Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

History is waiting….

Asheville Daily Planet, June 2019

When Harry Truman left office in 1953, he and Bess went to Union Station and took a train home to Missouri.  It was assumed that he would occupy an obscure line in the list of presidents, with the likes of Millard Fillmore and John Tyler.

But history had other ideas.  Today, Truman is regarded as a great president, both by liberals and conservatives, up there with the Roosevelts. 

The Roman emperor, Caligula, is also being reevaluated.  A Cambridge University professor has argued, in writing and on BBC television, that the few sources we have on Caligula were, at best, passing on gossip.  

History doesn’t see through bifocals.  It pays no mind to the current events we bother about.  History takes a long view.

Oh, don’t you wish you could see how history will see the times we live in now?

Did Germans have these uncertain feelings in the 1930s?  Some did, but the giddy crowds waving Nazi flags and shouting “Victory! Hail!” were unaware that they were sowing the wind that would bring on the whirlwind. 

That’s where we are.  There are various alternative scenarios that might be, but we see darkly.  Meanwhile, our churning gut tells us we’re on a tightrope over a roaring deluge.

The wind being sown in America today swirls around our president.  He is not guided by right and wrong.  He considers himself above laws, rules of civility and ethical conduct ─ and the U.S. Constitution.  He feels he can do and say anything, openly, and pay no price.  His tweets are vile beyond any civilized measure.  He’s more juvenile than a man, more school yard bully than leader.

But his moral failings, even his most preposterous lying, won’t necessarily impact our future.  A person of integrity can replace him and fumigate the White House.

No, Trump’s festering legacy can be more devastating:  the decline of Congress as a coequal branch of government, the reeking corruption all through the executive branch, his splitting off a loyal base for himself as “us versus them,” our diminished place in the world, and the subjugation of the once-grand Republican Party to be his accomplices.

Our Founding Fathers hoped, as James Madison put it, that those elected by the people would be “patriotic and just, chosen due to their virtues.”  But just in case, they built devices into the Constitution to remove those who badly fall short of those qualities. 

Ah, but they assumed that members of Congress, who would do the removing, would themselves be virtuous and patriotic people, the ones Madison wrote about.   Today’s Republicans are anything but.  Far from checking Trump, they enable him.

History looks backward and separates the good, the bad and the indifferent.  Living in our own prehistory, we feel fear.  How will it end? 

If Trump is defeated in 2020 ─ and he leaves office peacefully ─ the swamp of Trumpism can be drained and the city on a hill lit bright once again.  But if he wins another term, people I trust say our Constitution can go defunct, especially if federal judges turn partisan.

How decisive the next 18 months will be!  Who will emerge as heroes of democracy and who, the villains?  Will Republicans find courage and patriotism?  Will Trump wrongdoings be uncovered that are too awful even for his base? 

Or will the Democratic challenger fail badly and Trump be reelected?  No, that must not happen!  It must not happen!  Trump must be defeated.  The winner writes history, as they say, and that must not be Trump.   

2 deceptions

News-Record & Sentinel, May 2019

This is the story of two deceptions – 157 years apart but alike in the pain they caused – and likely will cause.

The meanest con ever inflicted on WNC, until now, took place in Waynesville in July 1862, when the Confederate 62nd infantry regiment was formed. I don’t know what the sales pitch was, but 1,000 men from seven counties (not Madison) – men with no stake in the Confederacy – joined up. Maybe the bait was adventure, since most were teenagers who likely hadn’t even been to their county seat.

In their first action, they were ordered to help defend Cumberland Gap at all cost. When Union General Ambrose Burnside demanded unconditional surrender, the Confederate commander offered no resistance. The commander of the 62nd is quoted as saying: “When I was told by General Frazer that…my regiment were prisoners of war, my indignation and that of my regiment knew no bounds.”

The hapless WNC boys were imprisoned at notorious Camp Douglas near Chicago, where nearly half of them died from disease. The surrendering general spent the rest of the war at Fort Warren in Boston harbor, a camp known for humane treatment of detainees – while his men rotted in mass graves.

The second deception is, of course, playing live on our TV screens.

We elected a world-famous con man as president in 2016. He didn’t hide it. And religious leaders knew it as they quipped, “We’re not voting for a pastor.”

When I say “con,” I’m not talking about Trump’s lying. That’s his go-to. He assumes nobody but “fake news” will bother to check.

No, the big Trump con is about himself, who he is. We’ve already seen that he’s not a deal-maker. North Korea played him. No real change in NAFTA. The Wall Street Journal summarized trade negotiations: “Trump administration gets rolled by the Chinese.”

There’s more to come. The months ahead will likely bring overwhelming revelations about the real Donald Trump – that under his bullying bluster he’s a weakling who kowtows to Putin and can’t fire people in person; that he’s fake rich; that his “big business” is a mom-and-pop criminal enterprise; that he’s rarely been honest; in short, that he’s an empty shirt.

My father didn’t stop supporting Richard Nixon until he learned about his tax cheating. That made Nixon worthless as a man. A similar judgment time might be coming for Trump supporters.

The REDMAP scheme

Asheville Daily Planet, May 2019

I’m not going to say that REDMAP is wrong. No, I’m going to say it’s evil.

And I’m also going to say that Democrats wouldn’t do what REDMAP does. RDMAP slime is red.

REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project) was a national GOP scheme (they say “strategy”) in 2010 elections to take over state legislatures ahead of the 2010 census so they could control redistricting in targeted states. Sounds routine. It wasn’t.

GOP machinations flipped 21 legislative chambers in key states in 2010. Then a sophisticated computer program surgically divided counties, precincts and neighborhoods to create districts that would guarantee GOP majorities in legislatures and congressional delegations for a decade.

“REDMAP’s effect on the 2012 election is plain when analyzing the results,” the project’s website says. “Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress.” Say what? Uh, folks, you’re bragging that you rigged the election so Democratic voters were given half the value of GOP voters. Wow. The website gives credit to money. For example: “We spent $1 million in Michigan, and….” But they don’t say what Republicans did with that money. Hold your nose as you read on. In a 2011 New Yorker magazine article, Jane Mayer wrote how Republican operative Ed Gillespie came to Raleigh in the spring of 2010 and pitched GOP money man Art Pope on how his millions could fund an ambush that would turn North Carolina red forever. Mayer gave a case study out of the campaign: “That fall, in the remote western corner of the state, John Snow, a retired Democratic judge who had represented the district in the State Senate for three terms, found himself subjected to one political attack after another. Snow…was expected to be reelected easily. Yet somehow [his opponent] seemed to have almost unlimited money with which to assail Snow. “Snow recalls, ‘I voted to help build a pier with an aquarium on the coast, as did every other member of the North Carolina House and Senate who voted.’ But a television attack ad presented the ‘luxury pier’ as Snow’s wasteful scheme….In all, Snow says, he was the target of two dozen mass mailings, one of them featured a photograph of Henry Lee McCollum, a menacing-looking African-American convict on death row, who, along with three other men, raped and murdered an eleven-year-old girl. After describing McCollum’s crimes in lurid detail, the mailing noted, ‘Thanks to arrogant State Senator John Snow, McCollum could soon be let off of death row.’ Snow, in fact, supported the death penalty and had prosecuted murder cases. But, in 2009, he had helped pass a new state law, the Racial Justice Act, that enabled judges to reconsider a death sentence if a convict could prove that the jury’s verdict had been tainted by racism. National Republicans spent $1 million in North Carolina. But an investigation after the election, Mayer says, showed that two “non-profits” created by Art Pope funneled additional millions into targeted races across the state. When the surprise attacks were finished, the North Carolina House had flipped from 68-52 Democrat to 68-51-1 Republican, and the Senate had gone from 30-20 Democrat to 31-19 Republican. Then the computer specialist was instructed to create 10 congressional districts that voted 55% for John McCain – 10 of 13! Never in history had any party been so contemptuous of the democratic process as Republicans in 2011. In seven states where REDMAP was utilized – North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Florida – Democrats got 16.4 million votes in the 2012 election for U.S. Congress; Republicans got 16.7 million. A 50-50 split, and yet Republicans elected 73, Democrats elected 34. No, no, don’t say Democrats do the same thing. Democrats controlled the N.C. General Assembly after the 2000 census, so they drew redistricting maps. In the first election under the Democrat redistricting, in 2002, for State House of Representatives: Votes received: GOP 1,073,000, Democrats 904,000. Seats won: GOP 61, Democrats 59. After the 2010 census, Republicans controlled the General Assembly, so they drew redistricting maps. In the first election under the GOP redistricting, in 2012: Vote received: GOP 1,998,000, Democrats 1,875,000. Seats won: GOP 77, Democrats 43. Democrats had primitive computer programs in 2000 – but they also had scruples. If Democrats gain control of the General Assembly in 2020, and Governor Cooper is re-elected, they will push for a nonpartisan commission to handle redistricting. If maps are drawn fairly, it shouldn’t matter what color the hand is that draws them, red or blue. Before the 2020 elections, courts will rule on the constitutionality of the GOP-drawn redistricting maps. But I’ve read that “REDMAP 2020” has a fundraising goal of $125 million. That’ll fund a lot of “strategy.”

“REDMAP’s effect on the 2012 election is plain when analyzing the results,” the project’s website says. “Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress.”

Say what? Uh, folks, you’re bragging that you rigged the election so Democratic voters were given half the value of GOP voters. Wow.

The website gives credit to money. For example: “We spent $1 million in Michigan, and….” But they don’t say what Republicans did with that money. Hold your nose as you read on.

In a 2011 New Yorker magazine article, Jane Mayer wrote how Republican operative Ed Gillespie came to Raleigh in the spring of 2010 and pitched GOP money man Art Pope on how his millions could fund an ambush that would turn North Carolina red forever. Mayer gave a case study out of the campaign:

“That fall, in the remote western corner of the state, John Snow, a retired Democratic judge who had represented the district in the State Senate for three terms, found himself subjected to one political attack after another. Snow…was expected to be reelected easily. Yet somehow [his opponent] seemed to have almost unlimited money with which to assail Snow. “Snow recalls, ‘I voted to help build a pier with an aquarium on the coast, as did every other member of the North Carolina House and Senate who voted.’ But a television attack ad presented the ‘luxury pier’ as Snow’s wasteful scheme….In all, Snow says, he was the target of two dozen mass mailings, one of them featured a photograph of Henry Lee McCollum, a menacing-looking African-American convict on death row, who, along with three other men, raped and murdered an eleven-year-old girl. After describing McCollum’s crimes in lurid detail, the mailing noted, ‘Thanks to arrogant State Senator John Snow, McCollum could soon be let off of death row.’ Snow, in fact, supported the death penalty and had prosecuted murder cases. But, in 2009, he had helped pass a new state law, the Racial Justice Act, that enabled judges to reconsider a death sentence if a convict could prove that the jury’s verdict had been tainted by racism.

National Republicans spent $1 million in North Carolina. But an investigation after the election, Mayer says, showed that two “non-profits” created by Art Pope funneled additional millions into targeted races across the state.

When the surprise attacks were finished, the North Carolina House had flipped from 68-52 Democrat to 68-51-1 Republican, and the Senate had gone from 30-20 Democrat to 31-19 Republican. Then the computer specialist was instructed to create 10 congressional districts that voted 55% for John McCain – 10 of 13!

Never in history had any party been so contemptuous of the democratic process as Republicans in 2011.

In seven states where REDMAP was utilized – North Carolina, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Florida – Democrats got 16.4 million votes in the 2012 election for U.S. Congress; Republicans got 16.7 million. A 50-50 split, and yet Republicans elected 73, Democrats elected 34.

No, no, don’t say Democrats do the same thing. Democrats controlled the N.C. General Assembly after the 2000 census, so they drew redistricting maps. In the first election under the Democrat redistricting, in 2002, for State House of Representatives:

Votes received: GOP 1,073,000, Democrats 904,000.

Seats won: GOP 61, Democrats 59.

After the 2010 census, Republicans controlled the General Assembly, so they drew redistricting maps. In the first election under the GOP redistricting, in 2012:

Vote received: GOP 1,998,000, Democrats 1,875,000.

Seats won: GOP 77, Democrats 43.

Democrats had primitive computer programs in 2000 – but they also had scruples. If Democrats gain control of the General Assembly in 2020, and Governor Cooper is re-elected, they will push for a nonpartisan commission to handle redistricting. If maps are drawn fairly, it shouldn’t matter what color the hand is that draws them, red or blue.

Before the 2020 elections, courts will rule on the constitutionality of the GOP-drawn redistricting maps. But I’ve read that “REDMAP 2020” has a fundraising goal of $125 million. That’ll fund a lot of “strategy.”

Give Meadows a disclaimer

Citizen-Times, March 2019

The western counties of North Carolina get one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, just one. And if Congress were a deck of cards, we drew a joker, right down to the tinkly bells on his slippers. Mark Meadows is a disgrace.

In front of the world on TV, he brings out a black lady who has planned events for the Trumps. With the poor lady standing like an exhibit behind him, Meadows says she proves that the president is not a racist. Then he lets his bruised ego run amuck when a congresswoman criticizes his little sideshow.

I can’t read the man’s heart to know if he himself is a racist, as some allege – but I can say absolutely, without question, that he has rock-head bad judgment. He’s an embarrassment to us all.

In the future, I want a message to crawl across the bottom of the screen whenever he speaks:

“Mark Meadows represents Western North Carolina, but he is not a native of WNC. He is a real estate developer from Florida.”

Restoration specialist wanted!

Asheville DAily Planet, April 2019

Years ago, when I was young and working, I was approached by a company needing help with their name. The company’s business was house fires. They did everything necessary to return the house to its original condition, from demolition to final touches. The name of the company was Restoration Specialists.

Now as we approach fateful 2020, that’s exactly what I’m looking for in a Democratic candidate for president. I want a restoration specialist.

Our Founding Architects designed a stout form of government that withstood stormy feuds, floods of immigrants, a fiery Civil War. It stood strong because successive presidents, Congresses and courts wanted it to survive and prosper.

The Founders were hugely optimistic on the future of the nation they established. John Adams predicted it would be celebrated “from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” But James Madison foresaw a time when their creation could fall into irresponsible hands: “The hope is that [those elected] will be…patriotic and just, chosen due to their virtues. …But, on the other hand, the reverse could happen. People of sinister designs might wangle their way into office.”

Well, it took 230 years to come true, but now the Wangler is in the White House. Every day there’s some new outrage – making foreign policy with Russia and Saudi Arabia for their m-o-n-e-y, ignoring the Constitution’s separation of Executive and Legislative Branches, attacking our free press, threatening critics. He sees himself as head of a mom-and-pop country where he gets no guff.

The great puzzle of our time is that almost 90% of Republicans agree with him. They seem to want Trump as an authoritarian president with press and Congress muzzled on a leash. I know many Trump supporters. They’re sensible people. I understand that a lot about American isn’t working and nothing gets done in Washington. It’s tempting to wonder if Enlightenment ideas of government by the people aren’t out-of-date.

Tempting, yes – if that president were patriotic, smart, honest, truthful and informed on issues. Talk to me about an American dictator when we have a president with the character traits that Trump is famous for not having. Until then, I’m stickin’ to the Founding Fathers.

The election of 2020 will decide our direction. If American voters reelect Donald Trump, they strengthen the strongman. If they defeat him, they welcome back our democracy.

Right now, Trump’s opposition looks like fans before the big game – candidates rushing about, most of them unknown until they declare for president. They’re polishing life stories and concocting charisma. They’re teeming fish in a pond. How do we pick one?

Smart and tough, that’s my combo. I picture them sitting across from Mitch McConnell and squashing the worm into his chair. It’s part physical presence, part strength of character, part open-armed warmth.

That person can restore our democracy – helping along a functioning Congress, voting rights laws, somehow controlling money in elections. This new tough-and-smart Democratic president can take us back to a time when reasonable people practiced the art of governing, not political warfare – before Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh.

He or she can free senators and congressmen to walk the halls of government like giants once more, adopting an old-time work ethic, even staying in Washington most weekends. And best of all, old-fashioned values will be back, like truth, honesty and, yes, honor and patriotism.

For my grandchildren, I want to see the old house restored to the glory envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

I hear some Democratic candidates planning a new house next door. I’m sorry, but it’s not a house. It’s a Walt Disney castle. The Green New Deal takes me back to my childhood, when Mother’s lust for stuff would crash against Daddy’s income. I’m solid behind universal healthcare, for example, but tough-minded budgeting and fair taxation must come first.

But if one of the new-house Democrats wins the nomination, I’ll back them enthusiastically. Trump must be defeated. Our democracy must be saved.

Are we harboring a horror?

Asheville Daily Planet, March 2019

What will Americans yet unborn think of today’s Americans? These distant generations will judge us, you know, just as surely as we judge those who lived before us.

In a New Yorker magazine article on Frederick Douglass, the writer includes two sentences that stop your eyes and engage your mind: “We need to be charitable about the moral failings of our ancestors – not as an act of charity to them but as an act of charity to ourselves. Our own unconscious assumptions and cultural habits are doubtless just as impregnated with bias as theirs were. We should be kind to them, as we ask the future to be kind to us.”

Do unto those in the past as we would have those in the future do unto us. We can’t help scowling at slavery. So are we shocked that our descendants might scowl at us?

Our Founding Fathers owned slaves. John Locke, the guiding philosopher of American liberties, was a major investor in the slave-trading Royal Africa Company. And yes, my Irish immigrant ancestors in South Georgia, who had very little, nevertheless owned a few slaves. Free blacks owned slaves. Priests owned slaves.

Some people today will find it hard to understand all this. I don’t. Growing up in the segregated South, I never once questioned Jim Crow. I never asked why our yard man took his lunch at the kitchen counter and not at the kitchen table. When I told somebody that Hank Aaron was making $100,000, he said, “I’d call him Boy.”

But in defense, our indifference reached an end. We questioned our customs. The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ended school segregation in 1954, and our Congress ended Jim Crow ten years later. Now here we are, living in a middle ground between past and future.

The past is plain to see. The present – what we’ll be judged on – is not. After all, we inherited our forefathers’ “unconscious assumptions.” I’m a political critic, but as I sit here now, the future is a fog. What will those people many years hence say about the values of my time? Are we harboring a horror like slavery?

I think they will know of us. I think they will celebrate the changes we’ve made in American culture for the better. We’ve learned about good parenting. Girls can aspire to any career they choose. It’s not unusual when minorities succeed in every field of endeavor. We don’t litter. We stop friends from driving drunk. We don’t tolerate sexual harassment. So all the more, they will wonder how the heck the American people allowed what their history will call the Great Plutocracy – that era of greed disguised as the “American Dream,” that almost…almost…bled out America’s greatness.

Their history books will tell of 18th century slavery and robber barons and then use similar condemnations of the runaway power taken by the rich and corporations in the 21st century. They will liken us to Rome near its fall, when upper classes built new villas and ridiculed patriotism. A quote from our current president will be used in lessons on fairness and equity – his comment to his wealthy friends at Mar-a-Lago after the 2017 tax overhaul: “You all just got a lot richer.” And amazingly, they’ll say, the people shrugged.

A poem will survive into that future time, called…“2020”:

“Our basics of democracy were hollowed out by greed.

The richest few and business were hidden hands of power. They turned the Founders’ Congress into slavish, grubbing whores. Their agents viled our sacred halls with stinking flows of cash. With bedrock crumbling under them, the voters did more harm. They chose as president a man well known for nothing good. Sweet Liberty stood weeping, but her torch still burned on high. And just in time her children cast the vote that saved our land. Hist’ry knows their choice that year as Precious Guardian!”

Cars need names. GOP, too?

I spent the last 25 years of my working life naming things. My team named hundreds of products and companies – from NationsBank to a paint color for an airline. We had a good run. We never named a car. I never pitched an automaker. Their process is a bog. But I watched with interest from the sidelines. The word “précis” is a real word in English. Properly pronounced, it rhymes with “Tracy.”

Well, Mitsubishi came out with a Precis coupe in 1985 (they dropped the acute accent). I remember reading at the time that focus groups couldn’t pronounce it. It seems the last box to be checked was how to say the name! They asked the focus groups how they would pronounce it, and so it was that Precis went to market as “PREE-sus.” I grieved in print when Cadillac assassinated their iconic Eldorado and DeVille in favor of a letter-string system (ATS, CTS, XTS).

Now I notice they’ve gone to an alphanumeric system, mostly starting with X. I wait for cooler heads to bring back the icons. Even in retirement, comfy on my mountain, I’ll mutter, “Nice,” to a new name on TV, or, more commonly, “How much did they pay for that dog?”

The Nissan Armada, for example. Armada? Top of mind, the Armada was a fleet of clunky Spanish warships that set out in 1588 to invade Britain. They had a terrible plan, and when they retreated, storms sank most of the ships. The car looks like a galleon, but why call attention to it? Cressida was an unfaithful wife during the Trojan War. Students of Shakespeare and the classics sighed with relief when Toyota laid her to rest.

In the late 1980s, a journalist asked me to rate the names given to four new luxury cars: Acura (from Honda), Infiniti (from Nissan), Lexus (from Toyota) and Sterling (from Britain’s Rover). I quickly applied the naming rules my team lived by. Is the name easy to pronounce? Lexus whacked Acura on that one. Consumers know “accurate,” but they stumble over unfamiliar coinings. Infiniti’s cute spelling took away the immediate recognition of “infinity.” My team liked natural words – we did Workforce tools for Home Depot, for example – but tired old buzzwords like Sterling, no thanks. Lexus understood the power of infrequent letters. They used X and gained a hint of “sex.” We were big users of high-value Scrabble letters. We named the Vyvx subsidiary of Williams Communications, Fazoli’s for Long John Silver’s and Sheenique for Sally Beauty. I rated the four names, in order: Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, Sterling. And that’s pretty much how they prospered. Sterling only lasted a few model years, and Lexus sales are twice both Acura and Infiniti.

Those of you who follow this space regularly in the Daily Planet might be wondering what’s happened to the leftish exposition on politics that I usually serve up. Truth is, this column started as branding advice for Republicans. Their party’s name is in trouble. It no longer carries the strong conservative connotation it did from Barry Goldwater, through the Reagan era, to 2016. Now it’s just a shell where politicians cower and cringe, fearing the next tweet from the president.

These elected Republicans don’t really have a choice. The voters at home love Trump. Non-politician Republicans who disapprove of Trump, are lost in space right now. They want to re-Republican the Republican Party. While some have switched party affiliations, most are just waiting to see what happens over the next two years. If Trump is still president leading up to the 2020 election, he will own the party and its name. The re-Repubs stay in space. If, on the other hand, Trump is not in office, then the fight for the Republican shell will be brutal. Trumpists will try to keep the party and name for themselves. If they succeed, the re-Repubs must consider forming a new party, and that means a new name.

I’m watching with interest from the sidelines.

Asheville Daily Planet, February 2019

WNC’s puzzle in Congress

Asheville Daily Planet, January 2019

Mark Meadows made a bid to be Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Trump turned him down. Aw shucks. We came so close to getting rid of a bad congressman. Bad, but how bad? What are his badnesses? Read on. I wrote a column back in 2012, when he was running for Congress, about how Meadows was campaigning against a 1992 UN initiative called “Agenda 21,” a voluntary plan for environmentally-friendly global development. George H.W. Bush signed it for the United States. Meadows bought into dark theories about Agenda 21, that it’s a plot to take away private property rights. Alabama had passed a law calling Agenda 21 a precursor to world government. The word “kook” didn’t appear in my column, except by logical conclusion.

In last year’s election campaigns, I noticed that my county’s Democrats were more exercised against Meadows than against (snort) Michele Presnell or (ptui) Ralph Hise. And I noticed that TV commentators, when talking about Meadows’ bid for chief of staff, often mentioned that he’s unpopular in Congress.

Why do Democrats wish him gone and congressional Republicans wish he’d never come? I asked Google. An NPR article popped up: “Meadows, 57, has rebelled against the establishment Republican Party. He helped shut down the government in 2013 and oust John Boehner from his House speakership in 2015.” Actually, the media gave Meadows and Senator Ted Cruz equal credit for the 2013 shutdown. Meadows precipitated the crisis with a letter to Boehner, demanding that Obamacare be defunded in the budget. He is reported to have said: “It’s best to close the government in the short term to win a delay on Obamacare, despite the potential negative impact on the economy.” It was his first year in Congress, and he was already doing jumping jacks to attract attention.

I think the Obamacare issue is diagnostic of Meadows, as a politician and as a man. He fanatically wanted Obamacare repealed – until he read the Congressional Budget Office report, that the GOP replacement bill would greatly impact coverage for pre-existing conditions. It’s reported that he wept, remembering the experiences of his father and sister. He now favors protecting pre-existing conditions. Meadows tends to be quick and loud on issues and then back away. NPR reports that “Meadows wants to cut off all 10 million Americans who today get federal subsidies to buy health coverage, which he says the country can ill afford.” Obviously, nobody in Meadows’ family gets subsidies.

Meadows’ healthcare positions would certainly be one reason for Democratic disapproval. Now try this one on: “How ridiculous is [the idea of global warming] when you have our fighting men and women, they get up and they say, ‘Man, it’s a little chilly, maybe today is the day that we’ve got to worry about climate change.’” He got headlines last year on the Mueller investigation. He tweeted in July: “I just filed a resolution…to impeach Rod Rosenstein.” His words seemed to dance with joy on the page.

An Asheville editorial opened like this: “We are routinely appalled by the views of Mark Meadows….Now, however, his actions have gone beyond simply appalling. In his attacks on the Department of Justice, Meadows is targeting the rule of law for political advantage.” (Two weeks later, after consulting GOP leadership, Meadows dropped the impeachment idea and suggested contempt of Congress instead.)

He’s often said that he does what his constituents want him to do. Right. But it would be more honest for him to play the sound track of “Showboat” as background to his tweets. Meadows’ bid to work for Trump is puzzling. Is he tired of the Congress gig? Or is he wonder about reelection? Before 2020, the courts will rule on gerrymandering, and the 11th District will likely be drawn fairly. With Asheville back in the district and some red counties gone, he will need an enthusiastic base. But it’s also likely that Trump will be totally discredited

Liberalism: nutty or needed?

Asheville Daily Planet, December 2018

 

Florida’s governor went into a rant:  “I won’t stand idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election.”

An old friend sent me an email.  She said she was raised “an evangelical, liberal-hating Republican.”  She wrote that she’s become disenchanted with Republicans but wasn’t ready to become a Democrat.  “I don’t want to be under the same roof with all those wacky liberals,” she said.

Blame Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh for taking a great word from history – “liberal” – and turning it into a hot iron for GOP candidates to brand their opponents with.

A Notre Dame poli sci prof named Patrick Deneen has written a book called “Why Liberalism Failed.”  I heard him interviewed on Ezra Klein’s podcast.

The title is an unabashed lure to conservative book buyers.  Deneen’s liberalism, that he says failed, goes back to the Enlightenment, to the philosophers whose ideas inspired our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  They set thing in motion, he says, that resulted in our crumbling society today.

Conservative columnist David Brooks, in his critique of Deneen’s book, wrote:  “The liberal democratic moral….stands for the idea that our covenantal institutions — like family, faith, tradition and community — orient us toward higher loves and common dreams that we then pursue in the great gymnasium of liberty.”

Exactly.  Our great freedoms are built on the foundation of liberal thought.  John Locke, the 17th-century “father of liberalism,” whispered in Jefferson’s ear as he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

An article in The New Yorker magazine last July put it neatly:  “Liberalism is a perpetual program of reform, intended to alleviate the cruelty we see around us….[We hope for] a future society, flawed, like our own, but less cruel as time goes on.”

We aspire to ever-greater things, and our basic liberal principles propel us to achieve them.  It can be truly said that liberalism contributes something otherwise missing in our government:  problem-solving.

Think about it.  Democrats – all of whom Gingrich and Limbaugh would call liberals – were in power when all the great and positive changes in American life took place:  women’s suffrage, social security, minimum wage, overtime pay, GI Bill, Medicare, Civil Rights Act, on and on.

With full power in Washington for two years, what problems have the Republicans even tried to solve?  Securing Social Security?  Disaster preparation?  Global warming?  Healthcare? Strengthening ties with allies?  Balanced budgets?  None.  And the big reason for their failure is their philosophical refusal to confront problems head-on.  Government is enemy, not friend.  They make a show of doing something when necessary, but their heart isn’t in it.

In today’s America, Democrats are the keepers of our long liberal tradition.  No question about that.  Republicans look backward to some utopia before the New Deal, when Republican governments helped business but certainly not the people in need!

Democrats now have control in the House of Representatives – which makes me worry.  They have opportunities to make life “less cruel” for our people.  They can work with Republicans to make healthcare a reasonable reality, for example.

But will they?  Many Democrats who worked hard in the recent election are howling for impeachment of Trump, something that would totally distract from the people’s work.  Political correctness can result in the elevation of people not ready for leadership.  Incoming freshmen could clique together as a power bloc.

It is urgent that Democrats connect themselves with liberalism’s historic difference – namely, how problems get solved, how government meets the needs of the ordinary people who elect them.

Let’s give all those liberal-hating Republicans the positive experience of good liberal government.  There’s no better way to heal the divide in our land.

 

Nothing checked, nothing balanced

Asheville Daily Planet, September 2018

This November, we have a chance to save the reputation of the Founding Fathers.  Their Constitution is looking old and worn these days.

We hear pundits talking about a “Constitutional crisis” when President Trump has done something forbidden.  It’s like these people really believe the line they got in ninth-grade civics class about checks and balances.  Relax.  We’re not going to have a Constitutional crisis.  Nothing’s checked in Washington, and nothing’s balanced.

The Founders did their best.  They drew from the great philosophers of the Enlightenment and, incredibly, their plan for their new government has worked pretty well for 240 years.

Now it’s all coming unwound, and we see the Constitution in a new, critical light.

The Constitutional Convention was very low-profile.  The superstar Founders – Jefferson, Hancock, both Adamses, Jay, Henry – didn’t attend.  (Franklin did, and Washington was chairman.)  Hamilton attended sporadically.  The press gave scant coverage.

Delegates came and went over the summer of 1787.  Some state delegations lacked quorums and so had no vote on issues.

For two months, the Convention debated the principles of an outline James Madison brought.  Then a “Committee of Detail” took 10 days to write the first draft – from the Convention’s deliberations but also from many other sources and even ideas, that hadn’t been discussed, that they thought should be included.  Ultimately, the Constitution we have was the handiwork of two obscure Founders:  South Carolina’s John Rutledge and Pennsylvania’s James Wilson (both later Supreme Court justices).

The issue of keen interest to us today, checks and balances, was intended as a rifle standing beside a vigilant watchman.  The gun doesn’t act on its own; it has to be deployed.  Madison wrote in Federalist #51:

“The great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department, the necessary constitutional means, and personal motives, to resist encroachments of the others…Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”

As we review the Founders’ work in today’s world, we see the big flaw of the Constitution’s checks and balances system is the power given to the Executive Branch.

The president is commander-in-chief with no real check on his use of the military.  He makes appointments, grants pardons, carries out foreign relations – and the compelling one in recent years, the power to issue executive orders, which don’t require congressional approval.

These enormous powers have hung like tempting fruit to all presidents, but few have taken advantage.  Andrew Jackson defied the Supreme Court in Indian removal to the West.  Abraham Lincoln was a dictator during the Civil War.  Congress told Andrew Johnson that he couldn’t remove his secretary of war, but he did anyway.  Teddy Roosevelt did what he wanted in Panama.  Franklin Roosevelt was an “imperial president.”  Executive orders in excess were issued by Barack Obama when he was stonewalled by Senate Republicans, and now Trump issues them like souvenir pens.

Presidential powers are scary there on paper.  In the hands of Donald Trump, they’re apocalyptic.

The Founders bungled presidential power – and then they compounded their mistake by making the Legislative Branch’s check on the Executive a virtual impossibility.

It’s relatively easy for the House of Representatives to impeach because their work isn’t final, but the required two-thirds vote for conviction and removal in the Senate is likely only if the president is a raving maniac or a traitor.

If voters elect a Democratic Congress in November, we can move toward what the Founding Fathers hoped for in checks and balances.  Republicans have been timid watchmen, no check on Trump’s use of power.  Democrats will find ways.

Impeach him?  Probably not.  Why not?  Because the Founding Fathers made the next step, removal, practically impossible.

 

 

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