Re-reading Macbeth

I’m taking a class this fall through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI).  The University of Vermont sponsors them at several locations around the state including in Brattleboro.  We are reading Shakespeare – Macbeth and a number of kings – and discussing power and what makes a good ruler.

Although I haven’t read Macbeth for a number of years, the words are familiar, full of quotations and phrases many of us use without thinking of their origin.  But then I read this bit of dialogue I hadn’t remembered.  It is a conversation between Lady MacDuff and her young, unnamed son shortly before Macbeth has them murdered.  Remember that MacDuff has fled the country after the murder of King Duncan leaving behind his wife and children.

Son:  What is a traitor?

Lady McDuff:  Why, one that swears and lies.

Son:  And be all traitors that do so?

Lady McDuff:  Every one that does so is a traitor, and must be hanged.

Son:  And must they all be hanged that swear and lie?

Lady McDuff:  Every one.

Son:  Who must hang them?

Lady McDuff:  Why, the honest men.

 

We are currently being governed by men who lie and swear.  Honest men and women need to step up and realize that our democracy is at stake.  I think the House will vote articles of impeachment, but I can only hope that the Senate still has 67 honest men and women who can put country above party.

Image of Macbeth from wikipedia.

Mid-September Politics

So, I watched two hours of the debate last night.  I haven’t watched any of the previous ones, but decided that with only 10 on stage it would be manageable.  But who decided to make it 3 hours!?  I trend toward political junkiness but even I had had enough.

I came away with lots of questions:  Why is Andrew Yang still on the stage?  Who exactly is supporting him.  He gave precisely one good answer on immigration.  How did Bernie Sanders get to be so old?  He never really looked old in 2016, but three years does make a difference.  And Biden is, well, Biden.  Still with the tangled syntax and rambling answers.  Do I really want to elect another old white guy to succeed the old white guy currently in office?  Is Elizabeth Warren too wonky?  Sometimes her answers, while likely factual, make my eyes glaze over.  (I have to point out here that I worked on her first Senate campaign when I still lived in Massachusetts, but I had the same feelings about her then.)  Maybe she is better suited to the Senate.

The two candidates I liked were Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.  The New York Times only gave them each around 6 out of 10.  (Warren was the highest at 7.5.)  FiveThirtyEight rated them average with most of the others – 3 out of 4 – but they also had Harris slipping in support along with Bernie.  But debate performance is mostly in the eye of the beholder.

So why do I like Harris and Booker?  I think the racial politics right now means we need a black/minority candidate to take on Trump.  Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he wouldn’t know what to do against a Harris or Booker:  a smart articulate qualified person who wouldn’t wilt under his racial attacks.  I would pair Harris with Pete Buttigieg or Booker with Amy Klobuchar.  West or east coast with the center.   My single goal is to beat Trump.  I know the polling shows that other candidates can do better in beating him, but it is early days yet and Booker and Harris have decent numbers.   Vox had a story the other day with numbers:

These were the latest numbers in Texas from Latino Decisions, North Star Opinion Research, and the University of Houston:

  • Joe Biden 47 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Bernie Sanders 48 percent, Donald Trump 42 percent
  • Elizabeth Warren 44 percent, Donald Trump 42 percent
  • Kamala Harris 45 percent, Donald Trump 44 percent
  • Cory Booker 43 percent, Donald Trump 41 percent
  • Julián Castro 44 percent, Donald Trump 41 percent

The real story is in the second half of the column, with Donald Trump stuck between 41 and 44 percent in Texas. Head-to-head polling from the Washington Post and ABC News, fresh off the presses, tells a similar story at the national level among registered voters:

  • Joe Biden 55 percent, Donald Trump 40 percent
  • Bernie Sanders 52 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Elizabeth Warren 51 percent, Donald Trump 44 percent
  • Kamala Harris 50 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent
  • Pete Buttigieg 47 percent, Donald Trump 43 percent

Once again, the president doesn’t breach even 45 percent against any of his potential Democratic opponents.

 

So let’s not fall into the Bernie-Biden-Warren trap too soon.  We are having debates, but we need to see the ground games of the candidates.  February and the Iowa Caucuses will come soon enough.  For now I will take Harris’ advice, “believe in what can be, unburdened by what has been”.

Politics and Poetry

I’m not like some who memorize great reams of poetry and can always find an appropriate quote.  I like to pick up a book of poems and look though it until something catches my attention.  Then, I’ll read it over and over for several days.  Or, I have a friend who often posts poetry on her Facebook page which I read.  And it makes me happy that The Writer’s Almanac is back.

So the other night I was thumbing through Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems for Hard Times and this short poem by Ginger Andrews caught my eye.

Lying around all day

with some strange new deep blue

weekend funk, I’m not really asleep

when my sister calls

to say she’s just hung up

from talking with Aunt Bertha

who is 89 and ill but managing

to take care of Uncle Frank

who is completely bed ridden.

Aunt Bert says

it’s snowing there in Arkansas,

on Catfish Lane, and she hasn’t been

able to walk out to their mailbox.

She’s been suffering

from a bad case of the mulleygrubs.

The cure for the mulleygrubs,

She tells my sister,

is to get up and bake a cake.

If that doesn’t do it, put on a red dress.

 

I had to look up mulleygrubs.  Turns out it also means the blues or sulks; a despondent, sullen or ill-tempered mood. (Merriam-Webster)

I think a lot of us are looking at the current political scene and suffering from the mulleygrubs.  So it is worth finding a red dress – or shirt – or baking a cake.  Maybe Aunt Bertha is right.

Democracy

I’ve just finished reading Jon Meacham’s book The Soul of America:  The Battle for Our Better Angels.  Using various periods in our history (The Civil War, the McCarthy Era, Reconstruction, etc), Meacham tries to reassure us that things have been bad in the past and we managed to survive and even move forward.  When I think about this history I am comforted until I read the news.

In today’s Daily Kos Elections email newsletter we find that the Republican Party in North Carolina has changed its mind about joining in the effort to seek a new election and that the losing candidate in a New Mexico congressional race is refusing to concede a race she lost 51-49.  Add to the mix what is happening in Wisconsin and Michigan and the only conclusion is that the Republican Party no longer believes in democracy.

From the Daily Kos:

NC-09: In a bizarre about-face, the North Carolina Republican Party is once again demanding that the state Board of Elections certify the results of the tainted race in the 9th Congressional District, less than a week after state party executive director Dallas Woodhouse all but called for a new election. Woodhouse, rather impossibly, claims that his position “has not changed”; rather, he insists, the state GOP is only objecting to the fact that the board has delayed a public hearing on the matter until Jan. 11 and has not produced “one iota of public evidence” that wrongdoing altered the outcome in the 9th.

Of course, it’s impossible to square these two things. If, as Woodhouse briefly purported to, you believe that the widespread allegations of election fraud merit a thorough investigation, then you need to allow the necessary time for that investigation to proceed. Had the board instead tried to rush matters rather than conduct a serious inquiry, then Republicans would be howling about a lack of “due process.”

And this

NM-02: Even though we’re now six weeks out from the 2018 midterms, Republican Yvette Herrell still hasn’t conceded to Democratic Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small, who won New Mexico’s open 2nd District 51-49 in a race that wasn’t called until the day after Election Day thanks to absentee ballots. Like many of her fellow Republicans, who’ve decided that elections aren’t legitimate when Democrats win them, Herrell has been busy sowing vague doubts about the democratic process—and, naturally, refusing to substantiate any of her claims.

While the Daily Kos makes no claims to being non partisan, the underlying facts are pretty clear:  When the Republicans lose, they no longer believe in the democratic process.

On December 11, The Guardian ran an opinion piece by Andrew Gawthorpe, a lecturer in history and international studies at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which did an excellent job of summing up what is going on.

America’s federal system of government is, in theory, key to the strength of its democracy. As opposed to citizens in the more centralized states of Europe, Americans get to vote for a huge array of local offices, policies and ballot initiatives that can influence their lives for the better. Innovation in the states can be healthy for the whole country, such as when healthcare reform in Massachusetts provided inspiration for the Affordable Care Act. The supreme court justice Louis Brandeis famously praised US states as laboratories which could “try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country”.

In Wisconsin, where Scott Walker’s loss to the Democrat Tony Evers was a national embarrassment for Republicans, the legislature has moved to seize control of welfare policy from the incoming governor. Evers will no longer be able to overturn policies that require food stamp recipients to take drug tests, or that require Medicaid recipients to meet a work requirement. Nor will the state’s new attorney general, also a Democrat, be able to withdraw Wisconsin from a lawsuit which seeks to have the Affordable Care Act declared unconstitutional.

Given that these are all policies that the incoming Democrats fought and won their elections on, we might expect Wisconsin Republicans to show some humility. But we would expect wrong. Wisconsin speaker of the House, Robin Vos, instead warned his fellow Republicans that the power grab was necessary to stop a “very liberal governor who is going to enact policies that are in direct contrast to what many of us believe in”. Just not quite enough, that is, to actually win the election.

Gawthorpe concludes

While so much outrage is rightly directed at Donald Trump’s daily attacks on democratic norms, the growing detachment of establishment Republicans from them is arguably an even greater concern in the long run. Trump’s general incompetence and lack of focus have so far prevented him from doing serious damage to voting rights, but his administration has provoked a backlash and energized the left. This swinging of the pendulum is how democratic politics should work. But events in Wisconsin show the limits to what can be accomplished by even an energized left in the face of disciplined Republican attempts to rob them of the power that is rightfully theirs.

To see the complicity of establishment Republicans in these attempts to turn the states into laboratories of anti-democracy, look no further than Paul Ryan. Even as he leaves politics this year, the Wisconsin congressman and poster boy for a supposedly “respectable” conservatism has been silent on events in his home state and their broader implications. There is little indication that the next generation of Republican leaders will have any more scruples, and plenty of reasons to fear they will have fewer. As the incentives increase for Republicans to ignore the will of the voters, the threat to American democracy today goes much deeper than Donald Trump – and consequently will be all the harder to tackle.

Many of us, myself included, spend a good deal of energy wallowing in the latest chapter of the Trump soap opera.  Perhaps we need to spend more on saving our democracy.  But is will be difficult when on political party appears to no longer believe in our basic democratic values.  Jon Meacham tells us that things have been bad before, but we have survived.  I hope he’s right this time.

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