New Trier Democrats’ Posts

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

My Changing Moods

Last night, two separate experiences had me caroming from a heartfelt sense of optimism for America’s future, sure of its underlying strengths, to a feeling of foreboding, questioning whether the United States truly does have the institutional stability to come out of its present chaos whole. — Today I thought a bit more about last night’s mental journey.

I’ll start with what initially put me in such a good mood. Tuesday night was the monthly meeting of the New Trier Dems Executive Committee. These meetings aren’t always mood enhancers. They’re often just about routine stuff (although, it is always enjoyable to gather with fellow Democrats who have a fierce concern for the health of our democracy).

But at this meeting, we welcomed a special guest who’d been invited to speak to us. Lauren Underwood is the Democratic candidate running to unseat Republican Randy Hultgren in Illinois’ 14th Congressional District. If you Google the 14th District map you’ll see that it covers a huge area, southwest, west and north of Chicago. It spans seven Illinois counties and includes tracts of rapidly growing suburban communities as well as expanses of farmland.

Randy Hultgren has been the district’s unremarkable Congressman since 2010. According to the website Five Thirty Eight, he has voted in line with President Trump 98.7% of the time. His career party-line voting record is 99%. (Not exactly an independent thinker.)

Lauren Underwood has already shown herself to be a formidable candidate. In the March Primary, she defeated six other Democrats, winning over 57% of all votes cast! Hultgren knows he’s in trouble.

Lauren is a Naperville native, a registered nurse who previously served as a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of Human Services (HHS). A pre-existing heart condition as a child inspired her to become a nurse. Understandably, her personal experiences have given her valuable insights into what our present health care system (or lack of it) needs.

But as Lauren presented her views and answered our questions, we quickly learned that she is not a one-issue candidate. She has an appealing agenda of progressive goals that appears to be resonating with many voters in her district.She is young, a “Millenial,” but her maturity and intelligence are apparent as soon as she speaks. There wasn’t one question from our Exec Committee members that she didn’t handle with skill and confidence.

Although Lauren Underwood doesn’t represent New Trier voters, she left us convinced that her presence in Washington will benefit every Illinois resident. I know that the NTDO will be looking for ways to help her win a U.S. House seat in November.

So, as our meeting adjourned, I was definitely in a positive mood. When I got home, I turned on the TV, watched the Cubs wrap up their latest win, then switched channels to watch Frontline on WTTW. The Frontline documentary was about the neo-Nazi violence that hit Charlottesville, Virginia one year ago this week. – What I learned erased my cheerful mood. Continue reading My Changing Moods

Dog Day Democrats

This is the time of the year known as the “dog days of summer.” Why chocolate_lab_face.jpgdoes it have that name? Well according to the dictionary, that term comes from the fact that Sirius, the Dog Star, is now rising at the same time as the sun. But as a small town boy, I always thought “dog days” simply described hot summer days when every dog knows that the smart thing to do is nap all day in the shade. And in fact, the dictionary’s second definition for “dog days” is: “a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.”

So okay, our calendars say it’s that time of year. But if there ever was a time to not be lethargic, inactive or indolent, it is now! That’s certainly the view of our New Trier Dems’ President, Judy Mandel. Here is her personal message:

As the summer comes to a close, I look forward to the fall and the chance we have to make a change in D.C. and in our leadership for the state of Illinois. We had a great event at Avli in Winnetka July 16th and enthusiastic responses at the Glencoe, Winnetka and Wilmette sidewalk sales. In the fall, we will have our annual meeting and (indoor picnic) on Sept. 8 and then, on Oct. 14 our Annual Dinner at Maggiano’s. We’ll also be offering chances to canvass in Roskam’s district for Sean Casten and perhaps for Randy Bryce in Wisconsin.

I know many of you might be traveling now or getting children ready for school. However, I want to alert you to an opportunity to get involved right now. We are offering a weekly call bank at our Headquarters at 800 Oak Street, suite 112 every Thursday night from 5pm-8pm. We are calling for JB, but just as importantly, we are calling for the down ticket candidates too. We have a tough race for Attorney General and we want to make sure Laura Fine, Robyn Gabel and Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz win their seats so that Illinois with a Democratic Governor can start moving forward again, protecting us from the “Madman” in DC.

Can I count on our savvy and activist membership to start the ball rolling by coming to the NTD office this Thursday night? — If this week doesn’t work for you, there are 4 other Thursdays in August. Getting involved this month will make a difference in November.

Judy Mandel, President, NTDO

Sitting here in early August it’s easy to think that “making a difference in November” is far, far away. But Mid-term Election Day will be here in just 13 weeks! And you know how fast your weeks fly by. You can be sure that the energy of right wing fanaticism and fear, backed by substantial financial resources, is already hard at work. Republicans know they are in trouble and they aren’t waiting until October to enter the battle.

With the trajectory of our national government as ominous as it is, putting off getting involved is dangerous procrastination. We need to play a role in not only winning back congressional seats but also in gaining the strongest possible legislative voices in Illinois to push back against whatever half-cocked initiatives are thrown at us by the Trump Administration.

Electing intelligent, principled, dedicated people has never been more urgent. (I’m not exaggerating with that last statement. In my long life I have never seen so many government officials willing to defend so many cruel, dangerously shortsighted, ethically hollow positions.) Continue reading Dog Day Democrats

My Street Fair Report

Last weekend I spent a few hours at Wilmette’s Summerfest street fair. Besides enjoying the community fun, I was there to share public outreach duties at the New Trier Dems’ info table. We offered literature from our Democratic candidates and helpful information from Democrats in office. But mostly we were there to engage the passersby, acquaint them with our organization and, for those who showed interest, get them involved in the upcoming mid-term battle.

As with past street fairs, we used a straw poll to attract pedestrians. The polls have always been extremely simple – a list of five or six short questions with a choice of very general answers. Personal comments are welcomed too. And as with past polls, the results are always tabulated and sent to local newspapers for publication.

Over the years, we’ve had straw polls featuring a range of topics. But this year’s poll seemed to be especially attractive to participants. Basically we asked the public how they feel about President Trump’s performance. Soon after arriving at the NTD table, I began using this pitch to attract people: “Would you like to take a straw poll and give your opinion on the job our President is doing?”

Upon hearing my question, a hefty percentage of the passersby would laugh and say something like, “You don’t want to hear what I have to say about that!” But of course we did. So, they would then take a minute to stop and fill in their answers, some asking if they could write in a category beyond “poor.”

What I found especially interesting was that this year, I didn’t have one single conservative person stop by to give me a good-natured tough time about why we Democrats are so misguided. I suspect that Trump’s recent behavior in Helsinki has a lot of Republicans keeping a low profile.

It’s true that nearly 80% of voters openly identifying as Republican still do favor President Trump’s actions, no matter how disgusting they might be. But here’s the reality behind that number. Those self-identifying Republicans usually make up little more than 25% of the total of American voters. (Self-identifying Democrats generally do a few percentage points better.) It’s the self-identified “Independents” who make up the largest single block of voters– leaning left or right, depending on the issues and candidates.

With that in mind we should be reassured about two things:  Continue reading My Street Fair Report

The Madness of King Donald

This week it became clearer than ever that the man presently sitting in our White House is unfit to be our nation’s president. Yes, I know that over the years we have had other flawed men holding our country’s highest position and we’ve survived. There have been racists, alcoholics, crooks, paranoids, philanderers, and a few that just weren’t very smart. But I don’t think we’ve ever had a President that was so loaded with increasingly obvious, and dangerous, defects. – And this is of magnified importance in our increasingly complex and endangered world.

Trump’s recent actions with Western Europe’s leaders and Russia’s President Putin have been thoroughly documented so there’s no need to rehash specifics here. It’s just seems worth pointing out that President Trump’s behavior over the past few days confirms what a growing number of us have suspected for some time. The man’s mind is not healthy.

Admittedly, the American public elected this guy, even though several million more of us voted for his opponent than for him. (Whatever logic there was behind the creation of the Electoral College now seems really questionable.) And back in 2015-16 as we watched Trump maneuver his way through his party’s primary contests, many of us didn’t see his behavior as much more than the behavior of an obnoxious and unlikely Republican candidate.

Since we’d had little exposure to Donald Trump before his presidential campaign, we wrote off his braggadocio behavior as simply an abrasive style. He came across as a character whose shtick was to talk big, make brash remarks, exaggerate, act tough. He postured himself as a rebel. Yes, we did see him say and do outrageous things on the campaign trail, but many of us wrote it off as an act.

Then came the day after his inauguration. Our new president began bragging to the press about the record number of people who came to Washington’s mall to see him sworn in. – “It looked like a million, a million and a half people.” Huge! The biggest ever! Then faced with clear, videotaped proof that this was far from true, and far less than the crowd drawn by his predecessor, President Barack Obama, he continued to deny reality while putting his White House spokesperson, Sean Spicer, in the awkward position of defending his indefensible (and nutty) statement.

That’s when we began to realize that this man’s exaggerations and unsupported claims were not just confined to campaign language. Trump’s use of bloviated rhetoric was his reality. He was not going to tone this down as he faced the serious daily responsibilities of being President. On that first day in office, Trump revealed the way his mind works – or to put it another way, fails to work. The world began to see that our new president was a very insecure man. Not just someone with a sensitive ego, but someone capable of delusional behavior. Continue reading The Madness of King Donald

The Company Kavanaugh Keeps

This week we learned the name of the person who will, in all likelihood, fill the vacated Kennedy seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. At this point, President Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, isn’t a 100% certainty to be confirmed by the Senate. But unless he commits some rhetorical blunder as he bobs and weaves through questions that might reveal a personal bias too rigid to be acceptable to the Senators, Kavanaugh is going to be confirmed.

So what should we expect from the future Justice Kavanaugh? He is described by virtually all information sources as a “conservative” judge. And for the majority of Americans who are even paying attention to this historic event, that word, “conservative,” will no doubt be all the description they need to be either for or against his appointment.

It’s a label that handily categorizes a large swath of Americans who, for a variety of reasons (some of them naively self-destructive), are against or at least very wary of any positions supported by Democratic office holders or candidates. Right wing media has spent years making sure of that.

To be accurate, being labeled a “conservative justice” should, in fact, carry a different meaning from “conservative politician.” However, The New York Times described Judge Brett Kavanaugh as “a fixture in conservative politics.”

His judicial record, like many past nominees, gives little direct indication of how he will vote on key issues as a Supreme Court Justice. But here is what we do know. Judge Kavanaugh’s name was added to a list of nominees given to President Trump as pre-approved by The Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

Most of you probably know of these organizations. They have been around for decades. Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Alito and Justice Thomas all have close ties to the Federalist Society, as did Justice Scalia. – Get the picture?

Continue reading The Company Kavanaugh Keeps