Just finished reading Red Line, by the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Joby Warrick. It was published in February 2021.
Warrick tells the story of how, since the 1980s, the Assad regime in Syria built a massive chemical weapons production industry and a stockpile of weapons capable of killing tens of millions. Thanks to a highly placed CIA informant within the program, US intelligence services were able to keep relatively informed about it. After the Syrian civil war began in 2011, Assad began dropping chemical weapons on rebel-held villages, in civilian centers, and a number of brave Syrian civilians risked their lives to gather evidence and smuggle it out of the country so that the rest of the world would know.
Soon after the civil war began, when Assad’s regime looked ready to collapse, many world leaders, especially in the West, hoped Assad would be forced to flee. On the other hand, while some of the rebel groups seeking to oust Assad were pro-democracy and pro-pluralism, others, like ISIS, were intent on seizing power and imposing their own form of tyranny and brutality. Obama and other world leaders became alarmed at the possibility that Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile and production facilities might fall into the hands of ISIS or one of the other Islamist rebel groups, and the US defense department began working on a massive effort to prepare for the possibility of needing to act to secure and destroy those weapons if they were about to fall into jihadists’ hands.
Before that scenario had a chance to play out, intelligence reports started arriving in the US and elsewhere indicating that Assad had begun using poison gas against rebel held populations. Then came a press conference, actually about health care, during which Obama was asked a question by a reporter about the possibility that Assad was using chemical weapons in battle. In his response, Obama used the phrase “red line” for the first time to warn Assad that use of chemical weapons would lead to the US taking action against him. He would go on to use the phrase two more times in prepared remarks, including during a speech he gave to university students in Israel.
The story that Warrick goes on to tell is as depressing as any deep-dive piece of reporting on war crimes and atrocities, and it shines a light on many heroic individuals who tried to save lives and stand firm against inhumanity. Warrick describes a UN team of inspectors who were allowed into the country with a mandate to collect evidence to determine whether or not chemical weapons had been used, though they had to accept Assad’s condition that any report they made would not be allowed to make claims about who was responsible for using the weapons. In this manner, Assad and his Russian backers would be able to maintain their disinformation campaign claiming that if anyone had used chemical weapons it must have been one of the rebel groups.
While the UN team was in Syria, one of Assad’s generals ordered a large scale chemical attack, using sarin gas, on a rebel held Damascus suburb called Ghouta, killing about 1,400 people and injuring thousands. Many children were among the victims. (Here is a link to a Human Rights Watch report on what happened at Ghouta. But before you go there, a warning – the very first thing you see is a photograph of dozens of dead children killed in the attack. I wasn’t prepared for that when I visited the site, and it hit me very hard.)
The UN team decided to do all it could to gather evidence from the Ghouta attack, but meanwhile various intelligence agencies had concluded firmly that Assad had indeed used chemical weapons in the war. Assad had crossed Obama’s red line, and Obama had to decide how to respond. Initially, he wanted to launch airstrikes in Syria, but he didn’t want to imperil the UN inspection team. He tried to get the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to pull the inspection team out ASAP, but Ban wouldn’t do it, arguing that it was against his mandate to remove a diplomatic team seeking to gather evidence about chemical weapons use in order to help another country carry out a military strike.
A few weeks of this stalemate elapsed, and in the meantime different domestic and international leaders sought to influence Obama’s thinking regarding what consequences he might impose on Assad’s regime for crossing this line. There were leaders who were worried that airstrikes might backfire in any number of ways. There were progressives who did not want any president taking military action against a new foe without getting authorization from Congress – something that candidate Obama had stressed was the Constitution’s requirement for waging war. Ultimately, Obama announced that he would seek Congressional authorization of military action – something he thought he would easily get. But he and his advisers misread the political moment in Congress. Republicans were against anything Obama wanted to do and signaled their unwillingness to support him in this effort if for no other reason than simply to hurt him politically. But most Democrats were also opposed, saying they wanted no part of risking the opening up of a new potentially endless war in the Middle East.
Then came a diplomatic breakthrough. Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the UN, had been meeting with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, intensively to look for ways to neutralize Assad’s chemical weapons. Thus began the intensive Obama administration diplomacy that led to “the deal,” the September 2013 agreement signed by the US and Russia to oversee the removal of Syria’s entire chemical weapons stockpile and destroy its production facilities. Russia, Syria’s main ally, was able to push Assad to accept the deal, which meant there would definitely be no US-led military attacks against his forces in the coming months and that Russia would be able to continue to grow its influence in the region. For the US and the rest of the world concerned both about Assad’s use of the weapons and the potential for jihadist rebel groups to steal some of the weapons, the deal meant achieving two important goals: 1) imposing a major consequence on the Assad regime for crossing Obama’s “red line,” and 2) removing (hopefully) all of the weapons and Assad’s factories for making more.
A piece I wrote in 2011 – wondering if it still holds up to the scrutiny of hindsight given the last decade’s events.
Recently I saw Romney on TV warning that Obama is on a mission to change America into a country that we hardly recognize, and that this election represents our last chance to stop him before we lose “the America we know.” Echoing this message of cultural paranoia, last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC provided a platform for the most extreme versions of this thought, including panelists associated with white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups. The GOP’s core campaign message so far appears to be “Obama is dangerous because he isn’t really one of us.”
In the first couple years of Obama’s presidency, the right promoted this message in the form of “birtherism” and the “he’s a Muslim” claim. Now they’re pushing it in the form of the “he’s a European socialist” canard. In the space of three years, right wing paranoia has moved the geographic location of Obama’s Otherness from Kenya, where he wasn’t born, to Mecca, towards which he doesn’t pray, to Western Europe, whose fully socialized medicine he didn’t promote. Republicans are going to need a GPS navigation system to keep the American people up to date on the geography of their fictional portrayals of Obama.
The truth, however, is not that Obama is trying to change America into a country we won’t recognize, but rather that the GOP’s leaders don’t recognize the country that America has already become. America has already changed into, and will continue to become, an ever-more-diverse nation of many cultures, religions, and ideas. Before anybody knew who Barack Obama was, this change had already taken root. Obama is an American with mixed racial heritage and family ties to Kansas, Hawaii, Kenya, and Indonesia. He also has Muslim, Christian, and even Jewish relatives. He is a walking American melting pot who could only have become president long after the death of Jim Crow America. What the fearful right doesn’t see is that Obama is an awful lot like most people in this country – mixed heritage, ties to different strands of the weave of this nation, and a values system that has tolerance and respect for all these different cultural elements.
Recently I sawRomney on TV warning that Obama is on a mission to change America into a country that we hardly recognize, and that this election represents our last chance to stop him before we lose “the America we know.”Echoing this message of cultural paranoia, last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC provided a platform for the most extreme versions of this thought, including panelists associated with white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups. The GOP’s core campaign message so far appears to be “Obama is dangerousbecause he isn’t really one of us.”
In the first couple years of Obama’s presidency, the right promoted this message in the form of “birtherism” and the “he’s a Muslim” claim. Now they’re pushing it in the form of the “he’s a European socialist”canard. In the space of three years, right wing paranoia has moved the geographic location of Obama’s Otherness from Kenya, where he wasn’t born, to Mecca, towards which he doesn’t pray, to Western Europe, whose fully socialized medicine he didn’t promote. Republicans are going to need a GPS navigation system to keep the American people up to date on the geography of their fictional portrayals of Obama.
The truth, however, is not that Obama is trying to change America into a country we won’t recognize, but rather that the GOP’s leaders don’t recognize the country that America has already become. America has already changed into, and will continue to become, an ever-more-diverse nation of many cultures, religions, and ideas. Before anybody knew who Barack Obama was, this change had already taken root. Obama is an American with mixed racial heritage andfamily ties to Kansas, Hawaii, Kenya, and Indonesia. He also has Muslim, Christian, and even Jewish relatives. He is a walking American melting pot who could only have become president long after the death of Jim Crow America. What the fearful right doesn’t see is that Obama is an awful lot like most people in this country –mixed heritage, ties to different strands of the weave of this nation, and a values system that has tolerance and respect for all these different cultural elements.Continue reading “In summer 2012 I wrote an essay proclaiming that America-the-diverse had prevailed over America-the-white-supremacist. I don’t know any more if that was right. Here’s the essay…”→
In the aftermath of Trump’s decision to nominate David Friedman to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel, we’ve learned that Friedman has had some choice words for Jews like me, who support J Street, and other progressive Jews. Specifically, he’s said that we’re worse than kapos, who, if that term isn’t familiar, were the Jews the Nazis assigned to supervise other Jews in concentration camps and in forced labor.
When one Jew calls another a kapo it means “ultimate traitor.” To have Friedman calling other Jews kapos, when he’s about to go to work for a man who has retweeted anti-Semitic Twitter accounts, and who has won the high praise of American neo-Nazis, is so ironic that … well, it’s just really ironic, that’s all.
Anyway, one of my FB friends – someone who has critiqued left wingers many times for their blindness to anti-Semitism in progressive circles – just posted today, with alarm, that he is receiving messages calling him a kapo for opposing the Friedman nomination.
I believe this is probably the shape of things for American-Jewish politics for the next few years, possibly more. I also suspect that it is connected to Steve Bannon’s strategic thinking about how to best deal with the American Jewish community. Do things that widen the acrimony and divide. Tie up the energies of the progressive political American Jewish community, and its often quite effective political organizing and influence, with having to fight the right wing of the American Jewish community. Meanwhile, take the American Jewish right off the table as a potential obstructive political force by emphasizing how RW / anti-Muslim / pro-(greater)-Israel Trump is. This makes it easier for some of Bannon’s anti-Semitic and truly fascist circle to be able to take their places in Trump’s inner circle.
Friedman is a great example. He has no experience as an Ambassador, and he’s a loudmouth. He can’t make policy – he’ll have to take orders from Trump – but he’s perfect for a divide & conquer approach to minimizing the political power of different parts of the American Jewish community.
My guess is that Bannon sees himself as a major player in Trump’s inner circle, but that he sees himself as in competition, to some degree, with others who have different agendas. Bannon may not care that much about Jews himself, but what we know from his previous work is that he’s interested in bringing to the table people who are quite serious about their anti-Semitism. (That’s a generous reading of Bannon, BTW.)
Anyway, I just think we’re likely to see Trump work some kind of strategy like this vis-a-vis the Jewish community. I think Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is perfect as their first gambit of this nature. In terms of really changing the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the ultimate shape that a viable agreement to end the conflict might take, moving the embassy to (West) Jerusalem is not really that substantive a thing to do. In an ideal world, with a permanent peace agreement establishing two states, Israel and Palestine, each with a capital in different sections of Jerusalem, the American embassies to both states would proudly take their places in their respective parts of Jerusalem. But for all kinds of practical reasons that make good political sense, U.S. policy under Republicans and Democrats for decades has been to hold off on moving the embassy to Jerusalem until a final status agreement is reached.
But the decision to move the U.S. embassy is a great wedge issue for the American Jewish community and it will suit Trump’s team perfectly. It’s highly symbolic and highly emotional. The tweets and one-line talking points to be offered in a tone of moral superiority and “can you believe these politically correct idiots?” contempt easily write themselves.
Trump announcing the embassy move will send the various Jewish political organizations into their various corners, firing away at each other. AIPAC, ZOA, RCA, the Conference of Presidents, and possibly JCPA and even maybe Reform & Conservative organizations will support the move. J Street, APN, Ameinu, maybe the Reconstructionist movement will dissent or offer qualified dissent. In the Islamic world, the announcement will probably ignite extremists’ passions and increase the likelihood of terror attacks, either in the US, Israel, or elsewhere. It’ll also lead to a big UN showdown. And then, while we in the American-Jewish community are all consumed with this unnecessary shit storm, all of our energies and resources are tied up and largely unavailable to be a useful force against any/all other Trump agendas.
It’s so smart I’m surprised Putin didn’t think of it himself…
Along with at least 63 million fellow citizens, I’ve been all kinds of a wreck since the election. I don’t see myself as having any special insight, wisdom, or forward-looking strategy to offer, and I’ve been ambivalent about blogging for all kinds of reasons. I’m not sure if what I might have to add to the conversation is useful, but this morning I find myself following my instinct to write. Maybe it’s the coffee.
The one idea that keeps resurfacing for me is that the election of Donald Trump is an event that has so profoundly disrupted, frightened, shocked, and disoriented me that it has thrust me, kicking and screaming, into what some have called a state of “narrative wreckage.” I’m working on an upcoming book about an ancient 1st – 2nd Century rabbi (I know, another big money making book, right?), and I’m going to excerpt a small part of the current draft, because as I’ve been working on this book I’ve gotten into this whole narrative wreck idea. Here goes:
Arthur W. Frank is a sociology professor at the University of Calgary, and he is the author of The Wounded Storyteller: Body, Illness, and Ethics, published in 1995. In the book, Frank discusses the ways that people cope with the disorientation, disruption, and chaos that come with the arrival of a serious illness or disability, with a special focus on how illness affects their life narratives. I was assigned readings from his book in rabbinical school in some of my pastoral counseling classes.
As a congregational rabbi, Frank’s ideas aided me in my efforts to provide people with helpful pastoral counseling during times of crisis and loss. …
In The Wounded Storyteller, Frank claims that when someone discovers that he or she has a serious, life-altering illness, the person becomes a “narrative wreck” (Frank credits this phrase to the American philosopher, Ronald Dworkin). The idea is that each one of us has an operating narrative that orients our lives. Serious illness interrupts that narrative and, initially, throws its subject into narrative chaos. …
Let me be clear that I’m not saying I think the election = the country suddenly having a serious illness. In the book I’m working on, I also explain that the illness metaphor doesn’t exactly fit the point I end up making about the time of the ancient rabbis’ historical situation.
What I find helpful, however, is the idea that sometimes life brings incredible disruptions – a death, a war, an epidemic, a shocking election with serious implications for millions’ of peoples’ safety and future – and that Frank’s description of the ways that we sometimes confront these narrative earthquakes may be helpful to us in our situation now.
Let me quote Frank again. In describing his work with people facing the news of serious illness or disability, he observes that for each of these people, the operating narrative each of them functioned within, whether consciously or not, became suddenly “. . . wrecked because its present [was] not what the past was supposed to lead up to, and the future [was] scarcely thinkable.” I think it’s fair to say that about half the U.S. population, at minimum, is feeling something like this, not to mention who-knows-how-many people around the world who are still trying to pick their jaws up off the floor in response to last November 8th.
Here’s another quote from the current draft of my book:
Frank writes that, having become a narrative wreck because of the shock and disruption of seriousdisease, the person coping with the illness faces the challenge of having to find a way to re-narrate his or her life going forward.
That’s part of what’s been so hard for me, and I assume for so many others, these past 12 days. The many competing theories of why Trump won, what the Democrats did wrong, what the media did wrong, what the Russians did to us, what the Republicans did with gerrymandering and voter suppression, and the competing rants about what the Democrats should do going forward all have added to my sense of confusion and disorientation. I don’t know whose analysis is right, and I don’t know what the best way forward is. I still can’t accept what happened, and I can’t simply shift into a posture of hunkering down and helping to do the work that now needs to be done because I’m confused about what exactly that work is. (Okay, on some of the immediate issues, like Bannon, or objecting publicly now to the creation of any kind of national registry for Muslims, I’m not having confusion about what to do, but I’m talking bigger picture than that.)
Some people are saying organize, resist, and fight! Others are saying try to understand our white working class & rural neighbors! Some are saying there needs to be a combo of both. And some are still saying it’s not too late to stop this from happening! I’m thinking of the petitions to the Electors urging them to either put Hillary in the White House or cause the House of Representatives to select the next president, presumably a Republican other than Trump. No, I don’t believe there’s any chance that’s going to happen, and yes, I signed on to all those petitions.
In The Wounded Storyteller, Frank describes the people he has worked with as ultimately responding to the crisis that serious illness has brought into their lives by trying to find a way to re-narrate their lives going forward in one of three common ways: the “Restitution Story,” the “Chaos Story,” and the “Quest Story.” Some of his patients would move from one of these coping strategies to another. Frank clearly thinks that only the third option is the most helpful, though he doesn’t judge people who end up going with either of the first two strategies. Here’s what I’ve written in the draft of my book about these three kinds of coping responses to the experience of narrative wreckage caused by serious illness:
The Restitution Story treats the illness as something temporary that medicine is going to heal completely. The subject tells herself that the interruption it is causing is only transitory, and that her pre-illness self-narrative will resume shortly. If this in fact is medically true, then the Restitution Story can work well for the subject. But, the Restitution Story can also be an expression of denial, serving only to delay the subject’s need for a new life narrative.
When a seriously ill person embraces what Frank calls a Chaos Story, he gets “sucked into the undertow of illness and the disasters that attend to it.” His new story is, in some respects, not even a coherent story – there is no viable narrative, except maybe the expectation of continued chaos or doom. He has no sense of a path towards a viable future meaningful life narrative. Here’s the contemporary American Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, quoting Hannah Arendt as she reflects on this idea. Salzberg writes:
In commenting on the power of a story to give our lives cohesion, writer Hannah Arendt says, “The story reveals the meaning of what otherwise would remain an unbearable sequence of sheer happenings.” To perceive the events of our lives as “sheer happenings” is indeed unbearable. [I wanted to explore a new story that] would take the scattered shards of my life and fit them all together in a new and different way.
The Chaos Story is full of panic and disorientation, and it is painful to witness someone who is living within its brutal and sorrowful grip.
Finally, there is the Quest Story, which Frank argues is the healthiest and the noblest kind of new narrative for the person facing severe illness to adopt. “Quest stories meet suffering head on; they accept illness and seek to use it. Illness is the occasion of a journey that becomes a quest.” When a person facing severe illness develops a quest narrative, she engages in an act of courage and creativity that enables her to tell a new story about her life that incorporates the disruption of her previous life narrative, accepts the parts of that narrative that are permanently lost, and designates new meaningful destinations and goals for her life.
For a Quest Story to be successful, Frank writes that it needs to be what he calls a “good story.” A “good story” is one that is honest about the past and what’s been lost, while also setting forth a new direction in which the subject’s goal is to “rise to the occasion” that has been created by the changed reality – including the losses and new challenges. The Quest Story that is also a“good story”“. . . meet[s] suffering head on . . .”, accepting the illness and seeking “to use it” so that it propels the subject into a quest to create meaning and goodness within a new and unexpected framework that couldn’t have been anticipated before the arrival of the illness.
There’s another part of the challenge of embracing a Quest Story that Frank discusses that I think is important to mention here. He writes that a surprising number of the patients he works with use some version of the metaphor of being shipwrecked to describe their experience of being confronted with the news of their serious illness or new disability. He writes:
Almost every illness story I have read carries some sense of being shipwrecked by the storm of disease, and many use this metaphor explicitly. Extending this metaphor describes storytelling as repair work on the wreck. The repair begins by taking stock of what survives the storm. The old map may now be less than useful, but it has hardly been carbonized. Disease happens in a life that already has a story, and this story goes on, changed by illness but also affecting how the illness story is formed. (p. 54)
What stands out to me in this quote is that if the moment we’re living in is calling upon us to develop a Quest Story, Frank reminds us that that task will involve identifying which parts of our shipwrecked narrative are truly lost, and which parts are still intact and are going to be important components of a successful Quest Story, a “good story.”
One thing that’s clear to me now as much as any other time in my life: I need a narrative to operate within in order for my life to feel meaningful and worthwhile. I need a new personal life narrative – a mythic story of Maurice’s life – because of this election. I’ve come to accept that this election in particular is that personal, that huge, for me, and that the narrative wreckage I’m experiencing is literally on par with some of the worst narrative-wreck-moments I’ve experienced in my life, including the sudden and traumatic loss of my father when I was 18. And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.
Beyond my personal need for a new, good, functional life narrative, progressives in this country collectively need a new organizing narrative that gives meaning and purpose, and a sense of hope, to guide and focus our activism and provide us with an emotional, psychological, and even spiritual bedrock that can give us inner calm and strong faith in our vision. What is that narrative? I still don’t know.
But. Frank’s work on narrative wreckage and illness feels really useful to me right now. Listening to him, I feel a little bit more clarity and hope. His writing says to me that even if we are currently stuck in Restitution Stories and Chaos Stories – and I am definitely still shifting back and forth between those two a lot – our aim should be towards a Quest Story. I can picture getting to a Quest Story for my personal life narrative. I don’t know what it looks like, but Frank helps me remember that it will still include a lot of the elements of my pre-Trumpocalypse personal operating narrative.
The same applies to progressives in America. Frank reminds us that despite this shipwreck (or earthquake, or whatever you want to call it), we have a lot of maps and assets that have survived intact. That includes the religious, moral, and historical wisdom of the Jewish people, which given the devastations and crises Jews have survived over many centuries, is probably more prescient than we realize. It includes the remarkable social progress that African-American leaders and organizations have brought into being in our society through many decades of creative organizing, moral suasion, inspiring preaching, and inspiring leadership. It still includes countless lessons learned and battles won by progressives throughout American history. Trump’s win doesn’t erase the power of MLK. Or Stonewall. Or Cesar Chavez. Or Harriet Tubman. Or even the fact that, as Jon Stewart recently put it, the same country that elected Trump also elected Obama twice.
That said, some things have been permanently lost in this shipwreck, and identifying them and letting them go is, according to Frank, part of what makes the difference between working with a dysfunctional operating narrative or developing a healthy Quest Story. At this moment I’m not sure what those things are, but I expect that’ll become clearer.
I’ll close out this post with some early thoughts about what some elements of a new Quest Story might look like for progressives. In order for a new, shared progressive narrative to be what Frank calls “a good story,” I think it needs to include a moral imperative to “not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors” (Lev 19:16) and to be our brothers and sisters keepers (Gen 4:9). For me, as a white Jewish man with a middle class job and a graduate degree, my freak out over Trump, while intense, frightening, and excruciating, does not include the sudden dread that my cousins or school mates might be deported. It doesn’t include the threat of a national registry for people of my religion (though I’ve signed a pledge to register as a Muslim if such a policy is attempted, and I hope others will do likewise). My trauma and disorientation doesn’t include what millions of women in this country now have to face in the form of increased fear of consequence-free sexual assault, nor am I stuck suddenly having to wonder whether in a couple years my marriage to my beloved partner will be reversed. I’m not saying that as a Jew I’m scot free – not by any means. For the first time in at least 20 years, I’ve been on the direct receiving end of anti-Semitic hate speech, and many of my rabbinic colleagues have described the same. Shit got real for me, for sure, but I’m less in the cross-hairs of the most aggressive and threatening aspects of the angry right wing than a lot of my neighbors. Anyway, my point is that a Quest Story for progressives needs to include a mandate to stand up for the most vulnerable and viciously targeted groups in our society, now and going forward, and not just for the less vulnerable to stand up for the most vulnerable, but for all of us who share these values to stand up for each other.
I’m also guessing that while a Quest Story that works will need to motivate an organized and honorable defense of the vulnerable, it will also need to motivate organized and honorable efforts to try to connect with and have transformative experiences with Trump supporters. I say “with” because I do believe there’s a role in a new progressive Quest Story for insisting on the humanity of our neighbors who went for Trump and for trying to better understand their needs, hopes, and fears, and yet there’s also a need to hold firm to the convictions we hold that bigoted and dehumanizing beliefs don’t get a free pass under the banner of economic insecurity or perceived cultural disenfranchisement. Perhaps this looks something like MLK’s core civil rights message, which never wavered in its determination to advance the rights of African-Americans, but which invited white Americans to join in the creation of a society of equals and insisted that we would all be – and it hurts to use this phrase but I will – stronger together in this new vision.
I’m out of steam, so I’m going to stop writing now. If you read this, thanks. If you have ideas about what a healthy Quest Story might look like, I’m very interested.
Note #1: I need to get back to this and add in some citations for works that I’ve quoted or referenced. Sorry not to have done that just yet.
So, I got a job just outside of Philadelphia, and one small but important reason I’m glad to be a Pennsylvania resident at this time is that I get to vote in a meaningful swing state in the election next month. I’ve also been volunteering with HRC’s campaign, mostly doing voter registration shifts with one of the campaign’s 7 offices in the greater Philly era. (Side note: Trump campaign has 2 offices in the same area.) I’ve also done a little bit of phone banking and participated in my first ever text-a-thon last Wednesday night (more on that later).
Doing this work has been inspiring and emotionally grounding for me during a campaign that, thanks to Trump & the accompanying cray cray, has managed to freak out huge portions of the population unlike anything in my lifetime.
When I started looking into volunteering, I thought I’d do two things: register voters in Philly, and then fly to Florida to do GOTV the last few days before the election. At the time I was thinking this way the race was pretty much a tie and I figured FL was the place where I could have the most impact. So I followed their interface, which made it very easy for me to input my preferences to do the voter reg in Philly and the GOTV in Florida.
Within a couple days, I’d received calls and emails from the Bustleton Ave HRC campaign office in Philly, which was the one I had selected even though it isn’t the closest one to where I live. (What inspired me was shopping at a Ross in that part of town and seeing the overwhelming diversity of the folks there, and thinking “we should be doing voter reg right here”). I also received a personal email from a campaign office in Orlando, FL, which was the place in FL I had indicated I wanted to work (I’d read that there were large #’s of newly arrived residents from Puerto Rico in Orlando, and because they’re already U.S. citizens, they’re able to vote in FL as soon as they establish residency). The FL person
warmly encouraged me to come take part in GOTV there. She also asked if I needed a place to stay (!) and whether I might be able to bring a friend along.
So, get this. Back in Philly, when I go out for my first voter reg shift, I have a great time. They pair me with an affable 40-something white guy who it turns out is an osteopathic doctor, is Jewish, and is every bit as extroverted as I am shy. We only registered a couple new voters outside a Shop Rite, but probably 200 people or more saw us with our Hillary gear as we called out “Registered to vote?” to passers-by. We had lots of conversations, which I enjoyed a lot. I’d say about half the people who came by were Black, maybe a quarter Latino, a tenth Asian, and the rest White. Probably 2/3 were women. Occasionally women wearing hijabs came by. Most people who responded to our barkers’ call told us they were already registered. This neighborhood is solid D, so there were only a few Trumpsters, and in fact they were, at least by appearances, young or middle-aged white men.
Ok, so after enjoying my first venture, I re-up and return the following week for another shift. This time they pair me with the two women in the photo above. When we arrive at the Wal-Mart, we find this guy already there with a clipboard, asking everyone who passes him if they’ve registered. Is he with the Trump campaign? was my first thought, admittedly based on a kind of profiling that I found myself having to actively resist in this toxic and hateful climate (which yes I frankly blame fully on Trump and the GOP’s long years of promoting racist memes and giving succor to extremists). Well, turns out he was also with HRC’s campaign – from another campaign office – a duplication of efforts that I took as a sign of health in the ground game. I mean, you want the left hand to know what the right hand is doing in a campaign, but this is the kind of inadvertent inefficiency that is borne out of having lots of offices, lots of staff, and lots of volunteers. He was a long-time union guy, with a Philly working class accent (“Who sent youz guys?”) The white woman who was part of the crew I showed up with also had a working class Philly accent. The black young woman – a high school frosh – was from the Philly suburbs, her accent and presentation reflecting suburban middle class life. And then there was me, the middle-aged Jewish white guy who has lived a bunch of places.
As I await the results of today’s primaries in several New England states, I am thinking about how much we have to preserve, how much we stand to lose, and how much we could gain if the Dems hold the WH this November (and, presumably, win back the Senate in the process). I’m leaning towards voting Bernie in the May primary in Oregon, and I am guessing he’ll win here and maybe in California too, though that’s a tougher read.
But I’m definitely not on the “Bernie or Bust” train.
I’m on the “Bernie or . . . Hillary” train.
My BOB friends tell me that Hill’s a corporate neo-con she-devil who is probably not worth voting for in November. She’s a coldhearted coddler of dictators in Central America*, a Wall Street wolf in sheep’s clothing, a Goldman Sachs insider who loves corporate oligarchy, and a double dealing diabolical damsel of doom.
I tell them that I don’t think she’s as bad as they say. She doesn’t inspire me like Obama (or Bernie, for that matter), she has a checkered history on a number of progressive issues as a Senator, and she certainly is part of the Washington establishment. Yes, all true. But she is not Satan’s corporate spawn, nor is she the secret neocon prodigy of Dick Cheney. As a progressive who wants to see income inequality decline, climate damage reversed, diplomacy-first international policy, universal health insurance, and FDR-level investment in education and infrastructure, I recognize that Hillary’s past hasn’t been that of a consistent and clear advocate of all of those policies full force, though these are the ideas and ideals at the core of her vision and hope for this country.
But, I also recognize that her haters on the left have a habit of tarring and feathering her by listing all of her (real and sometimes fabricated) faults, while ignoring everything good – everything that progressives care about – that she’s achieved and fought for throughout her career. And that strikes me as where the distortion starts to creep in to the Bernieverse. I like Bernie, I’m probably voting for him this May, but I’m increasingly frightened of the Bernamentalists.
Compromised creature of politics that she is notwithstanding, an HRC succession to Obama’s 2 terms would enable us to preserve hugely important progressive changes that so many of us have worked and fought for for decades. Hillary in the WH means we get to:
keep Obamacare, and at minimum expand it. (Personal note: any R in the WH will be able to single-handedly kill Obamacare, by refusing to sign into law any budget that funds it. My family would be screwed. I sometimes think Bernie voters who choose to skip the Nov election should be willing to pay for our impossibly high premiums once O-care is gone thanks to their refusal to vote for the She-Devil.) This is real folks, for millions of people. The uninsured rate has been cut in half so far and will continue to shrink if a D is elected.
get Merrick Garland or some other liberal justice added to SCOTUS. If a R wins, Mitch McConnell’s Senate continues to block any vote on Garland, and we get instead another right wing justice. Bernie-fans: if you want any chance at a SCOTUS that might overturn Citizens United, we need 5 libs on the court for that to be remotely possible. Also, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. Notorious RGB, is already in her 80s. I hate to say this, cuz I adore her, but she may be the next justice who needs to be replaced. If we elect an R this November, we could end up with a 6-3 conservative majority on the court. How the bleepity bleep bleep are we supposed to get anything revolutionary done if that happens? If you care about labor rights, we need a Dem in the WH – even the Blonde Terror of Rodham. If you care about abortion rights, or voting rights, or a dozen other crucial issues that SCOTUS gets to decide upon, then it makes no sense to refuse to vote for HRC in Nov.
prevent the deportation of several million undocumented immigrants whom Obama has tried to shield via executive order. The court just heard a case on this question and is likely to divide 4-4, meaning it will need to get revisited when justice number 9 (number 9, number 9, number — sorry, couldn’t stop myself) finally arrives. This shit is real folks. Please don’t inadvertently assist in a mass deportation that I bet you are fully and totally against. If D’s take the Senate and make gains in the House, maybe even get comprehensive immigration reform passed with a path to citizenship. Even if a corporate shill like Hillary signs that bill into law, it makes a yuuuuuuuge difference in the lives of millions of people who are among the most disadvantaged and exploited people living in this country.
expand voting rights and maintain a Justice Dept that is willing to investigate voter suppression and systematic racism in police departments. Yup. Even dreadful Hillary is totally for that, from the bottom of her heart.
keep the Iran Nuclear Deal in place (and thus NOT go directly into preparations for a brand new massive war with Iran). Hillary the Hawk will uphold the Iran nuke deal, you ask? Uphold it – she’s the main architect of it. She’s the Sec State who got the coalition of nations, including recalcitrant Russia and China, to join the US in implementing the intense sanctions that brought Iran to the table. It was Obama’s policy, but she’s the one who did the intense diplomatic work to put that coalition together and keep it focused. When she handed off to Kerry, he was able to finish the job. When AIPAC and the GOP tried to kill the deal, she immediately and strongly stood up for it, and she continues to stand up for it to this very day. Every R candidate, by contrast, says they’d scrap the Iran nuke deal, and Trump and Cruz might just take us directly to war do not pass go do not collect $200, or in Trump’s case, $200 billion.
keep Planned Parenthood fully funded and keep women’s health at the top of the government’s agenda. Hillary has a stellar record on this and is a smart and tough advocate.
push for, and potentially pass, common sense gun laws (the ones that big majorities of Americans support, like universal background checks, bans on military-grade assault weapons, etc.) Hillary has been full-force blitzkreiging the NRA and advertising against them with an anger and abandon that I for one appreciate, given how in the past Dems have tended to tread carefully even while advocating these policies. This is not a dig on Bernie, btw. I don’t care if he was a bit more sympathetic to hunters than gun control purists would like. He’s totally on board with the basic reforms that need to happen, and that will not have a chance with an R in the WH. (See how I did that? – I preferred HRC’s politics on an issue but I gave Bernie the benefit of the doubt on his take.)
increase federal funding for Head Start, support for adoptive families, children’s after-school programs, and serious help with college affordability. No matter how many speeches Hillary got big bucks for at Goldman Sachs last year, she has been, is, and forever will be the person whose professional career started with the Children’s Defense Fund, the person who is passionate about government support for single moms, at-risk kids, poor families, and working families. I seriously defy anyone to say that isn’t who she is and what she advocates for, in a much feistier way than Obama does, btw (and I f—ing love Obama).
continue to stand up for LGBT equality, dignity, and full inclusion. This matters not just for millions of Americans, but the role the US has come to play internationally as an advocate of LGBT human rights is helping to change thinking in a positive direction all over the world.
continue to stand up for the equal treatment, respect, inclusion, and appreciation of people of all faiths or no faith at all. Hillary has been up front and clear every step of this campaign on all these issues, and her ads have been nothing short of fantastic.
build on Obama’s climate-change policies (and at the very least, not renounce them and walk away from the Paris treaty we just signed). Hillary is a full-on supporter of the Paris climate change agreement, and a full-on supporter of the federal investments that have quintupled American use of solar power since Obama signed the much maligned stimulus bill in 2009. Someone’s gonna say – No! She’d have allowed Keystone XL. Maybe, but Keystone XL is dead. Someone’s gonna say – No! She supports TPP and trade agreements that will cause us to fail to meet the Paris agreement targets. Well, maybe. Obama supports (and signed into law) TPP, and when I’ve listened to him explain his position, I frankly find him pretty convincing. But even if I’m wrong and Obama has sold his soul to corporate oligarchs for the TPP (I really don’t think so), would I have preferred McCain/Palin or Romney/Ryan be president in exchange for sitting out either of the last two elections as a matter of progressive “principle”? Hell-to-the-no-way-baby! I think when the chips fall that Hillary understands that global warming is real, that renewables are our best shot at a livable world and a strong 21st century economy, and that that’s what she’s gonna pursue as her big picture policy goal.
I’m really struggling with anger – I guess my own personal brand of anger that is actually part of a cycle of thoughts & feelings I’ve churned and repeated most of my life. My counselor of the past 12 years – who is one of the most dear friends I have – taught me long ago the bit about anger being a secondary emotion, and that before we feel anger first we feel something else, however briefly. Usually the primary emotion is fear, though it can also be sadness, disappointment, anxiety, or some cocktail of all of these.
Of course, there’s the kind of anger that flashes in life-or-death, fight-or-flight situations, which is an evolutionary advantage & survival skill, but that’s not the kind of anger I’m talking about. I’m talking about walking around, day by day, doing good work at my job, being a good parent (mostly), and spending way too much time feeling worried, afraid, and anxious about the future – and after a while, that swirl of discomfort blossoms into anger. An anger that I carry around and then do things with that probably aren’t helpful.
Fortunately, the kinds of stupid things I do with this anger aren’t the kinds of things that involve physical violence or wanton destruction. They’re more along the lines of posting FB responses in an angry tone to total strangers I disagree with on political issues. Yeah, I know – ooh, very scary.
In the Talmud, ancient rabbis compare the act of dwelling in anger as a form of idolatry. (For those who like to look stuff like this up, visit BT Shabbat 105b). Then there’s this oft-quoted passage: