Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Political discernment using Quaker testimonies

As a Quaker, I am helped in turbulent times by considering the five Quaker “testimonies.”

The testimonies are: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community and Equality. (You can remember them with the mnemonic “SPICE”)

Recently I’ve weighed the three major presidential candidates against the testimonies and tried to assign grades to them. ABCDF.

I found it difficult because media reporting on the candidates often fails to provide necessary information to make a judgment on these topics.

Then again, much of the news coverage is relevant and helpful.

I also realized that I first needed to revisit the “SPICE”s for myself, particularly with regard to politics and public life.

It was a humbling experience. The “grade” I gave myself was, at best, a “gentleman’s C.”

Here are some of the questions I pondered.

Do I measure “simplicity” guided by my spirituality or do I surrender to cultural/political norms?

Am I at peace with myself? Am I at peace with paying taxes to support American military involvement (which includes atrocities)? Am I at peace with our system of "justice"?

Do I understand the word “integrity” in all its meanings, “strength” being one of them?

What community, or communities, am I part of? What are my responsibilities to them. What are my responsibilities to other communities beyond my own?

Do I truly believe we are equal? If so, how?

Now to the presidential candidates....

How do the testimonies apply to being president of the United States? It's easier to answer for some ("integrity" for instance) than others ("simplicity"?) Or are the testimonies simply important as measurements of personal character? Should we consider the "personal" and "presidential" as one? Are presidents forced to make decisions they would never want to make as individuals? Decisions about life and death, for instance. What does personal/presidential bifurcation say about "integrity"?

In an earlier draft of this little essay, I actually assigned “testimony” grades to the three leading candidates. Now I realize that my assessment is helpful only to me. It is filtered through my unique experiences, values and discernment.

What’s most important to you is yours.

So have at it. Take your time….

Donald Trump


Hillary Clinton


Bernie Sanders


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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Trump, Demogoguery, Indecency and Us

This frightening political season has been rife with demagoguery and indecency.

The prime demagogue has been Donald Trump but there have been examples of other much more subtle demagoguery. Much of it has been in a biased establishment press that reports a favored half of the story — the half that pleases its corporate owners and feeds their greed.

Earlier this week it was widely reported that Bernie Sanders’ supporters had threatened to the chair of the Nevada Democratic party with violence, but we never find out what might drive them to such extreme measures.

Nor are we even certain that the threats originated with them. Dirty tricks of just this sort are not unusual in American politics. They are the by-products of big money, desperation and power.

Question: Could the threats be from agents provocateurs?

Once, the press sought to get to the root of events. Not today. The mainstream media are now controlled by the powerful and the greedy.  The news, in its search for profit, is drawn to entertainment and spectacle.

The the quest for truth goes begging. The maw of NOW must be fed.

The words “demagoguery” and “indecency,” take me back to this nation’s hither-to most public and dangerous bully and demagogue, Senator Joseph McCarthy. The time, the early ’50’s, is known to this day as “The McCarthy Era.” McCarthy’s lies and innuendos ruined the lives of thousands. The senator’s message was of fear. It was fueled with scapegoats.

Unlike the passive, self-serving role of the press today, back then the press was instrumental in bringing McCarthy down. The unblinking eye of television broadcast live the Army-McCarthy hearings and the Army’s attorney Joseph N. Welch exposure of McCarthy.

Consider his scolding of McCarthy. “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” intoned Welch to an arrogant, dismissive McCarthy.

Consider Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly’s famous, meticulously crafted McCarthy exposé on CBS Reports. You can find the transcript here:

In the broadcast’s coda, Murrow noted that McCarthy had once cited Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in warning of the dangers of Communism.

Murrow, eyes fixed on the camera and his audience, read: “Earlier, the senator asked, ‘Upon what meat does this, our Caesar, feed?’ Had he looked three lines earlier in Shakespeare's ‘Caesar,’ he would have found this line, which is not altogether inappropriate: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

And so it is today as we stand on the threshold of “The Trump Era.”

There’s plenty of “fault” to go ‘round, but the prevalence, acceptance and even celebration of indecency in this culture explains much of it.

If we were to ask Trump, as we should, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” he might well answer with his branded arrogance, “What does decency have to do with it? What does decency have to do with ANYTHING. I don’t DO ‘decency!”

Indeed his millions of followers love him for his indecency. Once decent Republican politicians, caving to power, have now embraced indecency in their support of the presumptive nominee.

In an earlier time this political season would be considered a spectacle of the obscene. Utterly repulsive.

Today, the media thrives on it. We laugh at rude put-downs. We fawn over hate-mongering talk radio hosts, who make millions off their venom. The most popular films today are bloody displays of brutal violence and foul language.

This is called entertainment. Over the years it has grown and melded with politics and, yes, produced unchallenged war and riches for the arms industry.

We are literally amusing ourselves to death, as author and critic Neil Postman warned years ago in a book of that name.

Murrow and Friendly were right: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

The Problem unfolds for Democratic Convention Delegates

Today's polls on Real Clear Politics show what I believe will be the beginning of a growing trend. If Donald Trump can beat Hillary Clinton in places like Ohio, and Bernie Sanders can prevail over Trump there, the Democratic Party's superdelegates gathering in Philadelphia in late July will have a tough decision to make. Do they dump Clinton for Sanders?

Here, with weeks to go until the convention, is what today's polls look like. Call this a partial benchmark and a caution.

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Friday, May 06, 2016

Try this one: Super Delegates, faced with a faltering Clinton, will choose Sanders.

Bernie Sanders should stay in the Democratic Presidential race. He may win it yet.

The media is once again creating its own myth when it predicts Clinton being nominated. 

The outcome of this primary season is far from set in stone as the media would have us believe.

Today’s stuck-in-the-moment media narrative is similar to what editors and pundits concocted for Trump as recently as three months ago.

No, the situation in both political parties (and in the electorate in general) is highly dynamic. Tomorrow shouldn’t be judged by today, just as next months shouldn’t be judged by this month.

The flux is particularly apparent with the Democrats and the Clinton-Sanders contest, which is still very much alive and will be right up to the time of the convention delegates vote.

As noted in my last post, public opinion polling in the nearly three months before the Democratic convention could spell real trouble for Hillary Clinton.

The entire electorate is unpredictable at this point, particularly since both Trump and Clinton, the "given" November match-up, have such high negatives.

Will large portions of the public simply abstain from voting at all? And, if they do vote, what will motivate them to?  Fear? Anger? Sweet reason?

And then there’s Sanders who is actually liked.

People may not agree with him but they respect him.

But what about this socialist business? Indiana and Michigan, hardly left-wing hot-beds, had no problem problem with Sander being a democratic socialist. It’s a non-issue.

Perhaps voters know more about the social/political history of Western Europe than the pundits do. Perhaps they know more about universal health care and free education than the lobbyists want them to. Perhaps they know that nothing changes until change is proposed and debated.

So here’s the deal: Given Trump’s obvious cartoonish, show-biz persona and its broad zany, nativist appeal, and given Hillary Clinton’s dynasty-bound, boring, predictable “establishment” stances, I fully expect polls in the next month to show her slipping behind Trump, and then falling way WAY behind.

Call her the Jeb Bush of the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, Sanders will continue to top Trump, if narrowly. Virtually every poll so far shows Sanders faring better against Trump than Clinton does.

Obviously these “shocking” poll results will not escape Democrats gathering in Philadelphia in late July. The unelected Democratic Super-delegates were created for just such an eventuality. Nominations are made at the convention and reflect reality at the time of it is held.

The nominating decision at the convention should be informed by the long, bizarre (and dated) primary season but not bound to it.

And as long as Sanders stays in the race and contests places like Oregon and California (and wins!) he will become a viable option as Democratic delegates face the consequences of nominating a deeply flawed and likely-to-lose Clinton.

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