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

Current Comment #7

A weekly recap of worthwhile political opinion and social commentary.

Vol 1, No 7 ……… October 31st, 2020

Happy Halloween, everyone!

THE WEEK JUST PASSED ~ Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice in the kind of reckless super-spreader event we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration, the Dalai Lama made a welcome appearance in New York’s Times Square on this George Floyd billboard, and the presidential race entered the final days of the campaign with the unmistakable contrast between Biden’s decency and Trump’s lack of the same on full display day after day (or, as PBS NewsHour commentator Mark Shields describes the difference, Biden campaigns as the “we” president, Trump as the “me” president).

The three articles selected this week inform us of a former president we could be proud of and moved by, a current attorney general we ought to be very cautious about, and a traditional Buddhist teaching that can support us in the uncertain times that lie ahead …

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Selection #1 – New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman reminds us of the time – not that long ago, although it seems like a decade or two – that we could be proud of, and moved by, the intelligence and the compassion of our president …

“Trump has so redefined decency down that we have forgotten what is normal, let alone optimal, in an American president. We have forgotten what it is like to have a truth-teller, a healer, in the White House, someone who starts his day with at least the inclination to unite the country and to project America at its best for the world — not someone who has lived every day in office aspiring to be president only of his base, while offering anyone at home or abroad looking to the United States for inspiration just one message: Show me the money.”

PS – Be sure to click on the link in this article to see the video clip of Meklit and the Kronos Quartet in their memorable performance of “The President Sang Amazing Grace”.

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Selection #2 – New York Review of Books columnist Fintan O’Toole profiles the current Attorney General, William Barr, and shows clearly how he is not at all the person that he purports to be …

“Because of his suave, courteous, even jovial demeanor and intellectual acumen, and his long record as a member of the pre-Trump Republican establishment, it seems superficially plausible to look to Barr as the one who might ultimately seek to restrain Trump and protect the basic institutional and constitutional order. All evidence—including ProPublica’s report on October 7 that the Department of Justice has now weakened its long-standing prohibition against interfering in elections by allowing federal investigators ‘to take public investigative steps before the polls close, even if those actions risk affecting the outcome of the election’—points in the opposite direction. The desire to believe in Barr as a potential savior of democracy goes deep. [Some of us] believed that Barr would use the independence of his office ‘to prevent us turning into a banana republic.’ But no one who has thought about Barr’s ideological formation, and in particular his views on the nature of authority, should be so naive.”

{Note – I was unable to embed the full article here … please click on “Attorney General, William Barr” above for a link to it.}

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Selection #3 – Buddhist teacher and social activist David Loy explains how the teaching “don’t-know mind” is a useful practice, never more so than as we prepare for the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming presidential election …

“We are now living through the most dangerous moment in human history – the climate crisis, threat of nuclear war, rising authoritarianism, the COVID-19 pandemic, economic breakdown, increasing social polarization, and the November election, in which many of those problems are at stake, perhaps including the very future of our democracy. Buddhist teachings have always emphasized impermanence, and this year certainly offers us plenty of examples to demonstrate that truth. The instability of the world that most of us nonetheless took for granted has become more apparent and the future seems more unpredictable than ever. We may not know what happens after we cast our ballot in what could be the most important election in US history, but there is good reason to believe we’re in for a wild ride.” 

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THE WEEK AHEAD … Tuesday, November 3rd, Election Day. Only a mere six words in that sentence, but they bear the fate and future of the country, and perhaps even the world. Here’s hoping that (1) we have an outcome by the end of the week; and (2) it’s an outcome that liberals, Buddhists, and all of humanity can take hope in.

If you’d like a head start reading the articles in next week’s edition, and you have a Twitter account, please follow @LiberalBuddhist.

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

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 #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 …