Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"Hillary or 'The Donald?'"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Hillary or ‘The Donald?’”
March 29, 2016

“’Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where -’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘- so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’”
                                                                                                Lewis Carroll (1832-1898)
                                                                                                Alice in Wonderland, 1865

David Brooks’ New York Times column of March 18, “No, Not Trump, Not Ever,” got half the story. The second half should read, “No, Not Hillary, Not Ever.” The fact is voters will likely be faced with a “catch 22” choice. Deciding to not vote, as many I suspect will, is in itself a decision, as William James once reminded us: “When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.”

While mainstream media takes glee in pointing out the weaknesses and inanities in Donald Trump’s outbursts, they have whitewashed Hillary Clinton. They view her as flawed, but tout her experience as Secretary of State, a U.S. Senator and as one half of the Bill Clinton Presidency. However, in a recent YouGov poll, Hillary was seen as the least honest and most untrustworthy of all candidates, Republican or Democratic. A mere 9% consider her honest. According to a New York Times/CBS poll, 60% of Republicans are “embarrassed” by their party’s presidential campaign, while only 13% of Democrats are. That tells me Republicans are more honest, realistic and forthcoming than their Democrat counterparts.

Implied in Trump’s favorable poll numbers is an unfavorable view toward Washington’s establishment. Hillary, as a Washington fixture, has a different problem. She’s a bad person. Nevertheless, mainstream media has forgiven her serial lies, her corrupt – and frankly illegal – activities: from cattle futures to Whitewater to Travelgate to her current e-mail travails. They have ignored the fact that the world became more dangerous when she was Secretary of State. They have not fully investigated the Clinton Foundation, which failed to make disclosures about its sources and uses of funds, and have left unanswered questions as to whether there were quid pro quos regarding donations made and favorable deals received by foreign governments. The Clinton’s leveraged their political successes into personal wealth. How different they are from Harry Truman who once wrote: “…the office of the president…doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and its not for sale.” Tell that to the lessors of the Lincoln bedroom. 

With a wink and a nod, the media overlooked the savage public relations attacks Hillary waged on women – women who had been bedded by her errant husband and who then threatened to speak out. Mainstream media has not, for example, looked into her use of the IRS as an instrument for revenge, as Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones, Monica Lewinsky and Juanita Broaddrick could testify. They treated lightly the security risks to the United States when she illegally made use of a private e-mail server to send and receive government messages, some of which were so secret they have only been released to the public in redacted form. They let pass her insidious lies about the events in Benghazi. Recall, upon arrival of the bodies back at Andrews Air Force Base, she told the families of those killed that their kin had been victims of a YouTube video “offensive to Islam.” In short, mainstream media and the Democratic establishment have accepted her faults, while let slide her character flaws, flaws that overwhelm whatever experience she brings.

Donald Trump is not the answer. On Saturday, March 5, at the University of Central Florida, in a rousing, emotional speech, he asked an audience of young, college students to raise their right hand and “take the Pledge, no matter what, to vote for Donald J. Trump” in the Florida primary. It was chilling to watch a group of young people, some with right arms extended in Nazi-like salutes, promising to pledge allegiance to the man. His plan to round up and send home millions of illegals is dystopian and simply illogical. His call to impose higher tariffs on imported goods from China and Mexico would serve to raise consumer prices at home and could tilt the world into depression.

In the cases of both Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton, their unfavorable ratings exceed their favorable ones. In normal times, neither would be the preferred choice of their respective parties. But we find ourselves at a juncture where good people choose not to run (or are unable or unwilling to compete with the viciousness necessary for victory) and bad people take advantage of the consequential disjointed mess. Washington Bureaucrats and elected officials have become immersed in a swill of hypocrisy and lies. They have used government to enrich and protect themselves with little regard for the people that fund their lifestyles. Obviously, there are exceptions to this broad-brushed condemnation, but they are few.

Dissatisfied and alienated voters see what is going on, and many have jumped on the Trump bandwagon. They believe he is, as he claims, beholden to no special interests – other than his own. He alone, so goes his claim, can rid us of this stench. But, Mr. Trump has always been driven by self interest, and it is unlikely he has a had a spiritual rebirth. What may have begun as a lark has turned into a crusade. His desire, like that of Hillary, is for power, not a wish to cleanse the filth-filled Augean Stables alongside the Potomac. And Hillary, obviously, is deeply immersed in Washington’s muck.

Like the intermittent scenes in Shakespeare’s tragedies, humor provides relief and color to our perspectives. Roger Kimball recently wrote a piece for pjmedia.com, in which he compared Trump to Roderick Spode, the fascist-like fictional creation of P.G. Wodehouse. Spode and his “black shorts” (“there were no shirts left”) wanted to ban “foreign root vegetables” and to compel “the compulsory, scientific measurement of all adult male knees.” My friend who sent me the Kimball article, a fellow Wodehousian, also included a quote about another of Wodehouse’s creations, Florence Cray: She had “…a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging over a tin bridge,” a description that reminded him, as it does me, of Hillary Clinton.

It may be that my fears are overblown. Trump could turn out to be a non-ideological pragmatist intent only on fixing some of the many problems we face. It is also conceivable that a reformist Hillary will follow the steps of her non-ideological (though scandal-ridden) husband along a more centrist path, reversing some of damage created by Mr. Obama. But those possibilities seem remote. Rather, they suggest a belief in Coleridge’s Xanadu: For he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise.


For those not current with “Alice:” When she was speaking with the Cheshire Cat, the latter assured her that down one path was the “Hatter,” while down the other was the “March Hare.”  “Visit either you like: they’re both mad.” Lewis Carroll wrote fiction. We are living reality. With Libya, Syria and Iraq having become failed states, the world has become more dangerous. Political correctness has become pervasive. Zero and negative interest rates mask the burden of debt. Perhaps “The Donald’s” followers will wake to the potential damage a President Trump could do to the country.  Perhaps Hillary’s acolytes will realize the difference between what she promises and what she has done. But, in a world in which social media dominates and celebrity reigns, such hopes seem illusive. If Trump and Hillary become our options, it would be best if the people, in their wisdom, elect a Congress of the opposing party from that which wins the White House. At least, then, damage would be limited, and in four years we could try again.


Monday, March 21, 2016

"Obama and the Ascent of Trump"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Obama and the Ascent of Trump”
March 21, 2016

"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter; they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
                                                                                                                      Senator Barack Obama
Speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco
                                                                                                                      April 11, 2008

Senator Obama later apologized for his words (quoted above); but they speak to his elitism and give validation for the allegation that left-wing Democrats have lost touch with blue collar workers. The Democratic Party of fifty years ago, which then represented lower and middle-income Americans, has morphed into a party that represents an odd mixture of coastal elites, Hollywood and Silicon Valley bigwigs, minorities, academics, unionized government employees, and a host of aging baby-boomers who grew up in the heady days of civil and women’s rights. What they no longer represent are the working-class families that were once the backbone of the American economy. They have become a party with a supercilious, near-religious belief in the righteousness of themselves, their opinions and their mission.

Donald Trump did not emerge from the sea like Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.” Neither did he rise from the ashes like a Phoenix, nor did he appear Genie-like, as Aladdin rubbed his lamp. He and his message are a result of a number of causes: He is a consequence of what the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter termed “creative destruction” – that technological advancements displace old ones, causing worker dislocation; that and a failure of the Administration to encourage private-sector job creation through tax and regulatory reform. He is a product of a political system that has become strident in its divisiveness, a system in which cronyism and corruption have become more prevalent. He is the reaction to a Washington that has become elitist, and distanced from the people it represents. He is the result of college campuses that, instead of teaching tolerance and welcoming diversity in ideas, have become incubators for those on the left who shut down conservative speakers. He is a consequence of the 2007-2009 financial crisis, abetted by government, that surfaced on Wall Street and damaged Main Street.

There are those who believe Trump’s ascension is due to an inborn proclivity toward authoritarianism. Amanda Taub, a former human rights lawyer and writer for Vox.com, recently published an essay, The Rise of American Authoritarianism, in which she concluded that Trump’s ascent is the natural outcome of the preference for traditionalism in parenting among conservative segments of our society – a first step, in her opinion, toward authoritarianism. While I believe such tendencies do exist, I suspect they cross party and ideological lines. (And I am skeptical regarding the role of parenting.) We do, however, see yearnings for “strong leaders.” Law and order is associated with the right. A president who “gets things done,” even if he must use executive orders to bypass Congress, is preferred by the left. Keep in mind, regardless of party, in today’s presidential politics, power is the goal; ideology is simply the means.

At a press conference last week, the President commented that the “tone” of political discourse has become nastier over the past seven and a half years. But, in a remarkable, defensive and almost incoherent response, Mr. Obama cast himself as victim, while absolving himself of responsibility: “But I also have to say…that objectively it’s fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets, social media and news stations, talk-radio and television stations have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years that everything I do is to be opposed, that cooperation or compromise is somehow betrayal, that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous, that there is a ‘them’ out there and an ‘us’ and that the ‘them’ are the folks that are causing whatever problems you are experiencing and the tone of that politics, which I certainly have not contributed to.” Is Mr. Obama so removed from reality that he actually believes what he said? Does he not realize that his vain personae and arrogant words have served to split further an already divided country? Does he really think that he has played no role in the lack of civility that has encouraged the “bad-ass” politics that define this era?

Whatever the cause, though, and no matter who or what is responsible, the facts are that people are angry and the country has turned pessimistic and inward. They see an EPA that has been focused on solar panels and wind mills, while it has ignored the problem of lead water pipes in schools and towns. President Obama bears the brunt of the responsibility. He promised “hope and change” and a “purple” America. Yet “blues” have become bluer and “reds” redder. He said he would “transform America.” That he has done, but not in the manner expected. Mr. Obama bankrupted the coal industry, putting tens of thousands out of work. He bankrolled, with taxpayer funds, some of his largest financial backers in “green” industries – providing substance to the accusation of cronyism. He pushed through a Democratic Congress a health plan with not one vote from the opposition. With an accommodative Fed, he has taken federal debt to dangerous levels. When John McCain challenged his tax plan in January 2009, Mr. Obama’s arrogant response was abrupt. “I won. Deal with it.” He signed an $850 billion stimulus bill that did not stimulate. Subsequent to re-election in 2012, in a bid for his legacy, he made a nuclear pact with Iran, a country that has vowed to annihilate Israel, and he re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba, a country without due process and which imprisons those who criticize its government.

Many of the problems we have predate Mr. Obama. The “imperial” presidency goes back to at least Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,”, and the “nanny” state owes its origins to Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.” But he has not provided a solution. Inequality, a signature cause of his, has risen over the past seven years. Middle class workers in small Midwestern factory towns are rightfully as bitter today as they were in 2008. Incomes have been stagnant and the percent of the labor force in full-time jobs remains at the lowest level since the 1970s. Wall Street banks, which Mr. Obama blamed for the financial crisis, have grown even bigger. Government, which the President sees as the “solution” has lost the trust of the people. Overseas, our enemies have been cajoled, while our friends have been ignored or belittled. Edward Luce wrote last week in the Financial Times of a “rising culture of nihilism.” Mr. Obama sees himself as a victim of history, not one of its creators and not responsible for the actions he took when they didn’t work out. Jeffrey Goldberg wrote a fascinating, in-depth portrayal of Mr. Obama in last month’s Atlantic. His interview revealed a petulant man who blamed everyone but himself for the sorry state of the world, while taking credit for successes like killing Osama bin Laden. He was disdainful toward the U.S. and Washington’s “foreign policy establishment,” who he blamed for the failure of the “Arab Spring.” He was dismissive of any misunderstanding of his “red line” regarding Syria and blamed Hillary Clinton for the failed state that is Libya. A dysfunctional Iraq and the rise of ISIS today is the fault of George W. Bush.

And now we have Donald Trump, a man whose narcissism may exceed that of Mr. Obama. He is a man whose promise, “I will make America great again!”, is uttered without explanation as to how. His ascension, according to the President, has nothing to do with him, patronizing Democrats, or the discordant political environment, of which Mr. Obama has been the chief architect and engineer. It has nothing to do with an economy that has had the slowest rate of growth in the past seventy years, nor does it reflect a pessimistic and alienated electorate. The blame, according to Mr. Obama, is Republican elitism and dissonance – at least that is his story, and he’s sticking to it! The rest of us are stuck with the consequences.


Monday, March 14, 2016

"I Believe..."

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“I Believe…”
March 14, 2016

“What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.”
                                                                                    Horace Smith (1779-1849)
                                                                                    “On a Stupendous Leg of Granite[1]…” – 1818

I am a conservative who believes in government. Government is a requisite for a functioning, civil society, but it should be limited. It has responsibility for the safety of its citizens and it is necessary to uphold and protect individual rights. I revere the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. They are the foundations on which our nation was built. I believe in property rights and the rule of law. Pertinent to today, I believe in the Electoral College, as an institution to help thwart the rise of demagogues. I believe in equality of opportunity, while understanding that outcomes will never be equal.

I believe that a job is critical to self-respect and that most jobs come from the private sector. Initiative, innovation and creativity are characteristics government should encourage. I believe fiscal prudence is necessary in government and I believe if we promise something we should be able to deliver it. I believe government has a responsibility for the aged, infirm, indigent and those unable to care for themselves. But I also believe that government is wrong when it crosses the Rubicon from providing help to those in need to exchanging favors for votes, which increases dependency at the cost of personal accountability.

I believe in the importance of family and the value of traditional marriage; though I respect those who have chosen different paths. I believe children are better off when raised in a two-parent household and that government should promote such family formations. It is hard for me to believe that life does not begin at conception, but I also understand that there can be mitigating circumstances warranting abortion – rare, one would hope, but including rape, incest and deformed fetuses. I believe government has a duty to provide a high school education for everyone, and that its responsibility is to students, not unions. I believe in civility, honor and mutual respect. I believe morality is absolute, not relative. For example, honor killings, sexual slavery and female genital mutilations, in any culture, are wrong. They have no place in civilized society and perpetrators should be punished. I believe religion is principally a matter between an individual and their God. I believe that God resides in each of us. Just as I will not force my religion on anyone else, I don’t want someone else’s forced on me.

I believe that equality before the law is fundamental to a fair and democratic society – that no one is above the law, no matter the political power they or their friends may have, nor the wealth they or their friends may possess. I recognize that we can never do away with cronyism – that from time immemorial some men and women have attached themselves to those with great wealth or who exert great power. But I also believe that our laws and courts should be vigilant against those who abuse their positions. I recognize that there are bad people in every profession and that hatred and racism are not the sole purview of one class, race, or political party, and that society has a responsibility to flush them out. I believe that ninety-nine percent of law enforcement personnel are good people doing a difficult and dangerous job and deserve our support.

While appreciating the difficulties of competing against mercantilist countries, I believe trade has enriched our nation and its people; so I believe trade should be as free as possible. Recognizing we are a nation of immigrants, I believe in a relatively liberal immigration policy, one that favors those who have come here with a job or for college. But I also believe in a system that ferrets out those who would do us harm, or who come simply for “free stuff.” I believe in uniting, not dividing, people. I find abhorrent the tendency of politicians to compartmentalize people based on race, sex, gender, age or religion for political gain.

I believe that the President of the United States should be a man or a woman who is of us and like us, but whose character, experience, empathy and intellect are never in question.  Of those four factors, I believe character is the most important. In the past few decades, the Presidency has become increasingly imperial, a trend I find disturbing. Like Ozymandias’ pyramid, great libraries are being erected to not only house the papers of Presidents, but to memorialize them. All libraries are built with private donations, but taxpayers fund their operating costs. Each is becoming more elaborate. The William Jefferson Clinton Library in Little Rock cost $165 million. The George W. Bush Library in Dallas cost $250 million. The Barack Obama Library on Chicago’s Southside is expected to cost $380 million. In contrast, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park cost $376,000. How grand will these monuments be? In two millennia, will, as Shelley wrote, “the lone and level sands stretch far away?”

I believe we are not perfect, and that we should welcome criticism and challenge, and that we should never rest on our laurels. We must continuously prove we are worthy of the positions we hold. We must be mindful of the words from Proverbs: “pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.” But we should not be ashamed of who we are and what we represent. I believe in personal responsibility and accountability. When an elected official blames another for his (or her) failings, I believe it is indicative of a weak character. I believe the world is fortunate that it is the United States that is the most powerful nation on earth and, yes, I believe it is our responsibility – more than any other nation – to maintain peace among nations. Some will argue that that role is for the United Nations, which I believe is an important venue for dialogue, but too many of its members represent regimes that are violators of human rights. It has become popular to say we should not be the world’s police force, but, if not us, who? Consider Germany, Japan and South Korea, and compare them to Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

These are some of my fundamental beliefs. Each of us has his or her own. Collectively, our beliefs comprise our nation’s. Like you, mine reflect my parents, wife, children, family, friends, the place I grew up, my education and the people with whom I have worked. I am grateful for the freedoms we have and to live in this country. We are, indeed, the luckiest people on earth. So it saddens me when I see the depths to which we have plummeted politically – a President who disrespects the laws he had sworn to uphold and who has polarized further an already divided nation; a Congress that has abandoned their responsibility for tax and regulatory reform, and which is more intent on currying favors from special interests than in helping those who elected them to office; and judges who see courts as a mechanism for advancing social agendas, rather than letting such decisions be decided at the ballot box.

Democracy is fragile. Its greatest risk is erosion from within. That has been happening, slowly, mostly invisibly, but inexorably. We see it in a failure of high schools to have students understand the freedoms on which our nation was built. We see it in increased dependency on the state. We see it in the imperial actions of our presidents and in Congressional cronyism. We see it in the acrimony regarding Supreme Court appointees, where homage to social change is considered more important than allegiance to the Constitution. Is there a way out? I hope so, but I don’t see it in the likely candidates for November. Nevertheless, I believe in America, but I fear the ship is listing, and righting her won’t be easy.

[1] The poem was written by Horace Smith, a London stockbroker and poet. It was written in competition with his friend Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” is, of course, the more famous. Both poems concerned the statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II, of which the head and torso were missing, but most importantly of the ephemera of civilizations, including those ruled by kings and pharaohs who consider themselves immortal.