New Trier Democrats’ Posts

Who Likes Politicians?

This past weekend I had two experiences that further validated my views on the state of today’s political environment. The first was on Saturday, when I drove out to Barrington to ring a few doorbells for Congressional candidate Sean Casten. He’s running to unseat Republican Trump-puppet, Peter Roskam.

I expected I’d be calling on the elegant homes of white-collar Barringtonians. Instead, I was assigned a neighborhood pretty much made up of modest homes. The streets were shady but had no curbs. There were few sidewalks. Here and there I saw a newer home, a few with a “McMansion” vibe that told me real estate developers were aware of the area’s potential. But in general, I was calling on a very much middle-income group of voters.

It was a sunny Saturday so many residents were enjoying the weather somewhere else. But the folks I did catch at home kept the afternoon interesting. Some were quick to say they were Democrats. A couple were quick to say they hated Trump but wouldn’t say if they’d vote for Casten. Some were non-committal but polite. And some had already mailed in their ballot (a trend that may grow in the future). But what left the strongest impression on me were the three men who answered their front doors and immediately told me that “all politicians are bad,” “all politicians are full of BS,” “voting is a waste of time.”

The thing is, I didn’t feel like those men were making these statements just to get me off their porches. They spoke with personal conviction. — As an experienced canvasser, once a door opener rejects my message I thank them and quickly leave. However, afterward I did think about what those men said and reached a couple of conclusions.

For one thing, I have a hunch that in a Republican-friendly area like Barrington (and other “red” regions), there are more than a few people who voted for Donald Trump but are now appalled by his actions. For them, the easiest way to rationalize their voting blunder is to simply conclude that getting involved in politics and elections is a mistake. It could be they won’t be voting in this election.

I also mused on how those guys’ pessimistic views may have been helped by the one-note messages on right wing broadcast and social media; and by the billionaire-supported think tanks with an interest in furthering a distrust in government.

Of course, I would never deny that the public does have reason to be skeptical of “political people.” There are men and women who choose politics as a career for the wrong reasons. Certainly, over the years, our state and local governments have had their share of scoundrels. And it hasn’t helped to have millions of dollars pumped into campaigns that portray political contests as battles between craven, incompetent candidates only running for selfish reasons. Nor have the optics of an Illinois Democratic Party with an entrenched boss at the top (even if this image is not completely true). That situation has become a campaign liability for every Democratic candidate on the ballot, feeding even more cynicism.

And that brings me to the experience I had on Sunday.  Continue reading Who Likes Politicians?

Noam Chomsky’s Advice

Have you ever had the experience of hearing or reading words you thought were worth remembering — and then, just a few minutes later, seeing those same words again in some other context? (I bet you have.) It happened to me yesterday. I read an opinion article in the Chicago Tribune that ended with a quote from Noam Chomsky. Then within minutes, I saw the same quote in a magazine. Chomsky’s words were inspiring, especially in these times when depressingly regressive powers have the upper hand.

So, when I saw his quote twice within minutes I thought, “This is too much of a coincidence. I’m going to base Wednesday’s commentary on Chomsky’s words.” Here’s what he said: “Unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.”  

As I started writing today, I thought I’d simply use his words as an inspiring endorsement for volunteer involvement in our candidates’ campaigns. After all, I thought, any reference to a “better future” would surely embrace our values and priorities. — But then, thinking further I realized that “a better future” is in the eye of the beholder. Noam’s words could just as easily be used to motivate every Trump supporter to become politically involved.

Let’s face it. Every human being would like the future to be better. And you can bet all those folks grinning behind Donald Trump at his rallies or passionately cheering him from the stands believe that he is the leader who will deliver the better future they each hope for.

Of course those hopes vary, depending on each person’s locale, beliefs, traditions, economic situation, business interests, etc. So for some Trump supporters a better future would be a return to the higher paying labor-intensive jobs of two decades past; Or the return of cultural norms that forbid gay marriage; Or a government that “interferes” less in environmental issues or hiring practices.

The truth is, Republican Party leaders, their strategists and their moneyed overlords, know they don’t represent the majority of Americans. But as you can see from their consistent actions in virtually every campaign across the country, they also know that targeting the most personal emotions of potential supporters, including their most base instincts, is a winning approach (at least until those supporters realize they’re being conned).

Fear of “the other,” economic scapegoating, distrust of all government institutions, inflammation of biases, generational prejudices, religious intolerance — it’s a long list of unsavory Republican appeals to winning votes. We all know that “all politics is local.” However, Republican strategists following Donald Trump’s successful demagoguery have hyper-localized their message targets right down to the darkest corners of their supporters’ brains. (To be honest, Democrats have not always been above such tactics but the modern Republican Party has taken this nasty approach to modern new lows.)

This reality is what should be energizing us to defend the better future we must believe in and, as Noam Chomsky said, take responsibility for making it so.

Speaking for myself, and the Democrats I know, our “better future” is a far cry from what Republicans apparently want. Our better future will be a U.S. government that respects science, accepting the fact that global warming is real and that climate change is an existential threat to 21st century civilization. It will be a future that rejects any remaining vestiges of misogyny, recognizing the equal rights of every American woman in every aspect of their lives.  Continue reading Noam Chomsky’s Advice

The Next 33 Days

The November 6 elections are just 33 days from now. So if you haven’t yet been able to get involved in battling the GOP’s reactionary agenda, now is the time to jump in. These final weeks before an election are the critically important days when many eligible voters finally start paying attention to the political contests and start deciding who they will support.

As you probably know, mid-term elections usually draw a disgracefully low percentage of voters compared to the voting numbers in presidential election years. — It was Democratic voter apathy in 2010 and 2014 that put Tea Party candidates in the U.S. House and placed the Senate under Republican control. — However in this mid-term, thanks to a Republican president that is alienating large segments of Americans, a Republican controlled Congress that has revealed their complete disdain for the democratic process and a Republican Governor whose theories on running a state have proven to be disastrous, the number of voters casting ballots for Democrats could set new records. But we can’t sit back and count on that.

You can be sure that in these final weeks before November 6 the Republicans will be pulling out all the stops to derail the momentum of Democratic candidates in every election. The desperate tactics they will likely use against Democrats may make Brett Kavanaugh’s protests of innocence in the Senate seem downright affable.

So, we can take nothing for granted. The Democratic incumbents representing New Trier Township have all proven themselves deserving of reelection to their present offices, or in the case of Laura Fine, election to the State Senate. The new Democratic names on the ballot for State Rep., Jennifer Gong Gershowitz, for Laura Fine’s seat, and Bob Morgan to replace Dem. State Rep. Scott Drury, are also exceptional candidates that should logically be the voters’ choice. — But the Republican Party apparatus and the right wing ideologues behind it have other ideas.

A Republican has been placed on the ballot against each of our state-level candidates as well as U.S. Rep. Schakowsky. At this point, I don’t know the specific campaign platforms of each of the Republican candidates. However, I do know that at least one candidate has expressed anti-LGBT views; another is negative towards unions. – It will be interesting to learn more about these Republican role models in the coming weeks.

What is now known for certain is that about a half-million dollars has begun funneling into the coffers of 7 local non-profit organizations (some recently created). They, in turn, have begun financially supporting the Republican campaigns. Where did this money originate? From right-wing foundations? From far-right billionaires? It isn’t clear. That’s why they call it “dark money.”  Continue reading The Next 33 Days

4 Great Incentives to Stay Involved

This week, there’s so much going on that I’ve decided to not focus on any one issue. Instead I will just continue urging you all to stay involved. In a democracy, votes are power and it’s up to politically engaged folks like us to help make sure every Democratic voter uses that power. So, here are four incentives for you to stay involved:

The Kavanaugh Senate Judiciary Committee sham

The arrogance being displayed by the Republican controlled Senate Judiciary Committee should fire all of us up. Their hypocrisy can be our incentive to keep pushing back against right wing efforts to erase every progressive path taken by America over the past seven decades.

Right now, the Republican controlled Judiciary Committee is only interested in ramming a Brett Kavanaugh SCOTUS confirmation through the Senate. They want nothing to get in the way.

An FBI investigation of the most recent allegations concerning Judge Kavanaugh’s past could discover that he did participate in some of the misogynistic bacchanals he claims he never attended. I guess Kavanaugh would then also be guilty of perjury. — Republicans can’t let that situation happen.

So, unless the Judiciary Committee allows a deeper investigation, or a few senators surprise everyone and vote against Kavanaugh’s SCOTUS appointment, looks like we’re going to have a sitting Supreme Court Justice who, for the rest of his life, will be suspected of having been a sexual predator and a perjurer.

The Right may soon control the U.S. Supreme Court – but not forever. A public outcry for progressive policies, and more legislators elected to support those policies, will make it less likely that SCOTUS will be eager to reverse the will of America’s majority.

President Trump’s dangerous worldview 

This week, Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations revealed where his mind has now settled concerning international relations. President Trump is apparently set on establishing an American doctrine that disavows the structures of international relations that were laboriously pieced together after 1945.

That was the year the world’s governments took a desperately needed look a how their century’s nationalism led to two world wars and the deaths of more than 100 million human beings. For hundreds of years, such slaughter, although not on such a huge scale, had been a regular occurrence in the “civilized world.” It was hoped that a United Nations organization as well as regional agreements and international economic interdependence would, in general, avoid another world conflict. The U.N. was followed by the creation of NATO. And later, the gradual growth of the European Union added more reasons to avoid international conflicts. Trump wants to walk away from such wishy-washy policies.

No doubt his most hawkish advisors have influenced his ideas, but I suspect the stance Trump has now taken feels natural to him. He is a Commander in Chief with the most powerful weapons in the world and he has the wealth and resources of a nation of 325 million people at his disposal. Naturally, he assumes he should able to bully the world’s nations into accepting him as the top dog.

This huge shift in our national policy may lead to the isolation of the United States from our longtime military and economic allies. It may also encourage the rise of nationalistic movements in a growing list of presently struggling democracies.

America needs more Democrats in Congress and in our state and city governments speaking out against such dangerous isolationism. Continue reading 4 Great Incentives to Stay Involved

Another Anita Hill?

This week, I thought the focus of my comments would pretty much be all about staying engaged in Democratic candidate campaigns until the November 6 election — a message that can’t be overstated. However, in the past few days another subject has taken over my thoughts: The appearance of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and her accusations of assault against Supreme Court candidate Judge Brett Kavanaugh. So, I’m going to save a few words on campaign involvement for a P.S. after this commentary.

Right now, I want to move on to the sensational accusation from Professor Ford that Brett Kavanaugh violently assaulted her when they were both in their teens. This is a very messy situation because the alleged assault occurred over 35 years ago. Judge Kavanaugh insists he didn’t do it, and the only person who Dr. Ford says witnessed the assault, Mark Judge, is unwilling to testify and is not being subpoenaed to do so by Republicans controlling the Senate hearings.

Back in 1991 when Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomaswas accused of sexual harassment by Anita Hill, an all-male Senate Judiciary Committee allowed testimony from a number of witnesses corroborating her story as well as witnesses backing up Thomas’ recollections. However, this time around, Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley, although sensitive to the “Me Too movement” and the reaction of potential female voters in November, is trying to appear to be fair – without honestly being fair. So, Ms. Ford will be allowed to testify, but nobody else.

What’s further complicating matters is that since coming forward, Professor Ford has received threatening phone calls including death threats. So, she is now hesitant to even appear in televised Senate hearings until after an FBI investigation has been conducted. And Republicans refuse to approve it. – But perhaps a hearing behind closed doors can still be held, if it’s held next Monday.

Senator Grassley and his fellow Republicans insist with Dr. Ford must appear next Monday and no later. They are getting panicky and want to keep this “he said, she said” situation moving along. A “hung jury” will provide an alibi for confirming Kavanaugh with no clear guilt ascertained.  Continue reading Another Anita Hill?

Donald Is Distracting Us

Last Wednesday, I thought that the biggest political story this week would continue to be the Senate’s apparently unstoppable confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, and all of the damage to our future democracy that his confirmation would likely bring. I should have known better.

Living in today’s weird world of Trump, it seems that his White House reign keeps producing unsettling surprises virtually every week. The latest was The New York Times’ publication of an anonymous letter from a White House staffer who described him/herself as part of “the resistance.” The letter appeared almost simultaneously with legendary reporter Bob Woodward’s release of his new bombshell book “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

It’s too soon to know whether either of those developments will have a meaningful impact on the outcome of the November midterm elections. (They should…but then Trump’s outrageous behavior and statements in 2016 should have kept him from being elected in the first place.) We’re already seeing vigorous push-back from the White House and the GOP, and millions of right wing dollars are being spent for midterm Republican candidates to counter voter uncertainty.

During the remaining months of Trump’s time in office (however long that might be), I’m sure there will be many more occasions when we will learn disturbing facts about “The Donald’s” behavior as our nation’s chief executive. We can hope they don’t do too much damage. — And for now, that’s all I’m going to say about this latest strange chapter in our American history.

However, the fact that President Trump dominates so much of our attention, even when he doesn’t want it, is what’s behind my essay today. This reality registered with me at last weekend’s NTDO Annual Picnic. (I will save the details about the actual meeting for a P.S. below this commentary.) As usual, the picnic – indoors this year – drew an impressive group of Democratic legislators, officials and candidates.

As I listened to their comments I realized that in today’s “everything is about Trump” environment, it’s easy to lose sight of the critically important contests being waged in our home state – from the governor’s race on down the ticket. Continue reading Donald Is Distracting Us

Time To Be Alarmed

Today is the second day of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings. So far everything is proceeding as expected. The Republican senate majority has stonewalled the release of thousands of pages of information on Kavanaugh’s past writings and statements. And the Democratic senate minority has vociferously pointed out that they’ve only received about 2% of the documents they seek. The Dems have also pointed out that keeping so much information away from the public gives the impression there is something about Judge Kavanaugh that Republicans feel should stay hidden. This is not behavior that should be acceptable in a healthy democracy.

But so what? It’s acceptable to Committee Chair Grassley and his fellow Republicans. Their Democratic colleagues’ complaints are viewed as inconsequential, their reasonable grievances summed up as simply a dislike for Kavanaugh’s admission that he’s been a lifelong Republican. It’s frustrating to see. But after years of watching Senate majority leader McConnell skillfully obstruct virtually every attempt by Democrats to make our country a better place to live for every American, frustration is something we’re used to.

However today, watching this latest Senate drama I realized that I am no longer just frustrated. I am honestly alarmed. It looks very likely that Judge Brett Kavanaugh will be the addition of one more Federalist Society conservative on the Supreme Court. The Republican controlled Senate will have taken America a giant step closer to becoming the dream nation that the Federalist Society has yearned for since its founding in 1982. Continue reading Time To Be Alarmed

Misleading Words

Yesterday in Florida, the results of their primary election for governor drew national headlines. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the first African-American major-party nominee for governor in that state’s history.

Mayor Gillum received over 34% of the Democrats’ votes in a crowded field of opponents that included former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, daughter of former Governor Bob Graham. Mr. Gillum will now be running as the Democratic Party’s candidate against Republican Ron DeSantis, endorsed in the Republican primary by President Trump. (DeSantis is very much a Trump acolyte.)

Like a number of other young, intelligent Democrats in campaigns this year, Gillum is charismatic and articulate. And he has avoided taking on any specific philosophical label. However, his campaign advocates hiking corporate taxes to better fund public education, repealing his state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, getting rid of ICE, and most notably, implementing “Medicare-for-all” single-payer healthcare. — He has received an endorsement from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

Many political observers speculate that campaign victories like Gillum’s are a sign Democratic voters may be increasingly inclined toward candidates with more liberal positions than their party’s past contenders. This could be regional, or nationwide. We’ll know a lot more in November.

But such intriguing aspects of yesterday’s Florida contest aren’t what got me into writing this essay. It was a couple of annoying words in the descriptions of the Florida candidates that were my motivation.

In several articles I read, Mr. Gillum’s primary opponent, Gwen Graham, was described as the “moderate” Democrat. To those of us who follow politics, we might ask, “in these times, what does “moderate” Democrat even mean?” — Someone who never strays from his/her party’s positions? Or someone who avoids proposing actions that might rock the congressional boat? Or someone, all too rare these days, that is open to finding bi-partisan compromises? Personally, I don’t know how the “moderate” label applies to Ms. Graham.

Here’s what I do know. “moderate” it is a word loaded against any opponent not carrying that label. Continue reading Misleading Words

My Deja Vu Moment

Yesterday within minutes of each other, two news bombshells dropped on President Donald Trump’s carefully coiffed head. The guilty pleas of Trump’s fixer/lawyer, Michael Cohen, and the eight-count guilty verdict against Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. These developments undoubtedly mean difficult times ahead for our President.

Now, I know that every day has headlines that outrank news of Donald Trump’s latest troubles. However to me, yesterday’s story didn’t feel like just another entry in media’s never-ending list of world woes. I’m guessing that most people who heard the Cohen-Manafort news were somewhat surprised at the clarity and finality of the trial results. I certainly was.

The thing is, as yesterday’s news bulletins kept coming, surprise wasn’t all I felt. I started getting a strong sense of déjà vu. I felt I was repeating something I’d experienced 45 years ago — an event that jumped the news train our nation was riding onto a completely new track. Back in 1973 President Nixon’s Watergate scandal was like nothing we’d ever seen.

I vividly remember choosing the then staunchly Republican (a bit better now) Chicago Tribune for my commute, so I could have the perverse pleasure of reading their reports on the crimes committed by their Republican President and his staff. As things turned out it was a turning point, of sorts, in our nation’s history — the first U.S. president ever to resign from office. The fallout from Watergate reaffirmed that the U.S. presidency was not a position of supreme power, untouchable, above the law.

We’ve all heard the old adage about history “repeating itself.” However, I prefer the aphorism attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” So, It would be foolish for anyone to predict what specifically will develop as the Mueller investigations continue. And whether or not Democrats win control of the House of Representatives, you can be sure that what transpires in the coming months won’t simply be a duplication of the Watergate scenario.

It does now appear that several of the former Trump insiders, charged with or actually convicted of crimes may begin to reveal information that incriminates President Trump in criminal acts. Facing jail time was a prospect that terrified President Nixon. His resignation avoided an impeachment trial and President Ford’s blanket pardon made sure he would never be prosecuted in court.

We’re still a long way from that sort of scenario. (Or, are we?) Continue reading My Deja Vu Moment

Aristotle’s Politics and You

Last Saturday I went to a meeting of a book group that I’ve been part of for about one year. (I wish I could have discovered these guys years earlier.) The book we discussed was Aristotle’s “Politics.” It’s certainly not a “page-turner.” But fortunately, the copy I got from the library included a clearly written introduction and content outline that helped me grasp at least some of what Aristotle had to say. The discussion we had in our group also helped a lot.

Still, I’m far from claiming any deep knowledge of Aristotle’s writings on politics. But for sure, what I did learn is that most of the challenges our democracy faces today are hardly new. Twenty-four hundred years ago Aristotle described dangers and aspirations facing the societies of his time that sound very familiar.

Here are a few of Aristotle’s observations: A healthy middle class is needed for the successful administration of a society… Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime… It is important to prevent the growth of a “pauper class”…In general, faction arises from men’s striving for what is equal — or at least it does if no proportion exists between those who are unequal (think of our nation’s extreme wealth gap) … The main cause of the overthrow of democracies is the outrageous behavior of demagogues.

Today, I searched the Internet for more of Aristotle’s statements on subjects still relevant in our times. It was interesting, but not surprising, how Aristotle’s words could be interpreted quite differently depending on the ideology of the website visited. For instance on the subject of demagoguery, a 2010 article on the “American Thinker” website warned the world of the extreme demagogic language of Barack Obama. They said he was, “stirring up class warfare against Wall Street, bankers, insurance companies, and the “rich.”

Now, I agree with Aristotle that virtuous citizens should shun extreme behavior. But I also know that “extreme” is in the eye of the beholder. The writers on that “American Thinker” site claimed that it was extremist for the 2010 Obama Administration to clamp down on the greedy financial players who caused the Great Recession. Just like years earlier their philosophical brethren viewed the establishment of Social Security and Medicare as government overreach.

In that same vein, I read a recent right wing guest op-ed in the Tribune that warned Trib readers that today’s Democratic Party, with all its talk about “Medicare for All” and universal access to an affordable college education, is “lurching toward socialism”. I do understand how powerful and negative the word “socialism” can be. (Thank you, USSR.) But what too many of today’s political observers have forgotten is that there was a time only 50 years ago when a hefty majority of the American public were unafraid of government systems that raised the quality of life for our society.  Continue reading Aristotle’s Politics and You