Posted tagged ‘David Brooks’

07.16.17 Not a single patriot

July 16, 2017

I belong to a Facebook group for the summer camp I went to 47 years ago. (Damn, I’m old!) On July 4, this year, someone posted a request for people to share their Independence Day memories from back then. What I recalled (proudly) was the campers raising the flag upside down and backwards to protest the Vietnam War – it was either 1970 or -71. And I remember the camp owner giving us a harsh lecture on patriotism. “Love it or leave it,” was the mantra of the day.

I remember being called a commie for walking down the street with long hair in my teens. Worse epithets were used against those who opposed the Reagan’s defense buildup in the ‘80s. And the militarists went ape shit, as usual, when people who were neither brainwashed nor morons stood up against the Iraq War. (That was when Maryland governor Bob Ehrlich [R – of course] spent taxpayer dollars to infiltrate community peace groups who were such a threat to. . . what exactly?)

It was the right – and increasingly the Republican Party – that declared, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” and accused us of being traitors.

Notwithstanding my belief that the US has more often than not been a hypocrite in touting democracy, I am a democratic patriot. Democracy is not merely about holding elections, but rather making them free and fair, inclusive, and backed by a robust civil society and a judiciary that acts for justice (imagine that!). This is the only system of government that fosters individual dignity and the rights of all to influence outcomes, at least in its ideals.

Come the year 2017, democracy has been under assault for a decade around the world. In the past two years, Hungary, Poland, and Turkey (among others) have more or less given up on it, adopting ever-more authoritarian practices.

The US Republican Party has never seemed to care much for democracy.* Prime example: voter suppression. To a certain extent, it is inherent in conservatism to oppose a full franchise, because the idea is to preserve the power of those who already have it. But the Trump regime has raised contempt for democracy to a whole new level. Not only does Trump praise authoritarians around the globe (including in the aforementioned countries), but his rhetoric and policies have put our own (albeit flawed) democracy in grave danger, not the least by ceding power to Russia, America’s most dangerous adversary.

At least since the infamous “pussy tape” last summer, predictions that the GOP would imminently abandon Trump have been a mainstay of every new crisis. It has never happened. With the revelations of the past week, it still has not happened.

To be fair, the conservative intelligentsia and pundit-class have turned on Trump en masse. Columnists from David Brooks to Charles Krauthammer have been pummeling Trump, as well as calling out their party for its utter lack of principle.

But, even given a clear and present danger to national security, GOP members of Congress cannot step away from their one true cause: enriching the wealthy. Oh yeah, there are the usual two or three GOP stewards who mumble a few words of gentle criticism, but they intend no action and their colleagues go on fiddling while Rome burns. (John McCain is a particularly heinous example, because he knows better: It’s not enough to sound smart by saying you know there will be “more shoes to drop,” Sen. McCain. Do something about it!)

It is clear now that Trump could indeed shoot someone on 5th Avenue (as he said last summer) without losing his base. It won’t matter if he is caught fucking a little boy in the Oval Office or is on video handing the nuclear codes to Moscow: racist voters won’t abandon him; neither will Fox News or Breitbart. As for GOP elected officials, the only hope of peeling some away will be indictments against Trump henchmen. Even then, only those who perceive an immediate threat to reelection will turn.

No outrage is too much for the GOP: the same people who have used patriotism as a bludgeon for decades. With push having come to shove, they don’t give a shit about their country or anything but themselves and their monied pals.

I can only hope that a sufficient number of Americans note and remember for years to come this GOP-led assault on our fundamental institutions and ideals. I’m not holding my breath.

*I encourage readers to re-read this piece: 11.07.16 The GOP’s existential threat to democracy.

©2017 Keith Berner


02.01.17 Trump/Bannon or Pence?

February 1, 2017

For the first few days of this regime, I was rather celebrating the utter insanity (meant literally) and incompetence in the White House. I saw a ray of hope in its great potential for immobilizing dysfuntionality, not to mention the potential to alienate even the GOP Forces of Evil in Congress (who have thus far thrown aside their own stated policies in deference to the new Führer).

(See this outstanding piece by David Brooks in yesterday’s New York Times: The Republican Fausts. I often disagree with Brooks and don’t agree with everything in this piece, it is a powerful read and he is mostly, alarmingly spot on.)

Mike Pence as an alternative seemed worse. A competent, not crazy certified Thirteenth-Century Theocrat with strong ties to GOP elites would certainly get more done and hurt our society and culture even worse, right?

The news that Trump had elevated Steve Bannon to the National Security Council — over the Joint Chiefs of Staff — turned my outrage to terror. Brooks is not the only one in recent days to observe that Bannon is quickly consolidating control over all levers of power and government. His virulent racism, coupled with Trump’s nonstop temper tantrums are making me rethink a Pence presidency. Yes, Pence would gut necessary government spending, work tirelessly to enrich the wealthy, destroy the environment, and outlaw reproductive freedom (wherever he can). But so will Trump/Bannon!

What Pence seems unlikely to do would be to actively undermine world stability, start trade or military wars, empower foreign autocrats (Putin!), and actively undermine the US Constitution (further than the GOP already does through voter suppression, etc).

My mind is just about made up in favor of a 25th-Amendment (or impeachment) solution to this global crisis. My remaining hesitation is mostly about expecting a greater aggressiveness by Pence against LBGT rights than Trump and the idea that Trump/Bannon’s explicit racism is easer to counter than the GOP’s pervasive, implicit racism.

Twenty-Fifth Amendment, Section 4

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

What do you think, Dear Readers?

PS. I will no longer refer to well-known autocrats with their first names; hence, “Trump” (without Donald) and “Putin” (without Vladimir). These are monsters, not human beings and should not be personalized in any way.


06.08.14 Obama the incompetent (again)

June 8, 2014

Earlier this week, (moderately) conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks articulately defended President Obama’s decision to swap Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay for US Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had ben held captive in Afghanistan for several years. Brooks makes that case that it doesn’t matter whether Brgdahl was AWOL, now sympathizes with the Taliban, or has a father with a long beard. All that matters is that the US doesn’t leave its soldiers in enemy hands, an admirable principle.

The fact that a Republican makes this point highlights the disgusting hypocrisy pervasive in the GOP, which clamored for Bergdahl’s release until Obama secured it and is now nearly uniformly opposed to it.

Unfortunately, it was not sufficient for Barack Obama to do the right thing. No, he had to make a political stunt out of it, by holding a Rose Garden ceremony that backfired, handing his enemies more rope to hang him with. Obama’s political incompetence and tone-deafness were also not helped in the least by over-the-top praise for Bergdahl from UN Ambassador Susan Rice, of Benghazi talking-points fame.

Bergdahl is an ambivalent figure. We don’t know (at least not yet) whether he really abandoned his comrades. So, a smart political leader would have quietly secured his release and then let the chips fall where they may. But Obama is the opposite of competent. He seems to live for handing opponents all the amunition they need to destroy him. If Obama’s reputation were all that was at stake, I’d chuckle with schadenfreude as the sharks chewed him to pieces. But when the GOP takes the senate this fall, the rest of us will pay for another unforced Obama error.

I have written before about Obama’s incompetence. I’m still no closer to accepting it and shrugging it off.

©2014 Keith Berner


10.26.08 Intellectualism Makes a Comeback?

October 26, 2008

Way back in July, I wrote about the Republicans’ awkward coalition of unnatural allies (here and here).  I described a wobbly stool made up of the ultra-wealthy, the ultra-religious, and the national defense hawks, with a handful of libertarians thrown in.  It was apparent then that this unholy alliance was in danger of flying apart at the seams, due to inherent mistrust within it and the Bush administration’s record of utter incompetence.

July.  An era (epoch?) ago.  Before McCain decided that ideas would take a back seat to attacks.  Before the Palin pick.  Before the financial house of cards came tumbling down.

Well, there’s nothing like failure to bring out the circular firing squads, and we have seen them aplenty in the past couple of weeks, as the GOP blame game gets into full swing.  It is lovely to watch McCain’s team blaming Palin’s team and Palin’s team blaming McCain’s handlers, right-wingers’ bemoaning the incoherent presidential campaign’s drag on down-ticket races, and Republicans with names like Buckley, Goldwater, and Powell endorsing the Democratic candidate.

It is in this environment that one more GOP fissure I hadn’t noticed previously is leaping to the fore: we now have a clear split between the Know-Nothings (personified by Palin and led by William Kristol and the gang at National Review) and the Intellectuals (led by David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, among others).

Anti-intellectualism is nothing new in the US body politic, of course, having been used to co-opt the unwashed masses for a couple of centuries.  Since Ronald Reagan, it has been the purposeful province of the GOP.  The religious freaks in the party are all about know-nothingism, of course – the very essence of their worldview denigrates science, empirical reality, and the role of the human brain.  The ultra-wealthy have had a remarkable string of success exploiting the resultant culture wars to get Americans to vote against their economic self-interest.  And the neocons (nee defense hawks) have delighted in the dovetailing of religiously driven intolerance with their desire to fight aggressive wars against anti-Judeo-Christian demons abroad.

But suddenly, Brooks, Noonan and others are calling for the Republican Party to embrace intellect.  This still small — but likely to be very influential — band is actually suggesting that being smart is a virtue, that results matter as much as ideology, and that governance requires coherence and competence.

Do not underestimate the importance of this news.  It is both the harbinger of change and a reaction to it.

This new wave of GOP thought presages a more serious splintering of the GOP than the Wall Street-Bible Belt breakup I wrote about this summer.  In the short term, the GOP is going to be so busy with internecine warfare that it will be in no position to beat up on anyone else.  In the longer term, there is some potential that the party might be reborn as a conservative – but less dangerous – force: one that can be done business with.

While indicating something about the GOP’s future, Brooks and Noonan are also reacting to reality on the ground:  for the first time since the late 70s, the American people are (apparently) refusing to be taken in by name-calling and cultural bogeymen.  In this time of national crisis, they seem to be choosing the guy with a brain over the guy you would rather have a beer with.  (Of course, Reagan and W were the epitome of the latter.  McCain, on the other hand, has turned himself into the know-nothing whom no one even wants at the backyard BBQ.)

I am not declaring this to be an enduring, nonetheless permanent, trend.  But it is heartening – even delicious — for as long as it lasts.

©2008 Keith Berner