A Prophecy

I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable.
“Therefore I bring charges against you again,”
declares the Lord.
“And I will bring charges against your children’s children.”
Jeremiah 2:7, 2:9

In ancient times, when God’s chosen people were making a mess of things, which they did  fairly often, God sent them warnings via the prophets.  This was revealed truth, not to be questioned, but to be obeyed.  However, the people usually did not obey.  After all, these prophets seemed crazy, and they demanded way too much sacrifice.  Consequently, the people suffered what  they would come to understand as God’s wrath.

Today, we no longer need to rely solely on revealed truth.  Using our natural talents and our ability to pass detailed knowledge from generation to generation, we have developed a method for understanding the world around us based on careful, systematic observation.  This understanding has deepened over the years through continually building on what came before, by repeatedly questioning the received wisdom, testing it, verifying some ideas, refining others, and discarding those that did not correspond to the world as it actually is.  Thus, in the place of revealed truth, we have theories that can be verified or disproven by observing the results of reproducible experiments.   In ancient times, people understood the world to be controlled by God: disobey and you will be punished.  Our scientific understanding is founded on cause and effect: touch a hot stove and you will get burnt.

This approach to human understanding has proven extremely effective.  It has enabled us to transform large areas of the planet to suit our needs and build cities that reach to the sky.  Our modern technological civilization stretches around the globe.

Today, scientists observe that the planet, on the whole, is getting warmer.  This was predicted decades ago by people whose ideas used to seem rather far fetched.  Now, these assertions have been verified by careful examination of what has actually happened since the predictions were first made.  The idea is simple and profound.  Our civilization has become so ubiquitous that our collective waste is effecting the climate of the entire planet.  Glaciers are melting, sea level is rising, and storms are becoming more destructive.

There are times when the gentle correction of a modern Quaker simply will not suffice, times that call for the fierce intensity of the prophets.  You don’t have to believe in the wrathful God of the Old Testament for the message revealed through Jeremiah to reverberate in the depths of your soul.   And so I repeat his prophecy:

If we continue to trash the planet, there will be a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, and our children’s children will suffer what the ancient Hebrews understood to be the wrath of God.

Of course, all this is in response to the announcement that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord.  However, like those Biblical warnings of old, this is not just about the behavior of far off kings and princes and presidents.  Each of us needs to examine our own actions, because simply by living in this society, we are complicit in the ongoing devastation.

So, let me conclude with a query taken from the Faith and Practice of Ohio Valley Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends:

Do you endeavor to live in harmony with nature, avoiding pollution and the destruction of our environment? What are you doing about your use of the world‘s irreplaceable resources?

 

 

Trump, Russia and The Threat to Democracy

Putin behind curtain

People are all excited about the investigation, now led by special council Robert Meuller.  Did the Trump campaign collude secretly with the enemy?  That would be high treason.  Frankly, I was extremely skeptical .  It seemed that this was nothing more than another political sideshow, but, as Douglas Blackmon reports: “This scandal has metastasized more quickly and destructively than I could possibly have forecast.”

There is nothing surprising about Russians doing what they could in the American election.  Both Russia and America have been meddling in the internal affairs of other nations for decades.  Sometimes, the United States, contrary to the lofty principles of our founding fathers, has helped overthrow popularly elected governments in favor of those willing to support our military or business interests.  Khrushchev claimed to have had a small but perhaps decisive effect on the election of Kennedy over Nixon in 1960.  In 1984, Russia tried in vain to help defeat Ronald Reagan, but he won in a landslide.  So, Russia meddling in our affairs is not new.  However, this time, as explained by Eugene Rumor in testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,

The experience of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election should be judged an unqualified success for the Kremlin.

Since the turn of the millennium, Russia has morphed into a more and more authoritarian kleptocracy.  As in the Soviet days, it sees democracy as the enemy.  To combat this enemy, it has developed an impressive arsenal of political weapons, called “active measures”.  Some of these, such as assassination, are truly frightening. However, most target the public’s ability to determine what is true.  As historian Timothy Snyder says:

Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder

So if you want to rip the heart out of a democracy directly, if you want to go right at it and kill it, what you do is you go after facts.

Thus, the first line of defense against these active measures is good journalism.  Throughout the previous century, America had a vibrant core of reliable news sources dedicated to providing the public with a firm foundation for making informed decisions.   Of course, we also had the National Enquirer, but its wild fabrications were pretty harmless in the context of the whole information scene.

However, new technologies have disrupted the news business, fragmenting it and undermining its traditional business model.  Newspapers are reducing their staff or closing all together, and new sources of information are gaining prominence.  Some are excellent, but many publish wild distortions and outright lies.  With our  information infrastructure weakened, fake news is no longer so harmless.  Our society has become more susceptible to disinformation campaigns.

Clearly, the Russians aren’t the only ones engaged in such campaigns.  With its denial of climate change and thinly veiled bigotry, the “conservative entertainment-outrage complex” has been peddling misinformation, willful ignorance, and bizarre conspiracy theories for years.  Pundits have found it lucrative to provoke outrage with purposely misleading or blatantly false assertions.  The Republican Party, after discovering how well these techniques worked, got on board this plush, well-funded train and lurched ever more towards the reactionary right to appease the loudest voices in the crowd.

Having largely abandoned thoughtful and reasoned debate, the party found itself helpless in the face of a hostile takeover by a showman brandishing even more brazen bigotry, more outlandish conspiracy theories, and an almost complete detachment from reality.  Trump dominated the 2016 field in the primaries, effortlessly sloughing off all attacks.  The fact checkers declared “pants on fire”.  Big deal.  They were always making noise about something.  Trump’s proposals were unrealistic and impractical.  So what? Almost all of the Republican proposals were.  Trump could say something that qualified as “the textbook definition of a racist comment,” but the party base didn’t care.  They were tired of all this “politically correct” pussyfooting around.  They wanted someone who would tell it like it is, and Trump delivered.  Thus, the Trump phenomenon sprouted out of ground that had been richly fertilized with fake news and manufactured outrage for many years.  Trump is a symptom, not the root cause, of the disease affecting our democracy.

We have the remedy to this disease in hand: multiple reliable sources of accurate information.  However, there is a core of Americans who have developed resistance to this remedy.

Donald Trump Tweet

@real@realDonaldTrump

Trump, recognizing the threat that good journalism poses to him and what he represents, lashes out at the press whenever he can.  In one case, he tweeted

The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

In truth, it is pretty easy to see why he is so upset with the mainstream media.  A Harvard study has shown that the coverage Trump received in the first 100 days was much more negative than for other presidents.  Almost every day, the Washington Post calls out something that he said as demonstrably false, or at least inconsistent with what he said earlier.  Almost all of the newspapers in the country endorsed Hillary Clinton.  To someone who supported Trump in the election, it must all seem pretty one-sided.  However, these reliable news sources rejected Trump for a good reason: he is manifestly deceitful and unqualified.   How can you provide fair and balanced coverage of a man who lies so persistently?

I actually agree with Trump about the significance of fake news; I disagree with him about which news is fake.  And the phrase “enemy of the people” has a frightening pedigree, particularly as used by Stalin during the purges.  This is all a part of a calculated strategy, one pulled directly from the fascists in the 1920s and 30s, that Timothy Snyder describes it this way:

Step one: You lie yourself, all the time. Step two: You say it’s your opponents and the journalists who lie. Step three: Everyone looks around and says, “What is truth? There is no truth.”

And then, resistance is impossible, and the game is over.

Trump has praised Stalin’s heir, Putin, for the strength of his leadership and for his high approval rating.  Of course, Putin, like Stalin before him, assures the security of his regime and his high approval ratings by systematically suppressing dissent and controlling the press.

Trump seems envious of Putin’s power, unfettered by that pesky Constitution.  In his recent trip, Trump appeared much more at home with the Saudi monarch than with the leaders of European democracies.

During the campaign, I was continually mystified by Trump’s praise of Putin and by the presence of aids in his campaign with known ties to Russia. Trump even asked for the Russia’s help getting at Clinton’s emails n a nationally televised debate. (Though he wasn’t referring specifically to the emails at the DNC, I imagine he was pleased enough at what he got.)  How did the party of Reagan and Eisenhower ever get to the point that they acquiesce  to such as this?

Even so, I had trouble believing that there was actual collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, not because I believed Trump when he claimed there was none, but because it was so unnecessary.  The Trump campaign meshed naturally, publicly, with what the Russians were trying to do.   No behind-the-scenes coordination was needed.

robert-mueller

Robert Meuller

So, what will Meuller find when he looks into Russia’s meddling in our election?  Probably, he will confirm much that we already know.

 

Clearly, someone hacked into the Democratic National Committee’s server and leaked a boatload of emails to WikiLeaks.  The intelligence agencies claim to have established that this was done by Russians, apparently under the authority of Putin himself.  However, given the DNC’s rather cavalier in its approach to security, I’m not surprised someone broke in.

The Russians probably funneled money to the campaign of Donald Trump, perhaps also to Bernie Sanders, through some front organizations. They used dummy accounts to promote certain stories on the web that might otherwise have been ignored. They might have added a bit to the fake news, but there was so much of that I hardly see why they would have bothered.  In general, I expect the Russians amplified the havoc, but they certainly didn’t create it.

It might be that Trump or one of his functionaries was dumb enough to step over the line and do something that would justify prosecution in a court of law.  Certainly, people in the Trump entourage, i.e. Paul Manifort and Michael Flynn, had financial ties to some unsavory Russian characters.  It appears that Trump has attempted to interfere with the investigations, and there might be something in the cover up that was illegal.  You would think Trump would have learned enough from Nixon in the Watergate scandal to avoid this, but Trump occasionally shown himself to be phenomenally brash and ignorant.

In summary, Russia’s political tools are sophisticated and their motives are sinister.  We need to understand what they are up to and how to combat them.  But while we concern ourselves with the active measures of foreign governments,  we also need to pay attention to the attack on truth from within our own country.  This actually poses the bigger threat to our democracy.

And subscribe to a good newspaper.  We need them.

 

Supporting Muslims in America

hassan-shibly

Hassan Shibly

We all know this recent Muslim travel ban was just a shot over the bow.  Trump promised much worse during the campaign, and apparently he intends to deliver.  There has even been talk that we might soon have something resembling a Muslim registry. Some say, if it comes to that, they will register as Muslims.  Though I am sympathetic with this impulse, I will not be able to sign that with integrity.  I am not Muslim.  So, where can I sign now, to let my government know where I stand on religious freedom?

To find out, I visited the local mosque to attend a CAIR (Counsil on American-Islamic Relations) sponsored event: “Unapologetically Muslim and American”.   It featured Hassan Shibly,  Chief Executive Director of CAIR Florida, along with Karen Dabdoub, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Chapter.

The message of the presentation was clear.  Islamophobia is rampant throughout the country.  Incidents range from bullying in school through discrimination in the workplace or in housing all the way to hate crimes.   The presenters advised Muslims to stand up for their rights, to refuse to hide or simply hope that the situation would resolve itself, and to involve CAIR as soon as possible before things escalate.  CAIR is there to help.

They also noted the support Muslims have received from the majority community in America. They described incidents of Muslims praying in airports, for example, protected by Jews and Christians standing silently by to prevent any disruption of their prayers.  They mentioned Madeline Albright, who says she is ready to sign up if that Muslim registry comes to exist.  They also reminded us of the history of immigrant groups coming to America, groups which faced bigotry but eventually gained acceptance, at least from most Americans.

Shibly focused on relations with the government, especially US Customs and the FBI (“definitely not the Friendly Brotherhood of Islam”).

They spent quite a bit of time talking about what to expect on returning to this country from abroad.  Everyone is asked where they went and why they traveled.  Some will be pulled aside for secondary screening. Whereas this occurs for a typical American citizen about 1% percent of the time, Muslims were being pulled aside for this extra scrutiny about half the time, according to Shibly. Shibly’s advice was simple: as soon as they ask anything about your personal political or religious views, assert your rights.  As an American citizen, you have the right to ask for a lawyer to present during the questioning.  If you are a non-citizen,  with a green card for example, the prerogatives of the officials are less constrained, but you still have the right to call a lawyer.  Despite what the officials might say, you are likely to be detained just as long whether you call a lawyer or not, and without the protection of someone familiar with the intricacies of the law and normal procedures, you will be vulnerable.  Karen Dabdoub urged people to text the CAIR office when arriving, before getting off the plane, so that if CAIR does not hear from you within an hour or so, they can know to intervene with Customs to find out what has happened to you.  Thus, a Muslim entering the country can expect to be inconvenienced, but, with proper precautions and the help of CAIR, these inconveniences need not grow into anything more severe.  Nonetheless, foreign students are strongly encouraged to stay inside the country until their education is finished.

Shibly then went on to discuss the FBI, which he described as a government agency that is targeting Muslims, through entrapment and through intimidating people into becoming informants.

karen-dabdoub

Karen Dabdoub

Karen Dabdoub followed up with a hypothetical example of an person who thinks they have nothing to hide talking with the FBI.  The agent might ask a question, and then much later in conversation, ask the same question differently.  If there were inconsistencies in your answers, then they could charge you with lying to the FBI, a crime that can be punished with up to five years of jail time.  (Of course, it is perfectly legal for them to lie to you.) Now, they have something to hold over you, to intimidate you into becoming an informant.

Their advice was the same: ask for a lawyer to be present during questioning.  Whatever the motives of the people in power, the American government is constrained by the Constitution.  Muslims, like all Americans, need to assert their rights under this Constitution in order to maintain them.  If the government tries to intrude into your personal life in any way, don’t try to handle it yourself; call CAIR.  CAIR has a lawyer who will contact the FBI on your behalf.  Shibly recalled one incident where he felt the FBI had a legitimate reason to question his client, but in the others, he told the agent that he would advise his client to not answer any of his questions.  Usually, the FBI would then leave the person alone after that.

All this sounded pretty paranoid to me.  After, the event, I did a little research to find out whether the paranoia was justified.  Interestingly, I found a 2005 article where a freshman at the University of Buffalo named Hassan Shibly was detained at the border, apparently for no reason other than he was Muslim.  I suspect that experience had a role in shaping his career.

In a more comprehensive view, Human Rights Watch clearly supports their complaints:

In a lengthy examination of U.S. terrorism prosecutions, Human Rights Watch, working with Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute, said the FBI and the Justice Department have created a climate of fear in some Muslim communities through the use of surveillance and informants.

fbi-newburgh-four-james-c-007I found several accounts of the “Newburgh Four”, a group caught up in an FBI sting operation that Shibly had mentioned.  It appears sordid.  Yes, these guys, all black, all Muslim, all poor, did get caught up in a terrorist plot, but the plot was entirely concocted by the paid FBI informant.  Even the judge who sentenced the defendants was upset by the FBI’s conduct.

 Only the government could have made a terrorist out of Mr Cromitie, a man whose buffoonery is positively Shakespearean in its scope… I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that there would have been no crime here except the government instigated it, planned it and brought it to fruition.

Unfortunately, one of the men caught up in the scheme was mentally ill, possibly schizophrenic.   Shibly reported visiting him in jail, apparently out of his mind, on suicide watch in solitary confinement, cold, sad and hopeless.

It is hard to see how we are made any safer by such operations.

It doesn’t have to be like this. For example, in Dearborn, Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population, the local chief of police runs an outreach and informant program that is considered a model by authorities on counterterrorism.  Informally, it appears to employ the same principles of “community policing” that have proven successful in Cincinnati.  You engage the community, treat people fairly, and they help you succeed because they want to live in safety.  It works.  The police chief in Dearborn can cite examples where Muslims have turned in fellow Muslims.

The FBI might pay lip service to building this kind of trust with the Muslim community, and in fact some within the bureau appear to be making a sincere attempt to do that.  However,  based on what I have learned, from Human Rights Watch, from CAIR, and from reliable news sources, that ship has sailed, and the Trump administration is unlikely to ask it to change course.

Following the presentation by Shibly and Dabdoub, there was a question and answer session.  I got to ask my question.  I referenced Madeline Albright’s willingness to sign up if there is ever a Muslim registry.  “But I will not be able to sign that with integrity.  So where can I sign up now to let my government know where I stand?”

My question got a round of spontaneous applause.  The answer was a little vague.  Go to the alerts on the CAIR website and write your Senators and Congressman about the issues that concern us all.

It looks like we will have lots of opportunities to do that.

Trump has expressed surprise that there was so much furor over his executive order.   After all, “We had 109 people out of hundreds of thousands of travelers and all we did was vet those people very, very carefully.”  Of course, he seems to enjoy the drama of it all.

We should not expect Trump’s assault on the Constitution to begin with a massive charge, but with a limited action such as this one.  Regardless of the number affected, we need to guard against anything that “target[s] individuals for discriminatory treatment based on their country of origin and/or religion, without lawful justification.” (item 64, page 13)  .   If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must preserve them for everybody.

 

Russian Interference in the Election

hacked

People are all up in arms about Russians meddling in the American election.   Of course they meddled.  On the one hand, you have an incompetent boob who has business ties to Russian kleptocrats, who questions the value of NATO, who seems unconcerned with Russian adventures in the Ukraine and Syria, and who praises Putin for his leadership; on the other, you have Clinton.  Of course they did what they could.  They hacked the emails of both the the Democratic and Republican national committees and released through Wikileaks whatever they thought might hurt Clinton.

Big deal.  I know my email is not very secure, and, unless they took extraordinary precautions that I don’t know about, the DNC should have known that too.  After all, among all of the faux furor over Clinton’s supposed misdeeds, it was her lack of respect for email security that seems to have gotten the most traction.  It might be that lax email security nailed her in the end.

As far as I can tell, no one is accusing the Russians of doing anything more than influencing the American people through selective leaking of information.  Both Republicans and Democrats do that whenever they get the chance.  Even the FBI seems to have gotten involved.  If the Russians managed to tilt the election, which I doubt, it doesn’t scare me.

trump-lierWhat scares me is that we elected a man who lies so frequently that people ignore the constant noise from the fact checkers. America has entered a post-truth zone, where accepted scientific conclusions are questionable and where demonstrable facts are powerless against the truthiness of a con man who “tells it like it is.”

The problem isn’t the Russians.  The problem isn’t ISIS.  The problem isn’t just Trump, though he is pretty scary.  The problem is the imaginary conspiracies, the unacknowledged prejudices, the interminable Benghazi hearings, in short,  the abundance of misinformation that has guided the views of so many American voters.

The problem is us.  As long as we, the American people, allow ourselves to be so easily misled by what is demonstrably false, we will be defenseless against those who wish to manipulate us.  Our birthright, liberty and justice, will not be secure until we commit ourselves to Truth.

 

 

 

Trump and the Carrier Factory

trump-hardhat-2Trump made HUGE promises during the campaign.  Some were preposterous: “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.”  Some were blatantly unconstitutional: “… calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States …”.  Some were merely beyond the normal constitutional power of the President:

Here’s what’s going to happen,  They’re going to call me and they are going to say ‘Mr. President, Carrier has decided to stay in Indiana’.  One hundred percent — that’s what is going to happen,  It’s not like we have an 80 percent chance of keeping them or a 95 percent. 100 percent.

Here is my prognostication: Mexico’s sovereignty will prevail; religious freedom will prevail; but the Carrier factory will stay in Indiana.

This is not just wild speculation on my part:

  1. Unlike most of the job that he has signed up for, this is Trump’s meat and potatoes.  He might be skipping the intelligence briefings, but, even on Thanksgiving Day, he is sinking his teeth into this deal.
  2. Trump has built his business by bullying contractors: refusing to pay them, driving up the legal expenses of those who dare sue him in court, and using his clout to punish those who deign to cross him in any way.  Now, this bully has the entire executive branch behind him, and he is not above stretching his constitutional powers to punish someone who crosses him.  Trump can make life very difficult for for the company if he chooses to, and not just with his twitter account.
  3. United Technologies, the company that owns the Carrier factory, has defense contracts worth over $23 billion dollars.  This gives Trump quite a bit of leverage.
  4. United Technologies is in business to make money.  There is little profit in standing up to a tyrant.  Businessmen around the world know you make money by cooperating with the powers that be.
  5. Even Bernie Sanders is on Trump’s side in this.

So, the Carrier factory will stay in Indiana.  Perhaps Trump and his Republicans will reward them with some protectionist trade barriers so they won’t have to compete with foreign manufacturers in the American market.  Perhaps this will start a trade war, followed by a global recession, like what happened in the 1920s and 30s (I forget.  Was that when America was great?).

So, on this one promise, Trump will deliver.  The workers in one factory will be happy.

It’s Over

The evening of the election, I planned to ignore the watch.  I had canvassed door to door, donated money, and voted.  I was done.  However, before bed, I peeked at the returns.  Ohio was leaning bad.  In the middle of the night, I woke up and could not get back to sleep.  So I got up, and looked on the internet.  It all looked bad. I was still in a state of disbelief when I turned on the radio, just in time to hear the acceptance speech.  I posted to Facebook:

We are so screwed. The whole world is so screwed.

Politicians have long been fond of saying they have “faith in the American people.”  Trump’s election proves another saying more apt: “There’s a sucker born every minute”.

In the following days, around the country there were pointless juvenile expressions of denial.   Just what were they protesting?  The Constitution?  Where was all of that energy before the election, when it could have done some good?

trump-klan-flyerThe election is over.  The American people have spoken. Once the party of lofty ideals personified by Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican Party, has become the party of bigotry, deceit, and willful ignorance, personified by an operator of bankrupt casinos. Nevertheless, voters have put Republicans in control of the presidency, both houses of Congress, and most state governments.  The party that begat interminable Benghazi hearings is will now be appointing judges throughout the land.  Willful ignorance, in the form of climate change deniers and Biblical creationists, will be put in charge of protecting the environment and educating our youth. White Nationalists are holding victory parades, and hate crimes are being reported across the country.

The American Century is over.  America once saw itself as a “shining city on the hill” (Matthew 5:14), spreading freedom and prosperity throughout the world.  However, the American people looked at the bold new brightly colored multi-cultural world of the future and fearfully retreated to a dim dream of the past.  The America of today does want to be leader of the free world, and frankly, a people that elected a such a charlatan is not worthy to lead it.

Democracy is difficult.  It demands informed, engaged citizens committed to the civic good.  Around the world, democratic republics are overwhelmed by by identity politics, by corruption, by the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, and by institutions that primarily serve to perpetuate the wealth and power of those in charge.  The opposition, weak, disorganized, and fragmented by competing utopian visions, is easily suppressed.  In such places, the democratic institutions might appear to be intact, but the vision “of liberty and justice for all” is but a distant dream.

vote-trump-burned-church

Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, Greenville, Mississippi

However, that is not going to happen here.  The Fascists might have won a battle, but this is not the Germany of the 1930s.  Even in Mississippi, the vast majority has no desire to return to the days of church burnings and lynchings, when the KKK was allowed to run rampant.  The burnt out church will be repaired, the sun will rise, and the rafters will again resound with the people praising God.

Our constitutional institutions are intact.  Throughout America, there are people of integrity, judges, policeman, bureaucrats, and even some Republicans, ready to prevent abuses of power.  We need to be vigilant, informed and ready to act.

After the new Constitution was written, Ben Franklin was asked what kind of government it was.  He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.

We can and we must.  This election has shown us that our democracy is much more fragile than he had imagined, but the great experiment in government by the people and for the people that began over 200 years ago is definitely not over.

Let us join together and make America great again.

 

Not the Year for Minor Parties

In America, we have a two-party system.  This is not the result of some mysterious cabal, but simply a natural outgrowth of of the way we run our elections. When people vote for a third party candidate for President, they know that there choice has virtually no chance of winning.  However, by giving support to a candidate whose ideas are on the fringe today, perhaps they can play a role in making those ideas more mainstream in the future.  Certainly, the Socialist Party under the leadership of Eugene Debs laid the groundwork for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the candidacy of George Wallace played an important role in shaping the direction taken by the Republican Party of today.  So, even if a vote does not contribute to immediate victory, it is not wasted; it has influence. It reverberates in the electorate.

In an effort to be more democratic, our major parties have developed an elaborate, lengthy process to select the nominees.  However, despite all of the primaries and caucuses, many people, both independents and party stalwarts, are dissatisfied with the choices that emerged this year. So, they are looking elsewhere.

gary johnson close up

Gary Johnson

I find much of Libertarian Gary Johnson’s platform appealing: protecting privacy and security on the internet, ending the disastrous war on drugs, and reigning in the military. The major parties, busy competing on the basis of who can keep us safe from both the real and imagined dangers of the modern world, come down on the wrong side of all of these issues: they will try to undermine encryption standards on the internet, they will ineffectively tinker around the edges of drug policy, and they will increase military spending.

However, I disagree with the Libertarians on their fundamentally laissez-faire approach to the economy.  I suspect they would try to dismantle the social safety net, since they think “the proper and most effective source of help for the poor is the voluntary efforts of private groups and individuals.” Their ideas of freedom ignore the vastly unequal bargaining position of an individual versus a corporation in the modern world. Their somewhat utopian vision of “a healthy economy that allows the market to function unimpeded” would simply allow powerful, unregulated multinational corporations to run amuck.

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Jill Stein

Since I am particularly concerned about the impact that our civilization is having on the natural environment, I am attracted to the Green Party, which has nominated Jill Stein, for President.  She has this to say:

 It’s time to build a people’s movement to end unemployment and poverty; avert climate catastrophe; build a sustainable, just economy; and recognize the dignity and human rights of every person.

On internet security, the drug war, and foreign policy, Jill Stein makes statements that I am in full agreement with:

Protect the free Internet, legalize marijuana/hemp, and treat substance abuse as a public health problem, not a criminal problem….Establish a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law, and human rights.

However, I am far too moderate to be enthusiastic about the Green Party, which “seeks to build an alternative economic system”.  As much as I admire the goals of “creating living-wage jobs for every American who needs work” and “transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030,”  I am convinced by the Washington Post’s analysis: their plan is an appealing “fairy tale”.

Since I think for myself, no candidate is going to be perfect, that is, in agreement with me on every issue. Even if such a mythical person were to exist and get elected, they would end up having to compromise.  My vote, inevitably, also represents a compromise. I am ok with this.  My judgement is probably less than perfect anyway.

So, why are people so dissatisfied with the choices that emerged from the major party  primaries?

Hillary Clinton Speaks At The University Of Miami

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton has been in the public spotlight for a quarter century.  Ever since she said “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies” in the 1992 election, she has been pilloried by partisans who oppose her vision of the modern woman and by professional character assassins skilled in covertly leveraging the prejudices of the American public.  She has endured scandals, both real and fabricated, investigations, and an endless stream of congressional hearings. The details of her life have been closely examined by people determined to find a way to bring her down.  She is probably the most thoroughly vetted candidate in history.

Through it all, she remains standing.  Yes, she has her faults, and she has made mistakes during he long career in public service.  However, the worst that Trump can actually substantiate is that she didn’t handle her emails properly when she was Secretary of State.   All of this scrutiny over the years has trained her to be extremely cautious in what she says, and her lack of spontaneity puts many people off.  In addition, Clinton is far too moderate for many in her own party, as the remarkable candidacy of Bernie Sanders pointed out.  However, she is rational, experienced, knowledgeable, competent, compassionate, and, despite what was chanted at the Republican convention, basically honest.

It is ironic that the historic milestone, the first woman ever nominated for President by a major party, should receive such little attention.  That is because all the attention is being grabbed by the Donald, whose candidacy is what really makes this election historic.

Donald Trump is in many ways the opposite of Clinton: he is irrepressibly spontaneous, irrational, inexperienced, ignorant, incompetent, callous, and basically dishonest.  He has built a career promoting his brand, serving no-one but himself.

Perhaps you are tired of the Democrats brow beating you with the specter of some calamity should a Republican get elected.  Me too.  But this year, the Republicans have put forward an unimaginable catastrophe.  Historians, including Ken Burns and David McCullough, who usually keep their political leanings private, have taken extraordinary steps to warn the American people about Donald Trump.  Newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle which has usually endorsed Republicans, have come out against Trump in July, long before they would normally endorse anyone.  Even many Republicans openly oppose him.  One, Evan McMullin, has begun an independent campaign to oppose Trump because “someone needed to do it”.   All of these agree: Trump is a danger to our democracy.

And he could win.

His rallies are packed with supporters who enthusiastically cheer his most outlandish pronouncements.  Another contingent, having fed for decades on anti-Clinton propaganda, will vote for their party’s nominee no matter what he does or says, putting party loyalty ahead of loyalty to their country.  That adds up to a significant portion of the electorate.  If the remaining voters divide their support among the rational candidates, Clinton, Johnson, Stein, and now McMullin, it is quite possible for Trump to come out on top.

Currently, opinion polls are heartening.  However, such polls can lead to a dangerous complacency.  If a poll puts a state safely in one column or another, people may think that they might as well indulge in a minor party candidate, trusting others to make sure Trump doesn’t win.   Opinion polls have always had a margin of error, and the error is likely to be larger this year than in the past, especially with Trump disrupting the usual voting patterns.

In normal circumstances,  I would be sympathetic with those who choose to vote for a minor party candidate; such a vote can have important long term effects. However, nothing about Trump is normal.  When a fire starts, you put it out; long term planning can come later.   This is not the year to vote Libertarian or Green, even if you support the most radical of their proposals.  The stakes are simply too high.

If you care about the future of our republic, you have only one choice: Hillary Clinton.