Thanksgiving Eve Thoughts
My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world.
As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:
Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.
Edward M. Kennedy, delivered June 8, 1968 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City
Fifty-four years today, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. For those alive on that day, that moment has been sealed in memory. They know exactly where they were when they learned of JFK’s death and to some, it was this event that marked the beginning of the 60s turbulence. That is probably a bit of a naive reading of history, perhaps a result of the Camelot mythology created by Jackie, Bobby, and others after Jack’s death in order to memorialize their version of the Kennedy legacy. But it is true that in retrospect, America did lose something important that day in Dallas. Maybe it was innocence or trust in authority. Perhaps it was just a deep personal loss felt by individuals from one coast to another. Or maybe we felt it because we watched it happen. Regardless, America was different on November 23, 1963.
But the excerpt that begins this post is from Ted Kennedy’s eulogy of his brother Bobby who was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California after winning that state’s Democratic presidential primary on June 4, 1968. Sirhan, born an Arab Palestinian Christian, had emigrated with his family to the United States but had spent the first 12 years of his life living in Palestine, presumably under Israeli control. At some point, he turned his hatred of Israel on Bobby Kennedy and finding an opportunity, pumped several bullets into the Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate. Kennedy died the next day, June 6, 1968, and after mass at St. Patricks was buried next to his brother Jack at Arlington National Cemetary.
Lately, I have found myself stuck in the second half of the 20th century. No, not in dress or hairstyle, but in reading material. Having just finished Chris Matthews biography of Bobby Kennedy A Raging Spirit, I picked up Lawrence O’Donnell’s Playing With Fire: The 1968 Election and the Transformation of American Politics. I’ve already made my thoughts about Bobby Kennedy known so I will dispense with redundancy here. I had never quite realized the chaos that was the 1968 presidential election. We know the highlights: Senator Eugene McCarthy challenged a popular sitting president (LBJ) of his own Democratic party and almost wins the New Hampshire primary. Nixon stages a comeback after “promising” the press that they “won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Johnson announces that he will not seek re-election and Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Bobby Kennedy (both Democrats) jump in the race. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated within two months of each other. Anti-war and race riots across the nation scare the hell out of middle America. Nixon inaugurates the racially coded phrase “law and order” to win the presidency.
None of these facts are incorrect but they are just the Cliff’s Notes version. I implore – IMPLORE – everyone to spend time wandering around post-war America. I do believe you will find it fascinating and maybe, just maybe you will have a few “a-ha” moments. I know that I have. But tonight on Thanksgiving Eve and on the 54th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, I want to make a point about the chaos of 1968 – and yes, it was chaos. All that chaos and all that violence led America to elect Richard Nixon. And you know what? Even if we set Watergate aside, Nixon was a horrible President and frankly, a horrible person. He was paranoid, bigoted, and egotistical. He had an “enemies” list and used the Department of Justice as his personal investigative unit. Nixon placed himself above the law. And he expanded the Vietnam War after promising to end it. These violations of the public trust barely scratch the surface.
Fortunately, there was enough of a “public servant” left in Nixon to resign rather than allow the country to suffer through a Senate impeachment trial which would have led to his expulsion. But that was after six very long, chaotic, and violent years in the United States and Southeast Asia. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese were killed as were tens of thousands of Americans. Nixon promised law and order but he wrought the beginning of a failed drug war, an even greater failed war in Southeast Asia and deeper racially divided nation exacerbated by his “southern strategy.”
Sometimes I look at the chaos and drama of the Trump era and think, “1968.” Sometimes I think, “1861.” I know – I’m weird. My point is that yes, today our political culture is nuts. There are better descriptions and fancier words, but “nuts” is simple and understandable. Every day brings something new to the Russia investigation; for those of us fascinated by the story, seeing it almost like a Netflix mini-series, we cannot wait for the finale. And while Mueller does his work, the Senate is trying to pass what a majority of economists say is a really bad tax bill. Worse, some experts warn that this tax bill could lead to another financial collapse. Whoohoo! If that is not worrying enough, the EPA and State Department are being gutted and regulations meant to protect workers, the internet, and the environment, are being rolled back with abandon. The business community is thrilled apparently but we all know where and how this will end. We also know who will pay the price.
In no way can I summarize our current national political and social drama without addressing the unmitigated disaster that is Judge Roy Moore. Judge Moore (and yes, I think it is important to maintain his title because Americans should know that Alabama put this guy on the bench. Twice) is running for the United States Senate; seeking to replace Jeff Sessions who joined the Trump Administration as Attorney General. Yes, this is the same Jeff Sessions who lied before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings – specifically, he lied when answering a question posed by Senator Al Franken, who is now embroiled in a ‘sexual harassment scandal,’ – about meetings that he had with the Russian ambassador.
As it happens, this was just one lie of many during several hearings these last 9 months; each lie having to do with the Ruskies. Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation led to some of the “craziness” that we are currently experiencing. Ironically, whenever Sessions comes back to Capitol Hill to testify (usually after reports surface depicting another time in which he “forgot” about a meeting with Russians), he states unequivocally that he has never lied, nor has he misled Congress. In his best southern voice, he appeals to his former Senate colleagues as patriots and refers to his decades of public service. “I have never lied” he states adamantly, clearly insulted that anyone would defame his honor.
And yet, he never recalls meeting the Russians until there are reports that he met with Russians or sees an email addressed to him about the Russians. Jeff Sessions has a horrible memory.
But I digress. Back to Judge Moore.
Moore, a Republican of the Trump variety, has been thrown off the bench twice and yet Alabama voters keep electing him. He has refused to follow the law; the details of which can be discovered online. He is bigoted, racist and has strong financial ties to supporters promoting succession and creation of a white biblical nation. (I have suggested that we could solve a lot of our Trump problems if Alabama did secede and formed a whites-only Christian theocracy). He is anti-gay, anti-Muslim, and most recently has been accused of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl (Disclosure* The alleged assault happened 40 years ago which for some, means that the alleged victim is making it up. These people need to get out more). Additional women have alleged similar behaviors when they were of age (16 and older). And yet, Judge Moore and his Democratic opponent (a former U.S. Attorney who is well known for closing the 16th Street Church Bombing case and convicting the last murderer) are polling equally. The Alabama Senate race is “too close to call.”
The world really is upside down. In the Moore case, some Alabama Republicans have proudly stated that they will vote for Judge Moore because he is better than a Democrat. I do find this position quite baffling. We have somehow convinced each other, that the other side is so evil, that the one side has to vote for a sexual predator. In Alabama, Republicans refuse to vote for an upstanding citizen with a “D” behind his name because he is pro-choice. Doug Jones – the pro-choice Democrat – will never force a woman to have an abortion and will likely vote on very few pieces of legislation that have anything to do with abortion. And yet, Alabama Republicans and even some Democrats are challenged by this and are actually considering voting for a racist, bigoted xenophobe who molested a 14-year-old girl and attacked a 15 or 16-year-old girl in his car, attempting to force her to give him a blow-job.
If you thought this could not possibly be true, then you have obviously not read or listened to some of Judge Moore’s supporters attempting to defend his proclivities for young women. They have ranged from nauseating to borderline incriminating. Moore’s supporters should never serve on the Alabama Tourism Board. They speak to a culture that should have died a long time ago.
But beyond Moore, as of this writing, we have sexual harassment or sexual assault claims against the following individuals in our government:
- President Trump – Caught on audio tape bragging about grabbing women’s genitals, at least a dozen women come forward before the election, Trump denies and insults the women and he wins anyway. Trump threatens to sue the women, but so far, has not done so. Instead, one of the women has filed a defamation suit against the President.
- Roy Moore – Denies all allegations but in the initial interview did a horrible job in denying.
- Congressman Joe Barton – Just breaking, let’s see where this lands but it involved an online pornographic photo.
- Congressman John Conyers – Broke yesterday, allegedly paid off at least one accuser with tax-payer money, will not resign, pending an ethics investigation. Longest serving House member, he is 88 years old.
- Senator Al Franken – accused of kissing a woman without permission and then groping her while she was asleep. Photograph proves it. Franken apologized (3 times) and agreed to cooperate with an ethics probe. (This incident happened before he ran for Senate) Now 2 or 3 other women have reported Franken groped them when they took a picture with him while he was Senator. (Groping = grabbing of the buttocks).
Did I miss anyone?
And then there is the tax bill, Obamacare repeal, and North Korea. So yes, America does seem to be coming undone. Just like 1968.
Let’s not have a repeat of Richard Nixon
Folks, there are a couple approaches here. One approach would be to say, “Yes, our country has endured difficult times in the past and we have persevered. We will persevere again.” This is not wrong, but it is an oversimplification of “perseverance.” Yes, America holistically recovered from 1968. But there were and are vast pockets of Americans who have seen little progress in the last five decades. The endemic racism and cyclical poverty that was so prevalent in the late 1960s is seen today throughout America where the income gap is even greater between the very rich and the very poor. Violence in minority neighborhoods is common and let’s not fail to mention police shootings of unarmed black men.
We could look to the Civil War and feel reassured that after fighting for four years the country came back together as one. But that ignores the racial hatred and division that remained throughout the South (and the North….and the West) during Reconstruction and the imposition of segregation and Jim Crow after the federal troops were withdrawn. So yes, law and order reigned, but were we better off? Or did we simply kick the can down the field to address at a later date? This is the approach that gave us Richard Nixon. It’s also the approach that landed us in Trump’s swamp. Perseverance does not necessarily mean improvement and progress, certainly not for those that need it the most. Most of the time, perseverance simply means “survival.” And that’s not good enough anymore.
Let’s try something new. Rather than run from chaos, I propose that we instead address the root cause of it. Does the “resistance” to Trump give you pause? Do you think that those of us who dislike the President are just not giving him a fair chance? Do you worry about the protest movements and the NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem? Here’s an idea: vote for the person who places the protester’s concerns at the top of his or her agenda. How about we side with the protesters? Of course, that would mean you would have to understand why people are upset and perhaps be willing to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. As Bobby Kennedy said, “We have to make an effort in America.” You see, that did not happen in the lead up to 1968. No one listened to the anti-war protesters or the civil rights activists; and more importantly, when politicians did act, they moved at sloth speed. Ever seen a sloth speed walk? Check it out on YouTube.
And yet ironically, when the civil disobedience turned violent, middle America turned on the protesters. And that’s how we got Richard Nixon. Historians will probably decide that that is how and why we got Trump.
Do you want a Congress that looks more like America? Then vote for people that look like America. It may mean you have to vote for a liberal Democrat. It may mean you have to vote for a woman. Or it may mean that you have to run for office. But do something other than what you have always done in the past. Go against the grain and step out of your comfort zone but for. God’s sakes, vote for somebody with an IQ higher than his or her age.
A big part of stepping out of your comfort zone is strategy and seeing the long game. Millions of Americans came out to vote for President Obama in 2008. They must have gotten sick or something because two years later they just disappeared. Maybe it was the rapture. Or maybe they decided that Obama did not work fast enough and so they came out and voted for a bunch of Republicans. I do not know. But Americans tend to be tactical voters, and tactical voters are easily manipulated with a few well placed Facebook ads. It took conservatives decades to get Trump and while some are throwing up right now, others are thrilled. For many, the next four years is Christmas.
Look at and donate to the Democratic Party. Take another look at self-declared liberals and progressives. Learn a little more about our thought process and understand our policy proposals. Liberals have done a bang-up job allowing others to define what we are, what we think, and the danger we pose to the nation. Again, those poor folks in Alabama, are having a devil of a time trying to decide between a pedophile and a Democrat. To them, we are on equal footing. To the President, the pedophile is the better option.
There are a lot of reasons why America abandoned liberal policies and the Keynesian economic theory of the New Deal. None of those reasons were that leftist thought had failed. Quite the opposite. But we can save that for a different holiday post. What is critical now is the need to consider policy options that you may have never thought viable in the past. Because if we cannot get over the stark polarization of today’s political environment, we will continue to kick the can down the field.
One final thought as we head into Thanksgiving and the Christmas season. America is changing – just as it was changing in 1968. Sometimes change brings a little disruption. Other times, outside forces take controlled disruption, place it in a blender, without the lid and then turn on the high speed. At best, what you are left with is a kitchen mess. At worst, you have destroyed your blender and launched nuclear missiles at North Korea. Fearing change leads to the blender explosion. It causes us to make stupid decisions. In 1968, a majority of Americans made a really stupid decision. In 2016, enough Americans made a really stupid decision that an incompetent loon is now occupying the White House with Republican majorities in both congressional houses.
We’ve tried the law and order route a few times now. With it, we have given “conservatism” a good ‘ole college try. These have brought us to the brink of financial collapse, widening income inequality not seen since the Gilded Age, wage stagnation, riots over Confederate monuments and xenophobic, anti-immigration policies. We have revoked sanctuary to tens of thousands of Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Hondurans (just to name a few) who came to the United States years ago after a natural disaster. They have children that were born in the United States and thus, are citizens. Their native countries are still struggling to recover from the original natural disaster and whatever economic crisis or economic disaster that happened after the storm. These individuals are contributing to America in the form of taxes.
This is yet one simple example of what conservatism has wrought. You know, let’s try the liberal alternative.
P.S. If you are an Alabama voter and are struggling between Roy Moore and Doug Jones because the latter is pro-choice, I have a question. How is Doug Jones’ pro-choice stance going to affect you, your family, your paycheck, your health benefits, and your local community including your local school? Will your kid’s teacher be able to deduct the money he or she spends out of her own pocket on school supplies if Doug Jones, the pro-abortionist wins? What about if Roy Moore, the pedophile wins? Who is more likely to fight for clean water and pollution-free air? Jones or Moore? And about that religious freedom thing – specifically, the “Islam is a fake religion and followers should not be allowed to be in Congress.” So you know that’s unconstitutional, right? For a minute, let’s pretend that it is constitutional and Judge Moore is able to get it passed on your behalf in the Senate. How is that going to benefit you and your family? Again – same questions. Raise, teacher school supply deductibility, clean water, etc. I’m also interested in which one of these candidates you think is going to protect your healthcare. Be honest.
If you could summarize that in 100 words or less, I’d love to read it. But I hope you see the point I to which I am driving. Your focus on abortion and religion is misguided. Moore is a child molester (okay, okay, an accused, former child molester) and bigoted racist. He does not want to make law, he wants to violate it AND do it on television. I get it. You do not like abortion. I’ve got the solution. Don’t have one. Vote for Jones.