Candidates and Candidacies

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Small towns have reputations for being plain-speaking places, but the less so, in fact, than reputation suggests. One will hear much about who’s running, who’s in, who’s out, but not as much – if anything – about what candidates believe.

Longtime readers know that I comment on politics, but know also that I’m opposed to mixing a publisher’s and a candidate’s roles in a small town. Indeed, one may say that completely opposed fits my view accurately. They’re separate roles to my mind, each valuable, each belonging within a larger civic life of which they are parts. (In any event, this bleeding-heart libertarian blogger does not, and would not, represent government; officials are more than capable of speaking for themselves.)

But that’s a critical role for a candidate, isn’t, it? Good candidates with worthy candidacies say what they believe, what they’d like to see, what they hope to accomplish. They stand for something, and say so.

(This is another reason that key meetings should be recorded for public viewing. The December 11th Whitewater Unified Schools meeting that heard prospective appointees answer questions – in full – would have been valuable to this community. It has been our past practice to record these meetings, and it should be our continuing practice. I posted a bit on this general topic in December, and will have more to write after finishing a longer series. From December, see Twilight, Midnight, and Daylight. No one should settle for less; it’s a challenge to a better practice to expect that anyone would.)

If one had any advice for a candidate, it would be this: tell people what you believe, and what you hope to do. Say so plainly and clearly, so that all the community might know your views.

Kylo Ren as an Alt-Right Villain?

Marykate Jasper argues Why Kylo Ren Is the Perfect Villain for the Age of the Alt-Right (some movie spoilers in her observations):

Kylo is incredibly powerful, but he is also incredibly childish. When the Rebels escape him in The Force Awakens, he throws a ludicrous temper tantrum with his lightsaber. In The Last Jedi, Luke goads him by appearing via projection, and the Resistance goads him with the Millennium Falcon, because they all know his personal, childish desire to destroy those things will distract him from the First Order’s strategic goals. Even Snoke calls him “a child in a mask,” mocking the pretensions of his pseudo-Vader mask and voice modulator. He is a boy’s unintentional parody of the imaginary, long-lost manhood he wants to emulate. Like the “alpha males” of the MRA movement, he makes himself ridiculous by emulating something that never existed as he imagines it did.

But perhaps the most damning and crucial part of Kylo’s characterization is that the good guys really, really want to believe in Kylo, even though they shouldn’t. Just as we see scores and score of sympathetic portraits of Trump voters, and unconscionably gentle write-ups of alt-right bigots from outlets like Mother Jones and The New York Timeswe also see Rey desperately trying to believe that if she just reaches out, if she can just understand the pain and anger that motivate Kylo, then she can convince him to make the right decision….

A few quick comments:

1. Star Wars. The harder right one goes – and it goes farther right than the MRA (men’s rights activists) – the more one sees of contempt for the character diversity in Star Wars. In this way, there’s something apt about Jasper identifying Ren, a leader of a fascist dictatorship, with the alt-right. (How much farther right does the alt-right go? The Daily Stormer and other similar sites believe in so-called white sharia.)

2. Dangerous Fanaticism. These are dangerous and repulsive fanatics, who hear Trump dog-whistling to them. They’re formerly small figures who find comfort in the words and actions of the most powerful man in all the world.

Their ideology is one of vile lies.

3. The New York Times and Mother Jones. Jasper’s right to call out publications that glamorize racists, but I’d suggest that for Mother Jones, the example she cites was an unfortunate misstep by that magazine. For the Times, there’s a more troublesome history of failing to see the alt-right clearly.

4. Desperately trying to believe… Jasper’s spot-on, however, when she criticizes Star Wars heroine “Rey [for] desperately trying to believe that if she just reaches out, if she can just understand the pain and anger that motivate Kylo, then she can convince him to make the right decision.”

Yes, there’s a desperation to that false optimism.  Although it is true that sometimes a very good man can turn around a bad one, that’s rare, sadly too rare.

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More often, it’s more like an antelope trying to understand a hyena: even if the antelope could understand the hyena, all that would be learned is that the hyena would like to chew off the antelope’s leg.

It is a dream – often a progressive one – to hope that through understanding the malevolent will become better, perhaps much better. It’s a noble dream, but if grounded properly this hope depends not merely on understanding those who are dangerous, but as much on those who are dangerous understanding and wishing to be otherwise.

In Star Wars, Rey’s time is better spent, at a minimum, driving Kylo Ren away. Our time is better spent defending against, driving away, and then everywhere overcoming the malevolent.

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Conservatism & Trump

So will Trump fundamentally alter American conservatism, or is he a mere phase in a longer, unchanging tradition? Three American conservatives, and Britain’s George Orwell, have something to interesting say on the matter.

1. Charles C.W. Cooke:

Whatever its shortcomings—and they are many—the American Right is too complicated and too interesting a force to be ruined or consumed by a single preposterous president. Conservatism in this country long predated Trump; for now, it is tied up with Trump; soon, it will have survived Trump.

Via Jennifer Rubin Is Everything She Hates about Trump Worshippers

2. David Frum:

The most revealing thought in Cooke’s essay is his explanation for why he feels it is safe to go with the Trumpian flow: “Conservatism in this country long predated Trump; for now, it is tied up with Trump; soon, it will have survived Trump.”

This is something many conservatives tell themselves, but it’s not even slightly true. Trump is changing conservatism into something different. We can all observe that. Will it snap back afterward?

You can believe this only if you imagine that ideologies exist independently of the human beings who espouse them—and that they can continue unchanged and unchanging despite the flux of their adherents. In this view, millions of American conservatives may build their political identities on enthusiastic support for Donald Trump, but American conservatism will continue humming in the background as if none of those human commitments mattered at all.

This is simply not true. Ideas are not artifacts, especially the kind of collective ideas we know as ideologies. Conservatives in 1964 opposed civil-rights laws. Conservatives in 1974 opposed tax cuts unless paid for by spending cuts. Conservatives in 1984 opposed same-sex marriage. Conservatives in 1994 opposed trade protectionism. Conservatives in 2004 opposed people who equated the FBI and Soviet Union’s KGB. All those statements of conservative ideology have gone by the boards, and one could easily write a similar list of amended views for liberals.

Conservatism is what conservatives think, say, and do. As conservatives change—as much through the harsh fact of death and birth as by the fluctuations of opinion—so does what it means to be a conservative.

Via Conservatism Can’t Survive Donald Trump Intact.

3. Rod Dreher:

This is why I just shake my head at conservatives who think Trump is an aberration, a Cromwellian interregnum before the Restoration of the monarchy, so to speak. It is certainly true, at least right now, that Trump is cultivating no heirs apparent. But the idea that right-of-center voters will have learned their lesson by voting for Trump, and will come home to the traditional GOP — that’s bonkers.

Think of how Trump (and to a much lesser extent, Roy Moore) is changing what it means to be an Evangelical. American Evangelicalism, like American conservatism, is a broad and durable movement that was here a long time before Donald Trump showed up, and will be here after he leaves. But the way so many white Evangelicals have embraced Trump really is changing Evangelicalism — this, even though Trump is not even an Evangelical! It is impossible to see how white Evangelicalism can return to the status quo ante after Trump leaves office….

My basic point is that whatever calls itself “conservatism” will not have survived Trump, if by “survive” one means emerges from him relatively unchanged. It’s not so much the substantive changes Trump will have made (there may not be many) as it is the role he played in knocking off the GOP’s and the conservative movement’s traditional elites. The definition of “conservatism” is going to be fluid for a long time after Trump, in part because of Trump, and in part because of the intensification of the broader cultural and technological forces that brought Trump to the presidency.

4. George Orwell.

I’ll risk application of Godwin’s Law to include a powerful insight from George Orwell. Orwell wrote to critique H.G. Wells (a socialist, not a conservative) on Wells’s view of the war. Wells held – in 1941 – “that the Blitzkrieg is spent,” etc. That was wildly false, of course: the war stretched on years longer, at vast cost. To contend that the Third Reich was spent in 1941 is to give no meaning to the word spent.

Orwell understood that Wells’s complacent optimism was false, profoundly so:

He [Wells] was, and still is, quite incapable of understanding that nationalism, religious bigotry and feudal loyalty are far more powerful forces than what he himself would describe as sanity. Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present, and if they are ghosts they are at any rate ghosts which need a strong magic to lay them. The people who have shown the best understanding of Fascism are either those who have suffered under it or those who have a Fascist streak in themselves. A crude book like The Iron Heel, written nearly thirty years ago, is a truer prophecy of the future than either Brave New World or The Shape of Things to Come.

If one had to choose among Wells’s own contemporaries a writer who could stand towards him as a corrective, one might choose Kipling, who was not deaf to the evil voices of power and military “glory”. Kipling would have understood the appeal of Hitler, or for that matter of Stalin, whatever his attitude towards them might be. Wells is too sane to understand the modern world. The succession of lower-middle-class novels which are his greatest achievement stopped short at the other war and never really began again, and since 1920 he has squandered his talents in slaying paper dragons….

Via Wells, Hitler and the World State.

I’ve long admired this essay of Orwell’s, for its moral and practical clarity. It’s a reminder of how clever men (Wells then, Cooke now) sometimes are – in the most important matters – also obtuse men.

Frum and Dreher are right that conservatism will not be able to outlast Trump unaffected. Cooke’s complacency is at best a false hope, and also a self-serving one (justifying diffidence in the face of Trump’s transgressions). Conservatives like Rubin, Wilson, and McMullin see this and so fight on, but most conservatives are now transformed in to something unworthy (they’re either Trumpists or timid).

I’m quite sure – even in the small town from which I write – that there are self-styled conservatives who believe (as with Cooke) that they’ve no need to oppose Trump wholeheartedly, as our present circumstances are a mere phase before a restoration of the prominent position they’ve long enjoyed.

Trump will meet his political ruin, but it will come through the efforts of those in opposition and resistance who actively opposed him.  The complacent and entitled men who sat on the sidelines of this fight won’t escape the truth of their inaction: head down and eyes averted is a disgraceful memorial.

Whitewater’s Outlook for 2018

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

An explorer comes to a forest, one he’s not seen before. He’s been in forests before, but not one as dense and dark as this one. He could stop, and make predictions about what it might be like, but however long he takes, the forest yet stands before him. Our national outlook is like this, overcoming even the smallest, most distant places.

The delusional will deny there’s a dark forest, the fearful will sit still, and the faint-hearted will go around.

Americans are neither delusional nor fearful nor faint-hearted.

Predicting, however, is not exploring.

If an explorer, then an exploration: one either goes in or abandons the effort to more intrepid men and women.

Better to rely on past experiences, present understanding, and ongoing observations, walking cautiously but confidently into the forest.

On the other side: something better, either discovered or, if necessary, created.

First Serving


The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin
Whitewater’s longtime politician, current school board member, and ersatz newsman Jim Stewart has published an update on candidacies for upcoming school board, city council, and county board races.

A few quick comments:

1. Stewart’s Update on Compensation. Stewart has an update to his post, or rather UPDATED, on the compensation for each office. Why he thinks that matters he doesn’t say. If the sums he lists are an enticement to run, then he’s enticing the wrong candidates. No one should be running for the money. If Stewart thinks these sums are high, well, they’re not half so high as the millions that Stewart authorized for wasteful projects while on Whitewater’s city council: TID 4, an ‘Innovation Center,’ etc.

If Stewart had voted for even one fewer failed project while in office, he might have saved enough to fund politicians’ salaries for decades.

2. County Board. One reads from Stewart’s website that Whitewater resident Jerry Grant is running for the Walworth County Board of Supervisors: “Jerry has the desire to return to the County Board and continue to serve the constituents of District 4, which is most of the City of Whitewater.” No other candidate Stewart lists – there are over a half dozen – receives this positive explanation of desire. It’s not quoted, it’s simply stated. That’s why Stewart’s not a newsman, never was, never will be. He can’t distinguish between his views and objective, indisputable fact.

3. School Board. Stewart spent many years on the board, left over a decade ago, tried to return but lost a competitive race in 2015, and then returned to the board in 2016 after submitting his name as the only interested candidate. Whitewater has a school board that is established on a principle of collective governance, but a single board member who speaks as though he were all the board, all the administration, all the district, as an official spokesperson. Whitewater’s common council endured a similar situation during Stewart’s tenure there.

These are among the weak local practices, as one finds in other small towns, that have preceded the worse national ones that now beset us.

Because the community’s politics is weak and poorly ordered, these collective bodies lack the strength to reject a conflict-riddled approach from even one striving politician.

There’s a saying that to serve slices of a pie fairly, one should make the server take the last piece. Whitewater’s situation represents the opposite approach, where one politician out of several takes first, leaving what’s left on the plate for the rest.

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Rabbi Sharon Brous’s Advice for Small Towns (and Everywhere, Really)

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

Over at The Atlantic, there’s an interview with Rabbi Sharon Brous, the senior rabbi at IKAR, a non-denominational synagogue in California. See ‘I’ve Spent My Life Studying These Books That Say Decency Actually Matters.’ Rabbi Brous describes religious belief among progressives in contemporary America, and two of her observations are particularly suited even to Whitewater (or other small towns). Emma Green conducts the interview —

On the need for interfaith outreach:

Emma Green: You’ve been hanging out with William Barber, right? Wasn’t he recently at IKAR?

Rabbi Brous: Before launching the Poor People’s Campaign, he did a series of massive town halls around the country. They called to ask whether I would speak the night before Rosh Hashanah. And I said, ‘I’ll happily do that if William will come to share a little bit of his Torah with us the next day.’ It was an incredibly powerful moment for our community, and I think for him, too.

There is a bigger national conversation happening right now, and Jews are a part of it. It is about progressive religious voices not being afraid to say there’s decent, and there’s indecent. There are people who are fighting for dignity, and people who are fighting to deprive other people of their dignity. We have to be willing to stand up and fight with a prophetic voice.

One unites and allies with others, including new friends from faraway places, to a general advantage.

On faith and political controversy:

Rabbi Brous: I went to give a talk at a [synagogue] in the early spring, and I asked the rabbi in advance of the talk, ‘Are there any hot-button issues I should avoid?’ I don’t really go there to get them in trouble; I want to make sure I know where the community is. And he said, ‘You can talk about anything you want, but not politics.’ He said, ‘We have three Trump supporters in the community’—three, out of a community of 1800 families—‘and they will go ballistic.’ He was told, after the inauguration, not to say the word ‘Pharoah’ because it seems political, like an attack on Trump. Rabbis are being told, because there are three people who think that the most profoundly indecent candidate for president that we have ever seen, and the most unqualified, reckless, bigoted and indecent candidate has risen to power, that now we can’t speak Torah anymore because it might make people think we’re uncomfortable with that person and his values.

For me, I say what I need to say. I’m not looking to build the biggest, widest tent so that any person with any political perspective should and could feel absolutely comfortable here. I think in those environments, we become so neutral and so numb that we can’t actually say something.

The new normal is not normal. I’m glad I’m not in an environment where I’m afraid to say out loud, ‘This is not okay.’ I say that not because I’m a political pundit, but because I’m a rabbi, and I’ve spent my life studying these books that say decency actually matters….

There’s great truth, and sadness, in her observation. Formerly, in a place like Whitewater, a few local notables – mostly mediocre and wholly entitled – expected and received undeserved deference for their ill-considered positions and self-promoting claims. Theirs was a kind of big-government conservatism, with public resources disproportionately controlled and unevenly distributed. They walked around like they owned the place.

Their own errors were That Which Paved the Way for something worse, and beyond their control: a brassy, loud, ignorant nativism that doesn’t think – and so doesn’t care – about anyone outside itself. See Old Whitewater and Populism.

Neither Old Whitewater nor a new Populism deserves deference and appeasement. These Old Whitewater men and women who are silent in the face of Trumpism either implicitly support its aims or are too weak to resist.

Men and women, having as children graduated from crawling to walking, shouldn’t willingly return to their original method of locomotion.

Rabbi Brous wisely offers a better way: say what one needs to say.

‘Backed themselves into this corner’

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin There are local versions of the problem Fox News now faces as a flack for Trump. First, the Fox situation, then the local equivalent —

Nationally, the Daily Beast website writes of remarks from a former Fox News contributor & panelist:

[Andy] Levy, who served for 10 years as “ombudsman” and nightly panelist on Fox News late-night show Red Eye until its early 2017 cancellation, added: “Fox News should disavow it, but it kinda can’t because, with a couple of exceptions, they’ve backed themselves into this corner and they’re now the Trump News Network, and that’s their life blood.” Levy is now a regular panelist and senior producer of Cupp’s show.


Locally, both established newspapers (Gazette, Daily Union) and websites (Banner) have a similar problem: they’ve tied themselves to an economically ignorant boosterism, now to find that actual conditions undeniably lag local claims. Their own mediocre grasp is That Which Paved the Way for an even worse local, nativist impulse. (It’s also a nativism that doesn’t give a about damn hierarchy, forcing publications to pander, or at least stay silent, in an effort to hold on. See Old Whitewater and Populism.)

These nearby publications share this characteristic with a national one: they’ve backed themselves into a corner, on behalf of bad ideas and bad policies. One may be daily thankful for not making a similar mistake.

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.

Policies & Actions

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin Yesterday’s post, The Winnowing Transition, offers thoughts on the last several years in Whitewater, and a look ahead to the next several. The key point is that we’re in a transitional time, where many who were politically prominent a decade ago no longer are, and few who are prominent now will come through the next seven to ten years successfully.

A few more observations —

1. Policies, Actions. In a time of transition, where many have faded and others will, it’s more useful to focus on policies & actions than officeholders. The important questions will be what someone believes and what will he or she do.

In 2007, when I began writing, Whitewater’s city notables were at their high water mark, and conditions for them were seemingly stable. Most of them assumed they’d easily outlast a critic, and imagined – or at least declared – no end to their own prospects. Focusing on specific officeholders mattered more in conditions where an official’s tenure might yet be lengthy.

Weak policies (revealed to be even more so by economic conditions after 2008) came to take a toll, and over time officials’ prospects became weaker and the accuracy of criticism clearer. There might have been an effective break with the past between 2010-12, perhaps, but Whitewater’s officials didn’t make that complete break.

(As a policy matter, a complete break was needed; as a cultural matter it was more than even those who knew better could manage. Indeed, Whitewater’s policymakers have been laughably slow to admit their own mistakes, and delusionally stubborn in the face of repeated errors. See The Last Inside Accounts and The Dark, Futile Dream.)

Over time, a critic’s position has proved the stronger. See Measuring the Strength of a Position.

Who’s going or who’s arriving now matters less than what someone believes and what will he or she do. More of the same will prove worse than useless.

2. Many Options. There’s a common technique among those with an Old Whitewater outlook that every choice is between their way and chaos. This was especially true ten years ago: officials convinced others that the choice was between the official view and disaster/chaos/cannibalism/killer bees. That’s never been true: there are many kinds of conservatives, many kinds of moderates, etc.

It served small, smug notables to shout that it was a choice between their way and utter madness. One can sell slop if customers believe the only alternative is sludge.

3. Challenges Ahead. We have at least this many risks before us: harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities, harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby, and an unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

4. Some, Yet Few. There are some – yet few – officials now serving who, if they so decide, could help Whitewater during the rest of this (sometimes difficult & painful) transition.

Not most, to be sure, but a few.

Nationally and locally, it will be a tough slog. Now and always, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than Whitewater.

The Winnowing Transition

The Scene from Whitewater, WisconsinToday’s a good day to post about the transition through which Whitewater is now going. It’s a winnowing transition, in which many political and economic positions formerly popular are slowly being swept away. (There are, in fact, few leading public officials even from a decade ago still around. Those who are operate in conditions of constraint that would have seemed impossible to imagine ten years earlier.)

1. Whitewater’s near-term outlook seems one of stagnation (and so relative decline).

2. Stagnation and relative decline are not unending – they’re usually transitional. Local political & economic failures, and the resulting (truly regrettable) economic hardship will make the city’s reduced property values attractive to larger-scale, private investment. That’s not our best outcome, to be sure, but those who wanted a better outcome would not have chosen as town notables chose a decade ago.

Bumbling boosterism brought us here.

One can be confident that we’ll pull out of this, but it may be seven to ten years until we see that kind of change.

3. Big Ticket Public Projects Haven’t Stopped Short Term Distress. They’ve been no more than ornaments to the pride of self-promoting notables. The Bridge to Nowhere, TID 4 spending, Innovation Center, WEDC expenditures, Innovation Express, pricey infrastructure spending over modest improvements: bunk & junk, all of it.

4. Political Boosterism’s Almost Finished in Whitewater. It’s simply no longer realistic: aged residents’ unfounded nostalgia and wishful thinking aren’t policies. They’re delusions.

5. There Are Still Risks, Even While Notables’ Boosterism Wanes. I’ve mentioned three risks for Whitewater (and like places) in a post entitled The Somber Trio:

Harm inflicted intentionally against immigrants peacefully situated in their communities,

Harm inflicted through overzealousness against other residents (often disadvantaged) but peacefully situated in their communities, and

Unacknowledged harm from sexual assaults against residents on campuses or nearby.

There’s a fourth, making this a Somber Quartet:

An unchecked and unchallenged Trumpism.

Public officials who advance Trumpist views, or cater to them as a balancing act between factions, advance or appease a malevolent ideology. They’re not owed their catering or balancing. If balancing bad ideas with good was tolerable before, it’s not now – the risk is too great to be endured without reply.

6. Charity Endures. For all the political changes sure to come, charity remains a good. Find a good cause, and make it your own.

7. Treading Water Isn’t Swimming. Staying afloat isn’t the same as truly swimming, just as surviving isn’t the same as prospering. One would prefer a community of those who swim & those who prosper, over those who float and merely survive. The goal should be to help people swim, rather than merely boast that a few are good swimmers.

In conditions of stagnation, many officials are treading water more than they’re swimming. There is this one truth and consolation, though, about officials who are merely treading water: as they weren’t moving competently or productively, their departures are inconsequential when compared with a competent or productive person. In this way, personnel departures matter less; there’s hardly a need to see this as troublesome.

8. Better, After. We’ve some difficult times ahead, nationally and locally, but on the other side of this winnowing transition we’ll find a happier and more dynamic country and city.

The Disorder of (Alabama) Republicans

At the Washington Post Stephanie McCrummen, Beth Reinhard and Alice Crites report that Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32:

Leigh Corfman says she was 14 years old when an older man approached her outside a courtroom in Etowah County, Ala. She was sitting on a wooden bench with her mother, they both recall, when the man introduced himself as Roy Moore.

It was early 1979 and Moore — now the Republican nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat — was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney. He struck up a conversation, Corfman and her mother say, and offered to watch the girl while her mother went inside for a child custody hearing.

“He said, ‘Oh, you don’t want her to go in there and hear all that. I’ll stay out here with her,’ ” says Corfman’s mother, Nancy Wells, 71. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl.”

Alone with Corfman, Moore chatted with her and asked for her phone number, she says. Days later, she says, he picked her up around the corner from her house in Gadsden, drove her about 30 minutes to his home in the woods, told her how pretty she was and kissed her. On a second visit, she says, he took off her shirt and pants and removed his clothes. He touched her over her bra and underpants, she says, and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear.

“I wanted it over with — I wanted out,” she remembers thinking. “Please just get this over with. Whatever this is, just get it over.” Corfman says she asked Moore to take her home, and he did….

Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star followed up to see what GOP officials in Alabama thought of these allegations. Here’s one of several, all along similar lines —

There they are: men for whom no crime is greater than their party, no injury more important than their ambitions.

‘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.

The Same Ten People Problem (Revisited)

The Scene from Whitewater, Wisconsin

In a presentation from September on the state of the city (really meaning the state of Whitewater’s municipal government), City Manager Cameron Clapper tackled again the ‘Same Ten People Problem’ (STPP), where only a few people participate in municipal meetings, etc. One can find the full video presentation below; Clapper’s remarks on the STPP appear from 26:20 to 34:02.

A few remarks about all this, below:

Credit Where Credit Is Due. City Manager Clapper has discussed his concern about participation before, much to his credit. It is a problem, although one that some would rather not discuss, so much the better to avoid a solution that might dilute their influence.

Clapper’s (Partial) Solution. In his remarks, Clapper offers POLCO, a web-based community survey provider, as a partial solution to the STPP. That’s novel, actually. POLCO bills itself (mostly) as a way to allow officials to receive community opinion on key issues; Clapper’s now holding POLCO out as a way to entice participation beyond mere survey responses.

I’m not sure how effective POLCO will be, but it’s more likely to be useful as a gateway to additional individual participation than as an accurate representation of community opinion (the problems of collecting an accurate surevy through POLCO are too great, to put it mildy). As a way to whet someone’s appetite, though, Clapper may be right, and may have found a way to make POLCO one part of a solution on participation. (It’s worth noting that he contends it’s one solution, not the only solution.)

The STPP. I’ve written about Whitewater’s STPP before. See The Perimeter Fence and  The Solution to the ‘Same Ten People Problem.’ From the latter post:

In a post from yesterday I wrote about how cultures have perimeter fences, figurative boundaries marking the divide between what they consider acceptable and what they don’t, between those of the community and those outside of it.

Whitewater’s maintained a perimeter fence that is too circumscribed, and by design too impermeable.  It’s more than generational change that limits participation.

We’ve a fence that’s too close and too high….

That’s the source of the STPP in Whitewater: a local culture that expects a few leading figures and the community story be channeled through a few narrow gates of a few high walls.

What’s Coming. I’ve always felt that Whitewater will be better when she evolves more completely into a community with multiple sources of information, and diverse points of view. See New Whitewater’s Inevitability.

The idea of wrapping the community into one package was, as a digital imitation of the Register (when that paper still mattered), was always yesterday’s idea, a retrograde notion. Bundling the city in a box, adding a bow, and presenting ‘Whitewater!’ was always yesterday’s outlook; it was visionary only if one defines myopia as keen eyesight.

The future – for Whitewater and other towns – has always been myriad sources, each independently contributing to a vibrant community.

Truthfully, she’s already part way there: there are dozens of local sources of information, from dozens of community groups, written in the style that suits each group, respectively. Look only in one place, and one misses so much.

It makes sense that Cameron Clapper would want more government participation now; it won’t come that soon, yet it will come. There are likely to be much harder days of challenge between now and then. We would have done better if we had made this transition sooner, of course.

Still, much of what seems so vital now won’t last into a New Whitewater, but then each generation should – and inevitably will – make its own choices.

If City Manager Clapper stays in Whitewater for another decade – and despite disagreements with him, one hopes he does – then he’ll see these changes.

Between now and then, there will be a hard slog in Whitewater, but there’s no better place, in all the world, to be.

Kate McKinnon as Kellyanne Conway

Over at Saturday Night Live, Kate McKinnon’s in a sketch where she plays Kellyanne Conway as though Conway were the monster Pennywise from Stephen King’s It. She’s portrayed Conway before, but here her especially well. (The full sketch is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hlt3rA-oDao – the embed above starts part way in.)

In the sketch, Conway, speaking from a storm drain, tries to lure anchor Anderson Cooper (portrayed by Alex Moffat) into the sewer.

McKinnon so cleverly captures the irrationality of Conway’s lies on behalf of Trump – Conway will say anything, however outrageous (and especially if outrageous).

Conway’s not adept at the sophistry of ‘making the making the worse appear the better reason,’ – she’s adept at absurd lies, so fantastical that they’re like what a hallucinatory drug must be like. Nothing she says looks like the ‘better reason’ – Conway’s proffered quotes seem like a lunatic’s obsessions and compulsions. Those who find Conway convincing don’t do so because she offers a better reason – they find her intoxicating because she offers an escape from reason.

McKinnon’s impersonation nicely captures Conway as a deranged, gleeful liar, a liar simply for the dark pleasure of it.

Their Friends Are America’s Enemies

It’s no surprise, truly, that white nationalists who returned to Charlottesville chanted three main slogans: ‘You will not replace us,’ ‘Russia is our friend,’ and ‘the South will rise again.’

Each is false, and little more than a dark hope: the South they want (of slavery, bigotry, and treason) will never rise again, they have already been replaced by a more diverse and competitive population, and Russia (under either the Soviets or Putin) has never been America’s friend.

Putin has returned Russia to dictatorship after the briefest thaw, a return to brutality at home and abroad. Consider only a small video of opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s struggle in Russia, and know that while you consider him, vast numbers more are denied basic rights. The man who makes Russia oppressive for his own people delights in having lifted Trump to power in America, that Trump might in his own way degrade our way of life as Putin in his way has degraded life for his own people.

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 2 in a Series)

local sceneWhitewater, as with other Wisconsin cities and towns, has a Planning Commission. Like some towns (but not others), Whitewater by practice places a member of one commission (let’s say, Parks & Rec) on another commission (let’s say, Planning): a representative of one commission to another. So a person might be appointed to serve on the Parks & Rec Board, but then also be the representative of Parks & Rec on the Planning Commission. (In this way, the resident then serves on two commissions.)

What happens, though, when a resident appointed to Parks & Rec,  who then becomes the representative to the Planning Commission, requests to become the representative from Planning (on which he was never appointed) to the Community Development Authority (a third board)?

A second question: if the Parks & Rec board member was formerly head of the city’s neighborhood services department, should he even be able to serve on the Planning Board (as Planning oversees neighborhood services)? (Other cities would not allow the former neighborhood services leader to serve on Planning – neither directly nor by jumping from one board to another).

Those are questions that a member of the Planning Commission presented in June, before the Planning Commission made its choice for its representative to another board (the Community Development Authority). See Plan Commission 6/12/17 & 6/19/17, preliminary discussion & commissioner’s remarks from 1:30 to 3:50 on the video.

I view of this discussion with distance and detachment, with clear and cold eyes.  In the months since I first heard it, it has now & again returned to my mind. (One may read and hear much, but write less, and even then only at a later, more suitable time.)

Could the French ambassador to the United States, upon his arrival on these shores, then and there become the American ambassador to Brazil? Could a marketing manager at Ford Motor Company, upon becoming the marketing representative to an engineering team, then and there become the engineering representative to the accounting group?

It’s notable – and not to Whitewater’s credit – that not a single commissioner offered a word in reply to these concerns. Not a word of support, not a word of opposition: nothing.

The only commissioner who addressed this concern was the commissioner who raised it. “So shines a good deed….

There is the erosion of political norms: so eroded that nothing is said in reply.

PreviouslyThe Erosion of Political Norms, Part 1.

Tomorrow: The Erosion of Political Norms, Part 3.

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.

Podcast: Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara

There’s a new podcast from Atty. Preet Bharara, former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

I’ve embedded the first episode, below, and readers can subscribe to this and future episodes via iTunes or Stitcher.

On March 11, 2017 President Donald Trump fired US Attorney Preet Bharara. Preet tells the story in detail for the first time. Then, a conversation with former Secretary of Defense and former CIA Director Leon Panetta about how to clean up a chaotic White House, trade Russian spies, and stand up for what’s right, even if it means defying a president.