Sunday, July 17, 2016

10 Things to Watch at the GOP Convention this Week

Facing an unprecedented refusal on the part of former GOP Presidents, past nominees, and conservative pundits to even attend the Republican Party's convention in Cleveland this week--as well as a reluctance to speak at the gathering by party insiders and those perceived as the future of the organization, out of fear of having their own careers tainted by events in Cleveland or the expected backlash against his rhetoric and ideas following a Trump loss in November--this convention is expected to be unlike any other in modern history. Ironically, it is for those reasons that in terms of television, the 2016 Republican National Convention just might be the most unpredictable, weird, volatile, and yes, gripping live theater in American political history, more reality TV than political advertising. Think the last blowout of a long-time, poorly-behaved, offensive, obnoxious college frat before expulsion and dissolution. In the absence of party leaders, the speaking lineup reportedly includes Rudy Giuliani, Paul Ryan (as the highest elected Republican official in the land, Ryan had no out, the poor bastard), Rick Scott, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Trump's entire family...and, of course, Donald Trump and his recently-appointed running mate (and long-time hater of anyone who doesn't look like him), Mike Pence.

Here are 10 things to watch for in Cleveland this week:

  • Can GOP Party Chair Lance Priebus succeed in sweeping all the hateful, racist and sexist rhetoric and ideas under the rug? Or at least mask it as law and order? Less in an effort to win in November, but more to mitigate further damage to the party brand?
  • Will one of the speakers or any number of the convention leaders seize the platform to break with Trump on national television, take a stand against his hate and vitriol and bias, and in so doing, use The Donald to boost his or her own status and future? Go down in GOP history, possibly, as a martyr for the good of the party?
  • On the other hand, what speaker or party insider will try to seize this moment to court Trump's favor, gamble all on making outlandish, shocking, and incendiary statements that might just land them a cabinet post or ambassadorship in a Trump administration? Listen on the talk shows and in the spin-rooms, and you should be able to hear who sees opportunity in this convention, and who wishes they were having root canal done rather than talking about this campaign and this convention.
  • Will the Stop Trump movement see the light of day...and will it lead to the promised violence on the floor or outside the hall between so-called establishment Republicans and Trump's true believers, if it does? And what about this insane open-carry law in Ohio that makes carrying a gun into the convention legal?
  • Will clashes between Trump supporters and protestors outside the convention explode across the city, and if so, given the painful national struggle to sort out the issues once and for all around law enforcement, equity, and people of color, how will Cleveland police respond? In some ways this could be the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in '68, but in other ways it's much, much more complex than those anti-war protests. The fire-eaters at the convention are largely white males...and the protestors reflect the diversity of the nation. While speakers inside the hall offer red meat to the base on issues like immigration, terrorism, the economy, political correctness, and the Christian character of the nation (seeking to Make America Great Again), outside, the Cleveland PD will literally be standing between those who want to turn back the clock to 1950 and maintain their privileged status in society (though they certainly don't recognize that status) and those fighting for inclusion, equity and reform of biased institutions and policies. I have tremendous appreciation for the protestors in this struggle, and that's where my heart is...but I also have great empathy and concern for the cops in Cleveland. I would not want to wear a badge, carry a gun, and stand there this week.
  • Will The Donald's TV chops help him charm some independent undecideds?
  • How much of what is said and seen at the convention will Hillary's rapid response team actually respond to? Or will her advertising team simply, quietly, behind closed doors, mine the convention as a treasure trove for new commercial spots, while her speech writers craft language to make the contrast between Trump and Hillary even greater come the Democratic Convention in Philly starting July 25? Responding to everything seems defensive, but not responding at all to hate makes one seem indifferent or disconnected. Surrogates, I imagine, will do most of the talking during the GOP Convention. But if violence does, sadly, break out in Cleveland, the White House and Hillary's team will need to coordinate responses carefully. While Hillary will seek to present herself as Presidential, Barack is, well...the President. Given the unpredictable, contentious and volatile nature of this GOP gathering, and given the unpredictable and volatile nature of these times, and given the unpredictable and incendiary, divisive nature of Trump and his campaign...I suspect Team Hillary will get little sleep this week, much less than during their own gathering in PA. It's a week of absolute insanity, ahead.
  • It's nasty business, but it has to be said, I think: the threat of a lone-wolf type of terrorist attack is real, and can never be discounted at such an event. It's less the convention itself, but soft targets around the city or even the country, timed to the convention and its international television coverage. All one can do is hope, and pray, and trust that our government officials are doing all that can be done, within the law, to keep everyone safe...whatever that means in 2016 America. Keep everyone as safe as humanly possible. What else can we do?
  • What can Trump say and do this week to try to re-assure down-ballot GOP officials across the nation that he's really committed to helping them get re-elected, too?
  • And, finally, related to the question above, will there be evidence of Trump's money/funding challenges at the convention? And how much of the orchestration will be aimed at big donors, trying to sell them on the idea of Trump?
Of course, there's also THIS possibility: it will be an uneventful, quiet, week, with carefully scripted political speeches like those given by policy wonks, a unified attempt by convention leaders to dial down the rhetoric and avoid inciting violence, and a Presidential nominee committed to being less divisive and more inclusive in his own rhetoric and policies, a clear move toward the center, politically, and a willingness to listen. And the only Hillary references will note their policy and ideological differences, and nothing personal.

As Hemingway once wrote, "Isn't it pretty to think so?"

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Racism: Our National Debt

America has had, since settlement, colonization and the founding of the nation, a problem with RACISM. And we've paid a high price for refusing to acknowledge that problem, and for sweeping that problem under the rug rather than face up to who we are and seek to recreate more just and bias-free institutions and policies (while the Civil War is the most profound example of that debt, what we're seeing today is the 21st Century version of the bill we've incurred for generations...with every generation required to make its payment, no matter how painful). And as we've lived in denial for 300+ years now, owning up and beginning the hard, slow difficult work of rebuilding a society that acknowledges entrenched systems of privilege and bias (that ultimately hurt all of us) is that much harder.

Our history is stacked against us, our legacy is precedent for more pain and division, and our past haunts us. Yes, we have a policing problem, with our approach to policing having been militarized and our training and patronage systems leaving whole groups of Americans standing outside the justice system, criminalized through their very identities. And yes, we have citizens of all races, classes and creeds who see, amid our national anger and bitterness, opportunities to indulge their violent impulses and express their own instability and rage, fanning the flames through senseless murder. And yes, we have demagogues like Trump and his cronies who seek to deepen the national divide for their own gain, while further marginalizing marginalized peoples, throwing salt into our open wounds, and destroying even more lives.

But we also have tough, vocal, dedicated and smart protestors who are taking to the streets, as patriots, banding together, to affect change, to seize this moment to force a more authentic starting point for making the societal changes that could finally settle this bloody debt. And we have skilled, compassionate, knowing and brave law enforcement officers who see the need for change, who recognize bias and privilege, and who do their jobs in harmony with the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, literally putting their lives on the line every day for what they believe in, for equity, transparency and justice. And so many of these voices, protestors and police, are being silenced by the very institutions we created to uphold equity and justice.

To me, the open question is this: when the complete history of America as a nation is written (and no nation in history has endured forever in its original composition), will the primary narrative be how racism and race undermined and destroyed the America, preventing us, always, from living up to our noble Enlightenment ideals and leaving us a land of hypocrites, from Jefferson to you and me? OR will history show that early in the 21st Century, a critical mass of Americans finally recognized and accepted our history of systematic racial bias and privilege, and that, in a tipping point moment, America set a new course, working together to remake our institutions (including but not limited to our approach to policing) so that all Americans, regardless of race, enjoy the same rights and opportunities generations hence? Recognition, acceptance, and the courage to act as one, to reject the silly political and ideological constructs on offer that try to convince us that we must choose between being for racial equity and justice OR for the police and our other governmental institutions. When, in fact, the only logical, reasonable, and rational position is to be for equity and justice...which leads one to support both individuals in law enforcement who are seeking to make our institutions more equitable and just for all AND our fellow citizens striving to accomplish precisely the same thing by standing up and speaking out against injustice wherever and whenever they see it.

Ultimately, this is who we are, and who we have always been. While it's not the sum of our national identity, this racism and ignorance or denial of our system of racial bias and privilege, it is an elemental aspect of our collective being, often overshadowing all. It may be hard to be optimistic just now, but I think we owe it to one another--and to all who came before us--to try. At the very least, we can rally around that most American of characteristics: faith in the future. Even that doesn't come easily anymore, but God knows we need to cling to it, together, in 2016.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why Democrats Must Rally Around Hillary Clinton: The Truth

The honesty issue in this Democratic race is fascinating to me. One has to ask, which candidate is actually being more honest in responding to questions about telling the truth? The candidate who suggests he will never tell a lie? Or the candidate who says plainly she always tries to tell the truth?

The truth is, of course, the President of the United States cannot and should not be entirely forthcoming with the American people on every issue in real time. What would that look like?

Something like this:

  • "Well, those lost manufacturing jobs are gone forever, and it will take a few generations struggling to get by before our economy can shift away from a manufacturing base and build something new that includes middle class workers. It really sucks that your generation, rather randomly, is one of them. We'll do what we can, but it's going to be hard. These processes take time."
  • "Terrorism isn't our biggest threat to safety. Gun ownership is. But that doesn't mean terrorists won't pull a few attacks off. In fact, it's not a matter of IF, but a matter of WHEN. And we won't always be able to stop it, to keep you safe. We'll do everything we can, but in a free and open society like this one, it's luck of the draw for us all."
  • "America is enjoying a great run as a global superpower, from about World War I to sometime in the next 75-100 years. Truth Is, we've probably begun the process of a long, slow, gradual decline in influence. No superpower in history, across regions and cultures, has maintained that level of influence forever. There is no example that contradicts that inevitable decline. And the failure of political and economic institutions--and the suffering and cynicism that results--have always been signs that a power is rotting from within."
  • "The transformational demographic changes already underway--with so-called minority groups, as a collective soon to outnumber white Americans--will ultimately make the nation a more just, equitable place. But the dramatic shifts in power, wealth, status and privilege will mean violence (literal and figurative), rooted in fear, anger and anxiety and perpetrated by those about to lose their unearned and unacknowledged privilege. It's ugly out there, and it's only going to get worse for some time. But it's not a NEW ugliness. It's just a group not used to having to deal with ugliness freaking out, throwing a tantrum."
  • "For most of the problems you have in your life, as President of the United States, there's not anything I can do. It's your local and state governments that can address some of the issues, but only about a third of you care to vote, you elect too many incompetents and cowards, and you allow them to build more prisons and enrich their cronies and themselves when you should be demanding they build more schools and hospitals. You despise and worship millionaires at the same time. And there is little evidence that your disengagement and apathy and ignorance are going to change anytime soon. All very sad."

Secretary Clinton is speaking more truth than Senator Sanders on the campaign trail. Why, then, is she performing, thus far, below expectations, while Sanders exceeds them?

Truth doesn't sell. It's not always pretty, and it's not simplistic. You can't boil it down to a stump speech. And as President, speaking truth, in full, in real time, would shake the nation at its core. We can't handle the truth. So we get this campaign, instead.

But we could elect a leader who is smart, dignified, thoughtful, pragmatic and more leader than candidate. Who if not speaking full truth, refuses to lie, to pretend that the truth is simple, clean, easy. Hillary Clinton can help us remain generous, open minded, moving forward through rather tumultuous, challenging times with a calm, steady, experienced hand. And with clear priorities for seizing the opportunities present amid all of the daunting challenges we face...and some of which there will be no way to overcome, at least not to the extent we aspire. Secretary Clinton offers an authentic, genuine, difficult, complex and honest starting point from which we can build on the Obama legacy...while Senator Sanders sells well-timed and effective mantras, oversimplification, populist folksiness, and, in the end, inauthenticity disguised as hope. He might even believe his own rhetoric at this point, about the change he can affect...but that doesn't make it any more plausible.

That's why Hillary must win. And why Democrats must rally around her now. It's about the truth.


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