National in Local

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin I’ve always thought that the best approach for local public policy is to reach for competitive national standards (where one truly tries, rather than simply insisting that local work is nationally competitive).

A focus on a national approach now matters for another reason: our current national environment is troubled, and by focusing on it reminds oneself of how much is at risk, and how important is the work of opposition.

1. National politics matter more than ever, and so one begins each day with an assessment of the risk to national standards and rights. That’s why each Daily Bread post includes recommendations for reading from prominent, worthy publications.

2. There are particular risks before this community:

(1) Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities, (2) harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, (3) unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby.

These local risks are greater, in this and other communities, because of the darker national scene.

3. The principal focus of opposition to the wrong course should be, on a national or local level, those officials and operatives who advance or acquiesce in these darker national policies. Concerning the national level, see Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders.

4. Failure to reply to officials’ wrongs allows the worst policies to gain a permanent national and local footing. See Trumpism Down to the Local Level.

Aside from these, there are two other projects to undertake.

5. A medium-term project concerning education, thinking about what’s going well, and what’s needing change. Some schools are doing well (indeed, very well), one has a much-needed and welcome new approach (that will produce good results), but elsewhere one sees reason for concern. To be candid, some of these concerns weigh heavily, and when considered produce a genuine melancholy. Heartbreaking, nearly.

The medium-term amounts to several months, and there’s much to organize.

6. There’s a long-term project to complete, when these difficult national challenges are overcome, about That Which Paved the Way to our present circumstances. There’s much to ponder, and collect, for that project from the history of this small and beautiful city.

There are more things than these about which to write, of course, but it helps to organize and publish one’s principal focus.

‘Gradually and then suddenly’

David Frum, to explain inevitable failure, instructively quotes Ernest Hemingway on going broke:

A famous line of Ernest Hemingway’s describes how a rich man goes broke: “Two ways … Gradually and then suddenly.” That’s how defeat comes upon a president as well. The live question for Trumpists in 2018 will be whether they can hold onto both chambers of Congress and thereby continue to stifle investigations into presidential wrongdoing. The geographic map is in the GOP’s favor in 2018, but the demographic map increasingly is not. The voters who hear of and are swayed by comments like Flake’s and Corkers’s—more educated, more affluent—are precisely those most likely to show up in an off-year election. Trump and the GOP will not lose all of them. They cannot afford to lose very many of them.

You don’t lose power by losing your base. Herbert Hoover held 39.7 percent of the vote in 1932, a year when Americans were literally going hungry. You lose power by losing the less intensely committed, just enough of them to tip the balance against you….

Via One More Straw Upon the Camel’s Back (“Jeff Flake’s speech won’t be the last straw—but it adds its weight to the growing pile”).

Those of us proudly in opposition and resistance – those of us resolutely committed to centuries of evolving democratic institutions on this continent – will not prevail today or tomorrow. We will see losses, some grievous, in the many days of political conflict ahead.

We will, however, see the demise of our adversaries, and happily our own success, in the shifting cadence that Hemingway describes: gradually and then suddenly.

‘When 20,000 American Nazis Descended Upon New York City’

America has faced movements dark before, not only from abroad, but sometimes from within. It’s worth reminding ourselves, today, that in little over six years’ time after Nazis gathered in Madison Square Garden, the United States – through countless, painful losses and sacrifices – rightly destroyed the very nation that inspired those gathered in 1939.

There was a malevolent cunning to these filthy men, as they mixed worthy American symbols with their own unworthy foreign emblems of a bigoted & murderous ideology. For it all, how detestable – then and now – were those who allied themselves with a foreign dictatorship against their own free society:

In 1939, the German American Bund organized a rally of 20,000 Nazi supporters at Madison Square Garden in New York City. When Academy Award-nominated documentarian Marshall Curry stumbled upon footage of the event in historical archives, he was flabbergasted. Together with Field of Vision, he decided to present the footage as a cautionary tale to Americans. The short film, A Night at the Garden, premieres on The Atlantic today.

“The first thing that struck me was that an event like this could happen in the heart of New York City,” Curry told The Atlantic. “Watching it felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone where history has taken a different path. But it wasn’t science fiction – it was real, historical footage. It all felt eerily familiar, given today’s political situation.”

Rather than edit the footage into a standard historical documentary with narration, Curry decided to “keep it pure, cinematic, and unmediated, as if you are there, watching, and wrestling with what you are seeing. I wanted it to be more provocative than didactic – a small history-grenade tossed into the discussion we are having about White Supremacy right now.”

“The footage is so powerful,” continued Curry, “it seems amazing that it isn’t a stock part of every high school history class. This story was likely nudged out of the canon, in part because it’s scary and embarrassing. It tells a story about our country that we’d prefer to forget.”

Rural America Turns Against Trump

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin One often reads that it’s rural America that elected – and will always stand by – Donald Trump.

In fact, Trump’s support in rural communities is in decline. Chris Kahn and Tim Reid report Trump’s popularity is slipping in rural America:

According to the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll, the Republican president’s popularity is eroding in small towns and rural communities where 15 percent of the country’s population lives. The poll of more than 15,000 adults in “non-metro” areas shows that they are now as likely to disapprove of Trump as they are to approve of him.

In September, 47 percent of people in non-metro areas approved of Trump while 47 percent disapproved. That is down from Trump’s first four weeks in office, when 55 percent said they approved of the president while 39 percent disapproved.

The poll found that Trump has lost support in rural areas among men, whites and people who never went to college. He lost support with rural Republicans and rural voters who supported him on Election Day.

Where his support was once dominant, he’s now only at parity with those in opposition. Trump’s weaker where he cannot afford to be weaker. It’s easy to see why his national support is so low – he’s losing ground even in places once favorable to him.

All those MAGA signs won’t save an autocratic, lying incompetent whose most important supporters – truly – sit in the Kremlin. No crudely designed and cheaply made hats will prove enough. However long the conflict – and it is likely to be long – those in opposition and resistance have as their armament centuries-long political, philosophical, and religious traditions on this continent that will prove overwhelming against Trumpism.

‘Can Conservative Journalism Survive?’

Conservative Conor Friedersdorf, now at the Atlantic, asks whether conservative journalism can survive. See, entitled just that wayCan Conservative Journalism Survive?

In truth, he’s writing about traditional conservatism (and not just journalists), and the generation of traditional conservatives that brought Reagan to office. I’d recommended the whole essay.

Friedersdorf asks:

….If conservatism is to survive as a constructive force for the moment when Trumpism ends in another bankruptcy, and the country needs a healthy left and right to recover, conservatives need not only to learn from the flaws that caused their countrymen to lose faith in their project; they must openly and explicitly break with populism [Adams: that is, Trumpism] and its excesses, bringing a conservative critique to bear upon them. “America needs a reminder of conservatism before vulgarians hijacked it,” George F. Will recently declared, “and a hint of how it became susceptible to hijacking.”

Who will point out populism’s flaws by drawing on conservatism’s best insights, attack its hucksters as much as the left, and fight for the right as if conservatism could win?

There’s an answer to Friedersdorf’s question: if traditional conservatism cannot see that Trumpism is now a greater threat than the left (rather than deserving of attack merely ‘as much as the left’), then traditional conservatism will continue to whither, declining from kindling to tinder to dust.

The local version of this is believing that hyper-local coverage, ignoring national forces that now reach into every town, will satisfactorily get one through this darker era. Indeed, it’s holding to hyper-localism as if that view were a political party, ideology, or faith. Paine was right, in his Epistle to the Quakers:

Ye appear to us to have mistaken party for conscience; because the general tenor of your actions wants uniformity: And it is exceedingly difficult for us to give credit to many of your pretended scruples; because we see them made by the same men, who, in the very instant that they are exclaiming against the mammon of this world, are nevertheless hunting after it with a step as steady as Time, and an appetite as keen as Death.

There will be a time after this time, of course, but some will come through it so poorly and so dishonorably that they’ll come to regret having come through it at all.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Concluding Part 4 in a Series)

local scene More than one small town has struggled for years under the debilitating influence of political & economic conflicts of interest, misguided priorities, and dodgy or grandiose claims. These conditions where those that  That Which Paved the Way for Trumpism. Those locally who carried on this way made Trumpism more likely, the way a moderate illness might weaken one’s immunity and make a deadly illness more likely.

Trumpism’s national champions contended – falsely – that America in 2016 faced an existential crisis. On the contrary, America’s existential crisis began not with Hillary Clinton’s campaign but with Donald Trump’s minority-vote victory. One might have had conventional, normal politics with Clinton; there was never a possibility of that with Trump.

Trumpism didn’t then face and existential threat – it created an existential threat.

On their own, many of these local problems would have lessened, slowly but inevitably; those who created these problems would have faded, slowly but inevitably. There’s little energy left in the dwindling ranks of those carrying on this way. I was right – then and now – when I once wrote in reply to a prominent social & political figure in town, predicting that ‘not one of those practices will endure to this city’s next generation.’

And yet, Trump’s national success will probably embolden more than one local man or woman to carry on a bit longer than he or she might otherwise have. Their political end will come, nonetheless.

What to do about all this?

First, Trump and his ilk himself will have to go, through whatever lawful means is available.

Second, America will have to assure both full adult access to the ballot, and the integrity of elections against foreign interference (both as foreign propaganda on domestic media and as hacking). One would prefer few laws to many, but even we’ve now many states legislating against easy ballot access. Better a single standard assuring access. We’ll need a policy of automatic voter registration. No one should be required to vote; no one should have to struggle to register to vote.

Third, and the most difficult of all, we’ll have to carry out a long period of a third reconstruction (the first being after the Civil War, the second being during the civil rights era) to assure that we do not again find ourselves in the situation that now plagues us: forces domestic and foreign united to undermine the American constitutional order.  That’s a long project, and I’d imagine – or at least hope – that the Rev. Dr. Barber, and so many other men & women, will guide us through that new, necessary reconstruction.

Previously: The Erosion of Political Norms, Parts 123.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 3 in a Series)

local scene

Consider the childhood experience of Kristina Rizga:

When I was about 10, a classmate in my small-town school in Latvia liked to tell me in between classes that he hated Jews. I was the only Jewish kid in school, and one day as I walked home I heard steps behind me. My eyes caught his, and we stood there for a moment. I still remember his face—hazel eyes, closely cropped blond hair—and his navy uniform jacket over a white shirt. Suddenly, I heard a crunch as his fist landed on my left cheekbone, and I fell backward on a sidewalk damp with melting snow. I still remember the hollow ringing in my left ear. I looked around to scream for help, but the streets were empty. I’ve never felt more terrified and alone.

“There is nothing we can do to change him,” my father said in our garage the next day. He wore a large black boxing glove on his left hand that he made me practice hitting late into the night. “You have to throw the punch from your shoulder, and pack the weight of your entire body into it,” he said. “As soon as you show any fear, you’ve already lost.”

My mother and I eventually left Latvia, and bullying was a big reason for me. It’s been 22 years since I’ve thought about this particular incident—but the recent surge of media reports about xenophobic language and harassment across the United States brings those old fears roaring back. And now that we have an administration that has welcomed into the White House advisers with a long history of promoting Islamophobia and boosting white nationalists, I find myself wondering what that means for today’s bullies and their victims….

Via Why Teaching Civics in America’s Classrooms Must Be a Trump-Era Priority
(“The testing craze and resegregation stripped schools of a key mission: creating engaged citizens”).

Rizga goes on:

Such behavior is a far cry from the ideals of American public schools, which were founded to maintain a pluralistic democracy and protect citizens against the tyranny of the majority. Advocates for the public education system argued that the unique American experiment wouldn’t work without it—that schools were the most effective mechanism for instilling civic values such as abandoning unrestrained self-interest and opposing bigotry.

Until the late ’60s, three different courses in civic studies were common in American high schools, and they often focused on helping students apply the dry mechanics of government to solving problems in their own communities. Many social studies classes also aimed to highlight the fragility of the democratic process and the historic importance of civic engagement….

I’m neither Latvian nor Jewish, and I never had the experience of bullying in school. On the contrary, like others from my childhood, I grew up in an old family, with the kind of positive American schooling that Rizga describes (what one might call a good-government curriculum).

It was the right sort of curriculum, but we were naïve to think that – without constant vigilance – it would carry the day against narrower, alternative views. We failed to protect this society against dangerous forces within and without.

[Consider, even, the matter of standardized scores. I’ve written more than once about touting scores of a few – as this district’s former principal and former district administrator did – while concealing a lower participation rate in Whitewater than that of other communities.

The participation rate always mattered more, fundamentally – (1) as a commitment of a public district to reach all students (teaching subjects not just as a college preparatory exercise but as a measure of informed citizenship) and (2) as the commitment of administrators to present accurately the measurement of their students’ progress, without concealment for marketing purposes.]

Before scores, participation; before accomplishment, inclusion. That’s the foundation of a commitment to American civics in a public program. Although one may happily have a  mix of public schools and private alternatives, it’s self-evident to me that public institutions should – indeed, must – function inclusively.

When I have sometimes mentioned a consideration of the curriculum, I’ve always considered it the way Rizga does, broadly. Broadly, twice over – as civics added to other substantive subjects, and as a foundation for the many, not merely the few.

Previously: The Erosion of Political Norms, Parts 1 and 2.

Tomorrow: The Erosion of Political Norms, Part 4.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Part 1 in a Series)

local sceneThis is the first in a series about the erosion of local political norms. In a recent essay on national politics, E.J. Dionne Jr., Norm Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann write of How the GOP Prompted the Decay of Political Norms (adapted from their book One Nation After Trump):

President Trump’s approach to governance is unlike that of his recent predecessors, but it is also not without antecedents. The groundwork for some of this dysfunction was laid in the decades before Trump’s emergence as a political figure. Nowhere is that more true than in the disappearance of the norms of American politics.

Norms are defined as “a standard or pattern, especially of social behavior, that is typical or expected of a group.” They are how a person is supposed to behave in a given social setting. We don’t fully appreciate the power of norms until they are violated on a regular? basis. And the breaching of norms often produces a cascading effect: As one person breaks with tradition? and expectation, behavior previously considered inappropriate is normalized and taken up by others. Donald Trump is the Normless President, and his ascendancy threatens to inspire a new wave of norm-breaking.

This would be bad enough if he were entirely a one-off, an amoral figure who suddenly burst onto the scene and took advantage of widespread discontent and an electoral system that tilts outcomes in the direction of his politics. But Trumpism has long been in gestation. His own party, sometimes consciously, sometimes not, has been undercutting the norms of American politics for decades. As the traditionalist conservative Rod Dreher has written, “Trump didn’t come from nowhere. George W. Bush, the Republican Party, and movement conservatism bulldozed the field for Trump without even knowing what they were doing.”

(Needless to say, this excerpt leaves aside the particular – and particularly destructive – role that Russia has played in undermining American norms.)

There’s more – and so worse – even than what Messrs. Dionne, Ornstein, and Mann see nationally: a rot of local norms in towns and cities across this country, sometimes conservative, but more often nonpartisan. A decline in local standards (of insightful analysis, accurate data, honest presentations, and open government) has afflicted  communities like Whitewater.  See That Which Paved the Way and Whitewater, Cultures & Communications, June 2017 (Part 13: That Which Paved the Way).

No one contributes to a decline while declaring that he does.  Instead, those responsible declare that their (actually) lower standards are what it means to be a ‘Whitewater Advocate,’ community booster, etc. In this way, they elevate what’s base, and make base what should be elevated.

Tomorrow: An Unanswered Local Concern About Conflicts.

Priorities: Fighting Bigotry Over Babbittry

local sceneCommon men and women can learn from the examples of great men and women. In this way, one can learn how to prioritize between concurrent challenges, applying lessons from a prior and intense conflict even to present but lesser conflicts. Some threats are worse than others, and so our it’s reasonable that one places more effort there.

It makes sense to me that the most intense focus should be on the most intense challenges, and that those challenges are national ones first, local ones embodying national ones second, and purely local ones third.

The national challenges of Trumpism (viz., authoritarianism, bigotry, nativism, mendacity, conflicts of interest, ignorance, and subservience and dependency on Putin’s dictatorship) are a greater threat to communities than purely local buffoonery and grandiosity.

In this way, one would, so to speak, prioritize the fight against bigotry over babbittry. (One sees well, to be sure, that years of local babbittry erode the standards of a community, making it more susceptible of national illnesses. Only scorn is owed to those who wasted a generation glad-handing through town.)

Three confident assumptions undergird my thinking —

First, Trumpism should go, consigned to a political outer darkness, and the ruin of that way will be a thorough good. The next generation will ask: What did you do to oppose Trump? Those who supported him will then be silent; those who were silent will then be ashamed. Those who openly defended centuries of liberty and constitutionalism on this continent, however small their own efforts, will enjoy settled consciences and the thanks of a free people.

Second, there will still be time, during this national conflict, to combat local embodiments of the national challenges that face us. There are, for example, lumpen nativists, local show-us-your-papers men,  who deserve more criticism than they’ve yet received. That’s a fight worthy fighting, and one happily joined.

Third, most of those responsible for our local challenges have no future in any event — they were irreversibly in decline in Whitewater even before Trump came to power. If the pharaohs, with all their wealth poured into the pyramids, could not thereby prevent the decline of their way of life, then one can be sure that today’s local grandiosity and boosterism will not do the trick.

Fight and prevail through collective, nationwide efforts in the greater challenge, and the local challenge will be even more easily won.

Committee to Investigate Russia: ‘This is No Movie Script’

In the video above, Morgan Freeman reminds Americans that Russian interference in our electoral process is ‘no movie script’; Vladimir Putin is a dictator, murderer, and inveterate enemy of America and our democratic traditions.

The newly-formed Committee to Investigate Russia (https://investigaterussia.org) made its début yesterday. The CIR is a nonpartisan group – with both conservative, liberal, and libertarian members:

Nearly a year after Russia successfully interfered in the 2016 election, one thing remains abundantly clear: America can never let its guard down when it comes to the Russian threat to our democratic process. While we still don’t have definitive answers on much of what elapsed during the lead-up to the election — or, frankly, have a plan for what we can do to prevent this sort of thing going forward — what we do have is an issue that individuals on both sides of the aisle are desperate to get to the bottom of. It’s against this backdrop that the nonprofit, nonpartisan Committee to Investigate Russiawas launched on Sept. 19.

Via Committee to Investigate Russia.

Truths About Trump

For supporters and those in thrall:

For those of us who are opponents and of the resistance:

Opponents can first hold fast against Trump, and then at suitable moments push against him forcefully, compelling his retreat. Those who band together as powerful counter-parties can overwhelm Trump and his ilk.

‘Fortunate’

Freedom of Speech, Norman Rockwell, 1943, oil on canvas, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

local scene

Norman Rockwell wasn’t the finest painter of the twentieth century (to express the matter gently), but at least when he created a painting capturing the spirit of free speech as one of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, he understood speech as a right, not a privilege, lucky break, or favor from government.

So it is with government, generally – government is nothing more than an instrument to effect the wishes of citizens possessed of individual rights. The idea of an organic state, existing apart from a limited delegation of popular sovereignty, is an autocratic concept unsuited to a free people.

How odd, then, to read that, in a small town, one should feel ‘fortunate’ that public officials will describe their plans to the people from whom their powers are, in fact, derived for limited times and limited purposes under law.

There is nothing a public official gives to the public that he does not already owe. There is nothing public, having been owed, that is wonderful. On the contrary, these are obligations one should expect to be fulfilled. Nature holds wonders; men and women, fundamentally, have rights as individuals and obligations as officials. Government is not a wonder.

In any event, a culture that fawns over ordinary presentations does public officials no favors. Cosseted men and women seldom develop fully, leaving themselves and their communities unprepared for serious challenges.

The United States Senate Joint Resolution Condemning White Nationalists, Neo Nazis, KKK, and Other Hate Groups

Yesterday, the United States Senate unanimously approved a resolution condemning white nationalists, neo-Nazis, KKK,  and other hate groups. It was the right decision, of course, and the resolution now goes to the House, and to the president if it passes both chambers. It’s more than regrettable – it’s a disgrace, truly – that this president could not have spoken half so well on his own.

The text of the resolution and a .pdf version appear below:

S. J. RES. 49


JOINT RESOLUTION

Condemning the violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place during events between August 11 and August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, recognizing the first responders who lost their lives while monitoring the events, offering deepest condolences to the families and friends of those individuals who were killed and deepest sympathies and support to those individuals who were injured by the violence, expressing support for the Charlottesville community, rejecting White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, and urging the President and the President’s Cabinet to use all available resources to address the threats posed by those groups.

Whereas, on the night of Friday, August 11, 2017, a day before a White nationalist demonstration was scheduled to occur in Charlottesville, Virginia, hundreds of torch-bearing White nationalists, White supremacists, Klansmen, and neo-Nazis chanted racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant slogans and violently engaged with counter-demonstrators on and around the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville;

Whereas, on Saturday, August 12, 2017, ahead of the scheduled start time of the planned march, protestors and counter-demonstrators gathered at Emancipation Park in Charlottesville;

Whereas the extremist demonstration turned violent, culminating in the death of peaceful counter-demonstrator Heather Heyer and injuries to 19 other individuals after a neo-Nazi sympathizer allegedly drove a vehicle into a crowd, an act that resulted in a charge of second degree murder, 3 counts of malicious wounding, and 1 count of hit and run;

Whereas 2 Virginia State Police officers, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, died in a helicopter crash as they patrolled the events occurring below them;

Whereas the Charlottesville community is engaged in a healing process following this horrific and violent display of bigotry; and

Whereas White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups reportedly are organizing similar events in other cities in the United States and communities everywhere are concerned about the growing and open display of hate and violence being perpetrated by those groups: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That Congress—

(1) condemns the racist violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place between August 11 and August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia;

(2) recognizes—

(A) Heather Heyer, who was killed, and 19 other individuals who were injured in the reported domestic terrorist attack; and

(B) several other individuals who were injured in separate attacks while standing up to hate and intolerance;

(3) recognizes the public service and heroism of Virginia State Police officers Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, who lost their lives while responding to the events from the air;

(4) offers—

(A) condolences to the families and friends of Heather Heyer, Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, and Trooper Pilot Berke M.M. Bates; and

(B) sympathy and support to those individuals who are recovering from injuries sustained during the attacks;

(5) expresses support for the Charlottesville community as the community heals following this demonstration of violent bigotry;

(6) rejects White nationalism, White supremacy, and neo-Nazism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States; and

(7) urges—

(A) the President and his administration to—

(i) speak out against hate groups that espouse racism, extremism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and White supremacy; and

(ii) use all resources available to the President and the President’s Cabinet to address the growing prevalence of those hate groups in the United States; and

(B) the Attorney General to work with—

(i) the Secretary of Homeland Security to investigate thoroughly all acts of violence, intimidation, and domestic terrorism by White supremacists, White nationalists, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and associated groups in order to determine if any criminal laws have been violated and to prevent those groups from fomenting and facilitating additional violence; and

(ii) the heads of other Federal agencies to improve the reporting of hate crimes and to emphasize the importance of the collection, and the reporting to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, of hate crime data by State and local agencies.

Passed the Senate September 11, 2017.

Download (PDF, 134KB)

The Premature Question

Over at the Daily Beast, Joy Reid asks What’s Going to Happen When the Trumpists Realize the America They Yearn for Is Gone?

It’s an interesting question, perhaps, but more importantly it’s a premature one. We’ve a long road ahead before Trumpism is finished, and you’ll excuse me if the time for pondering life after our present conflict is nowhere near. (Between now and then, the circumstances that planning will take into account will, no doubt, be changed, anyway.)

Concern over how that time will look matters far less than working for its arrival, however near or far that arrival may be.

For now, there’s no reason to relent or pause, no time to ponder the time after this time. We’ll have that occasion when success draws nearer.

Until then, we’ve an obligation to diligence, each day beginning again with the distance and detachment so useful for a long & demanding conflict.

A Telling Comparison

local scenePeople in small towns, nearly everywhere in this country, have access to national programming & news on television and online. As easily as one could subscribe online to something like the Janesville Gazette, one could subscribe to the Chicago Tribune or Washington Post.

Imagine, then, a choice between editorials in the Gazette and the Post on the state of labor in America. Just a few days ago, both papers published on this national topic: the Gazette in a Sunday editorial, the Post in a guest article from Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury, and a longtime academic (for president, current professor, of Harvard).

The Gazette offers Economy, not unions, boosts labor, a 500-word editorial that contends that union membership has declined in the Janesville area, yet that the paper’s editorial board “cannot claim that the economy is worse off for membership declines. Indeed, poverty rates statewide have fallen to the lowest level in years, while unemployment rates are also near record lows. The labor market now favors skilled workers employers are competing for and struggling to find.”

I hold no brief for unions, although I think that they should be a robust choice available to workers, at any worksite, should they choose. The problems with the Gazette‘s use of these simple measures are obvious. Poverty is a measure of economic sickness, but its decline is no assurance of overall health. (Cancer rates might be low, for example, but a population still beset by anemia, high-blood pressure, alcoholism, for example.) The absence of the severe does not assure the presence of temperate. A low unemployment rate still begs the question of overall productivity and employee gains. Finally, a labor market that favors skilled workers (under the Gazette‘s implication that that’s Janesville) still doesn’t answer how many workers are skilled, how many are non-skilled, and how both groups are faring.

Look, instead, at the analysis that Summers offers in the Post. (Summers isn’t a libertarian, to be sure, but that’s not significant. What’s significant is how Summers presents a strong argument, even if one disagrees.) Here’s Summers on the state of labor, in It’s time to balance the power between workers and employers:

….Surely related to middle-class anxiety is the slow growth of wages even in the ninth year of economic recovery. The Phillips curve — which postulates that tighter labor markets lead to an acceleration of wage growth — appears to have broken down. Unemployment is at historically low levels, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday that average hourly earnings last month rose by all of 3 cents — little more than a 0.1 percent bump. For the past year, they rose by only 2.5 percent. In contrast, profits of the S&P 500 are rising at a 16 percent annual rate.

What is going on? Economists don’t have complete answers. In part, there are inevitable year-to-year fluctuations (profits have declined in several recent years). And in part, BLS data reflects wages earned in the United States, even though a bit less than half of profits are earned abroad and have become more valuable as the dollar has declined relative to other currencies. And finally, wages have not risen because a strengthening labor market has drawn more workers into the labor force.

But I suspect the most important factor is that employers have gained bargaining power over wages while workers have lost it. Technology has given some employers — depending on the type of work involved — more scope for replacing American workers with foreign workers (think outsourcing) or with automation (think boarding-pass kiosks at airports) or by drawing on the gig economy (think Uber drivers). So their leverage to hold down wages has increased.

On the other hand, other factors have decreased the leverage of workers. For a variety of reasons, including reduced availability of mortgage credit and the loss of equity in existing homes, it is harder than it used to be to move to opportunity. Diminished savings in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis means many families cannot afford even a brief interruption in work. Closely related is the observation that workers as consumers appear more likely than years ago to have to purchase from monopolies — such as a consolidated airline sector or local health-care providers — rather than from firms engaged in fierce price competition. That means their paychecks do not go as far….

These two analyses aren’t the same in depth: the local editorial misses key points, either through ignorance or sophistry, that Summers easily covers in his succinct, general-readership essay.

Those reading Summers – even if in disagreement, and perhaps especially if so – will gain something from his observations. Those reading the Gazette will find only shallow contentions.

In a small town, one could read either. In a school district, one could teach either. At university, one could research either.

Why settle for less, why teach a new generation to accept less, when one could engage and think at a competitive national level, just as easily as any other person in America? Summers and others are as accessible to us as the Gazette, and offer so much more.

Anything less is short-changing onself and one’s community.

The Existential (Imagined and Real)

It was Michael Anton (writing as Publius Decius Mus) who exactly one year ago famously declared that 2016 was “The Flight 93 Election,” an existential fight for survival for state-loving conservatives:

2016 is the Flight 93 election: charge the cockpit or you die. You may die anyway. You—or the leader of your party—may make it into the cockpit and not know how to fly or land the plane. There are no guarantees.

Except one: if you don’t try, death is certain. To compound the metaphor: a Hillary Clinton presidency is Russian Roulette with a semi-auto. With Trump, at least you can spin the cylinder and take your chances.

To ordinary conservative ears, this sounds histrionic. The stakes can’t be that high because they are never that high—except perhaps in the pages of Gibbon. Conservative intellectuals will insist that there has been no “end of history” and that all human outcomes are still possible. They will even—as Charles Kesler does—admit that America is in “crisis.” But how great is the crisis? Can things really be so bad if eight years of Obama can be followed by eight more of Hillary, and yet Constitutionalist conservatives can still reasonably hope for a restoration of our cherished ideals? Cruz in 2024!….

The Flight 93 Election, Claremont Institute, http://www.claremont.org/crb/basicpage/the-flight-93-election/

Anton now serves in the Trump Administration (“Deputy Assistant to the President for Strategic Communications”), so he may content himself with avoiding a figurative plane crash at the price of electing a man who received three million fewer votes than the leading candidate.

Anton saw an existential threat, with conservatism on the brink, yet he should have stopped at the observation that others might see his claims as histrionic: they were and are exactly that. Had Clinton won, conservatism would have gone on well enough, perhaps even a bit better, in a politics of sometime gridlock and sometime compromise between a Democratic executive and a Republican legislature. America would have seen a world of conventional politics, not of existential threat to either conservatives or liberals. For better or worse, Clinton (and Ryan and McConnell) would have held office in times mostly of business as usual, not of extreme dangers.

Contra Anton, whose false claims of existential threats look truly histrionic a year later, it’s Trump’s election that now brings America to an existential crisis: Trump daily manifests authoritarianism, bigotry, xenophobia, ignorance, subservience to a Russian dictator, and serial conflicts of interest and self-dealing.

Those who opposed Trump, had we seen Trump defeated, would have been no dire threat to anyone who supported him. Now in power, Trump and his remaining cultish operatives are, however, manifestly a threat to American liberty, to centuries of constitutional and political development on this continent.

Anton had it exactly backwards: it’s Trump’s rise to power that represents an existential threat to our ordered and civilized way of life. We are now in an existential struggle, one that Trump has forced upon us.

This struggle is fought daily in the vast space between two great oceans, gripping over three hundred million within that territory, and billions beyond for whom the outcome matters immensely.

While the field of conflict is continental, it is not – indeed cannot be – national everywhere and yet local nowhere. Much of the decaying matter from which Trumpism springs (a love of authority, entitlement, grandiosity, mediocrity, conflicts of interest) exist in even the most beautiful small towns. It’s a candid admission that many of us – and here I count myself – have not done enough to challenge these local vices that have engendered a national sin.

No doubt we had excuses for our indolence even as we saw the local fuel that now feeds this national fire, reassuring ourselves that those of that ilk were doddering & bumbling, irritating & ignorant, yet mostly harmless.

We were unwise – foolishly rationalizing our neglect as generosity. We’ve now local and national hazards before us, with neither setting able to compensate for the challenge of the other. One would think, as was rightly said during another national conflict, that ‘one war at a time is enough.’ We’ve not that compensation; we’ve both problems now, both of our own neglect.

Multitudes will see loss and suffering before all this is over. Innocent people ruined at the hands of a bigoted, fanatical nationalism.

There is, however, this advantage: those of us in opposition and resistance are holding our own even now, and we have not yet given our best. Principle and perseverance will favor us.

However late to having come to see it, this threat is unmistakable now.

For Your Consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk

local scene Each year, newcomers arrive in Whitewater to take positions of one kind or another. Two weeks ago, in Welcome to Whitewater, I posed this question to new residents: “If Whitewater were perfect – that is, complete and lacking nothing – would anyone have needed you?”

Beyond that question, with its interpretation and answer left to others, I’ll offer no personal checklist, no set of rules for “how people talk around here,” no indulgent reminiscences, no cautionary words or sly advice.

Instead, I’ll offer the example of a great man, who remained to the last an industrious and humble man. Dr. Jonas Salk introduced his polio vaccine in 1955, saving the lives and health of people around the world. He worked until his death in 1995, his last project an attempt to develop a vaccine for HIV, a goal that others are yet pursuing even today.

Around the same time as the Salk’s vaccine was introduced (and after trials that assured him it would work), Salk wrote a letter offering an internship in his laboratory. The letter is a model of simplicity and humility. Salk writes kindly and directly, making no reference to his own accomplishments either in the text or below his signature.

His work was its own reward, requiring not the slightest ornamentation.

For your consideration, Dr. Jonas Salk —

Sec. of State Tillerson Distances America from Trump

I’m no fan of Rex Tillerson, an American Secretary of State who is a recipient — from dictator Vladimir Putin — of the Russian Order of Friendship,  but even Tillerson had the sense to disclaim the stain that Trump has spread over this country.

In the clip below, on Fox News, Tillerson makes clear that Trump speaks not for our people but only himself when he defends bigotry. That’s true, of course – we are a better people than Trump is a man. It’s not even close – he’s markedly below the ethical and moral standards of America’s just and worthy people.

(How long Tillerson, such as even he is, will last in this administration one can’t say.)

H/t to Kyle Griffin, a producer at MSNBC, who remarks that the clip is “Must-watch. Wallace asks Tillerson if Trump speaks for American values: “The President speaks for himself.” (Note Wallace’s reaction.)”

Don’t Be a Sucker

In 1943, in the middle of the Second World War, the United States Government, fighting on both sides of the world, commissioned a short film about fascism entitled Don’t Be a Sucker. The film describes the fight in which America was embroiled in the style and vernacular of that time; it’s even more compelling to me for its simple presentation.

Americans’ lives were not then without deep contradictions, but the plain, direct defense of American liberty & equality that the film advances is morally superior to anything Trump or his ilk have never said, even these decades later. Indeed, that 1943 defense is a worthy reply to the bigotry Trump’s vanguard (Bannon, Miller, Gorka, Anton) daily foments.

Via Why an Anti-Fascist Short Film Is Going Viral @ The Atlantic.