had no apology for helping to secure their release. My law partner, Chris Dixie, had a favorite expression: When referring to a proposed action, he would often remark that it depended on “how deep you want to plow.” For me, leaving those children in a juvenile jail was deeper than I was willing to plow.
Max describes the Huntsville organizing effort and B.T.’s involvement in it but he does not mention the legal proceeding that accompanied it. His focus was on the political organizational event.
My Lost Chance to Become a Hero
This Huntsville episode was typical of several of my arguments with B.T. during the years we were friends. On one occasion we did agree. At B.T.’s invitation, I and another lawyer, George Dixie, Chris’s nephew, went to Wallis Texas, B.T.’s home town, to participate in the integration of a local restaurant. George and I slept on the ground in a nearby cotton field. The next morning I and an elderly black man, Brazos Jim Jackson, led a procession of other local black men on a short walk to the restaurant, where we entered and were served without incident.
I had mentally prepared myself for the probability that, for the first time in my life,in this little rural town, far from public attention, I would be physically assaulted by one or more adults. I hoped I would comport myself without cowardice or embarrassment. I was determined to do so but, without previous experience, I was not sure.
Nothing like that happened because, unknown to me or to George, Chris Dixie had called a friend of ours, U..S. District Judge Woodrow Seals, who called the Texas Highway Department and demanded protection for the demonstration. So, when we showed up for our march, there was a line of about six or seven black and white Texas Highway Patrol cars lined across the highway from the small row of businesses in this little village. With that contingent of armed law enforcement officers looking on, the group of young white men who showed up to make trouble were not willing to risk the consequences, so my mental preparation was unnecessary.
More About B.T.
Max describes another organizational experience featuring B.T. in Austin, where some college students had organized a kind of reverse sit-in to effect the integration of a movie theater. B.T., impatient with the pace of that effort, ended it with a personal confrontation with the owner of the theater and effected its integration.
I won’t describe here the other aspects of my friendship with B.T. except to say that, until the HCD meeingI described earlier, my wife, Beverly, and I enjoyed a friendly relationship with B.T. and Florence, his wife. I never doubted B.T.’s sincerity and I admired his eagerness to confront powerful agents of racism. Our tactics often diverged because I was focussed on electing government officials and he was focussed on challenging organizational efforts necessary to accomplish that goal.
Hank Brown and the Mexicanos
Max’s description of Bexar County politics is fascinating. The Byzantine plots, betrayals, constantly shifting alliances are a primer for understanding how real politics is practiced. His description of the heroic efforts of Hank Brown, the head of the Texas Labor council is a profile of courage. Hank was a member of the plumbers union, a part of the old AFL organization of craft unions. Generally speaking, with a few exceptions, the crafts were bitterly opposed to racial integration and jealously protected their unions from integration until legally compelled to open their apprentice programs to black applicants.
Despite this major part of his rank and file, Hank managed to be a reliable source of power and funds in support of liberal political efforts. The CIO part of his organization supported that effort and managed to counter attacks on Hank from his craft union members.
Max does not deal with this background but he does catalogue Hank Brown’s efforts. The fact that Hank was white did not evoke the kind of hostility that nonunion whites did. I assume this was probably because he was a source of money and support.
Max’s Choices of Black Leadership in Texas
Max’s treatment of black leadership consisted primarily of the activity of a black couple from Houston, Moses and Erma Leroy. He describes their involvement in NAACP organizational politics, Erma’s social meetings with other blacks and her occasional work in rural communities, when she was hired by the labor unions to meet with local black leaders to encourage their political activities. He also mentions Christia Adair, a black woman in Houston, who was active in the Harris County Democrats, a political organization formed in 1948. The HCD welcomed members without regard to any qualification except willingness to engage in liberal political activity. It was focussed on electing people to public office and, hence, was not part of Max’s narrative. Max’s interest is in the bases on which different parts of the coalition chose the candidates they would support.
He does mention several times a “block worker” method of political organizing. He does not mention that it was designed and implemented in Houston by HCD members, white, black and union affiliated, in 1960. It did not succeed in carrying Harris County for JFK, but it significantly increased the vote in black precincts and the power of black precinct chairmen.
Max also features the actions of black political leadership in Bexar County. He describes their intermittent political alliances with Mexicano politicos on San Antonio’s West Side. Their efforts to engage in liberal politics were hampered by the influence of conservative black business men who caused internal conflicts within the black community.
The only white political activists who escape disparagement in Max’s book are George and Latane Lambert. They moved smoothly from one liberal cause to another, always in support of progress toward economic justice and the betterment of the working class, regardless of the races or ethnicities involved.
A Personal Comment and Apology
Before he wrote this book Max Krochmal and I had a number of personal conversations about Texas politics, about Larry Goodwyn, my good friend and Max’s strong supporter at Duke. During one of them, I don’t specifically remember which one, I told him about a painful event in my life involving Ralph Yarborough. During one of his political races, I think it was the 1956 race for governor, Lyman Jones and I accompanied him to Houston where he made a speech at an outdoor rally on Houston’s North Side. He was attacking his opponent for having engaged in some nefarious business deal. As he became more and more animated, in his peroration, he used an old East Texas saying that included a racial slur.
A reporter from the Ft. Worth Star Telegram was there. I was personally hurt because, by that time I had virtually lived with this man, traveled with him and shared his triumphs and disappointments. I felt like a member of his family. To hear him utter that ugly word was a painful shock. I had never before heard him say anything like that.
I looked at Lyman Jones, a veteran newspaper reporter who was handing press relations for the campaign. He, like me, was momentarily stunned. After a few seconds, Lyman went straight to the Ft. Worth reporter whom he had known for many years. He persuaded the reporter to omit the gaffe from his report.
Now, as I read Max’s book, i turned a page and there, in black and white, was an account of the whole episode. All I could do was curse and berate myself for being so foolish. Now my friend’s reputation will forever be besmirched as a result of my foolishness. My only hope is that his record for unflagging support for civil rights in the U.S. Senate will overcome my mistake. He did not support the “Southern Manifesto”, declaration of defiance signed by almost the entire Congressional delegation of Southern Representatives and Senators. He supported and voted for every civil rights bill that came before the Senate during his terms of office.
My thoughtless divulging of an incident in which he reacted without thinking with a saying common among the East Texas white Southerners with whom he spent his childhood and young adulthood. In that culture the saying was as unrelated to racism as the curse “Son-of-a -Bitch” in unrelated to sexism. While neither is acceptable in polite society, neither is considered or intended to be taken literally. But in the present age of gotcha! politics, thoughtless comments and slang usage can end political careers. Whether that is evidence of progress or of cynical and hypocritical political tactics can be argued. It is, nevertheless a feature of politics as practiced in this era of moment-to-moment internet unfiltered news coverage and tweets.
As I thought about this entire episode in my life, I was reminded of Mr. Justice Hugo Black. When he was a young man he joined the Ku Klux Klan. He resigned after a few years but he never denied that he had joined. When he was placed on the Supreme Court by FDR, reporters dogged FDR about the former KKK member he had nominated. FDR ignored their questions and never admitted he had been aware of that fact.
There were two consequential events as a result of Black’s background.
When Black was a young man he witnessed events when racist thugs would go to a courthouse, rally there and, after whipping the crowd into a frenzy, break into the jail, drag out a black prisoner and lynch him. Years later, after he was on the Supreme Court, a case from Louisiana come to the Court.. Some civil rights supporters had staged a demonstration at a county courthouse. There was a Louisiana law prohibiting demonstrations at court houses, intended to prevent lynching. Pursuant to that law, local police required the demonstrators to withdraw across the street from the courthouse grounds.
One demonstrator, named Cox, refused to obey the police. He was arrested and fined. Some civil rights lawyers appealed the case to the Supreme Court. In Cox v. Louisiana, a 5/4 decision, Cox won but not because of the substance of the law. A five member of the Court held the Louisiana law unconstitutional for vagueness. I did not define with precision how much proximity to a courthouse was required to constitute a violation of the law. Justice Black joined the dissenters. He would have denied the appeal because he argued that the law had a lawful purpose: To prevent interference with judicial proceedings.
Justice Black’s law clerk was a young lawyer named Chris Dixie.
Many years later, as chronicled in Max’s book, Chris was presiding over a contentious meeting of the Democratic Coalition. He objected to a proposal guaranteeing the right of demonstrators to congregate on courthouse lawns, as they had been doing in Huntsville. He used his position in the chair to divert that proposal for “further study” and action at some future time. Max refers to Chris’s behavior as having been “heavy handed” and one more example of white misbehavior.
Politics is endlessly interesting to me because of the real things that happen and the nature and histories of the people who make them happen.
I know this has become too long. If, however, you have persevered, I promise this will be my final comment.
Max Krochmal describes in detail the various political choices made by Mexicano politicians in San Antonio and other places in South Texas (an area whose northern border was a line from Corpus Christi to San Antonio to El Paso). He attributes those decisions to shifting relationships between local politicians and with their relationships with white politicians.
I believe this ignores what was really happening. Lyndon Johnson built a political career on votes in this part of Texas. In 1937, when he was first elected to Congress, rural South Texas was a huge plantation run by three rich bosses: George Paar in South East Texas, M. Gierra in Starr County in South Texas and M.J Raymond in Laredo, in South West Texas. In statewide elections and national elections, poll taxes were purchased in bulk for the campesinos who worked in the fields. On election day. pickup trucks loaded with Mexicano voters would pull up at polling places. A marked ballot would be handed to each voter, who would enter the polling place, obtain a ballot, stuff it into his shirt, and place the marked ballot in the slot for votes. He would rerurn to the truck, hand the blank ballot to the patron, receive a bottle of beer with a dollar wrapped around it and would be returned to the ranch or farm where he worked.
This is only one way votes were controlled. Some times the “voters” would simply sign in at the polls and the ones conducting the election would mark the ballots and place them in the appropriate box. If, at the end of the day, more votes were needed, additional ballots would be marked and added to the box.
This system ended, or at least was modified, when the GI’s returned from service in WWII. They and their families were no longer willing to obey the directions of the patrons . The old political bosses still had political influence, but their power was now shared by local political organizations in rural counties as well as in San Antonio and other South Texas cities and towns. Some of those organizations were just as illegal as before but the ones in charge were new local jefes who used political patronage and punishment dispensed by captive judges and grand juries to control local politics to impose control over county level politics.
Lyndon Johnson, after a period of military service in the war, returned to Texas and, in 1948, was elected to the United States Senate in a close election that forever branded him as “Landslide Lyndon”. His election featured a contest with Coke Stephenson for the votes of these new political organizations. The outcome was the subject of a sensational investigation by the Texas legislature and a bitter judicial contest. Lyndon ultimately won by less than one hundred votes.
After that stressful beginning, Lyndon Johnson apparently vowed never again to be threatened by political organizations he didn’t control. During the period of time covered by Max’s book, Lyndon was the deus ex machina who actually orchestrated the election of governors and U.S. Senators in Texas. Some of his most loyal lieutenants lived in San Antonio.
So when I read about “Mexicans will only be led by Mexicans”, I did not interpret it as anything other than political theater. Unless those polliticos believed LBJ had become a Mexicano, along with his puppets, John Connally and Price Daniel, the slogan was for consumption only by the uninformed.
The two most traumatic political events in my life (until the election of Donald Trump)j were the defeats of Ralph and Don Yarborough in their races for election to the Texas governorship. And I do not believe those defeats had anything to do with the moral deficiencies or political loyalties of white liberals. It had to do with LBJ’s determination that, if any political organization was created, it would be one loyal to and controlled by him.
December 7, 2016 § Leave a comment
I am a regular listener to Amy Goodman’s program “Democracy Now”. A few days ago, Amy devoted the entire program to a tribute to Yip Harburg. He was a socialist who wrote and was a significant creator of The Wizard of Oz, Finnian’s Rainbow and several other hit shows on Broadway. During the McCarthy era he was blacklisted and unable to find work for several years.
Here is a link to the show, narrated by his son discussing Yip’s life.
Here is poem by Yip, read by him at the end of the above linked program.
I copied it from the recording and I have some doubt about the word “because” in the penultimate line. But even if I made an error, you can get a glimpse of Yip’s irrepressible humor and spirit from his verse.
Lives of Great Men
by Yip Harburg
Lives of great men all remind us Greatness takes no easy way All the heroes of tomorrow Are the heretics of today. Socretes and Gallileo; John Brown Thaureau Christ and Debs Hear the night cry, “Down with traitors” And at dawn shout “Up the rebs.” Nothing ever seems to bust em Gallows, crosses, prison bars Though we tried to readjust em There they are among the stars Why do great men all remind us We can write our names on high? All because we leave behind us Footprints in the FBI
November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
“The deliberations of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 were held in strict secrecy. Consequently, anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall when the proceedings ended in order to learn what had been produced behind closed doors. The answer was provided immediately. A Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” With no hesitation whatsoever, Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” (Benjamin Franklin) “http://www.whatwouldthefoundersthink.com/a-republic-if-you-can-keep-it
I share Mrs. Powell’s fear. I think we face an unprecedented threat to our republic . Ben Franklin’s assurance was conditional in 1787 and he could not conceive of the kind of threats we now face.
Donald Trump and the Constitution
During the lengthy campaign leading to the triumph of Donald Trump he made no secret of his hostile attitude toward the Constitution’s limits on executive power. He railed against the protection of journalists’ right to be critical of his proposals. He promised changes in slander and libel laws so that his critics could face civil penalties. He prescribed jail or loss of citizenship for the offense of flag burning. He called for religious testing of immigrants fleeing from oppression and death. He promised mass deportation of Muslim citizens. He plans for significant expansion of our prison system by creating a privately operated system of new facilities. Steve Bannon, his choice for a top advisor, has a history of proposing restriction of the franchise to property owners, acknowledging his approval of its disproportionate impact on the right of black citizens’ voting rights.
Our present military force is greater than any other nation. Trump promises to significantly expand it. One of his favored military advisors is a retired general who led attendants at his political rallies in a call for jailing Trump’s political opponent. “Lock Her Up”. He has expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin, the Russian dictator and has expressed disdain for our NATO alliance.
To summarize: Donald Trump reacts impulsively and angrily toward any restriction on his ability to do whatever he wants to do. He is about to become President of a country whose governing document is specifically designed to impose those restrictions. I expect him to react to that circumstance just as he does to any other restraint of his discretion. Some of his advisors, e.g. Reince Priebus, Mike Pence and Kelly Ann Conway, will try to act as a regency for his presidency and protect him from bad decisions. I doubt the efficacy and endurance of that arrangement. Donald Trump does not react passively to restrictions of his power.
A Precipitating Event
I expect that sometime during Trump’s presidency, ISIS or some other group opposed to the U.S. will cause a repeat of the kind of disaster we experienced on September Eleven. Trump will then react by claiming authority necessary to protect us from imminent invasion or from other similar events. The regency will disappear and he will assume the same kind of authority over the United States of America as he had over his private business empire.
When that happens, normal political conflicts will be regarded as unacceptable distractions interfering with the efficient response to external threats. Normal electoral politics will be suspended. And George Orwell’s 1984 will finally become reality. Opposition to Trump’s activities will be treated as treason and rebellions will be ruthlessly crushed.
A Historical Precedent
I am aware that mention of analogies to Hitler’s Germany have been discredited as hysterical and inappropriate political tactics. I still believe it is instructive to point out some parallels.
Like Trump, Hitler never received a majority vote in a German election. Hitler, in violation of the Versailles Treaty, expanded Germany’s military force. As Trump replaces the Clinton era, Hitler, a few months after the 1933 election, displaced Paul von Hindenburg, first by becoming Chancellor and then, after Hindenburg’s death, becoming Dictator as a result of the Enabling Act. Trump used Mexican and Muslim immigrants as scapegoats to evoke fear and support by his followers. Hitler used the Reichstag fire to ignite fear of communists among his followers. He stoked hatred of Jews and homosexuals to justify brutal repression. Hitler created a huge system of prisons for the victims of his mass arrests. Trump is calling for an expansion of privately operated prisons to contain the expected increase in the number of arrests. As part of his plan to expand across Europe, Hitler forged an alliance with Benito Mussolini of Italy. Trump has apparently chosen Vladimir Putin as his Mussolini. [To me they seem like two scorpions in a bottle: each intending to dominate the other.] Hitler used mass meetings featuring military pomp and incendiary speeches by him to maintain and increase popular adoration of him. Trump has just announced a series of “Thank You” rallies to maintain emotional ties to his adoring fan base.
I hope I’m wrong about all this. It would be a wonderful surprise if Trump becomes equal to the job of being a benign intelligent president. My problem is: I see nothing in his past to promise that result.
November 27, 2016 § Leave a comment
I am using this blog to encourage my readers to watch an episode of Bill Moyers Journal.
Moyers interviews Paul Krugman about Picketty’s book, “Capital in the 21st Century”, a book I have written about in previous entries in this blog. [Just click on the blog and use a search for “Picketty” (without the quotes).
Here is a link to the Moyers episode: http://billmoyers.com/episode/what-the-1-dont-want-you-to-know-2/
I know you have other things to do besides paying attention to this blog. If you don’t have time now, just keep the link until you have an hour or so to enjoy an interesting conversation between two smart guys about a book I think is the most important book written in the last few decades, maybe since Das Capital or Keynes’ General Theory ….
November 27, 2016 § 4 Comments
The main purpose of this blog item is to encourage people to read an article in the Atlantic brought to my attention by my friend and mentor, Milton Lower. Here is link:
This expresses one of my two persistent frustrations with the strategy of the Democratic Party:
First: The Democratic Party’s inattention to the effects of globalization and technology changes that have disempowered the middle-class working class men and women in Middle America. Yes, I know we have lectured them about going back to school and being “realistic” about accepting inevitable changes. They have responded the same way as blacks and women responded to: “Just be patient. We’re wording on it.” They learned the same thing ignored groups have always learned: Power is shared only when it is demanded in ways that make the powerful sufficiently uncomfortable. I only hope the lesson does not take as long and cost as much in human misery as the lessons of racial and gender equality did.
Second it’s deliberate abandonment of support for and interest in the American Labor Movement. [Note I do not write “The AFL/CIO”. I do not write that because I believe that it is way past time to redesign the American Labor Movement to make it a “Movement”, not a “special interest group”, not a “lobbyist group” and not an ATM machine for financial contributions to candidates’ campaigns.] [ I hasten to add that my professional life largely consisted 0f representing and working with unions. I admire and support their efforts because they often furnish the skill and muscle necessary for grassroots organizing.]
I distinguish our present unions from a movement because, with some notable exceptions, their focus seems unchanged from the 1930’s and 40’s: organizing construction maritime and industrial workers. I believe we need changes in the law and changes in organizing skills necessary for organizing unskilled workers in retail, health care , residential housing and food service industries. And, before we can achieve changes in our laws, we must change our political vision and goals.
The SEIU and the United Farmworkers of the 1960’s are models of the kind of organizing needed now. To organize unskilled workers consumer boycotts are necessary. It is easy to replace unskilled workers unless they are protected by changes in our labor laws. But replacing lost customers might attract management’s attention if it was significant and persistent. This kind of organizing calls for partnerships between unions and nonunion workers and families, exactly the kind of alliances we need. There are legal risks and barriers preventing unions from using boycotts as a bargaining tool. But nonunion groups can choose not to patronize businesses resisting negotiations with unions. Such informal alliances could be powerful political as well as economic forces.
The bitter irony of the defense of NAFTA and TPP is that they have been defended by supporters, including Barack Obama, by observing that they will reduce prices of retail goods sold in megastores like Walmart. I could liken this argument to the apocryphal advice of Marie Antoinette : “Let them eat cake.” but that would be too tacky. The point is they are additional threats to the power of unions, the exact opposite from what I think we should be doing.
I should mention that the writer of the Atlantic article barely mentioned the AFL/CIO in his description of the New Deal’s populist policies. The creation of the CIO and the Wagner Act lent strength to FDR’s efforts and, until Taft-Hartley gutted that legacy, the working class in America was on its way to becoming a model of a labor/politics/partnership capable of protecting America from corporate domination we now confront. I have a suspicion that he is too young to be aware of FDR”s redesigning of the labor movement and its power-shifting effect.
A Personal Asid
My experience in politics began before working class power waned. I am an “old fogy” and it frustrates me to realize that two or three generations have come to maturity without knowing about (and, therefore, without caring about) a world in which working people had power, not in the form of grants from government, but real power. Blacks and women weren’t told, “Here’s some money to keep you satisfied; just don’t demand a share of our power. We’re busy with other issues.” No. The laws were changed to protect their rights to demand and claim power. That’s the kind of power working class Americans need.
Recently, anger and frustration ignited the worst aspects of their nature. Many of them were charmed by Trump’s promises. What we better hope now is that the would-be dictator who courted them isn’t smart enough to give them some of what they want. If we’re lucky, he will betray them and we may get another chance. If so, I hope we don’t blow it – again.