Mightier than the Sword

An old friend recently told me that the person who occupies the White House does not impact her life.  “I still go to work every day, and I still pay taxes.”  Across the internet, reading her message, I felt the small shrug with which she typed those words.  My stomach clenched.

My friend needs to bear in mind the power of the written word in creating the image of America, along with the power which has settled in the White House by virtue of the murky malaise which besieges our Congress.

I find it disturbing and ironic that almost half of America considered Trump to be a suitable president even confronted with his wild and seemingly unconsidered deportment.  We have so many illustrations from which to understand how a president should look and act; and what principles he or she should espouse and announce.

Abraham Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg ring clear and loud in my morning foggy brain:

“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Compare Lincoln’s speech with what we constantly see in 140 characters from the president-elect.  The nausea and bile rise in my stomach.

I searched “Donald Trump’s Worst Tweets” and got a seven-figure result, including a page created on 08 November 2016 by the Hindustan Times, listing Trump’s ten most outrageous tweets as of that date, in the opinion of one of its editorial writers.    The quoted tweets show the crass and unkind temperament of the president-elect, typified by this attack on Rand Paul:

Truly weird Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky reminds me of a spoiled brat without a properly functioning brain. He was terrible at DEBATE!

 

“While the President’s constitutional powers were, and still are, quite limited, the rise of political parties in the U.S. has done more to focus power in the presidency than any other factor.  Both the election activities of the parties and their formalized role in the Congress (which the founders had neither provided for nor foreseen), have, ironically, contributed to the migration of power from Congress to the presidency.  “The American President”, © 2006 H. Paul Lillebo, Blue Ridge Journal, October 2006.”

Driving from court yesterday, I heard a male voice shouting on the radio.  My first thought pegged it as a clip from a movie, but the announcer identified the angry speaker as Sean Spicer, the press secretary for the president-elect.  I felt myself growing more and more despondent at the prospect of having erratic, petulant, and discordant men and women wielding the power which Congress has ceded to the Oval Office.  Am I alone in fearing the changes in our landscape which a childish, temper-tantrum-throwing narcissistic president will force us to endure?

The unease which I feel mirrors the qualified congratulations heard around the world on November 09th.  Two statements spoke to my soul.

After the election, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had this to say about the results:

“Germany and America are bound by their values: democracy, freedom, the respect for the law and the dignity of human beings, independent of their origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political position.

On the basis of these values I offer the future president of the United States, Donald Trump, close cooperation.”

Considering that I never once heard Trump espouse any of these values, I have to think Chancellor Merkel had her tongue planted firmly in her cheek.

‘Round Rome way, the Roman Catholic Pope said what most of us might have been feeling in our guts but found it difficult to express:

May we make God’s merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation.

The schoolyard bullies revolt

It took me three tries to find a pre-school where I could send my son and not spend the entire day fretting about his safety.  On the second try, I got a call one afternoon that my son had bitten someone.  Bitten?  Patrick?  He was only 2 for goodness sake!  How could he be left unattended long enough to bite someone?

Both Patrick and the child whom he had bitten told the same exact story.  The other child, his neighborhood friend Isaac, had sat on Patrick’s chest and was pummeling Patrick’s face with his fists.  His fists.  Isaac was three and a hefty kid.    I closed my eyes at this point.  The teacher continued with her tale.  Patrick “used his words” (“Isaac, stop hitting me!  Isaac, get off my chest!”), which the school told the kids should be their first line of defense.  He could not “walk away” because Isaac sat squarely on his chest.  The third tactic?  “Get help.”

Where was the teacher?  Sitting on  a park bench three feet away reading outloud to other children. Patrick called for her.  She glanced over and, in her words “figured it was just boys being boys” so she did nothing.

So Patrick, whose hands had been placed out of commission by Isaac straddling his entire body, caught one of the flailing fists en route to his face between his lips and bit down hard.  Isaac jumped up, screaming bloody murder.  The teacher lumbered over and thrashed my son, who took his punishment with silent tears.

I thought about Patrick’s biting episode when I saw this lead-in paragraph at npr.org at 7:00 a.m. today:

The House Republican Conference voted Monday night to approve a change to House rules to weaken the independence of the Office of Congressional Ethics and place it under the oversight of the House Ethics Committee — a panel controlled by party leaders.

The schoolyard bullies have taken over the playground.  The rules of conduct will not help us.  We can use our words, but no one will be listening.  We can’t walk away unless we’re prepared to move to New Zealand.  Although I did get a passport for the first time in my life in anticipation of needing to make a fast get away, I like this playground and I’d prefer to stay.

In case you’ve forgotten why the Office of Congressional Ethics came to be, NPR provides this account and link:

The Office of Congressional Ethics was established in 2008 under House Democrats, in response to the era of lobbying scandals made notable by Jack Abramoff, the former lobbyist who went to prison on corruption charges.

NPR.org, 03 January 2017.  The Department of Justice release describes Abramoff’s antics:  “Abramoff also admitted that as one means of accomplishing results for their clients, he, Scanlon, and others engaged in a pattern of corruptly providing things of value to public officials, including trips, campaign contributions, and meals and entertainment, with the intent to influence acts by the public officials that would benefit Abramoff and Abramoff’s clients.”

Providing things of value to public officials. . . with the intent to influence acts by the public officials. . .That’s bribery, people.  Bribery.

Even Paul Ryan opposes this move, saying: “there’s a bipartisan way to better reform the office.”

Notwithstanding all the bad jokes thrown at me and my brothers and sisters at the Bar over cocktails, I live by extraordinarily tight Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 4.  Every time I send a letter or draft a pleading, I mentally rifle through a whole sheaf of formal and informal opinions to decide if what I’m doing passes muster.  If I stray across the line, I am subject to censure if someone reports me.  Moreover, lawyers in Missouri have a duty to report each other for suspected violations calling their integrity into question:

RULE 4-8.3: REPORTING PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT

(a) A lawyer who knows that another lawyer has committed a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct that raises a substantial question as to that lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects shall inform the appropriate professional authority.

Missouri Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 4-8.3.

I judge every act which I do as a lawyer by the professional standards to which I am held.  I’ve  reported lawyers when I learned of substantial breaches of their ethics.  I thought long and hard before doing so, but in the final analysis, I knew our profession must hold itself to the highest standards.  I realized that if I did not safeguard those ethics, the fabric of our flag would be a little more tattered. Our clients would be a little less safe.

And that’s what will happen if Congressional ethics have fewer and weaker safeguards.  The schoolyard bully will sit on our chest and pummel our faces.   The teacher will sit on her duff reading fairy tales while we holler for help.  We’ll finally grow tired and bite the fist which strikes us time after time.  We will be sent to time-out for defending ourselves.  The bully will walk away smirking.  Just like Isaac.

In 17 days, one party will control both houses of Congress and the White House.  That party’s leaders just voted to give themselves free reign on the playground.   If you were not already frightened, you should be terrified now.

 

Author’s note:  The above-appearing entry was written on 03 January 2017 at 8:00 a.m. CST.  As noted by NPR.org this afternoon, Public outcry, opposition from ethics watchdog groups, a divided GOP, and two tweets from Trump critical of the rules change prompted a swift reversal of the proposal authored by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Truth-Telling, Truth-Bending, and the American Dream

Yesterday someone whom I long ago blocked on social media posted a  crack about me on someone else’s Facebook page.  In response to something I wrote which our mutual friend shared, the naysayer quipped, “Another person who doesn’t understand why Trump was elected.”

Oh but I do.

I understand all too well that the election of the Republican candidate stemmed from a peculiar discontent common to three groups of Americans:  White, upper-middle-socio-economic men;  white lower-socio-economic persons of both genders; and the over-lapping and growing group of people who feel that only Caucasians  should be allowed to pursue the American dream.

Possibly these three groups would not describe themselves as such.  Certainly, religiously Conservative minority voters (code word for ‘non-white’) factored into the equation.  But a common thread runs among the less-than-half of Americans who voted for the successful candidate.   That thread spins itself into the fabric of an us-and-them mentality which Trump embraced and preached.

The supporters of Trump have a different way of describing what happened.  They claim to be taking back individual control of destiny, protecting  American soil, and bucking a corrupt Washington system.  The L.A. Times said this about Trump Supporters:

“Sure, Trump said some vile things during an exceedingly nasty campaign, sometimes acting in ways they wouldn’t want their children to behave. But for those who supported him, that was part of what made him an unconventional candidate — he wasn’t the typical stamped-from-the-mold politician.”

L.A. Times, 02 Jan 2017, linked HERE.

So what makes people elect someone who “[acted] in ways they wouldn’t want their children to behave”?  He validated their views, and we have known for a long time that people form their views and go looking for a version of “facts” which supports what they already believe.  A 2009 study at Ohio State University  “found that participants spent 36 percent more time reading articles that agreed with their point of view. They had a 58 percent chance of choosing articles that supported their views, as opposed to a 43 percent chance of choosing an article that challenged their view”.

This proclivity could explain why Trump voters ignored his overt broadcast of what he apparently believes which might not coincide with his voters’ fundamental values.

For example, Trump mocked and ridiculed a reporter to dismiss that reporter’s challenge to Trump’s account of seeing what he describe as “Arabs” or “Muslims” celebrating the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Building.  A video camera memoralized Trump’s conduct, yet Trump supporters apparently did not condemn him for that obvious signal that Trump will rely on ad hominem attacks on others based upon their differences to bolster his positions.

Trump also made remark after remark establishing his opinion that women should be treated as inferior beings, good mostly for sexual gratification.  Yet women voted for him, apparently excusing his rhetoric as idle talk or irrelevant.

So we’ve come to a point in American history where truth has become elastic or inconsequential.  The American Dream used to mean hard work, accumulation of wealth, personal freedom, and co-existence among others interested in the same freedom that each of us wanted for ourselves and our families.  Does it still mean that to any of us, in the era when we have to hold our nose to vote for the least offensive candidate, and 64,000,000 find someone with no regard for women, the disabled, or prisoners of war to be less offensive than anyone else on the crowded stage?

And what about this:  A significant number of people found it acceptable to stand on the same side of the line as the Klu Klux Klan.  The people who brought us lynchings, cross-burnings, and the murder of innocent people based upon the color of their skin. The KKK.    I could never bring myself to vote for someone who is seen by the KKK as having shared values.  That single fact would be a deal-breaker for me.  Yet I know people whom I consider decent and intelligent, who voted for Trump.  This signals to me that those people do not mind being associated with the KKK — that they prefer a divided country, whereas I strive for, and believe in, a unified nation, in which all persons are seen as equal and treated equally.

It has come to this:

The American Dream dons a white robe and burns a cross on your yard, and their candidate takes office in 18 days.   They stood with him; are we to believe that he will not stand with them?  We know he ridicules people like me — female, disabled — and people like John McCain, who nobly served our country.   We know that Trump disparaged the parents of a soldier killed in action.  What makes us think that he will behave differently after 20 January 2017 than he did for the entirety of his life including when he conducted a quite public and vocal campaign to occupy the highest office in our land?

Tell me this:  Are his supporters counting on him changing?

If so, they have a long time to wait.  People rarely change for someone who loves them, which might be the single most common reason for the American divorce rate.

So we must take a long hard look at truth, truth-bending, and the American dream.  Less than half (62,979,636) of Americans supported the man who will take office on January 20th.  The rest of us, more than 74,000,000, now have the responsibility for sitting on the teeter-totter and making sure the country stays in balance.  As E.J. Dionne tells us:

“The most important political task of 2017 transcends the normal run of issues and controversies. Our greatest obligation will be to defend democracy itself, along with republican norms for governing and the openness that free societies require.”

We’re going to need a hefty tool box. 

 

“It Can’t Happen Here”

When I moved to Kansas City in 1980, I came to start law school and to take a job with Freedom, Inc., which at the time described itself as a “black political group”.  Freedom, Inc. started in 1963, intended to promote equality and justice in our community.

I encountered bigotry within my first few weeks, and not on the streets of the neighborhood of our office where I worked as the lone white figure.  No, the discrimination occurred in a tonier part of town.

A co-worker and I went to a restaurant on the Country Club Plaza for lunch after a networking event.  We did not have reservations but told the hostess that we wanted a table for two.  We watched as folks who arrived after we did, also without reservations, got tables first.  Finally, I approached the hostess and asked how much longer it would be.  She said, “You know, you probably wouldn’t like our food.”

My eyebrows drew together.  “I beg your pardon,” I replied.  She reiterated, “You’re probably the salad type. We have lousy salads here.”  She looked me dead in the eye.

I turned to see my friend Joyce shaking her head.  Her deep brown eyes darkened.  She raised one hand, its brown skin contrasting with my pale Irish complexion as she touched my arm.  “Let’s go, Corinne,” she urged me.

I turned back to the hostess.  “We’d like a table now, please,” I stated flatly.

The hostess held a pack of menus to her chest and said, “Ma’am, we don’t do salt-and-pepper here.”

I kid you not.  Salt-and-pepper, by which I clearly understood that she meant she would not seat us due to the fact that I was “white” and Joyce was “black”.

Outraged, I raised a fuss, then walked out and filed a complaint with the city. We won.  We got $1,500.00 each, which we promptly donated to Freedom’s education fund.

This weekend, my sister-in-law told me a disturbing story about students on a Ladue, Missouri school bus taunting their black classmates that they would have to sit in the back of the bus.  Their racist comments had been prefaced by chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump”.  Seriously?  Here?  In Missouri?  In Ladue, of all places?

If you don’t believe me, click HERE to follow the story.

Incidents like this will become more common under the current national administration unless something happens to clearly signal that America will not tolerate a return to racism and misogyny.  We heard it during the campaign.  I have no reason to assume that the racist, bigoted supporters of the 2016 presidential victor will feel anything other than empowered when he takes office.

Those of us who believe in equality, justice, and progress must not let this happen.  And make no mistake:  It can happen here.

Be watchful.  Be vigilant.  Do not tolerate this conduct.  Stand and announce that we will not go backward.

If not you, then who?

 

Can there be peace?

One question which I will ponder over the next four years:  Can there be peace?

Can we sit together at the national table discussing affairs of the day, after everything we’ve seen, heard, and endured?

During the 2012 election,  my then-husband, a Republican, sat in the living room listening to Fox News and castigating “any moron who would vote for Obama”.    I slunk away, suppressing anger, wondering what to say to such voluble condemnation.

I knew a lot of people who voted for Romney but still called me “friend” after Mr. Obama won re-election.

But this year, such connections do not seem possible.  I find absolutely nothing redeeming or defensible about the man who won.  The fact that 64,000,000 people consider his behavior not only defensible, but preferable  astounds and sickens me.

Good people.  Smart people.  People whom I have admired.

So I will be asking this question, and I hope the answer does not frighten me.  Though I fear a resounding “no”, I yearn for the rising whisper of a definite “yes”.

Can there be peace, from 21 January 2017 forward?

 

dove-branch

Political and social commentary from the Missouri Mugwump.