Posts Tagged ‘American democracy’

ROOTING AGAINST OURSELVES

A column by Nick Hoppe in Monday’s San Francisco Chronicle reflected on his father Art, a longtime Chron columnist, writing in 1971 against the Vietnam War. In effect, Art Hoppe rooted against his own country. That poses some interesting questions.

We lost. Withdrawing our last combat troops in 1973 enabled North Vietnam to overrun the south and enter Ho Chi Minh City in 1975. What if we’d won? Would we have defeated our real enemies—the Soviet Union and China?

We didn’t need to be in Vietnam. China was a half-hearted “ally” of Vietnam. In 1979, the two nations fought a brief border war after Vietnam invaded Cambodia. As to the Cold War’s bigger picture, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. Two years later, the Soviet Union dissolved.

Hoppe asks his own tantalizing question: What happens when Americans—himself included—root against our country today because we see it engaged in wrong behavior. If the American economy prospers—more jobs, a rising gross domestic product, a stock market climbing again—does that justify Donald Trump in the Oval Office?

Hoppe concedes that rooting against America is rooting against himself. He has to make a living. He has a 401(k) plan. Are he and so many other people opposed to Trump willing to suffer short-term, and perhaps painful, economic stress to limit Trump’s time in office? Bear in mind that the report from the special commission headed by Robert Mueller could offer proof of collusion with Russia and lead to impeachment—or not.

I suspect that many Americans are undergoing such a challenging conflict. They want to succeed personally. And they’re not selfish. They want others to succeed. Still, they hope the nation experiences failures. Yes, they’re alarmed that 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed without pay for four weeks, but they view the partial government shutdown as an opportunity to de-legitimize the president. Trump states that the furloughed workers support him along with farmers. The latter, unfortunately, can’t utilize critical government services informing them of the best times to plant and enabling them to apply for loans. Do those who suffer the most pain really want to endure it?

My key question: If under Trump’s policies—steep tax cuts for corporations and the super-rich, economic and environmental deregulation, trade wars, strained international relationships—the economy continues to grow—and we all do better—shouldn’t “Trump 2020” be on everyone’s lips? Does it matter what insults he hurls? What encouragement he offers racists? How he maintains a relationship with Vladimir Putin?

Isn’t it all about the money?

A look at history: In the 1920s, after Benito Mussolini took power, his government circulated word that the fascists had upgraded the nation’s dilapidated railway system. Even after World War II—Il Duce was shot and his mangled corpse hung at a half-finished gas station in Milan—his supporters comforted themselves by reflecting that “at least the trains ran on time.”

What trade-offs are we Americans willing to make for a thriving economy? Will we sacrifice our democracy, granting its imperfections? Is there a price high enough to impel us to sell out the Constitution? Or is rooting against ourselves, as Nick Hoppe suggests, an illogically logical proposition?

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.

DEMOCRACY’S NOT DEAD YET

Several nights ago, I heard a symphony of foghorns. I live two miles from the Pacific and half that distance from San Francisco’s Baker Beach and the Golden Gate. Yet extended periods of time often pass between my visits to the beach to admire the ocean’s size, energy and mystery.

So it is with much in life. Beauty and wonder often are much closer than we realize. Politics, war and disasters—natural and man-made—attract our attention. We close our eyes and minds to the good that also surrounds us.

Another matter relates. Tomorrow (Saturday) night, Jews will celebrate Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah). Then or on Sunday, synagogues will unroll a Torah scroll and read the last verses of the year’s final portion, V’zot HaB’rachah(And This is the Blessing), which concludes with Moses’ death. Without a pause, reading will continue with the first verses of B’reishit(Genesis) with which the Torah starts, presenting creation and life.

Why read the same text year after year? The scholar Jeffrey Tigay explains that we find new insights on every page (as we might at the beach or in a forest), “not because the Torah has changed, but because we have changed since we read it a year ago.”

Looking past immediate concerns, Americans can gain new perspectives on our present situation and our past—hear the call of the Liberty Bell too often drowned out by shouting. We may discover that the nation’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses.

I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. As I write, I’m gazing at the cover of October’s The Atlantic. This special edition asks a disturbing question: “Is democracy dying?” Editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg titles his introduction “The Crisis in Democracy.” A toxic brew of populism, tribalism, Donald Trump and technology worries a number of The Atlantic’s writers and contributors. Nothing new here. A recent edition of Foreign Affairsconsidered the same matter. The non-Fox media continue to do so.

Sure, there’s plenty of worry to go around. Witness the hyper-partisanship surrounding yesterday’s Senate testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanagh. Yet America weathered previous storms.

White people enslaved black people. The Ku Kux Klan promoted racism and segregation not just in the South but all over the country. Universities and medical schools restricted Jewish matriculation. Women couldn’t vote until 1920. In the 1930s, upwards of thirty million Americans listened to Father Charles Coghlan’s anti-Semitic radio broadcasts. After Pearl Harbor, Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of Japanese-Americans. Throughout our history, the nation also suffered a series of economic depressions and, of course, 9/11.

Un-democratic, prejudicial laws and customs have always had strong proponents. Hence the secession of the Southern states leading to the Civil War, considerable opposition to women’s suffrage in Congress and later political maneuvering like Richard Nixon’s southern strategy. All these battered and bruised American democracy. We moved forward.

I’ll give the last word to New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, writing from Greece: “Democracy is stubborn. It raises our gaze. It is the system that best enshrines the unshakable human desire to be free. Athens reminds us of that. America reminds us of that. It fails. It falls short of John Winthrop’s ‘city upon a hill.’ It strives still to fail better.”

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.