Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Word of the Day: POLITICS

No doubt the title of today's entry got your attention, either in terms of sheer curiosity or in terms of sheer contempt.  It is a polarizing subject, and certainly no more so than now.  (It is often said that two topics you should not bring up in public, or at family gatherings, are religion and politics.)  Today, I would like to share my thoughts on politics, primarily American politics, and what I have learned and observed over many, many years.

It is safe to say that politics has always been contentious and, at times, divisive.  To a degree, that is unavoidable ... differing opinions on the nature of a problem or situation and differing opinions on how to deal with that problem or situation.  It can be argued that it is similar to any good story; there is an antagonist and a protagonist, or multiples of both.  There will always be disagreements.  There will always be perceptions of right versus wrong.  In recent history, however, those disagreements and perceptions have been escalated into good versus evil, even patriot versus traitor.  To that extent, politics has been degraded from differing ways to deal with things down to a divide-and-conquer conquest.  Again, with the nature of of politics in general, not every person will be satisfied with every action.  However, when you do any kind of dividing, proposals and actions simply cannot be intended for all, or to benefit as many persons as possible ... and when you do any kind of conquering, you are willing to ignore hurting people.  Mark that akin to "acceptable collateral damage".

Let us reach back to this country's past and bring it forward to today.  Mentions of our forefathers, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, great leaders, and how this country began have, in my opinion, been made into a kind of niche market.  They are mentioned in history classes, and as parts of speeches (both political and secular), and to stir up patriotic feelings on days like Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veterans' Day, and Flag Day.  Specific to the Constitution and political discourse, it is mentioned, far more than they have been, and particularly more so since we have entered the 2000's, as either screams for fairness or the proverbial sheep's clothing.  It has been made, by some, into a quaint asterisk that can be brought up when necessary.  Additionally, look at how that particular document has been scrutinized and picked at, like a scab, instead of being followed.  Is my argument that the Constitution had been rarely mentioned in politics prior to the twenty-first century?  No, but it has been turned into some sort of golden idol to covet or the flag in a game of Capture the Flag.

And does the question What would our founders think of us? really mean anything to the vast majority of those in power?  Seriously, does it?

Trust in government by the people, and here I mean any government, has never been, and never will be 100%.  There are times where the people are very much in favor of the government and times where they're not in favor.  Below is a historical snapshot of the average approval ratings of Congress from Gallup polls, beginning with 1974:

1974 - 37%
1975 - 32%
1976 - 24%
1977 - 36%
1978 - 29%
1979 - 19%        ('74-'79 avg.: 30%)
1980 - 25%
1981 - 38%
1982 - 29%
1983 - 33%
1986 - 42%
1987 - 42%
1988 - 42%
[no Gallup polls taken 1984, 1985, 1989]        (1980's avg.: 36%)
1990 - 26%
1991 - 36%
1992 - 18%
1993 - 25%
1994 - 25%
1995 - 34%
1996 - 35%
1997 - 36%
1998 - 47%
1999 - 42%        (1990's avg.: 32%)
2000 - 49%
2001 - 56%
2002 - 52%
2003 - 47%
2004 - 41%
2005 - 36%
2006 - 25%
2007 - 27%
2008 - 19%
2009 - 30%        (2000's avg.: 38%)
2010 - 19%
2011 - 17%
2012 - 15%
2013 - 14%
2014 - 15%
2015 - 16%
2016 - 17%
2017 (first week) - 19%        (2010's avg. so far: 17%)

The average ratings on this list were as high as 84% (following the attacks on September 11, 2001), and as low as 9% (following the partisan haggling over the debt ceiling crisis in 2013).  The reason for this low of a rating?  Politics as usual, that's why.

Then, there is the blurring of the lines with historically non-political entities getting involved in politics.  Let us start with the U.S. Supreme Court.  Can they make rulings that spill over into some political issues?  Certainly, but the Citizens United decision seven years ago (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) allowed our alleged democratic process to be disproportionately influenced by business interests.  In short, it allows big business to tilt, or perhaps buy, elections, and to now do so legally because businesses are people.  That means the idea of "one person, one vote" has been bastardized.  That is politics, not democracy.

Add to that the 2000 election, in which people supporting the Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush, went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to get the Florida recount, requested by the Democratic presidential candidate, Al Gore, stopped.  If it didn't change the outcome, let it play out.  If it did change the outcome, let it play out.  It wasn't allowed to play out, and yet, recounts are a part of the democratic process.  That, too, is politics, not democracy.

Along those lines, let us look at another entity and this last election.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), like the Supreme Court, is not a political entity, but its involvement in the election cannot be ignored.  To start, no presidential candidate from any party has been under FBI investigation before.  The Republican candidates used this fact as proof of how bad of a candidate Hillary Clinton was.  In July of 2016, FBI Director James Comey, while basically saying that Hillary Clinton screwed up big time, said that there would be no charges filed against her.  He noted that what information they had gathered was not enough to warrant pursuing charges and not enough to make a conviction likely.  Democrats were relieved; Republicans were angry.  Then, on October 28, James Comey announced that new E-mails were discovered and the investigation would be reopened pending review, adding that there may not be anything new.  (In hindsight, we could consider that last part as foreshadowing.)  This took place just eleven days before the election.  (Flip it back again to happy Republicans and unhappy Democrats.)  Comey's announcement that there was, in fact, nothing new found then came just two days before the election.  Did this sway last-minute, undecided voters?  It may well have, but the political damage was, nonetheless, done.  That was also politics, not a non-political investigation.

Let us look at those squarely in politics and the matter of trust.  Trust has always been key in politics for the public, but not so much for those in it.  Various scandals can bring down people in power, but some stay in power (or come back into power) with little to no legal repercussions.  This further enforces the view ... no, make that the reality that those with money and power can skirt legalities.  Go back in the history of practically any governmental body and the trust of those it governs goes in waves, but the trust in our government has been waning overall, while going up and down ... not just in the past decade-and-a-half or so, but for almost half a century.

August 2, 1964: the Gulf of Tonkin incident, in which the destroyer ship USS Maddox was fired upon by Vietnamese torpedo boats.  August 4, 1964: the USS Maddox was fired upon a second time by Vietnamese forces.  August 7, 1964: the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by Congress.  August 10, 1964: the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was enacted.  This is how we began the Vietnam War.  These were the facts presented to Congress and the American public.

Just one thing: the second attack on the USS Maddox never happened.  The United States entered a war on a false pretense, resulting in hundreds of thousands of dead and injured, and this fact was confirmed by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara more than thirty years after the fact.  (Watch the film The Fog of War.)  It would seem the "hippies" (and some of the "squares") were, after all, correct in their dissent.

Next, to the 1970's, in which we not only dealt with the end of the Vietnam War, but also the Watergate scandal.  Republican operatives broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel to wire tap phones and steal documents.  President Nixon tried cover up the operation, while whether he knew about it ahead of time has never been determined.  The 1974 Watergate hearings, which I remember watching almost daily as a twelve-year-old, resulted in a number of Nixon's cabinet leaving as well as Nixon's own resignation that same year.

In the 1980's, we had the Iran-Contra Scandal,which almost destroyed President Reagan's administration, and raised the issue of sending money and/or armaments under the guise of "an enemy of my enemy is my friend".  That is not always true, and cannot be trusted as an absolute.  The meme below sums up my feelings on that topic:

In the 1990's, we had George H.W. Bush breaking his "read my lips" promise about no new taxes and the first Iraq War., as well as Bill Clinton's impeachment.  The early 2000's gave us all sorts of trust-breaking events, including how the 9/11 attacks were handled in their aftermath (including the "war on terror") and the banking fallout of 2008, causing the Great Recession, and resulting in citizens bailing out "too big to fail" banks and other financial institutions for mistakes those institutions made.  The 2010's have, so far, increased distrust in an obstructionist and "do nothing" Congress.  Even though the new Republican-led Senate and House of Representatives may get a lot more done in support of the Republican president, Donald Trump, what they do and how it will affect the country is still unknown.  In my view, it does not look good at all, if this first week on the job is any indication.

We can even turn abroad to Europe and look at the Brexit vote (Britain exiting the European Union) in June of last year, in which Google noted an increase in searches in England for "What is the European Union" after the vote.  Even though the country's Supreme Court ruled Parliament must have a say on the matter, the vote will stand, and it has, so far, and will continue to have, a negative effect on the Union, specifically whether or not other countries will want to stay or vote to leave.  Even though the voting public should have been more informed, granted, this is politics breeding instability, not politics doing the work of all people.

Politics is garbage.  A once-noble pursuit has been taken over for personal gain, business gain, and political gain, all at the expense of the American people.  The "affairs of the cities", as the definition of "politics" states, is now the affairs of the few, or the upper 1%.  It appears that the issue of trust regarding politics will continue to erode during the Trump administration.

Finally, let us look again at this past election and those at the forefront of it.  The final two major party candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, were repeatedly described as the #1 and #2 most-disliked presidential candidates in history. throughout the campaign.  If that was true, then look at our country.  Look really hard at our country.  I know that the average John and Jane Q. Public do not have a chance at a major party nomination, but look at what those wealthy people put forward for nominees.  In the year 2016, for being so advanced from whence we came, the best that could be put forward were the top two most-hated candidates?  Choosing between the lesser of two evils is the umbrella under which politics has been couched for far too long.  We do not, and have not, chosen the candidate who we believe will be best for our country and who will the most good for the most people.  Now, they are known as evils and we get to choose the lesser of degree.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, a progressive leader in the U.S. Senate, said, after his campaign and the election ended, that people who shared his political and social views should get involved and run for office.  It does not matter what office, he stated, but getting involved, so that, in the future, if opportunities to run for higher positions in state or federal government arise, those people would be able to run for those positions.  Not an overnight fix, of course -- such is the nature of politics -- but clear steps in the right direction.

In his 1996 HBO special, 'Back in Town', the late comedian George Carlin stated the following about politicians:

        "It's what our system produces: garbage in garbage out.  If you have selfish,
        ignorant citizens, you are gonna get selfish, ignorant leaders.

        "Because if it's really just the fault of these politicians, then where are all the
        other bright people of conscience?  Where are all the bright, honest,
        intelligent Americans ready to step in and save the nation and lead the way?
        We don't have people like that in this country."
That is certainly how it seems, and has seemed, for a long time.  Or is it a case of those same bright, intelligent people of conscience feeling jaded to the point of resignation?  The latter may well be the case and Senator Sanders may have hit the nail on the head.

I believe our founders believed the Constitution was a "breathable" document.  That is to say, they recognized it, and the country, may stand for centuries afterward and it may need to be amended as time goes on.  That does not mean it should be treated, as it has been for the past 15-20 years as a "Void Where Prohibited" piece of paper.  Sadly, politics has done just that.

The U.S. Constitution, a key document in the Grand Experiment, should be the source, the guide, and the law of the land that politics should uphold in its work.  Instead, politics, too many times, rules over the Constitution and refers back to it as nothing more than a textbook appendix or bibliography.

Consider these questions very, very seriously: What would our founders think of us as a nation?  Would they be satisfied with what they see, or disheartened?  Does this America fall in line with what they envisioned or does it fall in line with from where they came?  And do you care?


Monday, January 2, 2017

Word of the Day: BETTER

2016 is finally over.  It has been a hard year, just looking at all those we lost.  It has also been an unexpected year as votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump for President of the United States proved.  It has been a sad year with terrorist attacks around the world.  It has been a lot-of-things kind of year, most of them unpleasant.  Here's hoping 2017 will be better.  Much better.

Today, I am sharing a classic song for the new year, Elvis Presley's 'If I Can Dream' from 1968.  Its lyrics are always relevant, but think they are more poignant after the year we've had and the year to which we're looking ahead.  Happy New Year, everyone!


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Keyboard Commentarian: Phrase of the Day: THOSE WE LOST

The Keyboard Commentarian: Phrase of the Day: THOSE WE LOST: One of the most notable things about 2016 is the large number of notable deaths.  By some accounts, mostly people's memories, this is th...