(But it will take hard work and open minds)
Based on what we have seen so far in the McConnell-limited coverage of the Senate kangaroo court, new moral and ethical norms may be imposed on an unwilling and impotent national electorate after January 20, 2021
In a year minus a few days, Donald John Trump may take the oath of office for his second presidential term. Whether you like it or not, this is the reality that faces the nation, given: A) The absence of any overwhelming, irrefutable, soul-shaming, and morality-reversing revelations brought to the Senate floor over the next week or so; or, B) the absence of a rising tide of fed-up, outraged, take-matters-into-our-own-hands activists and voters in every community.
Do not focus on the Senate
As things now stand (three days into the Senate impeachment trial), a Senate acquittal is about as likely as, say, our planet’s mean temperature suddenly falling by several degrees, CO2 reabsorbing, the rain forests begin to thrive, sea life rebounds, the polar ice sheets start to spread, deserts become grasslands, oil falls out of favor, wars end, and food and water become plentiful throughout the third world. I’m just not feeling any of that right now. That is why I prefer option B.
What we are seeing — and have been fearing — over the past three-and-a-half years, and which is now in full view play on the Senate floor, is nothing less than an attempted Republican rout of Democracy and democratic ideals that have, until now, formed the bedrock of our system of executive, legislative, and judicial accountability. The right wing cults are sure the left is mounting a coup in concert with the deep state, but what is really happening is the elected right is in the midst of a coup against the Constitution and our founding principles.
I will be the first to admit that the system has never been perfect; we are in a constant state of perfecting ourselves, as written in the Preamble to the Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Striving always to be better
Note that the Preamble does not say we are a perfect union; it says, didactically, that we are in a constant process of forming a more perfect union, which is an acknowledgement by the Founders that we may never fully achieve perfection, only that our journey toward perfection will be defined by how well, faithfully, and consistently we execute and respect the laws and principles set forth in the document. This concept of Constitutional constancy is scaring the hell out of the Trump-McConnell cabal, and they are determined to undermine any Democratic Party-led assault on the barricades the Republicans have erected all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.
I believe the Constitution and all its explanatory materials — primarily the Federalist Papers — cannot be over arched or superseded by a rogue political philosophy unless it is hijacked by a posturing pusillanimous provocateur whose resume resonates with those Americans who have little or no interest in the rule of law or social-civic homogeneity, and who believe their self-interests will be better served by an affiliation with a tyrant who they have been led to believe is “one of them.”
So far, a minority of Americans — but a majority through the Electoral College — have opted to embrace a bully who they believe fights for them against some imagined feral deep state that is out to get them by stripping them of their religion, guns, and heterosexuality.
A Palymyra Moment
This believe-anything/know-nothing electorate will, if left unchecked, happily set explosive charges on the pillars of our founding principles much as ISIS tried to destroy Palmyra in 2015 in what Smithsonian Magazine called a “…campaign of cultural destruction, detonating centuries-old temples, blowing up historic columns and mutilating precious works of art…” because the ancient city’s very presence offended their cruel and ruthless version of religion.
So, too, it seems, the very presence of the Constitution offends the full spectrum of the political right. And if given half-a-chance, I have no doubt the most radical elements of the right would sound the call to tear the Constitution from its vault in the National Archives and burn it. On to that right-wing-fanned pyre they would heave the Declaration and the Federalist Papers and a million other documents modern and ancient that define who we are as a free and democratic society. For them, Fahrenheit 451 would not be hot enough.
What can we do to avert the total destruction of principles and de-construction of social, moral, and ethical norms at the hands of the Trumpian mobs?
The Butch Cassidy Gambit
To begin with, we cannot be timid, whatever we do. We cannot operate under some sort of Marquis of Queensberry Rules of political action and accord our opponents any pause in the fight to lick their wounds. We can give no quarter if we mean to win back that which the Founders so dearly bequeathed. I much prefer the example of Butch Cassidy who, when challenged to a knife fight by the hulking figure of Harvey Logan, simple booted Harvey deep in his groin and followed up with a wicked blow to Harvey’s jaw and ended the fight. There is a lesson in this scene for all Democrats who believe it is still possible to beat Trump on a level playing field.
It is not normally my nature to espouse extremism as a means to achieve an end, and I do draw the line at violence, but as Trump struts across his fan-adorned stages, his pomposity and arrogance and ignorance fueling the flames of disunity, discord, and denial, I find myself in total accord with Thomas Paine’s Crisis:
“THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated”
I do not shy away from the liberal label, and in times such as these, I stand by it with renewed purpose. The road Americans have traveled for the past 70 years has been one of such extremes — boom and bust, peace and hatred, knowledge and ignorance — that it is time to look for a very different highway leading toward a more just and righteous future for our children and our children’s children, and our planet. If liberal activism lights the way to that highway, then I will be happy to hold that lamp.
My list, but not necessarily yours
You may have worked up a list of characteristics you value in a president, and you are overlaying that matrix on the present roster of Democratic candidates. I have my own list, and it looks like this:
1. I am looking for a candidate who is empathetic by association — someone who has lived with the middle class, and who knows — and is discomfited by — the trials and fears of working mothers, the impoverished, and disenfranchised minorities.
2. Someone who has an affection for the military not in terms of force projection or weaponry or war-fighting prowess, but who is sensitive to the incredible stressors facing military families of soldiers, sailors, Marines, aircrews and Coastguard personnel who are being rotated into and out of combat zones with terribly regularity and whose wounds are not always apparent;
3. I want a candidate who understands my tax vulnerabilities, my financial aspirations and those of my children. I don’t mind a higher tax, but I want the candidate to own it and be honest about it;
4. I want a candidate who shares — and can act on — my concerns about foreign influences in the products I buy, the services I use, and the political decisions I make.
5. I want a candidate who is honest enough to not promise “universal health care” without acknowledging the long-term cost, the need for personal choice, and the need for burden-sharing;
6. I want a candidate who does not promise college for all — it is a fiscally unrealistic promise and ignores the value of many other options. I would prefer a candidate who recognizes the value of a university education but sees the greater need for a “good education” for all children, and whose emphasis is on the K-12 world;
7. I want a candidate who is intimately familiar with the Constitution and the Federalist Papers — not just intellectually, but emotionally and philosophically;
8. I want a candidate whose wealth does not define him or her, but whose personal story — absent financial success — defines them;
9. I want a candidate who is a voracious reader of myriad genres, and who can relate to the great stories and the elegant poetry of our time and times past;
10. I want someone who embraces the arts, who knows that without art in all its forms, America’s children will no longer appreciate the beauty and power of the creative mind;
11. I want a candidate who learned early in life that we benefit from “playing up,” not punching down, and who celebrates, not denigrates, those who know more than they do. Every job I’ve ever held, every wonderful relationship I’ve ever had — most notably my marriage — has been the result of my being able to recognize that I cannot possibly advance in life without the help of wiser heads guiding me. The candidate who will earn my vote will be someone who is not afraid to say, in public, “I don’t know,” and then proceeds to reach out for help.
Convergence of purpose
My list and yours may overlap in places, or completely diverge; that’s fine. As long as we are willing to work hard, in unison, to support the best man or woman who will engineer the ramp from where we are to the highway that will take us to where we need to be. I am willing to accept the possibility that such a candidate may be more liberal than I have been comfortable with in the past. In fact, I sort of hope that will be the case, because, at my age, it’s healthy to challenge oneself to new ideas.
Advice from the field of battle
In the words of someone with whom I often have vigorous discussions and disagreements, but someone who understands the stakes facing today’s and tomorrow’s generations who have much to lose if November 2020 goes wrong,
“The thing is, there ARE no ‘fence-sitters,’ there ARE no ‘moderates.’ There is no such thing as being apolitical. If a person is on the fence now, in 2020, after everything we’ve all lived through, that individual has absolutely made up their mind. They have decided that what we’re facing isn’t dire enough to roll the hard six.
So you have to vote the best way YOU can. And in the meantime, you can set an example for others. Be fearless for justice. The arc of the moral universe won’t bend itself.”
Spoken like the honest and courageous daughter she is.
I’ll have more on this topic in the days, weeks, and months to come. Stay tuned, and be an active participant in the fight ahead.