Here’s What’s Worrying Me

I believe that documenting and writing can sometimes help us figure things out, and there’s power in the very act of writing. So I’ve given myself a homework assignment, which is to write about what’s troubling me since the November 2017 election, not a rant about personality, but rather an attempt to get a handle on the issues and principles at stake.  Here, then, is my first rough cut at a list of worries related to the current regime:

Culture and Values. This first one is sprawling and imprecise, but like a vast dark cloud, it shadows everything, and needs to be addressed. We are seeing, first of all, the rise of a culture of mean-ness. There is a disturbing lack of civility and kindness, from the top down. Spiteful insults have replaced statesmanship; crude comments and behavior seem to be the norm.

Civil conversation and development of informed policy are lacking, in part because of the overt disdain for knowledge, science, and expertise. Educated input is mocked by the ignorant. The White House inhabitant bestows positions of great power and influence upon relatives and absurdly ill-suited individuals. There’s a complete disconnect between qualifications and job responsibilities, an inverse correlation between merit and reward.  Individuals have been empowered who see no need to tell the truth, no need to read or understand complex issues. The ability to lie unflinchingly is a valued talent.

Members of Congress routinely put party and tribalism over democracy, and greed above decency, diligence, and reason. It’s a toxic climate in which fear and anger are actively promoted, and these emotions are used to justify aggression and designate “others” as scapegoats. Meanwhile, innocent and vulnerable people are blamed for their own illness or poverty.

The GOP Tax Bill. This brings me to the implications of the GOP Tax Bill, a slightly more specific area of concern. I am troubled by this bill not only because of the rushed, improper manner in which it was drawn up, replete with secret deals and disingenuous maneuvering, but because of its underlying premise. If you are wealthy, it tells us, then you are worthy of extra breaks to allow you to aggrandize your wealth. Your money is proof that you are one of the more valued, productive members of society, and we shall count on your munificence to create more jobs, although we have no guarantee that this will happen, and trickle-down economics was long ago disproven.

On the other hand, if you have trouble, you deserve it. And entitlements only breed laziness and dependency–get yourself out of the hole you’ve dug. (Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always believed that one of the roles of government is to help us help each other. It is also the appropriate behavior of human beings. Call it compassion, decency, even Christianity…whatever you like…but this is what makes us great.)

Tendencies Toward Authoritarian Government. Moving right along on my list…and this is turning out to be harder than I thought…I am deeply troubled by the movement toward an authoritarian form of government. There are disturbing attempts to intimidate and repress voices of dissension, and an ongoing effort to undermine the free press, while paid liars and propagandists are given a spotlight daily. There is an attitude from the (so-called) president that others work for him and must not question or criticize him. Disagreement is treated with disdain or dismissal, and decisions of national and global significance are made based on the emotions of an erratic man, his business interests and donor obligations, or the counsel of the few in his inner circle.

Meanwhile, Congress has become a purely partisan club happy to look the other way as long as they can shove through their agenda as fast as they possibly can. There is virtually no check on the executive branch right now.

Stacking the Courts. Which brings me to the issue of judge appointments. The current (so-called) president has already filled the vacant Supreme Court seat that we all know was President Obama’s to appoint. Since that time, he has made numerous appointments for lifetime judge-ships on federal appeals courts that will shape the judiciary for a generation to come. All named are deeply conservative, relatively young, and not well vetted. The latest nominee, Brett J. Talley, has never tried a case, is married to a White House lawyer, and was dubbed unqualified by the American Bar Association, but is being seriously considered by the Senate. This judiciary transformation is one of the most worrisome aspects of what is happening right now, because it extends so far into the future.

The Environment. Speaking of the future, one of my deepest concerns is the assault upon our environment. Let’s face it: the current administration and Congress came in with the idea of tilting the scales in favor of the traditional energy sectors (oil, gas, and coal), removing barriers and restoring incentives to make hydrocarbons pre-eminent once again, oblivious to the impacts on the earth. We already weren’t doing very well, but during the previous administration, there was progress in place, an enlightened perspective, a globally cooperative stance. So much has been dismantled since.

In his very first week in office, the (so-called) president set the tone by signing executive actions to revive Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, both of which were highly controversial and had been rejected by President Obama, Native American groups, and environmental advocates. He proceeded to appoint a Supreme Court justice hostile to environmental lawsuits, gutted the EPA budget, and appointed an EPA administrator committed to tearing down the agency from within. He has opened the door to more coal mining, rolled back pollution standards, and relaxed enforcement against illegal pollution. In June, he announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

And just a week ago, he dramatically slashed the size of two national monuments, the largest rollback in federal land protection in our nation’s history. Everything this administration is doing seems not only in denial but outright defiance of the urgency of climate change and concerns we all share about the viability of our planet for generations to come.

Global Instability and Ill Will. And, speaking of the planet, the level of global instability and ill will that this administration provokes is terrifying. An impulsive, ignorant man has the ability to launch nuclear strikes, enjoys playing “chicken” with Kim Jong-un, alienates even our allies, has gutted the State Department, sees no need for diplomacy, and has very little knowledge of international relations beyond sordid private connections and business deals. Let’s leave it at that for now.

Racism. Finally, there is the matter of racism. This administration and its enablers rode in on racism, have inflamed racism, and represent the last desperate gasp of an old white order, one that will not go down but not quietly. (Others have said it better than I ever could. I recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates for starters.)

If you step back and look at the long arc of history, I believe our country has made gains, and perhaps we are closer to equality than we’ve ever been before, but with this current regime, we have snapped backwards. As James Baldwin explained it decades ago, white America fabricated a hated population against which it could define itself–and now the haters have come out of hiding again. In a way, though, it makes it harder to deny the ugly realities that people of color have faced all along.  Our nation has a fundamental moral problem, and it isn’t new.

But just as this nightmare has fueled old hatred in some, it has ignited new passion in others. I didn’t realize how much I cared about democracy, or what it requires of us. I never knew how much it matters tomorrow what we do now. I know I’m not alone here. Let’s step up for what matters. Let us find ways to restore truth, compassion, and decency. Let us speak facts, and let us speak them with clarity, persistence, and eloquence. We are all part of history, and even a blog post is a primary source. So this is my list of tangible concerns, and it’s really only partial, because as I was typing I kept thinking of other things, but I’m going to leave it at this as a springboard.

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