New Trier Democrats’ Posts

Reflections From The Past Week

Freedom across a river:

In the past week the Democrat controlled Illinois House and Senate passed an abortion rights bill that greatly strengthens the personal rights of women in our state. This welcome action comes at a critically important moment in America as a reactionary minority is doing everything it can to erase those rights. I congratulate our Illinois legislators for taking a stand to protect women within our borders. The bill now awaits Governor Pritzker’s expected signature. 

The stated purpose of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) is to preserve a woman’s control of her reproductive health as a “fundamental right.” It repeals a 1975 Illinois law that included a range of restrictive elements such as requirements for spousal consent and criminal penalties for doctors who perform abortions. The RHA also contains language that treats abortion as a personal matter of health care. 

The contrast between what has just occurred in our state legislature and what recently took place across our southwest border in Missouri is stark. Their legislature has decreed that Missouri women will now have virtually no voice in critical decisions involving their reproductive systems. Basically, the instant an egg is fertilized the state controls the outcome. 

Witnessing such a radical reduction in the freedom of people living just across a river from us reminded me of one of my favorite books, “Huckleberry Finn.” Huck and his slave friend Jim lived in a slave state within sight of a free state. By simply crossing the Mississippi River from Missouri into Illinois a slave could gain the right to be in control of his or her own body. – History sure does take some strange turns. 

Illinois is hemp country:

Another hot topic in Springfield has been the further legalization of hemp production in our state. Illinois already had a 2018 Industrial Hemp Act legalizing its growth. Now the legitimization of hemp production in all of its forms opens up further opportunities for Illinois’ farm incomes. — Hemp loves Illinois’ climate and its soil. 

But what intrigues me the most about this new acceptance of hemp farming is not the cannabis aspect. It is hemp’s potential for producing paper. Many years ago in America, hemp was a major source for our paper needs. In fact, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence are printed on hemp paper. Its use faded for a number of reasons, not the least of which was pressures from timber interests. 

Today, the positive long-term impact of hemp paper production on our environment would be tremendous. One acre of good old Illinois hemp could produce as much paper as 4 to 10 acres of trees over a 20-year cycle. Hemp stalks take just four months to mature, compared to years for even the softest of trees. Hemp paper also does not require any bleaching, so its production doesn’t poison the water with dioxins or chlorine like tree paper mills do. The reduction of environmental damage connected to logging would be one more plus. 

And here’s a nice side benefit. The Koch Brothers and Wisconsin’s Uline family, two of the biggest conservative names in dark money sourcing, have made billions from paper products made from the thousands of acres of trees they harvest. Wouldn’t it be nice to know your future paper towels came from a farmer’s field in Illinois instead? 

William Happer and Gen Z:

The other day I heard a couple things on NPR that, although not on the same show, had a depressing connection.  

The first item was a profile of William Happer. He’s the scientist who now serves on the National Security Council as President Trump’s deputy assistant for emerging technologies. Mr. Happer is an outspoken critic of anyone who says increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are having an impact on the earth’s climate. (His doctorate is in physics, not climatology.) The coal and oil billionaires love and support this guy, but he is the last person our world needs talking into the ear of Donald Trump. 

The other NPR report covered the varying levels of concern toward climate change held by America’s different generations — Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, etc. As you might expect, the younger generations are the ones expressing a greater sense of urgency as they look forward to an increasingly inhospitable environment. The youngest of these groups is Generation Z (anyone born in the last years of the 20th or first years of the 21st centuries.)  

Gen Zs will be the middle-aged men and women striving to ensure a secure life for their families in the 2040’s and 2050’s. And unless serious action is taken now to slow down or even halt climate change, their world will be, at the least, a miserable place and possibly on the brink of collapse. 

Today, smug self-deluding sellouts like William Happer hold influential positions that push us toward that scenario. Which leads me to this thought: What if labeling our newest generation with the last letter in our alphabet, “Z”, was a prescient act, also labeling it as the last generation to remember the world when it still held hope for its future? 

We must not let that happen.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

So Many Candidates – Too Many Choices?

The other day I got to thinking about the number of Democrats who have declared their candidacy to be our next president. At this point there are 24 names to consider.  

First I wondered: Does this number set some kind of record?  

After a limited amount of research it appears that our field of 24 Democratic candidates is not record breaking, but it is big. Larger numbers of candidates vying for the presidency have appeared periodically. It can happen when no incumbent is running or when the incumbent is vulnerable, and/or when the country is in a particularly high level of turmoil and uncertainty. (Situation sound familiar?) 

For instance in the 1860 election just before the Civil War began, there was a total of 27 candidates representing 6 political parties competing to be nominated by their parties. Eventually there were 4 candidates from 4 parties on the presidential ballot. Lincoln won a plurality of the popular vote (39.8%) and a majority of electoral votes. – Definitely a good outcome. 

After World War I in 1920, there was no incumbent president vying for reelection. So, there were 17 Democrats and 12 Republicans competing for the presidential nomination at their respective party conventions. The president who eventually won the election was Warren G. Harding. His administration was scandal plagued, as was his personal life. He feared impeachment and died in office. – Outcome: not so good. 

In 1968 with the Vietnam War raging, there was a total of 19 Republicans and 23 Democrats who declared themselves for the presidency. The sitting president, Lyndon Johnson, withdrew his name for a second full term and candidate Robert Kennedy was assassinated. After the major party conventions ended, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey faced off, along with Governor George Wallace in his third party. When the votes were counted. Nixon won. – You all know how that turned out. 

Today, we have a different dynamic for handling presidential nominations. The big party conventions with various “favorite sons” on the first ballot and political deal making behind closed doors are no more. They’ve been replaced by nationwide primary elections in each state. By the time a convention is held, everyone knows who the presidential candidate is.  

In 2008, after experiencing eight years of George W. Bush, there were 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans running for president. The Democratic Party’s eventual candidate was known two months before the party’s August gathering when Hillary Clinton conceded to Barack Obama. The Republican candidate, John McCain, was recognized even earlier. – Outcome: we got an inspiring president and a skilled secretary of state who eight years later would win the popular vote for president, but lose the electoral vote. 

And the political process isn’t all that has changed. The fundraising capabilities of Internet savvy campaigns now make it possible for lesser-known candidates to quickly rise into the national conversation. Today’s central party organization has less power to anoint their party’s next choice for president. 

2016 saw 6 Democrats, 17 Republicans and 4 figures from lesser-known parties vying to be president. That year, you can bet the Republican Party’s central organization had no desire to see Donald Trump head up their party’s ticket. But it happened. And now we’re learning how big a role the Internet (and Russia) played in the results of that election. Outcome: Terrible! 

So after delving into these bits of history, I’m now asking myself: With so many Democratic contenders and quite likely a contentious primary battle ahead, can we end up with the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump while nominating the best president for our United States? — So far, I don’t know the answer to that. However, I am certain of one thing. Anyone who can remove Trump from the White House will instantly make America a better place to live.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

For a fascinating interactive look at the last 10 presidential primary campaigns, visit this Bloomberg page.

P.S. There’s a news item further down in this newsletter that refers to a political action group I hadn’t heard of. The group is the “Sister District Project.” They are having a fundraiser in a Winnetka home for a Virginia House of Delegates candidate. Since I was unfamiliar with the group I looked them up on the Internet. Their mission recognizes the importance of taking control of state legislatures in as many states as possible before the 2020 census is completed. Whichever party controls their state’s legislature in 2020 will control the post-census congressional district boundaries for the next ten years. Here’s their address. Check them out. In the coming campaign year you may want to give them a hand.

Who Does Your Body Belong To?

As usual, the events of the past week offer plenty of serious subjects for comment. I could choose an upbeat tone and express cautious optimism about the promise of Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot. Or, I could head in the opposite direction and talk about Donald Trump’s threatened war with Iran or the growing potential for his impeachment.

But instead I’ve decided to write about something that’s a bigger and a much, much older story than any of those hot topics — a woman’s autonomy over her own body. The battle for that control has come into the spotlight in recent days with the passage of outrageously restrictive abortion laws by several conservative-controlled state legislatures.

When you think about the words, “your autonomy over your own body” they really do sound nonsensical…like “your autonomy over your elbow” or “your ankle” — I mean, seriously, your body is your body. Controlling what happens within its “boundaries” is strictly your business. No one else should be able to claim that power.

For some perspective I should note that, with a few historical exceptions, it wasn’t until recent times that women could expect any equitable treatment concerning their bodies. (In some cultures women were little more than chattel or slaves.) 

Even just a few generations ago virtually every American woman’s body was controlled in most ways by a patriarchal society. The life options a woman’s body might have…the level of education it could receive…the smattering of professions it might pursue…who it might marry…the subservient role it must play as a wife and mother…all those facets of that body’s life were usually controlled by someone else.

Sadly, those grim scenarios still describe the lives of millions of women in many parts of the world, but at this moment in the United States the control of a woman’s body is focused on one thing, their reproductive rights.

There’s no question that one of the most impactful events in the 20th century was the growing acceptance of equal rights for women. It inspired millions of women worldwide to more clearly recognize their potential and pursue it. At the same time such a shift in societal norms caused tradition-bound men and women to react strongly against such change. I believe the growth of energy we’ve seen within fundamentalist religions — Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu — is, to a great extent, a reaction to the growth of women’s rights. 

Today in the United States there are still numbers of men and women with strong feelings against these inevitably changing times. They are voters with a strong incentive to show up at the polls. Appealing to their emotions is a very attractive campaigning tool for politicians, whatever their real agenda might be. 

The extreme anti-choice stance of Republican legislators in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Missouri and among certain Republican members of the U.S. Congress is disturbing. A woman’s demand for the right to control her body’s reproductive system is portrayed by abortion rights advocates as a heartless, quasi-criminal act against the fetus in that woman’s womb — whatever the trimester. Some of the most extreme laws would include a single-cell zygote for legal protection!

I know I’m not the only one who finds it ironic that these anti-choice people and the Republican politicians courting them are so concerned about the sanctity of life in its earliest stages — yet they have no qualms about ending the lives of felons, the bombing of populations or the support of policies that result in the starvation and death of innocent civilians. It seems the moral outrage of such Republicans is quite selective. — If you’re going to talk the talk, you should walk the talk. Protest against capital punishment. Raise your kids to be conscientious objectors. Donate big to NGO’s that feed victims of conflict.

The recognition of the complete personhood of women, not just in America but around the world, has created ripples that have become waves and in some cases tsunamis. 

Conservative forces may tell themselves that their actions to turn back the clock and remove hard-won rights for women are a result of them riding one of those waves. But the reality is their wave is about to be wiped out by a tsunami of inevitable positive change even larger than the one that hit our nation in last November’s election. And when it arrives it will bring a better future for every body in America.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

A Statement On Abatement

Last week I spent a day in Springfield as part of a group gathered from across Illinois. It was composed of mosquito abatement professionals, university and health department scientists, representatives from respected insect control firms and at least one abatement district volunteer-trustee — me. We were in the state capitol to touch base with our respective state representatives and senators about the serious and continuing need to protect Illinois residents from diseases spread by mosquitos and ticks. 

And this week…I’m pretty much doing the same thing for two days in Washington D.C., with a much larger group of abatement advocates from every corner of the United States.

So why am I talking about this in a New Trier Dems newsletter? Well, the other day it struck me that my involvement with progressive politics and my interest in battling insect borne diseases has more in common than I had realized.

The first similarity that I thought of was how often over the years we abatement advocates have had to regularly counter misconceptions and exaggerations about what we are doing. Not too many years ago one of Chicago’s newspapers (you can guess which one) carried several guest editorials about the foolishness of tax dollars being squandered on tiny little mosquitos. — Then Zika came along and the vocal critics apparently gained some perspective. (West Nile should have been their wake up call.)

Misconceptions, exaggerations and downright stupidity have also been an enemy of progressive politics. Remember the “death panel” outcry when Universal Healthcare was proposed years ago? And how about America’s measles epidemic? — One more self-destructive result of conservative willful ignorance. Unfortunately, combatting untruthful accusations from reactionaries is a battle progressives are used to. But, as Stephen Colbert has said, “Facts have a liberal bias.”

A second parallel I’ve now perceived is how my political priorities and my mosquito interests share a number of common concerns. I’ll give you three examples.

Climate change: Mosquito abatement is feeling its impact with the appearance of insect-borne diseases in parts of America that were previously untouched. And climate change is also a political issue screaming for progressive legislation.

Health care: It is, of course, important to mosquito abatement; protecting the public’s health is the entire mission. And politically, having a nationwide public health system that can recognize the arrival of new insect-borne threats should be a progressive goal.

Higher education: Our country’s mosquito abatement efforts are going to require more entomologists expert in the study of vector borne disease. And politically, the efforts of progressives to open up education opportunities for thousands of bright young Americans is the obvious solution.

So as you can see, although I’ve been dividing a lot of my retirement years between thinking politics and thinking mosquitos, it hasn’t been a schizoid endeavor. In fact, I’ve concluded that both have been abatement activities. Sure, the targets were different but I think abatement is part of every progressive Democrat’s agenda.

For example, every Democrat I know wants to abate the widening gap between Americans who have no fear for their future and the millions of Americans whose families have lost the sense of security they once enjoyed — America needs Shrinking-Middle-Class Abatement.

And how about abating the stranglehold Mitch McConnell has on our democracy’s throat in 2020. The USA needs MMA! — Mitch McConnell Abatement.

But the best abatement activity of all will be when the role Donald Trump plays in our nation and the world gets reduced to zero. One way or another, I think we’ll see that day and our democracy will be much healthier for it.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

The Pelosi Power Lunch

On Monday, I had the good fortune to attend Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Annual Power Lunch. This year’s gathering was by far the biggest ever, attracting 3000 people to two grand ballrooms in The Hilton Chicago Hotel. But the huge crowd was understandable because this year’s guest of honor was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

Two years ago, right after the 2016 Electoral College disaster, I was not alone in expressing frustration with our party’s leadership. Why wasn’t the Democratic Party’s messaging more focused? Why weren’t younger Democrats in Congress given more visibility? But last November’s congressional election successes, tactically influenced by Nancy Pelosi, have produced more young legislators, fresh energy and a momentum that continues to grow.  

So last Monday, personally seeing Speaker Pelosi present her opinions on the state of our democracy and her advice on how we might protect it from Trump’s disastrous reign, left me optimistic about 2020 and more convinced she is the person we need leading our U.S. House at this moment in our history.  

Here is a recap of at least some of what was said at the Lunch. 

The 2018 success:

Congresswoman Schakowsky introduced Speaker Pelosi by calling her “The most powerful woman in the USA.” She then characterized the Speaker’s role in the 2018 mid-term campaigns as: “The general who led the campaign to take back Congress.” She pointed out how Nancy urged all the congressional candidates to not focus on Donald Trump but instead talk about issues that touch people’s lives, like healthcare and climate change. — They did, and they won. 

Speaker Pelosi began her remarks by crediting the 2018 Illinois voters for electing/reelecting a number of exceptional people to the 116th Congress. Our state’s U.S.representatives now hold positions on a number of key House committees. And she had an explanation for why so many impressive new Democratic candidates have entered politics — “The times have found us.” She said that as the Trump presidency revealed its character after 2016, these Americans felt a heightened urgency to protect our democracy. — She then added that their fears and concerns were “not unfounded,” citing the example of our present Attorney General lying under oath to congress.  

The White House vs. Congress:

Congress does have methods to combat the Trump Administration’s lawless behavior. There are six House committees with subpoena power and each has its own “lane.” This description from Speaker Pelosi gave me the impression that each committee has the potential to question the behavior of Trump and his crooked crew from that committee’s specific perspective. – Trump operatives may have a great deal of scrutiny ahead of them. 

Referring to the Mueller Report and the stonewalling being done by the White House, Pelosi said Trump and Barr want to see House Democrats “gagged” by redactions, “That ain’t going to happen!” “They aren’t giving reasons why information is being hidden. They’re just giving excuses.” “What is in the report that Republicans don’t want the public to see?” 


Commenting on the turmoil swirling around immigration Ms. Pelosi stated, “Diversity is our strength, unity is our power.” She then quoted from the last speech President Ronald Reagan gave in office. He said he believed immigration “is one of the most important sources of America’s greatness. We lead the world because unique among nations, we draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world … Thanks to each wave of new arrivals to this land of opportunity, we’re a nation forever young, forever bursting with energy and new ideas, and always on the cutting edge; always leading the world to the next frontier.” — Ironically, this quote from a iconic Republican president received some of the loudest applause of the afternoon! 

Looking ahead to 2020: 

It was especially interesting to hear Speaker Pelosi’s take on how to win big next year. She said we must aim at “winning 2020 this year, in November.” Mobilization, Messaging, Money and Management are the keys to a successful campaign. If our incumbent Democratic candidates show they have built impressive campaign strength going into 2020, fewer Republicans will be willing to seriously challenge them. 

Then she quoted a startling statistic. Today, one in five American children lives in poverty. She went on to say, in 2020 the “three most important issues” that must have our attention are “our children, our children, our children.” At first I thought she was simply speaking as a mother and grandmother. Then I realized that by distilling our party’s driving priority down to “our children” Nancy Pelosi is presenting a potent strategy for 2020 campaigns. 

Climate change, decent healthcare, education opportunities, the elimination of poverty are all issues that are critically important for our nation’s future — in other words, for our children . These issues, already championed by Democrats, are continually ignored or even opposed by Republicans. (When you look at things that way, you could almost say that many Republican candidates are anti-children! At least, I could.) 

Speaker Pelosi reported that Senate Majority Leader McConnell has said this year he will be “the grim reaper” of all bills coming from the Democratic House. She then quoted Abraham Lincoln who said, “Public sentiment is everything.” She is certain that if we stand strong on key issues, the public will come our way and “Republicans in the senate will have a price to pay.” 

Then she added an intriguing thought: The terrible damage Trump is doing to our country right now could bring even more progressive new voices into Congress next year. “Donald Trump could someday be remembered as the president who swept in the most progressive period in America’s history.” — And wouldn’t that be something!

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Tic Tac Diplomacy

So yesterday we witnessed a startling political event: A cordial meeting between President Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. In fact it was so cordial that reportedly President Trump offered Speaker Pelosi a Tic Tac — and she accepted! 

Does this mean we are entering a new era of bi-partisan cooperation where what’s good for our country comes first? I wouldn’t count on it. The narrowly partisan priorities of Mitch McConnell will likely torpedo any outcome that could reflect even slightly well on Democrats. And who knows where President Trump will stand on all this if he starts feeling too much heat from future investigations. 

Nevertheless, Tuesday’s Tic Tac detente could mean that some groundwork is being laid to create greater public awareness of a critically important issue. It’s an issue that, unlike desperate refugee families at our border, truly is a serious national emergency. — America’s infrastructure is in dangerous disrepair and harmfully outdated. 

On Tuesday the President, Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer arrived at a general agreement to direct two trillion dollars toward updating America’s infrastructure. Their openly worded accord was possible because the three of them know this is an issue that crosses party lines. 

Across America there’s not a state, “red” or “blue”, that doesn’t need major infrastructure repairs. It’s been more than half a century since most of our interstate highway system was built and many more decades since our railroad system was at its best. Our highway and railroad bridges are really starting to show their age. (The U.S. rail system has over 100,000 bridges.) We’ve seen several highway- and rail-bridge disasters. The next one is just a matter of time. 

The water delivery systems in many of our communities need modernization. It’s a matter of health safety. 

And our nation’s electric grid is also a big part of this scenario. It is in need of huge upgrades. A few years ago the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the entire energy infrastructure a barely passing grade of D+. With that in mind we should not only face the fact that we need a power grid that is not just more efficient, but much safer from foreign meddling. – After 2016 I don’t think anyone could say such concerns are unfounded. 

Modernizing the electric grid will also be needed to modernize our rail system. Sooner or later climate change pressures for cleaner air will force the switching of much of America’s nearly 100% diesel fueled rail system to electric power. And sooner would be better. (Among EU nations the average percentage of railway lines using electricity is over 53%. In some European countries it’s much higher.) 

And of course, upgrading our electric grid could and should include raising the percentage of electricity drawn from wind and solar sources. I’m sure this will incite a battle from the carbon lobby but this should be part of the infrastructure package.  

Back in President Obama’s first term, in response to the Great Recession, the President proposed rebuilding 150,000 miles of road, laying and maintaining 4,000 miles of rail track, restoring 150 miles of runways and advancing a next-generation air-traffic control system. A Republican controlled Congress blocked Obama’s initiative, and I don’t know how much if any of those improvements were ever begun. Now, perhaps some of those promising plans could be pushed in today’s Democratically controlled House. 

It is true that the trajectory of economic improvement President Obama initiated has put us in much better shape than we were in 2008. But for a large number of Americans, including, I imagine, virtually every member of Congress, an infrastructure initiative today promises lots of potential jobs. Jobs for people who feel the growing economy has passed them by. If it’s done right, infrastructure revitalization can lead to the re-industrialization of formerly productive areas of our country. 

It all sounds good, doesn’t it? But success of this initiative faces steep odds. I’d like to think that both the Republican and Democratic Party leaders do want to see a big infrastructure program begun. Sadly, I’m also pretty sure both sides are calculating how this discussion and the disagreements it generates can benefit their candidates in 2020, whether or not anything is enacted.  

There is an overabundance of cynicism ruling our national politics these days. (It’s hard to avoid in this Trump era.) But this endeavor should be taken as a serious proposal, worthy of an honest effort. If we do nothing, in the coming years the United States’ position as a world leader will be unnecessarily weakened. Bringing America’s infrastructure up to speed with the rest of the modern world is in our nation’s best interests.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Mueller Report Fatigue

The Mueller Report. It’s hard to believe but it’s only been 6 days (April 18) since a redacted version of the Mueller Report was released to the public. We’ve been hearing so much about it for so many months that many people have come to think of it as “old news.”  

The stream of indictments of Trump associates, the steady rumors, the news show discussions, the preemptive denials of wrongdoing virtually every day by Trump and his protectors, have us feeling like this has been going on forever.  

And this Mueller Report fatigue is what Republican leaders have been hoping for. For example, last week I heard a seasoned ABC news correspondent say she found all this turmoil  “exhausting.” – It is. — But when you’re battling to keep a democracy healthy while others are expending so much energy to weaken it, feeling exhausted is a small price to pay. 

Even with the Report’s release, we still don’t know all the details of what was uncovered — nor, all of the implications. There are many redactions that need to be further investigated. And the months of preemptive denials, verbal games and outright lying from the Trump camp have further muddied the public’s perceptions. 

The Report’s conclusion pretty much wrapped things up by saying, “to be continued.” But, not continued by Robert Mueller. He left it up to the constitutional powers vested in our U.S. Congress to follow up on the information his report provided. – He may, however, play a future role in in all this if he testifies before the U.S. House. 

Soon after Mueller’s Report was released, a newsperson on ABC faulted Democrats for being “obsessed” with Donald Trump when we should be dealing with important legislative work that needs attention. It is true that the unprecedented dance that has been going on between President Trump and Vladimir Putin’s regime has drawn a huge amount of interest from us Democrats. (And it should have received a lot more from Republicans.)  

The Mueller Report did not find a direct connection between Donald Trump and Russian meddling in our elections. But it did clearly state that there was contact made between the Russians and close Trump associates, and that leading up to the elections the Russians did meddle. A foreign power communicating with our voters to affect the outcome of our elections is tantamount to a foreign invasion! – If that doesn’t justify some level of obsessiveness I don’t know what should. 

Impeachment. Those thoughts bring me to another subject that has been getting a lot of headlines: The continuing debate about the impeachment of President Donald Trump. 

In the March issue of The Atlantic Magazine the word “Impeach” emblazoned its cover. Inside was a long and thoughtful essay on why the U.S. House should begin impeachment proceedings. And in today’s Sun Times , columnist, Phil Kadner presented reasons he strongly believes: “Now is the time for impeachment.” 

The Atlantic discussed the increasingly troubling behavior of our 45th president, our nation’s impeachment history, how the process works, and most importantly why such drastic steps should be taken by our Congress rather than waiting for the electorate to remove Trump from office in 2020. In the author’s opinion, it is the duty of Congress to do this unpleasant (and politically risky) job. To avoid starting a justifiable impeachment will give Trump (and any future terrible president) a pass on all sorts of reckless behavior in our nation’s highest office .  

Phil Kadner’s reasoning for encouraging Donald Trump’s impeachment was pretty specific. He rightfully observed that Trump has shown us what he is capable of doing to hold the support of his loyal followers. At this point we know he has no moral compass and no limits when he feels threatened. For us to trust that in the coming 18 months leading up to the 2020 election, President Trump and his increasingly shady circle of advisors will not resort to whatever it takes to win, is naïve. Keeping Trump in office is a dangerous gamble. 

Unfortunately, Mueller’s report conclusion pretty much dumped this dilemma in House Speaker Pelosi’s lap. I have great admiration for her political skills but I don’t envy the complex situation she’s facing. Mueller’s conclusions found no prosecutable evidence linking Russia and President Trump, but didn’t say there was no questionable (even impeachable) behavior. Mueller more or less said he was trusting Congress to further look into this mess.  

Speaker Pelosi is saying it is too early to discuss the subject of impeachment. It looks to me like she’s not ready to pull that trigger until there is more evidence that more of the public is open to such an action. Perhaps that situation will never be reached. — However, today in Iowa, a Republican legislator, after 40 years in office, has crossed over to the Democratic Party. His reason was the far right swing of Republicans and Donald Trump as that party’s leader. 

So, who knows? As the present army of Democratic presidential candidates crisscrosses America presenting their positions, perhaps Donald Trump’s false promises will become more apparent to still unhappy supporters. The tide could begin to turn.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Socialism Defined

Last February, I wrote an NTD News commentary describing how Democratic leaders as far back as President Harry Truman have tried to establish an affordable healthcare system available to every American. I summed things up by saying, “As you can see, working toward universal health care is not a new concept, nor is it radical. America has been inching toward it for 75 years. It’s now possible we could be in the final push before this long-overdue reform becomes an American reality. But we’ve already begun to hear accusations from the right of, “Socialism!” “Communism!” “Radicalism!” 

Since I wrote that essay, the noise coming from the right wing, led by Donald Trump, has only increased. Every Democrat supporting a progressive initiative is being labeled a “socialist.” And the more we Democrats succeed in generating public enthusiasm for our progressive ideas, the more Republicans are going to double down with their ominous warnings of “creeping socialism.” — Fear and the distortion of facts are always a right wing go-to tactic. 

Now, you and I may understand that their accusations are false. I’m all for some form of universal healthcare. I believe we desperately need a national initiative to address climate change. I think a federally supported program to put a college education within the reach of every American who wants one is a good idea. But this does not mean my dream is to see the United States become some sort of centralized “socialist utopia.” 

I’m a Progressive Democrat, and I like the sound of that. 

I reject the label of “socialist.” — Not because I’m concerned about what the right might say about me. I simply don’t believe America should have a socialist society in the way socialism is formally defined. — And by “defined” I mean as in a dictionary.  

Here’s what three major dictionaries I checked all pretty much say: “A Socialist is an advocate or supporter of Socialism” which is…:“The theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution of capital, land etc. in the community as a whole.”And one dictionary went on to say, “in Marxist theory, Socialism is the stage following capitalism in the transition of a society to Communism , characterized by the imperfect implementation of collectivist principles.” 

Those are not descriptions of an American society I yearn to see take shape. And those dictionaries leave little room for giving “socialist” and “socialism” a less hardline interpretation. (What a handy campaign weapon for Republicans.) The power of this pejorative in 2020 worries me. 

I do realize there is a “softer” form of socialism called “Democratic Socialism.” One professor called it “anti-authoritarian socialism” or “socialism from below.” The Scandinavian countries are best known for this type of governance. The quality of life they have achieved is admirable and for millions of Americans it is enviable. But our United States is not like any of those nations. Our history, and diversity, our societal sensibilities are quite different. However, the one thing we definitely do share is a belief in basic democratic principles. (By the way, Scandinavia presently has 58 billionaires. So apparently Democratic Socialism in that region is not headed in the direction the political philosophers Marx and Engels intended!) 

One of our party’s leading candidates for President, Bernie Sanders, does insist on identifying himself as a Democratic Socialist. And it’s true, the major programs he advocates do involve federal involvement on the broadest scale, as they might in Scandinavia. However, there are goals Senator Sanders champions that do not differ that radically from plans proposed by several other progressive Democrats running for president or serving in Congress. 

We are entering what is sure to be a brutal battle to unseat Donald Trump. It seems to me that a leading Democratic presidential candidate bragging that he’s is proud to be a socialist, no matter how gently that word is modified, does not help our cause. We are not trying to win votes in Europe. We are trying to win votes in our purple states. I know it’s probably too late for Bernie to modify his preferred identity but I’d sure like to hear him use the word “progressive” a lot more and maybe “socialist” not at all. 

Logically, a label shouldn’t hold that much power over thoughtful voters. Unfortunately, labels too often do. So to wrap up this monologue, here are some more dictionary defined labels that you may find especially enlightening. 

Liberal : Favoring reform, open to new ideas, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; not bound by traditional thinking; broad-minded.

Progressive : Favoring or advocating progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters….A person who is open to or favors new ideas, policies or methods.

Conservative: Disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change. 

Those first two definitions fill me with hope. And that third one says all you need to know about what we are up against.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Missing The Momentum

It’s been five months since the 2018 midterm elections. On November 6, Democrats retook control of the U.S. House by a historic popular vote total. It truly was a moment to savor. 

So today, why don’t I feel more confident that last November’s wins were the beginning of a new direction for our United States? Is it just a passing mood? Is it because I’m looking out my window at a depressingly gray February day — in April? Or is it because our Democratic Party leaders are being quieter than they should? 

I realize that our new U.S. House has only been on the job for three months. Still, they quickly began working on bills that could impact our lives in positive ways if common ground can be found with enough Republicans in the Senate.  

But we’ve yet to hear about legislative proposals to tackle the “biggest” issues that excited so many voters last year. Perhaps I’m expecting too much too soon. Even so, I would like to feel that the buzz generated by our winning candidates last fall is being nurtured by our party’s leaders and strategists right now. 

Of course, since the Republican Party controls both the U.S. Senate and the White House, they can dominate what the public perceives as our nation’s agenda. (And when the person sitting in the White House is Donald Trump, even Republican Party leaders can’t be sure from one day to the next what their President’s stated priorities will be.) 

President Trump has a headline-grabbing penchant for encouraging chaos virtually each day. This is certainly one more reason the public hasn’t gotten their collective mind around the progress that our new Democratic House pledged they would pursue during their campaigns. 

The thing is, back in November, we Democrats sensed a momentum that felt great. 

Most of our Democratic candidates, incumbents and newcomers, showed a discipline and a unity in presenting their positions that resonated with voters. Their campaigns chose not to waste time attacking Donald Trump, his personal life or his qualifications for impeachment (or imprisonment). Instead they spoke to issues that will affect the lives of every American far into the future. They spoke of protecting and improving our nation’s healthcare; they pledged to pay serious attention to the existential threat of climate change; they condemned the shocking disrepair of our nation’s infrastructure; they recognized the disaffection felt by far too many Americans toward government in general. 

The men and women elected into the 116th Congress brought in new backgrounds, new perspectives, new energy to address America’s very real needs. But so far in 2019, it seems to me we’ve heard very little discussion of those needs by our Party’s leaders. They are issues fundamental to building a better future – and speaking about them was key in winning over so many voters last fall. 

Yes, there are new members of Congress who are presenting their personal proposals for addressing our nation’s most wide-ranging problems, and they’re getting noticed. And there are now eighteen (and counting) declared presidential candidates who are beginning to present their visions for future actions to be taken. 

I know it is too soon to expect Speaker Pelosi’s House to present detailed bills to deal with the huge problems we face. However, I would really welcome statements from our Democratic Party’s leadership that clearly define the goals we aspire to achieve. 

I want to feel that momentum again.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973

Leaving the Pack Behind

Yesterday, Lori Lightfoot’s election as the next mayor of Chicago was certainly a landmark in the city’s history. As a black, openly gay woman, her odds of becoming Chicago’s mayor were pretty steep. But she prevailed – impressively. 

It’s true that when all the campaigning began, her name wasn’t completely unknown but it was far less familiar than names like Daley or Preckwinkle, or even Mendoza. And certainly there were a number of candidates that were better “connected” within the political world.  

So how did such a surprising outcome happen? It’s no great insight on my part to say Lightfoot’s election victory was the result of a variety of things. Not the least of these was Lori’s confidence in herself. She has been a U.S. States Attorney, a partner at a major Chicago law firm and has held positions in Chicago government including a role as President of the Chicago Police Board. 

The Laquan McDonald murder and the scandal that followed led Mayor Emanuel to appoint Lori Lightfoot to a Police Accountability Task Force. This put Lightfoot much more in the public eye. But it’s also pretty clear that fate (and the FBI) played a role in her path to victory with the indictment of the Machine’s longtime gray eminence, Ed Burke. Every 2019 mayoral candidate who had spent any time in Chicago politics (that would include all the front-runners) had some history, however benign, with this disgraced scoundrel.

With all that said, this morning I thought about another unusual aspect of this now concluded mayoral race. It’s an election dynamic that often appears when an incumbent leaves office with no heir apparent. The Democratic Primary leading up to this mayoral election had a huge number of candidates vying to be mayor. And on Primary Election Day, there were 15 choices for Chicago mayor on the ballot. That is a crazy big number.  

Each candidate had a constituency in some part or parts of Chicago which meant no one candidate had an overwhelming numbers advantage over all the others. Few observers were willing to predict a winner. Such a situation can give a less well-known candidate a boost if they can separate themselves from the pack. Ms. Lightfoot did just that – especially after the Burke indictment. 

It’s hard for me to imagine a Chicago primary race with 15 candidates for a single office ever occurring back when the city’s Democratic machine ruled. – Maybe it happened, I don’t know. 

However, today in thinking about February’s prodigious list of Democratic mayoral candidates, I was reminded of the jumbo lineup of GOP presidential hopefuls that showed up for the Republican debates in 2016. (Please understand I’m not saying our party’s recent candidates were similar in any way to that unforgettable gallery of the GOP’s best and brightest that included Ben Carson, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.) 

Sixteen Republicans appeared in at least one 2016 presidential debate. Five withdrew after their first appearance. Eleven continued through more of those events. I have no memory of the various positions presented and promises made by those many candidates. But we all know how that 2016 presidential race turned out.  

The number of competing Republicans was so large that differentiating the positions of one from another was problematic. The exception was Donald Trump who separated himself from the pack with his outrageous demeanor and un-politic statements. He didn’t win the popular vote across America but he won a majority of electoral votes from states where outrageous and un-politic language was just what those voters wanted to hear. 

Looking ahead to 2020, we Democrats presently have a similarly large array of presidential hopefuls to review. There are fourteen declared presidential candidates and at least three more who might decide to run. Will this impressive selection of Democrats still be competing with their ideas and positions next fall when the Democratic primaries are on the horizon? Will the number of Democrats with similar progressive positions blur in the minds of voters? Could there be one candidate who separates him- or herself from the pack in a way none of us anticipated? Yesterday’s newsworthy election in Chicago is a fitting kick-off to what is sure to be an exciting year for Democrats everywhere.

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973