A Hillary Landslide

I am the most optimistic I have been in years. I am sensing the possibility of a Hillary landslide.

It’s reminiscent of the showdown in 1964 between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Senator Barry Goldwater. That was the first national campaign that I participated in independently as a high school student. I suppose I acquired an interest in retail politics from my father, having participated in his campaigns and in many discussions at home and among friends at school about government and varying policies. There was no question for any of us at the time that elections matter – some matter greatly – governance is no joke.

Personally, I don’t care if Hillary robbed banks as a teenager and every other word she utters is a dodge. I do not care if she is as dry and lifeless a speaker as stale white bread. I do care greatly about experience under fire, knowledge of governance, and a goal of seeking the best workable solutions for pressing national problems.

Obama gently put whitey in his place with grace and restored careful honor to the White House. Hillary may be just the tonic needed by the shrinking American male who thinks that cheap put-down jokes, fabricating “facts” and shooting holes in a paper image of a human are essential survival skills in our world. Hillary, as Obama, does not see a world of enemies but a world of potential partners.

No matter what happens in Iowa and first-tier wacky primary votes, I think Hillary could sweep the primaries, and she could deliver a fatal blow to political extremism in this country. She could bring a reasonable majority to the US Senate and House.

You don’t have to like your medicine, you just have to take the right one to get better. Liking candidates, or their spouses and relatives, is pointless. You just have to choose the best available leader and join the civil debate.

What had looked like total madness weeks ago, now looks like a gift from God. Fight the fight to continue momentum, but please don’t waste a vote. Genuine charm and absolutist ideas may appear attractive as human attributes, but they may work less effectively in governing.

Complementary Principles

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With an upcoming presidential election there will be much rancor and little agreement. During the process, I declare my unwillingness to sacrifice a single guiding principle in order to achieve absolute simplicity or popularity. I will not wallow in self-righteous indignation, though dismay fuels my mind. I have been much alarmed by the disrespect afforded our current president. Disrespect is a prelude to wanton waste and self-destructive division – and a sign of weakness. It is also wrong – not just morally, ethically, and politically – but the wrong way to achieve practical self-interests.

In October 2015 I revisited the miniseries John Adams. [1] It reminded me of why citing the Founding Fathers as if they spoke with one voice, which was meant to stand supreme against all comers, is ridiculous and untrue. The Founding Fathers gave us independence from Britain and an outline of a process for self-governing in the face of constant disagreement and existential challenges. That is enough. As for their principles, they were and are at war, but always seeking accommodation and concrete results that are workable, if not satisfactory, for the majority, including, and especially, measures to protect the civil rights of minorities.

In the HBO production, Thomas Jefferson is a playful, theatrical provocateur. He certainly does not believe in revolution every 20 years in the sense that his affection for the French suggests. Hamilton is the real revolutionary of his time. We needed all the elements of the periodic table at the formation of our nation – all the principles and psychological types to build a new kind of body politic.

Today a common refrain from the extreme right and left wings of the political spectrum is, “I will not compromise my principles!” The problem is that every thinking and feeling man, woman, and child should embody a wide range of principles that constantly compete internally for a practical balance. Then no one compromises their principles: they compromise their solutions based on a common pool of viable values and shared information.

As the Steve Jobs character in the movie Steve Jobs reportedly says of his role at Apple, as a breathing, adapting nation, we “play the orchestra.” For maximum enjoyment, understanding, and forward-moving results, we play the full breadth of instruments and styles – principles – for maximum effectiveness in the real world.

To combat the movement toward more guns and more violence, toward more political inaction, I propose a stun device – let’s call it “respectful reason” – that will temporarily stop an attacking principle, seeking supremacy, long enough for the civil society of men and women to steady the attacker and return him toward our shared principles and shared problems – all of them – the whole enchilada. The trouble with big-mouth politicians and terrorists is their single-mindedness. The delicate art in liberal society is our tolerance of dimwitted, even dangerous, talk. The media is not guiltless in this obsession with the phantasmagoric squalor of political operators willing to seek the limelight at any price. OFF is a powerful feature of modern electronics; it is much easier to execute and is just as effective at separating lunatic heads from extended necks before a one-note mob arises.

FOOTNOTE:

1. John Adams aired on HBO in 2008.

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Shame on the P.O.

One hopes for a little protection for vulnerable people in an advanced society. But smart A’s will say that gullible people get what they deserve.

The elderly in the United States are scammed every which way every day of the week. An honored elder should be protected. People who do not protect their elderly will reap the same when their time comes.

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Mid-America Crossroads

Passage to Memphis

Dear friends, we miss you and think about you. I want to account for our not seeing you and for our not hearing from one another in recent months. Public transportation, or the lack thereof, has frustrated me since I returned from Europe in 1972 with an intensified love of train travel. As I get older, and my friends and family get older too, the problem of safely and conveniently traversing Tennessee highways, amid a growing number of rude, dangerous-driving commercial truck drivers and an Interstate 40 strewn with large truck-tire fragments, has resurrected my dismay over the absence of public transportation. I see no good reason why there is no rail or quality bus travel between Tennessee’s major cities that comes close to what is available in northeastern states. But then again, given our politics of me first and let’s go it alone, I do understand why. Still I quietly rage against our fate and the status quo. I want to come to Memphis more often and more comfortably.

Yes, members of my aging circle still think of joints, rhythm, frustration, miscommunication, and alienation. But usually it is in the context of bodily and social-service malfunctions. Parental oversight, pop festivals, literary discussions, and idealistic political activism have been supplanted by power of attorney, hearing defects, healthcare plans, assorted pains, and lowly immediate topics, such as chronic funk and creeping forgetfulness.

This is the preface for a story that sets the stage for a few more stories about rail travel. My passion for trains goes way back and has not diminished, though realism has hardened and practicalized my life in many ways. This first history-laced story focuses on Memphis as a transportation hub. Others highlight personal experiences with train travel – life-altering experiences that I could not have had any other way nor done without.

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Small Local Efforts at Diversity

It may not be a good idea to editorialize about a magazine article that is editorializing about other editorializing. But here I go again.

Somehow in mid-July I ran out of New Yorker stories to read. Desperate on a hot day for something to read at the table over lunch, I rifled through old issues. I discovered an oddly titled piece from April 6, 2015, that I had somehow missed.

I will admit that my prejudices led me to start the story entitled “Carbon Capture.” [1] But soon I realized that I had stumbled across a piece that was different; an argument that would give me the intellectual twist and challenge that I desired.

In my humble opinion, this is a significant piece. It borders on political philosophy. By the end, I was thinking back 40 years to the blockbuster book “Small is Beautiful” and thinking the small, the local, and the diverse retained the strength, clarity, and utility that I had once thought they did.

This represents my mindset fairly: take nothing for granted, keep changing perspectives, focus on the small and the local and the naturally diverse. By this path, we will live better and end nobler.

FOOTNOTE:

1. The subtitle of Jonathan Franzen’s article “Carbon Capture” in The New Yorker on April 6, 2015, focuses the mind: “Has climate change made it harder for people to care about conservation?” He gets to the point early and holds fast to it: “As a narrative, climate change is almost as simple as ‘Markets are efficient.’ The story can be told in fewer than a hundred and forty characters: We’re taking carbon that used to be sequestered and putting it in the atmosphere, and unless we stop we’re f~~ked.”

Adopt an Elder

To liberals and conservatives alike, I say you cannot love (or, you are no warrior) until you have cared and fought for someone you know and owe – not a vague abstraction, but someone close by. Most of my friends and family have experienced this revelation. I am a Johnny-come-lately in this forced march, but I am willing to advocate for it as if I discovered something awesomely new.

Decline is inevitable. It is the future of us all.

Young people, love and cherish your elders before it is too late. Record and remember their sacrifices, foibles, follies, triumphs, and wisdom.

Time is relative, supposedly, but it is an unrelenting hunter. Do unto others as you would have others down the food chain do unto you. When you come to embrace the majestic, unexpected degradation of life, you will come to understand it; only then will you apply to it the full measure of your diminishing capabilities.

Some differ on the focus of their crusades for life. From my perspective, the life not present and formed can have no place of precedence if the life that is nearby is not completely honored. And the life that has given to others many times over cannot be relegated to obscurity and daily want if life to come is to thrive.

We are and have been a busy, self-regarding generation. Those after are perhaps busier. Business is our nature and our fog. Too often we are busy about nothing – nothing of significance at all. Wisdom is recognizing obligation and noting one’s hair’s-breadth remove from insignificance.

Young nieces and nephews – grand nieces and nephews – young friends and strangers, I marvel at your energy and health, your white teeth and strong voices, and your time left for mistakes and successes. But the train of old age is coming at you much faster than you know; you will only know it when it hits. Be prepared for a new near-life. Be prepared to be a model for your descendants in gracefully negotiating the years that were supposed to come so slowly. And pray like mad that your children and their children, and the great souls of your community, will mercifully adopt an elder.

Nyet & Yahoo

One hardly needs to comment on the lunacy and error of Republicans in the U.S. Congress. It seems cruel and redundant to do so. They veer from logic and history with the abandon of drunken teenagers. Obama’s presidency is a perpetual wound in their muddled brains and tiny souls.

Tennessee’s Republican U.S. Senators declined to participate in the folly. For that I am most grateful. These two experienced exceptions prove the others wildly and dangerously wrong.

I cannot thank the other Congressional Republicans for confirming our studied and feared suspicions. None of us wants to witness, in the “loyal” opposition, such craven and treacherous behavior, laced as it is with dark cynicism, screeching spite, and flatfooted foolishness.

To be sure, they will top even this one. Pray, pray, pray – work, work, work – so that they don’t – so that we are delivered from this gangland blight on governance.

Jeb and Hillary have their faults. But none compare to the loathsome flaws to be found in Republican affiliates in the U.S. Congress. At least at top levels, Tennessee’s state-wide elected officials seem to have not sipped the acid-laced cocktails served at so-called “conservative” conclaves.

Liberal to a Fault

What is little recognized about liberalism in America, among the illiberal, is its toughness in resisting homogeneity. It is little known and understood because conservatives and identity-conflicted centrists choose to ignore context and history when composing their self-congratulatory political narratives – narratives that describe their own views as wholly realistic and doggedly principled while ignoring the evolving ideals and labored mechanics essential to pragmatism. Recently, Nathan Heller wrote an article entitled “Northern Lights” for The New Yorker. [1] In it he examines the effectiveness and sensibleness of the welfare state in Scandinavian countries. He also contrasts that with criticism of the Scandinavian system offered in a current book on the topic. The juxtaposition of Scandinavian and American solutions to individual and social issues leads him to a interesting conclusion: that where Scandinavians have achieved saneness with an underpinning of sameness, America, particularly because of the strength of liberal ideals, pursues better solutions while preferring cultural diversity. As Heller sees it, this is not exactly unqualified praise of the American approach in general or American liberals in particular.

Here is how Heller states it:

“What Nordic life tells us…is how steep and ambitious the path of American liberalism is. Conservative social ideals are notorious for their mercenary spirit and wishful self-justifications…. Yet a certain hardness of heart rests in the practice of modern American liberalism, too. We have registered our willingness to make the Faustian deal that the Swedes have not. The possibility of having a truly Iranian-American life, or enjoying deep-Appalachian bluegrass, is important to our national variety. And, to let these cultures thrive on their own, we’ve agreed to let some of our people, by our withheld intervention, be thrown under the bus.

“Because this is America, we hope for better. But we aren’t hung up on our tendencies to fall short. …Like many Enlightenment-born nations, we declared our principles at the start – liberty, equality, the pursuit of happiness – and trusted that any friction among these ideas would be sorted out, eventually, in the churn of civic life. The trust continues. Progress is slow. While Nordic people have made the best of what they have, Americans persist in gambling on something better, and yet settling for something worse.”

Heller, having it both ways, as is the wont of journalists and critics alike, seems to be lightly criticizing American liberalism for not demanding the level of purity that would force submission to a tighter state in order to achieve a more amenable lifestyle – if not a more equitable and interesting society.

But his essay offers a valuable lesson to conservatives about liberalism. Liberalism is not more aggressive in opposing gun ownership, or the advancement of willful denial of fact in our society, because liberals see such aberrations as a part of our culture that somehow augment American life and prospects – as if to say, we will not force you to give up your diverse ways because we have no intention of giving up ours – and we find all the differences to be, at least a little, enriching.

Liberals in fact think there may yet be something useful and enlightening to emerge from conservative expressions – though there is often every reason to doubt that proposition. That, my friends, is truly entrenched optimism and determination. Liberals won’t go hard on guns in general because of fondness for grandpa’s beautiful gun rack and his colorful hunting stories. Radicals of every stripe should remember that liberals have firepower, too – sporting and defensive weapons, factories, technology, demographics, and diversity – shared culture and work. And liberals have an impressively successful track record of consistently crushing jackboots when they goose-step too high and too close to home. Diversity does indeed have its usefulness, lest conservatives think it is all about meditation, yoga, and sushi. Allies are a wonderful complement in war.

I am not so sure that American liberals are throwing anyone under the bus. But, by Heller’s lights, they are liberal to a fault for not going out of their way to crush differences of opinion and living styles. All this is not to criticize Scandinavia – even without bluegrass. Heller’s spear is meant for us alone, even though he would not wish us Scandinavian. We are too gloriously searching and messy for that.

Therefore, any assertions by conservatives regarding concealed or elite liberal designs to build a totalitarian state are pure projection and fancy on the part of the real schemers. Liberal America prefers flavorful variety over monotonous universal perfection.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Nathan Heller’s article “Northern Lights” in The New Yorker on February 16, 2015.

Our Ebola

There is indeed an insidious disease threatening our country, its people, and its culture. It oozes isolationism, spite, protectionism, racism, sexism, defeatism, dread, and panic. It drains the humanity from its victims, who continue to stagger among us.

I am reminded every day of life as an immigrant in a precarious world. Descended from Scotch-Irish who immigrated to this country a couple of centuries ago, I still sense enduring health vulnerabilities, social incomprehension, separation, and hardship, even in my native land. And I am considered a full-fledged established member in good standing. It is not just that I work around exemplary students, academics, medical personnel, and patients of foreign descent on a daily basis. When I go to restaurants in New York City, I sit at tables surrounded by people who are not speaking English. The same applies when I infrequently visit a restaurant in Nashville; though others speak English, or some mutant form of American dialect, many obviously are visitors from other countries or recent immigrants. This mixing both socially and genetically, this constant negotiation with novel elements, is very good for us; it makes our country better prepared to cooperate and do business with the rest of the world. It deals us a superior hand for future play and worthy survival.

Thinking I had witnessed the lowest of the low in recent years in terms of political chicanery, I see new depths in the employment of a few Ebola cases as an explosive diversion a few weeks before a mid-term election. It is a horrible sight – and I don’t just mean the suffering in West Africa. Perhaps the panic is mainly a flash-in-the-pan circus of frenetic journalism and loose tongues and not penetrating or prevalent – which is the consoling assessment that my seasoned opinion favors.

Our narrow-minded, short-sighted, self-centered, and greedy Ebola is in part the by-product of our heritage, stretching back to Europe and beyond. But we do participate in effectively spreading it around the world. Perhaps ISIS is not genuinely grounded in a religious backlash against Western values and products, but Western exploitations and myopia in the past have certainly fed its fever. No place has been abused and spoiled more than Africa.

Now we should be thinking about how to help West Africans, not about how to wall them off. Panic sickens the soul and issues very poor, self-defeating results.

Despite radical conservatism’s posturing against science, its adherents – consistently inconsistent – run to the medicine cabinet of research whenever confronted with actual personal challenges in modern life. Science can combat the other Ebola, but please, God, strengthen our gift of humanism to help us overcome our mindless and spiritless strain of excessive poisonous excretions. Somebody please wake this patient up and fortify its backbone. Serious no-drama purpose, thinking, and method will best resolve our crises large and small.

Sick of Parties

Parties are artificial to me. Alignments are justified on issues but don’t come easy and should not last long. Though alliances are unquestionably useful, group identity gives me the willies. Groups are pernicious and demean individual integrity and openness. They also spawn presumptions that border on lunacy and ultimately undermine the effectiveness of concerted effort.

American politics are like hamburger – or, more likely, pink slime – we don’t know what is in it and it takes numerous and diverse condiments to make it palatable. Politics will always be inherently necessary and distasteful.

In American national elections there are usually two candidates to choose from and one is clearly the better person for the position. Considering past Presidential elections, with the exception of 1992 and 2000, featuring the spoiler Perot and the attention-seeking Nader respectively, the clear best won. In our country of late, due to fringe voters and backers with big wallets, the losing party has not forwarded good candidates for President. It has not been just a question of party.

I will not lie to you, the opposition candidate would have to stink like a three-days-dead yeller dog before I would vote for a Republican. Only occasionally do I consider doing so in my own state, where there are usually two or three dead dogs on the ballot and the established Republican has proven himself more or less reasonable and honorable.

But we liberals and moderates do get it: conservative whites will never forgive Carter for being a good man, Clinton for being a better conservative than those in the other party (and a philanderer, for which Democrats will not forgive him either), or Obama for being an intelligent, calm black man, for being elected twice by a majority for President, and for not embarrassing himself, his family, his core objectives, or the nation before the world.

I get it personally: I can read the latest review of Henry Kissinger’s writing and agree with almost all of it. But I cannot easily forgive him for squandering the lives of thousands of young men in pursuit of an ideal of honorable peace that was impracticable based on the principles of world order in his own late-life pronouncements.

* * *

The world is a dangerous place – any moron knows that – but just how dangerous and to what degree in what quarters is up for reasonable disagreement. Anger, theatrics, and lies have little constructive role in deliberations about military action or policy in general. For that reason I never watch Fox News or MSNBC, except for lampoons of both by Colbert.

Today is not 1964 or 1968 – the mirror tells us that. Those who know too much about history (and too little of human psychology) and focus ever backwards are doomed to fear reliving history over and over again. Obama’s administration had no need to fabricate the severed heads of American citizens, or the agony of Syrian and Iraqi minorities, for the nations of the world to see and judge reality for themselves. His military actions in the Middle East might indeed veer into worse involvements for American soldiers, but they could also prevent worse as well. So-called conservatives McCain and Graham squeaked and screamed for deeper involvement and obviously crave more still. Those on the right who think and act as if they possess better military intelligence and foresight than regular folks can whisper their superior notions to one another and tut-tut the bipartisan will of Congress, but if they do not enter the public forum and prove it, they are no more than Walter Mittys of political debate and citizenship. Most do not want war, but most also want to help improve dangerous international situations. It is not just a question of party or mass stupidity.

I say to 2014, I knew 1964 intimately and you are not 1964. You, 2014, are also not 2003. You are something new from something old. That is what both liberalism and conservatism stand for. Defeat, revolution, totalitarianism, and nihilism are the polar opposites.