When a heart is empty – words from conservative pundit David Brooks

I have shared before David Brooks is one of my favorite conservative pundits. I read his columns and have read two of his books, “The Road to Character” and “The Social Animal.” I even went to hear him speak when he came to town, as he focused on remembering community and community gathering places. Monday’s editorial column by Brooks is called “When a heart is empty.”

Brooks highlights how an unfeeling, self-absorbed author named Emmanuel Carrere is forever altered by a crisis, when he loses his granddaughter to a horrible tsunami. Per Brooks, Carrere “develops a deep and perceptive capacity to see the struggles of others” and he writes about the change in “Lives Other Than My Own.”

Brooks uses this change to contrast it being “opposite of the blindness Donald Trump displayed in quotes reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Bob Woodward in his latest book about the administration, ‘Rage’

Brooks goes on to say “Trump can’t seem to fathom the emotional experience of their lives (the deceased soldiers he called ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’) – their love for those they fought for, the fears they faced down, the resolve to risk their lives nonetheless.

If he can’t see that, he can’t understand the men and women in uniform serving around him. He can’t understand the inner devotion that drives people to public service, which is supposed to be the core of his job.

The same sort of blindness is on display in the Woodward quotes. It was stupid of Trump to think he could downplay COVID-19 when he already knew it had the power of a pandemic. It was stupid to think the American people would panic if he told the truth. It was stupid to talk to Woodward in the first place…

It is moral and emotional stupidity. He blunders so often and so badly because he has a narcissist’s inability to get inside the hearts and minds of other people.”

There is more, but the gist of the piece can be gleaned from these quotes. Brooks said earlier this year, “Donald Trump does not have a sense of decency or empathy.” He reiterates this theme above. And, there is a line from one of my favorite political movies “The American President” with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. “Being president is entirely about character.”

A weekend at Bernie’s

Yesterday, I spoke of the value proposition of Joe Biden. While I need not tell this to those “who feel the Bern,” Bernie Sanders value proposition needs more selling to those who may not be so enthralled. But, what is missing from a true evaluation is needed context.

The US economy is not a pure capitalistic system and, has been much less of one, since the changes required by the Robber Baron period. To be frank, this is the period Donald Trump wants America to return to and with the tax cuts and vast deregulation, we have come closer than before to this oligarchy period. Since that time, we have added several “governors” on capitalism and layered in some socialistic underpinnings to protect those in need. On the former, think interlocking boards, collusion, monopolies, insider trading, and bankruptcy restrictions and protection. On the latter, think Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment, Workers Compensation, food stamps, etc.

So, the US is a fettered capitalistic economic system with socialistic protections. And, to make this even more obvious, if we did not have bankruptcy protection, Donald Trump would not have any money as his companies have declared bankruptcy six times. This context is needed, as the debate we should be having is what is the right balance?

Bernie is pushing for several changes that would add more socialistic protections for people. He has also discussed the government taking over the quasi-governmental, but publicly traded utility industry, to address climate change. Addressing climate change is key, but is that the preferred path forward? As an independent and former Republican and Democrat, I would much prefer the argument to be shaped with the context I note above.

As an example, Medicare for All is something to consider, but it should be evaluated with detailed cost projections on what it means for various groups of people and taxpayers. There are many considerations such as should it be obligatory, should it be an option, should it be an extended version of the current system to younger retirees, etc.? As this will take time to evaluate, shoring up the ACA is needed. I mention this as if Democrats don’t keep the House and get 60 senators, Medicare for All will have difficulty getting considered. But, if framed as something to study, it may get consideration.

While Bernie is much scarier to some as much as he is appealing to his base, it would behoove us to consider the following. Bernie is a decent person with integrity and compassion. None of these three words could be legitimately used to define the current president. It is all about Donald Trump. It is that simple.

I believe Bernie is not as scary as portrayed by the right and he should not be as aspirational beyond what he can deliver. Just like tax cuts, free stuff sells. But, everything has a price tag. The better answer is what makes the most sense to do, based on impact and cost, and the fact we have $23 trillion in debt, expected to grow to $35 trillion. If Bernie is the nominee, I would prefer him to offer needed context to his discussions. Otherwise, he is getting people wound up for disappointment.

Help me understand on this cold December night

I hope everyone had a great week and will enjoy a stress free weekend. Using a questioning theme, help me understand…

– how JUULs and the like can be portayed as safe by their makers when an excessive amount of smoke is exhaled, more than any cigarette I have ever seen?

– how manufacturers of chemicals, fossil fuels, tobacco, etc. have told us how safe their products are and how their byproducts are not harmful, when that is proven to not be the case, often using their own reports? The movies “Dark Waters,” “The Insider,” and “Erin Brockovich” have highlighted these very issues.

– how not one Republican Congressperson could bring themselves to vote for impeachment based on obstruction of Congress which was painfully overt? Abuse of power was apparent per the testimony, but obstruction was blatantly obvious.

– how Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, can think taking his family on vacation to Hawaii while his country has major forest fires is a good idea? After a death occurred, his whereabouts became known and a huge problem.

– how a person who is US president would think making a denigrating reference to a deceased person looking up from hell, especially a beloved politician from Michigan named John Dingell in his own backyard, is a good idea? The gasps were audible even in a pro-Trump crowd anc even GOP legislators were criticsl.

It is a quandry. As for that last point, conservative pundit David Brooks called Trump’s words “repulsive” on PBS Newshour and has often spoken of the “lack of decency” in this president. I agree on both counts.

Let’s rise up

A terrific singer named Andra Day provided an anthem for women, but also forward thinking men as well. It is called “I’ll rise up.” Here is the final chorus which says let’s all rise up.

“Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousands times again
And we’ll rise up
Rise like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up.”

There has been a building crescendo worldwide, but especially here in the US, to say women matter. Women are tired of being taken advantage of by sexual predators, violent and controlling partners and men in power telling them what they can do with their bodies. Women are tired of people ignoring or demeaning them when they complain or accuse a violator. Women are tired of kitchen table issues like equal pay and healthcare gettimg ignored. Women are tired of nothing being done about gun governance which takes to many of their children and themselves.

Women are tired of being kidnapped and trafficked as sex slaves or servants. And, more globally, women need to be supported for saying we are not a possession to be sold, beaten or killed and we need not go through genital mutilation to satisfy an archaic religious practice written by a men.

Now, is the time to rise up. Women are running for political office in tremendous numbers in the US. They are reacting to a misogynist bully who shows what leadership does not look like. Their global sisters are using the opportunity to make a stand.

Rise up and vote. Rise up and take a friend to vote with you. Rise up and make sure your family votes. Rise up and vote for equal rights for all, for our environment which is being destroyed and for our future which is threatened by existential crises like climate change, poverty and inequality. Rise up. It is time to make a huge statement. I am with you.

Not so Freaky Fridays anymore

It seems that news people recapping the week are in a continual, almost weekly, loop saying the President had a difficult week. One week it was the appropriate backlash on his Helsinki acquiescence to Vladimir Putin. Another week was the conviction and confession of two of his cronies. Earlier it was the detention of migrant children away from their parents. And, there are many others.

This past week started last Saturday with the funeral of a true hero and honorable public servant, an event to which he was purposefully uninvited. Not being invited to the national mourning of Senator John McCain was bad enough, but his modus operandi was appropriately criticized without mentioning his name by more than a few speakers.

By itself, this event would warrant a bad week, but it was followed by the release of excerpts from highly credible reporter Bob Woodward’s book on the disruptive White House environment. For younger voters, Woodward was 1/2 of the team that broke the Watergate story. While nothing surprising about Trump was revealed, it was reassuring that the President’s people do their best to keep him between the white lines.

While the White House was in full damage control mode, an anonymous op-ed was published in The New York Times by an insider which echoes much of what Woodward’s book reveals. It should be noted that the both pieces echo some earlier books that were also denounced by the White House, as well as previous leaks and actual observations by reporters.

A few comments are in order:

– Many GOP legislators are painfully aware of these shortcomings of the President, but choose not to act. Right now, supporters are ignoring the consistent message and focusing on the messenger.
– A plausible reason the anonymous op-ed writer has not gone to Congress is it would likely not do any good given the willingness of too many GOP sycophants wanting to save their tribe and not do their job.
– The President’s boorish behavior is not a secret, except to his base, who water down the criticism. What is known by fewer folks is what conservative columnist David Brooks noted as early as last year regarding various mismanaged events when he said the “White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.”
– But, his offensive behavior and poor management predates his campaign and White House. Five biographers note Trump’s problems with the truth and financial reporters have lauded his sales skills, while being critical of his poor management skills. It is easy to see why he is deemed a poor manager given his ego, temper and lack of attention to detail.

What frustrates me as well, I have consistently reached out to Senators and members of Congress usually after various missteps or misstatements by the President. Two questions I often ask are “is this the man you want to spend your dear reputation on?” and “what will it take for Congress to act?” Seeing us bully our allies and forego our global leadership role is highly frustrating. Seeing us make changes that favor corporations and wealthy is another. Seeing us ignore climate change and our building huge debt are yet more concerns. But, the lying, denigration, name-calling, admiration for autocrats and disdain for democratically elected leaders takes the cake.

You may have noticed I have not mentioned the Russian collusion issue or his historical sexual misconduct. More will come out on these issues, but I find it of interest the lone constant in both issues is the story changing by the President. This is a key reason he did so poorly on a mock deposition in preface to a possible real one with Robert Mueller. The contradictions abounded.

So, I leave you with the questions I asked the GOP legislators above. Apparently, this is the horse they are going to ride. My added question is where will he lead you? And, us?

Sometimes a quote says it all

Quotes can sometimes be painfully pertinent. Yesterday, I read the following quote from a Chinese source as the country develops a response to US tariffs. China’s official Xinhua news agency added: “The wise man builds bridges, the fool builds walls. With economic globalisation there are no secluded and isolated islands.” I think their point is about more than tariffs.

Politicians unfortunately have a hard time with the truth, some moreso than others. One of my favorite quotes is from former Senator John Kyl of Arizona when caught in a lie. “You mistook what I was saying as the truth.” In other words, it is your fault I am lying,

This is an excellent segue to a current politician who is on record as lying more than he does not. Congressman Trey Gowdy said the following about such man. “If the President is innocent, it would help if he started acting that way.”

On a more humorous note, actor Abe Vigoda from the movie “The Godfather” and television show “Barney Miller,” was reported to have passed away. Upon reading of his death in the newspaper, Vigoda sent a press release that said “The reports of my demise have been overly exaggerated.” This was in keeping with his deadpan comic delivery.

Getting back to politics, a famous quote used often by President Richard Nixon was “I am not a crook.” The fact that he felt the need to use it again and again begged the question, who are you trying to convince? After over twenty convictions of his co-conspirators, Nixon only escaped  criminal judgment because of President Gerald Ford’s pardon. Mr. Nixon, you were a crook.

Let me close with one of the finest quotes in American history. It was so crucial it helped lead to the eventual downfall of Senator Joe McCarthy, of Communist witchhunt infamy. After John Welch, General Counsel of the US Army had given testimony over several hours, he said to McCarthy, “Do you have no sense of decency, sir?”

I close with these two examples as they remind me of our current fearmongering President. “Decency” is not a word I would use to define the man.

 

 

 

Local conservative radio host changes label

Earlier this week, a local conservative radio host penned an editorial in The Charlotte Observer called “It’s time to change my label.” Keith Larson joined the ranks of other conservative voices in denouncing the President.

Before he cites his reasons, Larson paints a picture of what he believes. In short, he says his conservatism is grounded in “prudence and decency.” He goes on to say:

“There have been glaring holes in the gown of conservatism over the years, but the Trump Era has made it unwearable.

He has outspent Obama, continued costly and deadly deployments, threatened federal authority over states and cities, started trade wars with adversaries and allies, and attacked the Justice Department and FBI in ways Nixon never dreamed.

There has been a tax cut, Supreme Court pick, and talking up God. He knows how to pander.

Then there’s Stormy. Not merely the affair but the payoff. Not merely the payoff but the lying. And so many other women and lies.

This President has a habit of lying, and being a misogynistic slime ball and just plain toad. There is nothing prudent or decent about the man.”

These words speak for themselves. I cannot bring myself to disagree with any of his sentiments. He adds his voice to other national pundits with names like Erickson, Gerson, Will, Brooks, Peters, and Douthat.

I hope people heed his advice. America needs them to.