Rituals and Presidents

I had a discussion with two friends about state funerals.  They thought stopping mail delivery and otherwise closing the federal agencies was excessive; I thought it was a matter of respect that we didn’t have business as usual.  Yes, it costs – particularly suspending the mail just as we enter the busy holiday season – but for me cost is not a factor.  I don’t think I convinced them and they certainly didn’t convict me.  We had a civil discussion on FB and agreed to disagree.  But the discussion got me thinking about what we owe our former presidents when they die.

The first presidential funeral I actually remember was John Kennedy’s.  I can see to this day the riderless horse and young John’s salute in procession.  I’m pretty sure that everything shut down for a few days.  I know we had no school.  And this was different because JFK was assassinated.

I went searching for what is considered “normal” for former presidents and found a Washington Post story about Richard Nixon’s funeral.  Of course he did not get to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, but had a service at his Presidential Library.  The Post explained Bill Clinton’s decision to suspend mail delivery and close government offices

The Clinton administration’s decision to close the federal government Wednesday in honor of Richard M. Nixon will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but it follows the precedent of at least the past four presidential funerals.

Administration officials yesterday said the government was shut down for the funerals of John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson, citing those closings as the basis for President Clinton’s decision to do the same for the Nixon funeral.

So what happened yesterday for George H.W. Bush was following a modern day tradition.

Also following tradition was the attendance of all the living Presidents.  Another one of my friend’s referred to this as The President’s Club.  According to the New York Times, they don’t gather often, mostly at funerals.

annotation-desktopPresident George W. Bush sat with his family out of frame.

Note the Vice Presidents in the row behind the Presidents.  I think this is a remarkable photograph.  Another one of my favorites photographs of the President’s Club is the gathering in the Oval Office when George W. Bush invited them before Barack Obama took office. (I’ve always wondered what was going through Jimmy Carter’s mind!)

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To get back to Presidential Funerals I think we model them after the English traditions.  We don’t have a monarchy, but we do have a head of state who combines elements of both royalty and the governing powers of a prime minister.  It doesn’t matter if we agreed with a President’s politics, I believe we owe them a measure of respect for their service to the country.  We will probably continue to close the federal government, suspend mail delivery, and fly flags at half staff.  Presidents (with one potential exception) will continue to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda and many will have services at the National Cathedral.  And I, for one, don’t think this continued adherence to tradition to be a bad thing.

Photographs:  Doug Mills/The New York Times

Left behind

Demographers tell us that those who identify as white will be in the minority in a few years.  If you were a political party trying to maintain power and relevance wouldn’t you be trying to court members of the future majority?  I guess not.

Frank Bruni wrote in his recent column

From proud Republican harbinger to sad Republican castaway — that’s the story of Representative Mia Love, who finally conceded her extraordinarily close House race on Monday.

It’s the story of her party, really. Of what it once realized about the future and how it slouched backward into the past. Of trading the elixir of hope for the toxin of fear.

It charts Republicans’ ugly drift under Donald Trump, who rooted for her defeat not only as the votes in Utah’s Fourth Congressional District were still being counted (“Mia Love gave me no love,” the president pouted) but with all that he said on the campaign trail and has done in the White House. Tacitly and explicitly, he has sown disdain for the likes of Love, a daughter of Haitian immigrants who, in 2014, became the first black Republican woman ever elected to either chamber of Congress.

She remains the only one. When she leaves at the end of this congressional session, there will be just two black Republican men — one in the House and one in the Senate.

And then you have Cindy Hyde-Smith winning in Mississippi.  Jelani Cobb writes in the New Yorker

A series of outrageous statements, regardless of whether they were calculated or clueless, was not sufficient to alienate enough white Republicans from Hyde-Smith. She blithely stated that she would be willing to sit in the front row of a public hanging, in a state whose history is marred by the spectacle murders of black people at the hands of racist white mobs. She “joked” that she was in favor of making it more difficult for certain people to vote in the state where, in 1966, the N.A.A.C.P. activist Vernon Dahmer was killed—his home was firebombed—for the crime of registering black people to vote. Earlier, she had praised Beauvoir, the home of Jefferson Davis, as “Mississippi history at its best!” (It was also reported last week that she had graduated from a “segregation academy,” created to sidestep the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, and sent her daughter to a school that had had the same origins.)

Mike Espy was always a long shot to win the elections, but the margin, 54 to 46, surprised me; I thought it would be closer.  And Hyde-Smith is not the only Republican to win this fall despite their racist statements.  Think of Governor-elect DeSantis in Florida and Governor-elect Kemp of Georgia.  Cobb writes

Hyde-Smith’s victory means that, this month, three Southern white Republicans used cavalierly racist rhetoric in successful attempts to defeat three black Democrats in statewide races. In Florida, Ron DeSantis warned Floridians not to “monkey this up” by electing his rival. In Georgia, Brian Kemp billed himself as a Trump-like conservativewho drove a large pickup truck so as to have room for the “criminal illegals” he might round up as he went about his day.

Trump with his implicit and explicit racism has created the atmosphere that gives other candidates cover.  On the Democratic side as Bruni points out, there is a new diversity.

Everything you heard about the exciting diversification of midterm races? About the significantly increased numbers of women running for office, of people of color, of L.G.B.T. candidates?

That was on the Democratic side. The Republicans either couldn’t be bothered, couldn’t find any takers or — my guess — both. Love called that out in a remarkable concession speech on Monday. To the victor go the spoils, but from the vanquished comes the candor.

“Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats,” Love said. Democrats “do take them home — or at least make them feel like they have a home.”

Mia Love has put her finger on the Republican problem.  After Mitt Romney lost in 2008, the Republicans talked a lot about a reset to become more diverse and attract more diverse voters.  It obviously has not happened.  In fact, the Republicans have gone far in the opposite direction.  Meanwhile, the Democrats have made, in Love’s words, a diverse group feel like they have a home.  Just take a look at this New York Times piece on the new Freshmen in Congress.  The contrast is striking.  The Republican Party is being left behind.

Let me give Cobb the last word

The pre-Trump Republican Party certainly relied on the support of whites who held racially bigoted views, but it struggled for plausible deniability in such matters. With Trump, the racism is out in the open, and so, in some cases, is the willingness of the electorate to tolerate it. The Mississippi race reinforced something that has been impossible to avoid but difficult to accept: Trump’s imprimatur actually helped some Republicans win elections. Nina Simone titled her racial-justice protest song “Mississippi Goddam.” The shame isn’t just that the song remains resonant fifty-four years after it was released but that, looking at the landscape of 2018, there are still so many other places she could sing about.

Pardons and Guilt

Last night my husband and I were watching “All In” with Chris Hayes and there was a lot of speculation about Trump pardoning Manafort, et al.  I got curious about Watergate pardons and did a search.  Turns out that except for Ford pardoning Nixon, there was only one other – Reagan pardoned one of the burglars.  But in my search I turned up this very interesting commentary by Jill Wine-Banks  (Three ugly Watergate lessons for President Trump, Chicago Tribune) who was an Assistant Watergate prosecutor.  Written in July 2017, it contains information I had never heard before.  Wine-Banks outlines three things one should think about before accepting a Presidential pardon.

First, it is an admission of guilt.  I had no idea, but the controlling case law is a 1915 Supreme Court decision, Burdick v. United States:: 236 U.S. 79 (1915).

The first thing President Trump and voters should know is that anyone who accepts a pardon admits guilt by doing so. That means, even if Trump could pardon himself — a long-debated legal gray area — as well as any family members and aides, he and they would be admitting guilt by accepting the pardon. And under the Constitution, the president’s pardon power does not apply to impeachment proceedings that could — and might well — be triggered by his pardoning himself or even the others.

That is the result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1915 Burdick decision. It was the basis of President Ford’s written explanation to the House Judiciary Committee regarding his pardon of Nixon. For the rest of his life, Ford carried a portion of the Burdick decision in his wallet.

In 2014, I appeared on a panel at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., with Benton Becker, the lawyer Ford sent to Nixon’s San Clemente home to offer the pardon. Becker described his meeting with the recently resigned president as painful. It was his duty to explain to Nixon, as instructed by Ford, that if he accepted the pardon, it was an admission of guilt. Becker reviewed with Nixon a copy of the Burdick decision that he had brought with him to California.

Nixon accepted his guilt in the Watergate controversy by accepting the pardon. Anyone Trump pardons would be doing the same.

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Second, the pardoned person loses access to the Fifth Amendment.

Second, Trump should know that anyone who accepts a pardon loses his or her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and can be forced to testify under oath. The resulting testimony can be used against President Trump. Of course, should anyone pardoned refuse to testify or testify falsely, the person can be jailed for that offense.

Wine-Banks’ third reason is that pardons would not save Trump politically.

Third, the president should understand that his potential use of the pardon and the possible firing or limitation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation are likely to cause as much backlash as such conduct did during Watergate.

I hope that some lawyers are thinking about Burdick and trying to explain it to clients and to the President.  Would he really want to have Don Jr. or Ivanka admit guilt?  He probably doesn’t care about the others.

We are trapped in a drama few of us want to watch, but we can’t turn away from watching.  Look for more surprises.

Photograph: Corbis

 

Tempered Optimism

I  was seriously contemplating not renewing my subscription to WordPress.  I hadn’t written a word in months mostly because of a combination of writer’s block and not wanting to endlessly complain about the current occupant of the Oval Office.  I buried myself in binging West Wing,  posting on Facebook, and giving money to candidates.

But after the election, I feel a bit more optimistic about the future.  Plus the Boston Red Sox won the World Series!

Democratic women are the primary reason for my cautious optimism.  If there was a “Blue Wave”, it was women.  Meredith Conroy wrote in FiveThirtyEight a week or so after the election:

Democratic women did really well last Tuesday. And many broke new ground: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who won a New York U.S. House seat, is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Rashida Tlaib, who won in Michigan’s 13th Congressional District, and Ilhan Omar, of the Minnesota 5th, will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Women also flipped districts blue in competitive races — Navy veteran Elaine Luria won in the Virginia 2nd, and former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin, who served in the Obama administration, won in the Michigan 8th.

What cheers me is the diversity of the women elected.  Young, not so young; white, black, Latino, and Asian; Lesbian, Trans, and straight; liberal and moderate.  In short, a mix that comes closer to representing American women than ever before.  I’m waiting for the stories about conflict among them, but I firmly believe that they will find a way to work together.  And work with their male colleagues.

Yes, the House needs to resume oversight of both agencies and the White House, but to continue success in 2020, legislation must be passed.  We know almost none of it will pass the Senate or be signed by the President to become law, but Democrats must have a track record of doing positive things for future success.  One thing that struck me in the fall election was the failure of the Republicans to talk about anything much except for the so-called Caravan of migrants coming to invade us.

So I am cautiously optimistic that the new House led by women will start leading us out of our dark times and back toward democracy.

 

 

The future of American democracy

I’m married to a pessimist.  He’s been reading Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and is convinced we are now well into the decline.  While I’m not quite so pessimistic, I admit I have my own moments of despair.  Sometimes it feels as though we have no control over the future.  Almost certainly, the Republican party has already caved in.  But events like the recent election in Alabama and the  generic polling that consistently shows a preference for electing Democrats to Congress this year give me a ray of hope.  If Virginia can almost completely flip the state legislature, why can’t we do the same for Congress?

I can think of at least three roadblocks:  Money (think the Koch’s), voter suppression (gerrymandered districts and new voter rules), and, last but not least, the age of the Democratic leadership.

A lot has been written about the first two roadblocks on my list but not so much about the third.  I love the members of the Vermont delegation but, let’s face it, the youngest is Representative Peter Welch who is exactly my age – 70.  I’m pretty sure that I am will vote for his reelection – and for Bernie’s – but there are a number of younger folks who will be ready to take their places next time around.  For right now, we need their seniority.

Moving from Vermont to national politics we have Nancy Pelosi (77) and Chuck Schumer (67).  If the Democrats retake the House, and even if they don’t, it is time for Nancy to retire gracefully.  She has served us well as both majority and minority leader, but it is time for the next generation.

Howard Dean, another Vermont politician I supported for President, is one of the few of my generation speaking out about this.  In a recent NPR interview with Rachel Martin, Dean said

The most important age group for us is people under 35. They elected Barack Obama in 2008. But now it’s time to let them take over. And they’re going to have to take over on their own terms. We have tons of talent in our party. We do not need to rely on my generation anymore. And these kids think differently. They’re more respectful of each other. They’re willing to listen to each other’s ideas and work things out. They’re entrepreneurial. They’re more conservative than we are economically than the left wing of the Democratic Party. They’re mostly libertarian.

I just think this is the future of America. They are diverse. They value immigration. They value different kinds of people. They believe that gay rights is the civil rights issue of their time. They care deeply about the environment. We need a real change in this country and the only way to do it is for us to get out.

Dean goes on to say that the party has to change because the world is changing and is no longer so dependent on institutions.  There are all sorts of interesting people running for Congress this year filed as Democrats.  I believe I read that most of the House seats in red districts have a Democratic challenger.  At this point, I think the most important role the Democratic Party as an institution can play is to help raise money as the elections will be won by grassroots workers who will not necessarily be Democrats.

So what about 2020.  The word here is that Bernie is gearing up for another run.  Yes, I know that Bernie’s base was young people in 2016, but by 2020 he and they will be four years older.  And even though there is likely nothing there, the Jane Sanders financial stuff is going to haunt any campaign.

My pessimistic husband sees no one who can run, but remember in 2007 no one thought that Barak Obama known only to Democratic activists for his speech at the 2004 Convention, could run, much less win. So let’s look at some new faces:  Seth Moulton (age 40, ex-Marine Congressman from Massachusetts); Cory Booker (Senator from New Jersey, age 49); Kamala Harris (Senator from California, age 55); Kirsten Gillibrand (Senator from New York, age 55); Amy Klobuchar (Senator from Minnesota, age 58); and Chris Murphy (Senator from Connecticut, age 45).  Look them up.  And I’m sure that there are some Mayors out there who would be interesting candidates.

I still think our democracy can be saved, but we each have to play the proper role and for Democrats of my generation, that means following Howard Dean’s example and moving ourselves to a supporting role.

 

The consequence of sexism

I’m writing this the morning after the Republicans in the Senate passed a massive tax reform bill that I doubt many of them, or their staff members, or maybe even leadership had read.  The bill wasn’t even printed but evidently photocopies with handwritten insertions and changes were passed out in the hours just before the vote.  There were no hearings.  And now we get to watch Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell try to reconcile the House and Senate bills.  I wish them no success.

So how is this bill a consequence of sexism?  I hadn’t thought about it either until I read this piece by Jill Filipovic in the New York Times.  She writes

Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump in an official “commander-in-chief forum” for NBC. He notoriously peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr. Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a tone similar to Mr. Lauer’s with Mrs. Clinton — talking down to her, interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt, while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush, currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton’s 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.

A pervasive theme of all of these men’s coverage of Mrs. Clinton was that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn’t that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status.

What these journalists did when they interviewed Mrs. Clinton has the same roots as their sexual harassment.

For arguing that gender shaped the election narrative and its result, feminists have been pooh-poohed, simultaneously told that it was Clinton, not her gender, that was the problem and that her female supporters were voting with their vaginas instead of their brains.

The latest harassment and assault allegations complicate that account and suggest that perhaps many of the high-profile media men covering Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump were the ones leading with their genitals. Mr. Trump was notoriously accused of multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault, and was caught on tape bragging about his proclivity for grabbing women. That several of the men covering the race — shaping the way American voters understood the candidates and what was at stake — were apparently behaving in similarly appalling ways off-camera calls into question not just their objectivity but also their ability to cover the story with the seriousness and urgency it demanded.

Filipovic continues

This moment isn’t about a nation of confused men. It’s about a minority of men who choose to treat women alternately as walking sex objects or bothersome and potentially devious nags. It’s about a majority of Americans who give men a pass for all manner of bad behavior, because they assume men are entitled to behave badly but hold women to an entirely different standard.

That is why it’s so egregious that sexual harassers set the tone of much of the coverage of the woman who hoped to be the first female president.

There are at least two other well known men accused of sexual harassment:  Senator Al Franken and Garrison Keillor.  It is true that both supported Clinton.  Both are alleged to have committed an act or acts that, while harassment, are rather on a different scale than Matt Lauer’s or Charlie Rose’s multiple actions.  I taught my first workshops about sexual harassment in the late 1970s to managers in Virginia state government and my staff began investigating complaints.  The manager who put his hand down an employee’s blouse was suspended; the manager who patted an employee on the rear was reprimanded.  No act can be excused, but we need to maintain some perspective.

As Filipovic writes

The 2016 presidential race was so close that any of a half-dozen factors surely influenced the outcome: James Comey, racial politics, Clinton family baggage, the contentious Democratic primary, third-party spoilers, Russian interference, fake news. But when one of the best-qualified candidates for the presidency in American history and the first woman to get close to the Oval Office loses to an opponent who had not dedicated a nanosecond of his life to public service and ran a blatantly misogynist campaign, it’s hard to conclude that gender didn’t play a role.

 And what we get is a tax reform bill that will only help the rich, destruction of the environment, alienated allies, and potential nuclear war.  Thanks a lot, fellows.

Reading, thinking, and the state of things

Andy Borowitz from the New Yorker Magazine posted a few days ago something like “It has been hilarious, but can we have a real President now?”  That is how I’m feeling these days as I’m bombarded with constant misspeaking, mismanagement, and simply ignorance.  Some days I wonder if anyone in the administration ever learned any history, geography or simple arithmetic.  As a defensive measure for my own psyche, I am mostly using social media to catch up on personal things posted by friends and have drastically cut the political stuff I post on Facebook and Twitter.  My sanity demands more selectivity.

Charles Blow, in an April 17 New York Times column, expressed much better how I feel.

His failures so far, I suppose, should bring resisters like me some modicum of joy, but I must confess that they don’t. Or, more precisely, if they do, that joy is outweighed by the rolling litany of daily horrors that Trump has inflicted.

The horrors are both consuming and exhausting. For me at this point they center on an erosion of equality. This by no means downplays Trump’s incessant lying, the outrage of his draining the Treasury for his personal junkets, or his disturbing turn toward war. But somewhat below the radar, or at least with less fanfare, our access, inclusion and justice are being assailed by a man who lied on the campaign trail promising to promote them.

And the very sad thing is that even with his approval rating hovering around 40%, his core still supports him despite the knowledge that his actions hurt them the most.

I’ve been reading a lot to escape and have found some very interesting books to recommend.  Rudolf Fisher was the first African-American to write a mystery.  His book, “The Conjure-Man Dies”, is set in a 1930s Harlem.  Fisher (1897-1934) was a doctor, music arranger, and writer, which explains his interest in using science to solve the crime.  Everyone in the book is black:  The police detective, the medical examiner, the victim, and all of the suspects.  “Conjure-Man” has just been reprinted and reissued.  In some ways, “Conjure-Man” is clearly a first mystery.  I’ve found that in many first mysteries the plotting is more complicated than needed, but the glimpse of life in Harlem is well worth the effort of getting though the twists and turns.

ows_136396805189380“Ordinary Grace” is a total opposite.  Set in the summer of 1961 in rural Minnesota, it is narrated by a now middle-aged man recalling the summer.  I think this is considered to be a mystery as it won an Edgar Award for William Kent Kruger, but I thought it was just a wonderfully written novel.  I read this for my book group, Malice on Main, and I was not the only one who reported crying through much of it.  “Ordinary Grace is an extraordinary book.

My final recommendation is “Writing to Save a Life” by John Edgar Wideman.  I’m not sure how to characterize this book which tells the story of Louis, Emmett, and Mamie Till.  The New York Times Book Review and the National Book Awards call it non fiction, but some of the almost stream of conscious speculation about Louis Till seemed to be excellent fiction writing.  Louis Till, Emmett’s father, was executed during World War II in Italy for the rape and murder of a young local woman.  I have to say I still am not sure how I feel about this book, but it is fascinating reading.

Reading, baseball, and gardening this summer will save my sanity – I hope.