Saturday, February 11, 2017

Coming together, one piece at a time...

This past Tuesday, a feel good moment for opponents of the Trump administration began on the floor of the US Senate when Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren started to read this letter. The letter was written in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as it was debating the appointment of one Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to the position of Federal Court Judge. The letter expressed Mrs. King's deep reservations about his appointment, siting Mr. Sessions' use of "the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters."

Coretta Scott King (Getty Images)
Mrs. King was referring to investigations, brought on by Sessions in his role as U.S. Attorney for the State of Alabama in 1984, that focused on allegations of voting fraud in that state. Mrs. King wrote:
The investigations into the voting process were conducted only in the Black Belt counties where blacks had finally achieved political power in the local government. Whites had been using the absentee process to their advantage for years, without incident. Then, when Blacks; realizing its strength, began to use it with success, criminal investigations were begun.  
Mrs. King went on to allege that under Sessions' direction, elderly black voters were harassed into testifying before a grand jury, then forced to make grueling 180 mile journeys to Birmingham, when much shorter trips to Selma could have been easily arranged. Many of those voters, according to Mrs. King, announced they were never going to vote again. She also noted that Sessions targeted in his investigation, members of the American civil rights movement, who were active in the sixties with her husband Martin.

Coretta Scott King equated Sessions' actions with the disenfranchisement of African American citizens, in violation of the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965.

She concludes her letter this way:
I do not believe Jefferson Sessions possesses the requisite judgement, competence, and sensitivity to the rights guaranteed by the federal civil rights laws to qualify for appointment to the federal district court. Based on his record, I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made everywhere toward fulfilling my husband's dream that he envisioned over twenty years ago. I therefore urge the Senate Judiciary Committee to deny his confirmation.
It turned out that Mrs. King's letter was never entered into evidence, or for that matter, the public record, by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Strom Thurmond. Despite that, other testimony against Sessions convinced the committee to deny President Reagan's nomination of Sessions to the post, in a bi-partisan vote of 10-8.

Fast forward thirty one years and Senator Jeff Sessions once again found himself before a senate committee, appointed by another president to another high government position, that of Attorney General. It was during the debate before the Senate vote to confirm his nomination, where Senator Warren attempted to read Mrs. King's letter.

During her reading of the letter, Senator Warren was interrupted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who invoked an obscure senate rule against "impugning the motives and conduct of a peer." Not surprisingly, the senate, completely along party lines,  voted to shut Senator Warren down. Undeterred, she took her message to the public where she read the letter in its entirety on MSNBC and elsewhere. Mrs. King's letter which before this week had never seen the light of day, has taken on a life of its own as it has been published widely since the senate kerfuffle.

McConnell, as the Republican who led the charge of congressional obstructionism the moment Barack Obama took office eight years ago, only furthered his reputation as the most despicable, laughably hypocritical politician on Capitol Hill (despite some very strong competition), among nearly all Americans to the left of a little right of center. This was Mitch McConnell's explanation for his actions on the senate floor the other day:
She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. 
In uttering those condescending, authoritarian, patriarchal words, Mitch McConnell unwittingly created a rallying cry for anti-administration Americans, especially those who are female members of the species. If as many people suspect, Warren throws her hat into the ring for the 2020 presidential election, you can expect the words, "nevertheless she persisted" to be the theme of her campaign.

Despite the delicious euphoria that resulted from all that, not to mention the serious misgivings many people have about Jeff Sessions regarding his record on civil rights, he was approved almost entirely along party lines, to become our next Attorney General.

I bring that up not to bemoan yet another member of the president's cabinet with questionable credentials; Sessions is more than likely one of the most qualified of all of Donald Trump's appointments (which is not saying very much), but to speak of the tremendous symbolism in this country, of taking away someone's right to speak.

That is not to say Mitch McConnell violated Elizabeth Warren's first amendment rights of freedom of speech. The senate has its rules, however arcane, and McConnell was within his rights to call Ms. Warren on violating them. Yet no matter how much within his rights he was, there is at least to the American psyche, something so deeply sinister in silencing a person, that any effort to do so, as McConnell proved (although he may not realize it), is usually self-defeating. Had he given Warren the ten minutes or so it would have taken to read Coretta Scott King's letter, the whole issue would have blown over, after all, Sessions' approval by the Senate was already in the bag.

As it worked out, Warren, the wronged party, at least in the eyes of those who support her, now has the ammunition, not to mention the slogan, to move up the food chain and become a bona fide leader in the Democratic Party, as well as a legitimate contender for her party's candidate in the next presidential election. In trying to silence her, McConnell turned Warren's inside voice, into a roar.

Those of us opposed to the current administration should learn a great lesson from this. There was another episode last week, that on the surface was another feel good moment for the opposition. However unlike the Warren/ McConnell flap which in the long run will certainly be scored as a victory for Warren and the opposition, last week's event in every way possible, was a resounding defeat.

Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post describes Milo Yiannopoulos as a "Breitbart writer and sleazy professional troll, (who) has built a career out of stoking Pavlovian outrage and censorship attempts from the left in order to build his audience on the right." Yiannopoulos is a rising star in the alt-right whose name pops up everywhere on social media via provocative memes, YouTube videos and his Twitter account.

Yiannopoulos has been banned from Twitter, but like everything else on the Internet, his tweets will live on into perpetuity. In enforcing the ban, the company emphasized their policy of "prohibiting participating in, or inciting targeted abuse of individuals." Yiannopoulos targeted many individuals in his tweets but the straw that broke the camel's back, was most likely his tweet war with actress and SNL cast member, Leslie Jones, which included images likening the African American celebrity to a gorilla.

Yiannopoulos and his supporters cried foul, claiming the company was violating his free speech. In a statement published in Breitbart, the alt-right website for whom Yiannopoulos works as their tech editor, he wrote this, using tag words and phrases (which I took the liberty to emphasize) which come up again and again, ad nauseam in the writings of the alt-right:
With the cowardly suspension of my account, Twitter has confirmed itself as a safe space for Muslim terrorists and Black Lives Matter extremists, but a no-go zone for conservatives.
Twitter is holding me responsible for the actions of fans and trolls using the special pretzel logic of the left. Where are the Twitter police when Justin Bieber’s fans cut themselves on his behalf?
Like all acts of the totalitarian regressive left, this will blow up in their faces, netting me more adoring fans. We’re winning the culture war, and Twitter just shot themselves in the foot.
This is the end for Twitter. Anyone who cares about free speech has been sent a clear message: you’re not welcome on Twitter.”
The incident helped put Yiannopoulos on the map, he is now one of the leading darlings of the ultra conservative right with more "adoring fans" than ever. He was wrong about one thing. Far from being the end of Twitter, that social media outlet now serves as the public voice of the President of the United States.

Last week, Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at the University of California, Berkeley campus. You can look at the troll of the ultra right, Yiannopoulos' decision to speak at the historic bastion of left wing radicalism in two ways. Either you can give him the benefit of the doubt and believe he sincerely wished to open up a meaningful dialogue with people who have quite different opinions from him or... you can believe he only wanted to start trouble in order to get attention.

Given his history, it's kind of a no brainer.

If you don't know the story by now, you can probably guess what happened. Yiannopoulos drew a huge crowd to his appearance, some supporters, lots of protesters. About 150 masked men and women, about one tenth of the total number of demonstrators who were there, broke down police barricades, smashed windows, tossed Molotov cocktails, and threw firecrackers at police. All in all the rioters caused about $100,000 damage to property. Conferring with the police, the university, out of concern for public safety, called off Yiannopoulos' appearance. 

Despite the fact that the University of California, Berkeley approved of the talk, regardless of the threats of protest and violence they received, in the blink of an eye, Yiannopoulos and many of his supporters claimed the university denied him his freedom of speech. The following day the president in his favorite means of communication, tweeted:
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
Many opponents of the administration, especially those on the left, while not defending the violence, still felt a sense of vindication that Yiannopoulos and his provocative message bordering on "hate speech" were silenced.

That only played into the hands of the ultra right, who used the incident to claim that those on the left, normally the first responders when a breech of the first amendment takes place, really only care about the freedom of speech for those opinions in which they agree.

Like much of what comes out the mouths of this group, that is a blatant lie. They fail to mention that one of their favorite targets, the ACLU, has countless times defended the freedom of speech of people holding a vast array of political ideologies, from Yiannopoulos' right to call Leslie Jones a gorilla, to the right of Nazis to march in the heavily Jewish village of Skokie, Illinois.

Of course people have short memories, and folks anywhere to the left of Attila the Hun had to scramble to spin the story to deny that anyone's rights were violated.

The incident turned out to be a win win for Yiannopoulos, Breitbart, and the president, and a defeat for everyone else, especially for reason and truth.

In the February 6th issue of Atlantic Monthy, David Frum wrote an article called How to Beat Trump: What Effective Protest Could look Like. Frum, a conservative writer who once wrote speeches for President George W. Bush, is steadfastly against Donald Trump, not so much for ideological reasons, but because he feels (as do I), that the current president is setting a dangerous precedent as he has little or no concern in upholding the United States Constitution.

Speaking about the deficiencies of the tactics of the left as far as protests go, Frum writes that...
...left-liberal demonstrations are exercises in catharsis, the release of emotions. Their operating principle is self-expression, not persuasion.
The problem with the left, Frum suggests, is their micro management of issues close to their heart, rather than a view of the big picture, preventing a general consensus that would lead to a unified front capable of drawing enough voters to win back the presidency. In a radio interview I heard with Frum last night, he said that so divided are liberals in this country amongst themselves, their protesters are "not preaching to the choir, they're preaching to the mezzo sopranos."

There is no better example than the election last November where thousands of steadfast supporters of Bernie Sanders, refused to vote for Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump. Either they reasoned that as the recipient of tremendous support from the Wall Street establishment, Clinton was no better than Trump, or they felt anger toward her because they erroneously believed she stole the election from their man, or they bought into all the Republican jargon that suggested she was a criminal who was just a little less truthful than Pinocchio, or all of the above. I don't have the numbers to back this up but I truly believe that had most of the Sanders supporters who either sat out the election or voted for a third party candidate, actually voted for Clinton, Donald Trump might not be sitting in the White House today.

Many Democrats blame Clinton for not being a strong enough candidate to beat Trump. Perhaps that's true. But the choices in this election could not have been more clear, and it is my sincere belief that everyone in America who could have, but didn't vote for Hillary Clinton last November, deserves to have Donald Trump as their president.

Of course that's all water under the bridge and hopefully we learned our lesson. In picking a president on election day, we have a choice between two credible candidates who are ready made, right off the rack. We can't tailor them to suit our individual needs like we can a computer system or a new car.

Actually, voting for a president is a lot like buying a used car,. We get to pick between two cars sitting on a lot, a blue Ford Fiesta and a gray Chevy Cruze. Sometimes both are in running order and frankly it's a tossup between the two. Sometimes one is a tad beat up yet perfectly drivable while the other looks shiny and new, but is a lemon. You really want that snazzy custom silver Corvette convertible but it's way out of your price range and besides, it was sold an hour ago. In short, the 'vette, just like the perfect candidate, wherever she or he may be, is not an option.

Now that the election is over, those of us who steadfastly believe that Donald Trump has no business being President of the United States, have a serious decision to make. He's the president, pure and simple, we as a people do not have the power to impeach him or kick him out of office, that's the job of Congress, if they so choose. The only legitimate way to change the government is to make our voices heard to our elected officials, and ultimately, through elections, the next one being in November, 2018.

It's unlikely that the president and his cabal of advisors are going to listen and take heart. They have made it abundantly clear that anyone who is not on their side, is their enemy, and dissent, only strengthens them. Besides, there are term limits and the president already is showing frustration with leading the country which he is quickly learning is not at all like running his own company. Who knows how long he is going to put up with it.

Unfortunately we can't count on an imminent impeachment or the president taking his toys and going home.

But the members of Congress are in it for the long haul and those of them up for re-election in two years will soon have to answer to their constituents. It's up to those of us who are dissatisfied with the current administration, to make our voices heard to those senators and congressmen, that we will not allow the laws and values that this country has held dear for over two hundred years, held hostage by an administration who has in three short weeks shown time and again that they have no regard for such things.

As I have said over and over, this is not a struggle between left and right. An administration who openly communicates their actions with the public through the use of "alternative facts", i.e.: lies, a president who has openly derided judges who rule against him in points of law he has no knowledge of, and who has expressed his belief in the use of torture to achieve his goals, clearly is not an administration who plans to rule with liberty, truth, justice and decency in mind.

And so it's in our hands. We need to come together as a people who cherish liberty, truth, justice and decency. If that means setting aside our differences, then so be it.

If we truly value freedom of speech, we must make every effort to allow all views to be freely expressed, even if those views disgust or horrify us. The truly horrible views will damn themselves, while denying the right to express them only gives them credibility by giving their speakers the moral high ground as victims who are denied their rights.

If we value the truth, then we must be steadfast in speaking the truth, and not broadcasting news that is not verifiable or outright wrong. We can't condemn the other side for broadcasting "fake news" if we do the same.

And if we truly care about decency, we must learn to treat those who disagree with us, not as they might treat us, but as we would want to be treated. We cannot discount the millions of Americans who voted for Trump who feel their lives are somehow compromised. As we do not like sanctimonious people preaching to us about what is moral and what is not, we should not be that way either.

Many leaders of the Republican Party today and the current administration, knowing their base is rapidly diminishing, have shown time and again, they will do anything in order to win. If we stoop to their depths, we are no better than they are. The only way decency can win in the end is to unite Americans of good will, both on the left and the right, to fight for American values as we have understood them for over two hundred years.

I truly believe there are more Americans of good will than not. I believe that most Americans are not racists, but people who care about their families, their communities, and their country, in that order, just as we do. We need to convince them that we're on the same side. Like them, we understand that we can't just invite terrorists or other criminals into our country to do their will. By the same token, we cannot completely close our doors to people from other countries who simply wish to make a better life for themselves and their families, just as this country DID NOT close its doors for our ancestors. We believe that all Americans should have the opportunity to jobs, health care and safe communities, but we also must point out that times are changing, that the ship of high paying, unskilled jobs sailed away a long time ago, and that the real key to success today, is education.  And we believe that no force in the world is stronger than America when its people come together and work for the common good, not when they sit back and let demagogues take over and decide what is best for us.

Our job in the opposition is to make our case before all Americans of good will, showing them that we are not all that different than they are, showing them that we love our families, communities and country, just as they do.

Even more important, we need to learn the same about them.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

We are living in scary times. In my nearly sixty years on this planet, the world has experienced other scary times.  Just in my lifetime, we've seen war, the threat of global nuclear annihilation, economic collapse and terrorism, and those experiences pale in comparison to the things my parents' and grandparents' generations experienced. But I don't know of a time in the past century when Americans seriously questioned the future of this nation and its core values, as they do now. We have a president who appears to have zero respect for the constitution and the rule of law, especially when it comes to the restrictions it places on his office. During the campaign, he expressed a higher regard for the dictator of Russia than for the President of the United States. He and his administration have demonstrated time and again that they have no particular interest in freedom of speech, unless it is their own. The POTUS has made it clear he has no intention of giving up his huge stakes in worldwide business interests and the issues of conflicts of interest they will inevitably create. This administration's utter lack of regard, even contempt of facts is downright appalling. Perhaps most disheartening of all is the fact that many of my countrymen and women are perfectly OK with it.

As I can remember exactly where I was upon learning the news of nearly every horrific event in world history that took place in my lifetime, I will never forget the moment I read the statement made by a top advisor in the Trump administration, Kellyanne Conway, when she used the Orwellian term "alternative facts" to describe blatant lies the president made through his press secretary, to over-inflate the size of the crowd at his inauguration. It was at that moment when it occurred to me that this nation might very well be doomed. If this administration could so overtly lie about trivial, easily verifiable stuff, imagine how they plan to deal with the important issues that take place behind closed doors. I didn't feel much better last Sunday when this same advisor lamented the fact that to date, no one in the "mainstream media" has been sacked for criticizing her boss.

It's becoming clear that the division in this country between supporters of the POTUS and everyone else, is becoming deeper and deeper as we speak, which seems to work to the advantage of his administration. Like so many totalitarian wannabes, this administration seems to draw its life-force from the ability to create a home grown enemy. And that enemy is anyone, wherever their political leanings may lie, who has the nerve to criticize them.

This leaves those of us with misgivings about the current administration in a quandary. Do we openly protest the administration, thereby fueling the fire in the bellies of the president and his supporters who are looking for any excuse to repress the liberties of their detractors? Do we do so subversively much like the bumbling, crazy (like a fox) Good Soldier Švejk, the eponymous character from the series of novels written by the Czech author Jaroslav Hašek? Or out of fear of retribution do we just keep our mouths shut, hoping the storm will pass over our heads without causing too much damage?

This is not my paranoia speaking, I know people who have chillingly called for marshal law to suppress the demonstrations that are taking place throughout the country. The president himself has expressed his enthusiasm for using strong arm tactics. In a tweet last week he threatened to "send in the feds" to Chicago in order to control this city's growing murder rate. This weekend he signed an executive order to ban the entry into the United States, of people from specific nations, including many green card holding legal residents of this country. Even small children were not spared, one of whom was reported to have been handcuffed for several hours during his detention at Dulles Airport in suburban Washington DC last weekend. Amazingly, the president's press secretary told the country that it is perfectly acceptable to handcuff a five year old child, who turned out to be a US citizen. After the incident, the press secretary, Sean Spicer said this:
To assume that just because of someone’s age and gender that they don’t pose a threat would be misguided and wrong. 
You read this stuff, at least I do, and wonder if there are no ends to which the administration would not stoop in order to achieve their objectives.

Yet there are folks who are perfectly happy with the way things have been working out since the president was inaugurated a scant twelve days ago at this writing. It's not something new in history, that people of a nation, fearful of the unknown, would choose security over liberty. These arrangements seldom work out well. The current administration is only happy to oblige the fearful, taking advantage of an existing atmosphere of anger and resentment, and blowing it completely out of proportion. One school of thought has it that the protests that have taken place since the inauguration, especially the very small handful that have erupted in violence, only work to the benefit of the administration, as for them it would be justification for the use of force to quell the violence. Once that begins, where will it end?

An even more cynical, but not outrageous viewpoint, is that the administration is well aware that, rather than promoting safety, its actions over the weekend, suspending the arrival of refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan and Libya, will only exacerbate anti-American hostility in the Muslim world, making terrorist attacks all the more likely. The resulting crisis would then justify the suspension of constitutional rights in the name of "national security". Steve Bannon, the president's right hand man (or is it the other way around?) has written that he is in favor of the need to tear down society in order to rebuild it, which in his world view it would seem, would mean an oligarchy ruled by Caucasians, with a few useful Christian values cherry picked out of scripture thrown in for good measure. I'm not sure but perhaps non-Caucasians could live here if they wished, they would just have to tow the line, and bow to the master in charge.

How things have changed in a mere generation. Judging from the following words advocating understanding among the people of the world, and an open door to this country, you might think the man who spoke them was a progressive, liberal Democrat. You would be quite wrong:
I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind swept, God blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace - a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here." --Ronald Reagan
Eighty four years ago, a president on the verge of a new administration, facing a much more difficult challenge than the current president as he entered his new administration, told a struggling nation that:
...the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself, - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Until now, for 228 years, American presidents have told their country not to fear, that by working together as a nation, there is no problem we cannot solve. In the meantime, dictators have told their subjects to fear everything, but leave it to them, in their hands, and in their hands alone, they will solve all the nation's problems.

The struggle against the current administration is not a struggle between the left and the right, between Republicans and Democrats. It is a struggle for liberty, truth, and common decency, in other words the values that Americans of good will have shared for over two centuries. Fed by the fear and anger inspired by a handful of opportunistic demagogues who draw their very breath from our division, many of us seem to have lost those values over the past year.

But we as a people are better than that. We protest out loud whether it be on social media, in the halls of Congress, or out in the streets, over the injustices of this administration. We do so not because we are crybabies and sore losers, but because we are Americans, and because we love our country.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Photographs of the Month

January 1, Northbrook, Illinois

January 2, Skokie, Illinois

January 3, Rogers Park, Chicago

January 5, Michigan Avenue, Chicago

January 6, Federal Center, Chicago

January 12, Adams and Wabash, Chicago

January 15, Oakbrook, Illinois

January 20, Monroe Street, Chicago

January 21, Skokie, Illinois

January 22, Chicago Cultural Center

January 22, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago

January 23, South Michigan Avenue, Chicago

January 28, Rogers Park, Chicago

January 29, Uptown, Chicago

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Morning After

So how'd he do? Well, the new president seemed to take much of an expert on political rhetoric, Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson's, advice on inaugural speeches to heart. He kept his speech short, under 1,500 words with a run time of just over fifteen minutes. Although he trumpeted bullet points from the campaign, he refrained from reliving it, thank God. He also used the pronoun"we" instead of "I" so often that it seemed to be a parody of common sense. Of those 1,400 words, he uttered the word "we" over fifty times. "We will do this", "we will do that", "we are grateful to President Obama and the First Lady" and the ever popular "we will make America great again". Frankly it was difficult to tell if he was using we to mean "we the people" or "we" as in the regal we, the way a monarch uses the word "we" to actually mean "I".

He did manage to fulfill another of Prof. Jamieson's requirements of a good kick off speech, to get in this line:
We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.
In my opinion it's a good sentence, paying lip service to unification. But given his divisive history. frankly there wasn't much else in the speech pointing in the direction of bringing together the American people. He did keep mentioning something about returning the government back to the people, but he didn't clarify what that means or how he intends to do it. Given that his cabinet picks do nothing to indicate that the government under his watch will not be run by an elite oligarchy of billionaires, those words have a very empty ring to them.

As he did in the campaign, the new president took pains to paint an unrealistically bleak picture of this country. Here's the assessment of the state of the union vs. Trumpspeak reality courtesy of FactCheck.org. Not surprisingly, that organization found much of the president's descriptions of the state of the country at the moment to be sheer nonsense.

The phrase from the speech that stood out to me was this:
...an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge...
With a mother who is a retired public school principal and two children who are currently attending public school, I can personally vouch for the fact that our education system is NOT flush with cash. That having been said, I also know that simply spending more money won't fix the problem of educating the youth of this country. However the president's remarks clearly reflect the attitude of tax payers with no children in public school, resenting the fact that they have to pay money for those who do. His choice for Secretary of Education is a poster child for these folks, and will clearly not improve the lives of the children of the "mothers who are trapped in the inner cities", the rest of us who firmly believe in a public school education for our children, and ultimately of the whole nation whose children, aka our future, will be ill equipped to compete with those from countries around the world for whom the education of all its children is a top priority.

The one bit of advice of Professor Jamieson's that the president completely ignored was the one I felt was the most important, the part about affirming the limitations of his power. Nowhere in his speech does he refer to the constitution, or working within the rule of law to achieve his lofty, unrealistic promises to the American people. In Cleveland last summer he made the unbelievable remark that only he could fix the problems we face today, and in his inaugural address to the nation, he seemed to affirm that statement, despite his laughable overuse of the word "we".

I find this very disturbing.

I said in my last post that the president might do himself a favor by delivering a forgettable speech. As the FactCheck.org piece begins. like many of his predecessors, he did indeed serve up a "blend of broad platitudes and generalities to lay out (his) vision." In that vein it certainly will not go down in history as a high point in the annals of American rhetoric.

Yet by the dystopian picture of the America that exists in his dreams (and those apparently of  his supporters) that he insists on portraying, and in failing to mention the role of president as servant of the people bound by laws spelled out by our constitution, I can only describe yesterday's inaugural address, forgetable as it certainly will become, as, in one of the president's favorite terms, a disaster.

The good news is that today, on the morning after the first day of the new administration, hundreds of thousands, no check that, millions of people are marching in the streets of this country, and countless others around the world, letting the new president know they are watching his every move. This is democracy at work. If you don't like it, you'd better get used to it.

Yesterday may have been the dawning of the age of incompetence, but today marks the dawning of the end of complacency.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Inauguration Day

Every four years, January 20, is a date of tremendous consequence to the American people. It is of course the date set aside after an election, for the inauguration of the president. It is of even more consequence on days such as today, when a new president of a different party takes the oath of office on the steps of US Capitol in Washington DC as it represents the peaceful transition of power, something we take for granted in this country, but shouldn't.

The first such peaceful transition of executive power from one party to another in the United States took place on March 4, (the date originally stipulated by the Constitution to be inauguration day), 1801. During the 1800 election, the Republican (in essence, today's Democratic Party) Thomas Jefferson, defeated Federalist John Adams in what many accounts tell us, was an even more contentious election than the one we just experienced.

In his inaugural address, Jefferson's first job was to heal a nation torn apart. while confirming his own convictions. In doing so, he defined the very essence of our democratic republic.  In that, his first of two inaugural addresses, Jefferson said this:
All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression. Let us, then, fellow-citizens, unite with one heart and one mind. Let us restore to social intercourse that harmony and affection without which liberty and even life itself are but dreary things. And let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions... 
...every difference of opinion is not a difference of principle. We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists. If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it. 
...Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.  
It's easy for us to forget today that the survival of the nation was very much in doubt in Jefferson's time, and those words, along with practically everything else the man ever said or wrote, went a long way to forge the bonds that tie this nation together to this day.

A new president, whomever that person should be, would do well to keep in mind the life and times of this nation, and the struggles of his (and eventually her) predecessors to create and sustain it.

You might think a good place to start one's study of the history of the presidency of the United States would be to look through the inaugural addresses of the presidents. One president, James Garfield, did just that before he took his oath of office on March 4, 1881. I have no idea if anyone knows for certain if our 20th president felt that was time well spent, but the general consensus of most historians is that the majority of presidents' first speeches to the nation are imminently forgettable. President Garfield probably could have done himself a favor by looking elsewhere for inspiration as despite addressing a few noble causes, his own inaugural address, does not rate very well. even among the generally low company it keeps.

Of course there are exceptions, addresses delivered to the nation by extraordinary men in extraordinary times, which constitute some of the most profound utterances in American history.

If I were about to become president, (something the entire nation and world should be deliriously happy will never happen), one of the things I would do to prepare myself before my inaugural address, would be to do something I've done quite often, take a stroll through our nation's capital. In the footsteps of every president who governed from there (with the ironic exception of the man for whom the city is named), inspiration to find the appropriate first words to the nation should be easy to find.

I'd start at perhaps the loveliest monument in town, at least from a distance, the Jefferson Memorial. There you can find inscribed many of the great man's words inscribed inside the Roman inspired temple designed by John Russell Pope. Unfortunately many of those words are taken out of context and made to fit in with the spirit of the time the monument was built. A better place to study the actual words of Jefferson would be a couple miles away at the Library of Congress. On our third president, our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, while addressing an assembly of Nobel Prize winners said this:
I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone. 
Jefferson's first inaugural address is on the short list of most historians' best of the best presidential inaugural addresses list. Here you can read the speech in its entirety.

Across the Tidal Basin from the Jefferson Monument, sits the new memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a lovely park setting. This monument, designed by the esteemed landscape architect, Lawrence Halprin, true to the didactic nature of our modern national monuments, depicts many of the enormous historic events that took place during Roosevelt's presidency. I wrote in depth about the monument here.

One of the most famous catch phrases of any presidential speech, comes at the beginning of FDR's first inaugural address when he told a struggling nation well into the grips of the Great Depression on March 4, 1933 :
This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure, as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. 
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life, a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. And I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.
The whole truth be told, I've heard rumors that the "fear itself" line was lifted by Roosevelt's speechwriter from a newspaper ad. Nonetheless, FDR's first inaugural went along way to lift the spirit, if not necessarily the pocketbooks, of this nation's citizens.

Here is a recording of entire address:



Not too far from the Roosevelt memorial is a collection of the most enduring and powerful monuments to the American experience to be found anywhere. First you come upon two fairly recent war memorials, devoted to the Korean and Vietnam Wars. You can read about them here. Steps from there is the memorial to perhaps our greatest president (depending upon  the geographical region in which you were born), Abraham Lincoln.

The Lincoln Memorial, designed by Henry Bacon and dedicated in 1922,, is our nation's most recognizable, and thought provoking monument. More than a monument, the building has served as the setting for some of the most important gatherings of citizens since its nearly 100 years of existence. As such the building, and its environs, are for Americans, hallowed ground, the de facto hearth of our democracy.

A testimony to its enduring legacy, you will find four words chiseled into the top step of the Lincoln Memorial, that have nothing, yet everything to do with the 16th president. Those words are "I HAVE A DREAM." Those words refer to a moment in time, not an inaugural address, to a man, not a US president, and to a people, not the whole citizenry of the United States, but a group of people for whom the guarantees, privileges and promises of the US Constitution did not apply. It was from those steps that Martin Luther King demanded that the "promissory note" signed by the Founding Fathers in the form of the US Constitution be cashed in, exactly 100 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Inside the memorial is Daniel Chester French's iconic statue of the seated Lincoln. Flanking him on either side are the texts of two of his greatest speeches. To Lincoln's right, on the south wall of the monument is inscribed his Gettysburg Address, to his left, the text of probably the greatest inaugural address ever given, Lincoln's Second Inaugural.

Abraham Lincoln delivering his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865

The speech was delivered precisely one month and five days before Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War. Rather than gloating on an imminent magnificent victory, Lincoln's speech is one of sorrow and self reflection.  He spoke of suffering and the tremendous price both sides paid for waging war. He spoke of God's judgement on the American people, not just the Confederates, a result of subjecting one eighth of the entire population of the country to slavery:
These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it.
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.
Despite every indication that the war was drawing to a close, Lincoln resigned himself to the idea that we as a nation were helpless before God's wrath:
Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With that in mind Abraham Lincoln closes one of the shortest inaugural addresses in history with these most remarkable words of reconciliation and healing:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
Reflecting his desire for reconciliation, Lincoln's Memorial is situated on the banks of the Potomac River which separates the District of Columbia, from the Commonwealth of Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. Just across the river atop a hill in Arlington, VA, sits the former home of none other than Robert E. Lee. During the Civil War, Lee's property and much of  the surrounding region were occupied by the Union and to spite the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, and chief general of the Confederate Sates, the federal government allocated his land to become Arlington National Cemetery. It would later become this country's premier military cemetery.

Today, to  reach Arlington National Cemetery from the Lincoln Memorial one needs only to cross McKim Mead and White's Memorial Bridge, a structure as symbolic as it is beautiful. Entering the cemetery you are confronted by tens of thousands of gravestones making the final resting places of men and women who served in this nation's armed forces. On each stone is carved either a cross, a Star of David, or a star and crescent, symbolizing the creed of the fallen soldier, sailor, airman or marine. Just below Lee's home is the final resting place of John F. Kennedy. The eternal flame marking his grave can be seen across the river from the Lincoln Memorial at night.

Perhaps no inaugural speech was as moving or as inspiring as Kennedy's. The old world order was rapidly changing and Kennedy, the first president born in the 20th century, grasped that concept, as well as a deep understanding of where we came from, at the outset of his speech:  
Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.
Kennedy pledged to break the bonds of oppression throughout the world...
To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom-and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.
...and took the moral high ground:
To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
All the while understanding the risks of all out war in the age of the atom bomb:
Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction...
...So let us begin anew--remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.
JFK's inaugural speech, while speaking of the past, continually looked forward:
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And instead of making promises, he made demands of selflessness and sacrifice:
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.
My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.
Here's a video of the inauguration address of John F. Kennedy:




The remarkable thing about all great speeches is the way they speak to us today, decades or even centuries after they were crafted.

Here's an interesting piece from the online journal Vox, with a video featuring Professor Kathleen Hall Jamieson, an expert on political rhetoric and author of the book: Presidents Creating the Presidency: Deeds Done in Words.

In the video, Professor Jamieson lists three aspects that make for a great inauguration speech. In that speech, the newly sworn in  president should aim to: Unify the country, share principles (rather than policy), and perhaps most importantly, affirm limitations.

Check, check and check for the speeches listed above.

Then she gives three pieces of advice to the speech givers: Keep it short, forget the campaign, and use the pronoun "we", rather than "I".

Ditto.

It would seem that her comments might be specifically directed at the man about to take the oath of office today. After some truly reprehensible behavior during the campaign, he showed some promise after the election, being conciliatory, and pledging to be the president of all Americans. Sadly he slipped back into his old, bad habits and spent most of his time as president-elect as if he were still on the campaign trail. Today he finds himself in the unenviable position of having a lower approval rate on the eve of his inauguration, than on the day after the election.

Despite the vast number of Americans who pledge to do anything but watch the inauguration today, the new president can do himself a huge favor by taking heed of Professor Jamieson's advice. No one expects him to deliver a speech of Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt or Kennedy caliber.

The truth be told, his address today needn't be memorable, in fact, given his nature, and the history of presidential inauguration speeches, it would be far better for him if it were not memorable at all.

The good news for our future president is that he has set the bar remarkably low for himself. All he really has to do today is show a modicum of humility, make at least a token effort to bridge the tremendous chasm he has created between himself, his supporters, and the opposition, and for God's sake let the world know he intends to respect the rule of law and common decency as far as the next four years are concerned.

Now is that too much to ask of the President of the United States?

We've come so far low we cannot possibly accept anything less.


Monday, January 16, 2017

John Lewis

The current mantra among people who voted for the president elect is that we folks who object to his ascension to the highest office in the land are "sore losers". Other less than complimentary epithets thrown our way are whiners, babies, snowflakes, and hypocrites, among other names, many of them unmentionable. "We lived through eight years of Barack Obama,.." a recurring theme in their arsenal of parental admonishments goes, "...so you can live through this." 

Well you know what? In a sense, they're right. During the election, supporters of Hillary Clinton, including myself, were aghast by our opponents' claim that the election was somehow rigged. We chastised them for saying that if their man lost, they would not accept the outcome of the election.

More than once in this space I wrote about how our democracy depends upon the minority accepting the will of the majority in an election, and in return, the majority accepts the constitutional rights of the minority.

Of course I didn't account for the Electoral College which this year determined that the candidate with the fewest popular votes, almost three million of them, in other words, the minority, would win.

I also didn't take into account the truly bizarre behavior of the director of the FBI who just days before the election stated publicly that his department was re-opening its investigation of Hillary Clinton, even though he had to admit, after the damage was done, that there was no new evidence against her.

Nor did I know at the time that the Russian government was committing serious hanky panky, hacking into the election, and doing everything they could to ensure that the Republican candidate, whom they appear to have some control over, would win the election.

Since I have absolutely no evidence that the outcome of the election would have been different had it not been for James Comey and Vladimir Putin, and since I accept the Electoral College, at least on principal, despite its idiosyncrasies, I believe the man who is about to be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, will be the legitimate president.

In respect to semantics, and in that respect only, do I disagree with John Lewis, the Congressman from the 5th District in Georgia.

Representative Lewis you may recall, in response to an interviewer's question about why he plans not to attend the inauguration ceremony this coming Friday in Washington, answered that he did not accept the man to be inaugurated, as the legitimate president. The reasons he gave were the same ones I stated above, and a few others.

As you can imagine, our soon-to-be tweeter-in-chief was none too pleased by Rep. Lewis's remarks and had some choice words for him via his Twitter account. So upset was he that his comments exceeded the 140 character tweet limit, and required two tweets to do the job. Here's what he said tweet by tweet:

Tweet one:
Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to......
Tweet two:
mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk - no action or results. Sad!
I didn't think it was possible, but in those two tweets, our next president may have outdone even his own extraordinary capacity for pettiness, indiscretion, and sheer stupidity. Of course it should come as no surprise that his legendary thin skin would lead him to the safe zone of his Twitter account to express his hurt feelings over even the slightest of slights, just ask Meryl Streep. Despite being admired by millions as one of this country's finest actors, Streep is still merely an entertainer who it turns out, was reamed mercilessly by right wing fanatics for the audacity of expressing her opinion of our future president in a public forum, a televised awards show.

John Lewis is another matter. If anyone alive has the credentials to be called an icon of the American Civil Rights movement and a true American hero, it is he. Lewis was a participant, often a leader at many of the pivotal events in the movement since the early sixties. As one of the founders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,  in 1961, he was one of the original Freedom Riders, a harrowing journey of civil rights activists, targeting the illegal segregation of public conveyances in the South. The bus that Lewis boarded in Washington DC was bound for New Orleans where a major civil rights rally was to be held. The passengers were comprised of seven whites and six blacks who sat side by side as the bus made its way through the Deep South, where white folks didn't take too kindly in those days to white and black folks sitting together on a bus. Lewis was attacked in Rock Hill, SC. while entering a Whites Only waiting room. During subsequent rides, Lewis and his fellow riders endured beatings, firebombings, and arrest. Despite dreadful atrocities committed against them by local residents, the Klan, and the police who looked the other way when they weren't taking part in the beatings, the indifference of the Federal Government, and the abandonment of the organization that sponsored the rides, Lewis and a handful of others persevered, and saw them through to their successful conclusion. 

Because of his remaining steadfast in his commitment to non-violence and reconciliation, not to mention his exceptional courage, Lewis at age 23 was named the head of the SNCC, and in that capacity he was invited to address a crowd of 100,000 at a watershed moment in civil rights history, the March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs in August of 1963. Fifty years to the day, I was present at another gathering on the same spot in front of the Lincoln Memorial at an event that commemorated the march, known by all as the setting for Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It was my privilege to have been present as John Lewis, the only surviving speaker from the original event, addressed the crowd.

Perhaps most famously, Lewis is known as one of the leaders of the Selma to Mongtomery marches, promoting voting rights for African American people in the South. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, Lewis who was leading the march along with local activists, crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama where they were met by state troopers. Holding their ground, the marchers began to pray. Incensed by their refusal to disperse, Alabama State Troopers tear gassed the marchers, then beat them with their night sticks. Local activist Amelia Boynton was beaten unconscious, while Lewis remained conscious despite a fractured skull, and managed to appear on television to appeal to President Johnson to intervene, before heading to the hospital.

Lewis's political career began in the mid-seventies and he was first elected to his current position, representing the district that includes much of the city of Atlanta and its environs, in 1986. In that role he has held true to his convictions and to this day remains a strong advocate for human rights and racial reconciliation.

Despite holding a role in the political establishment for thirty years, Lewis isn't afraid to mix it up and get into trouble, most recently leading a sit in on the floor of the House of Representatives, demanding the Republican leadership allow a vote on gun safety legislation after the shooting at a Orlando nightclub where 49 people were murdered by a lone gunman. As congressman, he was arrested at least three times for his role in various protests.

Say what you will about Lewis and his politics and tactics, but anyone who knows the facts would be hard pressed to say that John Lewis is only "talk, talk, talk, - no action" As for the assertion that his district is in "horrible shape, falling apart, and crime infested", well I'm guessing that would be quite surprising news to the people who live in a city with several major corporations including Coca-Cola and CNN calling it home, and a metropolis that has a very diverse community including a thriving African American upper middle and upper class.

Oh and yes, Mr. Tweet chose to put down the most important living figure in the American Civil Rights movement coming at all times during the weekend when we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King.

Could this guy possibly be serious about being president for "all Americans"? 

If so, legitimate or not. he's got to be the most clueless person who has ever been elected to any office, ever, in the United States.

That's just one of many reasons why so many of us object to his becoming president this Friday.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Barack Obama

A friend of ours met last week with Barack Obama at Blair House in Washington DC. She was part of a contingent of folks who either themselves or their loved ones suffer from serious heath issues. They met with the president to discuss an uncertain future under a new president who made a campaign promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. Without the ACA many of these folks believe, either they or their loved ones would not have been able to afford the medical treatments that have been responsible for keeping them alive, and any kind of repeal they believe, would do nothing less than put their very lives in jeopardy.

The president told those gathered that day, to fight the good fight, to never let down, and to make their voices heard, using the motto of the State of Missouri "Show Me" as a rallying cry to Congress, demanding they present the citizens of the United States with a comprehensive replacement plan, before they dare to repeal the ACA. Obama assured them that he will do his part, whatever good that will do, to be an advocate, not specifically for the health care program that bares his name, but for any system that ensures that health care is a right that everyone should enjoy.

President Obama obviously leaves behind a very positive legacy for these people. To others however, the word Obamacare is synonymous with government intrusion into the lives of the American people. In other words, Obamacare detractors are the folks who resent having to pay money out of their own pockets to insure that others less fortunate, might be covered.

Barack Obama gave his farewell address to the American people last night. He gave that speech here in Chicago, his adopted home town where he famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view), worked as a community organizer before becoming an Illinois state senator, and later a United States senator. It may not have been a speech for the ages like the address he delivered before the Democratic National Convention in 2004, four years before he was nominated as his party's standard-bearer. In that speech he professed his deep belief in the promise of America, and the basic goodness of its people. Asserting in no uncertain terms what drives progressive ideology, he said this:
It is that fundamental belief -- I am my brother's keeper, I am my sisters' keeper -- that makes this country work.
We often think that the crux of the dispute between Republicans and Democrats these days, is the argument over the size of government, but that's not really true. There are in fact very few honest to goodness Libertarians around, that is to say people who whole heartedly believe that government should play as small a role in the lives of its citizens as possible. Conservatives who call themselves Libertarians are all for big government when it comes to issues close to their hearts such as national defense, immigration control and law and order, including the enforcement of laws regarding things they don't like such as abortion and flag burning. Sad to say, many Republicans today strongly oppose government handouts to individuals or groups, that is unless those handouts directly benefit themselves. A good example is transportation. Republicans will fight tooth and nail against the funding of public transportation, which they typically don't use, but have absolutely no problem with government funding of our nation's outrageously expensive highway infrastructure.

The real divisive issue separating Democrats and Republicans today is the question, "to what extent am I my brother's keeper?" To Democrats, the answer on the other side would be: "to no extent whatsoever." In contrast, most Republicans would say that your average Democrat favors the assurance of cradle to grave care for all, regardless of need, courtesy of the taxpayers.

Yet there are actually few of us who would go to either extreme; the staunchest conservatives (I would hope), believe that we should care for the most vulnerable in society, while even the bleedingest of hearts appreciate at least to some degree, the value of work and personal responsibility.

But in recent years, we, (myself included), seem to have become ever more entrenched in our own ideological bubbles, scarcely giving folks on the other side the time of day when it comes to expressing their views and logic (flawed as it may be!).

Addressing the perceived ideological rift in this country, Barack Obama gave us this bit of hope, the most memorable line from that speech twelve years ago:
The pundits, like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.
Obama's speech last night didn't have any take home lines like that one, rhetorical flourishes meant to garner attention. That was after all the speech that put him on the national map. Instead last night's speech was an effort to cement his legacy, but more importantly, a thinly veiled warning of the administration that is about to take over, and an admonishment for all who despair of the upcoming four years, to work for a change.

The premise of this Obama speech was the four biggest threats, as he saw them, to our democracy. His first point directly addressed the president elect's campaign rhetoric, targeted at white underemployed blue collar workers who came out in unprecedented numbers to support the Republican candidate. Recognizing the vast number of people for whom the American Dream has become a nightmare, President Obama said:
To begin with, our democracy won't work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.
But his answer to the problem was much different from his successor's who campaigned tirelessly on the issue of bringing back jobs that were lost to other countries due to bad trade deals. Obama instead emphasized education and the encouragement of involvement in 21st century enterprises such as new technologies, health care and alternative energy, rather than raising unrealistic hopes that long lost industrial jobs will magically reappear. Obama stuck a dagger into the heart of his successor's basic premise by giving us this reality check:
...our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won't come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.
Obama's second stated threat to democracy was racism. His detractors have labeled Obama the great divider, especially when it comes to race issues. He certainly made those people chafe yesterday when he pointed out quite rightly that:
For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn't suddenly vanish in the '60s, that when minority groups voice discontent, they're not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they're not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised. 
Obama also brought up the vital role immigrants have played in the history of this country, pointing out that the same words used to describe Mexicans, Muslims and other ethnic groups trying to enter this country today are the exact words that were used to describe Irish, Italians, and Poles immigrants over a century ago.

Conservative critics of the president's speech were quick to point out their perception of Obama's anti-white sentiment in those statements, but somehow seemed to miss this prescient bit of self reflection:
For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face -- not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he's got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change. We have to pay attention, and listen.
Bringing us back to his theme of our lack of national solidarity, President Obama pointed out that:
For too many of us, it's become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste -- all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it's true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there. 
And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. But politics is a battle of ideas. That's how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter -- then we're going to keep talking past each other, and we'll make common ground and compromise impossible.
Notice that at no point here is Obama pointing fingers at any single ideological group. These same criticisms can be leveled at liberals as easily as conservatives. 

To both groups, Obama gives us this simple and brilliant solution:
If you're tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.
President Obama's final stated threat to our system of government, perhaps the most insidious, is the taking of our democracy for granted. To that point, the president quoted from George Washington's own farewell address where our first president warned of the many forces that will conspire to weaken our conviction that our democracy "is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty."

If we are to lose our integrity and values, Obama implies, all else falls by the wayside. Here in perhaps his most ominous warning about the coming administration, Obama brings up American values that in our history, resisted facile solutions to difficult problems:
It's that spirit -- a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might -- that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression; that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but built on principles -- the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and speech, and assembly, and an independent press. 
While he trumpeted the gains made during his administration, Barack Obama took pains to make sure the credit for those successes went to the people of the United States, not to the guy sitting in the White House or the members of his administration. Compare that to the words we heard in Cleveland this summer when the Republican nominee for president proclaimed that only he, and he alone could "fix" this nation's problems.

In my book, there in a nutshell is the difference between the president of a republic and a dictator. Not one word out of the mouth of the president-elect has convinced me that he understands the difference, or cares.

Barack Obama, like all good presidents, all good leaders for that matter, has a strong understanding and appreciation of history, which made it possible for him to lead us eight years ago into an uncertain future. He inherited challenges that few of his predecessors faced, namely a war on two fronts and a tremendous economic crisis, not to mention a completely intransigent Congress who from the outset was committed to nothing other than his downfall.

Like all administrations, Obama's had it's successes and failures. You wouldn't know it from listening to most of his detractors who fed by whatever bug is up their ass, refuse to see the Obama administration as anything but an abject failure. Some would suggest that the irrational animosity toward Barack Obama is fueled by racism. I for one have not seen any evidence to dispute that claim. Regardless of one's personal ideology, whether you agree with President Obama's policies or not, and yes, there is plenty to criticize, any rational judgement of the man would have to conclude that he performed his job with insight, integrity, intelligence, grace and eloquence that few of his predecessors could match. Most important, I can't for the life of me believe anyone could seriously question his commitment to make life better for all Americans, regardless of their race, creed, or ideology.

I stated before in this space that Obama's legacy most likely will be split along ideological lines, but it's not that simple. People will judge Barack Obama largely on the basis of self-interest. They will ask themselves as Ronald Reagan asked the American people in 1980. "am I better off today than I was at the beginning of this administration?"

Clearly the majority of folks who voted for the Republican candidate this past election, answered no to that question. No one should be surprised by that fact alone, seldom in this country's history has one party controlled the White House for two or more subsequent administrations.

What's different of course is the man for whom they voted. With practically zero understanding of history, the next president promises to bring this nation back to a glorious past that never really existed. It's hard to tell right now whether he will lead this nation to ruin or he will merely be an insignificant burp in history.

In his speech last night, Barack Obama let us know in no uncertain terms that the work of government is the work of the people, not the work of one man. And that one man cannot destroy our nation and our democratic republic, unless of course, we let him.

Barack Obama reminded us last night that while we have a lot of work to do in the coming four years, in the end we'll be OK as a nation.

Thank you Mr. President. You have made me proud to be an American.