Mountain Snail

Stuff Ballard Wrote

A soul that was tried

Asheville Daily Planet, August 2019

A Republican congressman from Michigan made news recently when he said President Trump should be impeached and then later resigned from the GOP.  His name is Justin Amash — son of Palestinian-Syrian immigrants and, in Congress, a bona fide son of the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus.  He is now also recipient of President Trump’s standard “loser” tweet for those who prove unfaithful to him.

The congressman’s district, Michigan’s Third, and the city of Grand Rapids have long been known as deep conservative country.  This was Gerald Ford’s home district in Congress.  And Grand Rapids has always been famous as a bastion of conservative Christianity. 

Amash is a good fit to the historic conservatism of the district.  He believes in fiscal responsibility, economic freedom, low taxes — and most of all, he believes in America and America’s Constitution.  It’s clear from his Independence Day resignation notice that he’s had it up to here with his spineless colleagues.  He wrote:

“The founders envisioned Congress as a deliberative body in which outcomes are discovered. We are fast approaching the point, however, where Congress exists as little more than a formality to legitimize outcomes dictated by the president, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader.”

What he’s talking about, of course, is Trumpism. 

Ah, Trumpism.  Any Republican who hopes for a political future must deposit their beliefs and principles at the door, enter meekly and kneel before the Leader. They aren’t to worry about trillions in deficit spending, or blatant corruption in the Trump administration, or disrespect for the rule of law, or the favored status of the rich and powerful, or the Constitution’s checks and balances, or a threat from Russia.    

Amash, a Greek Orthodox Christian, maintains a conservative world view that is endangered in the Republican Party, if it’s not already dead.  When he was first elected in 2010, though, it was a living creed.  Romney and Ryan, the GOP ticket in 2012, were consistent in their conservative principles.  

Amash’s 3rd Congressional District was once represented by Paul Brentwood Henry, son of conservative icon Carl F.H. Henry, founder of Fuller Theological Seminary and founding editor of Christianity Today (and  a fellow alumnus of mine from Wheaton College).  Paul Henry was a political science professor at conservative Calvin College in Grand Rapids when he felt a call to serve as a conservative Christian in politics and government.  He served four terms and was elected to a fifth term when he died.

A quote of his came to my attention in a PR video from the college:

“The Christian who enters politics must do so with the aim of achieving political justice. He does this by subjecting his own personal ambition and desires to the scrutiny of God’s revelation in the Scriptures. And as God gives the grace to do so, he learns to make the needs of his neighbor his own. In so doing, his search for justice becomes an act of sacrificial love.”

How magnificent!  A politician “subjecting his own personal ambition” and making “the needs of his neighbor his own.”  Trumpism (and I would add, Limbaughism) have bumped aside this wonderful outlook on service. 

Paul Henry was at home in Grand Rapids.  I’m glad he’s not here to see how things have changed.  Trumpism is noticeably rampant in his old district. 

Back in March, President Trump staged one of his first reelection rallies in Grand Rapids. The arena was packed with over 13,000 whoop-it-up fans.  It’s startling to see thousands of upheld hands holding cameras.  You almost expect to hear “Heil!”   

Trump knows susceptible territory.  Grand Rapids hosted his final rally of the 2016 campaign, and he started there this time. 

And whataya know, the first guy to announce for the Republican nomination, to oppose Amash (now an Independent) in the general election, stated his platform as “pro-Trump…and pro-family values.” 

Trump and family values.  I don’t know whether to laugh or throw up.

If my cheater cheats, it’s OK

Daily Planet, September 2019

Competition can bring out the best in us — or the worst.  In business, sports, politics or the county fair, the lure of winning is oh so strong.

The good competitor is focused on his own performance.  If he has advantage over his opponent, it’s from is skill and hard work.

The bad competitor looks for any advantage he can find that will bring him victory. He’s a ready prospect for cheating.

The Republican Party belongs to the second group.  They cheat.  Their planners and politicians cheat in broad daylight and brag about it.  

And Republican voters don’t seem to mind.

Republicans cheat by rigging elections.  In states where Republicans controlled state government after the 2010 census, they drew congressional district maps so that a Democratic vote was worth half of a Republican vote.  In seven such states  ̶  Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Florida and North Carolina  ̶   Democrats got a total of 16.4 million votes for Congress, and Republicans got 16.7 million.   Each party should have elected about half of the seven states’ 107 representatives, but GOP got 73, Democrats got 34.

A website for Republican strategy boasts:  “[Our system’s] effect on the 2012 election is plain when analyzing the results.  Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress.”

In Raleigh, GOP legislators openly researched voting habits of Democratic voting constituencies, like seniors, minorities and young people, and then they passed laws to inconvenience these voters. 

Nationally, they tried to manipulate the census to make congressional districts more favorable to Republicans.  Their scheme was exposed when a key consultant died last year, and his computer proved their intent was to cheat the system.

OK, it’s no mystery that Republican planners and politicians run a garbage factory.  And amazingly, they’re proud of their reeking product. 

But what about their staff, who have to live with the cynicism and dishonesty all day every day?  Some, I’m sure, are excited to learn how the garbage trade works.  Others, I hope, are blessed with olfactory fatigue.

More troubling to me, however, are the millions of good people, who vote, time and again, to send the cheaters back to the General Assembly.  They know about the election rigging and the lies.  In their own lives, they treat people fairly and expect to be treated fairly by others.  And yet their vote says, “Whatever they can do to win is fine with me.”  

On the surface, this seems inconsistent.  And it is.  But not really.  Here’s an example of what I mean.   

In 2015, ESPN conducted a national poll.  The question was:  Do the New England Patriots cheat.?  A majority in all non-New England states, plus Connecticut, said yes, they do.  A majority in the other five New England states said no, they don’t.That poll teaches a lesson beyond sports, I think.  It says we want our side to win, yes, but more than that, it says that all too often, when the cheater who’s cheating is cheating for us, his cheating isn’t cheating.  The cheater is…well…he’s making sure the right side wins.Many people who enable Republican chicanery with their votes are committed Christians.  They know that cheating is wrong, but cheating on elections to gain the political power necessary to check the wrong directions that today’s society has taken, well, that’s a package they can accept. It’s old-time situational ethics (taking the total context of an action into consideration, not applying absolute rules).  It’s “end justifies the means.”  And it’s unusual thinking for these Christians. In fact, if any one of these Christians, by himself or herself, were given sole responsibility for creating electoral districts and passing laws, I’m sure they would do the job according to strict moral standards.  They would not cheat. 

And I’ll tell you something else for sure.  If Democrats take majorities in the General Assembly in 2020, and they cheat in drawing districts after the census, if they don’t create a nonpartisan redistricting commission, then they lose my vote next time around.  And I’ll write about it. 

Jackson & Trump

Asheville Daily Planet, July 2019

A portrait hovers over Donald Trump’s desk in the Oval Office  ̶̶  a man with a Mona Lisa smirk and froofy hairdo that’s first cousin to Trump’s.  We know him as Andrew Jackson from the twenty-dollar bill.

Why would Trump choose Jackson, we wonder?  Wouldn’t Jackson remind Trump daily of his own lack of manliness?  Jackson was a military hero, a great leader of men.  Trump pleaded bone spurs.  Jackson fought 103 duels and ultimately died of lead poisoning from bullets in his body.  Trump’s only mano-a-mano was a staged body slam of Vince McMahon.

But then maybe Trump looks up to Jackson for the courage to tweet one more time against Nancy Pelosi. 

Actually, though, the two men reach over the years to be similar.  Now, as you read, imagine a tinkling bell every time their characters converge.

For example, Jackson may well be half-smiling on Trump and his view of the presidency.

Our Founding Fathers, the guys who thought up the Constitution, thought the Legislative Branch of government was where power was supposed to reside.  We’re a representative democracy, after all.  The president’s assignment, in their plan, was to execute the laws passed by Congress.    

And sure enough, that’s how the first six presidents, all Founders and the son of a Founder, did their jobs.  (And I think that’s the arrangement they taught in my elementary civics class.)

President Number Seven was Jackson  ̶  not a Founding Father and a man accustomed to being obeyed by his soldiers and his slaves.  Congress  ̶  and the Constitution  ̶̶  were annoyances. 

Many Americans at the time liked this command-and-follow leadership style, so much so that Congress was cowed into doing his will.  When Jackson proposed the Indian Removal Act right after he took office, Congress passed it over howls from good people, especially missionaries.  Congressman Davy Crockett was an opposition leader in the House of Representatives.  Then when the Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee could not be removed from their lands, Jackson ignored them and ultimately sent troops to remove them to the West.

Jackson didn’t forgive.  Once an enemy, always an enemy.  John C. Calhoun was forever on his list after Calhoun, then Secretary of War, recommended censure of Jackson for his unauthorized capture of Spanish Pensacola in 1818.  After he became president, he told Calhoun:  “If you secede from my nation, I will secede your head from the rest of your body.” 

If Trump knew history, he’d pat Jackson’s portrait on the shoulder every morning out of admiration.  The general’s incredible land grabs after the War of 1812 make Trump real estate deals look downright righteous.  (Google Politico Magazine’s two-part article, “How Jackson made a killing in real estate.”)

Displacing Indians from the Tennessee River valley resulted in an enormous expansion of cotton land  ̶  which, in turn, increased demand for slaves.  It’s been said that Jackson was all for “the common white man.”

Jackson thought from his gut.  For example, the Bank of the United States, a majority-private bank where the government deposited its money, and the bank, in turn, distributed money to state and local banks and somewhat regulated them.  Jackson felt it served the interests of rich Easterners  ̶  and he hated rich Easterners.  Even though Congress had voted to renew the bank’s charter, and the Supreme Court had ruled that the bank was constitutional, Jackson slowed government deposits and ultimately vetoed the bank’s charter renewal. Government money went to “pet banks” in the states.

The result was chaos on the frontier.  Notes issued by many banks were worthless.  Jackson responded with a “circular” that required purchases of federal land be in gold and silver.  He was out of office before the Panic of 1837 hit, a depression that lasted into the mid-1840s.  Jackson’s ignorance of economic cause-and-effect devastated the country.

Our current president has economic ignorance in spades  ̶  about trade, tariffs, tax breaks, role of the Federal Reserve, use of sanctions, multinational trade agreements.

It took seven years, but America survived Jackson’s economic policies.  Now we hold our collective breath over Trump’s.  Maybe we’d be wise to take out Panic insurance now.

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

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