A Republic—If We Can Keep It

I hope Democrats (I’m not one) and their allies (I am one) will be at least somewhat rational about the primary process and, to the extent it’s possible here in MoneyWorld®, let the voters decide who their candidate will be. As we watch centrist candidates leave the race and coalesce around Joe Biden, we are not watching a “conspiracy” to deny someone else the nomination. We are watching the political process, messy as it may be, which involves people with like minds working together and coming together to advance their agenda, and to do so behind the person they see as best able to help them do that. As a very wise person said, your vote is not a love letter – it’s a contract offer. We vote for the best flawed candidate, or if it comes to it the least-worst flawed candidate. Name-calling and other hateful rhetoric is not  helpful to the process (although it’s helpful to the opposition party). The media reporting the heretofore obscure facts of a candidate’s history when they have earned that level of scrutiny accorded to the front runner is not a “hit job.” It’s unfettered journalism. It’s the Fourth Estate, itself flawed as it has always been but still a vital component of any democracy.

Facts are not enemies or traitors, as the one in the White House would have it. They are just facts.

We are in a populist era. I don’t consider that a good thing — it’s the ideology that brought the current administration and it’s damaging agenda into being, the notion that “I alone” can fix everything, like some modern-day Messiah. Bullshit. Nothing difficult politically is ever achieved by one person alone.

But popular ideas, as opposed to populist politicians, have a way of overlapping party lines and developing a staying power that can’t be denied. Abolition, the national parks, anti-trust laws, the EPA, the end of the Vietnam atrocity: all brought into being by Republicans under popular pressure. And of course it was the Democrats of old who upheld slavery, then Jim Crow, then redlining and school segregation: until popular pressure largely ended these practices. (Yes there’s still a long road ahead on this, and there’s no irony in the fact that it’s now Democrats who lead the way against a newly Republican Solid South.)

Unless this society slides from populism into authoritarian rule — and that remains a distinct danger — what this democratic society really wants will not be denied by any party or any interest group, nor by the intransigence of their entrenched infrastructures or party leaders. It might not happen tomorrow, or next year. But if we insist it happen, it will happen. I believe that.

Does this mean America wanted Donald Trump? No. The Electoral College wanted Donald Trump. And for that matter, it was not the people who put George W. Bush in office — it was a right-wing Supreme Court majority. Things to fix if we can, among many others.

It’s only natural and right to want the fair society you want. I know this society is miles and miles away from the one I would want, and I’m not foolish enough to think it will become a utopia any time soon. But in this ongoing experiment in self-rule, at least for now, you and yours have one tool, your votes. If you don’t have the collective votes to get exactly what you want, or the platform to get more of those votes, it’s not the fault of others earnestly striving for a similar vision. (But by all means–keep trying. Keep pushing. That’s what this whole thing is about.)

What’s the alternative to self-government, democratic traditions and the rule of law? Rule by the  loudest and angriest, by those most ignorant of history, by those most talented at whipping up a mob? Not if I can help it. 

Fate’s Blueprint: The New Populism

For us there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business. – T.S. Eliot

They will call it “the new Populism”, comparing Sanders in the early 2000s to Nebraska’s own William Jennings Bryan a century earlier. Bryan was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1896, with his surprise nomination bringing many of his “Populist Party” supporters flooding into the ranks of the Democratic party. Bryan’s nomination was in fact a populist repudiation of incumbent Grover Cleveland and his “Bourbon Democrats” (i.e., the business-allied Democratic establishment). 

Of course, Bryan lost to Republican William McKinley in 1896, but he had become well-known nationally as a fiery public orator, galvanizing his followers with his famous “Cross of Gold” speech, and pretty much inventing the extended cross-country stumping tour (which Teddy Roosevelt copied, Truman also exploited to great effect with his “whistle stop” tour, and which right-wing populist Donald Trump has effectively adopted as his “permanent campaign” approach to the presidency). 

The Democrats put Bryan up against McKinley again in 1900, believing their anti-imperialism stance would galvanize his populist following. And Bryan lost again. 

But by 1904, progressive Republican Theodore Roosevelt had been in office a few years (after McKinley’s 1901 assassination), and with his support for anti-trust activism and widespread reforms he beat the Democrats’ new “Hail Mary” conservative nominee (Alton Parker) handily, thus rehabilitating Bryan’s stature among Democrats. Because by this time, the national popular  opinion had swung toward Bryan’s/Roosevelt’s ideas, such that after the 1904 election both parties were embracing the progressive reforms that had been championed by Bryan and his populist zealots for years. (In fact Bryan was once again the Democratic presidential candidate in 1908.) 

As usual, I think history has a lesson for us here – and it’s echoed in the words of T.S. Eliot in his Four Quartets, in a line I recently heard quoted by a brilliant man and poet at the University of Nebraska commencement. “For us,” Eliot wrote, “there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.” With this quote, the speaker was telling the new graduates that unlike in our favorite movie endings, the good will not always be ultimately ascendant or triumphant. But that is not our shame, nor is it even our defeat. As individuals we are not responsible for the broad shapes that form the contours of the tides of history; we are not responsible for the victories of the undeserving. Rather, it is our sole responsibility to TRY on behalf of the greater good—here and now. 

Because sometimes, false prophets and immoral agendas will command the world’s stage despite the efforts of good people to contain them. Power is their only goal, so these people will then do whatever it takes, regardless of law or morality, to consolidate and cement their gains. They will then try to convince us morally inclined nobodies that there’s no use resisting their power, that we are impotent and alone in the dark, that we have lost and they have won. But there is no victory more fleeting than political victory. Immoral times produce their inevitable disastrous outcomes, yes, and then it is left to us morally inclined nobodies to pick up the pieces. But whatever the outcome this time, we will know that we, as individuals of conscience, did what we could to try to make the world a better place for all. That is our only responsibility. 

Our lives and our worth are not defined by the era we live in, they are defined by how we live in our era. Like a batter at the plate or a pitcher on the mound, or a poet with his pen: whether we are successful or not, the job is always the same. To try. 

What Gun? What Smoke? What Democracy?

The foulest stench in this age of open-air corruption is emanating from the barrel of the smoking gun now lying on the hearing room floor—lying there smoking. Whether the president* used the gun to “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” or to strong-arm a foreign government to do his political bidding, it will continue to lie there smoking. And his corrupt lieutenants in the White House, in Congress, on Fox “News”, and elsewhere will continue to refuse to see the gun, the smoke, the body, or anything at all except Democrats with “Trump derangement syndrome” trying to “undo an election”.

As I wrote in my letter to the Omaha World-Herald the other day, we can no longer pretend that what’s happening in Washington has anything to do with government of, for, or by the people. It is not about the law, about wrong or right, or about the Constitution or its provisions. It is a power struggle for control of a bloated federal government as cash machine and grantor of immunity from oversight. It is a contest of strength, of will, and of solidarity among a corrupt minority who has – by dint of a quirky and outmoded college of so-called electors (read: not voters) – captured the federal government under the borrowed auspices of a formerly legitimate political party (auspices now unnecessary and abandoned). The Republican Party is now a bizarre coalition, a party of alliance between the white Christian fool and the calculating oligarch. It is the Southern/Midwestern bulk of fake grievance-touting nationalists nostalgic for “white America” wielded as a deaf and dumb electoral cudgel—expertly wielded by an amoral billionaire minority in pursuit of their narrow corporate-friendly agenda of wealth redistribution and regulatory impunity. It is this coalition versus the Constitution, its laws, and the paltry few who are left to defend them.

Who are these paltry few? They are a slight majority of Democrats in the House – a little better than one half of one branch of the government’s three imposing loci of undeserved and unearned power. The other half of the House and the entire Senate is controlled by the smirking Cosa Nostra occupying the White House, such that most of Congress now consists of nothing more than amoral sycophants, lying hypocrites who desperately want to not see the smoking gun that right now—this morning—lies smoking on the floor of the hearing room.

They refuse to see the dying body politic as its life blood oozes out onto the chamber floor. They will surreptitiously wipe the blood from their shoes, blank the image out from their visual field, replace it with a jury-rigged fantasy of liberal overreach and disaffection, of a party out of power trying to “steal” an election (which they actually won, but never mind). They must claim these lies as sacred truth, as they stand over the lifeless body of America, lest they find themselves the focus of what one commentator recently described as the “unblinking eye of Mordor,” the short-spanned but witheringly focused attention of the insane narcissist Twitter bot, the aspiring despot at the helm of a so-called Republic, a man [sic] whose one unimpeachable talent is to harangue and intimidate any milquetoast “leaders” of the Republican party into utter pants-peeing submission and supplication should they dare to step even slightly out of line.

The other two power centers, the executive and the Supreme [sic] Court, are now dominated by white nationalist ideologues (in the case of the former) and corporate toadies (the black-robed latter). The executive is a would-be mobster and autocrat (and the people who voted for him have always known this and have always approved). Enough said. The Supreme [sic] Court is neither supreme nor an actual court, as its politicized “gang of 5” merely shape their “decisions” (ha ha) to the current needs of the executive and the corporate/Wall Street titans who put him in office and them in their big chairs. They are not a court at all but an imposing, marble-walled, high-talking rubber stamp. The Justices are, as the president and his minions have always dreamed, finally and unequivocally irrelevant. This was supposedly the historical “worst fear” of the Justices—to be roped into the wolverine den of bare-knuckle politics and, thus, to be subjugated to its carnivorous appetites. But it’s what happened. I guess they’re not as independent—and certainly not as clever–as they thought they were. (This doesn’t count Justices “I like beer” Kavanaugh or “Merrick Garland who now?” Gorsuch. They were Trumpers anyway, they have no reason to be proud, so they knew the score—and their place—coming in. Call them “the future” of the debased court.)

I would say (as I have said since 2016) “This is what you’re up against, America”. But America is no longer up against anything. America is dead, shot dead by an amoral idiot whose cultist followers and fearful boot-lickers love (or fear) his amoral idiocy. Out of phony patriotism or very real terror, they will defend him against all comers (looking at you, rule of law). America’s ‘leaders’ are now analogous to Caesar’s assassins, who for their own reasons have decided that they will, all together now, insert their blades into the panicked flesh of America, let out its blood, and be finally rid of their formerly towering but now vulnerable nemesis: the people’s democracy and America’s laws and democratic institutions.  

The Purpose of Arms

I believe modern militaries have one traditional purpose (to resist foreign invaders) that is largely outmoded among so-called superpowers, and three more relevant modern purposes:

  1. to frighten the vast populations of the modern superpower/nation state into submission and apathy by virtue of the vast killing power of the superpower’s weaponry
  2. to intimidate lower-GDP nation states with less weaponry into doing the will of the regional or global superpower; and
  3. to, via occasionally hot or persistently warm ‘brush wars’ conducted in underdeveloped proxy nations, efficiently destroy excess military-industrial complex hardware and/or gain access to resources (oil) in order to stimulate new production and economic growth among favored constituents and industries.

The rest is hogwash.

How Do You Like Your Blue Eyed Boy Mr. Death?

(Reposted from icky Facebook)

Regarding Pete Ricketts, our bloodthirsty “Catholic” governor, and his pious [sic] God the Father Joe Ricketts: you both can feel good today about having put to death a helpless prisoner of the state for no reason other than that you desperately wanted to. You did it despite a legislative veto override by usurping the legislature’s constitutional authority to make law. You spent hundreds of thousands of dollars – of your own money and ours – to do it.

You did it despite the courts ordering you to divulge the source of your illegally obtained drugs, an order you never obeyed because it would have legitimized the lawsuits brought against you by the drug companies you stole your death drugs from. You broke the law to do it. You admitted the drugs you are using were improperly (and incompetently) stored at room temperature and may be corrupted – you did it anyway.

You did it despite your faith’s universal condemnation of the death penalty – in all cases – calling this church doctrine “the pope’s opinion,” which you somehow “respect” but ignore, thus demonstrating your defiance of your faith’s commandments when they do not fit your agenda. In fact, you did it despite your membership in a diocese group that pledges fealty to the pope’s teachings (time to resign from that one). You did it despite the last-minute pleadings of your Bishops, your Priests, your Sisters – despite the desperate pleadings of some 600 clergy, in fact, comprising the bulk of the Catholic faith community in Nebraska. You did it despite pleas from tens of thousands of ordinary Nebraskans.

You did it despite the academic community having soundly debunked your garbage theories on “deterrence,” which you know have always been garbage theories.

You have no reasoning to stand on. You are not reasonable.

In the end, you did it for one selfish reason: to demonstrate that you arbitrarily wield the power of life and death over us powerless peasants. And you believe if you can hold that terrible power over us, you hold complete power over us. You can kill the state’s prisoners—or not kill them—for your sport, for now, and that probably feels like the ultimate power, like the power of God. But we all know how history ultimately treats would-be tyrants who ignore their conscience, abuse their powers and defy the law they were elected to uphold. It’s too late for justice – vengeance has owned the day. But I believe that one day, justice will be served.

And you won’t like how that feels.