New Trier Democrats’ Posts

A Special Message From Our President

I want to first of all wish all our members a happy holiday season. As we end this year and enter 2020, we will be embarking upon a very critical period for our country. We will be looking as Democrats for candidates in the Primary to fill State, County, Congressional and Senatorial seats as well as Judgeships.

But most critically we will be looking to nominate a candidate for President who can defeat Donald Trump. That will not be decided for sometime and many of us are supporting different candidates at this time.

There are buttons being circulated by the Tenth Dems which say “Democrat for President 2020.” I am hoping that when we head to the ballot box in November 2020, we remember that we vote for whichever Democratic candidate wins our party’s nomination.

As members of the New Trier Democrats who live in New Trier Township, you will be able to cast your ballot for the candidate you want our organization to endorse in the March 17, 2020 Democratic Primary. Our endorsement gives candidates support for their campaigns, use of our office and the use of our name in their literature.

We hope that you will attend our Endorsement Meeting on Sunday, January 26th. The information for this event is listed below, as well as on our website and Facebook. I hope that you will consider renewing your membership or becoming a member and attending this important event. I look forward to seeing you there.

Judy Mandel

President, New Trier Democrats


A Call To Arms

“For one true measure of a nation is its success in fulfilling the promise of a better life for each of its members. Let this be the measure of our nation” President John F. Kennedy, February 27, 1962, Special Message to the Congress 

This is the founding principle of our nation – to improve the human condition for all Americans no matter what their social or economic status. Yet today we are witnessing the degradation of our society at the hands of a man – Donald Trump – whose sole purpose in his holding the office of President of the United States is his own greed and self-aggrandizement. He has betrayed his oath of office to be loyal only to the best interests of the nation and its citizens. 

He is systematically destroying women’s rights, the overturn of Roe v. Wade, destroying the environment by allowing lower standards of pollution control, encouraging far right extremist groups, doing the bidding of dictators such as Putin and President Erdogan of Turkey, betrayed our allies in NATO and the Kurds among others. He has used the State Department officials in Ukraine to become his political henchman. We are now witnessing impeachment proceedings against this despicable demagogue.

 We all agree that our nation is in a dire state of peril. You may be asking what can I do to stop Trump and get the nation on the right path again. The answer is JOIN the New Trier Democrats in our winning plan to oust Trump from office and regain control of the three branches of government. This is our Call to Arms! 

Last year due to our New Trier team’s work we elected a Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker and maintained our Democratic majority in both the State Senate and House. Yet perhaps our greatest victories were in our local Congressional elections as we added 2 more new Congressional representatives to Congress: Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood in addition to our other outstanding representatives Jan Schakowsky and Brad Schneider and we have taken back the U.S. Congress. 

On January 26, 2020 at 1:30 pm at the Winnetka Community House we have our formal endorsement session in which you as a New Trier Democratic member can speak and vote for your candidate of choice from the race for President of the United States, to Cook County State’s Attorney, Cook County Clerk of the Court and the Illinois Supreme & Appellate Court. 

The Political Momentum is on our side! We have seen Trump get soundly defeated in Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana – supposed Trump strongholds. We need to take back the U.S. Senate and the White House in 2020.

The Fight Starts Now. Join us to defeat Donald Trump and all that he stands for. Become members for as little at $50. Join us on our work with the Democratic Party in Wisconsin and our work here in the Casten and Underwood districts. We are now establishing our 2020 strategy and urge you to join us in the implementation of our strategy for total victory in November, 2020. 

All of the funds we collect at the New Trier Democratic Organization are used only for political races and events supporting our candidates and causes we believe are important to our community. 

The choice is yours. Join us to defeat Trump or watch while he wins again in 2020 and destroys the America we know and love. Call us at (847) 446-8030 or email us to join our team. I know together we can beat Trump and fulfill President Kennedy’s charge to us to assist our fellow citizens in fulfilling a better life for all.

Thank you for your critical support in our battle. 

Dean T. Maragos, Committeeman


In Memoriam, Dr. Jack Melamed

Dr. Jack and Marcia Melamed (far left) at Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Ultimate Women’s Power Lunch in May, 2019.

It is with great sorrow that I have learned of the passing of New Trier Democrats’ long-time member and political activist, Dr. Jack Melamed. When I first became involved with New Trier Democrats in 2005-06 through the Dan Seals campaign, I met Jack and his lovely wife, Marcia. They were great supporters of not only our organization but of Dan Seals and, later on, one of the first supporters of Barack Obama. Jack and Marcia were great about volunteering their time in our organization and were generous in their financial support. In recent years they moved to The Mather in Evanston. I was fortunate to spend some time talking with both Jack and Marcia at Jan Schakowsky’s BBQ this past summer.

Jack will be greatly missed and I ask that you please join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to Marcia Melamed and her family. 

Judy Mandel – President, New Trier Democrats

After Ten Years, “It’s A Wrap!”

A bit more than ten years ago I began putting together a newsletter for our New Trier Dems organization. From the start, the primary purpose of the NTD News was to pass on information about events and opportunities that would be of interest to Democrats and Independents living in or near New Trier. Especially those who believe in the power of grassroots political participation. And that is still its purpose today

However, even in those early versions of our NTD News , I found myself writing a brief preface each week to set up those featured events, often encouraging some sort of action.

As the longtime readers among you know, those brief introductions eventually developed into full-blown essays — some much longer than I had planned, and probably longer than any of you wanted. You have my sincere apology for those times when my wordiness got the best of me.

But let’s face it. In the years I’ve been doing these commentaries, there’s been a tsunami of political subjects to get wordy about: The foolishness of George W. Bush, and the evilness of his Svengali Dick Cheney, recurring mass shootings and the insane proliferation of guns in America, the degradation of the world’s environment and the existential threat of climate change, blatant voter suppression in the North as well as the South., the erosion of women’s rights, the cowardice of Republican legislators afraid to do what’s best for our democracy, Vladimir Putin’s mysterious hold over our president…just think how much longer this wordy list could be!

And of course in recent years the most repeated subject for so many of my commentaries has been President Donald J. Trump, a narcissistic, sociopathic demagogue who is quite possibly the dumbest, most ill-equipped, destructive and dangerous president our nation has ever endured. I’m sure I’ve set a personal record for my use of the thesaurus in search of pejorative descriptors for this guy. No number of negative words can do him justice, although there is one word that might — impeachment.

With all that said, on a positive note I also want to point out that over those years, there have been political stories that have inspired us and kept us all hopeful for a better future. Barack Obama’s reelection in 2012 was no small feat. Then we saw the defeat of the last remaining Republican legislators representing any part of New Trier. In fact, our region is now blue all the way to the Wisconsin border. The mobilization of suburban women and the Democratic victories across America in 2018 have been a sign of positive things to come — if we Democrats all stay engaged. The energetic new Democratic voices in our U.S. Congress and among our Springfield legislators should fill us with hope. It’s all good stuff.

I know there is plenty more to talk about entering 2020. But as you can probably tell from the tone of my musings, I’ve decided I’m not going to be the person doing it. At least, not so publicly.

Perhaps it’s because I have a milestone birthday coming up that has me thinking about making new commitments and taking new paths. It could also be that I know a weekly commentary in a political world as polarized as ours can freeze a writer into rigid stances. After awhile the points a writer makes begin to sound redundant. Or, my retreat from the weekly ritual of a political commentary could simply be the result of Trump fatigue. Thinking deeply each week about issues being impacted by such a negative force is tiring, to say the least.

I still do plan to be communicating during the upcoming election year as I ring doorbells or write postcards for Democratic candidates. And who knows? There may be an event, a candidate, an issue next year that inspires a personal observation I feel I must share with all of you. In a year as wild as 2020 will be, that could very likely happen.

So now I want to say, “thank you,’” to people who have made my weekly efforts easier than they might have otherwise been: In the earliest days, longtime NTD leaders Joan Berman and Peggy Slater kept me confident I was on the right track. And throughout the press of completing these weekly newsletters I always knew I could ask for help and get it from our NTD President, Judy Mandel and before her, President Priscilla Sperling. I also knew that our NTD office managers, particularly the late, great Sharon Suzda and our present Office Manager Joan Fishman, could always be counted on for help when I asked. And, a couple election cycles ago, NTD Executive Board member Dan O’Brien took over the job of assembling the “news and events” portion of the NTD News , so I could have time to concentrate solely on commentary. (Dan also revamped the newsletter’s entire design to give it a contemporary Internet look.) — Thanks, to you all.

Finally, I want to thank each person who, over the years, took the time to tell me they enjoyed something I’d written. Some of you were old friends, some were people I had never met. You should all know your encouragement has meant a lot to me.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Politically Passive Is An Oxymoron

The other day I read an article on a financial website that discussed the increasing popularity of “passive” investment funds — specifically mutual funds that represent an entire major stock index such as the S&P 500. Because such funds include shares in all the stocks listed in an index, the fund’s value is dictated by the movement of the entire market. This requires minimal fund management. Oversight is “passive” so management fees are miniscule, hence the popularity.

I started today’s commentary with that financial anecdote because it got me thinking about how appealing it is to find an approach to any situation that only requires passive involvement. Then I thought about that adjective, “passive.” It’s relaxing. It sounds so peaceful and benign — yet in some situations it can be a destructive activity. Doing nothing is doing something. Just look at the 2010 and 2014 election years when too many Democrats stayed home from the polls and we ended up with years of congressional Republican obstruction.

These thoughts led to another aspect of that investment article that struck me as also worth mentioning. We all look for ways to protect and enhance whatever assets we accumulate in our lives. And yet, perhaps the most precious assets we Americans have is our Constitution and Bill of Rights — and the democracy and equality they protect. Many of us take this valuable legacy for granted. And yet, year to year it requires our attention and our involvement. We must never allow an erosion of our democracy that squanders an inheritance that took two and a half centuries to build.

At last Sunday’s NTD Annual Dinner, I was reassured that this battle to protect our Constitutional legacy is not being conceded to the far right. Our Dinner’s guest speakers, Congresswoman Lauren Underwood and Congressman Sean Casten, came to congress in 2018 as a result of hard fought, grassroots campaigns involving hundreds of volunteers. Their words at the Dinner made it clear that they plan to fight even harder to hold on to their congressional seats against an onslaught of right wing money. (We can expect tough challenges to some of our state office holders too.)

So, “passive” is not a word we should even consider as we go into 2020. Democrats, across the country, certainly were not passive in 2018. That momentum has stayed with us. Let’s keep it going.

Scroll down this page and you’ll see a number of opportunities to get involved in meaningful activities. It’s not too early to begin. (The Republicans already have.) And, however you choose to become involved, you will make a difference. Politically, passive never wins.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

P.S.The financial article I mentioned above did warn of some potential dangers that may be inherent in passive funds. You can google “passive investing bubble” if you’re interested. It’s worth a read.

Just Sharing A Few Thoughts

This NTD News commentary is simply some recent thoughts I had on some unrelated subjects. — N.H.

This past week, the tragic betrayal of our Kurdish allies in Syria has been painful to watch. Some observers have speculated that what we are seeing is simply a “wag the dog” tactic by Trump and perhaps a few of his team, designed to divert attention from news stories about his impeachment inquiry. And, based on Trump’s lifelong history of betraying associates, contractors, rivals, wives, et al, it sounds quite likely to me.

The Kurds fought side-by-side with our American troops to crush ISIS forces. Then our nation’s president, without warning, removed our military from the area, giving Turkey’s President Erdogan a tacit okay to immediately begin an invasion.

And did this tactic to divert our attention work? There’s little doubt that news stories about this new Syrian chaos will stick around for awhile. But it is a certainty that the stream of sordid revelations further justifying Donald Trump’s impeachment will not slow down at all.

So, here is what Trump’s Middle East maneuver really “accomplished”: Kurd villages have been obliterated, Kurdish men randomly slaughtered and thousands of families are now desperate refugees. The suffering will be far reaching. The regional repercussions will be felt for years.

This is just the latest example of Trump’s historic incompetence as president. His impulsive, ill-conceived actions continue to gravely damage the international position of the United States. — Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping must be rubbing their hands with glee.

Another thought I wanted to share, was the result of reading about the Fort Worth, Texas woman who was shot by a policeman through a window of her home. He was dispatched to check on the house because its front door was open late at night. He saw a woman (or her silhouette) in a window with its blind down, and literally a split second after yelling a command from outside the house, he killed her. The encounter, recorded on the police officer’s uniform camera sounded like this: “Put up your hands! Put of your hands! BANG!” The time between his first word of warning and the deadly gunshot was about as long as the time it took you to read the words I just typed. And that is not the way a warning should work. A “warning” means “do what I say because if you don’t I will take action.” Enough time must be given to start heeding those words. — The police officer was removed from his job and has since been charged with murder. 

I’m not mentioning this incident as one more condemnation of lax police training. Instead it started me thinking about why this kind of virtually instant “I felt endangered” shooting by a police officer seems to be occurring more often than ever. —- I think it is the proliferation of guns, especially in certain cities and regions. With guns so prevalent in our strange country, it is understandable that police have become increasingly on guard with every interaction. There is a real possibility that any person they encounter for any reason has the potential to shoot them. If I were a cop, that thought would always be with me. 

Of course the Fort Worth policeman was terribly wrong. Perhaps he was poorly trained. Or maybe he was inclined toward violence. I don’t know. But, what I’m pointing out here is that today’s universally threatening gun environment has not always existed across America, and it can still be returned to a saner level.

The NRA’s mantra that if everyone was armed, we’d all be safer is a fallacy. Just ask almost any police officer.

When satire become reality, we know we’re in trouble. Years ago, I saw the standup comic Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) deliver a tongue in cheek patriotic spiel about America’s international greatness. He said: “When Vietnam had their civil war, we sent thousands of soldiers over there to help them – but when we had our Civil War, how many Vietnamese came here to help us? You tella me!” 

Ludicrous satire, right? Then a few days ago, President Donald Trump spoke to reporters and presented some of the thinking behind his abandonment of our Kurdish allies. “They didn’t help us in the Second World War. They didn’t help us at Normandy.” — In fact, back then there was no Kurdish government in existence, although some Kurds did fight the Nazis as Soviet soldiers.

When Rex Tillerson was Secretary of State he was reported to have summed up one of his meetings with President Trump with these immortal words: ”What a (blank)ing moron!” — You got that right, Rex.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

P.S. See you at the NTD Annual Dinner this Sunday, October 20? Hope so.

Living In Interesting Times

Most of you are probably familiar with the ironically worded curse credited to the ancient Chinese, “May you live in interesting times.” And boy, do we live in interesting times.

Having a president in the White House as dangerously weird as Donald Trump is reason enough to feel that our times are far from stable — Even during the Cold War when nuclear annihilation was a major geopolitical consideration, the ultimate decision makers were, thankfully, rational men.

And what has been almost as disturbing as our president’s conduct, is the behavior of so many of his Republican Party enablers. His defenders in every level of government, his media cheerleaders, his staunchly loyal voter block, all continue to appear oblivious to the long-term harm he is doing to our nation, and the world. They remain unmindful of the repercussions of his behavior, and uncaring about who or how many are hurt by his ego-driven and self-serving whims.

How does he keep getting away with conduct that that would destroy the careers of more conventional political figures?

First of all, it’s wrong to assume you can lump Trump’s supporters into a few general categories to explain their loyalty. (I’ll let you fill in what you think those categories might be.) I’ve concluded that if you scratch the surface of a Trump supporter to see what keeps them loyal you won’t find some blanket mental state, but instead a single issue that they believe Donald Trump is defending for them. Trumpsters are willing to look the other way or remain willfully ignorant of facts, no matter what Trump does, as long as he continues to give lip service to their specific “cause” while thumbing his nose at anything said or done that is “against their cause.”

It’s an effective strategy that has been used to control groups for centuries. So is the United States inevitably destined to be cripplingly divided? — As George Carlin said when asking if we should care about the length of his hair, “au contraire, mon frere.” Things may change for the better sooner than we might expect.

The signs that a growing majority of Americans want to walk away from our “interesting times” grow stronger each day. In 2018, when Democratic voters got their act together to take back control of the U.S. House, Donald Trump’s behavior was their motivation. — Here in Illinois, progressive voters had the added incentive of candidate Bruce Rauner to drive them to action.

Since that important Democratic victory, President Trump’s increasingly erratic behavior is stimulating even more movement toward progressive policies and candidates. Even as Executive Branch operatives stonewall against a co-equal government branch and millions of dollars of propaganda have begun to fill the airwaves, a national poll released yesterday found that 58% of Americans approve of a House impeachment inquiry. 

This is not the direction Trump and his shadowy backers had hoped for. The more Donald Trump reveals of his hollow self, the less attractive he is finally becoming to more people across the country.

And what of the single issues that have held the loyalty of the voters Republicans need in 2020? Well, Democrats are championing issues with the power to win some of those voters. Notably climate change, which can no longer be ignored, despite Trump’s denial of its existence. 

So, we really shouldn’t be pessimistic about the direction of things to come. And here’s one more reason for optimism. At last weekend’s DPOE Dinner, State Senator Laura Fine and our State Reps Robyn Gabel and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz reported on an impressive list of new legislation they introduced or supported that will make life better for Illinois residents. — I hope you visit each of their websites to learn what has been accomplished in the first year since Rauner’s removal. You’ll be proud of their work.

Yes, these are indeed “interesting times.” But scroll down this newsletter and you’ll find a number of opportunities that will make 2020 and beyond ‘interesting” in a much more positive way.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

How Did We Get Trump?

In another, more calm time in our United States, I might have observed today’s gray October skies and falling temperatures and found myself writing about the arrival of autumn – looking ahead to the blazing fall colors, cozy wool pullovers and warm holiday gatherings. Somewhere in my musings I probably would have woven in some sort of liberal political spin. However, I would have enjoyed my pleasant break from the complicated and combative world of today’s politics. 

But it’s not gonna happen this week. And that pleasant break we’d all love to take may not come for a long time. As long as Donald J. Trump remains in the White House, the possibility for America (and the world) to experience any weeks that aren’t chaotic is quite unlikely.  

Could impeachment remove him from office? Right now, the odds are better than fifty-fifty that Donald Trump will not be impeached by the Republican controlled Senate and will complete his first term as president. If that is the case, the prospect that Trump could be reelected is not out of the question. Some unexpected twist of fate, a disastrous screw-up by the Democratic nominee or his/her campaign, or worst of all, nefarious activities by unknown players, could hand Trump a second term. 

I’m sure that none of us enjoy thinking about Donald Trump virtually every day of the week. But when you have a narcissistic sociopath holding the most powerful office in the world, it is difficult for that situation to not remain top-of-mind. 

The man demands daily attention. That has been his modus operandi throughout his adult life. (Probably earlier than that.) In his younger years he depended on self-generated public relations for his self-promotion. Then along came Twitter, a communications vehicle ideal for a person driven by whim, untethered by facts, unbothered by lies, and obsessed with staying in the spotlight. 

How in the world, did we end up with such a bizarre character as our nation’s “leader?” In my opinion, Donald Trump’s path to the Oval Office began decades ago. Here are just some of the events that have provided him with a highly receptive voter base:  

– Nation-changing civil rights legislation leading to the Republican Party’s polarizing “Southern Strategy” 

– The lost war in Vietnam and a feeling of lost national pride

– The view presented by President Ronald Reagan that government cannot be trusted

– President Reagan’s anti-union stance and subsequent worker wage stagnation

– The widening wealth gap

 – President Clinton’s loosening of financial industry rules 

– The reckless financial practices continuing during the Bush Administration, bringing us the Great Recession of 2008

– Millions of average Americans losing jobs, life savings and homes as a result of the 2008 crash

– Economic globalization with manufacturing and jobs moving overseas

– The growth of automation and robotics reducing the need for physical “manpower”

– A growing awareness of the dangers of carbon fuels and the resulting erosion of jobs

– The 9/11 attack and resulting fear of “outsiders”

– The election of an African-American president (an “outsider”)

– The growth of women’s, LGBTQ and transgender rights, disrupting “the way things have always been”

– The rise of angry conservatives with their view that any political compromise is a sign of weakness

Everything in my list (and it could have been longer) helped build the platform for Trump’s successful demagoguery. 

Of course, during the years represented above, our democracy had a legislative structure in place to address many of those situations. The rebuilding of our national infrastructure could have been initiated with bi-partisan support, creating new job opportunities for millions. The growth of good paying jobs in the frontiers of technology could have been encouraged. Education and skills training in those fields could have been given a much higher priority. — Congressional gridlock stood in the way. 

The Democrats competing for their party’s nomination in 2020 have a promising perspective on the direction our next president must take (some more than others). They’ve all witnessed the avoidable mistakes made by the Democratic Party and candidate in 2016.  

One year from today when I look out my window, the presidential election will be only weeks away. I imagine my thoughts will all be about that event. But I deeply hope that my musings on the Wednesday after Election Day will be positive expectations for the years ahead under a Democratic President — with occasional calm breaks away from the natural competition that is essential for our two party system.

Nels Howard, NTD Member since 1973

Have You Met Greta Thunberg?

On Monday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres assembled a climate summit. His goal was to reinvigorate the Paris climate agreement, originally adopted in 2015 by 174 nations plus the European Union. – President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2017. — And now, sixty-six countries have responded to Mr. Guterres’ call to renew their focus on this crisis, vowing to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. (You might notice that’s a potentially-disaster-filled 30 long years from now.)  

Yesterday, I watched a video of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, speaking to attendees of the U.N. summit. And all I can say is, what a remarkable young woman! As I viewed her impassioned upbraiding of that roomful of eminent adults, it was impossible for me to be unmoved. Everything she said was indisputably true and unarguably urgent. (If you haven’t yet seen Greta’s brief speech, you can Google: ‘How dare you?’: Greta Thunberg slams world leaders at UN climate summit. ) 

So what happened after she spoke? Well as you would expect, the right wing immediately belittled her. Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham compared Greta to a character from the Stephen King horror film “Children of the Corn.” Trump mockingly tweeted: “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see.” 

But despite the push back from our nation’s Bully in Chief and those Fox practitioners of Goebbels-style Journalism, Ms. Thunberg’s words resonated around the world. And — if we were living in a less dysfunctional nation — I think over the coming days they might have resonated much more in our U.S.A. too. 

With thousands of people presently being flooded out of their homes on the Gulf and Atlantic coasts (ironically, often Trump-friendly areas), Greta’s words might have started a national conversation and a demand for serious, non-partisan action to address the changing climate. 

Unfortunately, within hours of her U.N. speech, America’s attention turned to a brand new subject, the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. And this time it appears the U.S. House will seriously pursue drawing up those articles of impeachment. This means that in the coming months, along with all the news coverage of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates, our country will be further politically polarized. 

Perhaps the saddest aspect of this sad page in our history is that the Trump impeachment proceedings, although decidedly called for, will take up valuable time that could have been spent focusing on issues that desperately need the attention of the public and our lawmakers. You know the issues, but among them climate change, the existential threat to all future generations and in fact to life on earth, must be given the highest priority. 

Each year, more of our planet’s living things are brought closer to extinction, more arable land brought closer to becoming desert, more millions of people brought closer to being displaced, more extreme weather events becoming the norm. We cannot accept the path we are on as unavoidable. For the sake of our children and every future generation we must establish continuous and uncompromising policies that will slow down and eventually halt this disastrous process. 

I know we have legislators at the state and national level as well as officals in local offices that have been championing legislation to deal with this crisis. — We must encourage them to continue their work with increased ferocity.  

Greta Thunberg’s message wasn’t just addressing her U.N. audience. Her fiery words were aimed at every one of us and at every person we have helped to elect in every level of government — even the most enlightened, energetic and dedicated among us. We must ask ourselves and ask the office holders representing us, what more can we do?  

It’s good to know that long after Donald Trump and his enablers are no longer present in a world they clearly care so little about, Greta Thunberg and hundreds of thousands of others inspired by her will be around. We must do all we can to make the world they inherit better than they expect.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

An Eye For Irony

The other day, a news item that struck me as especially absurd reminded me of one my favorite Bob Newhart “man on the telephone” routines. It’s set in the early 1600’s. One of King James’ staff is receiving a phone call from Sir Walter Raleigh, calling from America.  

It went something like this: “Hello, Walter. How’s your exploration going?”… “It’s going great? That’s good to hear.” … “Have you found any gold, yet?”… “You haven’t….but you’ve found something that going to be big — worth a fortune”.… “What’s that Walter?… It’s called tobacco? What’s tobacco?”… “It’s a leaf? — Ahh, Walter, we have leaves in England.”… “But this is a special leaf? — What makes it special?”… “You roll it up and put it in your mouth?”… “And then what do you do?”… “Your set it on fire!”… “Walter, I don’t think that’s going to be big…” 

Newhart’s routine pointed out how ridiculous the smoking habit really is. (I can speak to this with authority, having been a smoker for 25 of my younger years.) You put a paper tube filled with dried leaves in your mouth, set fire to it and breath in the smoke. …Seriously!?  

And yet this completely counterintuitive, self-destructive activity has made billions of dollars for tobacco corporations like Altria (Marlboro). And now as profits from cigarettes in the western world have fallen they are pursuing new avenues to profits. Altria’s Juul vaping devices are being marketed to deliver nicotine to nicotine addicts in a “healthier way” while helping them break their unhealthy cigarette habit. Of course Altria’s Philip Morris Co. will continue marketing cigarettes to smokers around the world while Juul users are being saved from the worst evils of nicotine addiction. — Talk about a “win win” situation! — It’s a scenario that could have been written by Joseph Heller or Jonathan Swift. 

And here’s what disturbs me the most. This surreal balancing act is being presented in Juul advertising, in serious business articles and in the mainstream news without a hint of the irony it represents. — At least I haven’t seen any comments on it. 

Why isn’t such irony being recognized? Perhaps in these convulsive times the American public has simply become inured to language and behavior that contradicts itself.  

In some states we have public safety spokespersons recommending that the solution for reducing gun violence is a greater distribution of guns. We have our nation’s Environmental Protection Agency stopping California from enacting stricter clean air standards. We have a Secretary of Education, responsible for our public education system, vocal in her support for private education systems. And yesterday, President Trump nominated a man to lead U.S. human rights policy who was a proponent for torture under George W. Bush. 

Early in its operation, Trump’s White House introduced the practice of presenting “alternative facts,” repeatedly leaning on that concept. Since then, with the endless barrage of tweeted lies coming from our President, I’m starting to wonder if such Orwellian “double speak,” combined with a complete indifference to the appearance of ironic behavior, is becoming accepted by the pubic as normal. 

We know that critical thinking is no longer emphasized in many school curriculums. And when it is absent, recognizing irony is much less likely. Having that ability, as we critique the language and behavior of political figures, has always been a valuable tool for voters. — And by they way, such scrutiny should include the Democratic presidential candidates we are now in the process of choosing for 2020. 

When irony is presented on the stage of Second City, it can be great entertainment. But when you spot it on the political stage (or in the business world), you should weigh what you see very seriously.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973