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.

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