Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Ongoing Toxic Effect of Slavery

There are many reasons why our country is dysfunctional today on so many levels.  Most have to do with the nature of our culture, the “me” perspective, and the insecurity that becomes part of our psyche during our formative years and growing up.

But there is another factor which I think has a major impact on our political life … the ongoing toxic effect of slavery.  And I’m not just talking about the continuing racism that is prevalent in the United States, although it is related to that.

When our country was founded, a deal was brokered, despite the ringing words of the Declaration of Independence, known as the “3/5 compromise.”  Under that agreement, slaves were accepted in the slaves states as a fact of life and were counted in the census as 3/5 of a person.  And so although they were slaves, not citizens, and had no rights, they increased significantly the South’s representation in the House of Representatives.

Ultimately, of course, the compromise led to the Civil War.  After the Civil War, there was never a discussion or reconciliation regarding slavery.  Reconstruction, which was to give slaves land and status, was promoted by a Republican-controlled Congress but poorly conceived.  Regardless, the effort ended quickly under President Andrew Johnson (D) and the white southern power structure maintained their old ways through the establishment of Jim Crow laws.

For the next 100 years, southern Democrats, while supporting the Democratic Party agenda in many ways, demanded a price, which was the continued debasement of African-Americans.  This unholy alliance fell apart when Johnson pushed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws through in the mid-1960s.  One should note that both of these measures were overwhelmingly supported by Republicans; the votes against were primarily from the South; the votes in the Senate were 73-27 and 78-18 respectively. 

The former Democrats later switched to Republican under Nixon’s Southern strategy and the South became Red.  Since that time, the Republican party, which had become traditionally conservative over the years, added a new twist in that they now, dependent on southern support, opposed measures to help the poor, who were thought of as being overwhelmingly black.  Bush II sought to change that with his compassionate conservatism, but he didn’t get very far.

The Tea Party within the Republican Party was founded in February 2009, just one month after Barack Obama took office as President.  Although the rallying cry was fiscal conservatism, the real bone was clear.  It was the perceived threat of African-Americans to the white middle-class, not just in the south, but now in the north too as the country suffered from a major recession.

These people had a fanatical energy.  And so John Boehner, then Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, decided to use them rather than fight them.  That empowering of the Tea Party ultimately led to Trump winning the Republican nomination for President in 2016 and winning the election.

And the fanaticism and loyalty of that base is what has given Trump his power to change the Republican party from a conservative party to an authoritarian, nativistic party, full of hate and anger.  Which has brought forth the same kind of energy in the Democratic Party base.  The combination of which has resulted in an almost total erosion of civility in political discourse and a weakening of American democracy.

Can the country be brought back to a place of reason and civility, an agreement to disagree?  Only time will tell, but the present does not bode well for the future.  In April 2019, I wrote a post, “We Need a National Discussion on Race and Racism.”  For our country to heal these deep divisions that we see, this must happen.  But I fear it will not, I fear it is too late.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

What About Protecting Children?

During the past year, we have seen the #MeToo movement bring public awareness and public acknowledgement of the degradation suffered by countless women at the hands of countless men.  And for those men who were called out who were in positions of power, many of them have fallen.  Some have even been the subject of criminal action.

This was something which was long overdue.  No human being should be treated in this way.  And so women now join the list of people who are not just protected by law, but because they feel comfortable coming forward, are empowered to make use of those protections.

There remains, however, one significant category of person who, while protected by the law, is virtually unprotected in reality.  Both because they have no voice and because the injury they sustain is not acknowledged by society … children who are subject to sustained psychological abuse in their homes.    

We are slowly becoming sensitive to the bullying children are subject to in school and the damage caused by such bullying, including even suicide.  Although there are many adults, especially the parents of bullies, who respond, “Children will be children,” and fault the victim for overreacting.  

We have not, however, acknowledged the bullying and other forms of psychological abuse that children suffer at home and the terrible and lasting damage this does to them.  Why?  

The American Academy of Pediatrics defines emotional and psychological abuse as exposing “a child frequently and repeatedly to behaviors that impact his or her psychological well-being, including blaming, threatening, yelling at, belittling, humiliating, name calling, pointing out faults, withholding emotional support and affection, and ignoring a child.”  Shockingly, we see examples of this in public frequently, at which point I cringe; imagine the frequency behind the closed doors of the home.  

Pediatricians are required by law in many jurisdictions to report evidence of abuse to the authorities, including psychological abuse.  But despite their responsibility, doctors underreport evidence of physical abuse as well as psychological abuse.  Most often reported are cases of neglect.  

Why don’t they report?  One of the reasons why are “accepted cultural practices.”  Unfortunately, the list in the AAP definition above are all things which are pretty much accepted cultural practices by parents, especially if a child is “difficult.” Another is that doctors are less likely to report abuse when they have a positive relationship with the family.  

The generally accepted norm by both doctors and the public is that such things are going to occur in the home.  As with bullies, the reaction is that parents will be parents.  They have to have a free hand in raising their children.  They can’t be micro-managed.    Parents don’t intentionally harm their children.  And so children are not protected.

Perhaps the worst example of child psychological abuse unrelated to sexual abuse or other forms of physical abuse is the abuse suffered by children of a parent with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Narcs).  This rather benign sounding psychological disorder is actually very malignant.  

According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, this is a sociopath who is dangerous to themselves and others:  1) has significant impairments in personality function such as exaggerated self-appraisal and requires excessive admiration to support self-esteem; 2) impairment in interpersonal function such as a lack of empathy; relationships are largely superficial and exist to serve self-esteem; little genuine interest in others; exploits others for personal gain; 3) pathological personality traits such as antagonism and grandiosity, believing one is better than others; condescending, arrogant, haughty; excessive attempts to attract the attention of others.  

Such parents see children as objects who they use to satisfy their needs, robbing them of all sense of self and self-esteem.  They have and show no care or love for their children.  The result is major damage to a child’s psyche.

Children of course, as opposed to adult women, do not have a voice vis a vis adults.  They are totally dependent on their parents for their welfare.  When asked, not only are children ashamed that they have received such abuse, but they know what will happen if they report on their parents.  Also every child wants desperately to believe that they are loved by their parents.  For all these reasons, they often hide the truth.

The only other person in a position to speak for a child is a relative or neighbor who is well-acquainted with the family dynamic.  However, these people will also usually not say anything for the same reasons as doctors … accepted cultural practices and closeness to the family.  There is one other.  If the parent is a Narc, close relatives or friends are typically enablers.  They have been brought into the Narc’s web of influence through various means and so see the Narc as a good person, not someone who is destroying their child.

Where does that leave the child victim?  Totally defenseless.

Why is this such a important topic?  If one cares about human beings, clearly one wants to prevent the psychic destruction of people, certainly children.  But beyond the individual, there are pressing social reasons to change this dynamic.  All of the dysfunction we see in the world … and it is everywhere … in the family, in the workplace, in the nation is a result of the suffering and insecurity that people experience as children.  (See my posts, “The Root of All Abuse and Violence - Insecurity,”  and “Insecurity as the Cause of Social Conflict and International War.”)  

If we truly want to make this world a better place for our children, then we must start by protecting our children.  The only way out of this terrible dynamic is to bring the subject of child psychological abuse out into the open.  It can no longer be a taboo subject.  Just like one never used to talk or hear about incest until a prominent person (a former Miss America) came out and told her story, prominent people need to come out and tell their story of being victims of child psychological abuse.

When people feel it is ok to talk about this subject, whether regarding their own experience or that of others, they will be empowered to free themselves of the suffering caused by denial by speaking the truth.  Then, hopefully, doctors, relatives, and friends will come to the rescue of children.  Adults who were victims as children will speak the truth.  We will be amazed at the prevalence of this tragedy.  Millions of children will be freed from their prison of suffering and countless adults will begin healing their trauma.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Have You No Shame?

During the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings, Senator Joe McCarthy (R) was finally stopped by the question of Joseph Welch, attorney for the Army.  Welch said, “At long last, sir, have you left no sense of decency?”  The quote is often paraphrased as, “Have you no shame?”

After watching the actions of Congressional Republicans since Trump took office, but especially since the whistle-blower complaint, the White House release of a “reconstructed” transcript of Trump’s Ukraine phone call, and the many corroborating witnesses both regarding the call itself but more importantly about Trump’s insistence that the Ukraine commit to investigating Hunter Biden as a condition to releasing security aid funds that had been allocated by Congress, I would say to them, “Sirs, have you left no shame?”

Congressmen and Senators take an oath of office in which they commit to supporting and defending the Constitution.  Their oath is not to defend the President, their political party, or anything else.  They represent many constituencies but their oath is simply to support and defend the Constitution.

Since Trump’s takeover of the Republican Party through the fervent loyalty of his base, Republicans in Congress have become a craven lot, except on foreign policy matters.  How have they conducted themselves during the questioning of Trump’s abuse of office?  Have they defended the Constitution?

The Constitution prohibits government officials from receiving anything of value from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.  Knowingly receiving the value of Russian interference in the 2016 election would be a violation of this clause and was thus a key part of the Mueller investigation.  Receiving election aid in the form of Ukraine investigations of political rivals would also be an example of receiving something of value.  The obstructing justice charges don’t concern this Constitutional clause but concern a violation of Federal law and thus would be impeachable.

Already with the Mueller Report, despite all the evidence of Russian contact and knowledge that Russia was interfering in the election (including his infamous public request to the Russians to find Clinton’s missing emails and publish them) and of obstruction of justice, they supported Trump’s view that he had been shown to do no wrong, and that by not indicting him, Mueller had exonerated him.  

Never mind that’s not what the report said, that’s how Trump and they interpreted it, aided and abetted by A.G. Barr’s summary.  Just recently, we learned that testimony at the trial of Roger Stone showed that Trump spoke directly to Stone during the campaign about WikiLeaks possible disclosure of Democratic emails obtained by Russia, despite his having said in written testimony that he remembered no such conversation.  If not legal collusion, this certainly smells like an impeachable offense.

Regarding the June telephone call with the President of the Ukraine, despite the background and Trump explicitly asking for a favor,  they still say Trump did no wrong.  When Lt Col. Vindman who was on the call and thus had direct knowledge said that the “transcript” omitted an important reference to the Bidens and other desired investigations, they cast aspersions on him and discounted his testimony.

When one career diplomat after another came forward and testified under oath that the President was holding foreign policy hostage to personal political gain, their response has been that this is all hearsay.  No one heard this from the mouth of the President.  

The last statement is true, but when you have so much evidence regarding the President’s policy from various sources and stemming largely from his own personal lawyer, Giuliani, the evidence cannot be simply disregarded because it is hearsay.  Especially when those with direct knowledge of the President’s position have been prevented from testifying by the President’s edict.  And few with direct knowledge who have testified, such as Lt. Col. Vindman, have been vilified.

Republicans point to the fact that the President told several people that there was no quid pro quo.  Given that this President lies constantly, even when there’s something real at risk, his statements clearly cannot be accepted at face value.

Except for a single utterance by Senator Romney regarding this matter, no Republican has even ventured tentative support for the idea that perhaps this might be an impeachable offense and should be looked into.  The one representative who did reversed himself when it came to a vote in the House.

Senators and Representatives fume about Trump’s foreign policy actions in the Middle East, how harmful they are to the country’s interests.   Here they stand up to Trump.  But since they otherwise approve of his policies, they apparently see no “duty to country” reason for opposing him.  

They don’t see that a man like Trump at the helm of this country is dangerous.  And that he has over and over again abused the power of his office.  He has even clearly stated that the Constitution lets him “do whatever he wants,” and he referred to the Constitution’s “phony” emoluments clause.

Why does Trump have such power over members of the House and especially the Senate, whose members are traditionally more independent?  Because they all want to be reelected … that is clearly their main imperative, not service to the country … and his control over the party’s base is so solid that they dare not buck him or else they know they’ll find themselves with a primary challenger to Trump’s liking.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Need for Mass Outrage, Civil Disobedience

There was an opinion piece in The New York Times recently that criticized President Obama for wagging his finger at the younger generation who get off on being judgmental and insist on purity.  “That’s not activism.  That’s not bringing about change,  If all you’re doing is casting stones, that probably won’t get you far.”  The opinion writer was very offended and criticized the older generation’s way of doing things.  She embraced the power of social media.

This is a hard one. We, young and old liberals/progressives, want to effect change. That's the bottom line. The question is how best to get there. 

There are situations where a zero tolerance approach is appropriate, where we should express our outrage, en masse. In the street, not just on your screen.  Sometimes, enough people expressing outrage can by its own power effect change, either by toppling those in power or having those in power accept change. 

More frequently though, the world is so complex and resistance to change so strong that even masses expressing outrage in public protest will not in and of itself effect change. But that mass expression of outrage is still important, for only then can people with access to power follow up by arguing for change, at least incremental. 

Indeed, I would argue that we need more mass expressions of outrage, such as we had against the Vietnam War.  And it can’t be just once and done.  There must be an extended series of protests.  Those in power must see that the opposition has staying power; that they haven’t spent all their energy on one demonstration and then it’s back to business as unusual.

Now when it comes to negotiating with those in power, you have the best chance of success when they don’t have their backs up.  The problem with many young progressives and some older ones too is that they don't just state the facts, they don’t just argue, they bully and are full of hatred. 

That is not the way to influence people. A good example of this is Rep. Ilhan Omar. I agree with much of what she says, but as I've said in previous posts, she often says it in a way which is counter-productive. She is her own worst enemy, in terms of being effectual. 

Obama's point was not to castigate those who argue for change. His point was that one needs to do so in a way that will effectuate change. Sometimes, perhaps often, that will require compromise. And that should not be a dirty word. You do not sell out if you compromise. Rather, if you insist on purity, you will almost never effect change and thus truly betray your cause.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Republican Flimflammery

Not surprisingly Republicans have put on their witness wish list Hunter Biden.  But his testimony is irrelevant to the issue at hand … whether Trump is guilty of abusing his power.

Even if Biden was guilty of conspiracy, that would have no bearing on whether Trump committed an impeachable offense by withholding foreign aid unless the Ukraine investigated a political opponent, Biden.

And so the witness request should be denied, for this clearly stated reason.  If Republicans really want to pursue the matter, they should refer it to the Justice Department, which is the appropriate forum.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

OMG, Could Republicans Not Care About Abuse of Power?

I just had a startling thought.  I have always thought that the reason why most Republicans in Congress were dismissive of the Democrat’s push for impeachment was that they just didn’t think there was iron-clad proof of Trump’s abuse of office and obstruction of justice.  No matter how clear it seemed, they just wished away the facts.

But I just thought, what if it isn’t a matter of proof.  What if they don’t feel that any of the actions Trump is accused of, even if proven beyond a doubt, would constitute an abuse of power, an impeachable offense?  What if they felt that even if Trump was using foreign policy for personal political gain, even if there was a quid pro quo, that that would be ok.  As Trump has said, he did nothing wrong.  What if they felt that even if Trump was obstructing the justice process, since he claimed he did nothing wrong, he didn’t have the mental state of obstructing “justice.”

If that’s true, then besides fearing the wrath of Trump and his base, they feel the impeachment process is a sham because they don’t think the actions Trump is accused of rise to the level of an impeachable offense.  If that were true, that would explain why no Republican voted in favor of the public impeachment inquiry resolution in the House, despite satisfying all their demands:  open hearings, the right to subpoena witnesses, and due process for Trump.  Forget about making any comparison to the charges against Clinton; reason here would have no value.

If that is the case, then there is no hope of getting more than a handful of Republicans to vote for impeachment, and other than Romney, no Senator will vote to convict.  It will end up appearing to Trump loyalists, and probably most Republicans, as a partisan effort.  This would be very bad for the country, for our democracy.  Trump has been saying that the Democrats are just trying to undo the results of the 2016 election, to thwart the will of the people, and that is precisely how it will appear to many.

If that’s the case, Nancy Pelosi was right about not wanting to move forward with impeachment.  
It is now really up to the American people.  They must call and write their Republican representatives and say that they are disappointed if not outraged that they wouldn’t even endorse a public and fair inquiry into these serious allegations.  For the good of this country, this cannot remain a partisan matter.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

How to Move Republicans on Impeachment

As  the evidence mounts regarding Trump's abuse of office, the big question isn’t whether Trump has committed impeachable offenses, the record is clear on that, and will become even clearer and inescapable in the upcoming hearings.  The question is how many Republicans in the House will vote to impeach.

On the vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry today, not one Republican, not even those on the three committees that have been investigating, not even Francis Rooney who had said he was open to impeachment, voted to authorize the impeachment inquiry.  To do otherwise would have invoked the wrath of Trump which they clearly don't have the guts to do.

But looking down the road, how can Republicans be moved to vote, yes, on impeaching Trump?  Certainly, it is critical that the hearings be as fair and open as possible.  The process should provide Republicans with no cover whatsoever.  

Also, if the public sees the hearings as being very fair, then Republicans outside of Trump’s solid core base will lean more towards impeachment.  Emboldening more Republicans to vote yes.  

Hearing from the public will be of critical importance to Republicans on this issue, just as it was on Obamacare.  Even after today's vote, it is critical that Republican reps be called or written regarding people's outrage that they would not even vote to authorize public hearings, given the safeguards for due process that were built into the resolution.

Finally, while keeping their prospects for reelection out of the equation is not realistic, their oath of office and civic duty must be called upon.  That can only come effectively from fellow Republicans.  To date, the sole Republican standing up for his country and justice is Mitt Romney.

Regarding the subpoena power, one thing that Democrats cannot allow is for Republicans to muddy the focus of the hearings by questioning whether Biden or his son did something improper.  That is irrelevant.  

Even assuming for arguments’ sake that they did, that does not change the fact that Trump used foreign policy for his own political gain.  If they charge the Democrats with protecting Biden from corruption charges, Republicans should be directed to the Justice Department which I’m sure would be happy to look into those allegations, if they aren’t already.  That is also the proper forum.