The Enemy of My Enemy

Alan Zendell, May 6, 2021

As the Biden administration moves to get COVID under control and counter the stupidity of anti-vaxxers, Americans are responding positively. He has consistently polled better than his predecessor since the day he took office. There’s no doubt that the majority of Americans approve of the way Biden is leading the country, and that only a relatively small minority (I estimate it as less than 30%) support Trump and his Big Lie that the election was stolen. Despite those impressive and unusually consistent numbers, the two most important political issues in our country today are partisan gridlock and who controls the Republican party.

For people who believe, as I do, that Biden’s fight for the soul of our nation is critical to our future, there’s a bitter irony in that observation. Two decades ago, Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense and Vice President under George W. Bush, drew the ire of the country as the evil genius who pushed President Bush into the twenty-year war in Iraq and Afghanistan, based on false intelligence about weapons of mass destruction and considerable financial self-interest. His politics were considered extreme, Reaganism on steroids. The positions Cheney convinced Bush 43 to take were largely responsible for his presidency ending with one of the lowest approval ratings in our history.

One decade ago, with Dick Cheney out of politics, his daughter Liz took up the baton for her father’s brand of conservatism and became a loud voice for Republicans in Congress. In our naivete, those of us who believed the country needed to change direction from war and the financial dangers caused by an unregulated and irresponsible banking system saw Liz Cheney as the enemy, and not without good reason. New York Times columnist Charles Blow reminded us why, yesterday:

• In 2009, she refused to speak out against the birther movement that claimed Barack Obama was not eligible to be president
• In 2010, she labeled Obama’s Department of Justice (DOJ) the Department of Jihad, because of Obama’s alleged support for radical Islam
• In 2016, when the infamous Access Hollywood tapes showed Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, she said that wouldn’t stop her from supporting him
• In 2017, she reiterated her father’s controversial support for torturing prisoners captured in the war against Al Qaeda

So yes, it was reasonable, until recently, to view Liz Cheney as the enemy if your political beliefs were anywhere to the left of the Tea Party’s. And then, much like her fellow Conservative Jeff Flake did, a few years earlier, she took a courageous stand against Trump’s lies and willingness to subvert the Constitution for his own benefit. It was courageous because it was an almost lone voice among traditional Republicans arguing for principle, and it put her political future in serious jeopardy. She drew a line between politics and the Trump philosophy of winning at all costs. She denied Trump’s Big Lie and stood tall against the wave of Trumpism attempting to retain leadership of her party.

For me, this is another Flake moment, and a far more important one. Senator Flake made me realize that political opposition is a very different thing from undermining the basis of our democracy. Unfortunately, Flake lacked either the courage or the stamina to fight back against his primary challenge in Arizona, and he faded into relative obscurity after the 2018 election. I admired Flake for speaking out against Trump’s abuses and for arguing that Conservatism, as the polar opposite of Progressivism, was a necessary component of a two-party system of government, whereas Trumpism was about the loss of morality and common decency. But where Flake just quit the fight, Liz Cheney is willing to stand alone even it ends her career.

As Charles Blow said, fighting for truth over dangerous lies is a pretty low bar for defining heroism, but I’m not picky. I choose my allies where I find them, and right now, anyone willing to stand up to Trump has my support. Liz Cheney’s politics, like Flake’s, are completely opposite to mine. But integrity is a whole different thing. Without it, our government and our Constitution cannot long survive. I will cheer for Liz Cheney in her attempt to get the Republican Party back on track. I’ll do whatever I can to help her win, and when she does, I’ll fight like hell against her reactionary politics and in favor of Biden’s centrist progressive leadership.

I will likely oppose Cheney’s political philosophy at every turn, but I will thank her for reminding us that democracy only survives when both sides are free to fight for what they believe, if what they believe in is the future of our country.

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Irreconcilable Differences

Alan Zendell, May 5, 2021

Marriages break up for various reasons, the most common of which is “irreconcilable differences.” That’s another way of saying that in the absence of flagrant adultery or spousal abuse, couples drift apart, and rather than attempt to resolve their differences, they often let them grow and fester.

Differences exist in all relationships. They can be a source of growth, strengthening the bond, or they can be destructive and divisive. With open communication and a mutual willingness to invest the requisite time and energy, they can be bridged, but when they become extreme, it can be impossible to find common ground. When that happens there is no recourse but divorce.

All relationships are fragile. They require care and nurturing, and that’s equally true in the politics of a two-party democracy. Differences between Republicans and Democrats have always existed, but in the past, people of good will have found ways to come together and overcome them. Our system has endured until now because no matter how sharp our differences, there always came a time when responsible people put country ahead of personal gain and ideology. Our republican form of government survived wars and economic disasters but there is no guarantee that it will survive internal pressures tearing it apart.

In the decades since Ronald Reagan declared that the government was more a source of problems than solutions, and Republicans realized that if they continued to depend on white, working class voters to retain power, we’ve seen an erosion of the basic notion that the Constitution and the general welfare of all Americans must always be our guiding principles. In the face of population shifts in diversity and education which would inevitably relegate their traditional base to minority status, Republicans had an existential choice – expand their tent or rely on lies and restrict voting rights for people who typically voted Democratic.

Despite calls by Republicans who remember what their party was based on, systemic racism, misogyny, and elitism caused the party to drift to the extreme right. Differences and prejudices were exacerbated rather than negotiated, and the result has been the worsening gridlock that dominates Congress and many state legislatures. And that has revealed a glaring weakness in our democracy, an oversight by our founders which may ultimately destroy it if we do not rethink our priorities.

The founders assumed that when push came to shove, patriotism and the Constitution would prevail. They never anticipated that someone like Donald Trump would be willing and able to come to power based on an alternate reality that ignored facts, or that Americans would be gullible enough to be manipulated into thinking that anyone who believed differently was their enemy. The strength of our democracy depends on a loyal opposition. When each side views the opposition only as something to be put down and defeated, we are in serious trouble.

That is the real legacy of Donald Trump whose entire governing philosophy is creating chaos and destroying anyone who is not one hundred percent loyal to him, and for whom nothing matters but his own power and wealth. Rather than heal, Trump prefers to inflame. Since his only real talent is a lynch mob kind of charismatic appeal, and he is completely without scruples, we are being driven to the same end as all those couples who allowed their relationships to erode until there was nothing left to save. Make no mistake – perpetuating the Big Lie that the election was stolen will destroy our country if we allow it to continue.

I just returned from two months in Florida. At the hundred-day mark of the Biden administration, I saw signs everywhere that read, “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Trump.” The anger and vitriol of Trump supporters is real and tangible, notwithstanding that they’re based on a deliberate campaign of lies and misinformation promoted by the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate.

That’s why Facebook announced today that it will continue to ban Donald Trump from its platform, and Twitter has shown no inclination to reinstate Trump’s account. Those are the only signs I’ve seen that there is hope for our future. We should be thankful that the two most powerful (and unregulated) social media platforms recognize that truth is more important than profit and popularity.

If only our elected representatives believed that, if they demanded that voices like Liz Cheney’s be heard instead of demonizing her, we might actually emerge from the Trump era stronger than we were. If they don’t, I fear that the American experiment with democracy is doomed.

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Children and Politics

Alan Zendell, April 28, 2021

The Trump administration shamelessly used children as political pawns in its war against all forms of immigration. The scenes of kids incarcerated at the border and separated from their parents were among the most cringe worthy in an administration that used shock and awe as an everyday propaganda tool. And it didn’t stop there. With public school systems around the country desperate for funds, and many unable to provide badly needed nutrition for kids in poverty in the form of school lunches, the basics of education, and a safe learning environment, Trump’s Secretary of Education made things worse.

With millions of children from underfunded public school systems in urban ghettos and rural America entering high school barely able to read and lacking even the most basic math skills, Betsy Devos used her office to advance the cause of charter and private schools while starving public school systems’ budgets. This, despite fifteen years of promoting charter schools in Michigan, an effort which left that state ‘near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on … the “Nation’s Report Card.”’

In the post-Trump era, with the death of Rush Limbaugh and the falling star of whacko Alex Jones leaving a vacuum in the world of opportunistic charlatans, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson has markedly upped his game of spreading lies and confusion. This week he brought American children into his political orbit, demanding that his followers call police or child services whenever they see a child wearing a medical mask. Carlson claims putting masks on our children to protect them and those they interact with from COVID is child abuse. (No, he’s not a moron. He’s just a cynical, immoral shill for right wing political causes.)

The fate of children living in poverty or in working class families that cannot afford private schools has been declining for decades. It’s part of the culture war started in the Reagan years that masqueraded as concerns over government growing and devouring tax dollars. The reality was that Republicans never objected when billions (even trillions) of tax dollars enriched the wealthiest Americans through loopholes and rate cuts. But every attempt to uplift children in need was met concerns about increasing the deficit. The problem, of course, is that investing in the futures of children in poverty largely uses tax dollars to help minorities.

Enter Joe and Jill Biden, whose commitment to our nation’s children is beyond question. President Biden will present his American Families Plan to a joint session of Congress tonight. It’s a bold move that would invest almost two trillion dollars over several years. Its programs will be funded by increasing the tax rate on everyone earning over a million dollars a year, and IRS seriously attacking tax fraud among the wealthiest filers.

The proposed legislation won’t be passed into law in its present form, but it’s a great starting point for negotiation. As summarized in today’s Washington Post, more than half of the proposed $1.9 trillion price tag would go toward “dramatically expanding access to education and safety-net programs for families.”
$200 billion would be invested in pre-K education for all three and four-year-olds, with states chipping in 50% of the cost. $109 billion would fund community college educations for all high school graduates who want one, with states paying 25%. The president also wants to subsidize “tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled at historically Black institutions, tribal colleges and other minority-serving institutions for two years.” Imagine how that will play with the far right.

But Biden doesn’t stop there. He wants “225 billion in child-care funding; $225 billion for paid family and medical leave; and $200 billion to extend enhanced Affordable Care Act subsidies” largely aimed at families at children, and a four-year extension of the robust child tax credit that was part of the two COVID stimulus programs. That all adds up to more than one trillion dollars invested in strengthening the financial status of American families.

The American Families Plan is anathema to the Trump wing of the Republican Party, but it will likely poll very well among voters from both parties. Like the Biden stimulus plan and the proposed jobs and infrastructure act, the AFP is expected to earn the approval of at least two of every three Americans. The truth is, that without the long-term agenda of wealthy white racists fighting against a transfer of wealth to people of color and those in poverty, the is no moral or logical reason to oppose it. Once again, it’s up to the voters to make their voices heard in Congress. If you care about the next generation, you have no choice but to speak up.

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Two States and a Pandemic

Alan Zendell, April 26, 2021

I spent the first twelve months of the COVID pandemic in Maryland, and the most recent two in Florida. Given the craziness of 2020, the public comments by the states’ respective governors, and Trump’s still significant support in Florida, I expected to see a sharp contrast in people’s attitudes and behavior in their response to COVID. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there wasn’t, at least in the purple county where my condo is located.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. My relationship with Florida has been a yoyoing of love and hate for more than five decades. It began on a high note in 1964 when I visited Cape Canaveral to observe a Saturn 1 test firing, but that changed the following year. My next visit began wonderfully – it was my honeymoon in Miami Beach. But three days later, Hurricane Betsy decided to wreck much of southern Florida, turning our honeymoon into a strange tragi-comedy before crossing the Gulf and killing seventy-six people in Louisiana. It continued that way ever since: my brother’s funeral and four more hurricanes, one of which I had to confront three times, being among the low points, and my three grandchildren providing the upside.

Being in Florida for the past two months affected my perspective. Governor DeSantis’ push in 2020 to open the state quickly and ignore CDC’s mask and distancing guidelines so that herd immunity could be achieved through mass infections had horrified me. Likewise, his early voice in the chorus of fake news and denial that the pandemic was real. There was no way I was going to DeSantis’ Florida until my wife and I were both vaccinated.

While I still do not and never will support the callous disregard for human life expressed by both DeSantis and Trump, being here for two months made me see things a little differently. When I left Maryland on February 28th, it was still winter there, and the state was just starting to pull itself out of lockdown. Governor Hogan, one of the few Republican governors to stand up to Trump during the pandemic, managed his state’s response brilliantly. For an entire year, my fellow Marylanders behaved responsibly, following the rules and adapting, thanks to the leadership of Hogan and our County officials (my county in Maryland is also quite purple.)

When I arrived in Florida, winter had miraculously changed to either spring or summer, depending on the day. What a difference! People spent time outdoors, and even those who feared the virus because of pre-existing health concerns could walk on deserted beaches, dine in outdoor restaurants, and resume many of their usual activities. I was pleasantly surprised  that stores required and enforced mask-wearing and distancing as scrupulously as they did in Maryland, and the great majority of people observed them. But a disturbing (to me) number of people are willing to eat indoors in crowded restaurants and many still think Trump won the election. More than once, I heard Anthony Fauci referred to as Satan’s messenger, but I convinced one elderly woman who wouldn’t accept vaccination until God told her to, that Fauci was actually God’s messenger, since God was too busy to talk to everyone personally.

Politics aside, I was reminded that Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism and the service industries. DeSantis’ concern for the financial health of his state is understandable, if not his disregard for ballooning death counts. I was also reminded that Florida faces much harsher challenges from climate change than most states, and it continues to play a leading role in conservation and mitigation efforts, preserving endangered species and protecting the coastline from rising seas levels. Schools have remained open, with options for virtual or in-person learning, and my masked grandsons never missed a day.

In my ongoing ups and downs concerning Florida, I have to rate this visit a plus. Despite the sharp divisions in our country today, I’m pleased to report that if Marylanders get an A for their response to the pandemic, Floridians deserve a B. My family and friends here stayed healthy and all have been vaccinated. I was concerned when I got here, but not any more.

And yet, as much as I want to end this visit on a positive note, I’ve been here long enough for summer to have arrived with its typical Florida intensity. It’s not Florida’s fault, but though I hate to say goodbye to the kids, I will be ecstatic to leave the heat, mugginess, and mosquitos behind when I head north.

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Time to Stop the Bleeding

Alan Zendell, April 19, 2021

There’s been a rash of deaths associated with gun violence this year. I
divide them into categories: Individual/domestic incidents, mass shootings, and
police-involved shootings. Our attention is sharply focused when something in the
second or third category occurs, but for the sake of perspective, keep in mind
that the numbers in the first group far outweigh the others. Mass shootings and
police shootings horrify us, at least they used to before their frequency made
us numb, but shootings that don’t involve mass casualties or police are the
real horror story: accidents, domestic disagreements erupting into gunfire,
premeditated murder, drive-by shootings, gang wars, bar fights that turn
deadly, muggings – the list is endless.

GunViolenceArchive.org is a non-aligned, nonprofit website that tracks mass
shootings. If you think you’re on top of the numbers, click on the link and
have a look. You’ll find charts and maps like the one below that describe every
mass killing incident in the United States so far in 2021. You’ll be shocked.

2021GunDeaths

In the 109 days between January 1st and April 19th of this year, 12,777 Americans died as a result of gun violence, an average of 117 per day, which exceeds the long term average of 106 I quoted in Americans’ Obsession With Guns. I was surprised to learn that of that number, 7,194, roughly four out of seven, were suicides. Some might argue that a person intent on killing himself would find a way regardless of whether he had a gun handy, but a loaded gun in a desk drawer is awfully enabling.

The other 5,583 were victims. Of that number, nearly a thousand were under 18 (416) or accidental (575). The concentration of dots on the map makes it clear that we’re not talking about hunting accidents – the dots are concentrated around population centers; most deaths due to gun violence occur in or near cities. The conventional wisdom that people in rural areas who own guns generally use them responsibly is thus supported by these data. NRA spokespeople and the Congressional representatives they “own” like to blame cities for the gun violence problem, citing places like Washington, DC and Chicago, both of which have very tough gun control laws. They argue, therefore, that gun control laws don’t work, but don’t buy it. Most of the guns used in crimes in Washington, for example, are purchased in neighboring states like Virginia, which is one of the easiest places in the country to buy one.

What are we to do? Do we keep sending our children to school every day knowing that theirs may be the next one to be locked down because of an active shooter? Do we stop going to events in urban areas that attract crazy people with guns looking for soft targets? And what about people living in cities who kiss their kids good night, not realizing that a gun battle is about to erupt outside their windows between rival drug dealers firing bullets that can easily
pierce the walls of their children’s bedrooms?

As popular pressure mounts for lawmakers to act to curb the number of guns and assure that mentally ill people or criminals can’t access them, we also have to deal with the civil war within the Republican Party. The supporters of Donald Trump march in lockstep to protect gun rights. Any attempts to pass responsible constraints, even those supported by three out of every five
Americans meets with knee-jerk rejection. We can no longer blame the NRA, which is drowning in its own legal and financial problems and not nearly the political force it was in previous  years. The Alt-Right and other Trumpers say they’ll fight to the death to protect their Second Amendment rights, no matter that they have no understanding of why the Amendment was added to the Constitution or how it was intended to be applied.

Our entire political rhetoric has become so twisted and convoluted, we’re losing sight of reality. Our friends and children are being killed every day while we argue pointlessly over things that are entirely obvious. Guns cannot be allowed to proliferate without restriction any longer, and we are well past the time when it may be necessary to confiscate many that are already in the wrong hands. As I’ve said before, when our elected representatives are clearly
marching to the wrong drummer, it’s up to us, the voters, the court of last resort, to set things right.  

We’ve seen a number of grass roots movements spring up in the past few years, many of which, like defunding the police, are seriously misguided. How about a movement that says, “If you don’t vote for gun control in this Congress, you will be voted out of the next one?” It’s really just that simple.

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Americans’ Obsession With Guns

Alan Zendell, April 16th, 2021

The first report I saw of the April 15th mass shooting at a Fedex facility in Indianapolis described it as “the country’s deadliest shooting since 10 people were killed March 22 in a grocery shooting in Colorado.” Eight people were murdered in Indiana plus the suicide of the shooter, a lunatic who, in a sane society, would never have had access to a gun. What a disappointment – if he’d only killed two more people before turning the gun on himself, we’d have had a twenty-five day record.

We used to be horrified when such shootings occurred every few years. Then they became annual events. Now we track them on almost a daily basis. There was no more angst or empathy in the Indianapolis news release than there was in the sports section’s report that yesterday, the St. Louis Cardinals scored their highest run total of the season, a seventeen day record. Are we so numb to the disease of gun violence that we now think of victim counts setting records in personal tragedy?

A friend recently suggested that we take mass shootings too seriously. After all, the number of Americans who die from gunshot wounds (not counting police and the armed forces) is far overshadowed by the number dead from COVID. The Brady Center For the Prevention of Gun Violence reports that an average of 316 Americans are shot by someone trying to kill them every day, and 106 of them die. An almost identical number, about 104, die every day in automobile accidents, prompting some gun advocates to suggest that gun control measures would be equivalent to revoking our drivers licenses.

At its height, COVID claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people per day. The Trump administration refused to take simple, obvious actions that could have saved a half million Americans from the pandemic, and even with the Biden administration vaccinating more than three million people per day, we are still averaging between 700 and 1,000 daily COVID deaths. Why are we so upset about a mere 106 gun deaths per day? Either my friend was right or something is terribly amiss in America. Hint: it’s the latter.

Last week, President Biden issued an Executive Order aimed at getting rid of “ghost guns” and making it easier to apply Red Flag laws to prevent people who are incapable of owning a gun responsibly from having access to them. The measure was limited and may never take effect if pro-gun advocates challenge it in court. Any hope of improving our gun violence epidemic will require bipartisan legislation. I’m sure Biden will make the effort, but far less confident that it will succeed.

At the first indication that such legislation has any chance of success, the extreme right wing media outlets will start their usual rants about the government coming to take our guns away. We’ve seen this madness play out so many times, I could write the script today. As far as the gun lobbies are concerned, the Second Amendment is the Holy Grail. The simple statement in the mindset of the eighteenth century, that sought to assure that citizens could arm themselves and form militias in case the British wanted to take their colonies back has become the most hyped and politicized argument of our generation.

The Second Amendment wasn’t intended to support universal gun ownership without qualifications. Questions like whether a Chicago police officer was justified in shooting a thirteen-year-old boy because he appeared to be carrying a gun miss the point. Who in his right mind would give a gun to a thirteen-year-old child in the first place? And who wants to see guns in the hands of mentally incompetent adults or convicted felons? These questions are in no sense political, yet they have been conflated with the entire far right agenda.

I have always supported an individual’s right to possess firearms, though I don’t believe the Second Amendment intended that to be an unlimited entitlement. I’m coming to believe that it’s time the government began fulfilling the far right’s prophesy and confiscating guns from those who a consensus of responsible citizens agree shouldn’t have them. If our cities were teeming with plague-infected rats, we’d initiate an all-out campaign to exterminate them. How is easy access to guns different?

The Gallup organization reports that since 2013 about 60% of Americans consistently believed we need stricter gun control laws. Yet our lawmakers are more concerned with what the NRA and gun lobbies think. But no matter how much money they receive from those entities, all they really care about is being re-elected. It’s up to us, the voters, to let them know that the 60% who want gun ownership reasonably regulated will be paying attention in November, 2022.

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A Traffic Stop in Virginia

Alan Zendell, April 14, 2021

Amid the seemingly endless shootings of men of color by police, it would be easy to dismiss last December’s traffic stop by two Windsor, Virginia police officers as a minor incident – after all, no black people were shot or killed. But it stands out for different reasons. The motorist brutalized by one of the police officers wasn’t a kid, a drug addict, or a person of interest to the police for any reason. Caron Nazario is a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army Medical Corps who was returning from work in uniform with his dog on the back seat. He was stopped for driving his new SUV without a license plate, because the car dealer had taped his temporary plate to the back window and neither of the cops noticed it.

A simple misunderstanding, right? And it would have been if, for example, the driver had been a pretty blonde woman or a white man in a business suit. Instead, despite visible and audible attempts by Lt. Nazario to respectfully de-escalate the situation, he and his dog were pepper sprayed four times while he sat with his hands out the window in plain sight, strapped into his seat. As we see and hear in bodycam videos, the officer who over-reacted was angry because Nazario refused to leave his vehicle with guns pointed at him until someone told him why he had been pulled over. The officer was fired after Virginia Governor Northam and the Windsor police chief initiated an internal investigation. Lt. Nazario has filed a law suit against the officers involved.

Compared to the cases of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, that almost sounds like justice, but it’s not. When I read about this incident, I was watching a celebration of Jackie Robinson Day, which commemorates Robinson’s first game as a Brooklyn Dodger on April 15, 1947.  I was only four on that day, but over the next few years I saw Robinson play at Ebbets Field and learned about what life was like for a Negro hero in post-war America. Like Nazario, Robinson had been a second lieutenant in the Army during the war, though he had to overcome discrimination in the segregated Army to be accepted into Officer Candidate School. And despite a spotless record as an officer, he was court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Texas. Although an all-white panel of judges acquitted him, that ended his military career.

What Robinson, and seventy-three years later, Nazario deal with every day of their lives was brilliantly portrayed in the film, 42. In a powerful scene, Harrison Ford (as Dodger General Manager Branch Rickey) tells Chadwick Boseman (Robinson) why the Dodgers selected him from dozens of Negro ballplayers to break the color line. He explains that there were many candidates as talented as Robinson, but Robinson’s history of self-restraint in the face of bigotry and discrimination were what set him apart. Rickey told Robinson that he could only be successful if he never fought back no matter how he was treated.

Three quarters of a century later, the message for every non-white citizen who is involved in a police incident is the same. Remain docile and subservient, follow all instructions instantly, and be respectful no matter what they throw at you. In the cases of Floyd and Wright, even that wasn’t enough to save their lives, which explains why Lt. Nazario drove to a well-lighted gas station before stopping his vehicle.

Like the racists who threw obscenities at Robinson in the media and on the field, it’s clear from the bodycam videos in the Nazario case that the officers who assaulted and tortured Nazario (and his innocent dog) with pepper spray, did not consider Nazario someone worthy of basic human rights. They treated a U. S. Army officer who had done nothing wrong like a piece of trash, and clearly felt entitled to do so.

I  have no illusions about how prevalent that kind of behavior has always been in many police departments. Still, the recent wave of such incidents makes me believe this is yet another piece of the sad legacy left by Donald Trump. It’s almost as if his violent, divisive rhetoric was interpreted as permission to behave that way openly, much like inciting the crowds last December and January was heard by right wing extremists as an invitation to come out of the closet and bring their weapons to Capitol Hill.

The worst part of this may be the innocent victims we fail to notice. The police who care, who do their jobs faithfully and protect the rest of us from harm suffer whenever something like this happens. They deserve our respect and admiration. I make it a point to thank every police officer I meet for being there.

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Bad Boys

Alan Zendell, April 13, 2021

We all know them. They grow up resenting authority, rebelling against rules, pushing the envelope and flirting with trouble. It’s not just boys, but in a world in which men still hold most of the power, we notice bad boys more than girls. I have a theory about bad boys. It’s unvetted, and when I asked a psychologist I know if it made sense, he declined to comment, but I can’t let it go.

Recent events won’t let me. It starts with the premise that the ultimate bad boy in our recent experience is Donald Trump. It’s not a very controversial premise. I imagine Trump would endorse it himself, even revel in it. He bragged about his treatment of women and his avoidance of the tax code, and referred to his bankruptcies and other nasty business practices as evidence of how clever he is. He lies and bullies unapologetically and has a long history of associating with unsavory characters like organized crime figures John Gotti and Roy Cohn. I think he really believes he could shoot someone in broad daylight and walk away scot free. He believes his Teflon coating is impenetrable, and up until now he’s been right.

That’s what is most important about the bad boy in chief. Call him amoral, sociopathic, insensitive, shameless – all those descriptions are apt, but why does it matter now that his presidency is in the past? For the same reason kids fascinated with space look up to astronauts and other kids on sandlots and playgrounds look up to sports heroes. Bad boys have their heroes too, which brings me back to my unvetted theory.

Suppose you were a budding bad boy – a compulsive liar, a vile racist, a cheater, a sexual predator, or someone with any other socially unacceptable or criminal tendency. As an adolescent, you learned to submerge those tendencies in a place where others couldn’t see them. You had your public face and another, darker one you kept hidden. Maybe you carried around a burden of guilt, maybe you lived under a cloud of anger and frustration, or worse, you couldn’t fit in to normal society and instead turned to cults, fringe movements, or hate groups.

In a sense, you’ve lived your life underground. Your parents, teachers, mentors, and elected leaders preached values you couldn’t relate to. Part of you understood that you were broken, while another, darker part felt superior to everyone else. And then a new hero came on the scene who seemed to embody all of the things you’ve felt bad about. He lived his life in defiance of all the rules you’ve been told you had to obey, and while many people blustered and screamed, he always seemed to come out ahead. Everything he says and does triggers outrage and fear in many people, but not you. When Trump talked about grabbing women by their pussies, I cringed, but you felt inspired by the way he continued to prosper and earn adulation from millions.

All your life you’ve been told you were wrong or sick or crazy. But seeing Trump get away with breaking every rule, ignoring every norm and custom, eschewing common courtesy and decency is freeing for you. You feel exonerated, justified, vindicated, enabled. It feels so good you ignore the evidence that it’s all an illusion. The number of people who have come under his spell and had their lives ruined when he no longer had any use for them goes unnoticed. You’re as hooked an any heroin addict; in a very real way, the example his life sets is a dangerous drug.

I can’t let go of this theory because it explains people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. Gaetz is the quintessential Trump wannabe. As a young man, his influential father always had the ability to bail him out of trouble, things like mysteriously getting his drivers license restored after DUI convictions got it suspended, like keeping his sixteen speeding violations under wraps. And now, he is alleged to have been involved in sex trafficking and consorting with underage girls. Not exactly the same things his new hero brags about and gets away with, but close enough to instill worship in the mind of someone like Gaetz.

I don’t give a damn about Matt Gaetz. He’ll get what he deserves. He’ll be another sycophant who fell by the wayside when Trump had no use for him, like the leaders of The Proud Boys, The Oath Keepers, and Trump supporters who were swindled out of millions of dollars in unauthorized contributions. I only hope that the rest of the bad boys who were energized by Trump get the message and crawl back into their holes.

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The United States Postal Service

Alan Zendell, April 10 2021

When I was a kid everyone took the post office for granted. Everyone in my building knew our mailman’s name, and our parents left $$-filled envelopes for him at Christmas. In the years after WW2, when everyone yearned for a return to normalcy, the reliability of mail delivery was an anchor to cling to in a chaotic world.

I remember the 1946 Fourth of July parade in Brooklyn, holding my father’s hand – he’d only been discharged from the army for a month. He stood passively as companies of soldiers and sailors marched by, lost in the cacophony of overlapping marching bands, experiencing (I learned, years later) what we now call PTSD. I was oblivious, cheering wildly as each cohort of men and a few women in uniform marched by. I cheered just as loud when a few hundred mail carriers passed in full uniform with mail bags slung over their shoulders. My father finally reacted: “Why are you cheering for mailmen?”

He didn’t know how my mother and her sister had waited every morning, hoping for letters from him and my uncle. Mailmen never missed a day, except for the ones who’d been drafted and sent overseas. Most people may have taken them for granted but not me. Fourteen years later, as a freshman at Columbia paying his own way, I needed a job. I became an all-purpose postal worker at the huge Grand Central Station post office in Manhattan.

Grand Central’s workforce was made up of what my inflated ego thought of as drones, thousands of them, who along with police and firefighters in New York made up the predominantly Irish civil service. A mix of high school graduates and dropouts, those with college degrees were foremen and managers. The post office was like a huge anthill with people scurrying around everywhere. Even on my 6 pm to 6 am shift, it was always busy in an organized chaos sort of way. The mail got where it was supposed to 99% of the time, the other 1% largely the result of pranks by bored college students like me. It was an amazing feat in the low tech world of 1960.

Postage stamps increased in price every few years, but the largely manual operation was always in the red. The United States Postal Service became a political football, threatened with privatization in each election cycle. As companies like UPS, Fedex, and Amazon prospered, USPS struggled to keep up with optical scanners and automated sorters, but it was a tortoise racing against an army of hares, and in the real world hares always win. Everyone disdained “snail mail.”

Enter 2020, the pandemic, and the most vicious presidential election of the modern era. It was clear that the election could only be successfully conducted using massive mail-in voting. Trump’s bungling of the response to the pandemic had turned his expected re-election into a likely defeat. Conventional wisdom was that his best chance of winning lay in sabotaging the USPS. It’s unclear how much Trump influenced the selection by the USPS Board of Governors of wealthy Trump donor Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General. The Board was an independent body that consisted of five Republicans and four Democrats. Earlier this week, it confirmed that DeJoy continues to enjoy its unanimous support, despite the fact that he has a $50 million conflict of interest in investments in private mail delivery firms and was hired with no prior relevant experience.

DeJoy is accused of slowing down mail delivery prior to and during the election. Whether that’s true, or it was merely the first step in a long-term modernization effort, we have all suffered from the degraded performance of the USPS in the past year. DeJoy’s recently published ten-year plan does little to reassure people, since it calls for longer delivery cycles, reduced staff, and severely curtailed services and hours of operation.

On February 16th, my wife submitted forms to have our mail forwarded from Maryland to Florida, from February 28th through the end of April. As of today, April 10th, we had not received a single item of forwarded mail. Our situation is not unique; it’s typical and totally unacceptable.

President Biden has nominated three people to fill vacancies on the Postal Board, which Democrats hope will result in DeJoy’s firing. But the problem is a lot bigger than Louis DeJoy’s tenure as Postmaster General. Are Americans willing to see their beloved post offices become relics of the past and depend entirely on private, for-profit companies to deliver our mail? It’s a serious question about how we do business in the future and how our workforce survives the next wave of automation.

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Culture War and Politics

Alan Zendell, April 3, 2021

Ever since Donald Trump hit the political scene in 2015 it’s been tempting to conclude that both our politics and our internal divisions over race and the distribution of wealth had hit a new low. Tempting but wrong. The labor movement triggered violent class riots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In the years leading up to WW2, the American political scene included powerful extremist movements on both the right (the American Nazi Party) and left (the American Socialist and Communist Parties).

President Harry Truman constantly had to battle ardent segregationists who were a powerful force within his own Democratic Party. The civil rights movement saw peaceful demonstrations erupt into violence, lynchings, and murders throughout the South. Anti-government demonstrations during the Vietnam War led to brutal clashes between demonstrators and police at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago and the 1970 Kent State shootings of demonstrators by Ohio National Guardsmen. The 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy triggered deadly riots in dozens of American cities that looked very much like the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

The difference between then and now is that in Donald Trump we had a president who thrived on divisiveness and conflict, who openly exacerbated divisions that had existed in America throughout its history. Terms like culture wars and cancel culture now dominate our political scene, poisoning efforts at bipartisan governing and compromise. Trump re-awakened the notion of the Big Lie and made it his primary means of communication. I am not aware of any time in the post-war era when deliberate lies have played so great a role in American life. From “immigrants are rapist and murders,” to Fake News, to Democrats replacing capitalism with socialism, to “the election was rigged,” to the China Virus, the lies grew in size and volume until we have been separated into armed camps ready to pull the trigger at the drop of a hat.

As the Biden administration attempts to pull us back from the disastrous effects of the pandemic and reverse the negative policies of its predecessor, it must deal with a Republican party drowning in internal conflict that is nevertheless united attempting to prevent minorities and the poor from voting, a staunch obstructionist in Mitch McConnell, and a wave of anti-Asian hate crimes. At a critical time in our history, when millions are suffering and mourning the loss of loved ones who died unnecessarily, political extremism and desperation driven by lust for power are our greatest obstacles.

I take heart from the response of the business community to Republican attempts to re-write voting laws around the country. Big business, the traditional base of mainstream Republicanism is reflecting a new reality. Corporations yield enormous financial clout, but they are comprised of millions of everyday Americans from all racial, ethnic, and economic strata, and their customer bases cross all those lines. Corporations that normally are interested only in bottom line profits and have traditionally rubber-stamped Republican policy initiatives realize that when those policies are clearly not in the interest of their workers and customers, they have to take a stand.

How ironic is it that the only substantial opposition to Republican attempts to suppress voting rights has come from the business sector? Moving the major league baseball all-star game out of Atlanta will cost Georgia’s economy more than $100 million. No wonder Governor Brian Kemp sounds more like Trump every day, doubling down on his version of the Big Election Lie. Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola are both synonymous with Atlanta’s economy. They and the hundred plus other corporations calling out Georgia’s new election law may or may not force the legislature to repeal it, but other states contemplating such laws noticed the fast, negative response. They haven’t forgotten the devastating hit Arizona’s economy took when the NFL pulled the 1993 Super Bowl from Phoenix because the state refused to vote “Yes” on a measure that would have made Martin Luther King’s birthday a paid state holiday.

Major corporations and media outlets have begun a massive campaign to combat anti-Asian hate crimes. It’s showing up in popular television programs and commercials all over the country. By consistently referring to derogatory terms used by Donald Trump, they are making it clear in a not very subtle way that hate crimes are synonymous with Trumpism. That tells us the groups singled out by Trump’s racist propaganda may have enough economic clout to cancel the culture war.  

It would be nice if America took a loud, collective moral stand against the hate engendered by Donald Trump. But it may be even more satisfying to see his movement and its attempts to dominate the Republican Party brought down by the very corporate interests he claimed to represent.

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