Controlling The Conversation

Last week, not long after President Trump delivered his State of the Union Address, a brilliant video appeared online. Unfortunately, today I couldn’t find it anywhere on the Internet so I can’t steer you to it. 

The clever video featured quick cuts of Donald Trump saying certain words in his SOTU Address, again and again. If I remember correctly, he used such words as “terrorists,” “criminals,” and “border security” a number of times. Those cuts of Trump saying his scary words were interspersed with a silent Trump, backed only by the sound of crickets, as the names of other issues appeared on the screen that in reality are much more urgent for the security and survival of our nation. 

That short video revealed what a sham this year’s Address really was — what little substance it actually contained. 

President Trump spent his valuable time in front of Congress and the nation basically playing to his base of support, a minority of Americans. He painted refugees at our southern border as national security threats. He announced a virtual “total victory” against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. He portrayed Iran as a continuing nuclear threat. He claimed he was personally responsible for preventing almost certain nuclear war with North Korea. And he decried proposals to develop “Medicare for all,” declaring that as long as he was President, the United States would never become “a socialist country.” 

If you look at those statements with any knowledge of actual facts, you can see that Trump spent most of his 82 minutes talking about things that are far from the most pressing issues facing the United States. In fact, some of them aren’t really issues at all. 

What Trump avoided addressing are the real issues that are crying out for leadership from Congress and the President. He said not one word about the continuing erosion of our quality of life caused by gun violence and the irrational laxness of our gun laws. He made no mention of the ever-widening gap between America’s wealthiest individuals and everyone else (which ironically includes his MAGA support base). He had all of Congress seated in front of him but made no reference to the budget deficit that has dangerously deepened. He stayed away from mentioning the crippling debt college students must take on to get an education. And worst of all, President Trump ignored the existential threat of climate change, a reality that is going to clobber future generations on our planet in ways they can’t even imagine. 

I admit that I’m no doubt repeating things you already know. But I’ve mentioned these giant “gaps” in Trump’s Address for a reason. In the days since he noticeably stayed away from so many important issues, I’ve been bothered by what has happened. — Nothing. You would think that the President’s avoidance of subjects that affect every American would receive attention. You’d expect more mention in mainstream media. And you’d hope that the general population would pick up on the President’s flight from true leadership. 

But after Donald Trump’s anemic SOTU presentation, what subject has dominated the news in the days since he spoke? – The same subject that dominated the week before that, money for the wall and the fear of another government shutdown. (Yes, the Virginia “blackface controversy” did get a lot of attention. But the wall and the shutdown threat still remained top of mind.) 

And why? Because it makes no difference if the president is a wise person or a fool, when any American president speaks, it is news. And in today’s 24/7 media world the demand for headlines is a round-the-clock thing. As Teddy Roosevelt said, the presidency gives the person holding that office a “bully pulpit.” (You wonder what he would have done with twitter.) Today, we have a president who knows (at least so far) he can change the nation’s conversation with just his cell phone, his thumbs, and his Tweets. 

What I observed in the past week just reinforced that view. However, things may be about to change. The new Democratic controlled House may now be in a position, on occasion, to guide the national discussion toward reality-based issues that actually do need to be addressed. Last November’s victories made that a possibility. But looking at this most recent example of how much power the American president has over controlling the national conversation, you can see why winning the White House in 2020 is something we should all take very seriously.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973

Da State Of Disunion

Last night our nation’s President, Donald J. Trump, addressed the members of our Congress, their distinguished guests and, via the media, all the people of our United States.

I won’t get into the details of what he said, what words were true or false, substantive or empty, promising or disheartening. Probably most of you reading this either tuned in to the address or have seen the media’s reports since then. My comments on specifics won’t add anything new.

In looking at that last sentence I’m now realizing that despite all the media coverage of the 90 minutes that Trump spent talking, there actually wasn’t much “news” that did come out of it. There were abrupt changes of subject, mood shifts (one columnists used “whiplash” to describe the zigzagging experience). But every viewer came away no better informed about what to expect or hope for in the coming year. Perhaps some of that is because we’ve learned not to trust anything the President says from one day to the next.

By now I do know that Trump’s style is to keep everyone he deals with off balance. However, he did give a few signals as to where he’s headed in the coming year.

His statement that he “will never let the United States become a Socialist country” told me that we will be hearing that message regularly during his campaign to be reelected in 2020. He saw how emphasizing healthcare helped Democrats win a House majority. And now he’s seeing declared and prospective Democratic presidential candidates talking about some form of “Medicare for all.” – Labeling such proposals as “dangerous socialism” is Trump’s first shot fired across their bow.

And as was expected, President Trump used his address to once again declare that we are facing “an urgent national crisis” on our “very dangerous” southern border. It is being easily penetrated by (immigrant-smuggling) “coyotes, drug cartels, and human traffickers.” What’s worse, right now large caravans are being organized “with the help of the Mexican Government.” (In fact, the Mexican government has issued Mexican visas to Central Americans who’ve entered Mexico.) According to our president, this situation will bring an onslaught of illegal immigrants threatening the safety, security and financial well being of American workers. Once again, he said a wall is the answer.

By now anyone who’s been paying attention to this debate has concluded that Trump’s original campaign promise of a Mexico-financed 2000-mile long border wall was crazy. And I assume that includes at least some Republicans in Congress. The size of Trump’s wall demands has now been considerably scaled back, but the $5.7 billion he wants hasn’t been reduced. Is there now room for some sort of bipartisan cooperation? Or is another government shutdown imminesnt? Last night’s address didn’t make that any clearer.

There was one brief but chilling moment when Trump spoke of his desire for more cooperation between his administration and Congress. But then he went on to mention, rather pointedly, that, “investigations hurt cooperation.” Was he warning House Democrats that he will use the powers of his office – including future shutdowns –to fight back against any investigation of him or his family? Or was his language meant to prepare his supporters for future investigations, positioning the Democratic House as simply partisan enemies of Trump and his programs. How cornered does President Trump feel?

With all that said, here are the three strongest impressions I received from The State of the Union Address:

First, President Donald J. Trump could very well be the weirdest president our country has ever experienced. Watching him read his address from teleprompter screens with a wispy, singsong delivery and a carefully measured, almost robotic cadence was just plain bizarre. At times it felt like he was channeling someone reading a funeral eulogy for a person he’d never met.

Second, as we’ve seen from post-address fact checkers, there were a number of statements made by the President that were less than completely factual. Of course at this point the majority of Americans know that Donald Trump can be counted on to regularly lie. But there was one moment that, although true, was not only a callous use of a bereaving family put on display, but clearly a distortion of reality and a dangerous generalization with racist overtones. The family, seated in the House gallery, had lost a loved one to murder by an illegal immigrant. The President featured this tragedy in his remarks with the clear implication that all illegal immigrants from south of our border are potentially heartless murderers.

This so illogical that if the facts weren’t so tragic such fear mongering would be laughable. For the President to feature this moment in his address is wrong in so many ways. There is little question that Donald Trump is a clever and crafty salesman. But as a human being, the man is definitely stupid.

And my third impression? The Republicans in Congress apparently couldn’t care less about any of this. I’ll talk about that some more in a future commentary.

Nels Howard, NTDO Member since 1973

PS: This Thursday, and Friday (Febrary 7 and 8) from 2-5pm, Daniel Biss will be a guest host on WCPT, Chicago’s Progressive Talk radio station. He’s put together an exciting lineup of guests and topics ranging from very local to global, He hopes you’ll tune in. You can also call in to ask a question or share your thoughts at 773-763-WCPT (9278) or click here to listen online.

The Vortex Kept Me Writing

Today I looked out my window at blue skies and a sunny winter day. And as I took in that peaceful snow-blanketed scene, I noticed that polar vortex winds were viciously whipping my neighbors’ chimney smoke horizontally across the rooftops. This reminded me that if I stood outside in that sunshine for more than several minutes it could cost me the tip of my nose.

The reality of today’s weather makes me especially content to sit cozily at my keyboard to tap out the few random thoughts that follow: 

— Last week I enjoyed watching Nancy Pelosi handle Trump like the experienced mom she is. She has said that after raising five kids she isn’t intimidated by temper tantrums. So that’s pretty much how she handled President Trump’s demand that he appear before Congress to deliver his state of the union address during his government shutdown.

Speaker Pelosi first sent the president a respectful personal message with the wise — you could almost say “motherly” — advice that having the address in Congress during the shutdown was a bad idea. But the president continued to insist the he wanted his way. So, she responded by politely, but firmly, telling him, “No Donald, I will not let you have your way. It is the wrong thing to do.” 

Basically House Speaker Pelosi gave President Trump “a time out.” More or less saying, “Your tantrum will not influence me, Donald. When you have calmed down and the shutdown is behind us, I will invite you to speak in our House of Representatives.” I wonder if this is what the child inside Donald Trump has been yearning for all these years, some positive parental discipline. 

— Another page in the ongoing “Trump wall” saga was written a few days ago when the president gave one more impassioned warning to the nation that a “crisis” at our southern border is imminent. A caravan of Central Americans, some quite dangerous, is traveling toward our border and will soon present a super threat to our nation’s security. Only money for a wall can stop them. 

But when President Trump delivered this ludicrous alarm it struck me that unless the caravan is traveling at the speed of a snail, their arrival at our border is just weeks away. That means “The Wall” to stop them will need to be built really, really fast! Maybe Donald Trump has some trick up his sleeve like spending his $5.7 billion on some sort of “magic wall-beans.” Just plant them along the border and the next morning a big tall wall will have grown there. – Just in time!

 I’ve noticed that the latest “lost opportunity” to turn back those troubling refugee hordes with wall funding has Fox News progeny Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter up in arms.

Hannity has said, “Now, if the president’s plan had been implemented so far, for a massive border wall, that had been completed with the big door in it, as he has said, the situation would be mitigated. It would be controlled. As a matter of fact, there would not even be a possibility of some type of confrontation at our border.”

Ms. Coulter however has become disenchanted with our president, headlining a recent column in Breitbart, “Gutless President in Wall-Less Country,”

Mind you, these are two intelligent (and scarily crafty) celebrity pundits who have become millionaires with their pugnacious and at times wildly absurd statements. Surely they know that their present wall-to-stop-the-crisis language is ridiculous. But at this point in their careers they have become more concerned with their personal branding than with what is true or false, right or wrong for our country.

Their highest priority is keeping their fan base happy. And as Ann Coulter showed recently when she called President Trump “gutless,” if the wind is no longer in Donald Trump’s sails, Coulter, Hannity and even Fox will start tacking in a new direction.

 I want to briefly mention last Sunday’s rescheduled NTDO “Volunteer Thank You” Pizza Party sponsored by Committeeman Dean Maragos. Although the cold weather kept the attendance numbers down, the folks who showed up enjoyed a warm and inspiring gathering.

The elected officials attending included our new State Senator Laura Fine, our new State Rep. Jennifer Gong Gershowitz, Country Commissioner Larry Suffredin, State Central Committeeman Mike Cabonargi, MWRD board members Debra Shore and Cam Davis, Township Trustee Gail Schnitzer Eisenberg and our NT Committeeman, Dean Maragos. (I apologize if I left out a few names.)

The reason I have mentioned the office holders by name is because the priorities and legislation they discussed over several hours of conversation reassured us all that we New Trier voters have some exceptional people representing us. – And if you’ve been keeping up with recent news stories about a number of well known politicians, we are very fortunate indeed.

Nels Howard NTDO Member since 1973

The Trump Shakedown

More than a month ago, President Trump stated on national TV that to achieve his border-wall-funding goal, he would be “proud to shut down the government.” Not many days later, he did just that. And now his “proud” quote insures that this painful (and completely unnecessary) episode in our history will forever be known as “the Trump Shutdown.”

However, after a month of watching the President’s political posturing and his refusal to consider moderating his demands, it’s become clear that this mess should really be called “the Trump Shakedown.”  

You know what a “shakedown” is, right? You’ve watched The Sopranos. It’s another word for extortion. And one of the favorite tactics extortionists use is hostage taking. This is basically what our President is doing right now, holding 800,000 federal employees hostage until he gets his way. 

It shouldn’t be a big surprise that something like this is finally occurring in Trump’s presidency. Until this month the President hasn’t had to face a branch of Congress that will stand up to him. But now the newly elected House of Representatives is not afraid to question his demands. So the President, having exactly zero experience in government prior to his 2016 election, has turned to the tactics that worked for him in his former business life – bullying, threatening, creating pain until his adversary cries “uncle.” 

In his business years when he confronted opponents with limited power, like angry tenants or unpaid contractors, his extortionist-style threats were effective weapons. But this time he’s locking horns with an entire legislative branch of the U.S. government – an equal branch of the government, by the way.

You would think the President (or experienced White House staff members – if any are left) would have searched for language to present Trump’s demands in words that could give both sides room to bargain.

But as I said earlier, that isn’t Trump’s style. In fact, I think Trump’s “style” is more closely aligned with the behavior of a sociopath. I know that sounds hyperbolic…but really? The dictionary says a sociopath is “a person interested only in their personal needs and desires, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others.” 

Years ago I heard a real life example of such sociopathy on a radio interview. An imprisoned murderer was asked to explain why he shot of an innocent bystander during a bank robbery. The sociopath said, “Of course I shot him. I told him to put his hands up or I’d shoot. He didn’t do it. It was his choice. He chose to get shot.”  

Compare that craziness with: “Sure the shutdown put 800,000 federal workers in financial distress. But I told the Democrats if they didn’t give me exactly what I wanted I’d shut things down. They didn’t give me what I wanted. Those Democrats chose to cut off pay to 800,000 workers.” 
For the past month, Mitch McConnell has been in a position to end Trump’s extortion. But so far, it seems he’s preferred to be more of a bystander instead of the Senate’s leader. He’s always depended on the public’s lack of understanding of his complex maneuvering as Senate Majority Leader. 

However, the denial of pay to 800,000 Americans is a situation everyone understands. Mitch can’t cloud that over with mumbled excuses and weak defenses of Trump’s imperious behavior. Maybe Senate Republicans can come up with some sort of position that succeeds in passing the blame over to the House Democratic majority. But I believe as long as the Republican Senate refuses to stand up to the President and push for an end to the Trump Shakedown, the public’s opinion of Mitch McConnell’s Senate will deteriorate. (And Senator McConnell is running for reelection in 2020.) If nothing else will get him to do the right thing, that reality should.

Nels Howard, NTDO Member since 1973

PS:I want to end this commentary on a more upbeat note by mentioning two events that I attended on the past two weekends. I’m sure many of you reading this were also at one or both of the gatherings. 

The first was a reunion of people, who worked on one or more of Dan Seals’ Congressional campaigns. (Of course Dan was there.) The second was a gathering of folks who wanted to join in a “group thank you” to our now retired State Senator Daniel Biss

What was so strongly apparent at both events was how many people attending were first drawn into grass roots political activism by those candidates’ campaigns. There were anecdotes about first experiences ringing doorbells, phone banking or joining in a “post card party.” And those first volunteer experiences, inspired by those two unselfish candidates, resulted in dozens and dozens of local Democrats who have stayed politically engaged ever since. In fact, some of those people went on to run for offices themselves.

Those gatherings with Dan Seals and Daniel Biss reminded me of why I have so much respect for so many of the people who run for office. Not just the winners, all candidates. And I’m talking about every office from Congress or the State Legislature to the contests to be elected to the boards of our libraries, park districts, villages, schools or our township. Every one of those candidates has decided to give of their time and energy to serve their community in some way. And what they may not realize, win or lose, is that just by running they are attracting volunteers and adding an energy to the democratic process that will continue long into the future.

“The Wall” Is A Fantasy

Well, another week of the Trump presidency has flown by, providing us with more moments worthy of comparison to the satirical writings of Joseph Heller or even Jonathan Swift.

Donald Trump, our nation’s leader, is standing firm on his insistence that a wall must be built on our southern border because he says we face a crisis! He says the United States is being gravely endangered by hordes of foreign intruders attempting to sneak into our country. Not only will these undesirables upset our labor force and increase crime but they are a potential conduit for the smuggling of drugs and, more frightening yet, terrorists into the USA. (In reality, the facts speak differently.)

So how exactly is President Trump addressing this grave threat to our security? Until he gets his way, he has “proudly” shut down the government. The result is 800,000 government workers, including those in the TSA and Coast Guard, will not be paid. And what is the job of many of those unpaid workers? Their job is to ensure our nation’s security. — Isn’t that just like something out of Heller’s “Catch 22?”

(I could also point to Trump’s earlier reaction to the “caravans” of refugees fleeing terrible conditions in their Central American countries. His suggestion for stemming the flow of families from those areas was to cut off U.S. aid to that region. – Yeah, that should convince those desperate families to stay put.)

And this brings me to another baffling part of this continuing “Trump dumpster fire:”

Why must every newscaster, pundit and political figure including Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer continue to refer to Trump’s desired border security project as “the  wall” or “a  wall?” This simply reinforces the notion that Trump’s “border wall” is a realistic proposal. The truth is it’s a stupid, undoable idea. There will never be and could never be a single wall along our southern border stretching from the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

For starters, there is nearly 900 miles of Rio Grande River constituting the Texas-Mexico border. Would Trump’s wall block all U.S. citizens from approaching our side of the Rio Grande River? Or, would there be tall steel fencing down the middle of the Rio Grande, enlarging on the barriers East Berlin placed in waterways shared with West Berlin?

Yes, it is likely that when candidate Trump introduced his vision of “a wall” on our southern border, he may have actually visualized an impenetrable “Great Wall of China” type barrier. This certainly would be in keeping with the simplistic approach he has displayed in facing so many situations since he took office. (Rex Tillerson’s rumored appraisal of President Trump’s intelligence seems more accurate with each passing day.)

So, I wish our party leaders and the news media would realize that each time they discuss funds for “the wall” they legitimizes Donald Trump’s fantasy while protecting him from any exposure of his ridiculous concept.

Someday soon, the President may start claiming that his “wall” was simply a metaphor for a secure border made possible by a combination of barriers, electronic sensors, visual surveillance, and patrolling guards. I hope he does switch to that position. Then a funding agreement with Congress might be reached.

Unfortunately, many Trump supporters (and apparently some Fox News personalities) continue to embrace the vision of a massive, defiant, structure placed all along Mexico’s border. — It’s time they faced reality.

The fact is, there are nearly 400 miles of walls, barriers, etc. already in place along various stretches of the border. The other nearly 1600 miles of “un-walled” border includes, canyons, rivers, deserts that offer varying levels of penetrability. These border areas are patrolled by border security and, I’m assuming, local community law enforcement personnel. (Beef them up? Seems reasonable.)

Donald Trump should be asked point blank if he intends for his “wall” to be built from the Pacific coast to the Texas gulf. And he should be asked to show the public a map his “wall.” I think that might be especially enlightening for his diehard supporters.

It also seems to me that Democratic leaders should be talking more clearly about their own proposals for border security. They should lead the American people with more clarifying guidance. Right now the vague, misleading language battling over funding for “the wall” is getting us nowhere.

One more thing… At the top of this commentary I referenced the authors Joseph Heller and Jonathan Swift. But this past week there was another author whose work also felt pertinent, Richard Condon. He’s the guy who wrote the “Manchurian Candidate.” Did you ever imagine you would hear reputable news analysts discuss the possibility that the President of the United States might be an agent of the Russian government? Or watch a White House reporter directly ask the President if he has worked for Russia? It actually just happened.

It’s all stranger than fiction. At least it is, so far. We will have to wait and see what the Mueller Investigation and Democratic House hearings turn up before we can dismiss such an idea as totally preposterous. There are probably screenplays being written right now with a fascinating choice of endings.

Nels Howard, NTDO Member since 1973

I See Better Days Ahead

It’s been seven weeks since I wrote my last commentary for the NTD News.  – Wow, that time went by fast! — So now I will attempt to get back into my commentary groove. During those weeks I did enjoy taking a break from visiting Donald Trump’s psychotic incompetence, his MAGA followers’ inexplicable blindness and the Republican Party’s spineless acceptance of the President’s dangerous whims.

Of course, I was never completely relieved from thinking about all that stuff. Each day’s news made sure of that. Last night’s presidential address from the Oval Office was just the most recent event in a growing collection of bizarre presidential moments that will someday fill history’s embarrassing chapter about America’s 45th President.

But getting back to my involvement with the NTD News, I must say that although I have frequently used this newsletter to vent my frustration and anger over President Trump and his enablers, I have tried to keep that from being this newsletter’s purpose. Whenever possible, I’ve tried to present reasons for all of us to not turn our backs on the critically important struggle we progressives face — for the good of our country and the world.

Each week I’ve tried to remind every reader (as well as myself) that we can’t stop believing that a better government is possible if we all stick with it. Last November’s mid-term elections certainly bolstered my hopes for the future. And even though we’re only into the first few days of the Democratic Party’s House majority in the 116th Congress, I feel sure that in the coming months, writing about the ideas and legislation generated by the new Democrats in the U.S. House will be a welcome pleasure.

The reason for my optimism was sparked by what I saw this past Sunday as I watched four of those new House Democrats sit in a round-table interview with Face The Nation‘s Margaret Brennan:  Continue reading I See Better Days Ahead

Happy Holidays

Every week this year the NTD News commentary has contained at least some discussion of contemporary events. Naturally, that has meant talking about a lot of unpleasant subjects. — With Trump as our president and a regressive Republican-controlled Congress, unpleasant subjects have pretty much been unavoidable.

But today with the holiday season about to begin, this week’s commentary will contain only pleasant thoughts. Fortunately, this will be much easier to do now that we’ve had the November 6 elections. Most of the voting results were indeed happy ones. (And several close losses that we suffered gives us reasons to have optimism for the future in those states too.).

Some pleasant thoughts:

We are now only weeks away from having a House of Representatives that will be controlled by Democrats. And the more we get to know about this new group of Democratic Congresspersons, the more we can see they are an exceptional bunch of women and men. They are smart, diverse and motivated to affect positive change.

Their diversity, in stark contrast to the Republicans in Congress, actually reflects America. Their backgrounds bring fresh perspectives to the U.S. House. And their focus on addressing urgent issues that have been consistently avoided by House Republicans – healthcare, climate change, gun violence, voter suppression – is heartening.

A similar sense of optimism can be felt when we look at the changes that will take place in Springfield this January. We no longer will have a governor insistent on running the state “his way” with no room for compromise (no matter how much it worsened the state of our state).

We will soon have a Democratic governor who is already showing a willingness to explore ideas from a variety of perspectives while keeping our state’s most vulnerable citizens in the equation. Also, the presence of a strong Democrat as governor will create a new dynamic in Springfield between the governor’s office and the majority leaders in our State Legislature. If this can lead to a more democratic approach to our state’s legislative process it will indeed be a positive development for our future.

And some positive thoughts looking ahead:

In a number of states, the Republicans’ undisguised efforts to keep voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote may inspire long overdue reforms. With Democrats controlling the U.S. House, a national spotlight may finally be aimed at the un-American practice of voter suppression.

Ironically, the bizarre behavior of our President continues to drive thousands of Americans to become politically engaged – many for the first time in their lives. In fact, the voter turnout this year was the largest for a Mid-term Election in 50 years! Such increased voter participation is always a good thing for any democracy. – We must not let this new voter enthusiasm fade away.

A few weeks ago we saw what can be achieved by a newly awakened force of voters (in areas without voter suppression). Republican candidates ran on fears of imaginary threats and a distrust of fellow Americans – while our candidates ran with appeals to treating every American with decency and with straight-talking approaches to critically important issues.

Our Democratic victories earlier this month have now set the table for 2020 and a Democratic White House, control of both congressional houses and a return to more rational governance. The new year is almost here and although we can expect plenty of frustrations and disappointments over the next 24 months, the trajectory for a brighter future for all of us has now been set. That’s a nice thought to carry into the Holidays. — So, Happy New Year to you all.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973

For the rest of this year, I’m going to take a break from writing these commentaries.

In the coming weeks, the NTD News will still be sending you updates on local political events like our NTD Holiday Party coming up on December 13 at the Wilmette Wine Cellar. In 2019, I plan to return with commentary on January 9th. — N.H.

A Sense Of Decency

Senator, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
Joseph N. Welch addressing Senator Joe McCarthy

I was a boy back in the days of black and white TV when army counsel Joseph Welch confronted red-baiting Senator Joe McCarthy with those now famous words during the televised “Army-McCarthy hearings.”

It was a brilliant use of a few select words to finally put Senator McCarthy in his place. The senator had implied that a young lawyer associated with Attorney Welch’s firm had Communist sympathies. Welch then accused McCarthy of recklessly destroying his young associate’s future. He “put a human face” on the broad-brushed accusations that had damaged so many blameless lives.

“Have you no sense of decency.” What a powerful slap down. How many times in the past few years have public figures deserved those words of reproach? – But I must admit that although Welch’s quote was stored somewhere in my head it wasn’t until a few days ago that it popped back into my consciousness.

Two American leaders – the Governor of Florida and the President of the United States – have now stated that legal votes cast by American citizens need not be counted. And they’ve gone further than that, characterizing the demands by candidates and their supporters to count every absentee and early-voting ballot as somehow being a suspicious action driven by shady motives – perhaps even a criminal activity.

This is a very big deal. Sure, I know that voter suppression is not a new phenomenon in the United States. It was refined in the days of Jim Crow by southern Democrats, and under modern day Republicans it has become slicker as it has spread to other regions of our country. We have seen Republican officials reduce the number of voting machines on college campuses and in ethnic neighborhoods, creating long lines, discouraging potential voters from voting. We’ve seen polling places move to locations more inaccessible for certain “undesirable” voters. We’ve seen new voter I.D. rules clearly aimed at reducing the number of black and Hispanic votes.

But such suppression has always been done under the guise of trying to prevent voter fraud or to save tax dollars. These rationalizations have long clouded the enormity of this undemocratic activity for many Americans.

Now two elected leaders, both sworn to protect the Constitution of the United States, have actually spoken out against counting every vote cast in an American election. — I’d say that’s pretty indecent of them. The right of every American citizen to make his or her voice heard at the polls is our most precious right. It is the foundation of our democracy. In fact, it is the very essence of every democracy.

This week Donald Trump and Rick Scott removed any pretense about voter suppression. Wherever it is practiced its purpose is to negate the constitutional rights of targeted Americans. Purposely keeping any citizen from voting or having their vote counted is un-American and should be loudly condemned. This should be one issue that every Republican and Democrat can agree on.

So what happens next? Continue reading A Sense Of Decency

A Glass Half-Full

This morning as my wife was removing the candidate signs from our front yard, a man walking his dog paused to comment: “It wasn’t the best night – but it’ll do.”

That does pretty much sum up what I’m sure many of us are feeling today. Sure, we all would’ve liked to see President Trump get slapped down in Georgia and Texas and Florida. His appeals to fear and intolerance supported by lies and bluster succeeded in those reluctantly reformed Jim Crow states. (Although in Georgia, the vote totals — thanks to voter rights sabotage — should be challenged. And in Texas, the results were close enough to show that strong Democratic candidates in that demographically changing state can “turn it blue” in the near future.)

Also of course, we would have loved to see Democrats take control of the U.S. Senate starting next January. But, that was a long shot. This year, 2018, was a year when vulnerable Democratic senate seats were up for reelection in red states. In 2020, the tables will be turned when a bunch of Republican senate seats in blue and “purple” states will be susceptible to Democratic wins. – Have patience.

So today, I’ve been wrestling with “glass half-full or glass half-empty” rationalizations. – And to be honest, in our present polarized nation I’ve concluded I’m looking at two different glasses.

The half-empty glass contains fear, exclusion, anger — ingredients that thrive on, in fact depend on, polarization and endless societal conflict. Other active (but hidden) ingredients that keep things bubbling are greed and a lust for raw power. To many Americans, the taste and fragrance of this glass is tantalizing. But to me, it’s a toxic mix that is already sickening the strength of our nation.

The other glass, which after yesterday appears to me to be more than half-full, contains hope, empathy and inclusion. These ingredients are nourished by a desire for justice, fairness and a respect for reasoned dialogue. Energizing this mix is a strong determination to protect and strengthen the health of our democratic institutions and the well being of every American, no matter what their station in life.

Next year’s Democratic majority in the U.S. House is going to include a Sean Castennumber of new minds, new voices, new energy. The arrival of these fresh perspectives will be quite different from the influx of “Tea Party” cynics after the 2010 mid-term election – the last time Democrats held a majority in the House. Our region’s newest U.S. Reps., Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood, will be joining New Trier’s Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Congressman Brad Schneider, both reelected with job-affirming majorities. Our expanded Illinois Democratic delegation will definitely be a positive force worth watching.  Continue reading A Glass Half-Full

Tighten Trump’s Leash

I’ve pretty much run out of things to say. Election Day is less than a week away and at this point, if these weekly messages have failed to communicate the urgency of victories for Democratic candidates across the country, what more can be said?

To be honest, over these past months the strongest incentives for action haven’t been coming from me anyway, but from another source entirely – Donald Trump.

If you want to neutralize at least some of the venom Trump continues to spew, we need to have as many strong voices as possible in Washington and in state governments to repel his tactics. The results of November 6 will either tighten the leash on the President’s irrational behavior or emboldened Trump and his most fanatic followers to expand their destructive activities.

We must re-elect our local members of Congress, Jan Schakowsky and Brad Schneider, and help congressional candidates Lauren Underwood and Sean Casten to replace their Trump-puppet Republican opponents in the U.S. House. We need to have an Illinois Governor Pritzker and Attorney General Raoul who will stand up to the attacks on equality by Trump’s “Justice” Department Chief and former Alabama segregationist Jeff Sessions.

We must have smart, dedicated state legislators in office – Laura Fine, Julie Morrison, Robyn Gabel, Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Bob Morgan — to champion legislation that will protect Illinois residents from the machinations of Trump extremism.

We need MWRD (water reclamation) board members who, unlike Republicans, recognize the seriousness of climate change, and quality county officeholders like Larry Suffredin, Fritz Kaegi and Michael Cabonargi serving our area. — The slate of Democratic candidates on New Trier’s ballot is an exceptionally good one. They need and deserve our help.

So, if you have already voted, terrific! But please don’t stop now. Getting your local voting out of the way frees up some of your time up to help get out the vote between now and when the polls close November 6. A lot can happen in those six days. Bushels of Republican money will be spent for their candidates. We have to counter Republican aggressiveness with activity of our own.

Republicans gave us Trump. We owe them a resounding defeat.

Leading up to next Tuesday, the New Trier Democrats will be distributing voter information to neighborhoods and at New Trier’s early voting site, Centennial Ice Rinks in Wilmette. And on Election Day, there will be voter information pass-outs at selected polling places, and GOTV messaging to targeted households.

Tomorrow (Thursday) and/or on Friday, you can volunteer a few hours to assist in the office or handle a voter info assignment (it’s your choice) — we could really use your help. Contact the NTDO office at 847-446-8030 (no answer, leave a message) or send an email to

Also on Election Day, there will be driver services dispatched from the NTDO office for deliveries to polling places and for any voters needing a ride to the polls. To volunteer, follow the contact info shown above.

You want to change the way things are going under President Trump? Then take an active part in this election. – What more can I say.

Nels Howard
NTDO member since 1973

P.S. Early voting is still going on through Nov. 5 – and unregistered voters with two forms of ID (including current address proof) can register to vote at their early voting site.  And this year, new voters can also register to vote on Election Day at their polling place!

P.P.S. If you or anyone you know in New Trier Township needs help getting to a polling location on Election Day, contact the NTDO office at 847-446-8030 and we will send a driver to pick you up.