America! Let’s Hit The Pause Button…

Hello out there in America and the World today!! If you have taken a look at my very nascent web site and blog posts, then you may have a sense of what I hope to convey by my thoughts and the topics I chose to write about.

I would like to ask everyone today to really and seriously hit the pause button on the political music you have been listening to, voluntarily or not,  over the past few weeks and months.

Pausing and standing back, taking stock of where you are, giving yourself some breathing room…these are all solid ways to help yourself take your own political temperature and allow realistic assessments of what things are truly important. These practices are not solely appropo of politics, but are useful in the conduct of most aspects of your life.

I totally appreciate the divide in our nation, exacerbated HUGELY by the 2016 Presidential campaigns and election. Much has been said, as it has been throughout the long history of our nation, of the peaceful transfer of power as the presidential administrations end and begin anew. The transition of 2017 is no exception. It does seem, however, that the transition that occurs today, January 20, 2017, is accompanied by unprecedented rancor, fear,  elation, relief, foreboding, excitement and apprehension.

In fact, you don’t have to go back in time very far  to discover that this is not the case at all! Think about the Presidential election of 2000. Perhaps you’d rather not! 🙂 But think about it for a moment. The democratic nominee was declared the winner prematurely by the professional media networks. The actual ‘certified’ results revealed that there was a HUGE problem with that declaration. Frankly, they were completely wrong. If you lived through this time as a politically aware politico-phile, you saw that there had NEVER been a more contentious and uncertain election between two nominees that couldn’t have been more different. The national popular vote was extremely close. A single state’s Electoral College votes determined the outcome but not before an incredible rollercoaster of recounts, lawsuits and finally a United States Supreme Court decision that brought the chaos to an end. The winning candidate was immediately and permanently hindered in his efforts to ‘Bring Us Together’. Literally, all of the political noise and ranting and raving surrounding the 2016 Presidential election was preceded in 2000 by what almost became a Constitutional crisis.

The initial results of those events in 2000 mirror the same excitement and apprehension I attribute to the results of what has taken place in 2016. I do not think they compare though in the same way.

As someone who loves this country  and has deep respect and trust in our political institutions and in our long-lived traditions, I ask you to Pause, Stand Back, and Give Yourself Some Breathing Room! Give our nation the benefit of the doubt. As I have urged in earlier commentary, Be Involved, Be Vigilant….and follow the example and spirit of our founding citizens who learned to accommodate dissenting points of view in a respectful and inclusive manner, and ultimately make our nation and ourselves great for the FIRST time.

 

 

Liberty Valance…taking liberties… with the liberty…of the press?

I know that millions of you have seen the fabulous 1962 John Ford movie called ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’. It is one of my top five films of all time. Among its’ stars are John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Lee Marvin, Edmond O’Brien and Vera Miles and several other well-recognized actors.

I have included a couple of stills from the movie and a link to a snippet of the film dealing specifically with the title of this post. You can also find links to the full movie from there if you decide to watch it. I hope you will as it is one of the few truly great films and its’ poignant and astonishing story contains all the crucial elements we are experiencing in our nation and in our politics in 2017.

The particular scene I highlight includes Dutton Peabody, Esq. (founder, owner, publisher and editor of newspaper The Shinbone Star..he also sweeps out the place!) played by Edmond O’Brien who has defiantly published a front page article accusing Liberty Valance (played superbly menacingly by Lee Marvin) of murder. Valance is the gun slinger hired by the cattlemen to intimidate the people of Shinbone and allow the open territorial region that Shinbone is part of to remain open versus the people’s desire to attain statehood in the United States and come under its’ laws and protection and opportunity for growth.

Valance and his henchmen confront Peabody about his accusation and Peabody utters his famous line that is the title to this post. You can view the scene herepeabody4

libval.

All of this is intended to warm you up to the idea that, in our current political environment, we are experiencing yet another unfamiliar and unsettling aspect. That is the ‘liberties’ taken not only against the press, but quite frankly the press’ own incompetence and bungling, also attributable to taking ‘liberties’ .

We often hear the term ‘Main Stream Media’ (MSM) as well as, depending on your point of view, which media-based organizations comprise the MSM and which do not. The description of Main Stream Media contained in Wikipedia basically defines it as:

Mainstream media (MSM) is a term and abbreviation used to refer collectively to the various large mass news media that influence a large number of people, and both reflect and shape prevailing currents of thought. The term is used to contrast with alternative media which may contain content with more dissenting thought as they do not reflect prevailing opinion.

I don’t know about you, but I think the vast majority of all of the best-known or most recognized media organizations are ALL part of that grouping. Certainly the editorial ideologies and human personalities are quite different among these well-known sources of information and entertainment, however it seems to me that they are all trying to accomplish a very similar goal: Present the American people with the facts, add their own particular interpretations for editorial purposes, and convince majorities that their point of view is the most sensible and provable.

How have they been doing lately?

There is no doubt that the general ideological camps within the MSM come down to conservative vs liberal positions. (Defining these two terms is a whole other post!) Two or three major national newspapers on the liberal side tangle with two or three conservative major newpapers. The slow demise of the era of the printed newspaper is unfortunately shrinking its’ influence. Two or three conservative major television-based organizations tangle with a similar subset of liberal tv-based organizations. And, of course, there is the Internet. This particular platform has totally disrupted the old order and narrowly-focused audiences of TV, radio and newspapers. Now, even I can be a single, solitary voice of my own opinions and prejudices, my own focus on ‘facts’, and my own interpretation of what they mean and potentially be heard by billions all over the world!

Many of these Main Stream Media organizations have lost their focus on their real responsibilities. The media coverage of the political world over the last several years, and particularly since the era of Trump began a couple of years ago, has deteriorated and devolved into almost an elementary schoolyard scene during recess.

This is where the thought of Liberty Valance drifted into my mind. There is no single person, either in the political world or the world of the media, that compares to that fictional character. But I urge you to watch the movie and re-watch it if its been awhile. You may see what I believe I have seen…that the liberty of the press, the Freedom of the Press, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, must be preserved and must not be undermined, not only by arrogant outside forces, but particularly by ‘liberties’ taken by its own partisan members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is Our Democracy Really Dysfunctional?

There are times in each our lives when we must step back and honestly reassess who and what we truly are. Often, the impetus for such assessments are involuntary. It may be an unexpected life event like a job layoff, a near-death experience, or the death of a friend or loved one. Something that jolts us out of our complacency and compels us to rethink every aspect of our lives. Such events are unavoidable and at least, in some circumstances, a positive development. What truly matters, and is critical to the potential benefit from the event, is the 100% honest and factual based effort to make that assessment. Why did this happen? What are the real reasons behind it and how should I proceed going forward?

I think that the United States of America, its’ government and citizens, are experiencing just such a life-changing jolt now!  This has not been caused by the election or defeat of any particular person in a specific way or level. The Presidential election in 2016 was going to happen regardless of who was actually competing for it. The outcome of that election however, was a result of a major, nationwide reassessment of who and what we truly are, and perhaps more accurately, of who and what we hope to be. I’d like to examine that a bit further.

In the New York Times print newspaper from 01/04/17, there was an opinion piece written by Eduardo Porter under his Economic Scene segment that examines whether or not the American democracy is broken. You can read this article for yourself via the link, however my interpretation of the essay is that Mr. Porter seems to feel that the winning candidate in the 2016 Presidential election is basically an authoritarian strongman with the intention of serving the elite versus the ordinary working class Americans. He seems to believe that the millions of people who voted for him  chose to ignore his resemblance to dictatorial strongmen, current and past, who started out as populist but ended up keeping their citizens down and made to buckle under their rule. Admittedly, there are millions who may agree with that, or at least be concerned that the door to that path has become slightly ajar. The article further defines and details the perceived reasons behind the dysfunction of our democracy in the United States. It’s that reassessment idea I spoke of earlier.

My main reason for citing this article is that, although Mr. Porter references many of the symptoms of democratic dysfunction in the US, he attributes the single greatest source of that dysfunction to the actual design and structure of our political institutions! The fundamental pillars of our republic! These institutions are described and established in the Constitution of the United States. They cannot be ignored, nor can they simply be overhauled or swept away because of the existence of inequality, a declining social safety net, stagnant incomes or any other difficult problem facing the United States in 2017. The Constitution of the United States has been in force since 1789, after a huge and difficult national debate, an effort on a scale not seen since that era. I urge you to undertake the reading of the Federalist Papers  which will astound you and amaze you as you learn about the persistence and determination of three of the Founding Fathers to explain and masterfully defend the principles and justification for our incredible nation contained in the new Constitution. The clear and convincing ideas contained in those Papers served to convince a very skeptical and wary populace to ratify and accept the simplified and codified tenets of government contained in the extraordinary document called the Constitution of the United States. It should also be read and re-read by all Americans, particularly those who blame the political institutions conceived in the late 18th century that gave us our precious nation and continue to secure its’ existence, for our current ‘dysfunction’. In fact, it is those exact institutions that will PROTECT us from the authoritarian strongman who would subvert our citizens and undermine our nation.

 

In the Year 2017

As we hurtle towards a major shift in both the political and geo-political spheres that exist in both the United States and the entire world, we are reminded of the law of unintended consequences. It is both a very exciting time to live in as well as a deeply unsettling and uncertain time to live. I think there is great hope throughout our nation and the world, and perhaps that is somewhat driven by the calendar, as today is the first day of 2017. It goes beyond that, however. One of the greatest differences among nations and cultures, at least to a much larger degree here in the United States, is that despite legitimate worry and concern over a very different kind of government coming to power, our citizens today are as courageous, determined, resilient and capable as any generation that came before, even the Greatest Generation. There will no doubt be moments of great accomplishment and setback, great hope and bitter disappointment.

The key is to become and remain involved. To become and remain engaged. To become and remain vigilant. We must also display our understanding, our compassion, and our ability to see beyond ourselves and seriously and civilly speak and act towards one another. Those qualities are the ones that will sustain our nation and ourselves and limit the unintended consequences of the changes to come.

Dueling Presidencies

At the very least, the Great Interregnum of 2016 has added yet one more slice of evidence to support the existence of the unprecedented polarization in current day America. The interregnum is the Latin word denoting ‘between reigns’. In today’s political environment, it represents the perilous time between Election Day and Inauguration Day.

Even the two men at the pinnacle of American power-in-transition are akin to the Hatfields and the McCoys and their uncertain grudges against one another. One presidency, the current ACTUAL president, has continued to issue executive orders, execute foreign policy directives, grant clemency to large numbers of convicted criminals, claim federal privilege over millions of acres of land, and slap the hands of world leaders, both allies and enemies.

The other presidency, the presidency-in-waiting if you will, and the ACTUAL president-elect, refuses to wait his turn, and has issued his own twitter-based edicts and assessments of both domestic AND foreign policy. Despite his uncharacteristic deference to the current president with the use of his words, he truly feels as though he is being undermined and even hand-cuffed by the actions taken by the POTUS. He may be right.

Even more bizarre is the interjection of a THIRD presidency, that of the leader of Russia, into the politics as usual in America and has had the effect of making the interregnum reminiscent of the WWF tag-team events when two wrestlers gang up on one of the opposition whose team mate is flat on his back in the ring. I might be tempted to assign that fallen team mate as the president of Israel, however he seems to be as anxious to see the peaceful transition of power in America happen as both the president of Russia and the president-elect do.

What can be said of all this thrashing and bashing? Perhaps it is not so unpresidented (sorry, unprecedented) in the history of the United States as it may seem. Certainly it provides for interesting times, although that old Chinese curse of  ‘May you live in interesting times’ is a bit unsettling to contemplate. After all, yet ANOTHER president of a large and powerful country, China, seems bound and determined to challenge the reigning WWF contenders for Champion of The World!