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.

Civil Servants are the best

I estimate that 98% of my work life was spent either in government or with a nonprofit so I think I know a thing or two about both kinds of organizations.  I have been thinking since the election in November that government workers, bureaucrats, civil servants and nonprofit organizations will be the ones to save our democracy.  The two actions that have gotten the most attention thus far are the State Department’s dissent memo with over 1000 signatures and the Alt National Parks websites.  And employees in other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA are also acting by just doing their jobs and setting up alternate media sites through which they can release information.  So I was interested to come across this story expressing a similar point of view.

park-ranger

One of our National Park Rangers.

I had just come home from Boston where I had picked up a print copy of the Globe and I started reading the Magazine and began laughing.  In his Perspective essay, Dear civil servants:  Keep it up.  No, really., Scott Helman begs the nation’s civil servants to keep doing their jobs.

Good day, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Servant.

I ask humbly: May I approach your coffee-splattered desk? I promise this won’t take long. It’s only the survival of the republic that we need to talk about. I’ll speak quietly. I can even sing my plea lite-rock style, so it blends in with the tunes from your clock radio. Better not to arouse your supervisor’s curiosity.

Let’s clear the air first. Listen, it’s true. For years you’ve been a punch line. Admit that sometimes you made it easy, with your interminable cigarette breaks, your surly manner, and your dawdling pace — unless there was only one glazed cruller left in the box.

Wait, wait, wait — come back! You’re right. Sorry. Really sorry. Old habits, you know?

Seriously, though: You, my friend, are the most important person in America right now. A nation turns its jittery eyes to you.

Helman continues

As the political churn reaches your cubicle, I ask of you this: Smile, nod — hell, bake a Bundt cake if you need to. And then: Continue on your merry way. Keep doing your thing.

Please continue producing non-biased, fact-based reports and stats on global warming, federal deficits, health care coverage, and whatever else comes across your desk. Go where the science or the numbers lead you, not where someone above you wants them to go.

Please speak up if you’re asked to do something unethical, and blow the whistle if you see something wrong.

Look, I know you can’t buck every political decision. Elections have consequences. I get that. Maybe you even welcome the change, unlike those cheeky chums from the national parks who started shadow Twitter accounts.

But this is bigger than politics or party. We need you to protect that bedrock as if our lives depend on it. Because they might. You are but a cog in a massive machine, yes. But the machine cannot run without you. Exercise your judgment and talent and authority wisely.

I know it can’t be easy.  When I was working in Virginia state government, the Governor appointed a new agency head who was not all that competent.  (I learned years later from him that much of what he did was at the direction of the Governor’s Office.)  At one point an employee moral survey was conducted, but the results were not released.  A couple of us got hold of the results and leaked them to the Washington Post.  To this day, I’m not sure any one except us leakers knew who the source was.  We knew we were taking a risk, but in the end, some changes were made, changes that impacted all State employees.  So I know that civil servants can act against the powers that be.  Helman ends with

One more thing. Don’t let anybody tell you that pushing back against a sinister agenda is somehow un-American. To the contrary. It’s the most American thing you can do.

 

Photograph:  Nick Adams / Reuters

Resistance

Beverly Gage had an interesting essay in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, A ‘Resistance’ Stands Against Trump.  But What Will It Stand For?  In it Gage discusses the history of the word, resistance, and how it has transformed at various times from being against to finding what it is for.  Right now, when we talk about resisting Trump, or perhaps I should say that when I use the term, I mean taking a stand against his proposed (and some implemented) actions that can remove my civil rights and civil liberties.  I think each participant in the current Resistance stands for his or her own reasons.  So how can we coalesce into a positive movement?

Before Trump’s election, anyone who claimed to have been a member of “the resistance” was most likely over the age of 85, a veteran of anti-fascist struggles in France and other Nazi-occupied territories during World War II. That resistance involved armed conflict and personal risk of the bleakest sort, with guerrilla fighters hiding in the catacombs of Paris while Hitler’s forces did their worst above ground. Under fascist rule, there were no plausible options for political engagement. It was a fight to the death, and in early 1940s Europe, before the arrival of Allied troops, the outcome was far from certain. Talking about resistance still evokes this sense of honorable struggle against an occupying power. It implies patience as well as militancy, the ability to say no over and over and over again, to refuse to cooperate until the whole system crumbles.

After the war, anticolonial movements from South Africa to Northern Ireland found their own strategies of resistance, settling in for long, sometimes bloody fights.

Of course, the American south had “massive resistance” to school integration.  I remember well the year my hometown of Moorestown, New Jersey, hosted a group of young men and women from Prince Edward County, Virginia who were just trying to finish high school after “massive resistance” closed the schools.

The American left created a different language of resistance, much of it focused around the anti-conscription activities of groups like the War Resisters League. This anti-draft sensibility reached its peak in the late 1960s, during the Vietnam War, when student activists proclaimed a transition, per one slogan, “from Protest to Resistance.” As the movement veterans Staughton Lynd and Michael Ferber pointed out in their 1971 book, “The Resistance,” that shift grew out of a desire to embrace “a deeper and riskier commitment, a move that warranted a new term to replace ‘dissent’ and ‘protest.’ ” The goal was no longer simply to object to the war; it was to throw a wrench into the war machine and make it stop. Antiwar activists continued to engage in peaceful protest — but now some also burned draft cards and firebombed R.O.T.C. centers. A small number, like the Weathermen, took up bona fide guerrilla activity, planting bombs at the Capitol, the Pentagon and other prominent buildings.

The Michigan Republican who tweeted that we needed another Kent State to put down the current protests hasn’t read his history:  Kent State stiffed the resistance to the Vietnam War rather than ending it.  I remember the nonviolent movement being galvanized by Kent State.

As the war and its life-or-death stakes came to an end, so, too, did the embrace of resistance as a literal armed underground conspiracy. But while it faded as a political strategy, it began to gain prominence as a category of academic social analysis, the sort of thing that anthropologists and historians looked for in their studies of human societies. This was part of a broader trend toward “social history,” with its insistence that ordinary people — not just generals and politicians — could be the agents of serious historical change. Sometimes this meant studying organized revolts, like slave rebellions or peasant uprisings. By the 1980s, though, “resistance” had come to encompass a much broader set of behaviors. Enslaved or oppressed people might resist by taking up arms, but they might also resist simply by refusing to do as they were told. The political theorist James Scott called these “everyday forms of resistance” — a category that could include giving a sullen look to an employer, deliberately misfiling forms or just living life, as much as possible, on terms of your own choosing.

As I wrote earlier, the current resistance movement allows each participant to participate for her or his own reasons.  But can we become something bigger?  Gage leaves us with some hope.

fist-of-resistance

As a movement-building enterprise, designed to achieve the greatest possible participation, this mode of resistance makes sense. But despite its good cheer, it still emphasizes what is not possible: It says that Trump is about to take a sledgehammer to the nation’s finest institutions and principles and that the only thing most citizens can do is shout “no” as loudly as possible.

Many organizers have vowed that this yawp of dissent represents a beginning rather than an end — and history suggests that they may well be right. Some of the most significant shifts in modern American law and political culture came out of efforts birthed in panic and despair. During World War I, for instance, the United States banned criticism of the government, interned thousands of German Americans and instituted widespread surveillance of immigrants and political radicals. Many Americans supported these policies; others feared that the country was abandoning cherished traditions of tolerance and free speech. In response, a small group of alarmed progressives founded an organization that came to be known as the American Civil Liberties Union. They lost many early courtroom battles, but their vision of a nation in which “civil liberties” were taken seriously eventually changed the face of American law and politics.

If I have any prediction about what the future holds, I think that the women’s movement, the environmental movement, and civil liberties movement will all gain strength as we each decide where to put our energy, time, and money into positive actions.   While we continue to resist it all.

Photograph:  Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

There’s something happening here…

Actually there is too much happening.  Each time I start to pick a topic to write about, there is another headline, another outrageous action taken, another horrid confirmation.  I don’t care whether you support President Bannon – oops, I mean Trump – or not, things are moving so quickly one doesn’t have time to fully judge the consequences.  I’ve decided to follow two rules:  try to stop mocking him and laughing at him.  And pick an area or two and concentrate on them.

Rule number one is difficult:  There is just too much to make fun of coming directly from the Trump Administration.  In the past two days we’ve had the President ask us to pray for Arnold Schwarzenegger since higher ratings mean more money  – not for Arnold but for the President.  I thought he was supposed to divest himself, but obviously the regular rules don’t apply.  For a Black History Month speech, the President told us that Frederick Douglass was still alive at the ripe old age of 122 and still trying to teach us.  At least the last part of that sentence is true as we can learn from reading his writings.  And then we’ve had a fake terrorist attack to justify a travel ban based on religion. Yes, the infamous Bowling Green Massacre concocted by Kellyanne Conway who later explained she misspoke.  But I try not to laugh too hard and keep reminding myself this is really serious business.

Senator Cory Booker was on the Rachel Maddow Show the other night.  He and Rachel talked about protest and opposition fatigue.  This is what I’m trying to avoid with rule number 2.  But I think I’ve picked areas that are just too broad because I’m following civil rights and civil liberties.  They can encompass women’s rights and immigration huge (as our leader would say) topics in themselves.  But I am a woman and the daughter of immigrants.

This is how Charles P. Pierce opens his short February 2 essay We Know How This Ends:  The White House is once again tolerant of white supremacy.  

There are some remarkable stories that have vanished for now in this city. One of the most prominent of these is that out-and-out white supremacy is operating at the very top levels of the executive branch of the government in a way that it hasn’t since, I don’t know, the Wilson administration. The Collected Works of Steve Bannon are bad enough. From USA Today:

“They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.”

The last describes many Trump supporters.  The accompanying photograph which I am not including is of the Oklahoma City Federal Building after the April 1995 bombing.
I believe that Steve Bannon, white supremacist, who thinks that immigration is an invasion is the real power in the White House.  He is going to encourage the Timothy McVeigh’s of the world.  He has already given “permission” to the young white Canadian who attacked a mosque in Quebec.   And remember that white supremacy is largely male supremacy.
So we have to be vigilant, try to avoid Bannon/Trump fatigue, and keep pushing back.

Trump Day

It is very early morning here in Vermont and I have a busy day planned.  I don’t intend to watch the transfer of power from Barack Obama to Donald Trump, but will spend time dealing with local school budgets for the Town Finance Committee and having lunch with some women from my mystery book group, Malice on Main. 

I will be well represented by Vermont’s Senators, Sanders and Leahy and by Congressman Welsh, all Democrats, but our Republican Governor is not going.  VTDigger reported

Republican Governor Phil Scott, who distanced himself from President Donald J. Trump early in his gubernatorial bid, will not be attending the president’s inauguration on Friday.

Jason Gibbs, Scott’s chief of staff, says the governor “is focused on Vermont’s priorities, putting the finishing touches on his budget, his legislative agenda and making additional appointments.”

I think Congressman Welsh articulated the reason Vermont’s Congressional delegation is attending very nicely.  His statement, which I also heard on the local news, explains

“I believe the inaugural ceremony is about more than any individual,” Welch said in a statement. “It is about the peaceful transition of power enshrined in our Constitution. I believe it is my job to participate in, and be a witness to, this touchstone of our democracy and powerful symbol to the world. So, while I respect the decision of some of my colleagues to stay home, I will attend, but not celebrate, Friday’s ceremony.”

Trump hasn’t even taken the oath yet and I’m already overloaded on news about how unprepared his cabinet appointees mostly are:  all the potential conflicts of interest, past shady financial dealings, and lack of knowledge.  It seems that no one really vetted them before they were nominated.  And we haven’t even gotten to the policy stuff!

Tomorrow, I will attend the Sister Vigil in a local downtown park, but today is a day for thinking about and doing other things.  And for being sad.

toles01202017

Improvising.

Cartoon from Tom Toles

Race and Gender in the Trump Cabinet

Many of us are paying a lot of attention to important things about the Trump nominees:  Do they believe in Climate Change?  Support torture?  Want to cozy up to Putin?  Create a Muslim Registry?  Know anything about the job they to which they are being appointed?  Important things.  That is why this analysis is so interesting.  It was the headline that caught my eye “Trump’s Cabinet So Far Is More White and Male Than Any First Cabinet Since Reagan.”  Written by Jasmine C. Lee the New York Times story is full of charts and pictures.

If Mr. Trump’s nominees are confirmed, women and nonwhites will hold five of 21 cabinet or cabinet-level positions. He has not yet named nominees for two additional positions.

Those five members will also be in some of the lowest-ranking positions. None of them are in the so-called inner cabinet, the four positions in place since George Washington’s presidency: the attorney general and the secretaries of state, Treasury and defense (formerly called the secretary of war).

Barack Obama had 14. Bill Clinton 12, and George W. Bush 9.  Trump is doing a little better than Reagan who only had two:  Jeanne Kirkpatrick at the United Nations and Samuel Pierce at HUD.

C487-2

The cabinet of President Ronald Reagan in February 1981.

The first cabinets of George W. Bush and Mr. Obama were both noted for their diversity. In Mr. Bush’s initial administration, 45 percent of the cabinet and cabinet-level officials were women or nonwhite men. In Mr. Obama’s first cabinet, that figure was 64 percent.

What does it mean that the clock is being turned back on diversity?  I think that diversity and inclusion are bad words to the President-elect.  They certainly are to his supporters.  But I think a great deal is lost when there aren’t persons from different backgrounds, genders, and races at the table.  If everyone is a super-rich white man, who represents the rest of us?  And who represents the Trump voter?

Official White House photo of Obama Cabinet

The cabinet of President Obama in September 2009.

Photograph of Reagan Cabinet from the Reagan Library

Photograph of the Obama Cabinet from the White House

Facing a new year and a new era

All of the kerfuffle about the electoral college and recounts is over and we face reality:  Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.  I have a number of resolutions for this new era.

First, bear witness.  For me this means a bit more blogging than in the past couple of years when I have slacked off considerably.  More shorter pieces will be my mantra.

Second, try to maintain a sense of humor.  I have friends to help me including Robert Waldo Brunelle, Jr. who explains things.

mr-brunelle-1-4

Third, work for good local and statewide candidates.  Remember that in two years there is a midterm election.

Fourth, distract myself from 24 hour politics.  There are the Red Sox and bird watching for example.  There are many, many books to be read.

Keep reminding myself that life does go on.