Archive for the ‘POLITICS & THE ECONOMY’ Category

“Hamilton”

Finally, we got to see that hit about our history,

And all the men who, bold, told old King George

We’re out to set our nation free.

We’d seen the news, the interviews, and heard the tunes.

Now our views are: this show’s great and one to celebrate.

We had great fun at “Hamilton.”

 

We didn’t waste our shot. No, we didn’t waste our shot.

‘Cause what we got

Was song and dance within a riveting plot.

 

And, we took a backstage tour.

Repeat, we took a backstage tour.

At “Hamilton,” we know someone

Who made it even more fun.

What’s more, we stood there on the stage

The very place where George-Three raged

While Hamilton talked revolution

And the solution to building a nation

For all. Big and small.

That’s one tall order,

Keeping it real from border to border.

Oh yes, we had a backstage tour.

Ooooh. Ooooh.

 

And ooooh, we met some of the cast,

Young people from all those backgrounds,

Producing all those sweet sounds,

Representing every branch of our family tree:

You and you and you and me.

Reminding us we are family because our colors

Blend into one red, white and blue humanity.

 

We didn’t waste our shot.

No, we didn’t waste our shot.

I thought about my family tree,

A shout out to my grandparents

Sailing into New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty

Welcoming them to the land of the free.

Nothing guaranteed but the will to succeed.

 

After more than a century,

I hold on to the memory and like to think how

Lady Liberty, her torch raised high,

Her eye on all those immigrants,

Welcomes my father Morris—Moishe still—and shy of three.

She sings, her silent voice so resonant

(Born in Poland he can’t be president

But what counts is what he can be):

“Know what you’ve got here, boy. A shot here, boy.

And listen now to what I say:

Let no one take your shot away.

Big shots with small minds seeking any lame excuse

To cut our Constitution loose

And trample on the glory of those who made us great.

Don’t let them be the ones to tell your story.”

 

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s right.

We all have rights. It’s worth the fight

For freedom.

Staying silent would be dumb. We’re all Americans,

Building our nation, reinforcing its foundation,

Seeking to rise up, rise up beyond our station.

Immigrants like Sam and Kayleh, Lyon and Minnie

Came for opportunity.

Not just for them but everyone,

Away from fear and squalor, hollering for just one thing:

Their shot.

Which they got.

 

So, let’s remember sun to sun,

There something more in store than fun

When the lights go on and voices rise.

You better bet we owe a debt to

Alexander Hamilton.

 

The post will take two weeks off and resume on Friday, May 19. Meanwhile, check out the first two chapters of The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website.

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MOSCOW, ANKARA AND WASHINGTON

A look at three of the world’s prominent capitals reveals something disturbing. Although Russia, Turkey and the United States represent three very different cultures, Moscow, Ankara and Washington increasingly have come to share much in common.

Russia, primarily but hardly solely an Orthodox Christian nation, long has evidenced a strong penchant for autocracy. Its leadership’s ideology has covered many different ideological approaches—monarchy, communism and now kleptocracy. It’s the last trait on which I focus. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s post-communist foray into free markets has produced sparse capitalism aside from sales of oil and gas, and plentiful oligarchy. Putin’s friends and associates enjoy government contracts, cozy relationships with banks and permission to corner markets. Political and journalistic opponents face prison or death in startling numbers.

Turkey, a member of NATO, evolved from the Ottoman Empire that waned in the nineteenth century as “the sick man of Europe” then following World War One suffered its death blow. Under Kemal Ataturk, a secular government arose. Military rule slowly morphed into democracy producing a vital economy and a major geopolitical role in the Middle East. But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist, has steadily guided the rise of Muslim influence in Turkish life accompanied by an erosion of Turkish democracy. Last July, he cracked down on a coup and imprisoned large numbers of politicians, military officers, academics, artists and journalists. This past Sunday, his constitutional referendum narrowly won. It will abandon Turkey’s parliamentary system and make Erdogan president with broad powers while negating the legislature and courts.

How does Washington fit here? How does it not? Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner maintain offices in the White House, represent the nation in meetings with foreign government officials yet still run their businesses. They represent a real threat of cronyism as witnessed by Ivanka’s company being granted three copyrights by China on the same day she had dinner with her father and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.

Ivanka denied any violation of ethics. After all, she said, she didn’t apply for the patents. Her lawyers did. What could be more tone deaf? Of course, her lawyers filed the papers. Companies of almost any size hire in-house and/or outside legal counsel to perform both specialized and routine tasks. Now, Chinese businessmen—and government officials connected to them—will expect periodic favors from the White House in return for preferential treatment granted Ivanka. To deny that represents not naïveté but callous cynicism.

Can a true kleptocracy be far behind? Mr. Trump insists he will not release his tax returns since he’s being audited. Some time ago, however, the head of the IRS stated that release of his returns was fine. What then is the problem? Do Trump’s returns hide investments and/or loans from Russian companies and individuals close to the Kremlin? Would they reveal legal tax breaks Mr. Trump has taken and wishes to extend in tax-reform legislation? Does businessman Trump seek to use the presidency for financial gain? Is he okay with relatives and friends doing the same?

Three capitals. Three cultures. One dishearteningly similar approach to government of the leaders, by the leaders, for the leaders. Sadly, many of the Americans who will be hurt most are voters who giddily put Donald Trump in a position to screw them.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

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CHEMICAL ATTACKS AND CRUISE MISSILES

Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad’s April 4 Sarin gas attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun drew a quick response from President Trump. U.S. naval forces rained down 59 cruise missiles on Shayrat air base, destroying or damaging 23 Syrian planes. Many Republicans—far-right conservatives were opposed—Democrats and allied governments found the action intoxicating. It’s time to sober up.

I neither support nor condemn Mr. Trump’s decision. But I caution that the matter is far from simple—and far from over. Mr. Trump’s response certainly stands in contrast to Barack Obama’s setting a red line regarding chemical attacks, looking to Congress for approval to take military action, finding none then accepting an offer by Russia’s Vladimir Putin to negotiate the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons. Some of which apparently were held back.

Mr. Obama’s mistake was not withholding American force, which may or may not have accomplished much while possibly igniting a political firestorm at home. It was declaring a red line publicly rather than privately notifying Assad, Putin and Iran that using chemical weapons could provoke a U.S. military response.

Mr. Trump chose to make a “statement.” Despite the initial chest-thumping, it likely will prove meaningless. After our cruise missile delivery, several of Assad’s planes took off from Shayrat—whose runways were left untouched—to again bomb Khan Sheikhoun. Assad made his own statement. While feeble, it was backed by Russia’s military presence in Syria.

Frederic C. Hof, a Syria policy maven at the State Department under Mr. Obama, who later became an Obama administration critic, stated that Assad “now counts on the West again to leave him free to kill as long as he does so without chemicals” (The New York Times, 4-9-17). The Pentagon later suggested that barrel bombs may cross another “line.” So what?

Take Mr. Trump’s mention that “many lines had been crossed” by Assad’s latest chemical attack. Apparently, no lines were crossed when Mr. Trump assumed the presidency ten weeks earlier. Syrian helicopters continued dropping barrel bombs on civilian neighborhoods. Syrian and Russian artillery, mortars and conventional bombs maintained the slaughter. The mass killing of civilians seemingly crossed no lines for Mr. Obama, as well. The Syrian death toll reportedly stands at or near 500,000.

Are we going to war? Despite the brutality, many Americans, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis, exhibit no desire for the U.S. to get deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, particularly given the risk of a miscalculation with Russian forces. This represents not cynicism but pragmatism (see Iraq: Invasion of).

Referencing Frederic Hof, is it wrong to kill 87 civilians with Sarin gas but okay to kill 150 with run-of-the-mill ordnance? If half-a-million deaths doesn’t cross a line spurring concerted United Nations action—impossible with a Russian veto—is a line demarcated at 600,000 deaths? A million?

I’ve written that violence in the Middle East will continue for years and probably decades until the people of the region—not America—have had enough or totally exhausted themselves. While that position jeers at our humanitarian values, it remains valid lacking a truly global will to intervene and the ability to restore not only order to the Middle East but also civility. Honesty, no matter how gut-wrenching, will guide us more wisely than political showmanship.

Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t attend? Contact me or go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

 

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WHAT I HAVE AND WHAT I DON’T

I have prostate cancer. I also have much to be thankful for. My urologist caught it early. The cancer is confined to my prostate. It’s completely curable.

I have an attentive primary-care physician and an attentive urologist. My primary, at my annual physicals, evaluated a steady rise in my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) scores. A few years ago, he referred me to my urologist. Two biopsies proved negative, but my PSA kept rising. My urologist suggested a new blood screening—the 4K test. It led to an MRI, which revealed several small growths. A guided biopsy proved positive. Radiation and hormone therapy will kill the cancer and prevent new malignancies from developing.

What I don’t have is an attitude of “Why me?” Most men develop prostate cancer if they live long enough. Most die with it, not of it. Many who do die of prostate cancer may not have had regular checkups. Their undetected cancer spread to their bones and/or organs.

What I don’t have, as well, is a loss of spirit. I’d probably feel differently if I’d been diagnosed with brain cancer, pancreatic cancer or leukemia. I’ve had family and friends who died from all the above at an early age. They suffered. I have no symptoms.

What I also don’t have is a sense of lost invincibility. Both my urologist and radiation oncologist mentioned that even with a prognosis of full recovery, many men with prostate cancer are rocked on their heels. They discover their own mortality. I’ve never thought I wouldn’t die. My grandparents died. My parents and all but one of their generation died. A cousin died of leukemia at 12. A friend was killed when the Medevac helicopter he piloted in Vietnam was shot down. A client died at 27 many years ago in a car crash on the Golden Gate Bridge. There were others.

The biblical story of Adam and Eve reminds us that death is inevitable. Denied the fruit of the Tree of Life, no one enjoys immortality. The story of their sons Cain and Abel alerts us that death may come before its time—and at our own hands.

Unfortunately, here’s something else I don’t have: faith in our government as presently constituted to help millions of Americans obtain and/or maintain the healthcare they need—the healthcare I fortunately have. Further, I don’t have faith in a president who only discovered in his first weeks in office that the issue of healthcare is complex.

Added to that, I don’t have faith in many members of Congress, who approach healthcare in purely ideological terms, eschewing compassion and compromise in the name of politics. For that matter, I don’t have faith in pharmaceutical companies who develop life-saving drugs but make it difficult or impossible for many Americans to afford them.

I won’t be updating you on my medical story, such as it is. I’ll be fine. The story that is on my mind is a new novel that will take three or four years to complete. I’ll have the time. I wish I could say the same for potentially millions of Americans whose health and very lives may be forfeit because Washington would prevent them from obtaining the healthcare coverage and medical assistance they need and deserve.

I also have a desire to be read. Check out the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t be there? Go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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EASTER/PASSOVER 2021

March 31, 2021—Washington, D.C. Responding to bitter invective launched by the America First party, formed after the 2018 midterm elections, Adam Schiff reassured the nation that the White House’s annual Easter Egg hunt will be held this Sunday. “That I’m Jewish and just hosted a family Passover Seder in the White House should not and will not alter a beautiful tradition,” said the 47th president.

During his campaign, President Schiff pledged that being the first Jewish president would not affect his conduct in office “beyond holding to the high moral principles on which I was raised.”

Former president Mike Pence, interviewed on CNN, disavowed America First claims that the annual White House Easter egg hunt would be canceled or that President Schiff would not attend. Mr. Pence, whose 25-month presidency was marked by an inability to move forward initiatives first proposed by his predecessor Donald Trump—including health care, tax reform and infrastructure—has kept a low media profile.

However, he stated, “It’s my duty, especially after last November’s stinging defeat, to speak out against the hateful rhetoric with which a small percentage of Americans assaulted President Schiff during and after the campaign.”

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, himself Jewish, was “gratified that Mr. Pence stood up to this kind of anti-Semitic hatred that dishonors our country.” Blitzer sought an interview with former president Trump. A spokesperson responded that Mr. Trump “was busy.”

Since resigning in December 2018 after Democrats won majorities in both the House and Senate, Mr. Trump has spent almost all his time at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. His wife Melania visits from New York one weekend a month. Mr. Trump is only the second president in American history to resign his office. Richard Nixon did so on August 9, 1974.

In late-April 2018, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington), current House minority leader, spoke out that Mr. Trump’s presidency was untenable following the White House’s failure to respond when Russia annexed East Ukraine. Holding fast, Mr. Trump proposed no U.S. response in early June when Russian agents fomented demonstrations in Latvia and Lithuania leading to the establishment over the summer of pro-Russian governments pledged to withdraw from NATO. “Why does NATO need those guys?” he asked.

Mr. Trump’s resignation proved inevitable when in mid-November, “Classic Republicans” insisted that the nation be spared further congressional inquiry and embarrassment. They responded to the joint revelation of a “smoking gun” by then-Representative Schiff (D-California) and then-Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia), who complemented Mr. Schiff’s winning ticket. Both played critical roles in confidential House and Senate reviews of Mr. Trump’s tax returns.

The Justice Department ordered Mr. Trump’s returns made available to Congress in August following media revelations that for over a decade, close associates of Russian president Vladimir Putin made major investments in, and loans to, various Trump companies.

Critics also noted that Mr. Trump wasted more than a billion dollars on the design phase of an unbuilt wall on the Mexican border. A pre-Thanksgiving Gallup poll placed Mr. Trump’s approval rating at eleven percent.

“Easter, like Passover, offers people hope for the future,” said President Schiff. “The United States is beginning a new day. It’s better that we hide colorful eggs children can discover on the White House lawn than bury truth in the Oval Office.”

Reality (absolutely): You can read the first two chapters of my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht on this website. I’ll host a celebration on Sunday, April 30, selling and autographing softcover books. Can’t be there? Go to Amazon for a copy in softcover or digital format.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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MUNCH’S “SCREAM” AND SARAH SILVERMAN

Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” is an icon of modern art. A genderless person resembling a space alien with round eyes and hands on cheeks projects a scream from a gaping mouth. Many see angst. I see something else.

You may have witnessed the same expression at a comedy show. Great humor move us because it comes from the truth about ourselves, families and fantasies we usually keep bottled up. Pop the cork, and we laugh. Howl. Scream.

The anonymous character in “The Scream” isn’t walking on a bridge harboring suicidal thoughts triggered by life’s meaningless. Rather, the Screamer has come from a set by the comedian Sarah Silverman. Munch’s character is screaming and laughing at the same time.

Have you ever laughed when you “shouldn’t?” We all have! Take this Silverman joke that appeared in CNN’s series, “The History of Comedy.” And be forewarned. This is adult stuff.

Silverman mentions the time she was licking jelly off her boyfriend’s penis. Yes, that’s what she says. The punchline? As she’s scarfing up jelly, she thinks, “I can’t believe I’m turning into my mother.”

The audience howls. I howl. And for good reason. From the get-go, our brains make important connections. Silverman reminds us that we’re adults. We do “dirty” things and have “dirty” fantasies. That goes for everyone. Why? Because we’re all normal. In fact, we’re so normal that our parents probably do/did similar things. This leaves us shocked. Uncomfortable. But it presents the truth: at some time in adulthood, we realize that our parents are/were also adults like us. We can’t help turning into our parents, ultimately recognizing that our likes, dislikes and foibles are simply human—as are theirs.

Silverman’s joke is deadly serious. In reminding us that we become just like our parents, she destroys the naïve image we hold of ourselves as better than them, their generation and all humanity who preceded us. Looking squarely into the mirror, we can no longer lie. With a measure of pain and possibly relief, we shed self-deception and acknowledge that, like our parents and everyone else, we’re fragile and flawed.

Discovery of our blemished humanity then presents us with a choice. We can scream, as Munch’s subject does—or appears to do. Or we can laugh, which on canvas may be taken for a scream. We can embrace humor to find our balance in a world as brittle as we are. Granted, laughter may not solve all our problems. But by throwing light on dark places, laughter offers us healthy release to cope and keep our balance.

I recently spoke with a friend who is an oncologist. He often takes a humorous approach with patients confronting their imminent mortality. He knows he can’t always help them avoid onrushing death, but he can help them face it with more courage, perspective and grace. I used that approach in my novel The Boy Walker.

Today’s America finds itself in difficult, even terrifying political circumstances. Activism is called for. But I propose that comedy also plays a key role in our response. If we fail to see the humor in a president with hair rivaling that of the three clowns on “The Simpsons”—Krusty, Sideshow Bob and Sideshow Mel—we won’t take him seriously enough. And put him in his place.

You can take very seriously my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht. I’ll host a launch party at the end of April, selling and autographing softcover books. Stay tuned for details.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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SWEDEN CLARIFIED

Two weeks ago, President Trump cited a terrorist attack in Sweden. No such attack took place. Mr. Trump backtracked, saying he’d referred to a report on Fox News. Trump opponents leaped on the issue. But there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Sweden has undergone major changes since admitting large numbers of refugees. That includes growing anti-Semitism, partly from right-wing ethnic Swedes but mostly from Muslim immigrants. In April 2015, I wrote two posts on the issue, “Should the Jews Leave Europe?” I asked my Swedish-Jewish friend for an update. He emailed this (slightly edited for length):

“It’s not that Sweden is a more dangerous country to live in than any other country (Sweden is probably more safe). However, I do think Sweden is becoming more similar to other countries (like the US) with segregation, “bad neighborhoods,” gang violence, etc. When I grew up in the 80s there were very few neighborhoods like that, now there’s a lot. I think our country is moving in the wrong direction in many respects.

“The welfare state (which we are all very proud of) is only sustainable if there is a low unemployment rate and if the majority of the people feel like they are a part of society. That’s not the case right now in several neighborhoods and cities throughout the country. One reason is that we have had a large influx of immigrants over a short period of time (largest number of immigrants per capita in the EU), many of whom have very low education, don’t speak the language, etc. We have relatively few “easy jobs” to offer, partly due to the fact that we have very strong unions and high thresholds to the labor market. This creates parallel societies which is not good for a country. I think the anti-Semitism is the same as before, although there haven’t been any new attacks lately (thank God).”

What about immigration to the United States? We should continue taking in immigrants, including refugees. Much larger than Sweden and far more heterogeneous, we do a good job of turning immigrants into Americans. But it’s time for a rational discussion of immigration policy. The m idle ground: We can fulfill our moral obligation to take in some refugees while retaining the right to choose what kind of immigrants we want and how many.

Middle-ground positions remain unpopular in this political era of far-left battling far-right. Last Sunday, speakers at an “Empty Chair” town hall meeting in East Oakland condemned California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, as too centrist and thus unable to oppose President Trump. Nonsense. Swinging to the far left rather than seeking common ground only further polarizes the nation. Harmful Trump initiatives should be opposed without question. But common sense should prevail over ideology.

Exodus 23:3 offers the commandment to not favor the rich in legal matters, “…nor shall you show deference to the poor man in his dispute.” Every deliberation should look at the facts and lead to an objective solution. Analyzing Sweden’s challenges and our own regarding immigration obligates us to step back, take a breath and view the situation as it is, for good and ill. Only then can we arrive at policies that are both practical and humane—and that people of good will can support.

One highly partisan opinion: You’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht coming soon.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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THE PERILS OF BELIEF

A famous dictum, espoused by Aeschylus and repeated by former U.S. senator Hiram Johnson (California), states that the first casualty of war is truth. In our time, social media, faux news organizations and politicians have rendered truth a severe casualty. They’ve bombarded it—even shredded it—with belief. Even basketball stars have joined their ranks.

Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers stated that the earth is flat. “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” he said, although an unknown “they” want us to believe that the earth is round. The Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gave his own take, surmising that the earth could be flat. “I don’t know,” he said, desiring to appear reasonable. “I haven’t done enough research.”

Research? Gazing out the window of an airplane at 35,000 feet on a clear day—NBA players don’t always fly at night—reveals the earth’s curvature. Or does that mean the earth is merely bent?

Don’t look just to some athletes, though. Donald Trump claimed his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Photographs and other evidence disproved that. White House press secretary Sean Spicer replied, “That’s what the president believes.” Will presidential beliefs—heedless of fact—commit the United States to domestic and international policies ranging from reckless to disastrous?

Often, truth is a click or two away. Many people refuse to go there. A widely circulating email purportedly by Warren Buffet claims that members of Congress receive their salary for life. FactCheck.org reviewed these claims two years ago. Its conclusion: false. Members of the House and Senate qualify for retirement benefits after five years and only for a portion of their salaries, which max out at 80 percent after virtually a lifetime in Washington.

Belief has a cousin called deception. Making the rounds of Facebook is a video from NumbersUSA demonstrating that U.S. immigration policy cannot solve global poverty. Roy Beck, the organization’s founder/president, uses gumballs in glass containers to colorfully demonstrate that America’s taking in one million of the poorest of the poor each year will not put a dent in the problem.

Beck is right. Poverty must be solved locally. However, the video represents a political shell game. U.S. immigration policy has never been about alleviating global poverty. We accept people who can contribute to our economy along with refugees. We limit their numbers, which is our right and obligation. But this video imitates a magician drawing attention to one hand while the other prepares to pull a coin from your ear. It can lead many Americans to want to shut off immigration entirely or support draconian measures for reasons having nothing to do with the reality of American immigration policy.

I have no problem with belief in the religious sense. I demonstrate that each Friday night in synagogue. Faith enables individuals and communities to discover and reinforce meaning in their lives and connect to something greater if not entirely knowable, even as science dramatically increases our knowledge base.

Still, faith must co-exist with reason, not replace it. In secular matters, belief offers a poor substitute for rational analysis based on facts. And facts do exist. I pray that we demonstrate the wisdom to know when each approach is appropriate, particularly when individuals explore cyberspace and Washington makes decisions involving the economy, human rights and geopolitical policy.

Want to take something on faith alone? Believe that you’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht, available soon.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.  

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TRUMP THE UNITER

Many Americans view Donald Trump’s presidency as off to a rocky start. Yesterday’s Gallup’s daily poll showed Trump with a 43 percent approval rating, quite low for a president two weeks into the job. But one day, if courage overtakes ideology, historians may see Mr. Trump as having rescued America from political stagnation.

Last June, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan called Mr. Trump’s comments about federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, a Mexican-American born in Indiana, “racist.” Still, he supported, if nominally, the Trump candidacy. On January 31, however, Ryan acknowledged the ineptitude of the implementation of Trump’s immigration ban. But Ryan withheld comment on Trump’s recent statement that the U.S. murder rate was the highest in 45 years. FBI statistics show the murder rate just off its lowest point. Will Paul Ryan ever take a stand?

Last Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vehemently disagreed with Trump’s comparing the United States with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, as did Arizona senator John McCain. As to Trump’s calling federal Judge James Robart a “so-called judge” because Robart issued a stay of the “Muslim ban,” McConnell said, “I think it’s best not to single out judges for criticism.”

Yet two days ago, McConnell said of congressional Republicans, “I think there is a high level of satisfaction with the new administration. Our members are not obsessed with the daily tweets, but are looking at the results.” Note that McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, former labor secretary under George W. Bush, serves as Trump’s secretary of transportation. Will McConnell ever draw a line in the political sand?

Some Americans with conservative credentials have been more forthcoming. Michael Mullen, retired navy admiral and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, wrote in the New York Times about Trump’s adding Steve Bannon to the National Security Council: “Having Mr. Bannon as a voting member of the principals committee will have a negative influence on what is supposed to be candid, nonpartisan deliberation.”

John Yoo, White House legal counsel under Bush and a defender of torture, wrote in the Times: “Faced with President Trump’s executive orders suspending immigration from several Muslim nations and ordering the building of a border wall… even Alexander Hamilton, our nation’s most ardent proponent of executive power, would be worried by now.”

And last Wednesday, Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, called Trump’s remarks about Judge Robart “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”

Bernie Sanders sums up the situation: “I would hope that people like Sen. McConnell and other Republicans have the courage to stand up to Trump’s movement toward authoritarianism. We’re a democracy, not a one-man show… We’re not a business run by Mr. Trump.”

Whether Republicans (and in other situations, far-left Democrats) will put the nation above personal political concerns remains to be seen. But it’s not far-fetched to believe that Mr. Trump will, in a fit of pique or hubris, step over Constitutional boundaries. In response, Republicans and Democrats in Congress may feel compelled to reach across the aisle and demonstrate a renewed sense of common purpose.

Congress and all Americans have the power to put aside partisanship, listen to each other and embrace a truly United States of America. The willingness to exercise that power will determine the nation’s fate.

If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too. And have faith in America. People of good will can, even if late, find common ground.

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BRAIN SURGERY AND NATIONAL SECURITY

I retired from advertising several years ago and devote the bulk of my time to writing fiction. But I couldn’t have dreamed of the phone call I received from a major hospital’s president asking me to come to work for big money and in a most unexpected way.

“We’d like you to chair our committee overseeing our department of neurosurgery,” said the President. “I’m flattered,” I said, “but I was an advertising copywriter by trade. Wouldn’t Dr. Ben Carson be better suited?” The President reminded me that Dr. Carson is unavailable since he’s been nominated as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Washington. “Besides,” he said, “I want you!”

“Let me think about this and call you back,” I said. “Just remember,” said the President,” I know more than the doctors about what makes brain surgery effective—and profitable.” After we hung up, I gave the matter considerable thought. I realized that the President might be on to something.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a doctor. Or a nurse. Or a medical technician. Or an orderly. But I had the common people’s association with healthcare that would offer new and vital perspectives on matters I knew nothing about—like putting people to sleep, opening skulls, cutting up brains, sticking electrical thingies into gray matter, zapping cells with ray guns, post-op nursing stuff and getting people back on their feet—or at least on their tushes.

For example, I see my doctor for annual checkups. Before I do, I get lab tests. I’ve even had a few minor surgeries. One resulted in my spending a night in a hospital. Encouraged, I thought more deeply. I’ve taken people to the hospital and picked them up. I’ve also visited family and friends in hospitals. That includes holding my father’s hand as he lay dying. I even had a friend who wanted to become a neurosurgeon. I think he did. After college, we lost touch.

I also understand healthcare’s financial side. Long ago, I had employer health insurance. After I started freelancing, I paid for a series of health plans right out of my pocket. I also paid for some procedures my plan’s deductible wouldn’t cover. I have Medicare now.

Still, when I called back I was hesitant. “I suppose I have a pretty good background in healthcare for a guy whose college major was English,” I said. “But I’m still on the fence, neurosurgery being kind of like rocket science without all that fuel that goes boom and spews flames on the launch pad.”

The President countered, “Think about this. Donald Trump recently named Steve Bannon to the National Security Council and eliminated from the NSC the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence. Since the National Security Council deals in matters of utmost importance to our country’s security and the risks faced by our military personnel, doesn’t that tell you something?”

I took a beat pause, since in college I minored in theater and pride myself on my timing. “It does,” I said.

The President chuckled then said, “So you’ll chair our neurosurgery committee?”

“Looking at the example you just gave,” I said, “I can’t help but give you a clear, unequivocal answer. Hell no!

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