Is the United States a failed country?

Is the United States a failed country?

That term “failed state” (I prefer “country”*) is often tossed around in news reports to describe other countries, the most dramatic of which are predominantly Muslim countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, and Pakistan (one of the three pieces of what was one country on independence from Britain).

Then there is Latin America, where two of many examples are Venezuela (an example of pure government incompetence leading to breakdown in vital services and widespread starvation) and Brazil (whose infrastructure and services are collapsing under corruption, impeachments, and the 2016 Olympics).

You know: countries with governments that can’t govern, countries riven by ethnic and ideological strife and about to fall apart, countries with leaders on the take and huge gaps between the wealthy and the impoverished, countries whose citizens can’t get along because they lack the long tradition of respectful democracy founded long ago in Europe, of which it is accepted wisdom that we are the greatest exemplar.

And Europe? Come to think of it, Germany was split in two states after World War II. Czechoslovakia split into two parts and Yugoslavia into, eventually, seven. The USSR collapsed into its 15 constituent republics. Belgium periodically looks like the Flemish and French speakers are breaking up. The UK again is threatened by possible Scottish independence and Spain by the long-standing Catalan and Basque independence movements. And Greece, the birthplace of democracy, has been undergoing a bit of turmoil itself recently.

Declaration_independence

Our distrustful Founders, in the movement initiated 240 years ago today (image above**), hoped to safeguard democracy by playing off three branches of government against each other. We have been finding out ever since then whether a tree with three equal trunks (and one of them itself divided in two sub-branches) is prone to fissure.

We are still, in Abraham Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, testing whether a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal… can long endure.” The outcome, these days, depends on leaders many of whom don’t wish to lead and people many of whom don’t wish to vote.

You’d have to say that the United States was a failed country leading up to 1861, when an extraordinarily bloody Civil War tore it apart, with wounds that still haven’t healed in areas like race relations and vote suppression. Is it failing again?

One sign of impending country failure is a breakdown in national institutions. As pointed out in a recent New York Times article, “3 Separate, Equal and Dysfunctional Branches” by Carl Hulse, 6/23/16, our legislative branch does nothing about the epidemic of gun violence, refuses to restore the Supreme Court to full strength, and tears down the executive branch’s major principles like safeguarding immigrant parents of American citizens, while the states chip away at the Affordable Health Care Act and abortion rights long recognized by the judicial system.

The article ends by quoting Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass), following Democratic representatives’ sit=-in demanding the right to discuss and vote on a gun bill: “So we’re locked out of everything, if I am understanding the rule correctly? This is a lousy process, Mr. Speaker.”

Amid all the turmoil, one of the most divisive presidential campaigns since perhaps 1860 lurches along toward yet unknown heights of financial coercion and verbal and physical violence, making one wonder how much longer, at least under the current form of government, the American experiment can continue.

Oh, and Happy Independence Day!

* To me, a state (or a colony like Puerto Rico, or a city, or any political unit) fails if it becomes dysfunctional, stops following its own rules, does not use its resources to meet its people’s needs. A country fails if it does not meet its own expectations, if its principles are subverted in practice, if its citizens are disaffected and divided by more than unites them, if it loses the desire for consensus that holds a nation together. I am not sure that Czechoslovakia was a failed state; it was a country whose people preferred to form two states. The USSR was manifestly a failed country even while it still had a strong state. UK has (at least till the current uproar) a long-respected state, but as a country it is losing its unity; in fact, the desire to strengthen the state against foreign influence is driving its collapse as a single country.

**from Wikimedia Commons: John Trumbull’s painting, Declaration of Independence, depicting the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their work to the Congress. The painting can be found on the back of the U.S. $2 bill. The original hangs in the US Capitol rotunda.

Posted in constitution, History, Politics | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Rep. Costello, Do Your Job!

“Rep. Costello, do your job!” was the first of several chants by the 25 people assembled under his office window on West Market St. on June 27.

Then, it was on to “Background checks now!” and “No guns for terrorists!”

And “What did Congress do after Sandy Hook?” Reply: “Nothing!” And the chants went on to a list of other mass shootings after which Congress likewise did nothing.

Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence leader Tom Buglio pointed out that 80-90% of Americans poll as wanting background checks and gun denials for individuals on the terrorist watch list—issues about which Rep. Ryan Costello (R PA-06) won’t meet with CCCPGV personally, though his office staff has.

According to Buglio, Costello is typical of today’s US House: he took $10,000 in NRA funding 2 years ago and avoids every chance to engage with gun violence prevention advocates. Buglio read from Costello’s statement after the Orlando shootings; Costello speaks repeatedly of “terrorism” and “hate” but does not stress that terrorists and haters should not have easy access to assault-style guns.

Activists have repeatedly asked Costello to cosponsor HR 1217, introduced by Peter King [R-NY-2] and cosponsored by almost 200, including 5 R’s and 2 D’s from PA, but Costello will not answer. (See HR 1217 info here.) Buglio challenged Costello: “Stop protecting the NRA and start protecting your constituents.”

The next speaker, John Gribbin, saw Orlando as an attack directed against the LGBT population, not as terrorism in general. A new “Gays against Guns” group has formed to “fight this long battle.” Gribbin held up a sign saying “Costello: SILENCE = DEATH.” In 2005-2015, Gribbin said, this country saw 71 terrorist murders and 301,000 other gun killings; Costello is wrong to keep saying that the main problem in this country’s spate of mass shootings is Islamic terrorism.

Buglio then led a chant of “We are the 90%” and praised a strong editorial by Costello’s November opponent Mike Parrish: “We need leadership on gun violence.” He also lauded West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta, long-time active member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, now running for PA House 156.

Costello rally Molloy
Marty Molloy, candidate for PA Senate district 9, then spoke passionately (photo to the left; Rep. Costello’s office window is to the left) about measures needed to protect citizens against mass gun violence, such as restricting magazine sizes and assault weapons. Politicians should not say they are sorry if they don’t mean it, he said. The NRA wins because it organizes and gives big money, and “guns are the #1 issue of the 10%” (those who do not favor any protective measures). But “we will win,” he said, and he asked support for candidates like himself and Susan Rzucidlo (for PA House 158), who was part of the group.

And the rally adjourned until another day.

So are the long chain of mass shootings including Orlando in fact a terrorism problem or a gun problem? For detailed discussion, see “Our gun problem IS a terrorism problem” at The Daily Sift, 6/20/16. The author, Doug Muder, shows that “the Orlando shooting makes the guns-or-terrorism argument obsolete” because “ISIS is actively encouraging lone-wolf attacks, and the easy availability of AR-15s and other military-style weapons makes the United States uniquely vulnerable to lone-wolf terrorism. Our political inability to control or track even the most destructive guns keeps that hole in our defenses open. I’m amazed it took Islamic State strategists so long to figure that out.”

The author concludes: “The question is whether we will adapt, overcome the NRA’s resistance, and force our representatives to face the new reality….. That isn’t just a gun-control agenda any more. It’s an anti-terrorism agenda.”

Posted in Guns | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Who will govern the government?

“Physician, heal thyself,” the saying goes. That’s not an easy order, the self-cure. I recall hearing about an explorer who performed an appendectomy on himself, but that doesn’t seem like a practical solution for most of us.

“Government, govern thyself” seems to be in about the same category. The Founders, skeptics about human nature, set up a government with three branches to counteract each other, and the legislative branch even has two bodies that often neutralize each other’s action. And then the states hold their own powers up against the feds; and municipal and county governments don’t always fall in line with what the state says.

I recently visited Yorktown VA, site of the definitive American and French military victory over the British and hired German forces. The Virginians George Washington and James Madison justly occupy a large part in the Yorktown iconography.

Washington was more a man of action but Madison was the chief theoretician of American independence and the constitution.

James Madison engrv

My attention was caught by a phrase, perhaps more of a quip, by Madison: “You must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

I said to myself: “Well, how about the people controlling the government: isn’t that what democracy is about? Why didn’t Madison say that?”

Well, it turns out that he did say that. The Federalist, No. 51 (1788) is precisely about the checks and balances between the different branches (which he calls “departments” of government. Near the beginning, Madison wrote:

…the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

As the context shows, the famous desiderata about government controlling itself is not the heart of the matter, but is subsidiary to the main source of control: the people. Madison was quite right to envisage that government might tend to resist the power of the people; but unfortunately, the solution that he and the US constitution posit, the separation of powers, has proven unequal to the task.

That complaint explains why political enthusiasts who seem to have little in common can agree that government has gone astray. Sanders supporters may urge more government action in health care and education; and Trump supporters may deride government attempts to improve the lives of the unfortunate; but both sides agree that government has become corrupt and fossilized in power, that it responds to wealth and the oligarchs rather than to the ordinary people who make up the country; and that revolutionary change is needed to make government responsive and responsible again.

2016 is indeed a critical year, 228 years after Madison set down his ideas on separation of powers. As he feared, the legislative branch, with both of its bodies dominated by a common ideology, has consistently sought to diminish the executive by refusal to collaborate with it and to control the judiciary by applying the “advise and consent” clause with regard to political philosophy rather than qualifications.

Voters sense that politics as usual is not working well. Will this year’s election recommit us to the rule of the people? Or perpetuate the de facto status quo of money and media ruling? The stakes are higher than they have been for a long time; and James Madison probably would be distressed, but not surprised, that the three branches of government, in their eternal quest for power, are increasingly ignoring the needs and interests of their true master: the people.

Posted in constitution, History | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Interview with Lindy Li

Recently I interviewed Lindy Li, a Princeton graduate who has been active in Chester County political life.

On May 18 you gave a speech entitled “American audacity” at the United Nations World Summit on Innovation and Entrepreneurship [see text here and video here]. You feared that “The same intractable issues will anchor us down.” What sort of issues did you have in mind?
Lindy at UN 2
Lack of campaign finance reform prevents progress on almost every front. I’d love to do something about climate change, but we can’t because of moneyed interests. I’d love to do something about gun violence and to prevent the senseless slaughter of innocent Americans, but we can’t because of deep-pocketed organizations that very effectively impose their political will upon our lawmakers. The American people must hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire and demand action now. We need to be better organized and vocal than those who seek to maintain the status quo.

You said “my story is one of transcending limitations.” For example?

Being a young Chinese-American woman means that according to some I immediately have three strikes against me. The key is to transform my potential weaknesses into my greatest strengths.

You were at a dinner with President Obama recently?

Yes, we spoke briefly. I am also invited to go to the White House on June 14th for the United State of Women Summit, where the President, Vice President, and First Lady will be speaking. This event will gather together women leaders from across America.

During my Congressional campaign, I was endorsed by five members of Congress, including Congresswoman Grace Meng, who represents the 6th District of New York and whom I greatly admire and respect.

You must enjoy being busy. What’s the latest?

One of several initiatives on which I’m working is a mentoring program that pairs students who excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) but lack leadership skills with those who need additional tutoring on STEM topics. Giving these academically strong but socially challenged students an opportunity to develop their leadership capacity by tutoring those who need help with STEM accomplishes two important objectives simultaneously.

How about political life?

Right now I’m campaigning hard and fundraising for a number of candidates and elected officials, in addition to working with the DNC on hosting several events during the Convention in Philadelphia this summer. These are simply a few of the many things I’m doing right now in politics.

Do you have time for reading and what is your favorite book?

Lindy Li 2Yes, I read a lot. Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past and Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon B. Johnson are favorites. Anna Karenina is probably my most beloved book. I’m reading David McCullough’s Truman right now and am on a mission to devour every book that will help me to become a truly outstanding public servant.

During grade school I was the girl who was perpetually in the library. At age 16, I took a course at Harvard. Although I was shuddering with fright, I forced myself to ask the professor questions, in the presence of hundreds of classmates. Five years later, I was the graduation speaker at Princeton. Now I can address thousands of people with ease and great joy.

What is your top priority?

Public service, which is more important than politics. To me, that means fighting to give all hardworking Americans the opportunity to not only get by but also to get ahead. I’m the granddaughter of illiterate rice farmers. My family would be nowhere without the resources and opportunities of our adopted and beloved land. I believe our hard work and sacrifices, in turn, have made America stronger. My dad, a business owner, has hired many Americans, expanding their world of opportunities.

During the hearing in a lawsuit designed to remove me from the primary ballot, the judge, a Republican, said that he had never before been so moved by an election law case. He said that my family is an example of an immigrant success story, one that is especially resonant in an election season in which immigrants have often been vilified.

Are you an idealist?

Yes, but I’m deeply grounded in reality as well. Sometimes progress is best made when personal agendas and the greater good coincide. For example, LBJ knew that he would benefit politically from advancing civil rights.

How about power and money; are they important?

Much power resides in the ability to inspire people. I find comfort in knowing that I can change minds or strengthen resolves when it comes to carbon emissions and the need for common sense gun violence prevention. The majority of Americans favor universal background checks, but Congress is terrified of political retribution at the hands of certain organizations that control the spigot of campaign funds.

Great Britain, Japan, and Australia are all examples of countries that have successfully implemented gun violence prevention policies in the wake of tragedy. If they can do it, then why can’t we?

The accumulation of many seemingly insignificant actions makes an enormous difference, which is why turning off the lights in unused rooms and not wasting food on an individual basis matters.

I’m interested in money only insofar as it allows me to accomplish important things for our world. Look at our infrastructure – it’s in shambles. Inertia and lack of willpower prevent us from tackling some of the most important issues of our day, whether it be revitalizing our roads and bridges or reducing the pollution in Southeast Pennsylvania and around our country.

And political action?

Public service is my life’s calling. Several years ago I founded the “Do It in the Dark” campaign to encourage students to reduce their energy consumption by pitting dorms against each other in a friendly competition. I believe that the profit motive and capitalistic competition are powerful drivers of behavior.

In 2008 I worked at the Wawa near the Malvern train station. They didn’t recycle anything, so I took matters into my own hands by taking the discarded cardboard boxes, pieces of plastic, and paper home with me to recycle.

Once I spoke with a distinguished member of the Democratic Party who was so ruthless and cruel to me that I could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Throughout this past year I’ve been threatened, blackmailed, and manipulated, though each of these moments of adversity has made me stronger and more discerning.

There is a lot of talk these days on the role of corporations and Wall Street in public life…

Until we clean up the way that our campaigns are financed, we will still have institutionalized bribery.

How about the current debate regarding immigration?

We do need better enforcement, but deporting 11 million people would be counterproductive. Immigrants are by definition risk-takers who sacrifice and work hard for a better life. This kind of ingenuity and work ethic propels the engine behind our economy. Nearly all of our country’s best and brightest are either immigrants themselves or their ancestors were at one point in time immigrants. If we do this right, America will be better off with immigration than without.

Can you give another example of your volunteer service?

I’m also working with the Sierra Club and other organizations on reducing the pollution from the Brunner Island power station. The carbon emissions from this coal plant blow across Chester County and Philadelphia, resulting in the fifth highest number of asthma cases in the country.

My entire life is devoted to serving others.

Posted in PA politics | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Gun deaths and public life

In the midst of election turmoil and craziness, it can be discouraging to pay close attention to what goes on in public life. There is so much self-interest, hypocrisy, and meanness. But then, we need to remember that real issues underlie elections and we can take our lead from those candidates and activists who promote a genuine vision of the public interest.

Among the most noteworthy of these, to me, are individuals fighting to prevent gun violence in this country. After years of carnage, our senses are dulled by so much shooting. Where was that shooting? How many dead in that one? What kind of gun? A relative accidentally shot a 4-year-old girl in Philadelphia and someone killed 8 sleeping members of a family in Ohio (Daily Local, April 16 and 23). In a few days, we won’t even remember.

But we all surely remember in 2012 when a deranged 20-year-old killed 20 elementary school students and 6 school staff, after killing his mother (who had enabled his gun habit) and before killing himself. The even worse news is that that one morning of terror accounted for only about one-third of this country’s average of 90 gun deaths a day. (More than half of those are suicides carried out by people who should have treatment, not access to guns.)

Many people in the Sandy Hook community, including parents who had lost children in the massacre, banded together to try to save others from having the same tragic experience. They could have retreated into despair, but some of them formed “Team 26,” the Sandy Hook Bicycle Riders, who every year have bicycled from Connecticut to Washington DC in order to plead for gun violence prevention. Why “Team 26”? To honor the 26 victims in the school.

Remember Sandy Hook 4:10:16You can see details and photos in “Team 26 makes stop in West Chester area” in the Daily Local News, 4/12/16.

On April 10, I was among the 35 or so local residents who welcomed the riders to our area at the Holiday Inn south of West Chester, in an event organized by the Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

In a gathering inside, the Sandy Hook Riders and local residents made clear they are united in advocating to improve background checks and gun safety laws.

Tom Buglio, leader of the Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, led a wry chant of “There is no safe place” (sadly, not even schools and churches) and introduced Sandy Hook Riders spokesperson Monte Frank.

According to Frank, since the Sandy Hook Riders began 4 years ago, 90,000 Americans have died by gun violence. The NRA said the “Connecticut effect” would fade from public consciousness; but, Frank said, “the Connecticut effect is becoming the US effect.” Parents who have lost children to gun violence were introduced, followed by speakers in political life.

State Representative Madeleine Dean (D-153) spoke of participating with her three children in the Million Mom March, which in 2000 rallied for more effective gun laws in Washington DC. Dean is the chief sponsor of the proposed PA House Bill 1030, which mandates firearms restraining orders in cases such as protection from abuse orders.

Mary Ellen Balchunis, candidate for the 7th PA seat in the US House, recalled at the 2000 march seeing women bearing the banner “Congress – stop taking bribes from NRA.” “Congress clearly has no heart,” she added.

Marty Molloy, candidate in the 9th PA Senate district, said the issue is personal for him, as he has lost students to gun violence. The Riders inspire him, he said, to persevere in the effort to save lives from guns: “we must fight for what we know is right.”

Terry Rumsey and Robin Lasersohn, leaders of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, called on the group to learn the power of sacrifice and to attend a rally in Harrisburg on May 16 backing House Bill 1010 (Background Checks for Long Gun Private Sales).

The Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence has also endorsed 2 current candidates in closely contested races who have taken particularly strong positions to combat gun violence: Joe Sestak (US Senate) and Marty Molloy (PA Senate district 9).

As you can see in CCCPGV’s compilation of current bills promoting background checks and other measures to protect the public, the good news is that some of our state legislators from Chester County have agreed to support remedial action. But given the bottlenecks created by legislative leadership, elected representatives may never get a chance to show, in a recorded vote, where their sentiments lie,

It hardly matters who wins the Pennsylvania primary contests (and in the 9th Senate District, an actual seat) on Tuesday if this country can’t find a path to solve some of the important issues that keep dragging us down.

As long as our national government and many state capitals remain virtually gridlocked, elected officials will be unable to respond to even the most pressing public appeals for change.

Gun violence prevention should be an urgent exception to gridlock. Lives depend on it, every day.

Posted in firearms | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

An hour with Joe Sestak

A few days ago I attended a fundraiser for US Senate candidate Joe Sestak. Sestak, you will recall, represented the 7th PA district (including part of Chester County) in Congress for 4 years. In 2010 he ran for US Senate, beat former Republican Arlen Specter in the primary, but narrowly lost to Pat Toomey in the year of Tea Party triumph. Now he is running again in a four-way Democratic primary to get another shot at Toomey.

I have been to many events with Sestak over the years, and each one is a new learning experience. He is a confident and gripping speaker who has given countless talks and made endorsement appearances for other candidates in Chester County (he is from Delaware county), and has also taught at Carnegie Mellon University, Dickinson School of Law, and Cheney University, among others.

I didn’t know this, from Wikipedia, but certainly am not surprised:

In 1974, Sestak graduated second in his class of over 900 midshipmen, with a Bachelor of Science degree in American political systems.

This I did know:

Between tours at sea, Sestak earned a Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in political economy and government from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1980 and 1984, respectively.

And this I didn’t: Upon being told of Sestak’s planned run for Congress, then Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee head Rahm Emanuel “told Sestak he was not ready for such an election.” Sestak ran anyhow in 2006 and won, faring better than other candidates whom Emanuel did not choose to support. Good for Sestak! Emanuel, now the unpopular Mayor of Chicago, was already at the bottom of my list as White House Chief of Staff (“Three welcome departures,” 10/2/10).

Sestak globe Lukens 3
from my photo in “Admiral Joe Sestak in Coatesville,” 3/10/15
What the country and voters need in 2016, in my view, is legislators who have integrity, an independent mind, and a deep knowledge of public affairs. Anyone who has heard Sestak can attest that he has those qualities. Here (with my own remarks in parentheses) are some notes from his talk and his answers to audience questions-at times more like a class conducted by the professor who combines real-life experience with academic credentials.

The military (which he knows well as a retired admiral) is a role model of giving equal pay for equal work. The US Navy developed sonar and now the gas extraction industry uses it for fracking. The Pentagon says the greatest cause of conflict will be global warming. Countries will be claiming resources under what is now North Pole ice.

Obamacare started in 1789: every sailor in the new country’s merchant marine was required to have insurance. (This is so interesting that I looked it up: the government deducted 20 cents a month from each seaman’s pay, to “provide for the temporary relief and maintenance of sick or disabled seamen.”) Today, the US still loses $100 billion a year in diminished productivity from the uninsured.

Sestak is supported by many veterans, environmentalists, and women’s rights activists. He had a 100% pro-union vote in Congress, supported the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act (facilitating pay discrimination suits by women, signed by president Obama in Jan. 2009), and favors a moratorium on fracking. He puts a high value on gun violence prevention and is proud to have a F rating from the NRA.

In 2008 he won reelection in a 56% Republican district by almost 20% of the vote; he knows how to work with R’s and helped pass 20 bipartisan bills in Congress. He was inordinately active helping constituents, including those under threat from the mortgage foreclosure crisis.

He favors an immediate rise in the minimum wage to $10.60 an hour (which, inflation-adjusted, is about where it was at its height in the late 1960’s); studies show an increase up to 50% of the average wage does not cost jobs. Money spent on alternative energy creates more than twice as many jobs as the same amount spent on fossil fuels.

He is happy to run on a ticket with either Clinton or Sanders (my question). He thinks he could help Sanders in PA; and he is grateful to Clinton for her help to veterans on Agent Orange issues when he was NSC Director for Defense Policy.

Others of his top issues include education, Social Security, allowing Medicare to negotiate drug costs, and banning pharmaceutical companies from paying generic drug makers to keep their products off the market.

“Leadership is about raising expectations to a higher level.” And “We the People” need to tell government what we expect from it. (His vision is collaborative: if leadership empowers the people to expect what we need, then we will set a higher standard for our leaders.)

That aligns with his favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “It is not enough that we do our best; we must do what is required.” (For sure, the US Congress needs a higher standard and needs to do what is required—especially the US Senate in acting on the current Supreme Court nomination.)

And that’s not all my notes. I’ve never seen a candidate with depth on a broad range of issues. For more, see his site and his 2015 book “Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream,” which is an even more thorough policy statement than the 46-page document “A Fresh Start” that set forth now-Governor Tom Wolf’s platform two years ago.

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Looking for something good to say about Trump

I think many of us, Republicans included, agree with Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain’s vociferous attacks on Donald Trump, whose self-aggrandizement, lack of consideration for other individuals and whole groups of people, and ignorance of public issues and foreign policy are truly shocking.

But politicians are human beings, flawed and self-contradictory like the rest of us. Together with the negatives that are much too long to list, Trump must have some traits that other less successful political figures might learn from. In fact, whatever they may say, a lot of them probably envy his fame, his political success to date, and his ostensible wealth.

Paul Krugman (“Clash of Republican Con Artists,” New York Times, 3/4/16) identifies one positive, though a double-edged one:

…the Trump phenomenon threatens the con the G.O.P. establishment has been playing on its own base. I’m talking about the bait and switch in which white voters are induced to hate big government by dog whistles about Those People, but actual policies are all about rewarding the donor class….

Yes, he’s a con man, but he is also effectively acting as a whistle-blower on other people’s cons. That is, believe it or not, a step forward in these weird, troubled times….

Or as his Times colleague Maureen Dowd more acerbically puts it (“Chickens, Home to Roost,” 3/5/16):

The most enjoyable thing about the Trump phenomenon has been watching him make monkeys out of a lot of people who had it coming.

A lot of us, like all those people investigating life in Canada, don’t think Trump would make an acceptable president. But just for the sake of argument, I’m looking for some other positives as he, along with Bernie Sanders, continues his quest to shake up US political assumptions and establishments. To be precise, most of the following points are non-negatives:

He is not dug into his opinions, since he keeps contradicting himself and says what he thinks on the spur of the moment, so maybe he is capable of learning as time goes on, which is not true of most national political figures.

Despite his demeaning attitude toward women, he also has supported Planned Parenthood and is not obsessed with other people’s abortions.

He supports federal programs that benefit ordinary citizens like Medicaid and Social Security.

He is not a right-wing religious activist, his father is not a fringe evangelical preacher, and he does not look forward to Armageddon as the fulfillment of Biblical prophesies.

He does not proclaim that “Any president who doesn’t begin every day on his knees isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief of this country,” in the words of one of his rivals.

He does not claim to be an exemplar of “family values” (which are one-size-fits-all anyhow).

He is not Tea Party-approved.

Despite his apparent tolerance for the KKK, he did not grow up looking nostalgically back to the good old days before the first Republican president.

He made several donations to the 2008 campaign of one of his potential Dem opponents.

He has been more effective than the Dems in throwing the R establishment into contortions and anxiety.

Like many of all political persuasions, he has attacked international trade deals and job outsourcing as causes of working class economic decline in this country.

He is not a xenophobe, since he tends to marry (European) immigrants.

Since, even more than most of us, he hates looking bad, he might as he claims be a skilled deal-maker in dealing with foreign countries and with corporate defectors from the US.

With his outsized desire to succeed, he might, as originally claimed, be “neutral” in trying to end Mid East conflicts.

Unlike all his remaining rivals, he has not been on the government payroll.

He said what most Americans think about the lies that got the US into the interminable war in Iraq and dares to remember that 9/11 did not happen when a Democrat was president.

He probably would, as he claims, get along with Vladimir Putin (as a fellow authoritarian, though that’s not quite how he put it).

He is not in thrall to the corporate money and lobbying groups that hold vast power in Washington, not even NRA and AIPAC.

He stimulates many disillusioned Americans into paying attention to politics and voting.

He is a successful entertainer capable of reading an audience’s moods, speaking without teleprompters, and producing viral sound bites.

Like many Americans, he knows what it is to lose money in a financial meltdown and declare bankruptcy (at least for his corporations).

His prominence offers new work opportunities in the health fields. Seriously! See “Psychologists and massage therapists are reporting ‘Trump anxiety’ among clients” (Washington Post, 3/6/16).

He is not Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio—about whom I know nothing good at all to say, except that they are not Donald Trump.

If Trump’s talents and positions on some issues were divided up and spread around to the other R candidates, they would all be better off. (Of course, they could use his money too.)

Oh, and another good thing about Trump: with increasing exposure and public disillusion, he is not likely to beat Clinton or Sanders.

But I don’t think he’ll have a chance to run against either one of them: I’ve been predicting for 2 months that the Republican nominee will be Paul Ryan. And then, won’t we feel nostalgic for the excitement that Trump has been injecting into daily political life (unless, of course, he runs as a third-party candidate)?

Donald Trump Approves 2016
photo “Trump in Manchester, New Hampshire Feb 2016” by Marc Nozell from Wikimedia Commons

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