Current Comment #11

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 11 ……… November 28th, 2020

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ With the official transition finally under way, President-elect Joe Biden began naming his cabinet nominees, while the second wave of coronavirus infections continued to soar. Yet, amid the swirl of these two fast-moving developments, the country seemed to take a much-needed pause from polarization in order to observe Thanksgiving with a minimal, but still welcome, sense of somberness and gratitude.

The first two selections below represent two different perspectives on Thanksgiving and gratitude – one personal, the other political, and both very apropos for our times. The final selection comes as a wake-up call for liberals, urging us to broaden our perspective beyond the narrow confines of liberalism’s Anglo-American roots – a most timely invitation, as the United States attempts to resume its leadership role in the global community, much of which is still reeling from four years of the Trump administration’s disregard and disrespect.

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Selection #1 – Meghan Markle, the native-born American actress who, as the spouse of Prince Harry, is also the Duchess of Sussex in her adopted country of the United Kingdom, offers a deeply personal appeal for compassion and concern for others. A most welcome reflection for this week of Thanksgiving in this year of widespread suffering …

“When people ask how any of us are doing, and when they really listen to the answer, with an open heart and mind, the load of grief often becomes lighter — for all of us. In being invited to share our pain, together we take the first steps toward healing. So this Thanksgiving, as we plan for a holiday unlike any before — many of us separated from our loved ones, alone, sick, scared, divided and perhaps struggling to find something, anything, to be grateful for — let us commit to asking others, ‘Are you OK?’ As much as we may disagree, as physically distanced as we may be, the truth is that we are more connected than ever because of all we have individually and collectively endured this year.”

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Selection #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman offers thanks and gratitude to all those who stood firmly on the side of democracy as Trump and his enablers continuously sought to subvert it during these past three weeks following the election …

“We should be truly thankful this Thanksgiving that — after Donald Trump spent the last three weeks refusing to acknowledge that he’d lost re-election and enlisted much of his party in a naked power play to ignore the vote counts and reinstall him in office — we had a critical mass of civil servants, elected officials and judges who did their jobs. It was their collective integrity, their willingness to stand with ‘Team America,’ not either party, that protected our democracy when it was facing one of its greatest threats — from within. History will remember them fondly.”

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Selection #3 – Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra examines the limitations of the Anglo-American tradition of liberalism, which has historically ignored all cultures but its own, and now finds itself unable to respond meaningfully to the global political and social crises of our time …

“[The] narrative of a US-led global journey to the promised land was always implausible. Four years of Trump have finally clarified that between 2001 and 2020—and through such events as the terrorist attacks of September 11, intensified globalization, the rise of China concurrent with the failed war on terror, and the financial crisis—the world was moving into an entirely new historical period. Moreover, in this phase, many ideas and assumptions dominant for decades were rapidly becoming obsolete. Today, those who insisted that there was no practical alternative to Western-style liberal democracy and capitalism have no concepts with which to explain how China, a Communist-ruled country, became central to global networks of trade and finance; how India, ostensibly the ‘world’s largest democracy’ and fastest-growing economy, as well as a counterweight to China, came to be ruled by Hindu supremacists inspired by European fascist movements of the 1920s; and how electorates angered by dysfunctional democracy and capitalism at home empowered far-right demagogues.  The laments and exhortations of a still largely white, male, and middle-aged commentariat bring to mind James Baldwin’s verdict that ‘the white man’s world, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, has the meaningless ring of a hollow drum and the odor of slow death.’ A new way to understand the forces at play is urgently needed.” 

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/11/19/liberalism-grand-illusions/

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THE WEEK AHEAD ~ The transition to a Biden administration should pick up speed, as his advisors and appointees begin to engage with their counterparts in the outgoing administration, and as the United States prepares to re-engage with the global community after four wasted years of Trump’s misguided “America First” approach.

As always, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom 

https://twitter.com/LiberalBuddhist

Current Comment #10

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 10 ……… November 21st, 2020

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ Another week of President-elect Biden continuing to be patient and presidential, and of the (hopefully) outgoing President Trump continuing to act puerile and pitifully. The world’s leaders are increasingly more welcoming of Biden, while the occupant of the White House is increasingly isolated and unsuccessful in his attempts to undo the election results. The daily drama of waiting for Trump to concede while worrying about what dangerous actions he may yet unleash in his bid to retain power has exerted unprecedented stress upon the country. What is normally a time of calm in the wake of the election contest just ended, and of peaceful transition from the outgoing administration to the incoming one, is instead a time of intense agitation and heightened polarization. As regards America’s four-years-long national nightmare, sadly it’s not over yet.

The two selections that follow each explore the prospects ahead in the next four years – the first a realistic assessment of what we must expect, the second an inspirational picture of what we might hope for.

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Selection #1 – The New York Review of Books political commentator Michael Tomasky defines the limits of the Democrats’ electoral victory and outlines the challenges that await Joe Biden …

“The election demonstrated, more intensely than any other before, that Americans inhabit two different moral universes. In our personal lives, we may share broadly similar ideas about what constitutes right and wrong: how to raise children, how to be responsible friends and family members. But on political matters, we see two opposite realities.  The ‘Democratic brand’ is in trouble in vast stretches of the country. The party must determine why. Joe Biden will reset our struggling democracy in some important regards. He will shift away from Vladimir Putin and toward our traditional allies. He will not interfere in Justice Department investigations. He won’t fire his FBI director because the bureau is investigating him. These are not small matters. But what was needed in this election to turn back this dark tide was a much broader repudiation of Trumpism than the voters delivered.”

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2020/12/17/election-2020-what-did-democrats-win/?utm_source=nybooks&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=email-share

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Selection #2 – This speaker needs no introduction, and his remarks require no excerpt. As we came to expect during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, and as we have so sorely missed during the four years of Trump’s, here is a welcome display of presidential eloquence and erudition. Enjoy …

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THE WEEK AHEAD ~ A short news week looms before us as America prepares for its first – and hopefully last – Covid-19 Thanksgiving weekend. Wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday!

As always, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom

https://twitter.com/LiberalBuddhist

Current Comment #9

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 9 ……… November 14th, 2020

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ Joe Biden continues to act presidential, while Donald Trump continues to act puerile. No surprise on either count!

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Selection #1 – Political scientist and New York Times guest opinion columnist Bryan Garsten argues forcefully that each of us needs to renew our personal commitment to a “Constitutional culture” if we hope to avoid a future presidential demagogue like the one we have just voted out of office …

“Mr. Trump is a creature native to our own style of government and therefore much more difficult to protect ourselves against: He is a demagogue, a popular leader who feeds on the hatred of elites that grows naturally in democratic soil. We have almost forgotten how common such creatures are in democracies because we have relied on a technology designed to restrain them: the Constitution. It has worked by setting up rules for us to follow, but also on a deeper level by shaping our sense of what we are proud of and what we are ashamed of in our common life. Today this constitutional culture has all but collapsed, and with it, our protection against demagogues. The college-educated elite and well-meaning technocrats may say that expert rule is the only alternative to demagogues, but they are wrong. When we allow them to rule, we fuel popular frustration and drive people into the arms of demagogues in reaction. The real alternative is to strengthen our ability to govern ourselves well by supporting the kinds of schools and jobs that train us in the habits of citizenship, by creating the background conditions in which we can solve more problems in our families and communities, and by reforming electoral systems and legislative procedures to strengthen the incentives for politicians to move beyond demagogy. Too many of us are guilty of prioritizing immediate policy outcomes over the work of maintaining a system of self-government that will bring out the best in us over the long term.”

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Selection #2 – New Yorker editor David Remnick takes a deep breath in to consider the daunting challenges awaiting President-elect Joe Biden, and a deep breath out to reflect upon the myriad disasters that might well have accrued under a re-elected President Trump …

“There can be no overstating the magnitude of the tasks facing Biden. If he survives whatever challenges, legal and rhetorical, that Trump throws his way in the coming days and weeks, he will begin his term facing a profoundly polarized country, one even more divided and tribal than the polls have suggested. It is a nation in which one half cannot quite comprehend the other half. He also confronts a country that is suffering from an ever-worsening pandemic, an ailing economy, racial injustice, and a climate crisis that millions refuse to acknowledge. The end of the Trump Presidency is, by any measure, a signal moment in modern American history. These four years have wrought tragic consequences; there is no question that another four would have compounded the damage immeasurably. Throughout his term, Trump openly waged war on democratic institutions and deployed a politics of conspicuous cruelty, bigotry, and division. He turned the Presidency into a reality show of lurid accusation and preening self-regard. But what finally made him vulnerable to defeat was his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly a quarter of a million Americans. His disdain for scientific and medical expertise, his refusal to endorse even the most rudimentary preventive measures against the spread of the virus, was, according to medical experts, responsible for the needless deaths of tens of thousands.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/11/16/the-biden-era-begins

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Selection #3 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman calls for a restoration of truth-telling after the endless lies of the Trump administration …

People who do not share truths can’t defeat a pandemic, can’t defend the Constitution and can’t turn the page after a bad leader. The war for truth is now the war to preserve our democracy.

“It is impossible to maintain a free society when leaders and news purveyors feel at liberty to spread lies without sanction. Without truth there is no agreed-upon path forward, and without trust there is no way to go down that path together. The truth binds you, and Trump never wanted to be bound — not in what he could ask of the president of Ukraine or say about the coronavirus or about the integrity of our election. And it nearly worked. Trump proved over five years that you could lie multiple times a day — multiple times a minute — and not just win election but almost win re-election. We have to ensure that the likes of him never again appear in American politics.”

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THE WEEK AHEAD ~ The transition to a Biden presidency will continue in a mature and reasonable fashion, while the whining and false charges that “the election was stolen” will continue to spew from the mouth of Trump and his enablers. The big concern for now is whether or not Trump will succeed in persuading a number of Republican-dominated state legislatures to appoint replacement electors to their states’ Electoral College delegations in order to overturn the popular pro-Biden decision when the official electoral votes are tabulated on December 14th. Still much to worry about, unfortunately.

If you’d like a head start reading the articles that will be featured in next week’s Current Comment, and you have a Twitter account, please follow @LiberalBuddhist.

In the meantime, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom

Current Comment #8

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 8 ……… November 7th, 2020

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ What else is there to say about this past week, other than to note the collective sigh of relief that accompanied the news a few short hours ago of Joe Biden’s electoral college victory? There was minimal motivation for reading the opinion pieces that appeared this week, written as they were by commentators constrained by the same uncertainties as all of us were. Thus, the lone selection for this week’s edition is the following essay from the Editorial Board of the New York Times, published within the hour after the news of Biden’s win …

“Fortunately for America, Mr. Biden promises to be a president for both sides — a welcome shift from a leader who has spent his tenure dividing the electorate into perceived fans and enemies. While the coming weeks will most likely bring unexpected moves and more dangerous disinformation from Mr. Trump, it is worth taking this moment to raise a glass and breathe a sigh of relief. America gives its citizenry the ultimate responsibility for holding leaders accountable, for deciding what kind of nation this will be. The broad endorsement of Mr. Biden’s message of unity and healing is cause for celebration. Americans have embraced that optimism and Mr. Biden as their next president. Now the real work begins.”

THE WEEK AHEAD ~ We can expect plenty of information about the transition just beginning from Biden and his team, and plenty of misinformation about the campaign just ended from Trump and his enablers. The election may be over, but the polarization that characterized it, sadly, is not.

If you’d like a head start reading the articles that will be featured in next week’s Current Comment, and you have a Twitter account, please follow @LiberalBuddhist.

In the meantime, take good care of yourselves and stay well … Tom