Tag Archives: election

We Will Not See Their Like Again

A phrase borrowed from Shakespeare is appropriate as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama move toward their last day in the White House and prepare, somehow, to turn the presidency over to Donald Trump. Based on interviews they have given, this must be a bittersweet moment for the Obamas, a mixture of sadness and relief. I have worked in high pressure situations many times in my professional life but never did I have the fate of the nation and even the world potentially turning on decisions I made. No decisions I made came remotely close to directly affecting millions of people. I don’t believe that any of us can imagine the stress on the person who holds the highest political office in the land. The Obamas were fortunate to have the humanist strength and character of the Bidens at their side but at the end of the day it was Barack Obama who made the hard calls and had to live with their consequences. Was he perfect, making all good decisions? No. But no president in history, no matter how venerated today, would have laid claim to such perfection.

I will not recount here the accomplishments or the failures of the Obama administration. Others are doing that. I will simply note that few if any occupants of the White House have lived there with the grace, compassion, energy, breadth of vision, commitment to people of all stripes, humor and drive that the Obamas have shown. They will be missed, oh, will they be missed.

Not by everyone, of course. There are the Republicans who, upon Obama’s election in 2008, made clear their principal, if not only, goal was to prevent him from having a second term. To fulfill that un-American objective, they obstructed almost everything of consequence that the President tried to achieve. They failed to deny him e-election, but were not deterred. The obstruction continued throughout his second term.

There also were the racists for whom Obama’s election and re–election were an abomination. The very idea that an intelligent, educated and accomplished Black man could be President of the United States was almost more than they could bear. Now that the Obamas are leaving, the racists are in full flower again, encouraged and enabled by the rhetoric of the incoming president. We who thought racism was on the way out in America were just dreamers. The exposure of police killings of unarmed Black men and the vicious disgusting racist statements made by members of the anti-Obama crowd, including people closely aligned with and serving as advisors to President-Elect Trump, have shocked all people of good will, including many who disapproved of Obama’s politics but who recognized him as the good man that he is.

While we always like to think that each person is evaluated on his own merits, the reality is that we also judge people based on the groups they choose to belong to. If you choose to hang out with a gang, you will be seen as the gang is seen, whether or not you actually behave the way they do. If your friends and associates are criminals, you likely will be suspect as well.

So it is that Mr. Trump has chosen to align himself with people who are openly racist. A prime case in point is the following undisputed statements by Carl Paladino, former Republican nominee for governor of New York and advisor to Mr. Trump [Caution: this is really offensive]:

“Artvoice: What would you most like to happen in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Obama catches mad cow disease after being caught having relations with a Herford. He dies before his trial and is buried in a cow pasture next to Valerie Jarret, who died weeks prior, after being convicted of sedition and treason, when a Jihady cell mate mistook her for being a nice person and decapitated her.

Artvoice: What would you most like to see go in 2017?

Carl Paladino: Michelle Obama. I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

[Source: Washington Post at http://wapo.st/2ixpP8p]

Mr. Paladino denies that these and other similar messages he has sent are racist. He claims they are just political discourse and stands by them. See CBS News Report at http://cbsn.ws/2i8ihda. Judge this for yourself.

Despite all of that and more, President Obama has continued to conduct himself as a President should, with calm resolve and thoughtful actions. He has not responded in kind to Trump’s provocations. He and the First Lady have stated repeatedly that they will do everything they can to responsibly assist Trump’s transition even as Trump actively works to undermine the President’s authority by, among other things, interfering (unsuccessfully) in a United Nations vote related to Israel and by proposing to resume the nuclear arms race with Russia, all the while sucking up to Vladimir Putin for being such a “strong leader.”

Whatever one may think of President Obama’s politics, and I have some serious criticisms of my own, I do not believe it can be disputed that he and the First Lady are a model for the way a President and First Lady should conduct themselves. Based on Mr. Trump’s campaign style, which he has carried over into the transition period and thus is likely a forerunner of his style in the White House, we are about to witness a complete reversal in the tenor as well as content of the conduct of our national affairs. The Constitution itself is in jeopardy in the hands of an angry autocrat.

I do not intend by this to denigrate the point of view, or the people who subscribe to it, of responsible conservatives, of which there are many, who have legitimate arguments that should be considered in evaluating public policy. But what I cannot endorse are those conservatives who saw Trump clearly for what he was during the campaigns, but who now have knuckled under and sought to be employed by him.

If you believe in the efficacy of prayer, now would be a good time for it. But, I suggest, with respect to those in prayer, that we need a better plan than praying for good outcomes.  We need a leader to step forward now to establish himself/herself as the leader of the loyal opposition on a national scale — someone to lead the resistance, lead the effort to restore Democratic control of the Congress, and ultimately to occupy the White House if it is still standing in 2020. Meanwhile, we should all be grateful, as I am, for the often monumental and always difficult work, with grace and compassion, that the Obama and Biden families have given to our country.

Coal Miners and the Parable of the Snake

The election of 2016 is over. There is little left to say that has not been said by others, though the “saying” will thrive for a few months more as the Trump administration takes its full shape.

I had planned a blog post centering on the virtual certainty that the coal miners in Pennsylvania and former steel workers in Ohio, who are counting on President Trump to restore their industries and the related jobs, are going to be disappointed. They are the modern-day Luddites whose aspirations to restore the way of work and life that once thrived will founder on the rocks of technological movement forward, always forward, and from which there simply is no turning back.

They should know better, but they apparently don’t. I feel some sympathy for them, but then I wake up to the reality that they turned to Donald Trump as the leader who will restore them to their “rightful place.” I see the photos of the hypnotized, adoring crowds, many of whom cannot explain why they voted for Trump, but who chose to ignore, or embrace, the bigotry and other evils that he represented during the campaign. I see the data, always the data, showing who didn’t vote at all and showing the women who voted for Trump even as he spit on them. It has been famously said “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.”

We are now in the obligatory phase of “let’s give him a chance,” even as he stocks the government with white men, always mostly white men, who are hostile, at best, to minorities, women and, frankly, the values that have, dare I say it, made America great. The Republican Party has finally fulfilled its goal, a bit late, to rid the White House of that black man Obama through obstruction and blind resistance. Now they appear ready to return the country to the conditions that led to the Great Recession and nearly destroyed us. Not going to get those steel plants and coal mines back that way.

When I first thought about writing this piece, I was reminded of the old story about the Indian boy and the rattlesnake. The essence of it is that the Indian boy is doing his solitary preparation for manhood by spending time alone in a great valley. He decides to ascend the mountain and at the top he comes upon the rattlesnake shivering in the cold. They snake begs the boy to take him down the mountain so he can get warm. They boy resists: “you are a venomous snake and will bite me and I’ll die!” The snake implores him to help and promises he won’t bite. Finally, the boy gives in, bundles up the rattlesnake and carries to safety down the mountain. As he unwraps the snake, it strikes him in the chest. The boy recoils in pain and shock: “how could you? You promised me you would not strike if I helped you.” The rattlesnake simply responded “you knew what I was when you picked me up” and slithered away.

I had thought of the irony in the story as similar to what has happened in the election of Donald Trump. People representing a majority of electoral votes, but not of the voting population, have turned to a person they perceive as some kind of latter day savior To check my recall of the story, I consulted the Internet and discovered a video of Trump reciting a poetic version of the rattlesnake story and while the video showed no context, it was clear that Trump was using the story to support his view that helping immigrants enter the United States was akin to picking up the rattlesnake. See http://bit.ly/2fPWcP1. And the crowd chanted “USA! USA!”

I think Trump got it wrong. The rattlesnake here is Trump himself and the coal miners, steelworkers and farmers who saw him as a messiah will soon feel the sting of his bite. And, like the awakening of the Indian boy, it will be too late.

Notes From The Field

My wife and I arrived in Cleveland, Ohio on October 26, to join with other union staff and members from California, Texas, Chicago, Washington DC area and locally in the “ground game” to elect pro-labor candidates. The mission is to visit hundreds of thousands of homes personally to urge prospective voters to adopt a plan to vote on Election Day and to identify supporters of Hillary Clinton and Senate candidate Ted Strickland. My role has been to provide transportation for two-man teams who do the actual walking in neighborhoods in and around Cleveland.

The teams are armed with some data about the voters they are trying to contact face-to-face. Data has shown that these types of contacts result in a significant increase in actual voting. Since early voting is legal in Ohio, the teams also urged prospective voters to take advantage of that opportunity and avoid the likely crowds on Election Day.

Ohio is considered a “swing state, having produced Democratic majorities for President in 2008 and 2012 (Obama) and Republican wins in 2000 and 2004 (Bush), preceded by victories for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. It is generally believed to be “in play” in the current election. Stimulating maximum turnout is thus the key to assuring victory for either side. Tomorrow the issue will be decided.

It is likely too late to influence how individuals will vote, but not to late to motivate them to go to the polls. Thus, the “walker” campaign” has been out every day, rain (plenty of it) or shine, working until sunset today and starting again tomorrow, continuing until it is too late for anyone to get to the polls.

The reactions among the population have been varied and interesting. I write now to simply share some of the stories that have emerged from this effort of 15 committed walkers knocking on door after door. One or two people greeted the walkers with “get the f_____ off my lawn” or “don’t come around here with that stuff.” But the vast majority was at least polite and most said they were going to vote, or had already voted, for Hillary Clinton. One young Muslim couple was approached as they mowed their lawn. They said, somewhat timidly, that this was the first time they were voting in the United States. Their reticence to talk was understandable since in their former homeland speaking about voting to the wrong person could get you hurt. Not here.

A couple of people in cars stopped to ask what we were doing and, upon hearing the explanation, responded with “thank you, thank you for what you are doing.” One even made the sign of the cross. One young man came out onto his porch to listen, then said “I’m voting for Clinton, man. I’m Mexican.” At another house an elderly man, who seemed puzzled at first, proclaimed proudly “I’m a union man. I’m for Hillary!” Numerous talks ended with “good luck with what you’re doing.”

Some people, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, were suspicious at first, perhaps because strangers at their doors usually mean trouble. Some had limited English but would call someone, usually younger, to the door to translate. One inquired about me, following slowly along behind my walkers. “Is that guy with you? There are drug dealers in this neighborhood.”

Very few houses visited responded with “I’m not going to vote,” but one who did say that added, “I will vote for Jesus; he’s going to take care of everything. He’s going to eliminate all the evil people.”

There were a few instances of hostile men answering the doorbell when the walker was actually looking for the lady of the house and refusing to call the woman to the door. Hopefully those women will enjoy the privacy of the polling station to cast their ballot the way they want.

Tomorrow it’s over. There is much anxiety about the Ohio vote and overall outcome of the election. But the walkers will not give up until it is too late to get anyone out to the polls, which close here at 7:30. Many other groups are also working the multitude of neighborhoods that comprise Cleveland and its suburbs. Our team of 15 will then gather at a local restaurant to watch the election returns together. All told, in just the Cleveland area, hundreds of thousands of homes will have been visited. For the walkers there have been moments of rejection and moments of joy that will likely never be forgotten. Stories were shared during daily meetings and occasional group meals. There is nothing left to do but wrap up, clean out the staffing headquarters and await the outcome. On November 9, the volunteers will return to their homes. They will hold their heads high because they did everything they could do.

I conclude with a request that, if you are undecided about who should be the next president, look at these two stories before you vote: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2016/11/07/a-disabled-boy-was-booted-from-a-trump-rally-the-next-day-he-got-to-meet-president-obama/ and https://youtu.be/cgkgMtVv1g4.