It seems that things haven't changed very much since I was a boy growing up in Asheville, N.C. Of course then the bigotry, prejudice and discrimination were enshrined in law, now they are just a part of our culture and our environment. This isn't to say that all members of minority groups in this country live their lives as second class citizens. There have always been those who were able to break through the gravitational pull of despair and poverty and rise to success. But the underlying reality hasn't changed much in decades since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Supreme Court ruling that mandated the integration of public schools. What happened in Baltimore this week is just the most recent chapter in a long history of reaction to inexplicable action.
When I was a kid I was enamored by all that was politics. I read about it, watched TV news and enjoyed the conversations around our dinner table about the important events of the day. It may have been my lack of experience and my naïveté, but the senators, congressmen and governors all seemed dignified, well-spoken and sincerely concerned with the needs of their constituents. Of course, the president was in a space all his own representing all that was good and strong about America. But what stood out to me most of all was the formality and respect with which all of them spoke to and treated each other. I don't mean to imply that during those years all was sweetness and light. After all, it was the time that the Civil Rights Movement was picking up pace and there was plenty of hatred to go around. The violence of those who objected to that movement was on TV for all to see. We were also beginning to hear about a far off country named Viet Nam where over 55,000 Americans would ultimately lose there lives. While the 60's were certainly a time of upheaval it felt different from today. There was disagreement about many issues confronting our country, yet there was not yet the feeling of "them" and "us" that is so pervasive today. The polarization that exists today is different because it cuts more deeply than ever before.
During our formative years, as we are being acculturated through education and family experiences, we are taught about the difference between the truth and a lie. In school we are taught the glorious history of the founding of our country and the heroism that made it possible. Of course the "facts" of history are in the hands of those who write it and tell it. Just as three eyewitnesses to a crime will provide three, sometimes conflicting, accounts of the same incident, so it is with the "facts" that comprise our history. It is therefore very difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, and truth from lies when viewing history. However, when viewing recent events, those that we have the opportunity to experience in real time, distinguishing fact from fiction, truth from lies, is considerably easier. While there may be varying interpretations of an event, the objective facts are visible. Yet the Republican candidates and leadership continue to say things that are clearly untrue without regard to the facts.
Conspiracy theories abound about everything imaginable. They have become a part of our culture. While most conspiracies that we see and hear about come from the realm of fiction, some do reside in history. Of course among the most famous was the successful assassination of Abraham Lincoln. But as we know, history is replete with palace uprisings, coup d'etats and revolutions, all of which began with some kind of conspiracy. The dictionary defines conspiracy as, " an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated by two or more persons; plot." Naturally, evil is in the eye of the beholder. As we are aware, conspiracies have been implemented throughout history to defeat that which the conspirators perceived as evil. While we have grown to view conspiracies as something sinister, they may in fact be inspired by fundamentally well-intentioned individuals trying to achieve something that they truly believe in, regardless of how misguided. Yet I believe that this is only part of what we are seeing in the behavior of Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and the GOP leadership and members in both the house and the senate.
Our first contact with people outside of ourselves is our family. They are charged with not only feeding, sheltering and protecting us, but with teaching us right from wrong and other basic lessons of life. As we go through the socialization process provided by our school system we learn basic facts and values about our country. We are taught that people came here to escape discrimination for the way they worshipped or thought or spoke. We learn all about the abundant freedoms bestowed upon us by this great and special nation of ours.
Welcome to the official start of the 2016 Presidential Campaign. The "Clown Car" is the best way to describe the incredible collection of demagogues, extremists and ignoramuses that appear to be staking out their positions for the 2016 Republican nomination, however Ted Cruz was the first to make it official. He made his announcement this morning in a speech before a packed house of students at the very conservative Liberty University,founded in 1971 by evangelist Jerry Falwell. Certainly nothing he said was surprising. His message, heard many times before,was one of anti-establishment conservatism that took not only the Obama Administration to task, but the Republican establishment as well. In doing so he continued to separate himself both from the Beltway and his own party. However,if anyone thinks that his candidacy should be taken lightly,they had better think again. Cruz may ride in a "clown car", but his intent, his message and his campaign are deadly serious and potentially deadly dangerous.
The result of yesterday's Israeli election is extremely disturbing to me personally, but more importantly, potentially devastating to the US - Israeli relationship, Israel's position in the world and American efforts to negotiate a successful end to Iran's nuclear weapons program. The end result of the election gave Netanyahu a commanding lead of 30 seats in the Knesset, and a viable pathway to the 61 seats necessary to control the government. Most troubling are the choices that he made to achieve this electoral victory. He chose fear over hope, isolation over cooperation and xenophobia over integration. His warning that the "Arabs were voting in droves" and that he would not allow a Palestinian State while he was in office spoke volumes and frankly made me cringe. Let me be clear, while Netanyahu claims to speak for the Jewish people around the world, he does not speak for me nor most Jews that I am in contact with. In fact, despite the election results, he does not even speak for a majority of Israelis. However, due to a complex parliamentary system of government he will be the face and voice of Israel at least until the next election.
There are times when I simply find it necessary to react to an event that is so incredible that it screams at me to write. This is one of those times. As you must be aware, 47 United States Senators of the Republican majority took it upon themselves to write a letter to the Iranian leadership warning that any agreement with the United States under this President would be vulnerable to Senate modification or rejection as well as modification or rejection by a future President. Their obvious intent is to destroy any chance of an agreement on the future of the Iranian nuclear program. It is hard to select which part of this action I find most objectionable. I was appalled at the invitation by Speaker Boehner to Prime Minister Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress without the concurrence of the White House. But that actions pales in comparison to this letter sent by 47 Republican Senators.
I have been privileged to witness many historic events over the years. In most cases these were moments of pride and national exhilaration. However, in some instances the events were tragic and were reminders that we still had a great deal of work to do on the road to fulfilling our national destiny. Even when it seemed that the very fabric of who we are was being stretched to the limit, we showed resilience and cohesion and on all but one occasion this nation remained whole and united. Certainly, from the outside looking in, while we had our disagreements, we were a strong and united nation. However, a recent event endangers this perception. Never in our history has a branch of our government conspired with a foreign leader to impose its will on our foreign policy. After all, that would be incredibly arrogant on the part of all parties involved. Yet as noted by Jon Perrfollow in the Daily Kos on March 1, 2015 ..."Prime Minister Netanyahu is coming at the invitation of one political party to sabotage the foreign policy of the sitting president of the United States". It is, additionally, a break in the decades-old tradition of bipartisanship in our relationship and policy towards Israel. The hubris and arrogance required to make this decision in the absence of White House concurrence by both Boehner and Netanyahu are breathtaking and remarkably destructive.
I remember as a kid I used to watch my dad drive and think, that doesn't look so hard. After all, I was pretty good at driving the bumper cars at the amusement park, and how much different could this be? I also remember the first time my dad let me behind the wheel on a Sunday morning in a deserted shopping mall parking lot and said, "drive". I suddenly realized that it's a lot harder than it looks. As we get older we realize that things look a lot different from the outside looking in than when we suddenly find ourselves on the inside. We have all known people who talk a good game, but never seem to achieve success when given the opportunity. As we get older we either gain the humility that affords us the caution to go slowly, take advice and stay focused, or the hubris that affords us nothing but self-centered reactive behavior. Leadership by definition must be proactive not reactive. Yet the so-called GOP leadership of the House and Senate have been playing a game of reactive catchup ever since their term began. They are confronting deep internal conflicts and are having great difficulty developing a coherent and consistent approach to governance. They actually had greater success as the "party of no" than they are having as the party in charge.
When I was a kid I remember my dad saying, "this family is not a democracy, the best you can hope for is a benevolent dictatorship". He said it with a smile but my brothers and I got the message. We could participate in the discussion and voice our opinion, but in the final analysis my parents called the shots. We didn't always agree, but they did control some key points of leverage, i.e. food, shelter, allowance, that made disagreement potentially more costly than it was worth. The fact is that we were not equal partners in the enterprise called "the family". However, when our Forefathers wrote the American Constitution, they did, in fact, create three co-equal branches of government to protect us from even a "benevolent dictatorship". They did so with the very real expectation that there would be a constructive tension between the branches, resulting in truly representative and equitable governance. However for this grand and brilliant scheme to succeed, each branch must play its prescribed role. If one branch in our system of government fails to function properly, the entire system is thrown out of equilibrium and that carefully conceived balance of power is placed in jeopardy. As in any system, when a void is created, it is necessary for that void to be filled to place the system back into equilibrium. And so, as congress has created a void, we hear loud and angry complaints as other branches move to fill it. The Republicans, while purporting to be dedicated to our democratic way of life, are in fact using every tool at their disposal to subvert the very system in place to protect us.
We are faced with decisions about how to react and how much force to put behind our actions everyday. As parents we want our reactions to be appropriate and constructive. We don't want to be just inappropriately punitive. As employers we want to be balanced and make sure that we are getting the best out of our employees while giving them the freedom to do their best. Maintaining this equilibrium in our families and in our workplace requires thoughtful attention. In both cases setting limits that are clear and understood is the key to maintaining that equilibrium. However, for this to work, all parties have to agree to common goals and adhere to a common values system. If, in fact, goals and values are at significant variance, actions and statements will be misinterpreted and solutions will be almost impossible to find. For example, while European leaders tried in every which way to resolve issues with Hitler, his goals and values were at odds with theirs and his actions made that clear. Europe was forced, however reluctantly, to try to defend itself against the German onslaught. At the same time, America, watching from a distance, avoided entry into the battle until forced. While drawing close analogies between the Nazis and ISIS might be a stretch, comparing the dilemma confronted by America then and now is not so unreasonable.