Current Comment #6

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 6 ……… October 24th, 2020

OPENING NOTE – Presidential campaigning and coronavirus infection increases dominated the news again this past week, and both topics feature prominently in the pieces included below. In addition, there are two compelling essays on other matters – one examining social media’s questionable approach to moderating hate speech on their platforms, and the other taking a critical look at the questionable approach of certain Supreme Court justices (past, present, and soon to be appointed 😦 ) to interpreting the Constitution from an “originalist” standpoint.

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ITEM #1 – New Yorker contributor Andrew Marantz takes a close look at Facebook’s questionable approach to moderating hate speech and other explicitly dangerous content posted on its pages …

“In public, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, chairman, and C.E.O., often invokes the lofty ideals of free speech and pluralistic debate. But Zuckerberg’s actions make more sense when viewed as an outgrowth of his business model. The company’s incentive is to keep people on the platform—including strongmen and their most avid followers, whose incendiary rhetoric tends to generate a disproportionate amount of engagement. A former Facebook employee told me, ‘Nobody wants to look in the mirror and go, I make a lot of money by giving objectively dangerous people a huge megaphone.’ This is precisely what Facebook’s executives are doing, the former employee continued, ‘but they try to tell themselves a convoluted story about how it’s not actually what they’re doing.’ In retrospect, it seems that the company’s strategy has never been to manage the problem of dangerous content, but rather to manage the public’s perception of the problem.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times contributing opinion writer Michael Tomasky argues convincingly that, in light of the current politicization of mask-wearing, it’s time for the Democrats to take back ownership of the word “freedom” …

“One of the key authors of the Western concept of freedom is John Stuart Mill. In ‘On Liberty,’ he wrote that liberty (or freedom) means ‘doing as we like, subject to such consequences as may follow, without impediment from our fellow creatures, as long as what we do does not harm them even though they should think our conduct foolish, perverse or wrong.’ Note the clause ‘as long as what we do does not harm them.’ Conservatives revere Mill. But today, in the age of the pandemic, Mill and other conservative heroes like John Locke would be aghast at the way the American right wing bandies about the word ‘freedom.’ Freedom emphatically does not include the freedom to get someone else sick. It does not include the freedom to refuse to wear a mask in the grocery store, sneeze on someone in the produce section and give him the virus. That’s not freedom for the person who is sneezed upon. For that person, the first person’s ‘freedom’ means chains — potential illness and even perhaps a death sentence. No society can function on that definition of freedom.”

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ITEM #3 – Legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky explains the fallacious reasoning behind the theory of “originalism” – espoused by Amy Coney Barrett – as the method for interpreting the Constitution, Uand warns of the dangers it poses to our democracy …

“Rights in the 21st century should not be determined by the understandings and views of centuries ago. This would lead to terrible results. Following originalism would mean that Brown v. Board of Education was wrongly decided in declaring laws requiring segregation of schools unconstitutional. In fact, under the original public meaning of the Constitution, it would be unconstitutional to elect a woman as president or vice president until the Constitution is amended. Article II refers to them with the pronoun “he,” and there is no doubt that original understanding was that only men could hold these offices. Moreover, it is a myth to think that even identifying an originalist understanding can solve most modern constitutional issues. Can original public meaning really provide useful insights about the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and whether the police can take DNA from a suspect to see if it matches evidence in unsolved crimes or obtain stored cellular phone location information without a warrant?”

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ITEM #4 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof details Trump’s “colossal failure of leadership” on the coronavirus pandemic …

“Trump says he deserves an A-plus for his ‘phenomenal job’ handling the coronavirus, but the judgment of history is likely to be far harsher. ‘It’s really sad to see the U.S. presidency fall from being the champion of global health to being the laughingstock of the world,’ said Devi Sridhar, an American who is a professor of global health at the University of Edinburgh. ‘It was a tragedy of history that Donald Trump was president when this hit.’ Trump did almost everything wrong. He discouraged mask wearing. The administration never rolled out contact tracing, missed opportunities to isolate the infected and exposed, didn’t adequately protect nursing homes, issued advice that confused the issues more than clarified them, and handed responsibilities to states and localities that were unprepared to act.” 

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ITEM #5 – New York Magazine columnist Matt Stieb reports on former president Barack Obama’s speech at a campaign event for Joe Biden in Philadelphia earlier this week …

“’He hasn’t shown any interest in doing the work or helping anybody but himself and his friends,’ Obama said of Trump, before a rally of about 300 cars. ‘This is not a reality show. This is reality, and the rest of us have had to live with the consequences of him proving himself incapable of taking the job seriously. There are consequences to [Trump’s] actions. They embolden other people to be cruel & divisive & racist & it frays the fabric of our society. And it affects how our children see things…it affects how the world looks at America. That behavior matters. Character matters’”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/10/obama-rips-into-trump-in-first-in-person-biden-2020-event.html?utm_source=tw

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CLOSING NOTES – Once again, a quick reminder that, if you have a Twitter account, you can get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next week’s edition of Current Comment by following @LiberalBuddhist.

Have a great week, everyone! Take care of yourselves, and stay well … Tom

Current Comment #5

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and commentary.

Vol 1, No 5 ……… October 17th, 2020

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OPENING NOTE – Beginning with this edition, Current Comment commences with its new once-a-week schedule, and will be posted on The Liberal Buddhist blog by mid-afternoon every Saturday. 

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ITEM #1 – New Yorker staff writer Steve Coll shows how the one and only consistently reliable characteristic of Trump’s chaotic presidency has been his complete and utter incompetence …

“It is painful to reflect today on the tens of thousands of lives that might have been saved if a less reality-challenged President occupied the White House. Trump has been consistently unreliable across the eight-month arc of our national crisis. Last week, as he recuperated from his own bout of Covid-19, he unleashed a fresh torrent of tweets and videos. These offered transparent nonsense (‘Maybe I’m immune’) and also dangerous lies, such as the claim that for most people the coronavirus is ‘far less lethal!!!’ than the seasonal flu. (Scientists report that the coronavirus is about six times more deadly than the typical flu virus.) It remains unclear just how the outbreak began and spread, but such an occurrence was perhaps inevitable, given the Administration’s refusal to require masks and physical distancing in the White House and at public events. Eventually, journalists and biographers will sort out exactly what the President knew about his own possible contagiousness before October 2nd, the day he announced that he had tested positive—and how he handled any risk that he might infect others. On October 4th, during his hospitalization at Walter Reed, when he was almost certainly contagious, he staged a photo op in which he was driven around in an S.U.V. and waved to onlookers. At least two Secret Service agents were required to join him in the sealed, armored vehicle, putting them at risk of exposure. It was an inane campaign stunt, and a study in selfishness. The essence of Trump’s failure during the pandemic does not lie with his Administration’s crisis management, botched as that has been; it is the result of his character.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof argues convincingly that what matters most about any Supreme Court justice nominee is not whether they’re liberal or conservative, but whether they are looking to bring us forward or take us backward …

“[Amy Coney] Barrett is not a horrible person; on the contrary, she seems to be a smart lawyer with an admirable personal story. Yet she’s working with a gang of Republican senators to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. This grand larceny may well succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underscore the larger battle over the direction of the country. Voters can’t weigh in on the Barrett nomination, but they can correct this country’s course. Here’s the fundamental question: Will voters reward the party that is working to provide more health care, or the party that has painstakingly robbed one million children of insurance? Will voters help tug the United States forward, or will they support the backward thinkers who have been on the side of discrimination, racism, bigotry and voter suppression? At the polls, which side of history will you stand on?”

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ITEM #3 – The Editorial Board of the New York Times makes an overwhelming case for the unfitness of Donald Trump to be the president of the United States …

“Donald Trump’s re-election campaign poses the greatest threat to American democracy since World War II. Mr. Trump’s ruinous tenure already has gravely damaged the United States at home and around the world. He has abused the power of his office and denied the legitimacy of his political opponents, shattering the norms that have bound the nation together for generations. He has subsumed the public interest to the profitability of his business and political interests. He has shown a breathtaking disregard for the lives and liberties of Americans. He is a man unworthy of the office he holds.”

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CLOSING NOTES – A quick reminder that, as a follower of The Liberal Buddhist blog, you’ll receive not only each weekly edition of Current Comment, but also periodic posts featuring original political, literary, and cultural commentary.

And, if you have a Twitter account, you can get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next edition of Current Comment by following @LiberalBuddhist.

Have a great week, everyone! Take care of yourselves, and stay well … Tom

Current Comment #4

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering

October 10th ~ October 13th, 2020

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OPENING NOTE – Beginning with the next edition, Current Comment transitions from its present twice-weekly format to a once-a-week schedule, and this new weekly edition will be posted on The Liberal Buddhist blog every Saturday.

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ITEM #1 – If the vast majority of Trump’s supporters had any inkling of the personal disdain their “hero” feels towards them, I wonder what they’d say … and even more so, I wonder how they’d have voted in the last election. It’s one of the most painful ironies in our recent history that this most plutocratic of individuals was able to convincingly masquerade as a populist, and to win the White House by his deceitful impersonation. Is it too much to hope that, like the Wizard of Oz’s famous comeuppance in that classic film’s denouement, the curtains are at last (and just in time for the upcoming election) being pulled back to reveal the hollow man standing behind them frantically tugging at the fake levers? …

“It’s hard not to wonder how he really feels about his supporters, especially when the coronavirus-positive president began walking mask-less around the White House. He has been, to say the least, careless about placing his most devoted people at risk. These include his own top White House and campaign aides, residence staff members, Secret Service agents, Republican senators and campaign advisers, and possibly donors at a fund-raising luncheon in New Jersey and rallygoers in Minnesota (depending on when he first thought he might be contagious).”

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ITEM #2 – New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait points out the inherent flaws in the idea that Trump is too incompetent to become a full-fledged autocrat …

“The main underlying flaw is one common to many conservative elites who disdain Trump’s personality but dismiss him as a serious threat. They are incapable of seeing his authoritarianism as anything but an idiosyncratic personal project. They define his undemocratic maneuvers as actions he is taking on his own, without the cooperation of Republicans. And since it’s essentially impossible for a single person (even a president) to undermine democracy without the assistance of a party, nothing Trump does without the party can be a serious threat by definition. It’s a circular argument: Trump is not an authoritarian menace, these conservatives believe, because they only define his authoritarianism as actions other Republicans refuse to support. This is a logical assumption for people who might worry about Trump’s behavior but implicitly trust the Republican Party to safeguard democratic norms. But if you aren’t encumbered by naïve faith in the good intentions of Mitch McConnell and the Republican judiciary, and you expand the analysis to include anti-democratic actions that have their blessing, then the picture is much more disturbing.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/article/trump-authoritarian-dictator-incompetence-douthat-coup-election.html?utm_source=tw

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CLOSING NOTES – If you’d like to get a head start reading the articles being selected for the next edition of Current Comment, you can follow @LiberalBuddhist on Twitter.

And, as a follower of The Liberal Buddhist blog, you’ll receive not only all regular weekly posts of Current Comment, but also periodic posts featuring original political, literary, and cultural commentary – all viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal philosophy.

The next edition of Current Comment is scheduled for Saturday, 10/17/20. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #3

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering.

October 6th ~ October 9th, 2020

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ITEM #1 – The New York Times endorses Joe Biden for president …

“Mr. Biden has vowed to ‘restore the soul of America.’ It is a painful reminder that the country is weaker, angrier, less hopeful and more divided than it was four years ago. With this promise, Mr. Biden is assuring the public that he recognizes the magnitude of what the next president is being called upon to do. In the midst of unrelenting chaos, Mr. Biden is offering an anxious, exhausted nation something beyond policy or ideology. His campaign is rooted in steadiness, experience, compassion and decency.”

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ITEM #2 – Legal scholar and former Department of Justice attorney Mary McCord depicts the growing threat posed to our democracy by private militias …

“Twenty-five states prohibit teaching, demonstrating or practicing in the use of firearms or ‘techniques’ capable of causing injury or death for use during a civil disorder. Eighteen states prohibit either the false assumption of the duties of public officials, including law-enforcement officials, or the wearing of uniforms similar to military uniforms. All these laws point to a single conclusion: There is no right in any state for groups of individuals to arm themselves and organize either to oppose or augment the government. Now, more than ever, state and local officials must enforce these statutes. In battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as other hotbeds of militia activity like Oregon, Idaho, Virginia and Texas, they must ready themselves for unlawful private militias showing up at the polls and on the streets during ballot counting and beyond.”

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ITEM #3 – A compelling, comprehensive video review of Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, titled “American Pathogen” …

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Current Comment is a twice-weekly feature of The Liberal Buddhist, published on Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings (Eastern time). Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition.

And, of course, The Liberal Buddhist continues to feature original essays of political, literary, and cultural commentary – all viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal philosophy.

Not yet following The Liberal Buddhist? Just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right, and you won’t miss a single edition of Current Comment, nor the occasional original posting.

See you again in a few days. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #2

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering.

October 3rd ~ October 6th, 2020

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Opening comment – The first two items below – both written on the day President Trump was admitted to Walter Reed hospital for treatment of the coronavirus, and both cautiously but optimistically raising the prospect that he, and the American public, might as a result adopt a more healthy respect for the risks from coronavirus – have been rendered somewhat obsolete by the subsequent irresponsible and reckless behavior of the president during and subsequent to his hospitalization. Nonetheless, they remain worthwhile reading for the hopeful and sensible ideas contained within each. The third and last item, also written on the day of Trump’s hospital admission, turns out to be a more presciently pessimistic forecast of the president’s disappointing words and actions.

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ITEM #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof urges a sensible and responsible response to Trump’s bout with the coronavirus …

“Let’s learn from the president’s infection. Let’s make this a wake-up call that leads to mask-wearing and social distancing, saving lives. Mask-wearing lags in the United States compared with some other countries, particularly among men. A poll suggests that many American men see mask-wearing as wimpish, ‘a sign of weakness.’ Likewise, some Americans seem to believe that avoiding masks is a measure of freedom. No, it’s a measure of decency, altruism and responsible behavior.” 

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ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Maureen Dowd expresses hope that Trump’s coronavirus experience will change, if not the president’s own misguided behavior and views, at least perhaps the behavior and views of some of his followers …

“As president, [Trump] has created a bubble within his bubble, keeping out science and anything that made him look bad. He has played a dangerous game of alchemizing wishes to facts, pretending that he was a strong leader, pretending that the virus will magically disappear and that it ‘affects virtually nobody,’ pretending that we don’t have to wear masks, pretending that dicey remedies could work, pretending that the vaccine is right around the corner. Now, in a moment that feels biblical, the implacable virus has come to his door. This was the week when many of the president’s pernicious deceptions boomeranged on him. It’s impossible to know how — or even whether — this illness will change the president. But hopefully it will change his skeptical followers and make them realize that this vicious microbe really is contagious, that President Trump is not invulnerable and that therefore they are not either, that crowding together at rallies is not smart, that wearing a mask is important, and that it’s not all going to disappear like a miracle.”

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The New Yorker’s editor David Remnick points to the grave consequences for the entire country as a result of Trump’s continued refusal to follow the recommendations of his administration’s health advisors, and since his hospitalization for the coronavirus, of his own physicians as well …

“The contrast between Trump’s airy dismissals of the pandemic’s severity and the profound pain and anxiety endured by so many Americans has helped define the era in which we live. As President and as a candidate for reëlection, Trump should not count on the silencing of American citizens—on a deference that he has never shown to the people whom he swore to protect and has not. Because of his ineptitude and his deceit, because he has encouraged a culture of heedlessness about the wearing of masks and a lethal disrespect for scientific fact, he bears a grave responsibility for what has happened in this country. The President is obsessed with menaces—posed by shadowy members of a ‘deep state,’ by ‘the radical left,’ by foreigners of all sorts. But the gravest menace to public health and public order has come from within the White House. So long as Trump holds office, no manner of quarantine will suffice to contain it.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/12/the-coronavirus-and-the-threat-within-the-white-house

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Closing comment – If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive Current Comment postings on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings (Eastern time). Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition. And, of course, you can still expect to receive the occasional blogpost of my own thoughts on both domestic and global issues of concern viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal political philosophy.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment as well as original posts, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

See you again in a few days with the next edition of Current Comment. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Current Comment #1

A twice-weekly compendium of political opinion worth pondering. This edition covers the period from September 29th through October 2nd, 2020.

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ITEM #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman explains in no uncertain terms why we should all be extremely alarmed at the prospect of another four years of Trump …

“I can’t say this any more clearly: Our democracy is in terrible danger — more danger than it has been since the Civil War, more danger than after Pearl Harbor, more danger than during the Cuban missile crisis and more danger than during Watergate. The Republicans have fallen in line lock step behind a man who is the most dishonest, dangerous, mean-spirited, divisive and corrupt person to ever occupy the Oval Office. And they know it. Four more years of Trump’s divide and rule will destroy our institutions and rip the country apart.”

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ITEM #2 – New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni points out some useful lessons we can draw from Trump’s having tested positive for the coronavirus …

“The most obvious [lesson] is that the coronavirus has not gone away and there is no guarantee, contrary to the president’s sunny prophecies, that it’s going away anytime soon, certainly not if we’re cavalier about it. Which brings up another moral, also obvious but apparently necessary to articulate: There is a real risk in being cavalier. The president is now the embodiment of that. It is time, at long last, to learn. To be smarter. To be safer. To be more responsible, to others as well as to ourselves. The way to treat President Trump’s diagnosis is as a turning point and a new start. This is when we woke up.”

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ITEM #3 – New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait examines Trump’s responsibility for his own positive diagnosis, as well as for the more than seven million cases in the country so far …

“As coronavirus victims go, Donald Trump is as far from innocent as you can get. [He] is deeply culpable not only for the national response to the pandemic but his own condition. Trump’s heedlessness of contagion was a predominant theme of his campaign. The president denied the seriousness of the pandemic from the outset. His campaign was a visual affirmation of his claim that the virus would disappear, that hardly anybody is affected, that the “lockdowns” are a plot by Democrats to sabotage his reelection.  The truth is that Trump’s positive diagnosis is more evidence of his own incompetence and unfitness for office. The pandemic he did almost nothing to contain has finally come home.”

https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/10/trump-coronavirus-positive-test-rallies-biden-masks-circles-social-distancing.html?utm_source=tw

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Closing comment – If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive Current Comment postings on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition. And, of course, you can still expect to receive the occasional blogpost of my own thoughts on both domestic and global issues of concern viewed through the lens of Buddhist ethics and liberal political philosophy.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment as well as original posts, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

See you again in a few days with the next edition of Current Comment. Until then, please take care of yourself, and stay well …

Announcing “Current Comment” …

… a new, twice-weekly feature of The Liberal Buddhist blog.

Designed in the increasingly popular format of an email newsletter, posts in the Current Comment series will highlight a few selected essays of political commentary that I’ve read during the most recent three and half days. Each item included will consist of three parts:

  1. A sentence or two from me, introducing the topic and identifying the author and/or source.
  2. An excerpt from the essay, quoting (and, in some cases, eliding) one or two paragraphs that particularly resonated with me.
  3. A link to the full text of the essay.

Here’s a sample illustrating how two recent opinion pieces would be featured in a Current Comment post:

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(1) New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wonders, and worries, about where Trump is leading the country as election day approaches …

“We’re in terrible danger. Make no mistake. This country, already uncivil, is on the precipice of being ungovernable, because its institutions are being so profoundly degraded, because its partisanship is so all-consuming, and because Trump, who rode those trends to power, is now turbocharging them to drive America into the ground. ‘Tribal,’ ‘identity politics,’ ‘fake news’ and ‘hoax’ are now mainstays of our vocabulary, indicative of a world where facts and truth are suddenly relative. Yes, there were conspiracy theories and there was viciously ugly feuding before, but there were no Facebook or Twitter to accelerate the sorting of people into ideological cliques and to pour accelerant on the fires of their suspicion and resentment. Those fires are burning hot, with dire implications for what happens after Nov. 3.”

(2) The editors of The New Yorker endorse Joe Biden for president …

“It would surely be a relief simply to have a President who is not a chronic liar, someone who doesn’t abuse the office as a colossal grift. It would be a relief to have a President who is reflexively devoted to democratic institutions and refuses to make common cause with white nationalists, QAnon, and other inhabitants of the lunatic fringe. [Biden] has the capacity to convey genuineness and fellow-feeling to a wide range of Americans. At his best, Biden has the potential to appeal to the country in an emotionally honest way that might help to engender a greater sense of social cohesion, compassion, and mutual respect.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/10/05/the-new-yorker-endorses-a-biden-presidency

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If you are already a follower of The Liberal Buddhist, you may expect to receive notification of the first Current Comment posting early in October 2020. Thereafter, future editions will be posted on a regular twice-weekly schedule – Tuesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Whenever a regularly scheduled posting date is missed, the edition posted on the next scheduled date will include all articles that would have been listed in the missed date’s edition.

If you are not yet a follower of The Liberal Buddhist and would like to receive future editions of Current Comment, just click the “Follow” button at the top of the sidebar on the right.

Hoping you’ll find this new feature useful, and see you in a few days with the first edition of Current Comment.

Stay well …

A Few Words about the June Democratic Debates

In my last post, I declared that I would be listening to each of the participants in the first round of the Democratic presidential candidate debates for some hint of generosity, compassion, and wisdom in their remarks.  Well, not long into the first evening’s debate, I started feeling a little like the hapless hero of that old pop tune, the guy who was “lookin’ for love in all the wrong places”.  There I was, looking for compassion on a debate stage whose ten occupants were focused mostly on creating a visual moment that could go viral on social media and thereby boost their poll numbers. What I heard instead was a lot of interrupting, grandstanding, and in a few cases, personal attacks. Hardly what Buddhism refers to as “skillful speech”.

With hindsight, I guess this was to be expected.  The format of these early debates – crowded as they are with so many candidates – all but guarantees this kind of behavior. Attention goes to the ones who speak up the most forcefully, and at this early stage, media attention is to a campaign what oxygen is to a person – the very substance that keeps one alive.

The fact that Kamala Harris is considered to have scored the biggest “win” – largely if not entirely due to her impassioned verbal confrontation with Joe Biden – would seem to validate this assertion.

My conclusion:  we’ll have to wait until the candidate field has been narrowed down before this form of one-upmanship abates.  Ironically, it will probably take even more of this one-upmanship in order to accomplish the very narrowing down that will hopefully bring about its end.  Then, perhaps, the debate stage will morph from one of the above-mentioned “wrong places” to, in fact, the perfect place to listen for words of generosity, compassion, and wisdom.

I’ll be waiting.

A perspective on the upcoming Democratic candidate debates

Two years ago, on the eve of the 2016 presidential election, I argued in one of my final posts on my old blog that no practicing Buddhist could in good conscience support the candidacy of Donald Trump for the simple reason that his entire public life prior to his entry into politics had been marked by Buddhism’s “three poisons” – greed, hatred, and delusion.

Two years later, I would make a similar argument that no practicing Buddhist can in good conscience support his presidency, ravaged as it has been by those same three poisons. And few, if any, Buddhists of my acquaintance would need that argument presented to them.  There is simply no way to reconcile the policies of what many pundits have termed “Trumpism” with the ethical principles of Buddhism.

So, whether politically engaged or not, most American Buddhists will likely find themselves aligned with the Democratic party in the 2020 presidential election, and thus I suspect that quite a number of us will be watching the upcoming Democratic candidate debates with a particularly keen interest.

What criteria might a liberal Buddhist apply in order to differentiate among the twenty candidates who will be participating in the first of these debates, scheduled to take place in two separate sessions, with ten candidates in the first and the other ten in the second, on the successive evenings of Wednesday, June 26th, and Thursday, June 27th?

Certainly one essential quality needed in the eventual nominee is the “electability” factor. Undoubtedly, every person in this country – Buddhist or not – who has for the past two years been appalled by the spoken and tweeted words of Trump, horrified by the inhumane actions being taken at the southern border, and terrified by the reckless climate-change-denying policies being implemented throughout the nation, passionately hopes to see the current president soundly defeated at the ballot box next November.

And while I too will be watching the Democratic debates with an eye toward discerning who among the candidates has the most realistic chance of actually winning the election, I will also be listening to what each of them says with an ear for detecting who among them is speaking in terms of the Buddhist virtues of generosity, compassion, and wisdom.  These three traits, of course, are considered to be the antidotes to the “three poisons” – greed, hatred, and delusion – which have been the shameful hallmarks of the Trump presidency, and of Trumpism in general.

When I was growing up in the 1950s, there was a memorable TV and billboard advertising campaign for a popular packaged bread at the time, Levy’s real Jewish rye. The ads featured the smiling faces of persons of indisputably non-Jewish ethnicity (a burly middle-aged Irish policeman was one such happy face), each of whom had just bitten into a delicious-looking sandwich made on rye bread, with the tag line “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s Real Jewish Rye.”

In a similar vein, I would like to propose that you don’t have to be Buddhist to be in favor of generosity, compassion, and wisdom.  And I’m hoping that some of the Democratic candidates are in favor of them as well, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever meditated or sat through a dharma talk.

Generosity.  Compassion.  Wisdom.  These are what I’ll be listening for during the debates this week, and again during the next round of debates in July.

In my next post, shortly after the July debates, I’ll report on whether or not I heard them.